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Book Review: Who is being transformed? Part II
Losing the New China: a Story of American Commerce, Desire and Betrayal
Stephen Gregory, The Epoch Times
Losing the New China: a Story of American Commerce, Desire and Betrayal- Ethan Gutmann (Encounter Books) 253 pp. $25.95
Losing the New China: a Story of American Commerce, Desire and Betrayal is at once Ethan Gutmann’s personal odyssey a story of idealism, temptation, possible corruption, and redemption, and his report from the front on the dangerous turn taking place in our relations with China.
Gutmann arrived in Beijing in thrall to the idea of the “transformation” of China. He believed in “the power of free enterprise to transform societies” and that “American business would be the facilitators of the third force, the vanguard in creating the new China.”
These revolutionary hopes for doing business with China have been the backbone of American policy for decades. Since Nixon “opened” China, America has sought not to contain or confront China, but rather to “engage” it, and by engagement peacefully transform China into something more like us, a capitalistic, democratic China.
American business has sold the idea of transformation to shareholders, to the American public, and the American government, seeking ever greater investment in China, a liberalization of trade, and an end to any attempt to link relations to other issues, such as human rights.
This idea of transformation harnesses in tandem two great passions that might otherwise be at odds, the desire for money and the desire for justice. The American businessman does not need to choose between human rights and profit, but can very conveniently do good by doing well for himself.
On the one hand the belief that there is a huge amount of money to be made in China, what Gutmann calls the “gold mountain,” fuels hopes for transformation. On the other hand, America’s deep-seated and powerful Wilsonian impulse drives these hopes forward. Americans have always been tempted to try to spread freedom and democracy throughout the world.
American self-love only makes these hopes stronger, for when an American businessman looks at China through the lens of “transformation,” he sees a giant nation in the process of becoming like the U.S.
The idea of transformation offers something for everyone. It provides a theoretical grounding for high-minded academics, gives a good conscience to those who want to make a buck, and provides a real world mechanism for idealists. It provides cover for knaves, and a platform for projectors and visionaries. The hopes for transformation can live comfortably in an ever-receding future, and every present circumstance, no matter how apparently discouraging, can be “reinterpreted” in light of the original faith. The idea of transformation is the ever fertile womb from which continually issues wishful thinking about China.
Upon arrival in China Gutmann himself wondered if “corruption and human rights abuses… could be just the growing pains of a transition that remained largely invisible to western eyes.”
Gutmann would soon find out. He reports how once, when he and another American businessman were having drinks, they broke into hysterical laughter.
Ethan and Jimbo no doubt laughed in liberation, at seeing their situation in China clearly for what it was. Their hysterics, though, testify to something else: this truth contained shame and fear they could only reluctantly acknowledge.
The American expatriate in China lives in a state of constant contradiction. The reality of China does not support dreams of democratic transformation, or dreams of climbing the gold mountain. But the expatriate has staked his life on those dreams, and in fact part of him still believes them. Moreover, when he speaks to the world outside China, he must wholeheartedly sell those dreams to others, in order to justify his own existence.
Only occasionally, in a private moment, with a like-minded fellow over drinks, can that expatriate businessman allow himself to see frankly how ridiculous is the illusion he believes and sells, and the ugliness of what in other moments he will not face.
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