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The fact that China is as confused about its future as we are is troubling, even if it does not necessarily mean that Chinese revanchism will be a threat to the world, and that conflict is unavoidable. Though the opposite — that China will prove a wholly benign global power — seems even less likely.

We do not have to choose between the views of the “yellow perilists” or the guilt-stricken “panda-huggers”, who have tended to dominate China studies in America. What these books and their reception show is what you would expect: that there is a new flush of pride and bullishness in China, but that Chinese states of mind are confused, fluid and evolving.

What does the West think about the Chinese character? Nothing: we are debarred from having a view. “The one thing that is not allowed, that is absolutely forbidden,” Pierre Manent, a French political philosopher has observed about social and foreign policy debate, “is to recognise that there are differences between groups of humans that are significant and that demand to be taken into account in political actions.” All we are permitted to say about another person, Manent wrote, “is that he is just like me” (“mon semblable”).

If the Chinese are simply nos semblables, nos frères, then there’s no problem. Wolves and sheep we can forget. A fully functioning Chinese democracy is not just desirable but inevitable, as a liberty-loving, ­minority-respecting multi-party system springs fully formed from the nation’s womb. Those with illusions of this sort should contemplate the kind of democracy our Slav semblables, the Russians, have produced to date, then reflect on what the Chinese are likely to achieve, and when. It is not a question of the Chinese being unsuited to democracy — it exists in qualified form in Taiwan and Singapore — but of China’s political heritage, and Chinese timescales. Economic advance and political and cultural backwardness are incompatible, our moralists tell us, but they have co-existed for 30 years, and could do so for many more.

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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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