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CHINA: Book Release Stirs Resentment

Antoaneta Bezlova

BEIJING, Apr 21 2009 (IPS) - At first it was nothing out of the ordinary. A book intriguingly titled ‘China Is Not Happy’ was expected to generate a buzz because it claimed to detail the world’s most populous nation and aspiring superpower’s resentment of foreign abuses.

But, the book appears to have struck a cord with Chinese readers on a level that it was perhaps not intended to. In a surprising twist, the volume – which set out to arouse national indignation at foreign powers’ treatment of China – has burst open the Chinese people’s grievances with their own government.

Waves of commentary have filtered out of cyberspace and into the pages of some state-sanctioned media.

"Outwardly this is a book about patriotism," said commentator Chang Ping in the liberal Southern Weekend newspaper. "The problem is that it does not help China solve its problems by revealing them. On the opposite, it wants China to succeed by hating other countries and by castigating Chinese people that like other countries."

But, "Indeed, how can Chinese people be happy?" asked Chang. "Their children drink poisoned milk and get kidney stones; husbands go underground to dig coal and get buried there; petitioners who line up to complain are sent to mental hospitals. Meanwhile, even the cigarettes smoked by public officials cost a fortune."

Among the book’s defendants are some who are perceived as proponents of government views. Veteran journalist Xiong Lei – who after retiring from the official Xinhua News Agency now works as a council member for the China Society for Human Rights Studies – argued that the book could be seen as an expression of China’s dissatisfaction with the current unfair world order.

"People certainly have the right to be unhappy with such inequity," she wrote in the official China Daily. "It is understandable too, that some people demand reform of the existing political and economic systems of our global village."

"The book ‘China Is Not Happy’ is only valuable for its title," contends Song Shinan, a blogger based in Sichuan province where last year a devastating earthquake buried thousands of children in the debris of shoddily built school buildings. "All the 340,000 words in the book should be removed and replaced with only these five characters printed on the cover… These five characters will inevitably resonate with the absolute majority of the Chinese population."

The list of unhappy people provided by Song reads like an almanac of China’s social groups. They include children trafficked for slave labour, prisoners killed in detention from torture, migrant workers deprived of jobs, college students left unemployed, intellectuals accused of crimes because of their speech, and "all those Chinese people who quietly cry at night because they have been humiliated or injured." Yes, China is unhappy, he concludes.

The communist party, which has held power since 1949 faces a swell of popular discontent over rampant corruption, income disparity and its failure to prevent children’s deaths in last year’s Sichuan earthquake, and the scandalous cover up of contaminated infant milk formula that has poisoned over 300,000 babies.

Oct. 1 marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of communist China. Jun. 4 brings the 20th anniversary of pro-democracy students’ demonstrations in Tiananmen Square and their violent suppression.

The inward criticism of China’s problems generated by the book was perhaps not the foremost result the book’s authors had hoped for. Although they do vent their ire at targets at home, the authors’ biggest scorn however is reserved for the outside world’s unfair treatment of China.

A collection of loosely linked essays, ‘China Is Not Happy’ takes off from where a 1996 runaway nationalist bestseller ‘China Can Say No’ left off. Both are written by a group of intellectuals and academics that describe themselves as speakers for the emboldened Chinese public – daring to criticise and demand from its government.

While the first book was written as an outburst of anger against the West in the aftermath of the NATO bombing of China’s embassy in Yugoslavia, the second one is released as a reflection on the problems encountered by China in its year of Olympic triumph.

The book contends that protests that marred Beijing’s Olympics last year testify to a continuing foreign disdain for China while the foreign "ghosts" behind the riots in Tibetan capital Lhasa in March 2008 show the extent of the country’s "strategic encirclement by the Western world."

Liu Yang, one of the authors, argues that China "must not let the United States kidnap the world" and rebukes Chinese reformers for "blindly following the American model" instead of blazing China’s own path.

"These foreign slaves have not only transformed Chinese economy into an American appendage, they have themselves become American dependents," he writes.

Another one of the writers, Song Qiang, advocates that China should "hold up its sword" as this is the only way to build a strong nation. China should bravely protect international security as a way of clearing a path towards becoming a superpower, Song said.

The binding element of the book is a brand of disgruntled nationalism, preaching that Beijing should start wielding its clout abroad more forcefully and reject any kinds of intellectual soul-searching that distracts it from achieving the "big goal" of becoming a superpower.

Unhappy or not, the book’s authors are certainly not displeased with its sales record. Already in its eighth edition since release in mid-March, ‘China Is Not Happy’ is reported to have sold about half a million copies.

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