China’s Paranoid Patriotism

Andrew Sullivan —  Aug 14 2012 @ 9:09am

by Gwynn Guilford

Businessman and long-time China resident Mark Kitto explains why the world should fear a China-led 21st century:

The Communist Party of China has, from its very inception, encouraged strong anti-foreign sentiment. Fevered nationalism is one of its cornerstones.

On how the Party derives power from this setup:

To speak ill of China in public, to award a Nobel prize to a Chinese intellectual, or for a public figure to have tea with the Dalai Lama, is to “interfere in China’s internal affairs” and “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people.” The Chinese are told on a regular basis to feel aggrieved at what foreigners have done to them, and the Party vows to exact vengeance on their behalf.

Kitto's account of China's insularity and paranoia resonates with the much-discussed This American Life episode in which New Yorker China correspondent Evan Osnos spoke with American expatriate rocker-journalist Kaiser Kuo, one of the founders of the most popular rock band in China in the 1990s, Tang Dynasty. In May 1999, after the US bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, Tang Dynasty was asked to perform in a "peace concert." From the transcript of the broadcast, Kuo recalls:

So they set up a stage in front of the whole thing. And they bussed in all these people who were wearing color-coordinated t-shirts that say [SPEAKING CHINESE]. Today China says no. And I realize that this is not a peace rally, that this is an anti-American rally….

So my hackles are up. And this camera swings into my face. And it's live, and I didn't know this either, at the time. And they ask me, you're an American. Tell me about your reaction to what's happened. And I said, I come here in the interest of peace. And I said, by peace, I don't mean just peace between the Kosovars and the Serbs, not just peace between the Yugoslav Federation and NATO, but also– and most importantly– peace between China and the United States after this tragic, tragic accident.

And at the word "accident," of course, everyone's face just blanches. The camera swings away. People start yelling at me. And then I can see that– I figured that my band mates who were nearby me were mad because they immediately distanced themselves from me.

Kuo left the band as a result. Reflecting on the experience decades later, he says:

I have yet to meet a single Chinese person, to this day– I mean, like somebody who hasn't at least spent their life outside of China– who doesn't believe that this was a conspiracy, that this is a deliberate act.