Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Chinese Dream

I’ve been seeing a lot of chatter online about the “Chinese Dream” lately. Naturally, I have to question what exactly is this new Chinese dream other than just another shrewd attempt at propaganda?

China is famous for its slogans since the establishment of their new People’s Republic. Mao had his personal slogans; so did Deng Xiao Ping with his “Reform and Opening Up.” Jiang Ze Min had his “Three Represents” and thereafter Hu Jin Tao had “Scientific Development Outlooks.” Naturally, Xi’s new slogan did not surprise me, but there is something different. Xi’s slogan seems a bit more than just a slogan to inform; it is rather inspiring in an abstract and non-informative way!?

But inspiration is a dangerous thing when the object of that inspiration is on the wrong side of things; dreams will become nightmares quickly and soon people will regret that they’ve ever dreamed. I won’t be one to keep the Chinese people from dreaming, but there are a few things to be said before you decide to slumber and wake to find yourselves enwrapped in hallucinations.

First let’s take a look at the root of this new slogan. The surge of interest in a “Chinese Dream” came with the new Chinese Communist Party’s general secretary and military commander-in-chief, Xi Jin Ping. That’s innocent enough. Like all of the glorious leaders before, Xi knew better to step onto the Chinese political stage without some sort of romp and ruckus. His choice is perhaps in response to Thomas Friedman’s New York Times column “China Needs Its Own Dream,” Mr. Friedman had pointed out, rightly, that if the rising Chinese middle class continues to pursuit American style dreams, “a big car, a big house and Big Macs for all,” then “another planet” is required to carry the burden. Friedman is right; with over one-fifth of the world’s population and a continue rise of China’s massive population from poverty, the kind of American dream with waste and indulgence will doom all of us to a planet full of trash and waste land. Mad Max is sure to follow this kind of Chinese Dream.

So Mr. Friedman called for a “new Chinese dream that marries people’s expectations of prosperity with a more sustainable China.” Chinese media is quick to pick up a translation and reprinted it with rigor.

Xi then spoke to give substance to this new Chinese Dream. His carefully crafted speech was given with the back drop at the National Museum’s Road to Revival exhibit at Tiananmen Square. This is symbolic since the whole Road to Revival show is to remind the Chinese that there is a distinct past to China’s glory; and copying anyone else’s success only lessen the significance of China’s strength. His words echoed Friedman’s apprehensions and perceptively pointed to the Chinese ideology of a middle class is of something more than the material comforts so enshrined in the American culture. Yet, this coming from the China’s only party’s leader eerily echoes a reminder that Chinese are not only required to “dream” but are required to “dream” exactly what the party want them to dream.

Last time I checked, when I had let someone else tell me how to dream my own, I was left to a nightmarish existence without a clue as to how to escape my predicaments. Xi’s “Chinese Dream” speeches gives no comfort to my stomach’s turning: invoking the powerful American Dream creed for the rising middle class will eventually lead to a challenge of the party’s legitimacy; rousing such a dream without ensuring the Chinese have what it takes to stand up for their own condition will only enhance Friedman’s worry that Chinese will just chase empty American styles dreams; liberalism and constitutionalism under this new Chinese dream is not afforded any substantive meaning and that could only mean the challenge to China’s one party system will repeat its doom—the rise of another power even more oppressing, its people even less in control of their dreams.

So as more and more Chinese come to their slumber and dream of a place where they are not sure if it is a nightmare, I fear for all of our futures. Only when the people of China have their own understanding of what it means to be empowered to dream will a “Chinese Dream” fully embrace the hope and inspiration that should be. Until then, it is but a nightmare and no one can see beyond the fog of its slogans.

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