Mao is dead, but his doublespeak lives on
The first and last time I was in mainland China was 1988. I caught a train from Guangzhou to Shanghai. There was a Chinese girl in my cabin, being molested on a top bunk by a Frenchman. He spoke English and Chinese and between their activities I took the opportunity to interrogate her.
I asked her what had changed in China since Mao Zedong’s death. She said: “Mao Zedong is not dead.”
I assumed this was one of those “cultural things” they go on about with the Chinese. Perhaps she regarded the Great Helmsman as an Eternal Spirit, or such.
It wasn’t that. She just didn’t know Mao Zedong was dead – even though he’d been dead for 12 years. No one had told her.
I was concerned I had revealed a state secret. At the least, I was worried she might go into a state of hysteric Official Grief. Instead, she seemed nonplussed and crawled back up the top bunk with her Frenchman.
It should not have come as a surprise that back then, just as now, a Chinese person was missing out on the news.
Earlier, in Guangzhou, my girlfriend of the time and I were approached by a young man on the waterfront who sidled up to us in a clandestine manner. I assumed he wanted US dollars. He wanted information.
He was most embarrassed, this young man. He whispered us towards a quiet sitting area beneath a… let’s say a Jacaranda tree.
I listened to his broken English. “I have a girlfriend,” he explained. “We walk in the afternoons.”
Yes. Of course. Go on. “We don’t want to make babies.”
I hope my response was: “Afternoon walks may lead to babies, but they don’t make them.”
“Please,” the young man said. He was desperate. “I need to stop my special fluid.”
Ah. Birth control. Semen. Receptive and willing egg—producing ovaries. Babies.
The young man was under impression that the mere production of semen was an inherent evil, even if manufactured in a solo event. Nevertheless, some sort of driving biological imperative was hinting to him of another, better story.
He explained there was no available literature on the subject (there was no internet back then). There was no one he felt safe to ask about sex in his own country.
So he turned to the people who’d know best: an immoral Westerner couple. He wanted to have sexual intercourse without catastrophic results. As it happened, so did we.
We took him back to our hotel room, only a few steps from the… Jacaranda tree.
There was a hat stand in one corner of the room, which offered four surprisingly accurate penis-shaped, hat-holding protuberances. There was a good supply of honest, standard, unribbed, unpink, unblack, unflavoured condoms in our travelling gear.
I’d be making it up if I said that my girlfriend showed a little too much enthusiasm as she gave the demonstration, unrolling a condom rather too lovingly on one of the hat stand prongs. Yet I prefer to remember it that way.
Our friend was an eager student. He gave cries of understanding as it was explained that the receptacle tip of the condom was not to be forcefully worried back over the erect member, but was to be left hanging free in order to catch the special fluid.
With five condoms in his hand, we sent him on his grateful way.
This column is supposed to report stories from America. So what gives?
Rudd came to Manhattan, in mid January, a month or so before he committed his extraordinary act of political hara-kiri (an event that to this day makes so little sense that I seriously wonder what it was all about).
Rudd gave an address to the Asia Society in Manhattan about China, stating that China was already overrunning the US, in economic terms, and how they’d complete the job fully within 20 years.
This was not really news: after all, Rudd’s key source in his speech was The Economist magazine.
His wider message was that America, and everyone else, were not adapting to the concept of the incoming new world leader fast enough.
China, Rudd argued, was making friends all over the place, especially in the Pacific, which is America’s and Australia’s big shared backyard. It is also China’s.
But China, said Rudd, was not exporting ideology and was not in the business of conquering the little and big islands of our region: it was using its influence on the widespread Chinese diaspora to help build the motherland, economically.
All China wanted, said Rudd, was for its citizens to “enjoy a better life, better than the mass deprivations of the past”.
China would continue to do this, Rudd said, without adopting western ideologies, such as human rights values, and we had just better get used to it.
Rudd argued we need not fear China. He said it was ingrained in Chinese philosophy to seek harmony and avoid chaos.
We needed, said Rudd, to understand China’s position on world affairs: which was that all nations must be permitted to develop their own forms of government, and that no other nation should interfere.
Rudd cited former leader Deng Xiaoping’s worrying maxim of “hide your strength, bide your time”, saying it could be interpreted in two ways.
The first was the notion that China was preparing to use its massive military to stage unilateral warfare to achieve total world domination; but Rudd preferred a different interpretation, of China slowly moving towards taking a more dominant position in world affairs, and doing so while adhering to international law.
Rudd’s address seemed quite enlightened at the time. Or perhaps it just seemed comforting. Looking back on it now, several months on, it seems he avoided some key points.
It is true that China has not aggressively interfered with other nations: it has not, for a long time, acted overtly against Taiwan.
But nor is China a good international citizen. When can you last recall China joining other nations in overthrowing a tyrant, or lending a heartfelt hand to stricken nations that weren’t on its payroll?
China’s response to last year’s Japanese tsunami was to send a 15 man search and rescue team and to donate $4.5million. The US gave $32 million.
Australia gave $1 billion to Indonesia (some of it in loans) after the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. China gave $83 million to Indonesia, which is about the same amount that Australians citizens additionally gave in private donations.
China is one of the United Nations’ five permanent members of the powerful Security Council, and is typically last to vote on any action or sanction (see Libya, nuclear sanctions on Iran).
China’s policy of non-interference, as expounded by Rudd, is misleading. China doesn’t stay out of the activities of North Korea, Pakistan and Iran: it actively assists them. Chinese aid moves in mysterious ways.
The Wall Street Journal reported last year that as Western businesses pulled out of Iran after it murdered its own citizens in the terrible 2010 crackdown, a Chinese telecom giant, Huawei Technologies Co., moved in as the main service provider to the Iranian government, allowing the Iranian security network to track dissidents using mobile phones.
There is likewise a widespread belief that China has been providing illicit aid to assist Iran’s nuclear program; it pours money into frighteningly dysfunctional and nuclear-armed Pakistan as a strategic hedge against India; and China is nuclear-armed North Korea’s closest ally.
None of this supports Rudd’s argument that China is a mere disinterested player in the lives of other nations, only concerned with improving the lives of its own citizens.
What will happen when China becomes the dominant world power, if it has not assumed that mantle? Will it take over the role the US has assumed since World War II, of being the country that takes the lead on “humanitarian” military interventions in order to bring global order?
Or will it rule the world without any moral mandate?
How is it possible to understand a country that never explains itself?
If the lessons of that hat stand condom demonstration were not followed carefully, back in Guangzhou in 1988, there’d now be a 24 year old son or daughter who is quite likely just now getting the news that Deng Xiaoping passed away in 1997.
For all of America’s mistakes, they have always been very clear on who they are, what they want, and how far they are prepared to go to get it.
With China, no one knows. What we do know is that the US is rebuilding and recommitting to the Pacific. It does not share the view of our former foreign minister. It believes that China is on the move, militarily.
China’s hearts and minds policy across our own region has been to give grand useless gifts to small nations, like worn out naval patrol boats or vast buildings, such as the giant and mostly deserted Foreign Ministry eyesore monstrosity it built for the East Timorese government on the Dili waterfront.
It is possible to close your eyes and imagine this building, 20 years from now, 1000km from Darwin, bustling with Chinese naval attaches, soldiers, military police and spooks as their strictly non-interventionist warships lie at anchor in Dili Harbour.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…