“Oddly, I spent last night at a party talking to a young woman from China who believes that her country is on the brink of major civil unrest” Laurie Penny Tweeted this a few days ago. I Tweeted back that I'd been saying this for more than a year now and getting dismissed. I then resolved to say something about what I call The Three Chinas Paradigm.
The Old Men in Beijing would like the world to think that China is nearly all Mandarin speaking Han. But of course China is a vast and complex nation-state with dozens of languages and ethnicities. Such should be obvious. Even the United Kingdom, which could be shoehorned into the US state of California, is similar with Welsh and Scottish nationalism and an English spoken in Yorkshire that is nearly incomprehensible to many other English speakers.
So to say there are Three Chinas should be understood as a socio-economic simplification, albeit a useful one in my opinion.
The First China these days is The East Coast, what I call the Go-Go China. That is that China we all know, the one that has seemed bound for World Domination, the Capitalist Roader China that produces cheap goods by the megaton, is packed wall to wall with new millionaires and has funded America's wars for the last decade.
The Second China is what I call The Middle Kingdom, the China of The Ten Thousand Villages. This is actually the real China, the one that has existed for millennia. Most Chinese live in this China. They provide the work force for The East Coast. They are poor and both they and their land are increasingly exploited and polluted. This is also where 'destabilizing unrest' begins in China.
The Third China, which is not really Chinese at all, is The West, Sinkiang and Tibet. Sinkiang is largely [and sparsely] populated by Turkic Muslims. Tibet is of course Tibetan. Beijing has been waging an ethnic war on both provinces for a half century, transplanting Mandarin speaking Han by the hundreds of thousands. For Beijing, Sinkiang is Strategic, both as a buffer state against Russia and as a road into Central Asia. Tibet is even more crucial as it is the principal watershed of East Asia. These provinces are actively hostile.
One can easily see that this is a volatile mixture. Absolute Control is absolutely essential. Of course such is also impossible. Sooner or later Control slips. I suspect this is what keeps the Old Men in Beijing up at night...and the quote at the top is just one more indication that it is slipping faster.
With the Global Economic Downturn deepening, the overseas markets that The East Coast has come to depend upon are shrinking and the work force from The Middle Kingdom are be sent home in droves. Sent home to poverty, poisoned land and endemic official corruption. And the authorities on The East Coast are ruthless about 'clearing out' unemployed workers. Each worker shipped back is another drop in a growing pool of anger, a pool that is becoming a lake, and may even become an ocean. More and more signs of that anger are being reported every day.
Remember that in China 'civil unrest' is something of a euphemism. We'd call it rebellion or even Civil War. And keep in mind that a serious civil war in the People's Republic of China is quite likely to involve the use of nuclear weapons.
This is not simple schadenfreude on my part. We too have come to depend upon China and if the above comes to pass - as I believe it will - these events will ripple economically here as well, such as the loss of those cheap consumer goods which are helping keep many America families [barely] afloat. And the consequences of that will then ripple throughout our society and then back to China.
Interesting Times indeed...