February 2, 2023

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“The Great Leap Backward”: China is closing in

“The Great Leap Backward”
China closes

By Marcel Grzanna

Officially, the Chinese government takes a stance of openness to the world. In fact, she distances herself from the rest of the world. A dangerous but desired side effect is the ever-growing nationalism.

The Chinese Academy of Historical Research (CAHR) caused a real controversy at the end of August. He circulated a post on social media dealing with the foreign policy of the Ming and Qing dynasties. At the time, Chinese emperors had for centuries dictated political, economic, and cultural distance to their empire from foreign countries, giving China the attribute of being a “closed country.”

A few readers may not immediately realize the parallel is 2022 – more than 100 years since the end of the Qing dynasty. Massive travel restrictions with no prospect of change in the future have effectively kept China’s population in their own country for more than two and a half years. This is about the corona virus. However, at the same time, the so-called double economic cycle is in full swing. This should reduce dependence from abroad to an absolute minimum in the long run.

To the Economy: “Buy China”

Listed companies are moving from foreign stock markets – more or less voluntarily – to Chinese financial centers as Chinese regulators put pressure on them. The technology sector in particular wants to distance Beijing from its desire to capture the upside of foreign capital. The government also tightened the localization quota for state-owned enterprises last year. In the case of public tenders, applicants must show more components that come 100 percent from China: “Buy China” as an order for their own economy. In terms of personnel, foreign companies are increasingly forced to hire Chinese managers.

The CAHR authors of the paper, titled “A New Study of the ‘Closed Country’ Problem,” argue that former imperial distance is a necessity to maintain China’s territorial and cultural security. They described the policy as “self-restraint” rather than “preemptive”.

Some readers’ reactions were highly critical and prompted censors to intervene in the debate, reports Chinese-language daily “Lianhe Zaobao” from Singapore. Some commentators have accused historians, as government propaganda outlets, of providing historical justification for current trends.

Rulers are afraid of losing power

Indeed, the modern form of “self-restraint” seems lonely to many Chinese. A user responded to the post with his own article through a personal WeChat account. The crux of the criticism: This was not about national security as propagated by the Ming and Qing emperors, but about the rulers’ fear of losing power. “Anyone with a little common sense can tell the difference,” the author wrote. The play was read 100,000 times within a day before censors stepped in and banned the text from the digital space.

The sole ruling Communist Party categorically rejects the allegation of secession. According to the official line, China continues to open up to foreign countries. However, in reality, Beijing’s policy belies this claim. Requirements for business and industry are only one side of the coin. Massive interventions in educational opportunities for children, young people and adults who want to learn English better mean an equal reversal.

Xi instead of English

Last year, authorities in China’s international metropolis of Shanghai, of all places, decided to end English tests in local elementary schools. Instead, a new addition to the curriculum for juniors is “Xi Jinping’s Thoughts on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” — a book containing the intellectual expression of a state leader that, with its aggressive international marketing, is reminiscent of Mao. The Bible hype of the 1960s and 1970s comes to mind.

Thousands of private education opportunities, which for decades had given people in the country the opportunity to learn foreign languages ​​- especially English – outside the state education system, were closed nationwide. The attack was cynically described by some in the country as a “great backward step by China”. English was still being promoted by the state leadership as the key to China’s economic rise, especially at the turn of the century.

“What we are currently experiencing is the ideological radicalization of the country at the expense of its economic, social and cultural opening,” says Qin Liwen, a Berlin journalist and author whose work deals with China’s political development. “An unintended side effect of this policy is the ever-growing nationalism in the country.”

Nationalism is on the rise

Expressions of this nationalism are sometimes extreme, as recently demonstrated by the example of the Liupanshui school in Guizhou province. “Kill, kill, kill,” the youth chanted as part of the National Defense School military training. At the same time, they vowed in unison to kill anyone who dared to challenge the Communist Party, wherever that person was in the world.

A Chinese woman who was photographed wearing a Japanese kimono in Suzhou was arrested and interrogated for several hours, causing a sensation. Later, the officers noted that everyone could wear whatever they wanted, but advised them to be sensitive when choosing clothes so as not to provoke third parties.

Foreigners are increasingly being turned away when trying to check into hotels outside major cities. Some report that in recent years they have regularly engaged in debates about the West’s approach to the People’s Republic, which they are unwilling to initiate, let alone lead. Growing nationalism coupled with a strict zero-covid policy is prompting many foreigners to leave the country.

“Of course, nationalism exists in other countries,” says publicist Kin. “But in a dictatorship, there is no social reaction. As long as nationalism supports the Chinese leadership, it will encourage it and cut off sweet voices. In such an environment, nationalism will multiply rapidly because of public imbalance.”

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