"Big leap backwards": China is closing

The Chinese government's official stance is to open up to the world.

"Big leap backwards": China is closing

The Chinese government's official stance is to open up to the world. In fact, she is increasingly distancing herself from the rest of the world. A dangerous but wanted side effect is the constantly growing nationalism.

The Chinese Academy for Historical Research (CAHR) caused a real controversy at the end of August. She circulated a post on social media dealing with the foreign policy of the Ming and Qing dynasties. At that time, the Chinese emperors had decreed a political, economic and cultural distance from foreign countries for their empire for centuries, which gave China the attribute "closed country".

Not a few readers immediately realized the parallel to the year 2022 - more than 100 years after the end of the Qing dynasty. Massive travel restrictions with no prospects of change in the near future have effectively kept China's population trapped in their own country for more than two and a half years. It's about the corona pandemic. At the same time, however, the development of the so-called dual economic cycle is in full swing. It should reduce dependencies from abroad to an absolute minimum in the long term.

Listed companies are returning from foreign stock exchanges - more or less voluntarily - to Chinese financial centers because Chinese regulators are putting pressure on them. The tech industry in particular wants to keep Beijing away from the option of being caught in a headlock by foreign capital. The government also tightened localization quotas for state-owned companies last year. In the case of public tenders, the applicants have to show more and more components that come 100 percent from China: "Buy Chinese" as an order to their own economy. In terms of personnel, too, foreign companies are increasingly being forced to hire Chinese managers.

The CAHR authors of the article, titled "A New Examination of the 'Closed Country' Issue," argue that the former imperial distancing was a necessity to maintain China's territorial and cultural security. Instead of "foreclosure," they described the policy as "self-restraint."

Some of the readers' reactions were very critical and prompted the censors to intervene in the debate, reports the Chinese-language daily "Lianhe Zaobao" from Singapore. Some commentators accused the historians, as government propaganda outlets, of providing historical justification for the current trend.

In fact, the modern form of "self-restraint" appears to many Chinese as isolation. A user responded to the post with their own essay via a private WeChat account. The main point of the criticism: It is not about national security, as propagated by the Ming and Qing emperors, but about the rulers' fear of losing power. "Anyone with a little common sense can tell the difference," the author wrote. The play was read 100,000 times within a day before the censors stepped in and banned the text from digital space.

The sole governing Communist Party categorically denies the accusation of decoupling. According to the official line, China is in a constant process of opening up to foreign countries. In truth, however, Beijing's policy thwarts this claim. Requirements for business and industry are only one side of the coin. The massive interventions in the educational opportunities for children, young people and adults who would like to learn better English mean a reversal in equal measure.

Last year, of all places, the authorities in Shanghai, China's most international metropolis, decided to end English exams in local elementary schools. Instead, a new addition to the curriculum for the youngest was "Xi Jinping's Thoughts on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era" - a book containing the head of state's intellectual outpourings, which, through its vehement international marketing, was reminiscent of the Mao Bible hype of the 1960s - and 1970s remembered.

There were also nationwide closures of thousands of private educational opportunities that had for decades offered people in the country the opportunity to learn foreign languages ​​- especially English - outside the state education system. Some people in the country cynically commented on the offensive as "China's great leap backwards". Especially since English was still being propagated by the state leadership at the beginning of the century as the key to China's economic rise.

"What we are currently experiencing is an ideological radicalization of the country at the expense of its economic, social and cultural opening," says the Berlin journalist and author Qin Liwen, whose work deals with China's political development. "An intentional side effect of this policy is a constantly growing nationalism in the country."

The manifestations of this nationalism are sometimes radical, as recently revealed by the example of a school in Liupanshui in Guizhou province. As part of a national defense school military training session, the teenagers chanted, "Kill, kill, kill." At the same time, they vowed in unison to kill anyone who dared challenge the Communist Party, no matter where in the world that person was.

The arrest of a Chinese woman in Suzhou, who had worn a Japanese kimono for a photo shoot and was therefore interrogated for hours, also caused a sensation. Later, the authorities noted that everyone could wear whatever they wanted, but recommended being sensitive when choosing clothes so as not to provoke third parties.

Foreigners are increasingly being rejected when they want to check into hotels outside of the major cities. Some report that in recent years they have been regularly embroiled in discussions about the West's attitude towards the People's Republic, which they neither want to start, let alone lead. Growing nationalism coupled with the rigorous zero-Covid policy is prompting many foreigners to leave the country.

"Of course, nationalism also exists in other countries," says publicist Qin. "In a dictatorship, however, there is no social counterweight. As long as nationalism supports the Chinese leadership, it will promote it and cut off soothing voices. In such a climate, nationalism multiplies much faster because there is no public balance."

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