A look into China: from Culture to International Relations

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(I have been busy reading for my research method class. I am working on a research proposal regarding the Impact of WTO membership to China’s development. And I am yet to find a research gap for my proposal. There are just a lot of books and journals to read. But, honestly, as much as I dread reading all of them, they’re quite fascinating. Especially that I’m into China a lot.

After reading I thought of sleeping already. But I suddenly have the mood to write. And I like to write about China. So here you go—what I squeezed from the last threads of my brain!)

China and the Philippines have not been in friendliest terms since last year’s standoff in the West Philippine Sea. Yet despite of all that is going on in our two countries’ relationship, my fascination to China—to its culture, history and people—does not changed.

Chinese culture for me is just so rich, so colorful and so diverse. The intricate designs in their pottery and clothing as well their spoken and written language tell much about the antiquity and sophistication of Chinese culture. Their architecture which stresses on harmony with nature and of the people living in it interests me a lot. It tells a lot about the fact that human beings are interconnected with nature. And the more we fashion our buildings and our homes with nature, the more livable they become.

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And of course their language for me is really awesome. The first time I heard it as a child, I thought it was strange and I laughed hard at the accent and the pronunciation. In fact, growing up, it was a joke among my friends that you are Chinese when you speak gibberish. But growing up, I realized how beautiful it is. The words are seemed to be pronounced with adequate pauses. Chinese people also seem not to bend their faces too much when they’re speaking. It was a joke in one documentary that I watched quite a long time ago that the Chinese looked younger than Americans because they don’t pressure themselves too much when speaking. That means that they use less facial muscles when they’re speaking, only their mouth. So they tend to be younger looking!

In talking about China, I cannot omit or even neglect in smallest terms my admiration for their history. China is the only ancient civilization that has survived up to this day. Great empires like Rome, the Aztecs and the Greeks have come and gone. But China has remained intact. A lot of it has to do, in the words of Martin Jacques, with the Han identity. And I believe in that.

In the duration of Chinese history, they have produced great minds; poets, scientists, political leaders and great warriors. In fact, I was surprised how the very few people like Marco Polo and some Christian missionaries during the medieval period had actually come to admire Chinese thinkers like Confucius and Lao Tzu. At that time, China’s Yuan dynasty was an advanced civilization, a far cry from Europe which was by then in its Dark Ages.

It would take around half a millennium before Europe would beat China. In fact, even as late as the 18th century, China still accounted for one third of the world economy.

I could not forget the story of how the British ambassador to China was told that his country’s products were not needed by the Chinese for they produced goods that were more plentiful and superior in quality than their European counterparts.

But years of stagnation, civil war and foreign domination reversed the fortune against China. We now know China as the leading copy cat in the world, producing counterfeited products of all sorts—sometimes making them even better!

And the fall of China is also at the same time when underdevelopment is rampant in the developing world. And I came from one. The Philippines and China have both endured the humiliation of foreign domination and abuses. We both have ups and downs in the second half of the 20th century. And we still have problems like high infant mortality rates, poverty, income inequality, and many hindrances to political rights and freedom among many other issues typical to any developing country.

And I think my fascination for China is related to that fact that both China and the Philippines are developing nations.

So much so that China is growing leaps and bounds—economically, militarily and politically. For me this is an inspiration for Asian nations and to the developing world in general. There might be few developed nations from Asia, Africa and Latin America, but not one is as big and influential as China.

And for this reason I shall say that China should not be feared but rather welcomed.

If our response to China is to run into the clutches of the United States, then we are inviting conflict. China becomes ‘more’ aggressive not when individual nations resist in territorial disputes but when we invite foreign powers into the problem.

That is why I think that we, in Asia have a lot to do to assist China in making it a more responsible member of the international community. We cannot make it responsible if we invite great power politicking. We can only do it if both of us are truly committed to fair dialogue and cooperation.

In that matter, I think the responsibility is far greater for East Asian and Chinese majority countries and territories; Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and to lesser extent, South Korea and Japan. These countries which share a lot in common with China should show the Chinese that a political system and society that respects human freedom and human dignity is the one that flourish and endure. And the Confucian culture which these countries share with China is not in many ways incompatible with democracy.

If we succeed in helping China transform into a vibrant democratic, but distinctly ‘Chinese’ society, then we might avert the wars that has so characterized the rise of emerging superpowers throughout history. If we succeed in doing that, we will be able to continue progress in the region. China, as much as the Philippines, has a lot to profit from it. I believe that if peace and stability in the region will continue, China will progress and in its own pace, democratized — with Chinese characteristics of course.

And for me if regional conflicts would be averted, that means an even greater admiration for countries in Eastern Asia, Philippines and China included of course.

As a starting point, we should remember the old Chinese saying which goes, ‘the Yangtze river becomes wider as it nears the sea’. It implies that we, in the new generation, have become wiser and achieved greater things like the Yangtze which become wider and wider as it approach the sea.

Image from http://www.lovethesepics.com/2011/03/21-stunning-superbly-serene-chinese-gardens/

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