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Thinking about the Chinese character — and having seen them at their most anarchic (in the Cultural Revolution), their most orderly (Hong Kong and Singapore), and in their in-between state in today’s mainland China, I have concluded that it exists — does not, of course, mean resurrecting stereotypes. To get a clearer view of where China may be heading, we have to move away from our tradition of demonising or romanticising the country, something we have done for centuries. (Voltaire kept a picture of Confucius in his study, just as some of his spiritual descendants had their picture of Mao.) All that is required is a small effort of imagination.

Put yourself in their position. With their size, their numbers, their antiquity, their glittering civilisation, then the brutal puncturing of their “Middle Kingdom” illusions by the colonial West, then the ­savagery of the warlords and the Japanese, then the even greater slaughter under Mao, and now their spectacular resurgence based on Western-style capitalism and technology — how would you behave? Might you not be at once cocky and resentful, confused as to who you are, and consequently a little prickly and assertive?

Of course there will be trouble with China. What do we expect, a garden of heavenly peace? The only uncertainties, it seems to me, are how much we shall have to confront, and how much can be pre-empted.

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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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