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These fundamental inconsistencies will worry the average Chinese reader less than us; for them the import will be clear enough. Nor is Jiang likely to have reflected on Western reactions when he wrote his book, or realised that foreigners might be puzzled to hear a Chinese democrat extolling national aggressiveness, or suggesting that when it comes to dealing with the West, Genghis Khan got it right.

For all Jiang’s expressions of good intent, like China with its ­Leninist-corporatist capitalism and “socialism with Chinese characteristics”, the book is ultimately incoherent. In the end, only two clear messages remain. The first is that a predilection for violence and conflict are deep in the wolf’s being and central to the world we live in — a force of nature not just to be accepted but revered. The second is an unavoidable implication that it is payback time in China’s relations with the marauding West, though there is little suggestion that wolfishness should take military, as distinct from economic, forms.

Jiang’s book is a pungent reminder that, for all the worthy calls at home and abroad for increased human rights and the rest, Chinese thinking does not fit Western categories. Nor is there much reason why it should. Their culture and experience of the world have been ­different over many millennia, and their contacts with the West on the whole negative; communism, like opium, it is worth remembering, was shipped in from abroad.

In The Writing On The Wall: China and the West in the 21st Century, Will Hutton says China will only come good when it absorbs Enlightenment values, presumably on the grounds that these values are universal. However, few on the Left appear to be insisting that the Enlightenment should become gospel in Muslim countries, so we are asking more of China than we dare ask of them. In any event, a little more humility on our part would be advisable, especially in China’s case. It was after all Enlightenment values such as rationalism and scientism that, carried to extremes, were ultimately responsible for communism. In that sense, it could be argued, not wholly perversely, that in China Enlightenment values have been tested to destruction. Nothing could be more rational than changing the “Go” on traffic lights from green to revolutionary red, which was done, briefly, when I was in Beijing.

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August 22nd, 2008
2:08 AM
Actually,seeking to blend the strong, hale, and virile with the civilized, spiritual, and sophisticated is nothing new. Indeed, it's necessary. Without constant infusion of the virile, society becomes decadent and weak. But, without high ideas and spiritual values, man is not much above beast. So, it's good that the novelist wants to fuse the high culture of the Chinese with the free spirit of the Mongols. The reviewer says Mongols did not respect women, and it's true that Mongol women didn't have the freedom that modern women have. But, they were, in many ways, freer than Chinese women who had their feet bound and were stuck on little farms from cradle to grave. A book like this can be misinterpreted and dangerous, but if used intelligently, it's the sort of message we all need. If Jack London fused Darwinism with socialism, I don't see why we should not try to fuse the primal and hale with the civilzed and intellectual.

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