For a different take on China it is worth reading Troy Parfitt’s book - Why China Will Never Rule The World: Travels in the Two Chinas . This is not a book about facts and figures and neither is it a hymn to Chinese economic success. As the blurb tells us, the book is mostly travelogue told from an outsider's perspective, albeit an outsider who lived in Taiwan for ten years and who speaks Mandarin.
Three quotes may give a flavour of the writer’s standpoint.
China is a nation of much fakery; there’s fake sushi, fake steak, fake gravy, fake music, fake goods, fake pharmaceuticals, fake news, fake weather reports, fake education, fake rights, fake laws, fake courts, fake judges, a fake congress, a fake constitution….
Unambiguous but not unconsidered. Parfitt thinks there are profound influences behind the fakery – a deep-rooted preference for appearances over reality. The second quote concerns a China Central Television (CCTV) show the writer watched from one of his hotel rooms.
That night on CCTV, a panel of Chinese scientists was explaining how the Americans had never landed on the moon. Not only were the lunar missions faked, they said, but the Apollo program itself was largely a matter of science fiction. The shadows were all wrong. Where were the craters? And just look at that ridiculous flag – not moving even with solar winds. Their tone was both mocking and disdainful, as if even having to explain why this was the biggest fraud of all time insulted their very intelligence.
CCTV is the main state broadcaster in China. The third quote is taken from a conversation with a taxi driver.
“Food in China is packed with shit – shit that will make you sick and kill you. I have a daughter, you know. I’m worried about what she eats. But what am I supposed to do? Complain? Yeah, right. The government would say, ‘Well, that’s very interesting, sir. Why don’t we take a walk and talk about it? Please, tell us whatever it is that’s on your mind.’ And then they’d shoot me in the back of the neck. Bang! And that would be the end of that.”
Obviously an entire country cannot be dismissed on the basis of a single taxi driver's complaints, however chilling they are. However there are many more examples highlighting what Parfitt sees as endemic weaknesses in Chinese culture. For example he sees Confucianism as a significant cultural problem with its emphasis on obedience and harmony.
The book is easy to read and although Parfitt can come across as someone who simply does not like China and the Chinese, he tells us quite clearly why that is. In so doing he provides an interesting and accessible cultural alternative to the usual facts, figures and technology.