By Teshu Singh
Culture is the bedrock of soft power projection. Keenly aware of this, the People’s Republic of China has started a touring cultural exposition – the ‘Cultures of China’ aimed at North America, Japan and Southeast Asia. The tour was inaugurated on 6 September 2011 in Vancouver and is likely to end by 25 September 2011.This exposition celebrates the centennial of the Xinhai Revolution (1911) showcasing the spotlight on the achievements of Sun Yat-sen. It largely celebrates the PRC’s ethnic diversity through song and dance. This poses the question that what is the significance of Sun Yat-sen in Chinese History? And what is the strategic significance of such tours in Contemporary Chinese Foreign Policy?
The Xinhai Revolution of 1911 began with the failed Wuchang Uprising on 10 October, 1911 against the corrupt Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). Though the uprising did not immediately lead to the establishment of a republican government it did lay down the seeds of Chinese Republicanism and the ultimate overthrow of the Qing empire. Sun was the first provisional president when the Republic of China was founded in 1912 and later co-founded the Koumintang (Chinese Nationalist People’s Party) where he served as its first leader. As the leader of the Chinese revolution, prior to the Communist-Kuomintang animosity, he is largely seen as a uniting figure and is still revered in the PRC. Moreover his lifetime dedication to creating a strong and prosperous China and the well being of its people resonates with the astonishingly rapid development China has seen in the last thirty years. Sun crystallized his ideas in the three principles of nationalism, democracy and people’s livelihood. He envisaged the growth of the Chinese polity through a three stage trail of military rule, political tutelage and constitutional government.
The PRC is using this tour as an opportunity to reflect on the historical significance of the occasion. In recent years the Chinese Communist Party has been increasingly projecting Sun as a symbol of Chinese nationalism given the increasingly nationalistic rhetoric of its propaganda department. But more importantly this serves as a bridge to “Nationalist China” – Taiwan – and specifically the Kuomintang support base there, which is seen as an ally against Taiwanese independence. Although the Chinese leadership considers the one-China principle as the basis for its relationship with Taiwan it is glorifying Sun to project its benign gesture towards Taiwan to the international community. By going hundred years back, the PRC seems to be exploring common ground of understanding across the strait. Also the PRC aspires that people should carry the spirit of Xinhai Revolution and help promote the revitalization of Chinese nation and reunification of the country through this event. Further, it can be seen as a benign projection of China’s rise rooted in its history.
The nationalist-development goals of this exhibition are quite clear, that is, to promote interest in overseas Chinese communities and to provide insight into how China sees its progressive future, in effect making Sun the common denominator of both patriotism and progress. The role of the overseas Chinese has also been important to social and historical upheavals in the last century of China’s history. There is a deep historical connection between the migrants from Southern China in Canada and the legacy of Sun. The forbearers of the Chinese revolution visited Vancouver in 1897, 1910 and 1911 and partly due to their efforts the ‘benevolent society’ raised a whopping 70,000 Canadian dollars to overthrow the Qing rulers and set China on a path of reform.
Today, Vancouver is home to 4,00,000 Chinese Canadians and in terms of symbolic importance and well thought out inaugural for the expo. This expo will travel further to Calgary, Toronto, Washington D.C., Houston, San Francisco and finally finish in Honolulu in Hawaii on its North America leg. It is also interesting to note that these cities were earlier visited by Sun in his search of support and funding from overseas Chinese. The PRC often views its overseas Chinese as assets to the country’s rapid modernization and reckon them as a platform of culmination of Chinese and foreign ideas and perspectives. They are often referred as “Sea turtles”-hai gui- literally translated as ‘someone who has lived overseas.’
China is using its cultural diplomacy to defuse the increasing China threat perception and to promote the peaceful rise of China. Perhaps culture has become the third pillar of the PRC’s diplomacy and it is using culture as a tactful platform to project its soft power. The CCP in its eleventh five year plan called for a longer presence of China at international cultural market and designed a comprehensive approach to popularize Chinese culture worldwide. Thus, one cannot ignore the role of Cultural as a tool of diplomacy in China’s foreign policy which is further evident from the rising craze for learning Mandarin across globe.
Research officer, CRP, IPCS
email: [email protected]