China is not emerging from a vacuum. It has a well-documented history of excellence, writes Jeffrey Sehume.
Johannesburg – For conscientious researchers the exercise of studying societies removed from the mainstream is not simply to collect information and gather facts.
For these researchers, keen to loosen the mysteries behind the formerly unknown, the journey is to evaluate “new” experiences, to perhaps draw comparative lessons. Ultimately, this is done in order to illuminate the past, improve understanding about the present, and inform the future. The People’s Republic of China has drawn the interest of lay researchers and scholars since that country began to open up in 1978.
Interest in this strikingly different society has tended to focus on unravelling the political and economic frameworks responsible for its status as a powerhouse for the new millennium.
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Amid rumours that the transition to a new Chinese leadership will take place in mid-October, a key player in the Bo Xilai affair has just been charged in Chengdu. The affair, the biggest scandal in the People’s Republic in decades, has all of the ingredients to derail plans for a “smooth transition”—but Communist authorities are doing everything in their power to ensure that it doesn’t.
Driving from the airport into the Dongcheng district of central Beijing last Saturday, I noticed the signs and signifiers of China’s economic heft were all present and accounted for—the glass and concrete towers of the financial institutions that act as the world’s bankers, the logos of the mining conglomerates that bring in the resources to fire the country’s (still) prodigious growth, the porticos of the luxury hotels where some of the planet’s biggest deals are negotiated and sealed. There were also, of course, the brutalist facades of the Chinese parastatals, which, like the ubiquitous black Audis of the party apparatchiks, signified that you were no longer in Kansas, Dorothy.
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Racism is a subject that people often seek to avoid, it being deemed too politically embarrassing, any suggestion of its existence often eliciting a response of outraged indignation and immediate denial. Yet it is central to the discourse of most, if not all, societies.
So writes Martin Jacques in his recent book When China Rules the World: the rise of the Middle Kingdom [China] and the end of the Western World. Well, he certainly did not have South Africa uppermost in mind where the topic of racism is far from “politically embarrassing” to raise, but rather a political embarrassment as it is endlessly and gratuitously raised to shroud the real issues. Just take the Caster Semenya and Brandon Huntley hullabaloos for a start, not to mention rugby and nearly every time Julius Malema opens his mouth.
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