Chinese President Xi Jinping has talked about making arduous efforts to achieve what he calls the “Chinese dream” (Zhongguo meng) – a great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.
Participating in a CNN discussion on the concept, Wu Jianmin, a former Chinese ambassador to the United Nations, said, “Reemergence of China is the Chinese dream.” He expanded, “China used to be a leading nation in the world for many. many centuries. But in the past two centuries, China lagged far behind the industrialized countries. Chinese were down and out. Chinese always dream of better future.”
More interestingly, Ambassador Wu said “we need rule of law and democracy” in the definition of the Chinese dream adding, “Rule of law and democracy is the goal of our political reform” and “Xi Jinping was very clear on that. We need rule of law and democracy.”
I had an experience of a different kind of Chinese dream the other day when I attended a talk by a visiting Chinese professor of history. His topic was the Cultural Revolution in his region. For more than half an hour, he went into details about the existence of factions and their nature during the Cultural Revolution and how these had impacts on the society. The Chinese professor had collaborated with an American professor in researching on the issue and published a series of articles in international research journals. I thought he was forthright on issues, including in calling the Chinese regime a totalitarian one.
As he ended his remarks and after the chair had taken advantage of his being the chair and thus asking the first question, the next question was posed by an elderly gentleman who asked whether the many articles that he had written were solely in English or also available in Chinese and accessible to the Chinese people in China. The Chinese professor responded that these were available at his university but not to the general public in China.
This question was followed by others about how the Cultural Revolution was being explained to the Chinese students currently and whether he could use terms such as “dictatorship” (which one questioner said he had used during his presentation here) while teaching to his students in China.
The Chinese professor responded that he was part of a committee discussing content of a text book for high school students in China and that Cultural Revolution was covered in just three pages. He said he would not be able to use terms like dictatorship in China. In short, it was clear that only sanitized versions of such issues were being made accessible to the Chinese people.
As I sat listening to these I began to realize the existence of another Chinese dream; projecting two versions of China – one for the Chinese public and the other to the international community.
Internationally, over the years China has loosened up and has been making aggressive attempts to project a more open image. Chinese scholars and diplomats have changed their language of discourse. State Councilor Yang Jiechi.who is also the Director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Leading Group of the CPC Central Committee said it as much in a signed article in Qiushi (Seeking Truth), the flagship magazine of the Communist Party of China (CPC), on August 16, 2013: “With the layout being more comprehensive and more balanced, China’s diplomacy under new circumstances displays such features as rich ideas, clear priorities, firm positions, flexible approaches and distinctive styles.”
The article had the interesting title, “Innovations in China’ s Diplomatic Theory and Practice Under New Conditions.”
Today, Chinese scholars particularly (like the professor that I mention here) can be seen to take a more independent line on developments in China, in conferences outside of China. China scholars outside also have comparatively better access to information in China than before. English language Chinese official media can be occasionally seen to be addressing issues that are still taboo to Chinese.
But the above seem to be a strategy aimed at fulfilling another Chinese dream: to create an image of an open China to the outside world while continuing to maintain a firm grip within China.
The same strategy is being applied to the issue of Tibet. On the one hand, China tries to create an image of development and happiness in Tibet to the outside world; on the other Tibetans in Tibet are increasing finding greater restrictions to their day to day life, let alone their political and other grievances being addressed by the Chinese leadership.
Therefore, today there are two Chinese dreams; the one being experienced by President Xi Jinping and the other by the international community about China. I guess the truth will be known only after China wakes up to the reality from the dream.