Be thankful that Chinese think differently

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 October, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 October, 2009, 12:00am

The 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic has just been celebrated but, 12 years after the handover, there are still citizens in Hong Kong who don't support the regime. Throughout these years, there have always been small demonstrations on October 1; this year there was a bigger protest.

Any fair-minded person will agree that China has, over the past 60 years, made progress in leaps and bounds at a speed and scale unprecedented in human history. There has never been a paradise on earth, and there will never be a perfect society. Of course there is much to improve in China - where else is that not the case? - but not to the extent to deserve protests on its birthday.

It is also extremely odd that the voice of dissent should come from a marginal area of the country, whereas international opinion polls like the Pew Report indicate persistent, overwhelming support of the Chinese government by its people.

The very least we can conclude from such a big contrast is that there is a large cultural and value gap between mainland Chinese and some of Hong Kong's dissidents.

This is understandable as Hong Kong is a pluralistic society as a result of some 200 years of contact with the West. Unlike in other former colonies, there was no decolonisation after the handover. For example, English is still the dominant language in our education system, and is in the process of further squeezing out Chinese.

As a result, Western culture and values permeate many facets of our society, and some people tend to use this as the only standard by which to gauge China against the most advanced Western countries, which have a per capita gross domestic product 10 times higher.

Probing further, evangelism is at the core of the Judeo-Christian tradition of Western culture. Westerners are in the habit of thinking that they are the only custodians of universal truth, for which they have the responsibility to proselytise to the unconverted. It is the fabled 'white man's burden'.

Currently, the West has in its hand a set of what it decrees as universal values, and wants to apply them to all corners of the world.

On the other hand, China has a longer cultural heritage than the Judeo-Christian tradition and is now practising its own brand of socialism.

In the eyes of the capitalistic West, China is highly idiosyncratic, and is steadfastly refusing to conform to the Western mould. It is therefore forever posing a challenge to the monolithic mind of the West.

That is why the West has not, so far, been wholeheartedly supportive of China's re-emergence. Westerners worry that one day a strong China will turn against them.

There is a Chinese saying: 'Those not of our kind will invariably think differently.' The West should be thankful that Chinese do think differently.

China will grow in its own way, without invading other countries and setting up hundreds of overseas military bases, because that is the Chinese tradition. Throughout history, China has been plagued by perennial natural disasters, such as droughts and flooding, with subsequent famines and plagues.

Unlike the West, China never sought external conquest as the solution, even when subject to natural and environmental pressure much greater than the West.

In the same vein, China will develop its own brand of human rights and democracy instead of harping on the Western tune, as this is what 1.3 billion Chinese want.

A small group of Western-oriented dissidents in Hong Kong want to dictate their values to the whole country through minor protests. This is the typical Western spirit; and they can always try.

Lau Nai-keung is a member of the Basic Law Committee of the NPC Standing Committee, and also a member of the Commission on Strategic Development