the days that followed it was hard to get a gauge of what people
were really thinking. Every cab driver in Chongqing gabbed about
imminent butt-whipping, but a true opinion was not forthcoming.
Chinese really love face (i.e. pride) and respect the face of even
the hairiest foreigner so a foreigner will rarely hear frank
opinions about his own country. But soon enough the people I know
and the cabbies who I got to laugh opened up and let it all out.
of them, if they're honest, feel America got what it deserved. But
in the same breath my friends and "chauffeurs" would denounce
terrorism, chaos, Islam
and any attack on innocents. The act itself is abhorred by any upstanding
Chinese who knows his history, but there is little love to spare
for a government that all remind me was behind the bombing
of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, the downing of a Chinese jet
and the continual support of Taiwan and to a lesser extent Tibet.
friend of mine went out with his friends the night of the 11th and
celebrated. He told me this seconds after he asked after my family
and friends and expressed his sorrow for the innocents who died.
We talked for a bit. The same distinction made in almost every conflict
with America was made here: the people of America the people
of any country never deserve to be murdered for deeds perpetrated
by their government, no matter how representative that government
claims to be.
of religion, even Buddhism, is a most recent phenomenon in China.
Monasteries throughout the country were ransacked up until the '70s
and to speak to a Christian priest, propagate Christianity and even
to visit a church was a crime punishable by death. Muslims ("Huizu")
have been in China for ages and even established a powerful kingdom
in Yunnan in the 13th century. But these Muslims have been "in
the fold" long enough to have accepted Mandarin as their language
they "bother no one" The word Huizu implies a blood-minority
of the Chinese nation. Other Muslims are called Islanjiao "of
the Islam religion."
Muslims are a different breed, altogether. They have the audacity
to grumble in private about their most recent "liberation"
and they still speak Turkish or Uigher. They even decide to blow
up a bus every now and then.
people have violence in their blood," says Liu Sifu over drinks
and smokes. "Their religion is not a peaceful one."
Sifu is all for America bombing the hell out of Afghanistan. He
reveres America for the very virtues Bush claims to be defending
from monstrous evil. The very virtues which supposedly drive Muslims
to envy and kill us. Liu Sifu remembers not being able to discuss
anything for fear of the government he holds America responsible
for the relative freedom many Chinese enjoy today.
as the views on America differ from person to person here, so do
the views on the tragedy in New York. Generally, US
foreign policy is despised, extreme Islam is feared and terrorist
acts are abhorred. The suicide mission is considered either retribution
for America's past crimes or murder of innocent civilians or both.
However, regardless of a person's opinion of America or the tragedy,
swift retaliation seems to be endorsed by the majority.
again, is a factor. How can Bush (or America) ever face the world
and still claim to be the most powerful nation, the "world's
policeman," if he does not crush those who killed his people?
"Bush has lost face," says Taiwanese businessman Huang
Xianshen. "How could he let this happen?" For Bush to
sit at a table with Arafat and bin Laden and discuss American foreign
policy improvements instead of using force would show weakness and
fear. A Chinese proverb says, "Hide your broken arm in your
sleeve" (i.e. never show weakness). According to this maxim,
what should one do with a powerful right arm after receiving a black
reason why many Chinese support retaliation is the proximity of
rebels, dissidents and other "troublemakers," as well
as China's history with foreign aggression and domestic unrest.
Any threat to the government's legitimacy in China is ruthlessly
suppressed, exiled or co-opted.
Gong members and late '80s activists were and still are being beaten,
jailed, executed and forced underground by a fearful and relentless
government. The populace, especially in the case of the Falun Gong,
strongly supports the government. Unrest and instability are words
that strike fear into the heart of many Chinese they smack of
weakness, and history has shown what happens in China if the central
government is weak: insurrections and invasions.
are barraged daily with "miraculous peaceful unification"
slogans, curses hurled at Taiwanese President Chen Shui Bien and
bans of this and that artist's work if it opposes Beijing in any
way. Exiled monk-leaders, a large military presence and a mass influx
of Han Chinese taking positions of wealth and influence work to
cow Tibet, and similar tactics prevail in Xinjiang, home of the
China and several Central Asian countries recently created the Shanghai
Cooperation Organization (SCO) which was founded for the most
part to coordinate the member-country's anti-terrorism efforts.
The Chinese government sees "extremist Islam"as a potential
catalyst for insurrection in Xinjiang and will do everything it
can to stabilize its borders and maintain order and control of resource-rich
Xinjiang. One members of the SCO, Uzbekistan, is a source of worry
for Chinese officials. A rebellion led by Uzbek Muslims has spilled
over to Kyrgyzstan, and Taliban
fighters are suspected of playing a role. Incidentally, Uzbekistan
has offered up its land as a possible staging point for the US war-machine.
Chinese government and much of the populace have no love for threats
and this helps to explain why support of retaliation drowns out
any shouts of celebration. But the destruction of the Taliban may
or may not be a boon for the Chinese. Fleeing guerrilla fighters
and angry Muslims might not be pillars of stability on China's western
Chinese government is politically astute enough not to provoke military
(or any other) conflict with a country whose strength they respect
and whose economic partnership they need. Nevertheless, Chinese
will watch with interest the struggle between Islam and the West,
not only for national security concerns, but perhaps also to see
how Islam fairs in a battle with the almighty West.
printable version of this article
is a teacher living and working in China. His articles have appeared
in the South China Morning Post, the Minnesota Daily,
and elsewhere. His exclusive Antiwar.com column appears Tuesdays.
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