After China’s riseThe Old Summer Palace, or Yuanmingyuan, in the northeast of Beijing epitomizes China’s shameful fall-from-grace history of the 19th century. The summer palace dubbed as the “Garden of Gardens” was first built in the early 18th century during the reign of the Kangxi Emperor as a gift for his fourth son. It underwent several expansions and renovations by succeeding emperors to become a magnificent complex of Western and traditional architecture with a collection of scenic gardens and landscapes.
George Macartney, the first British envoy to arrive in China in 1793, was mesmerized by the splendors of the waterways, forest and landscape designs, as well as the architecture of the garden. He recalled he could not find words to describe the “world’s most beautiful sight.”
Emperor Qianlong who met the Macartney mission at the palace flatly denied the British King George III’s requests which included easing the restrictions on trade between Britain and China, saying China lacked nothing.
The palace was brutally destroyed and looted by Anglo-French forces during the Second Opium War in 1860. It was vandalized because it represented the pride of the Chinese emperor. One of the captains wrote: “You can scarcely imagine the beauty and magnificence of the palaces. It made our heart sore to burn them … It was wretchedly demoralizing work for an army.”
Many parts of the garden have not been fully rebuilt to serve as a bitter and painful reminder of the humiliation the Western “barbarians” had caused. The lake and gardens were refurbished, but the ruins have been kept as a kind of history museum.
The Chinese have laid low for 150 years. They have never forgotten how they were stamped over by Western powers and Japan and silently built their strength and prepared for resurgence. In order not to repeat the humiliating past, they spent all their energy and resources rebuilding their nation. Under pragmatic ideology of Deng Xiaoping, China opened and reformed to modernize their economy and country to the ranks of global powers. In just 30 years, the country has become a formidable rival to the United States. And China is no longer shy about its newfound status and wealth.
The 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games were meticulously prepared to flaunt the country’s riches. The Military Parade China will be holding on Sept. 3 as a part of the ceremony for the 70th anniversary of the victory in the war against Japan and the end of World War II will be an exhibition of China’s military might.
With the world watching on TV and in the presence of leaders of 30 countries and envoys from 19 countries and 10 international organizations including the United Nations, more than 12,000 Chinese infantry troops will be parading down Tiananmen Square accompanied by tanks and vehicles with cutting-edge missiles and arms as well as jet fighters.
China will be showing the world that it is not only an economic but a military powerhouse. The parade will go down in history as China’s formal declaration as a global military power. President Xi Jinping will be silently pleased that his so-called Chinese dream is coming closer to reality.
China is at a transitional point. Despite its proclaimed riches and military might, it is not truly accepted as a superpower. The status of global leader is not won by money and muscle, but through dignity and respect. It is earned through the soft power, the ability to influence the behavior of others to get the outcome you want, under the definition of Harvard University professor Joseph Nye. China still has a lot to learn in the field of soft power.
The Chinese media is raising hoopla about South Korean President Park Geun-hye attending the military parade. She represents the only ally country of the U.S. to be at the ceremony. China should contemplate why leaders of other countries allied to the U.S. will be absent. Beijing also must realize that Seoul has made a difficult choice, despite silent pressure from Washington. A great leader and country should always know how to be grateful.
The only thing Seoul expects from Beijing is use of its influence to help resolve Pyongyang’s nuclear problem. Korea wishes China could exercise its leadership and wisdom to persuade North Korea to be open and reform. Xi will be visiting Washington later this month for summit talks with his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama. North Korean nuclear issues must be one of the top agendas.
If Beijing really wants respect from the global community, it must use diplomacy to persuade the other party. It must try to resolve the territorial disputes in the East China Sea and South China Sea through dialogue rather than military power. The country also must become a balanced nation so the fruits of its prosperity can be shared equally among all Chinese.
If it genuinely wants to be reborn and restore the dignity of the Old Summer Palace, China must become an engaging country for its own people and for others on the outside.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 1, Page 35
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Bae Myung-bok