Monday, September 21, 2015

China, My China

Various politicians and certain hobbyists currently masquerading as presidential candidates are speaking the tough talk about China these days.  They’re hacking us!  They’re building air strips in the South China Sea!  They devalued their currency to try to ruin us!  They don’t play fair!  Just the thought that any country that is not called “The United States” would assert itself in world affairs is enough to drive our politicians to distraction.  It’s a fever, and I hope that it passes.  Ever the optimist!

In the meantime, we just have to listen to our politicians and try to maintain some perspective.  I say, “we,” the Chinese are listening too.  The Chinese government seems to be handling this wave of hysteria very well, a lot better than I am, I can tell you.  I’m mad as hell.  But the Chinese are simply going about their business and pushing the ball down the field according to a long-term plan that seems to be working very well.  Good for them. 

To my Chinese friends:  please don’t worry about the typhoon of bullshit that is coming in your direction from American politicians.  They don’t mean it; they’re doing it for effect.  In my opinion, real American public opinion about China varies only from a strong liking to actual love and admiration.     

My opinion . . . what’s that worth?  Not much, I never assign any particular worth to my own opinion.  But there’s nothing unique about me, so any opinion that I may have is probably shared by others, lots of others.  On the more objective side, there is evidence to support my opinion.

In the Nineteenth Century, England and other European powers were raising holy hell in China.  Unless I am misinformed, the United States was only interested in trading with China.  That trade was extensive.  I will defer to experts as to whether it consisted entirely of fair deals, but it doesn’t look like any animosities were generated. 

Chinese immigrants to America were a great help in building the country.  They didn’t get the warmest welcome in all quarters, that’s true, but bear in mind that the welcome afforded to immigrants from Italy and Ireland was similarly non-fraternal.  By now it cannot be disputed that Chinese Americans are almost seamlessly integrated into American life.  They are great neighbors, co-workers and friends. 

Later on there was all of that unpleasantness with the Japanese.  We were all in that together, weren’t we?  The Chinese people were portrayed very sympathetically in Hollywood movies of the era.  Watch “Thirty Seconds over Tokyo,” and see thousands of Chinese helping our fly boys and putting themselves in real danger to do it.  That’s a true story.  Van Johnson was practically crying when he said, “they’re just like we are!” 

Watch any newsreel footage of the Sino-Japanese War and you can easily see where American feelings were tender, and where they were hard.  The Chinese were seen as longsuffering people who were putting up a great fight and who were deserving of any help that we could offer; the Japanese were seen as brutal aggressors who would be getting theirs, in spades, as soon as possible. 

(Let me just mention that yes, I am aware of the casual, na├»ve racism that was a feature of American life at the time, and I know that it fell upon the Chinese as well as the Japanese.  The smiling Chinese shop owners in California with the “WE CHINESE” signs in their shop windows.  Mea maxima culpa, we’re all guilty when those things happen.  Hopefully we’ve learned something in the meantime, although sometimes I doubt it.) 

China suffered horribly and fought very hard, at great cost, but we were there, weren’t we?  Certainly the Flying Tigers were there.  American airmen are buried in the Cemetery of Anti-Japanese Aviator Martyrs in Nanjing, and there are two museums in modern day China devoted to the Flying Tigers (the Chengdu Jianchuan Museum and the Flying Tigers Museum in Kunming).  Certainly we provided material support for the Nationalist troops doing the fighting. 

This fact is now openly reported in China.  I saw a show on CCTV a few years ago about the heroic resistance of Nationalist troops trapped in some kind of pocket by superior numbers of Japanese troops.  The Chinese soldiers wore American fatigues and helmets, and they fought with American weapons, they looked for all the world like some kind of American Marines.  The unit was supplied by an American airlift from, I think, Burma.  It reminded one of the struggles at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge.  I saw this on cable TV in Thailand.  I thought that it was most interesting that both the Nationalist troops and the Americans got a lot of credit and praise for this action.  That was an admirable accommodation of reality and a shining testament to the Chinese leadership that allowed it.  Deng Xiaoping would be proud of his children. 

Deng Xiaoping!  Mr. “Discover Truth From Facts!”  Between the war and the mid-Seventies there was little to celebrate in the relationship between China and America, but that changed quickly.  China became more pragmatic and less ideological, and America returned to the “let’s do business” model of the previous century.  My own father benefited from this shift.  He didn’t benefit financially, but he got an ego boost.  He was an engineer, his specialty was the burning of coal for electrical power generation.  This interested the Chinese government very much, since they had a lot of coal and they needed a lot of electricity.  My father made seven trips to China in the late Seventies and the Eighties as one of various groups of Western engineers who were specifically chosen and invited by China.  These engineers spent a lot of time addressing groups of Chinese engineers and responding to questions, and there were smaller group sessions devoted to brainstorming particular problems that the Chinese were encountering.  The Chinese hosts did not merely try to impress the visitors, rather they honestly sought help with challenges that they were facing. These were the actions of a secure, reality-based people.  

By now, of course, China is our biggest financial backer and our lender of first resort.  The trade relationship has been mutually beneficial to a wild degree.  We have financed China’s growth; they have financed our wars and built our consumer goods.  That we should be anything but great friends is a notion so stupid that only a presidential candidate would espouse it. 

Most importantly, we like each other!  We have a history of trade and cooperation!  So I say to China, my China, and to you, dear reader, “don’t believe the hype.”  The rhetoric of a presidential campaign has its own unreasonable logic, and should be taken with a grain of salt.  The reality of it is that China and America are friends, and are likely to remain so.  Wishful thinking, you say?  Perhaps, and I’ve been wrong before.  But the odds are with me. 

P.S.  But Fred, what about that whole Korean War thing?  That was an aberration, plain and simple.  We asked for it, by marching right up to the Yalu River and waving nuclear weapons around, and they gave it to us.  That was a long time ago.  Get over it. 

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