Chatting With My Chinese Friend

CCTV Panview Stories … Now in a Book (1)

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Meeting With China

The stories included in this book were born from a meeting and a necessity.

The meeting was with China, which I visited for the first time in June 2014. It was one of those meetings that leave an impact on one’s life and not only on one’s mind. The “Far East” as some writers used to design this region in the literature of the past three centuries, is a myth or a delusion, just as fantasist as the “Middle East,” which they invented for different reasons and objectives linked to power-politics and imperialist strategies.

The necessity is born from the meeting itself. For I felt the need to understand this big country and subsequently to use my knowledge of the Arab-Muslim world and the West in order to explore ways of dialogue and rapprochement.

The fact that it was my first visit to China  did not mean I wasn’t reading about the country. Actually, like many intellectuals of my generation, I was interested in China since I became aware of the international political game. I remember that in high school, in Tunisia in the late 1970’s, we were already discussing the rift that separated Mao’s China from Khrutschev’s Soviet Union. In our class of philosophy, we had indeed to study Marx, Engels, and other socialist or communist authors, along with Adam Smith, Ricardo, John Stuart Mill, and Jean-Paul Sartre, inter alia. It was the year of the Baccalaureate, and a friend of mine has offered me two books, which I read with great enthusiasm: Le petit livre rouge (the little red book of quotations from Chairman Mao Tse Tung), and one volume of the works of the same Mao. When he gave me those two books, he told me with a halo of mystery: “Don’t show them to anybody, and most of all, don’t read them in the public places.”(At the time, those two books, as others from the communist literature, were banned in Tunisia.)

I had already resolved that I would live as a writer and I did not see any wrong doing in reading banned literature, whatsoever. This principle remained with me all along my life. It has even upgraded to the status of “duty.”

Later on, in Paris, during my years of studies and bohemian wandering, I had had the time to read even more from the “banned” literature, which finally acted as a vaccine against the virus that plagued most people of my generation and others as well: Islamism (i.e. political Islam). I am thus grateful to a coincidence that saved me from what Olivier Roy dubbed the “Holy Ignorance” of our time.

My intellectual genesis and my profound tendencies naturally militate against dogma, regardless of its ideological type. My long-time profession as a journalist, policy analyst and commentator, incited me never to trust any established dogma, without placing it under the spotlight of social sciences. Thus, I was interested in Marxism as I was in the theories of the free market. I do not think that any man-created theory could hold the truth indefinitely. The history of science is the history of big mistakes and shifting paradigms. Human societies are in continual evolution; consequently, all the theories that claim to understand them and lead mankind to happiness deserve our attention indeed, but should not be taken as granted.

What I saw in China in June 2014, and in other occasions  since, confirmed this principle in my eyes. China is still led by the Communist party, but the vision that serves the country has evolved from the orthodox dogma of the 1950s and 1960s  —that of a secluded society — to an open, progressive society, anchored in our time and looking forward to an ambitious future.

One should see a country standing up to its destiny with the weight of 1.350 b. people and at least 5000 years of history. Indeed, it is worth to cross more than 5000 kms several times to see it, which I did with infinite joy every time.

This is the same underdeveloped nation that was striving for survival in the 1950s and 1960s, as did the whole Arab world. However, I could finally see with my eyes how the Chinese managed to get – maybe in no more than three or four decades – what the Arabs remained unable to get with all their oil, gas, and other minerals and natural resources.

I understood the importance of Deng Xiaoping’s high stature in the history of China and the world. It does not diminish in any way the importance of the other Chinese leaders, like Mao and Zhou Enlai, who have founded the Popular Republic. Mao was a founder and a strategist, a spiritual father for the new China. Zhou Enlai was a great administrator and a subtile diplomat. Deng was a reformer. The three of them were necessary for China to come out from two centuries of darkness and utmost weakness.

I will not make this foreword any longer. I just wish to convey my sincere thanks to all the people who are the real heroes of these stories. Their kindness and help made this project possible. It is to them that I dedicate this book.

Chatting With My Chinese Friend, is an idea that crossed my mind during one of those meetings. CCTV Panview’s editors – to whom I am most grateful – adopted it eagerly and started publishing the series since August 25, 2015.

The addenda include three articles related to the stories that have been published by Panview.

Hichem Karoui