Wednesday, July 09, 2008


Strangely Out of Touch

Somewhere along the way I got lost.

Or, the world has gone one way and I went the other – rather like the road less travelled.

The media is now and has been for some time deluging us with images and statistics about China – chiefly as a focus on issues of global warming and the worsening economic situation. We are told that the Chinese are building coal-fired power stations faster than we build houses and the entire western economic prosperity has been built on the back of cheap good imported from China.

When did the Chinese stop being coolies?

What I know about China I learned from books and other media. The Good Earth - Pearl Buck – describes vividly the life of the Chinese peasant in the 1930's and neatly encapsulates my early understanding of Chinese culture. They are a bunch of fairly cultured peasants.

Films like 30 Seconds Over Tokyo – 1944 encapsulates the Chinese integration into the Second World War. Suddenly they became “good guys”- helping the downed American pilots to evade capture by the dastardly Japs. Still, the scenes in China are very “Good Earth-ish” - full of peasants and steeped in the poverty of the people.

Moving on to The Bridges at Toko Ri (1954) we find the Chinese had also moved on into bogeyman country. Now they are the “Yellow Peril” and the faceless Communist ideologues being battled by the brave men of the US Navy. Still, the emphasis is on the backwardness of the Chinese and their powerlessness in the face of superior western technology – in the form of F86's.

Even In MASH the Chinese are seen as an afterthought and incidental to the real concerns of the stories. They are still illiterate peasants governed by Chairman Mao's Little Red Book.

In the Vietnam Era China was viewed with hostility and suspicion. It was assumed that they were supplying and encouraging other slant-eyed peasants, the Vietnamese, to enable them to attack the US on the periphery. Importantly, they are still viewed as peasants – if only by proxy.

Then I must have missed something. After Tiananman Square when the Chinese Old Guard jealously defended their right to rule the masses and the peaceful hand over of Hong Kong, China changed and nobody told me.

Everywhere you look China is rather like us. Chinese cities which were described as cess-pits in The Good Earth are now progressive, cosmopolitan and modern. The hordes of mindless, moronic, automatons aimlessly charging the massed machine guns in Korea are now driving cars on modern roads with Western infrastructure evident in every photogenic shot. Mao is now a quaint old guy whose Long March is viewed as a kind of cultural pilgrimage instead of a Communist ideologue and the architect of human rights abuses that make Sadly Insane look like a saint.

I must be getting old.

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