The Chinese dragon is not red, or green, or gold. It is iridescent, representing the expedient image that China’s leaders desire to present to the world, to entice or intimidate, to lure or frighten.
Slow economic growth, chronic political gridlock, a sense of America’s decline, and divisive social issues have prompted some Americans to suggest that the U. S. should be more like China, with a less fettered government that can advance America’s interests, economy, and social transformation more effectively.
There is much that is noble and beautiful about China: centuries of magnificent and sublime art, inspiring ideas from thinkers like Confucius and Laozi, a culture of gentility in manners and relationships, but today’s China is a far cry from anything noble. Freedom of expression, religious rights, due process rights, and property rights are routinely violated by the Chinese government. Nobel Peace Prize winner and political prisoner, Liu Xiaobo, in essays published in “No Enemies, No Hatred”, has written extensively on the denial of these fundamental human rights. Tibetan monks and Catholic clergy are routinely beaten and jailed. Millions of Chinese are marginalized or persecuted because they will not subordinate their religious beliefs to the state. Democratic voices are removed from society to maintain a “harmonious” state, and many of the leaders of the Tiananmen Square movement have paid a steep prize, including execution, for their courageous stand for liberty.
State-sponsored cyber-villainy and intellectual property theft are established policy. A foreign company’s opportunities last as long as it takes for China, Inc. to steal their ideas and innovations. Many of the most prominent companies in the world have said as much, and some have exited China because of it.
The green Chinese dragon is an impostor. After decades of forced or coerced abortions, one would expect one-child China to be an environmental paradise, as we are often admonished that safeguarding the environment requires strict population control, but environmental horrors in China are commonplace. Recently, 6,000 dead pigs were discovered floating in rivers that provide Shanghai’s drinking water. Masks are needed on many days in China’s industrial cities. A prominent Chinese commentator, Kaifu Lee, posted: “A Beijinger says, ‘We are the luckiest, we open the window and get a free smoke.’ The Shanghaier replies, ‘So what, we turn on the tap and get pork rib soup!’” In twentieth century America, grass roots political pressure, unhindered research, and entrepreneurship corrected serious water/air-related human health and other environmental problems, but not in the “utopian” Soviet Union, nor yet in “harmonious” China, where these “messy” freedoms are lacking.
Crony capitalism is a way of life. Many of the children and grandchildren of Mao Zedong’s trusted lieutenants are wealthy beyond measure. Property is confiscated so the favored class can reap millions or billions, and the West plays along because there is money to be made.
China bullies its neighbors, and is becoming a bigger bully with each passing year, attempting to push back neighboring nations by land and by sea. Lest we conclude that China’s attitude is a response to America’s support of Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory, there are many other aggrieved parties, including Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia, Australia, and India, all of whom have experienced China’s bellicosity. Adding to this dismal record, China is the enabler of North Korea, the most brutal state in the world.
The dragon’s iridescence is easily explained when one recognizes that Mao is China’s modern icon. The only difference between Mao and Hitler is that Hitler lost a war. Mao had the blood of millions on his hands, yet he died a hero to many Chinese and to many in the West.
If George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and, more recently, Pope John Paul II, Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa, were once Western icons, they are now anachronisms, incompatible with new Western paradigms of materialism, relativism, and interest-group rights that divide rather than unite societies. Self-interest has always warred with ethical principles, and in the West today, self-interest is triumphing. That’s why the Chinese model is so attractive to many Westerners.
Iridescence allows us to see whatever we want to see. To many Westerners, the gold dragon of profit supersedes the bloody red dragon and the faux green dragon. America has nothing to gain, and much to lose, by emulating the “harmonious” Chinese model.