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Frozen Europe and Fast-Changing China: Martin Jacques on the Sino-European Dilemma

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British journalist and scholar Martin Jacques speaks about current Sino-European relations as a keynote speaker at the opening conference of the Leiden Asia Centre. According to Jacques, the way Western media and politics are approaching China is deeply flawed – and it is causing Europe to miss the boat while China is marching forwards. Live blogged.

February 9th 2017 marks the much-anticipated opening conference of the Leiden Asia Centre, the expertise centre for socially relevant and applicable knowledge on modern East Asia based in the Netherlands.

The conference focuses on Sino-Dutch relations and the relations between Europe and China at large.

One of today’s key speakers is British journalist and scholar Martin Jacques (@martjacques), the author of the global best-seller When China Rules the World (2009). One of his key arguments is that China’s impact on the world goes beyond economics, and that it will also have extensive political, cultural and ideological consequences.

 

“China is looking for the ‘cracks’ in the global system; that where it is at its weakest.”

 

In introducing Martin Jacques, Professor Frank Pieke, one of the three academic directors of the Leiden Asia Centre, first talks about a separate “global China”, that is different from Western patterns of globalization.

China is looking for the “cracks” in the global system; that where it is at its weakest. Its presence is growing in Africa, Latin America, and also in regions like southern Europe. China is not looking for challenges, but it is looking for space, Pieke says.

One of the reasons why this is happening, Pieke argues, is that China is hamstrung by the fact that within its own region it is often perceived as a potentially hostile power by, for example, Japan or Korea. It does not have its own sphere of influence from where it can expand into the world.

 

“China is not ‘like us.’ It has never been and it will never be.”

 

Martin Jacques agrees with Pieke in the sense that “China’s globalization” is different from “globalization” as it is often perceived in the West.

There is a fundamental problem with how China is framed and discussed in western media, politics and academia, Jacques argues, as it often come down to the idea that China should be ‘like us.’

“We are the ‘global leaders’ and we supposedly define what modernity is, and modernity is singular. And therefore modernisation is westernization, and therefore China will end up just like us. Well, this is complete rubbish,” Jacques says: “China is not ‘like us.’ It has never been and it will never be.”

Jacques stresses that the concept of ‘modernity’ is plural, and that there is not one modernity because it is not shaped in neo-liberal terms, but it is shaped by history and culture. And since China’s history and culture is profoundly different from that of any Western country, we have to understand China in its own terms – not in our terms. The main reason why Western media or politics got China “so wrong” in the last decennia, Jacques argues, is because they failed to do this.

The assumptions people have about China are therefore generally flawed, and have failed to predict how China would evolve in the future.

China is not a nation state, but a ‘civilization-state’, and is very different from any European nation state. It is a huge united country – and the fact that it is stable and unified is the country’s top priority. The key political values of the Chinese are influenced by this idea, and also fundamentally different from Europe.

Why China is politically never going to be the same as Europe is because its key political concepts of unity, stability, and order, based on its long history, are what have shaped and are shaping China.

 

“China has not followed anyone’s route, but has chosen its own.”

 

China has not followed anyone’s route, but has chosen its own, Jacques argues. “The idea that Chinese governance is going to be like Western governance is profoundly mistaken. China is not going in that direction. I am not saying they will not change – there have been large changes already – but it will change in its own ways.”

China is historically also very different from Europe in the sense that it has not colonized the way Europe has, and has been less aggressive.

“Consider that China from being dirt poor is becoming the world’s second economy, and this all in a relatively peaceful process.”

Jacques emphasizes that China is in the process of transforming the world. Not only due to its size, but also due to its difference, that is bound to going to project itself and bring its history, values, and traditions to the rest of the world.

 

“China is not the leader of globalization, but it is certainly true to say that China is shaping globalization profoundly.”

 

All discourse about China’s rise has always been economic – discussed within the framework of American hegemony. But Jacques wants to stress that the rise of China goes much further than economics alone: 1.4 billion people are in the process of transformation is all sorts of ways, which is impacting China and the world in numerous ways.

Jacques notes that China has sometimes been blamed for being a ‘free rider’ in the international society, or for not ‘contributing’ anything, but this is changing. Since Xi Jinping has risen to power there have been some extraordinary initiatives, such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Jacques predicts that also through these kinds of initiatives, its influence is growing, and that those ever said China is not ‘contributing’ will be biting their tongues.

“It is not true to say China is the leader of globalization, but it is certainly true to say that China is shaping globalization profoundly.”

Jacques is pessimistic about the prospect of Sino-European relations. China is going ahead, and Europe is basically “stuck”, as it is increasingly turned inwards.

 

“Tencent, Alibaba, Huawei, Baidu, JD.com, Xiaomi, and other tech companies show that in many ways China is now ahead of Silicon Valley.”

 

Lastly, Jacques addresses the importance of China as a global power and crucial global influencer in various ways.

China’s online growth has shown it is the global leader in terms of internet commerce. Tencent, Alibaba, Huawei, Baidu, JD.com, Xiaomi, and other tech companies show that in many ways China is now ahead of Silicon Valley, with China’s online sales being well ahead of those in countries like the USA. Jacques also mentions that the functionality of apps like Weixin/WeChat is more advanced than its western counterpart Whatsapp – meaning that ‘the world’ will also be looking at China when it comes to its digital developments.

The country is also moving quickly in other ways. China is also the leader when it comes to issues such as climate change and foreign investments. He also mentions the ‘One Belt, One Road’ project (“it’s probably going to be extremely important.”)

 

“If Europe can’t hitch a ride with China in its transformation, then it will become marginalized.”

 

There is one last thing Martin Jacques wants to add to his speech, and it is about Trump, whom he calls “the most frightening president the US has ever had”, and how he will change the EU-USA-China dynamics.

Under Trump, he said, America will look after its own interests and will interact with the rest of the world in terms of bilateral relationships rather than from a plural, global position.

What will the Chinese do? “They will retaliate,” Jacques says. As China-US relations deteriorate, with China pushing America back, they will deepen the agreements with their own neighbors. The One Belt, One Road is an important part of this strategy.

Jacques foresees that the rise of Trump will also change Sino-European relations, as Europe -like China- also has little interest in Trump.

“I started off by saying Europe and China are very different, which is true,” he says. But despite his somewhat pessimistic views on Sino-European relations that find its roots in the western frameworks applied to China, there is also some light at the end of the tunnel: “Unlike the USA, both Europe and China have a long history. And there has been little rivalry with China. There is a logic for Europe to move much closer to China.”

Jacques stresses the importance for Europe to keep up with China. It is not China that needs to change, he argues – Europe does.

“China will keep marching on. China will keep its dynamic transformation. It will continue to grow. China is not the problem. Europe is. And we need to face up to that. If we can’t hitch a ride with China in its transformation, then we will become marginalized.”

Liveblog ended

– By Manya Koetse
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©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Digital

The Rise of China as Global Tech Superpower (Live @ RISE Hong Kong 2018)

RISE conference: Is China surpassing the US as the world’s digital leader?

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At RISE, Asia’s biggest tech conference, the rise of China as tech leader is a major theme. What’s on Weibo reports on the launch of the China Internet Report and other China-related talks at RISE today.

China is a major theme this week at RISE, the largest tech conference in Asia, taking place at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center from July 9-12.

Besides wide attention for Chinese latest startups and tech developments, a central question posed at this year’s conference is if China is the current world leader in technology, and if it has thus surpassed Silicon Valley as the global tech powerhouse.

In the morning of July 12, Edith Yeung (500 Startups), Ravi Hiranand (Abacus), and Chua Kong Ho (South China Morning Post) reveal the hugely publicised China Internet Report, which brings a definitive outlook of the companies, industries and trends that are changing the technology space.

Also on Tuesday, another panel with various speakers from Bloomberg to Withinlink address the question of whether or not China is now the world leader in technology, and if its rise should be feared by the US.

What’s on Weibo is here at RISE to live report for you – refresh page for updates (update: live blog now closed).

 

China Internet Report (10:30 HKT)


 

In their presentation of the latest findings when it comes to China and the internet, Edith Yeung, Ravi Hiranand, and Chua Kong Ho present four major themes that are crucial to digital China.

Firstly, as explained by Chua Kong Ho, “Chinese Internet giants are doing everything.” The major players such as Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent are not just involved in e-commerce or social media, but also, for example, in the e-sharing economy, gaming, education, media, or artificial intelligence – penetrating all markets that matter in China today.

 

“Chinese Internet giants are doing everything.”

 

Second, Chinese internet empowers rural populations. E-commerce platforms such as Taobao, for instance, give ample new opportunities to people in the Chinese countryside to set up new businesses; a crucial theme in China’s digital developments today, as it greatly impacts society.

The Chinese Internet Report launched today, click to see. (URL https://www.abacusnews.com/china-internet-report/).

Third, Chinese internet companies embrace ‘social’: social media plays a major role in China’s digital market, arguably much more than it does in countries such as the US.

And last, Ko explains, the Chinese government is the visible hand – controlling all corners of the Chinese internet.

 

Biggest Tech Trends in China (10:40 HKT)


 

As Edith Yeung dives deeper in what matters in China today when it comes to digital developments, she focuses on the importance of AI and how tools such as facial recognition are playing an increasingly important role in Chinese society today; not just for practical matters such as train ticket collections, but also for governance, helping catching fugitives or jaywalkers. In terms of AI, China is investing the most in the world right now.

China’s first robot dentist fits implants into a patient’s mouth in 2017 (photo via Dailymail).

Robotics is also an area of major development in China, as intelligent service robots continue to upgrade across industries, including e-commerce and healthcare. As an example, Yeung mentions that in September 2017, the first robot dentist was introduced in the PRC.

Yeung, Hiranand, and Ko at Rise 2018 (photo whatsonweibo.com)

“Chinese consumers are crazy about cryptocurrency,” Yeung also emphasizes, and the cryptocurrency trading market is a huge and booming one – although “the government is not too friendly to the market.”

But blockchain technology is applauded more from the authority side. Although still in its infancy, companies such as Alibaba are already working with the government in applying blockchain technology across various industries.

Launch: The full Chinese Internet Report 2018 can be found here.

 

Attitudes that matter (11:00 HKT)


 

For Edith Yeung, who was selected by Inc’s Magazine as “one of the Silicon Valley investors you must know,” the question of whether or not China is the global tech leader is not a difficult one.

 

“China is leading and people elsewhere in the world have no clue.”

 

“I really think China is leading in so many areas, and people elsewhere in the world just have no clue,” Yeung says during the Q&A following the presentation of the China Internet Report.

Yeung also links the growth of Chinese tech companies to the working attitude of the people that is related to China’s history.

“My generation, let’s say those thirty-plus generations, remembers what it means to be poor. And that you have to work hard to be successful. People work hard because they can remember those days, and that attitude is not likely to change over the coming decades. There’s no nine to five attitude.”

 

World Leader in Technology (11:55 HKT)


 

Silicon Valley has always been seen as the world leading technology hub. During another RISE panel, simply titled “Is China now the world leader in technology?”, speakers Bessie Lee (Withinlink founder), Wayne Xu (Zhongan International president), Harry Hui (ClearVue Partners founding partner), Lei Chen (Xunlei CEO), and Tim Culpan (Bloomberg columnist) will address if the US should fear the rise of China as a tech superpower.

For moderator Tim Culpan, the answer is simple: “Obviously the answer is yes. We’re done here.”

But for the other speakers, the answer is not that straightforward. Bessie Lee sees two sides to China’s rise: “Is China a world leader in tech? Yes and no,” she says: “In mobile, e-commerce and mobile, China is definitely leading. But when it comes to privacy protection, for example, they are not leading in all aspects.”

Lee stresses that in mainland China, the regulations always fall behind the technology development. “It’s not there yet,” she states.

 

“They run fast. Those who do not run fast will be left behind.”

 

Other speakers agree with Lee. Wayne Xu sees China as a leader in financial and consumer-facing areas, whereas it is still lacking in others. “But as for AI, China is leading,” – a statement all speakers today stress.

Harry Hui mentions that the boom of exciting innovation in China partly comes from the fierce competition between local players: “Because of this enormous competition, they need to depend on data and be very quick in how they innovate and keep launching new services to stay relevant. They run fast. Those who do not run fast will be left behind.”

Chinese companies and the government have more focus on technological development today than the US has, Xunlei’s Lei Chen states. But still, he says, China has a lot of catching up to do.

 

“Chinese are going to take on the US market, but the US are not going to take on the Chinese market.”

 

Lei does not agree with Lee that regulation is most problematic – he says it is the participants in the market that are often lacking in quality and tech knowledge. Nevertheless, when it comes to AI and blockchain, Lei stresses, “China’s overtake is around the corner.”

Both Harry Hui and Wayne Xu both say that China will follow its own path in its rise as tech leader; a unique road that is different from paths taken by other leaders such as the US.

According to Bessie Lee, one dimension of this road is that “Chinese are going to take on the US market, but the US are not going to take on the Chinese market” – a crucial dynamic that will eventually determine who the global tech leader will be.

As for today’s speakers, they all seem to agree that if China is not already the leader in tech, it will be in the future.

Hours after the kick-off of RISE, conference visitors also hold similar views (see image above); according to the majority of voters, “when China will overtake Silicon Valley” is not a question for the future – it is already happening.

Also read: The top ten things you need to know from the China Internet Report by Abacus.

This live blog is closed. Keep checking in on What’s on Weibo in days to come for more updates on RISE and latest news on what’s trending on Chinese social media.

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Celebs

China’s “Most Famous Foreigner” Mark Rowswell: Ready for Dashan 3.0

He has been China’s most famous foreigner for nearly three decades: Canadian Mark Rowswell aka Dashan. On March 30, he talked about his life as a household name and his work as a comedian in the PRC at Beijing’s the Bookworm. What’s on Weibo was there to take note.

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He is China’s “most famous foreigner” since the late 1980s: Canadian Mark Rowswell, better known as Dashan. On March 30, he talked about his life as a Chinese household name and his work as a comedian at Beijing’s The Bookworm. After a fruitful China career of nearly three decades, Rowswell says he’s now ready for ‘Dashan 3.0.’ What’s on Weibo reports.

Canadian Mark Rowswell aka Dashan (大山) has been working as a comedian and media personality in China since the late 1980s. His excellent Chinese made him instantly famous when he starred in the most-watched televised show in the world, the CCTV Spring Gala. Since then he has appeared on countless Chinese TV shows and dramas, and has appeared on the Spring Gala a total of four times.

On Sina Weibo, Dashan (@大山) now has over 3.8 million fans. He might not be the most popular non-Chinese person on Weibo (Stephen Hawking gained 4.2 million followers since he joined Weibo), but he certainly is the most famous Canadian in China ever since Norman Bethune.

One of the reasons for Rowswell to talk about his work during a special talk at Beijing’s the Bookworm on March 30 (moderated by Asia correspondent Nathan VanderKlippe), is his upcoming show in Australia at the Melbourne Comedy Fest, where he will be performing in Chinese. It’s now all about the physical audiences for Rowswell, who says he’s disappointed with Weibo and the virtual world, and wants to do comedy offline – up close and personal.

 

THE BIRTH OF DASHAN

“I thought it was just an audience of 500 people; nobody told me there were 550 million people watching the show on TV.”

 

As Dashan’s career in China will soon hit the 30-year mark, the Ottowa-born performer is perpetually known as “the foreigner who speaks fluent Chinese.”

Perhaps surprising for someone who masters Mandarin so well, Rowswell did not speak a word of Chinese until the age of 19. He chose to study the language out of curiosity after the phrase “the next century belongs to China” started to make its rounds in Canada. From 1984 to 1988, he studied Chinese at the University of Toronto and then headed to China.

Mark Rowswell aka Dashan talks at The Bookworm, March 30.

“We all knew that China was going to be a big part of the world, that many Chinese would come to Canada – but how many Canadians were going to China?”, Rowswell tells his audience at the Bookworm. He set out to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to “ride the wave”, although he was not sure about his exact plans yet.

Within 3 months after starting his studies at Beijing University, Rowswell was asked to participate in a TV show and ‘Dashan’ was born. His Chinese name (that literally means ‘big mountain’) is a peasant one, which in itself already was a joke.

But the name Dashan grew bigger than Rowswell could have ever imagined when he later appeared at the national CCTV gala. “I had no background in performing, and I thought it was just an audience of 500 people; nobody told me there were 550 million people watching the show on television. The little skit that we did somehow hit a sweet spot somewhere, and it ended up being the most popular act of that particular show,” Dashan recalls.

Dashan performing at the 1998 Spring Festival Gala, the best-watched televised event in the world (appears at 3.00 minute mark).

Rowswell’s career soon set off and ‘Dashan’ became a national hype. For a long time, Rowswell did not see his work at the time as a goal in itself: “I thought of it as a stepping stone to get into Chinese society, and to get away from campus and my study books. I traveled with a Chinese performing group and experienced things other foreign students in China would never experience – I even went to places foreigners were not allowed to go.”

Although Rowswell at the time still aspired to work at the Canadian embassy or somewhere else, his work as a freelance performer eventually turned out to be decisive for his eclectic career path, that has brought him to where he is today at the age of 52.

 

DISAPPOINTED IN SOCIAL MEDIA

“I have trouble reading Weibo because I just don’t find anything interesting on it. It’s very hard to keep engaged on a platform that you don’t find interesting.”

 

Looking back on the past thirty years, Rowswell says he can roughly divide his story into three parts. “Dashan 1.0” is the foreign student who appeared on TV as a comedian and TV host. That first stage led him to the “2.0” stage, where his role as a freelance performer also grew into one of being more of a cultural ambassador.

Rowswell received official recognition for this cultural role when he was part of Canada’s Team Attaché during the 2008 Olympics, and later became the Commissioner General for Canada at Expo 2010 in Shanghai. After this period, he searched for a new goal and hoped to find it online.

“After 2010 I thought the answer was Weibo,” Rowswell says: “I really got into Weibo around 2010, 2011, 2012. But post-2012 or so, Weibo is really…I mean, I still maintain it, but I really have trouble reading Weibo now because I just don’t find anything interesting on it. It’s very hard to keep engaged on a platform that you don’t find interesting.”

Rowswell expresses his disappointment when he says he feels that “the promise of social media has not played out.” Although he says he thought that internet was the channel to lead the next stage of his career, “it did not work out that way.”

It is not just Sina Weibo that has not brought Dashan what he had hoped for: “I just think social media in general.. (..) We used to think technology was going to make it easier to communicate and that social media was going to bring people together but that has not worked; social media has unleashed the basic human tribalism and reinforced it.”

As Rowswell felt that the future of his career would not take place online in front of a virtual audience, he decided to focus on physical audiences and returned to the offline stage.

 

THE THIRD ACT

“Stand-up comedy is something that is closely tied to the rise of counter-culture and individualism in China.”

 

From foreign comedian to cultural ambassador, Rowswell reveals that he has always felt he was not truly doing his own things as a freelancer. “I was always doing stuff for someone else, doing someone else’s show. But where is my show?!,” he laughingly says.

It is stand-up comedy in which Dashan has found the next stage of his career, which he calls “Dashan 3.0” or “the third act.” Rowswell stresses that he does not want to be the foreigner in China performing solely for foreign audiences in expat bars. He specifically wants to connect with Chinese audiences; Chinese-language comedy is giving Dashan the stage and the possibility to directly speak to them.

As stand-up comedy (站立喜剧) is finding more channels and bigger audiences in China, Rowswell feels this is the right niche to explore: “It allows me to build on something new. It is not mainstream comedy here, but is something that is closely tied to the rise of counter-culture and individualism in China.”

Rowswell also finds that his eclectic career and experiences now give him the opportunity to take on some kind of mentoring role as a performer. The upcoming Chinese “Dashan Live” show at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival – where he will be the only “non-Chinese Chinese performer” – is an important part of this new journey.

“It takes time to find your own voice,” Rowswell remarks. As Dashan 3.0, he now has the opportunity to finally share his own experiences and his own stories, in his own Dashan show.

“Dashan Live” will take place from April 12-16 at The Forum, Melbourne.

– By Manya Koetse

©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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What’s on Weibo provides social, cultural & historical insights into an ever-changing China. What’s on Weibo sheds light on China’s digital media landscape and brings the story behind the hashtag. This independent news site is managed by sinologist Manya Koetse. Contact info@whatsonweibo.com. ©2014-2018

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