Monday, 10 March 2014

Quote of the Day: Orville Schell

Long-time China watcher Orville Schell and his latest book
When I have the time I like to listen to a weekly podcast called Sinica hosted by two Beijing-based expats/China experts, Kaiser Kuo and Jeremy Goldkorn.

Kuo is American Chinese, studied Putonghua in China and founded the rock band Tang Dynasty as well as Spring and Autumn. He now is director of communications for Baidu.

South African Goldkorn is also fluent in Chinese, and is the founder and editor of, a blog that translates headlines in state media, making these stories more accessible to the outside world.

The two are quite funny on Sinica trading barbs with each other and like to show off how much they know about the mainland. But they also invite guests on the show from journalists to writers and academics to discuss various timely topics.

This past Friday the guest is a leading China watcher, Orville Schell, who has written a number of books on the country, and the latest one co-written with John Delury is called Wealth and Power: China's Long March to the Twenty-First Century.

Interestingly the book is actually about 11 influential officials, writers, activists and leaders who contributed (or not) to the development of modern China. Some include Empress Dowager Cixi, Liang Qichao, Dr Sun Yat-sen, Chiang Kai-shek, as well as Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping and Zhu Rongji.

The authors end with imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo who was sentenced to 11 years in jail in 2009 for inciting subversion of state power for his work on Charter 08, which calls for political reform and the end to one-party rule.

His wife Liu Xia was admitted into hospital in Beijing last month, against her wishes of wanting to be treated overseas. She has been under virtual house arrest since 2010 and because of this isolation has admitted being depressed and physically ill.

This background gives us context to the Sinica podcast, as Goldkorn asked Schell towards the end of the show (around 41:20): What else aside from being rich and powerful, is that what China has to offer the world?

Schell replied:

I think the question that he [Liu Xiaobo] poses for China and for indeed all of us is what is the real goal? And for him the real goal is not simply to be wealthy and powerful and to look good. He's much more of a humanist. And I think also lurking in the back of his critique is something that the leaders now sort of see but are quite surprised by, namely that getting wealthy and powerful doesn't get what people thought for all these 170 years create ipso facto respect.

And that is what is really wanted -- is respect. That's why there's such an incredible fixation on soft power. And I think Liu Xiaobo is sort of trying to feel his way to some kind of answer of respect and basically what he is saying if I read him correctly is, if you want to be respected, you first of all have to earn the respect of your own people.

And I think this is where China is still incomplete. And so in a certain sense his answer is justice does create a kind of respect of your own people and that can be brought home the most yearned for aspect of the whole 20th century sort of struggle which is to be respected by the world is still elusive. And I think it is very galling for these leaders to find it can't be had by control.

After Schell said this, there was a few seconds of silence as everyone in the room digested this well thought out observation.

Which makes one wonder, does China realize what it is doing will never gain it the respect it craves, and will it do anything about it?

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