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Despite appearances China is not a walking contradiction

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China’s behaviour often appears contradictory to Western eyes: to discover the truth we need to understand why China’s dialectic tradition confuses us so. A GRI article authored by a GRI expert on China that is employed by the British Government.

In Chinese folklore there is a creature called a ‘Qilin’. The Qilin, often referred to as a ‘bixie’ or ‘Chinese mythical hybrid creature’, is akin to the Chimera in Greek mythology. The Qilin is composed of different animals and is said to appear with the imminent arrival or passing of a sagacious ruler. It is considered a good omen thought to occasion prosperity, and although its appearance is imposing and frightening, legend has it that the Qilin is a gentle and peaceful creature.

Like the Qilin, China today is composed of a number of different identities. China is at times concomitantly peaceful and assertive, complaisant and disintegrative, engaged and disinterested. Although China is regarded as acting in a hostile manner, as seen by its; increased military activity in the South China Sea its Anti-access/Area Denial (A2/AD) strategy and Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ), as well as oil rig disputes, cyber-warfare accusations and an increasingly stalwart stance on Hong Kong’s reversion back to the Mainland, instances of peaceful behaviour including the 9th Beijing-Tokyo forum, typhoon aid in the Philippines, the announcement of the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), APEC Summit agreements and bilateral trade agreements, demonstrate China is pursuing a multiplicity of behaviours at the same time.

As a result of such polemical behaviour, other countries — particularly those in the West — often accuse China of acting in a contradictory manner. As the Chinese understand it however, they are not. A few seeming peculiarities of Chinese identity which so often come under the guise of the epithet ‘with Chinese characteristics’, require more than the conventional tools in a scholars’ toolbox; they also require an appreciation of how the Chinese understand dialectics, contradiction and pragmatism.

The spectrum of Chinese identity

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