Liang Jing: The Underlying Causes of China’s Image Crisis

Overseas political commentator Liang Jing just wrote the following essay, thanks to Dr. David Kelly for the translation:

According to current Chinese official criteria whereby “keeping out of trouble is the name of the game,” Hu Jintao’s “soft spring trip” to Japan was a success. With all the turmoil of the overseas passage of the Olympic torch, those who didn’t want to see further excessive reaction from the Chinese dragon were sweating a bit on Hu’s behalf. They hoped he wouldn’t cause any trouble on the trip and give China’s “patriot bandits” any new excuses to make trouble. And the Japanese, being well aware of Chinese cultural psychology, were naturally all the more cautious. Both greeting and farewelling Hu, the Emperor gave the Chinese people plenty of face. Hu, of course, put on a flawless display as well, leaving everyone with the best possible impression.

As Japan and the entire international community have recently been at pains to show, the vast majority of people in the world wish China well, and as Hu also tried to show on this visit to Japan, the majority of Chinese show good sense, and not as irrational as displayed by some “indignant youth.” However, the current crisis of China’s image cannot be eliminated by the success of this symbolic visit, because, as it once again demonstrated, China’s rulers lack the expected qualities of character and leadership to lead China out of the shadow of its chaotic historical cycle to join the ranks of modern civilized states. And this is precisely the underlying cause of the crisis China’s image.

For sober-minded Chinese, many details of Hu Jintao’s visit to Japan are reminders of how immeasurably more backward China’s political civilization is compared to the neighbour who historically learned from it. Just to take Hu Jintao’s visit to the Matsuyama Ballet for example: would organizations in China, official or otherwise, allow similar organizations any chance to survive?[1] China’s “patriot bandits” would of course never raise such a question. But would China’s leaders? Nobody knows. How then can civilized democratic states fail to be deeply disturbed by China?

Before and after Hu’s visit, the leadership of two other neighbours of China, Russia and Taiwan, changed, again reminding the Chinese people of another side of their predicament. In CPC history, the KMT and the Soviet Union, have been both old partners and old opponents. Now, descendants of the KMT and the Soviet Union have completed thorough makeovers, democratically producing a new generation of charismatic leaders.

These leaders aren’t uncontroversial, but paths by which they came to the fore are clear; they can face their own people and the international community. They don’t avoid dialogue, and their ability and leadership are recognised by the majority of local people and the international community. They are bringing their societies together effectively to usher in the future. But China’s leaders? People have no idea of how they emerged, of what goes on in their heads—and still less, where they want to lead China. How could this not affect China’s image?

The Sino-Japanese Joint Declaration, explicitly pointing out that China and Japan are not threats to each other, is quite important, but a bit dumbfounding. Japan, a democratic constitutional state, albeit not reflecting on is historical past as profoundly as Germany, has long ceased to be a threat to China and the world, but has become a positive factor. This is a fact recognized by the world. As for China, its is also a fact that most of its people harbour no ambitions of global hegemony. This however does not mean that China will not pose a threat to Japan and the world; the reason for this is that China has failed to establish a modern political civilization, and there is still great uncertainty as to what kind of leaders will emerge in China in the future, hence enabling it to pose a real threat to the security of Japan and the world at large—is this not a fact as well?

I specifically looked for and read the full text of Hu Jintao’s speech at Japan’s Waseda University online.[2] Just like one he might give at home in China, it was insipid, lacked depth, and still less any personalised color. What kind of impact will this style of leadership produce on coming generations in China? What does it mean for China’s image? If they seriously read the comments left by readers, thoughtful people may be enlightened. There were no serious comments, only the shallow, arrogant nationalism, emotional venting and mind-numbing praise Hu Jintao of by pseudonymous “indignant youth.” Would the democratic civilized world not have cause to feel trepidation were China’s future political leaders indeed to emerge from youth such as this?

* 梁京:中国形象危机的深层原因
[1] [Trans.] A family-run ballet company which carries out extensive exchanges with China. See
[2] [Trans.] See

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