“The key insight for me is that rather than pro-democracy feelings increasing as China grows economically, it is a radical, shrill nationalism that is emerging.” - Niall Ferguson
Niall Ferguson has made a three part series on China for British television titled “China: Triumph and Turmoil.” From The Telegraph article “Niall Ferguson: China’s got the whole world in its hands” by Philip Sherwell (here):
“It is one of our comforting and enduring myths that as China becomes more modern and sophisticated, more like us, it will come to adopt our values,” he observes. “I’m not sure it’s going to be like that.”
At his Harvard base last week, he discussed a resurgent Chinese nationalism that “is almost intimidating in its intensity” as the world undergoes a shift of financial and political power from West to East.
It was a strain that he first identified from the reaction of his own Chinese students to US coverage of the Tibet protests. “They were very hostile to the criticism of the Chinese government.
But it isn’t just the young. For the new three-part series, he also found among older Chinese a growing “Maostalgia”, a nostalgia for the era of Mao Tse-tung. In Western eyes, Chairman Mao is strongly associated with the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, but for many Chinese, he is the father of a modern, booming nation.
“There is an enthusiastic embrace of the economic benefits of the market but resentment of Western cultural hegemony,” says Ferguson, professor of history at Harvard’s Center for European Studies. “The attitude is: if we make it economically, we don’t have to kowtow to you culturally.”
Ferguson expects the Chinese leadership to channel this nationalism to shore itself up and deal with the tensions that are erupting as the output of its super-charged economy surpasses the US – a milestone that may be reached as early as 2016.
The challenges are formidable and echo some that the West has also experienced – a spectacular property boom that is already showing signs of turning into a bubble; factories with miserable wages and shocking working conditions; an ageing population; and pollution (16 of the world’s 20 dirtiest cities are in China)……