It is puzzling that even as China seeks to extend her tentacles throughout the world, so much of the Asian country still remains unknown. Beijing does little to trumpet her successes. For example, few know that a Chinese author, Guan Moye—nom de guerre— Mo Yan, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2012.
For years, the world has been familiar with non-governmental organisations working in neighbourhoods across the globe be they faith-based, state-sponsored or just independent entities doing transformative work among communities. Most of the NGOs are known to trace their roots to the West or are homegrown.
But asked how many of such groups are from China, chances are that you will draw a blank. The situation is no different in many other areas of engagement by the giant economy. It is, however, ironical that this has continued to be the case in spite of increased trade between Africa and China.
An Ethiopian Airline flight from Guangzhou to Addis Ababa is a rather untidy affair, with a horde of small traders from Central and West Africa jamming the airport boarding gates to try their luck in the Asian giant. But that seems to be where the familiarity with China sometimes ends.
China has a big army, huge population, fast growing-economy, boasts massive skills in construction and then there are Chinese restaurants. But of what good is China doing across the globe? This is often an untold story, and this is where the power of a philosophy comes in.
China is one of the oldest civilisations in the world, but among some of her deeply-rooted philosophies include non-interference in the affairs of other nations and not talking loudly about the good she may have done.
Deng Xiaoping,who succeeded Mao Zedong, and who is credited with the Chinese economic miracle, is also acknowledged for championing the philosophy of keeping a low profile—less talk, more action. To him, there is no need to shout it at the rooftop if you have done something good.
That is in sharp contrast with today’s world of media blitz. In the post-modern world of Ted Turner with its 24-hour circle of news, the American public communication guru, Walter Lippmann, planted in the psyche of the Western world the importance of influencing the mind of the public.
When Jeremy Tunstall wrote The media are American he, arguably more than anything else, captured the expertise the American nation brings to showbiz and using the media to spotlight its activities. It is a game the Chinese have been slow to pick up.
Take the case of Mo Yan. Born in 1955 in Gaomi,in North-East China, he was forced out of school at age 12 due to the hardships of the countryside life. He educated himself. Then his journey to literary success began in 1981.
He has written a library of books some which have been translated into English including: “Frog”, “Red Sorghum”, “Sandalwood Death”, “Life & Death are Wearing Me Out”, “Shifu, You will do anything for a laugh”, “Big Breasts and Wide Hips”, and the “Republic of Wine” among others.
When Peter Englund, the permanent secretary of the Swiss Academy that gives the Nobel awards announced the winner in 2012 he said Mo Yan “writes about the peasantry, about life in the countryside, about people struggling to survive, struggling for their dignity, sometimes winning, but mostly losing”.
This is an author probably most of us would have identified with. But one wonders why, in a world of superfast-learners, gifted China has lagged behind in the showbiz game.
In the post-revolution era, it appears that Beijing’s attention has been focused on just growing its economy and raising the living standards of its people. But it faces another barrier—language.
There is no gainsaying the importance of speaking the language of the world’s commerce. It probably marks the difference between English Premier League and other soccer competitions. EPL is aided by the near universality of English as a spoken language.
While people can learn from China how to grow the economy, be disciplined and work hard, she can learn from the world how to beat her own drums. The writer is Dean, School of Communications, Language and Performing Arts at Daystar University