Blue dragon, white tiger, scarlet bird, black tortoise
Huangdi Xuanyuan, the much-revered Yellow Emperor, the human ancestor of the Chinese nation and the founder of Chinese civilization, could certainly not foresee that his nation-state project would produce a superpower 5,000 years later.
Reading the International Herald Tribune in the ancient Chinese capital, I smiled at a headline: US Praises Myanmar as Model for Efforts Toward Democracy. So, the role model for the Arab nations is Turkey and for the less fortunate Asian nations, Myanmar. Naiveté can be an American quality, but there must be limits.
According to the Tribune, “After years of denouncing Myanmar over its human rights record the U.S. State Department is holding the country up as an example of democratic change. The State Department’s annual report on human rights noted Myanmar’s moves toward greater openness, democracy and liberty.” The report also expressed hope that progress in Myanmar would inspire change in other closed societies.
“Ah, the new Hollywood production ‘Tiananmen 2’ is coming to a theater near you,” my Chinese friend laughed. “Tickets available at all box offices in Myanmar!”
My friend, not a member of the Communist Party, is quite critical of his country. He would give long lectures on the widening income gap between the rich and the poor, corruption, nepotism, de jure injustice and the mushrooming of a disturbing class of nouveau riche. But a “Chinese Spring?” No. Myanmar as role model for China? Laughter.
If, he said, instead of you your father had visited China 35 years ago and instead of me my father had talked to him about corruption, nepotism and injustice they both could have been sent to a dungeon. “Now, you’ll go back to your country and I to my business.”
“But,” he added thoughtfully, “Dissent is often punished and dissidents are accused of plotting to overthrow the regime.” Now he sipped his tea and said with a grin “but does that not sound familiar to you?” I objected. “Be fair, you cannot compare Turkey with China. Here there isn’t even access to Google or YouTube.” “For how many years did you ban YouTube?” he answered with the same grin.
As both of us smoked Chairman Mao’s “Yanan” cigarettes on the banks of the Yellow River, he continued. “If there were free elections in China tomorrow you can be sure that the Communist Party would have easily garnered more than 50 percent of the vote. And does this sound familiar to you? When there is oppression and injustice it does not much matter if it comes from a nominally undemocratic regime or a democratically-elected one.”
“Probably.” I reminded him that three basic social ingredients are required to have a population whose majority would shrug off the less fortunate people’s cry for freedom and justice: A tradition predominantly featuring obedience to the State; economic growth and wealth shared by the same majority of the population; and religion. The first two are typically Turkish and Chinese. I shall leave the first one to sociologists; but it is not a coincidence that China and Turkey have boasted the world’s fastest growth rates in the last several years.
In the last three decades, China has grown to be the second largest economy in the world while it has lifted 200 million people out of poverty, making the country a pioneer in pursuit of the United Nation’s first Millennium Development Goal of eradicating poverty and hunger. One of the world’s poorest “peasant” economies only three decades ago, China is today the world’s biggest importer of premium luxury goods. Yet, the Turkish regime is luckier than the Chinese because it also enjoys the “third insurance policy” for survivability: a regime which appeals to the religious sentiments of the majority.
“There won’t be massive riots in your country,” my friend assured me on the Eastern Summit of Mount Huashan. “And even without the third insurance policy, there won’t be massive riots in my country either.”
We, along with a few other friends, were about 250 kilometers away from another mountain, Qiao, where Emperor Huangdi’s mausoleum attracts thousands of Chinese visitors every day. And we did not mind if one of us was from a U.S.-appointed “role model” country and the other from a country which another U.S.-appointed “role model” country was supposed to inspire. We all smiled and kept on smoking our “Yanan” cigarettes in honor of Chairman Mao. Funny, none of us was a communist!