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A Great Clamour

 

Inside China’s Soul
SAURABH KUMAR SHAHI | New Delhi, November 1, 2013 17:37
Tags : A Great Clamour | Inside China’s Soul |
 

Empires rise and crumble as sand houses. There is probably no phenomenon that has proved itself so many times, and convincingly. But having said that, it is always difficult for the people who live in that time to imagine that the empire they are seeing can actually fall someday. We have the benefit of seeing the things in retrospective.

But imagine, centuries later, when an anthropologist or a historian will dwell upon the rise and the certain fall of china sometime in the late future, will he be able to clearly define how it happened? Maybe, maybe not. And that is precisely why Pankaj Mishra took it upon himself to chart the rise of the next superpower.

China’s rise with the neck breaking speed has absolutely no parallel in the recorded history. Even the post- Treaty of Versailles Germany had the benefit of a population which was industrialised in nature and possesses technical knowhow to rebuild from scratches. China, on the other hand had every handicap than a developing society can have and yet rose to a height hitherto unachieved. But A Great Clamour is not a chronicle of that rise. There are other books that have chronicled this rise and its implications. One particular title that does it strikingly is When China Rules the World by Martin Jacques.  What A Great Clamour sets out to achieve is something else. It is the long shadow that this rise casts on China’s neighbours and how both of them are trying to cope with that.

The first part of the book deals with the internal aspect of this rise. The situation in Tibet and other minority dominated areas is discussed at length. It also discusses how the modern China reconciles with the fact of one-party rule. Various characters make appearances in these pages. Only, these characters are real and walk the earth in flesh and blood. Through them, and some of the chroniclers who have recorded China’s journey since the days of colonialism, to civil war to the establishment of the Republic and expulsion of Chiang Kai-Shek.

The second part of the book takes us on journey to China’s neighbours: Mangolia, Taiwan, Japan, Indonesia and Malaysia and discusses the hope and insecurities of these nations as they see their once impoverished neighbour taking the lead.

“This proposed cultural unity of Asia acquired a geopolitical edge during early postcolonial struggles for national wealth and power—an endeavour in which Indian, Chinese and Indonesian leaders self-consciously invoked solidarity with each other. Thus, the experience of domination and racial humiliation and the claims to freedom and dignity that once bound Rabindranath Tagore to Liang Qichao and Tenshin Okakura came to link Jawaharlal Nehru to Mao Zedong and Sukarno. Contemplating the great turmoil and trauma of their societies, artists such as Satyajit Ray and Akira Kurosawa came to share a troubled humanism. Such imagined communities have now fragmented, both at home and abroad, replaced by pragmatic economic associations such as ASEAN and cross-border networks of manufacture, finance and trade. Authoritarian-minded leaders still invoke ‘Asian values’, positing Asia’s Con­fu­cius-sanctioned communal harmony against the west’s evidently amoral and fissiparous individualism. They are little more than a rhetorical cover for regimes that enjoy harmonious relationships with local plutocrats while denying political rights to the majority,” Mishra writes.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is Mishra’s dissection of events in Tibet and revisiting the ghost of Tiananmen Square bloodbath. Mishra talks to writers, activists, dissidents and others and draws a sublime picture of how state and civil society operate in the uncomfortable realm.

Unlike some of his writings on China in the past, Mishra is unusually very critical of China but yet never goes over the top lest the narrative slips into the abyss of Cold War era revolting scholarship. He appreciates the achievements yet criticises the toll it has taken on the moral fabric of the society.

Around the time I was reading this book, a particular piece of news rattled me to the core. A young couple in Southern China was arrested for selling their baby in order to purchase the new iPhone that was launched just a day before. The news made me numb for hours. Is this the cost China pays for its break-neck development? The breaking down of moral fabric appears particularly stark when it happens in eastern societies. And it is staring hard on China. It would be such a shame if the existing superpower with no moral hang-ups will be replaced by another of its kind. And this is China’s biggest challenge for the future.

The book mixes travel with scholarship so seamlessly that it becomes difficult to put it in any specific genre. The book is a testimony that even writers from India, a specie notoriously inward-looking, can produce brilliant scholarships on world affairs, which are crisp, readable, and most importantly, unbiased.

Author: Pankaj Mishra

Edition: Hardcover

ISBN: 978-0-670-08688-7

Pages: 354

Price: Rs. 499


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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017