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Jean-Michel Carré: “China is not affected by this neoliberal bureaucracy.”

Translated Saturday 4 May 2013, by Jonathan Pierrel

Franco-German TV channel Arte broadcast on April 30 Jean-Michel Carré’s documentary: Chine, le nouvel empire (China: The New Empire), a brilliant documentary which presents an eminently contradictory but hopeful society.

HUMA: By giving voice to Chinese people from different backgrounds, your documentary presents a rather bustling Chinese society. How would you explain why this vitality is not further reflected in the discourse about China in the West?

CARRE: This is a legitimate question that I still ask myself! I think there is a profound misunderstanding of what China is today. Many Westerners talk about it as if it were still a third world country. Of course, they saw what China was capable of during the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008. They hear in the media that this vast country has become the second largest economy. However, they are missing the Chinese dynamism and do not understand the need for the Chinese to show their power. To remedy this misunderstanding, I believe there is no better way than putting China in its historical context. This is what I have undertaken with this documentary. I went back in time a century and a half ago, because many Chinese told me about the humiliation of the Opium Wars (1839-1842 and 1856-1860), which is transmitted from generation to generation. There is a tendency to forget the part of history when the UK forced its opium trade on China, which was followed a few years later by the Western powers (France, Germany, the United States, 
Russia) and Japan who all traded and plundered China at their discretion. But the Chinese have not forgotten. Not that they now want revenge. They simply want to tell the world that this kind of humiliation will not happen to them again. And like any people, they aspire to better living standards. This can be seen in their relations with the outside, but also within the country, by the increase in push for change. There are about 300 strikes or demonstrations a day in China, and we hardly talk about them.

HUMA: Speaking of which, you point out that in 2012, after social struggles, Western multinational companies protested when the central government decided to raise the minimum wage.

CARRE: Yes, absolutely. And it is essential to keep that in mind. Many workers in France and Europe may have the impression that their jobs are taken by Chinese workers. But it must be remembered that it is the Western business leaders who went to China to make more money by taking advantage of low wages. They are the real culprits of the hardships endured by European workers, not the Chinese! And now, these CEOs are increasing the pressure on the Chinese government in an attempt to curb social progress, while still dreaming of a large new market, whereas the recession worsens the situation of workers in our countries.

HUMA: Without concealing problems (corruption, inequality, authoritarianism, etc.), you are betting on the ability of the Chinese to invent an alternative to the capitalist world order.

CARRE: To speak bluntly, I think that the Chinese people who have analyzed Marxism and are influenced by Confucianism cannot be bad. Confucianism is a kind of secular spirituality, centered on life on earth and the well-being of future generations, the transmission of knowledge. Combined with the interest in Marxism, which is still studied in schools, it gives a sense of the collective. China uses capitalist processes, but it is not a capitalist country per se. Of course, there are billionaires, corruption, and blatant injustice. But there is also, at the same time, a sense of power and politics. Today in the West, it is the financiers who have taken power. Not in China, where the state retains control over many companies, the banking system, energy production... When it comes to making investments in Western countries, there are always obstacles: money lenders want to hear only of immediate profits. China is not affected by all this neoliberal bureaucracy.

HUMA: One of the thorniest diplomatic issues between the West and China remains the matter of Tibet. Yet a scene of the documentary recalls the operations of the CIA in 1956 to create dissension in that province to destabilize Communist China ...

CARRE: Yes, absolutely. And I really care about this scene – no offense to those here in France who will not fail to attack me on the topic. I only recall facts from audiovisual archives to which I had access. And let’s not forget that when the Liberation Army of Mao came to Tibet, they discovered a medieval theocracy where slavery still existed. We should also keep in mind that before the U.S. maneuvers the relations between the Tibetans and the central government were not hostile. The Dalai Lama was even appointed Vice President of the People’s National Assembly and declared "Marxist Buddhist." China on this issue continues to suffer from Western ostracism.

HUMA: In your documentary, you remind us of one of Mao’s slogan: "Revolt, but don’t produce," overthrown by Deng Xiaoping’s: "Produce, but don’t revolt." Does the tension between these two visions still characterize China Today?

CARRE: The Chinese are anxious not to lose sight of certain values related to a “harmonious society”. Through his own reflection, one of the people I interviewed, a Chinese philosopher who appears in all three parts of my documentary, summarizes, the situation. In the first part, he explains why he was first Maoist and in the second, he goes back over the economic pragmatism of Deng Xiaoping. In the third, he said that the track is a balance between the two, between the need for a real "harmonious society" and the need for productive work.

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