Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

View from China – Britain’s Diminished Glory in The East

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In the UK we still tend to have a sense of superiority. Over Europeans. Over Americans. Etc.

After all, we had an Empire. And America used to be merely our colony. But living abroad you sometimes have exchanges which challenge this arrogant, outdated and clingy thought.

There are many Europeans now living and working in Beijing. Germans and Italians seem to be quite numerous, some of the latter prompted to move by stagnant economic conditions back home. It was while I was talking to a German cameraman friend of mine, who worked for Germany’s national broadcaster, that I realized that actually the Germans are the Masters of Europe. He commented how Germany had a much greater population than the UK, and how the broadcaster had bigger funds than the BBC (I could not verify this claim).

There was nothing I could say back to this. After all, Germany’s economy is by far the largest in Europe; stable and prosperous. And he knew it.

This sense of patriotism, of ‘my-country-is-better-than-yours’, and notions of power are of course juvenile. And yet they no doubt have currency in our national psyche and sense of national identity and self-esteem.

In China, this is doubly amplified. People here tend to be very patriotic and can tend toward nationalism. This is not surprising when you consider how patriotism is instilled through education at very early ages in school. They sing the national anthem, learn stories about self-sacrifice and generally listen to media which always conflate personal pride and your country’s pride.

Loving your country and loving your government are two entirely separate things, but sometimes in China I often feel the separation is not so clearly defined. In the UK, the cynical types that we are, we are able to reflexively criticize and mock our leaders and politicians.

On China’s social media there lurk thousands of patriotic comments, discussing China’s power and place in the world. And they don’t think very highly of the UK – if in fact they think of Britain at all.

David Cameron recently led a trade delegation (the biggest ever, numbering 131 people) to China. It received widespread media attention back in the UK. But in China, aside from some dutiful reporting about the visit by state-owned media, the event largely passed by. In fact the Thai riots was more talked about and more prominently reported.

Some choice comments from Weibo (China’s Twitter):

@jiyiran2012: “The Sino-Britain relations are similar to that between china and Australia: it’s all about money and money only”.

@侠客点徐: “Go back to Britain! We don’t welcome anyone who support japan in the air defense matters”.

@你被写在我的歌里-nadal:”now we can see how Britain has been suffering from the economic recession”.

[Translations courtesy of Lotus Yuen]

A lot of Chinese commentators consider Cameron’s visit and his compliments about China as a sign showing how China is growing more and more important on the international stage. There is a very noticeable air of superiority. Some viewed Cameron as ‘begging’ for money and that Britain viewed China as more important to it, than the other way round.

British brands are also not very well known. If pushed they can perhaps name Jaguar or Burberry. Many cannot even name who Britain’s Prime Minister is.

Perhaps it is time to accept that truly the UK is – if not quite a ‘bit-part’ player on the global stage – then at least a diminished cruiserweight but one capable of respect, dignity and influence. It is how the UK can adapt and use it to our advantage that will be the test of Britain’s power.

Written by Lu-Hai Liang

December 5, 2013 at 8:52 am

Posted in Dispatch

Tagged with , , ,

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