China Stokes Fear and Loathing of the West
Perceiving itself under attack, Beijing uses war in Yugoslavia to turn
nation against NATO, U.S.
-- Miro Cernetig, Globe and Mail, Monday, May 31, 1999
Beijing -- For more than six centuries, Beijing's Confucius Temple was
where China taught its young the virtue of peace and social harmony. But
schoolchildren are now being trotted through here for a decidedly
different sort of indoctrination.
"Witness the atrocity," says a hastily written sign set out at the front
of the ornate gate.
Children, and small groups of adults, enter the leafy calm of the
ancient courtyard, pass a white-stone statue of a smiling Confucius, and
then step into a hall of horrors: a gallery featuring hundreds of
gruesome colour pictures of death and destruction inflicted in
There are limbless bomb casualties, horribly scarred burn victims. A
snapshot of Jersey cows lying dead in Kosovo's fields, dead farmers
sprawled nearby. There is a metre-wide picture of a human brain spilled
onto a piece of green grass; a battle-scarred tree with a gaping bullet
hole. But the focus of the exhibit, comprising war pictures taken by
China's state-controlled Xinhua news agency, is of NATO's May 7 bombing
of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade.
The children see graphic pictures of the dozens of Chinese wounded,
burned, maimed and killed in the embassy attack. Xinhua offers up the
half-metre-wide face of a dead Chinese journalist, so close that the
youngsters can see the embalmer's cotton stuffed deep into her nose.
All the carnage shown is caused by the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization's side of the war. Like China's media, the exhibit has
little or no reference to the casualties inflicted by Serbian and
But by the time they exit, spectators aren't debating that point. They
are wiping their eyes and stoked with loathing for the West.
Ask what they feel and they all tell you the United States is trying to
turn China into the bogeyman of the post-Cold War world. With no Red
Scare from the Soviet Union any more, goes a popular theory in China
these days, Washington now wants to make China the Yellow Peril, hence
the embassy attack.
"America is a big superpower," said one woman in her 20s who spoke as
her friends nodded their heads in agreement. "I think it is afraid if it
doesn't have an enemy, they will decline. China will be a bigger enemy
than the Soviet Union."
"I think America is afraid of China because China is developing very
fast," said another who, like most Chinese, doesn't believe NATO's
argument that the bombing was in error.
But the virulent, anti-U.S. sentiment here is caused by more than just
the embassy bombing. Some of the economic and political bonds that have
brought China and the West closer together over the last decade have
been unravelling lately at an alarming rate.
Ordinary Chinese are irate and humiliated, for example, over the charges
from a congressional panel that Beijing used spies to steal U.S. nuclear
secrets. There is also a widespread view that Washington is playing too
much hardball in negotiations to allow China into the World Trade
Organization. And the atmosphere has been further soured by Washington's
decision to cancel a $450-million (U.S.) satellite deal over fears it
might be used to improve China's missile technology.
Beijing's leadership is also keenly aware that U.S. President Bill
Clinton's policy of "constructive engagement" with China is under heavy
attack, as anti-China hawks in the U.S. build up a case for cooling
Last week, a powerful group of Republicans and Democrats called for a
suspension of WTO talks, saying the spy allegations prove China is a
looming U.S. rival, not a strategic partner, as the Clinton
Such accusations are also fuelled by China's obvious trading success
with the U.S. The U.S. trade deficit with China reached $56-billion
(U.S.) last year, a figure that is likely to be exceeded this year.
The Chinese are firing back with charges that anti-China elements are
trying to demonize their country. And powerful U.S. politicians have
agreed with that, warning that if the U.S. seeks to make China an enemy
it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
"They were doing their job," Representative David Dreier said last week
of the alleged spying by China. "We failed to do ours [by keeping
secrets safe]. There will be some who will try to create a Cold War
enemy because of this, and I think that's a gross mistake."
In China, however, there are also anti-U.S. hawks who have been seeking
to exploit the deterioration in relations for their own ends. Army
officials are warning of the need for a more modern Chinese military to
contain the U.S. in Southeast Asia. Anti-NATO rhetoric has reached fever
pitch in the heavily censored media. A commonly held view is that the
Kosovo conflict is a dangerous precedent that might lead the U.S. and
NATO to make Taiwan or Tibet a future target.
Yesterday, the Chinese government also angrily denounced the U.S.
Congress for passing a denunciation of the massacre in Tiananmen Square
10 years ago June 4, in which hundreds, perhaps more than a thousand,
pro-democracy activists where killed. An indication of whether this
emerging hard-line, anti-West rhetoric will continue might be seen
today, when Beijing will respond further to the nuclear-spying
allegations. Whatever happens, it will take a while to reverse the angry
mood that has permeated life here.
One Beijing mother, after her daughter brought a good report card home
from school a few days ago, offered to take the girl to McDonald's for a
celebratory hamburger, a common middle-class tradition here. Her
daughter replied: "I don't want to eat there any more, mama. The U.S.
takes our money and then builds nuclear missiles."
At the capital's Confucius Temple, the anti-U.S. propaganda had also
clearly taken firm hold in the young. Gathered around a visitors book, a
dozen youngsters scribbled anti-U.S. diatribes, showing them to a
Western stranger with pride.
"First they bomb Iraq," one boy wrote. "Then they bomb Yugoslavia.
America says it supports justice. That is a distortion of
Another boy shyly doffed his yellow baseball cap and said: "America is
Is Canada? he was asked.
"Yes. NATO is a threat to world peace," he said, and walked away.