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China Economic Weekly Interviews the Author of China Is Unhappy

China Is Unhappy, a newly published book, has recently attracted both attentions and controversies. It is a sister book to China Can Say “No” that was published ten years ago. China Is Unhappy is regarded by many as outpour of extreme nationalism, especially views shared by emotional angry young patriots. What follows is a translation of an article appearing on China Economic Weekly, a weekly magazine under People’s Daily.

In 1996, the western world was shocked by a book called China Can Say “No,” which western media viewed as a sign of increasing nationalism. In March of this year, when the book China Is Unhappy was published, it caused a widespread debate. One thing people noticed is that Song Qiang, one of the authors of China Is Unhappy is the author of China Can Say “No.” Zhang Xiaobo, the publisher of China Is Unhappy was also one of the authors of China Can Say “No.” He used the alias, Zhang Cangcang.

Hence, someone thinks that China Is Unhappy is an “upgrade version” of China Can Say “No,” and a “warm-up of nationalism once more.” China Is Unhappy is the “money machine” crafted by one businessman (Zhang Xiaobo, the publisher) and five writers (Song Xiaojun, Wang Xiaodong, Song Qiang, Huang Jisu, Liu Yang). The subtitle of the book is “A Big Era, Our Major Objective and Our Internal Worries and External Chaos.” The cover also has eye-catching words printed on it, such as “Directly speaking for our country; Exercising our rights on behalf of heaven,” and “Leaving no stone unturned to drive out the evil; Daring to ensure peacefulness in the current world.” The book also drew critics who called it “purely commercial public relation campaign.”

Whether the book has a positive or negative response, the book China Is Unhappy has drawn widespread attention from both domestic and international media and become quite popular. Since it was published on March 13, 270,000 copies of the book have been printed. I recently tried to buy a copy of the book because I needed to write this news report. After visiting three bookstores, I was only able to find a display copy.

The whole book is a collection of the articles written by those five authors. It is divided into three sections: “Why China is Unhappy,” “China’s Claims,” and “Put Down the Little Buddha and Formulate Grand Goals.” The titles and words in the book appear quite striking:

“It is about time for the west to face China’s unhappiness.”

“We are the ones who spoiled westerners’ self-conceited arrogant attitude.”

“If we don’t set a large goal again, China will not have a chance.”

“The U.S. is not a paper tiger; it is rather ‘an aged cucumber covered with green paint’” [1]

After 13 years, why did they decide to write this book? Who are the targeted readers of the book and what information does it give to them? On March 24, I interviewed Liu Yang, one of the authors of China Is Unhappy.

“It is necessary to make a correction beyond what is really necessary”

China Economic Weekly: You participated in writing this book and also discussed your thoughts with other authors. What message do you want your readers to get out of it?

Liu Yang: We have many different views among ourselves. But there is one thing we have in common: 100 years have passed since the opium war. Many of our Chinese people have no confidence. As soon as someone says, “Let’s do something,” a group of others, holding a big stick in their hands, will tell you that you are swellheaded. Go assess your own ability. You are too conceited. They always look up to the west. Some of them are even on their knees or get down to the floor when they view the west. The common view among us is that we want to stand up, look at the west, and dialogue with them at eye level.

If China can do better than the west in the future, we will stand at a higher level. We will be able to look down at them, which is perfectly fine. But many Chinese don’t dare to have these kinds of thoughts.

China Economic Weekly: Do you think those who look down upon and undermine themselves represent the majority of the Chinese population?

Liu Yang: As a matter of fact, many people don’t even realize that they are having a dialogue with the west when they are on their knees or getting down on the ground. They think that is the normal posture and they are used to it. For example, a TV anchor once said the “dragon” is not an appropriate image for China and the “panda” seems to fit better. I think we can certainly have a discussion on whether we should use “dragon” or “panda” as the image of China. The question is why did you decide to change the image? You said it was because the foreigners didn’t like it, so we needed to make a change [to please them]. I think that is absolutely ridiculous. The US likes to use the “eagle” as the country’s symbol and they didn’t bother to ask whether the Chinese people like it or not, nor did they ask whether the English people like it or not.

China Economic Weekly: Many reviews of this book mentioned “nationalism.” Some think that “nationalism” is a hard line and hostile attitude. What is your understanding of “nationalism”?

Liu Yang: There are a fairly sizable number of intellectuals in China who think that nationalism is imbedded in our nation’s character. They think the nationalism or even patriotism is harmful. In the past we had words like “traitor.” Now there is a new word, “patrioteer.”

In fact there are two reasons [for thinking nationalism is harmful]: one is narrow-mindedness. The person doesn’t understand either modern history or the reason and background for nationalism. They just say it as they see it. As to why we say that there is so much negativity about nationalism, it is because nationalism in the west has gone to two extremes: millennialism and racism. Despite these concerns, we still need nationalism. The other reason is to fool our Chinese people. Every country in this modern era is encouraging nationalism. The difference is the way of doing it. The U.S. asks its people to buy domestic made products. That is nationalism.

From a certain perspective, China does not have too much nationalism, but rather lacks nationalism.

China Economic Weekly: What proof is there that our country’s nationalism is not enough?

Liu Yang: Take the tourist industry as an example. These days any country with a bit of history will protect its historical monuments representing its national culture very well; sometimes it will even fabricate its own history. The leaders feel that doing this can increase the national sentiment, while also making money. In China, though over the past few years we have paid more and more attention to this area, the Chinese people have destroyed so many historical monuments. These historical monuments are the carriers of our nationalism, but many people do not care at all. From this perspective, China really lacks nationalism.

Some people may think that we overemphasized nationalism in the book, and that it is an overkill. I agree that it might be an overkill in some areas, but in today’s China, a lot of people do not realize that there are problems in their way of thinking. I think this overkill is necessary as a wake-up call.

"China’s intellectuals should be prepared in advance"

China Economic Weekly: Some readers commented that China Is Unhappy has the purpose of "fiercely criticizing the West" and calls on "China to be a leading power." What is your view about this?

Liu Yang: Many Westerner say that one day China will surpass the United States. However, when we talk about this, we have to face an issue: If China continues its sustainable development, and one day China is able to assume many responsibilities and obligations in this world, how should China be responsible to the world? Even if China surpasses the U.S. in both economic and political influence, I am very clear that China can not become a second United States. It is impossible for China to influence the world in the same way as the United States, because the US approach has had many adverse effects. China must play its role and impact the world in a more responsible way.

China is not there yet, but I think that Chinese intellectuals should start thinking about the future of China’s development goals, and design a better model for China’s development. This should be a country’s long-term goal. We are now "hiding one’s capacity to accumulate power," and cherishing such a historic opportunity. There is nothing wrong with it, but in the meantime our intellectuals should have a greater vision for the world.

China Economic Weekly: Why shouldn’t China follow the U.S. model? Is this a conclusion based on the financial crisis?

Liu Yang: The financial crisis forced us to think about a lot of problems, and made it easier for us to find facts supporting many of our views. The US model allows its 300 million U.S. citizens to live in a relative wealthy way, but wealth is not the same as well-being. In addition, the problem is there are 6 billion people in this world, not just 300 million Americans. We believe that China’s responsibility is that China must establish a development model to allow China’s 1.3 billion people to live in a relatively wealthy way, and feel happier. Such a model should offer a social form for more countries to learn from, make the world wealthier, happier and satisfied. It is impossible for the US model to fulfill such a responsibility to the world.

“American-style obscurantism”

China Economic Weekly: How would you describe the core value of the US model?

Liu Yang: The American value simply equates the well-being of a person with the amount of money and wealth he has. This is very wrong. We can pursue wealth, but we should not view this as a person’s most important goal. The American people are treating many economic goals as pure economic issues. What does that mean? Take business as an example. American enterprises’ only goal is to make a profit. In order to make bigger profits, they reduce costs. Since the biggest cost is people. You can see that, when facing setbacks, many US enterprises lay off employees. This is a purely economic approach; it does not consider social responsibility at all.

China Economic Weekly: If we view the United States as a patient with a problem, how sick do you think the U.S. is?

Liu Yang: I think the United States has a cancer. Let me give a simple example. In the United States, many people worship Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. This is a manifestation of the supremacy of money. Under the influence of a group of theorists, entrepreneurs, and thinkers, the whole U.S. society is oriented toward business worship. Business culture has become a religion in American society. Such a religion has its roots deep in the hearts of the American people. This is the U.S. style of obscurantism.

Before the Great Depression, the U.S. policy was called social Darwinism, which emphasized competition. There was success or failure during competition. The fittest survive, while the weakest die out. This was a very popular view among scholars, thinkers and business leaders back then.

In today’s United States, obscurantism is popular in the form of “the science of success.” Its core concept is that your failure is caused by your own personality. People succeed because they have a good personality, good interpersonal skills, or are good at grasping the opportunity. This concept is deep in people’s hearts. It has also spread to China. What is the problem with such a concept? Some issues are obviously caused by the system, but people are told that they themselves are their biggest enemy. This is why under the same severe economic situation, there are millions of people protesting on the streets in France, but there are none in the United State. It is easy to understand.

Source: China Economic Weekly, April 7, 2009

[1] A metaphor to describe something, although old and shabby, packaged to look good.