China’s sixty years of republic: How much public in it?

China is celebrating its sixty years of its People’s Republic. In all these years how much people had a say in governance is a matter of serious introspection. But the heros of Chinese growth to the global superpower can justify their pass misdeeds and human rights violations showing the present status and future possibilities. It has to be watched how far these claims are going to be true.

Milinda Liu writes in The Times of India (28 September 2009)

years after the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the country has undergone astounding changes. Beijing’s achievements are still more impressive when you consider that for nearly half of those 60 years, politics had taken China on a detour away from economic development, responsible governance and engagement with much of the rest of the world.
Thirty years ago, nobody imagined China could become the world’s third largest economy, that Beijing and Taipei would transcend long-standing hostility. Nobody predicted Chinese leaders would travel the world to lavish welcomes, because their arrival brought the prospect of investment, trade, aid and perhaps even salvation from the financial crisis of the time.

Nearing its 60th birthday, the People’s Republic of China is at the crossroads. Now it has spent exactly half its national life pursuing the sort of free market economic “reforms” perceived as radical departures when first introduced by Deng Xiaoping.
After 30 years of what Deng called “reform and opening up”, or ‘gaige kaifang’, China is ready for a new era of change. It needs a new model to address some negative effects ‘gaige kaifang’ has brought. From battling environmental degradation to mending the rift between rich and poor, from tackling corruption to re-examining foreign trade practices the international community perceives to be mercantilist, China’s challenges are many.

In years past, the media sometimes nicknamed China’s political sensitivities as “the three Ts”: Tiananmen, Tibet, Taiwan. A decade ago another taboo topic was added; the list became “three T’s and an F”, to include the emergence of the religious sect Falungong.
Today Falungong is barely on society’s radar. Many young Chinese have little idea about what happened in Tiananmen Square 20 years ago. Tibet is a source of political tensions, but today those types of frictions derive from new economic realities and extend far beyond Tibet. And Taiwan? For much of society, Taiwan is seen as a source of popular music, tourists and investment, no longer the adversary Mao Zedong faced off against 60 years ago.

China faces fresh challenges: how to foster creativity, and how to control Han Chinese chauvinism. For all its manufacturing muscle, scientists and engineers, China is not yet perceived as a centre for technological innovation. One problem is the educational system.
It focuses on rote learning and hierarchical thinking. Another is lack of adequate synergies between government, academia, industry and capital. For nearly 15 years the government has had something called the “863 project”, intended to channel state funds and policy support behind an effort to develop, buy, borrow or steal modern technologies.
Yet a funny thing happened. It dawned on Beijing that many Chinese students and engineers who’d spent time overseas could bring back a whole new mindset. If China’s academic system is too big and unwieldy to change totally, at least some Chinese returnees can be wooed back to run labs and other facilities where people can be trained to think outside the box.

The future of Chinese innovation may depend partly on the contribution of these returnees they’re called “sea turtles” or ‘haigui’, in a pun on the phrase referring to Chinese who went abroad and then returned. Thousands of these “sea turtles” are already working in labs, universities, companies and R&D centres in China. Two ministers are “sea turtles”, one at the ministry of science and technology and another at the ministry of health.

I am not equally optimistic about how or whether Beijing can solve the challenge of growing Han Chinese chauvinism. As China has grown more assertive in the world, Chinese have grown more confident and proud about not just their state but also their race.
The result: a surge in what some call “patriotism” and others call “nationalism” a deep pride in being Chinese and, sometimes, a resentment of members of other races perceived to be slighting the Chinese people. In some cases, this has worked in the government’s short-term interests. When unrest broke out last year in Tibet and Xinjiang, ordinary citizens supported the government’s eventual suppression of protests by Tibetans and Uighurs and virulently opposed foreign critics of the Chinese government.

Civil unrest has served to strengthen the government’s hand by consolidating grassroots Han Chinese support behind the regime. Today, we see how that dynamic can boomerang. Han Chinese residents in Xinjiang recently took to the streets in protest against local government authorities, demanding hasher action against ethnic Uighurs accused of attacking Han Chinese with syringes. The result of rising chauvinism may be that cracking down against ethnic Uighurs or Tibetans is seen as the less risky alternative to cracking down on Han Chinese.

How Beijing deals with the surge of ethnic Chinese chauvinism or nationalism could be a test of the country’s remarkable achievements. The government must use wisdom and foresight to accommodate Chinese pride without alienating the ethnic minorities and without alarming the international community which is hoping to see China grow into a superpower that is as responsible as it is rich.

The writer is Beijing bureau chief of an international news magazine. china_0928


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