Several years ago, I was in the Tiananmen Square, mingling among the crowd. There were various kinds of people. Those who apparently came from rural areas had red cheeks, very excited, trying to absorb everything that were around them. I was in the category of first comers, opening my eyes to the sheer vastness of the nation of China.
When I imagined the massive land that surrounded me, I felt I understood why the Chinese culture tends to be self-centered. They can afford to be. When you have a long history, massive land, with over a billion of people, you have the illusion that you are at the center of the world. You can put yourself under the delusion that you don’t have to really care for what’s happening outside. You feel that you are entitled to have your own way, supported by the great mass of momentum that is behind you.
The recent series of squeaking noises that surround the nation, notably this ongoing fiasco about the Nobel Peace Prize, seems to reflect a widening gap between the traditional Chinese mindset and the reality of the globalizing world. Yes, China is massive, yes, China is rapidly growing, and yes, there are more Chinese than any other ethnic group on earth. It may be true that in the past the Chinese could do pretty well by considering themselves as being at the center of the earth, having their way and imposing it on the nations around.
But things have changed. The brutal fact of the day is that China is only a part of the world, albeit a very important part.
The tendency of the Chinese media, fuelled by the self-confidence resulting from the recent economical growth (which is a good thing in itself), to regard its relation with the West in a confrontational context might be self-serving in the short run but is ultimately untenable. China needs to grow into “China 2.0”, where it recognizes the fact that it is an integral part of the grid that is covering the earth, for everybody’s benefit, based on the principle of cooperation and mutual respect. By becoming China 2.0, its excellent tradition of flamboyant and deep culture would shine even more, bringing benefit not only to the Chinese but also to the world at large.
China please wake up.