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  • James Tam

Democracy Debate and Chinaman's House

Updated: Aug 18, 2021


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 takes the glass of sherry from his friend Adam. ‘Cheers! Mmm. Nice and dry.’ He smacks his lips.

‘Eighteen-year-old, bought at the airport Duty Free.’

‘Good God.’ Impressed, Timothy takes another sip. ‘Did you see that monster on the east side, at the turnoff to the airport?’

‘You mean that red and white house? Of course. How could anyone miss it. Old Fred’s doing the plumbing for them, apparently fresh off the boat with a ton of gold and a bit of garlic from China,’ Adam sniggers.

‘Old Fred must love —’ Timothy is interrupted by Adam’s ten-year-old barging through the basement door: ‘The basement’s on fire, Dad!’

‘Is that how you greet Uncle Timothy, Simon?’

‘Uncle Timothy.’ Simon turns to Timothy and gives a polite smile.

‘Hello, Simon, how do you do? Have you grown a foot since I last saw you?’ says Timothy. Backlit by outside light through the window, a waft of pale blue smoke escapes Simon’s curly blond hair, hovering above his head in curious suspension. Timothy finds the mysterious lighting intriguing.

‘I’m well, Uncle Timothy. Thank you.’ Simon returns hastily to his father. ‘Dad! the socket’s smoking and sparking. Your old desk has started to smoke too.’

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

‘It’s really smoky down there, Dad.’

‘Well, go to your own room then.’

Simon gives a whatever-you-say-sir shrug, then turns and proceeds to his bedroom.

‘Chaps these days are easily alarmed.’ Adam beams with unwarranted parental pride as Simon disappears into the haze. ‘So, where were we?’

‘You’re saying it’s 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,’ Adam smirks. ‘Fred said it has six bedrooms. Probably another shipload of mothers and third cousins on their way.’

‘Good grief! I thought their police castrate men with more than one kid in the market. Must have missed a few,’ Timothy laughs at his own joke. ‘Town Hall should pass a bylaw against gaudy building colours though. They hurt my eyes. I almost ran off the road when I first saw it.’

‘And limit the number of bedrooms,’ Adam adds.

‘This smoke’s getting pretty bad, Adam.’ Timothy says as he dabs his eyes with a handkerchief.

‘Oh quit whining like a Frenchman!’ Adam waved a hand. ‘You’re right though. We have four bedrooms here. Two only collect dust. Someone should talk to the Chi —’ he’s stopped by a fit of cough.

Smoke spewing out from the basement is getting darker and thicker. Simon leaves his room, eyes on iPad as he walks outside.

Adam downs his Sherry to sooth his throat. ‘Jesus! This damned smoke. Want another one?’

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


Edited 2021.8.18

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