Gao Mobo, Pluto Press, 2018, 288 pages, Paperback, INR 2075.00/-
Contemporary academic arena dealing with international politics is flooded with research analysing the rise of China. The issue has gained prominence because of China’s unprecedented growth in the twenty-first century. The sinologist across the spectrum from left to right has been arguing the rise of China as per their own beliefs, interest & of course the sponsors of the project. If we categorise them broadly then one group of scholar can be seen arguing the China’s rise a “threat” whereas other group of scholars will be always defending the China’s rise as peaceful. The book under review Constructing China : Clashing Views of People’s Republic by Mobo Gao a sinologist who is expert on Chinese Language as well as a scholar of Asian Studies & keeps on writing about China. He has been a vocal critique of hegemony western thoughts, that you will find while reading any of his work and you will also get a glimpse of the same in this book.
The book is divided into 11 chapters heralded by an introduction, that looks at the various aspect of China’s Rise along with its analysis & counter-analysis. Besides, giving us a glimpse of the content in book, the writer discusses the hegemony of west over the Knowledge & argues that how these knowledge cannot rightly explain the issues of non-Western countries. He further went to highlight the hypocrisy of the scholars who see the west & east with different lenses. For instance, he argues that white settlers in Australia or America who wiped out the indigenous people call themselves as Australian of American whereas they give call the Chinese people in the same countries as overseas Chinese. The author goes onto a provide a detailed theoretical framework in Chapter 1 & tries to critically examine the knowledge that has been produced by the west about the other countries in general and China in particular. Chapter 2 onwards, author tries to explain the various theme of that has been used to construct the knowledge about China. In Chapter 2 & 3, Gao, exposes the false construction of China as a state & Chinese identity by west with the historical facts, he went on to argue that China as a multinational state & Chinese identity as a fusion of many ethnicity that was due to quasi-modern character. In the very next chapter, he highlights the influence of west over the neo-enlightenment scholar of China & their urge to get validation from west. He explains the intellectual bankruptcy of Xin Qimeng narrative that helped west in constructing China. He takes this argument into next Chapter were he identifies the agents including Xin Qimeng who have been involved in constructing the knowledge of China in the collaboration of west. Moving ahead in Chapter 6,7, & 8 , Gao makes a courageous effort to present the positive picture of Mao era’s most criticised adventures, The Cultural Revolution & Great Leap Forward wherein he argues that CR was not a politically motivated vendetta due to conflict in Chinese leadership but indeed a revolution that went on to transform the various aspect of the Chinese society including education and intellectual ideas however the author did admit that GLF was a failure but goes on to present different reasons for it and has tried to defend Mao Tse-Tung who is mainly accused for the so called disaster. He also highlighted the selective and manipulated data used by the western and westerly influenced scholars to construct the negative image of China after it started to get engaged in global capitalism wherein he also argues that China never wanted to hide the data of GLF rather they themselves presented the “report of the damage caused by disaster in China 1949-1995” that had included the official data of China’s premature death in 1959-60. The author also denies the role of leadership in manufacturing the ‘the great famine’. As author says, he has produced the alternative knowledge of the CR & GLF. In the very next Chapter author highlights that the knowledge constructed about China by the west is to suit their national and transnational interests. While discussing about these two, he also argues that the national interest and transnational interests of west can be same but China being a developing country. He highlights how the issue of democracy and authoritarianism is manipulated to question the Chinese establishment wherein the evidence of USA supporting the autocratic regimes do exists. The author has also pointed out that how reform led by current leader Xi is being targeted as an more totalitarian regime but in reality the reform led by Xi is an attempt to address the domestic issues like corruption & recession and to strengthen the legitimacy of Chinese Communist Party (CCP). He argues that west often uses the media and academicians to doctor the truthto produce a falsified knowledge of China. Now, in final two chapters author turns his views towards the geopolitics and foreign policy wherein he tries to present the Chinese views of the both land and sea disputes of China with the border. The author has tried all the possible way to convince the reader that China’s disputes with the neighbouring country is just a narrative constructed by westerners in reality China is an non aggressive country and has settled disputes with the most of the neighbours. The author also claims that SCS dispute is mainly because of USA involvement in the region.
After reading this book one will easily construct a positive knowledge of China. The book from Mobo Gao is indeed a remarkable contribution in the field of Chinese studies and is indeed on the side of China’s peaceful rise. Gao with numerous historical facts and figures to bust the myths that were used to construct the China threat perception. The book also has an underlying agenda to establish the current leader Xi Jinping the next great leader after Mao. Considering the main motive of the book i.e. to counter the knowledge constructed by China but the alternative knowledge constructed in the book is again “in the politics of production and consumption of knowledge”. In this highlight I would like to highlight some of the drawback in this alternative knowledge created by China. The author in itself is contradictory at certain point. For example, he himself pointed out that Liu Shaoqui was alone on his death bed without any family member but then went onto explain that he was treated well. Besides, Gao’s explanation of China’s foreign policy behaviour in Chapter 10 and Chapter 11 also has some point of contradiction from the facts. As he pointed out that China has settled the territorial dispute except India and Bhutan but it’s not true, China still has still has a disputed land border the recent being the claim over the Rui Village of Nepal. In order to prove China non aggressive over the issue of territorial expansion author claims that China didn’t attack Vietnam over the land disputes but he misses out that it was a border conflict at Ussuri River in 1969 that finally concluded the Sino-Soviet split. Besides, to legitimatize the claim on territories like Tibet, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia, the author refers to the Qing era rule and negate the any treaties made with a colonial power. However, He himself has identified Qing as non-Chinese regime. Besides, Tibet was an independent state post Xinhai Revolution and in fact Tibet was an independent Empire since the time of SongtsenGampo (604–650 CE) except some periods in time where it came under Chinese occupation. The independence of Tibet also validates that even if China don’t want to accept the Colonial era agreement of border with India, then it must also recognize that it is Tibet that has the authority to engage in the discussion over the border with both India, Bhutan and Nepal what author has called the only unsettled territorial disputes.
Another knowledge that Gao has constructed the knowledge that East Asia and Indo-Pacific is Chinese sphere of influence and USA is infiltrator, based on pre-modern claims. But, then Japan can also claim the Indo-Pacific as its sphere of influence base on modern era claims. Subsequently, with such claims I see South Asia as an Indian sphere of influence and it is China who is infiltrating the region.
Concluding, I shall argue that the book did counter the knowledge constructed by west to contain the China and serve western interest but at the same time the alternate knowledge created by the author is to serve the Chinese interest and not towards serving the interest of Asia or non-Asian country in general.
Abhishek Ranjan, Research Scholar, East Asian Studies, JNU