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Educating China

Quick thought on a passage from this otherwise interesting Quartz article by James McGregor:

It is a pity that his Party’s censorship strictures will make it difficult for Xi to get his hands on the new book “Restless Empire” by historian Odd Arne Westad.

In a Washington Post review this weekend, veteran China watcher John Pomfret says the book “tells the story of the foreigners who helped China become what it is today, from China’s first interactions with the West to the current era. In doing so, Westad upends, but ever so politely, a slew of misconceptions about China that have been concocted by his academic predecessors both in the West and in Asia.”

…despite claims by communist historians, foreigners were key to China’s modernization. British, Americans, Japanese, Germans and Russians played enormously important roles as advisers, models, teachers, guides and enlighteners of the Chinese. While Westad does not underplay the depredations meted out by the imperialist powers, he also tells the other side of that story — that American missionaries brought education, science and modern medicine to China, that the British imported modern administrative techniques, that the Germans taught the Chinese a significant amount about warfare. Heck, the French even created China’s postal service.

I haven’t read the book, but it’s interesting that Westad attributes American missionaries with educating China. I see the influence of western missionaries in many of the world’s most isolated communities, but not in China. Thankfully.

Missionaries do not educate. They destroy indigenous belief systems and replace them with their own primitive beliefs. And they do so by using the magic of western science and technology as a lure. “You wanna know how to make stuff like this? Come, hear the word of God.”

If the Communists achieved one good thing in China, it was keeping the missionaries out. There are very few places in the world where remote, traditional communities still go about their lives in the way they always have. China is full of them, and I’m grateful to have been able to see them.

Britain’s role in bringing administration is also dubious. Senior civil servants in the UK are still called mandarins, and the word bureaucracy is French. I’d argue that those two nations taught the British a thing or two about administration, rather than the other way round.

And aspiring military officers at Sandhurst and West Point are still taught about Sun Tzu’s theories on warfare, so I wonder how much the Germans really “taught” the Chinese…?

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