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Analyzing Geremie R. Barme Book in The Red: On Contemporary Chinese Culture

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Geremie R. Barme in Chapter 10 of his book In the Red: On Contemporary Chinese Culture talks about and criticizes China in a socio-political retrospect. Beginning his chapter with the notion that there has always been political and military tension between the Chinese and the West on the basis of past grievances and experiences, he is quick to point out that the opinion of the Chinese masses has been built and constructed over the course of several decades by an organized and sustained propaganda on part of the government which seeks to continue pro Maoist ideology and reject any form of modification to the system.

The author critically analyzes the development and problems that the definition and the sense of nationalism and patriotism have had to go through during the 1980s and the 90s. The discourse and the inclinations of several of the newspapers of this time period is discussed and some light is also shed upon several works of fiction that appeared around this time which were pro Chinese or nationalist in nature. However, one cannot help but feel an aura and a sense of negativity around the critical analysis of the author. It seems as if the author is bent on trying to find the decline of Chinese in morality as well as in humanity in every single work that he assesses.

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There is a sense of self-loathing or self-criticizing that is widespread among the Chinese, particularly Chinese intellectuals (Barme). The writer speaks volumes about the sharp, harsh and sometimes outright blasphemous criticism that the Chinese writers and intellectuals have indulged in through this time period. There is, however, a lighter side to this aspect. Through this evaluation and criticism, the Chinese masses have realized that they need to develop in politics and social values at the same rate as they have excelled in economy. A constant tug-of-war between the conservatives or Pro Maoists and the new thinkers and intellectuals is discussed with the predictable and constant victory of the Conservatives. The author gives several examples throughout the chapter of the state crushing the voices of liberals who seek, by the variety of their work, to introduce some sort of reform to the Chinese system. This reform is seen as an attempt to ‘westernize’ China and as a result, is rejected forcefully.

The author reflects that China’s new generation is coming to terms with the power and the potential that it possesses and its capacity to be an influential force for change. The role and the importance of China has not been more relevant until now and by the example of the hacker, the author illustrates that there is deep seated resentment amongst the Chinese towards the West and towards its attitude regarding China. Despite the attempts of several liberals who seek to ‘westernize’ the centuries old Chinese ideology, China and the West are at cross roads and are distrustful of each other as the power of one grows while the other turns weak.

According to Cheek, whose book Living with Reform: China since 1989 deals with the unpredictable dynamics between China and the West, Intellectuals are given much importance in the Chinese society. Much respect and importance is given to them on a national level and their advice is sought in matters of politics and government. However, it seems that Chinese intellectuals are envious of their Western counterparts. Intellectuals, according to the author, are a product of the system. They are few in number (fewer than 4% or 45 million) but are extremely important due to their knowledge and their perspective on matters. They were given free hand (albeit to a small extent) during the era of Deng Xiaoping who actually initiated a tactical political masterstroke by giving an opportunity of freedom to the intellectuals.They have had their fair share of ups and downs during this time period. They went from heroes of creation to objects of remolding, from subjects of discourse to marginal mayflies. They were the routed by their own hand when the Communist party banned and declared several of them ‘persona non grata’. The intellectuals can be credited with trying (and failing) to bring about a significant political change in China’s political system. Many will try to compare a Chinese intellectual to his or her Western counterpart but the truth is, both are at wildly opposite ends of the political spectrum. Through intellectuals (whose influences are Western), attempts to Westernize China have failed, repeatedly and miserably.


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