CUPRINS nr. 148


Semn de întrebare

Semn de întrebare
Interviu cu Enrico Fardella realizat de Ioana Paverman


Dr. Enrico Fardella (1977, Sicily, Italy) - professor of Political Sci-ence at University of Florence, where he currently teaches History of Re-publican China, History of Eastern Asia and Political and Diplomatic Histo-ry of Eastern Asia. He got his PhD in the History of International Relations in 2007, with a thesis on The Sino-American Normalization and the Crisis of the Great Détente: „The China Card” in Carter’s Foreign Policy (Italian). Since 2008 Dr. Fardella is engaged in a Post-Doctoral Scholarship at the History Department of Peking University in Beijing, China, where betwe-en February and July 2009 he also taught a class on History and Politics of Contemporary Europe. In 2009 he published at Mondadori, Milan, a volu-me entitled Mao Zedong, translated then after in Flemish (Amsterdam: Het Laatste Nieuws, 2005), Spanish (Madrid: Globus Communication, 2007) and Greek (Athens, HMEPHΣIA A.E.E).


1. In March 2010 The Economist issued an edition having as headline „Gendercide: What happened to 100 baby girls?” Briefly, the issue at stake touched the problem of distorted sex ratios which is highly affecting nowadays China. The destruction of baby girls is a product of three forces, The Economist appreciates: the ancient preference for sons and a mixture between modern desire for smaller families and technologies able to identify the sex of a fetus. The unbalanced sex ratios is of course a striking issue, alarming enough to force Chinese authorities to reshape the country’s social policies. Still, it also brings forth one of China’s core points in question: a buckled relationship between traditional mentalities and modern possibilities. How would you evaluate this issue and how do you think it affects China’s traditional structural cleavages?

I do not have any particular knowledge about this specific issue, hence my words will not have any scientific wisdom to protect them from banality. It is however evident that all the process of transformation require sacrifice. The core point is to reflect upon the direction and the logic of the process itself, without giving for granted its virtuosity and, consequently, the sacrifices it demands. I do not think that a man can really find any valuable justification that can legitimate him to describe the sacrifice of other human beings as a necessary cost for development. This, however, has always been a general rule in the history of humankind that seems incapable to conceive progress without victims. Maybe this is not a simple distortion, but a perennial feature of history, as perennial as the disgust of the intellectual towards it. Maybe it belongs to the crude logic of politics, a logic that in China has reached a dimension – both quantitative and qualitative - that we have never experienced in our ‘small’ continent. ‘Maybes’ aside, the Economist mentions the ‘ancient preference for sons’ as one of the leading factors for female infanticide. It is undoubtedly true that this phenomenon is a typical feature of an agrarian society. In China this ‘preference’ is also linked to the structure of ‘marriage’ as an institution, an institution that pushes the bride to become part of the groom’s family, depriving the bride’s parents of the material support that they need at the later stage of their life. In a country without a strong welfare state and such a conception of ‘marriage’ male children, especially in rural China, can be a better ‘insurance’ for their parents. But again, I am not an expert in this field and I fear that my opinion might sound a bit ‘old-fashioned’. Whereas I do not need any scientific support to claim that the second factor mentioned by the Economist - namely ‘the modern desire for small families’ – does not persuade me. I do not think that modern families freely choose to be ‘small’, nor they desire to be like that, and that is true both for China and the rest of the ‘modern’ world. In our countries families have to be small due to the economic costs imposed by a family with numerous offspring. In China that is the result of the ‘one child policy’ which has undoubtedly affected China’s traditional familial structure, Chinese traditional conception of community and the idea of the individual and its relationship with society.

2. Most of us picture China with an admixture of curiosity, wonder and fear. It is the anthropological fear characterizing the foreigner, who is largely unable to grasp from the first instant a culture radically different from the one he has been brought up into. So, what is China today, beyond any stereotyped and essentialist approach?

China is the greatest example of the human capability to create order from chaos: its millennial continuity generates wonder, its efficient simplicity instills curiosity, its portentous mass raises fears. China has been always in the world, but only recently – thanks to the hyper-connected global economy – is ‘part’ of the world. When China joined the world, in the late 70s, it found a world designed by Western ideas, values, rules and codes of conduct. A web of connections that could help China to escape from isolation but it could force it into another corner, a corner of dependent integration. If the system is Western-shaped, participation in the system implies a degree of ‘westernization’. China had to accept it so long as ‘westernization’ increased its wealth. China however could not accept any ‘westernization’ that appeared to menace domestic stability – read also leadership – or seemed creating subjugation in the international system. If China is ‘part’ of the system, its geopolitical physiology demands it to be also part of the design of the system itself. China’s contemporary identity is strongly influenced by the fight against imperialism and the ‘liberation’ from foreign interferences. In the past China attempted to win this battle through isolation and radical antagonism, but it did not pay much and posed the country once again in front of the risk of disintegration, marginalization and foreign invasion. China then moved towards integration and managed to exploit the opportunity given by the system transforming itself into the center of global economy. China today is in the center but it is not yet fully ‘part’ of it. In order to guarantee its full independency - and reacquire the traditional identity of the country and its people – China now wants to be ‘part’ of the center. Being part of it means having the possibility to reshape the design of the system itself, it means influencing its values, its rules, and its code of conduct. It means flexing those anachronistic limits that have so far impeded China from being an active part of the center, limits that risk, if forcefully imposed, to transform a peaceful transition into a catastrophic (and pathetic) explosion. China today is the world, but is the world ready to be also China?

3.Recently, the Information Office of China’s State Council publicly issued its first national human rights action plan. The two-year strategy engages in respecting several fundamental rights as for instance the right to a fair trial and the right to question government policies. Scenarios have been made, and most of the scholars and specialists in Chinese politics and international relations appreciate that the action was taken because of the authorities’ growing concern in the rising dissatisfaction of the people against the public authorities. How would you comment in this perspective both the possibility for the plan to be a success and the social realities cross-cutting today’s China.

The plan marks an important step. No doubts about that. Words are definitely more important than silence. Facts, however, are generally more important than words when it comes to people’s rights. In China sometimes words can be facts. Nonetheless, I generally prefer to analyze results rather than issuing predictions. A plan can be a success if there are the conditions – both internal and external - to let it be so. People want freedom and the Party wants people to be satisfied in order to preserve and reinforce its power. This simple formula however needs to be conjugated with the imperative of stability: people want freedom, but if this freedom will endanger the power of the Party and create instability it might led to anarchy and social upheaval, , a word that recalls many tragic events to the actual Chinese leadership. This is not simply the interest of the Party. All the major players in the region, both Western and Asian countries, have something to gain from stability in China. Stability coupled with opening: a virtuous combination guaranteed in the last 30 years by the CCP. Some of these major players might have also something to gain from a China a bit weaker, less assertive and more prone to compromise. In this light, human rights and democratization can be seen as effective Trojan horses in the international competition for supremacy. Seen from this light the concept of human right loses its nobility. From people’s perspective however - it is quite superfluous to remark this point – the respect of human rights represent a necessary trait of civilization. I strongly believe that China will make enormous and rapid progresses in the next years, as it has been doing in the last thirty years and it will be also capable to reinforce the universality of these principles – human rights – by providing ‘from the center’ its wise contribution to the rest of international community, making it less ‘ideological’ and more ‘international’. The rise of China, or better, the return of China in the international society in fact, represents already a democratization of the international system, a system that cannot avoid today – as ever before – to consider the exigencies of those countries, China in primis, that used to be seen before as the ‘banlieue’ of the planet.

4. Another current event is undoubtedly represented by the Nuclear Security Summit held in Washington. China declared itself prepared to work with the UN Security Council on the new resolution comprising sanctions against Iran. Nevertheless, Chinese authorities showed caution, emphasizing the need for dialogue. Meanwhile, Mr. Obama himself agreed with China’s concern regarding the repercussions this new strategy might have on the global economy. What game is China expected to play in the future?

The Iran issue is quite complex too. Keeping in mind my personal uneasiness with prediction, we can try to point out some general elements of China’s policy in the area and then reflect upon the direction that it might take in the next months. China has tried in the last decade to weaken US’s hegemony in those areas that are deemed crucial for Chinese national interest and, hence, for Beijing’s international strategy: Central Asia and Middle East, Beijing’s energetic suppliers. Thanks to a cynical but efficient use of its soft and hard power the US managed to control some of the most strategic corners in this area, something that Beijing would never be allowed to do in the same way. This overlapping and seemingly conflicting interest in the area finds its most tense point in Iran. An outspoken antagonist of US policies and a solid energetic power, Iran stands as a perfect obstacle for US strategy in the area, and, consequently, as a useful partner for Beijing’s aims. Beijing’s status however has now reached an international dimension: as an active member of the UN Security Council, China cannot avoid taking its own responsibility and needs to act as a responsible power. Plus, as Beijing’s economic reach extends all over the world, as Beijing starts to be seen more and more as the second most powerful actor in the international arena, public image and credibility become essential factors in China’s foreign policy making. The more China will be accepted as a responsible power, the more willingness there will be to accept it within the ‘center’ of the system, the more space it will gain for influencing from within the system itself. No veto against Iran’s sanctions then – it would further jeopardize Beijing’s relationship with Washington - and no abstention as it would diminish China’s credibility and it would sound too indecisive. But China does not play just on the Iran’s table: Beijing’s interests are widespread and an important concession given to the US on Iran can be turned into an essential gain on other areas (such as Afghanistan or Taiwan). The same could be said for North Korea. To conclude: Beijing deals with antagonists forces to expand its role in crucial areas and exploit the void left by the US but at the same time uses this leverage as a bargaining chip to increase its international role and its prestige as a responsible power, a process that is leading China to be peacefully accepted within the heart of the international system.

5. „A fundamental development of Chinese experimental art from the early 1990s up till the present has been a shift from a collective movement to individualized experiments” writes down Wu Hung in the volume Exhibiting Experimental Art in China. „These experiments are not limited to art media and styles, but are concerned also with the forms and roles of exhibitions. These concerns reflect a new direction of Chinese experimental art toward normalization and systematization. Instead of pursuing a social revolution, curators and artists have become more interested in building a social foundation which would guarantee regular exhibitions of experimental art and reduce interference from the political authorities. A number of new factors in Chinese art have encouraged this interest.”1 One of these is the deepening globalization of Chinese experimental art. Of course, art is just the first industry to sense the great challenges of globalization; which are in fact the greatest cultural challenges of globalization for China? And how do you conceive China as a protagonist of globalization?

I believe that I already answered somehow to both these interesting questions. If globalization means homogenization than it is a danger for all those cultures that are rooted into a specific territory. As said before, real change implies sacrifice. Globalization as a cultural phenomenon is meta-cultural, post-cultural or maybe even un-cultural. The most globalized country, the real protagonist of globalization so far – United States – whose names and soul have a clear multicultural essence, perfectly adapt to the globalized world and shaped a transversal and universal cultural message – pop culture plus consumerism – that perfectly adapted to the different realities and deeply affected their local cultures: first integration into the ‘global village’ and then dispersion into the global culture. China joined the world at a later stage, after years of anti-imperialist struggle and decades of resistance against foreign interference and ‘spiritual pollution’. I do not think that China will be able to turn its idea of democracy in international relations into facts; it is by all means an astute rhetoric stratagem to gain more freedom of action within the system. But at least, an enhanced role of China will certainly contribute to add a new powerful voice into the direction of globalization a voice coming from a different tradition which has wisely elaborated, at least rhetorically, the importance of ‘harmony’.



1 Wu Hung, Exhibiting Experimental Art in China, (The David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art, The University of Chicago, 2000), 17.




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