Although this is a blog for the China Media Centre, I want to make my focus not
so much the Chinese media, on which there are already some useful websites in
English, but one about which British people in the political milieu badly need
to know more: How China works.
A recent Daily Telegraph cartoon depicts the promotion poster for the new James Bond
film; the smoothie with the gun is poised to save the world in free-fall. But
the new twist was that the face of Bond was the face of Hu Jintao, President of
What a change from 2008 when, despite grudging respect for her economic achievements
and glorious Olympics, the Western political and intellectual elites pretty
well unanimously despised China because of what they perceived as China’s
political and moral failings! This view was based upon prejudices and
ignorance; just as our politicians’ failure to understand other cultures and
countries has got us into trouble in the Muslim world, the same approach to
China may have even worse consequences in the years ahead.
How little we know about how China works is really quite extraordinary, when you consider
that it is generally acknowledged that China is already influencing us and will
do so more and more. There is a whole raft of assumptions about China that my compatriots
carry in their heads – soon expelled by the smart ones when they visit it. As
Director of the China Media Centre I have enjoyed taking various prominent
Brits on their first visits to China – Boris Johnson, David Willetts, Nick
Davies (usually credited with having exposed the NOW hacking scandal), Steve
Hewlett who presents The Media Show and other leading figures from the media.
They would not contradict my saying that they found a society infinitely more
open and diverse and free than they had assumed.
So my blog will try to show why this is and what we can learn from China. These are some
of the themes I’ll be addressing:
Who governs China, how they are chosen, what kind of people they are and how they think is
a great interest of mine, since I began to meet officials informally through my
work some five years ago;
How young people – students, mainly – think about their own country and about ‘the West’.
How modern history is being reinterpreted to diminish the Communist Party,
though by no means to promote ‘Westernisation’;
What’s being said on and done through the internet;
The media, how they are managed and the roles they play in society. Why many Chinese are
skeptical of Western ‘free’ media, in particular ours;
Immigration- China’s policies, now being run by a former British deputy Vice Chancellor
and shaped to bring in enterprise and creativity, new models and attitudes;
Education – how the schools are combining traditional disciplines with modern ideas about
learning and developing imagination;
Universities- How they manage to be entrepreneurial and profit making despite state control
which, in our country, seems only to crush initiative;
Officials- and how they are learning to re-think their relationships with the public in a
world in which their misdeeds can be easily exposed on the web, in which public
activism is often intemperate and unforgiving and in which the old
authoritarian model won’t work.
Social movements and what their aims are.
Religion in China and what its new flowering means.
These are some of the areas I want to reflect on. I hope others will join me. But the
proviso is that the perspective be that of an English person – or French, or
Russian or American or whatever – seeing China in relation to his or her
society. This is not, in other words, a blog for China experts or even
international relations specialists but about the impact of China on us, and
what we can learn from China.
As I go to – China 4 or 5 times a year, usually for around 2-3 weeks each time, I pick up
stories and meet very different people around the country; I will try to root
what I write about in those encounters, make them concrete. But as I – and the
others I hope will contribute – also dip into the torrent of academic
literature about China, we will certainly be drawing on that too.
That’s all for day one.