• James Tam

Democracy Debate and Chinaman's House


Recently watched a debate hosted by Intelligence Squared (Square Intelligence?) on Hidden Harmonies. The motion was “Western Liberal Democracy would be wrong for China”. Those who still believe content matters in debates would be hugely surprised by the result which overwhelmingly (like, 100 to 1) favoured Anson Chan’s cliches.

In a way, it demonstrated the depth of prejudice against China in the “West”. Perhaps it’s understandable. Many in the audience are facing deeply threatening social uncertainties without a leader in sight. The great minds in their countries have been marginalised by their brand of politics designed to select opportunistic and photogenic followers who would gladly promise everyone their own moon if elected. By contrast, China’s experimentations, though far from perfect, have served the country comparatively more effectively, at least more rationally, a fact that the Democracy faithful must find uncomfortable to admit. Those “against” the motion therefore had an overwhelming emotional advantage.

Young members in the audience grew up with TV news. They have been conditioned to make judgements based on “watching” rather than reading and thinking critically. Complex conflicts in unpronounceable places, between tribes with names they can't spell, are presented and “analysed” in 40-second clips, concluding with the presenters suggesting in tone, if not actual words, who the bad guys are. Next: messages from McDonald’s and Durex.

If Anson Chan had learnt anything from her colonial masters, it was the art of uttering gibberish with confidence, in a haughty tone, nearly public school with Chinese characteristics. Contemporary patsies are much more comfortable with her style then Zhang and Jacque's boring substance and logic. They used only part of the head, namely the brain. Anson Chan used the whole thing, including ostentatious dimples. Let’s face it: Why should rationality matter here any more than in presidential debates?

Ultimately, every society deserves the government it gets. The puzzling thing is China has never been interested in competing with the Democracy Empire for an international award in government design. Yet many in the “West” seem more concerned with China’s imperfect political model than their own mounting problems.

My Conspiracy Theory alone cannot explain. Perhaps cultural shadows from a religious past are still lurking in the “Western” psyche, incubating a neo-Missionary Complex? Democracy, after all, has evolved into an amorphous “faith based” belief. And could there be an element of escapism as well?

Inspired by bewilderment, I wrote a flash fiction “Chinaman’s House”.

Chinaman’s House

Timothy took the sherry from Adam, his neighbour and buddy. “Cheers,” he toasted.

“Mmm. Nice and dry.”

“18 year. We bought it at the airport.”

“Good God.” Impressed by its age and origin, Timothy took another sip.

“Have you seen that monster on the east side, at the turnoff to airport?”

“That red and white house? Of course. How could anyone miss it. Fred’s doing the plumbing. Apparently fresh off the boat with a ton of gold from China.”

“I figured —” Adam was interrupted by his ten-year-old barging through the basement door: “The basement’s on fire Dad!”

“Is that how you greet people Simon?”

“Uncle Timothy.” Simon obliged, forcing a polite smile.

“Hi Simon.” Against the window light, a waft of pale blue smoke escaped Simon’s curly blond hair. It hung above his head, as if pausing to find out what was being discussed, before dissipation.

He returned to his father. “The socket’s smoking and sparking Dad, making your old desk smoke too.”

“Can’t you see Uncle Timothy and I are having a conversation? We have the best sockets in this house, Simon, before everything was made in China. Now go back down to play.”

“It’s smoky down there Dad.”

“Well, go to your room then.”

“Chaps these days are easily alarmed.” Adam beamed with unwarranted parental pride as Simon disappeared into the haze, after giving a “whatever you say” shrug. “So, that’s why. A Chinese house. That explains it. They have very different tastes when it comes to colour don’t they?”

“Rather bold if you ask me,” Timothy smirked. “Fred said it has six bedrooms. Probably another shipload of mothers and third cousins expected.”

“Good grief! I thought their police castrate men with more than one kid in the market. The Council should pass a law against gaudy building colours though. They hurt my eyes. I almost ran off the road.”

“And limit the number of bedrooms,” Timothy dabbed his eyes with a handkerchief. “This smoke’s getting pretty bad Adam.”

“Oh quit whining like a Frenchman!” Adam waved a hand. “We have four bedrooms here. Two only collect dust. Someone should talk to the Chi —” he was stopped by a fit of cough. The smoke spewing out from the basement was getting darker and thicker. Simon left his room, eyes on his iPad as he walked outdoor.

“Jesus! This damn smoke. Want another one?”

“Twist my arm mate. Nothing like a good dry sherry. We still make them best don’t we?” Timothy handed the glass to Adam, then covered his nose with the handkerchief. He leaned back and squeezed his eyes shut to lessen the sting, wondering why on earth would anyone paint his house red and white.


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