China Does Not Want To Rule The World. Not Like White People

My country has known China for thousands of years. This is what it’s like

Sri Lanka’s Lotus Tower, funded by China. Shot by one of our best photographers, Nazly

White nations’ greatest fear is that China will be evil as them. This would admittedly be terrifying, because white people are evil AF. But China’s not. China doesn’t want to rule the world. China wants to rule China. White people really overestimate how much China gives a fuck.

In Sri Lanka, we’ve been in fairly constant contact with China and they even stole a king 600 years ago. Today China has two major 99-year leases, one for a southern port and one for (part of) 660 acres that they raised out of the damn ocean in my town. I would not say China is a benign influence, but they’re not malign. They never have been.

While Europeans came here to loot, Zheng He came here with treasure. Whereas white people came here for profit, China came here as an expense. Unlike white people, Chinese people could season their food without exploiting everyone else on Earth. They never colonized us. They’re not droning people right now.

Hence it is odd to see colonial and capital-colonial powers complain about the rise of China. It’s farcical to see their ‘security experts’ say that China is taking over the world. Bitch, your ‘security’ is the world’s insecurity.

China is a self-interested nation state, but they are not actively evil like the west. They were able to develop without undeveloping everyone else. And their rise it’s not something new, it’s actually a regression to the historical mean. This is an ancient civilization that eclipsed everyone but the Africans (Egypt, etc). And now they’re back.

The 1400s

After a giant interlude of completely not giving a fuck, China is returning to their foreign policy of the 1400, the age of the Treasure Ships. 600 years ago, you could say this about China:

Dewaraja, Lorna. “Cheng Ho’s Visits to Sri Lanka and the Galle Trilingual Inscription in the National Museum.”

Chinese diplomatic initiatives were quite different from those of the Europeans who followed a century later. The Chinese preferred to pursue their aims by trade influence and bribery rather than by open conflict or territorial aggression. (Dewaraja, ibid)

It’s almost exactly the same today. China uses influence and bribery, on whatever government we elect. They take our leaders and their children to China to learn stuff. They train their own people in our language and culture and truly engage with us. The Chinese are powerful and they are here, but they fundamentally do not fuck with us, unless we fuck with them. This has not changed, it has just resumed after a gap of centuries.

Let me give you the ancient example first.

Before the European ‘Age Of Discovery’ which to everyone else was just a plague, China had more than enough technology to colonize the world. They just didn’t.

Look at China’s treasure ships, above. These behemoths were bigger than the Nina, the Maria and the Pinta combined. The Ming King commissioned well over a thousand of these ships, and Zheng He rolled 60 ships deep on multiple voyages to dozens of countries, carrying easily 28,000 men. Not just soldiers, the treasure ships carried language experts, religious scholars. In the end they even stuffed our entire royal court in there when we pissed them off.

These dudes were not fucking around.

Treasure ships also carried treasure. Not loot, because we didn’t have much the Chinese wanted, besides maybe the Buddha’s tooth. They carried gifts. Religious offerings, to our gods (which were also theirs). We know because Zheng He’s language school carved a receipt in Chinese, Persian and Tamil at his language school in Nanjing, and dropped it off in Galle. That stone still reads:

“1,000 pieces of gold, 5,000 pieces of silver, fifty rolls taffeta in many colours.” and on and on. Please note the difference from Europeans. Europeans brought their gods and took our shit. The Chinese brought gifts and praise for our Buddha, and the other gods of the island. Zheng He was Muslim himself and his multinational sailors would have known and followed our varied faiths. His skilled Tamil sailors would have been able to converse with us.

China came with power, they came with knowledge, but they did not colonize us. For whatever reason one of the island’s leaders at the time, Alakesvara, ended up openly fighting the Chinese, which they could not tolerate, and they kidnapped him and his entire court (what their records refer to as ‘that entire country’).

Straight-away, their dens and hideouts we ravaged,
And made captive that entire country,
Bringing back to our august capital,
Their women, children, families and retainers, leaving not one,
Cleaning out in a single sweep those noxious pests, as if winnowing chaff from grain…
These insignificant worms, deserving to die ten thousand times over, trembling in fear…
Did not even merit the punishment of Heaven.
Thus the august emperor spared their lives,
And they humbly kowtowed, making crude sounds and
Praising the sage-like virtue of the imperial Ming ruler.
(verse written by the Grand Secretary Yang Rong (1371-1440) and translated by Louise Levathes, via)

China had the power to capture an entire government but fundamentally did not give a fuck about it. It was like throwing back a fish. They were like “Uh, I guess you guys need a king?” and let the exiled court select a new one. When they finally sailed back, however, there was already a new king, and it wasn’t even clear who’d been kidnapped. It was a bit of a mess, but not the first time. We had two Prime Ministers last year (unrelated).

Please note that China was not like “Yes, we have Sri Lanka. Profit!” They did not start shipping slaves and indentured servants in and shipping resources out. They just gave us one thundering slap for attacking their ships and then left us alone.

Later Chinese kings lost interest completely and the treasure voyages stopped within a few decades. Unlike the Europeans, who came for profit, for China this was an expense. They already had whatever they needed in China. China was the world. They just wanted to rule China.

Things have honestly not changed that much to this day.

The Colombo Port City, lifted out of the sea by China

The 2000s

China no longer sends treasure ships. They send whole-ass ports. China dredged a giant port in Hambantota, which is useless, so we ended up leasing it back to them for 99-years. People call this a debt-trap, but our Hambantota ruling family wanted it.

China has also lifted an entire 660 acres out of the ocean in Colombo, where I live. It’s crazy. In my lifetime this ocean and now it’s land. Much of this is also on 99-year lease to them.

At the same time, Beijing still maintains foreign language schools as Zheng He did. There’s a whole radio station of Chinese people speaking Sinhala (and I presume Tamil). Chinese scholars randomly choose a country and they just learn. I used to go out for dinner with this guy Shao who worked there and he spoke far better Sinhalese than I did. It was a very confusing scene for waiters.

China also gives us treasure. Infrastructure. Performing arts theaters. During COVID-19 China supplied vast amounts of tests and PPE and helped save our asses. We are called a debt-trap, but in truth most of our onerous borrowings are from commercial markets, not China. China is generally a no-questions asked supporter of whatever government, including undoubtably bribes. Does China give us loans for dumbass things our rulers want? Yes. But these are our chosen rulers. Unlike the west, China does not tell us what to do.

As you will notice, even under a Communist government that once tried to smash all the olds, foreign policy is remarkably similar to 600 years ago. You see the trade influence, the language schools, the general attitude. China is also still fundamentally giving to us (albeit with interest) not exploiting us.

Not out of the kindness of their hearts. We simply don’t have anything they need. Resources, manufacturing, labor, wealth they have all that. We give them a perch around their enemy India and a negotiable UN vote and all, but they don’t need us. They maintain relations because they can, but not because they have to. China does do resource skullduggery in Africa, Myanmar, etc, but this is not central to their foreign policy. Their motivation is fundamentally is as it was hundreds of years ago. Because they can.

I’m not saying that China is benign, but they’re certainly not malign like the western world. They’re not here to exploit and steal like the Europeans, or looking for bases to drone and torture from like the Americans. What western commentators miss is how China has always interacted with the world, and how they continue today.

China does not give a fuck. China is China. The Middle Kingdom. The central kingdom, the center of the Earth. What do you get the empire that has everything for Christmas? Nothing. They don’t need anything. They don’t even have Christmas.

White people talk about the ‘Rise Of China’ like it’s another them — grasping, greedy, violent, and evil. To quote Wade Davis, “Since the 1970s, China has not once gone to war; the U.S. has not spent a day at peace.” The British colonial douchebag Niall Ferguson read one Chinese science fiction book and concludes that this is the basis of this ancient civilization’s foreign policy. That they’re aliens and just want to kill everybody.

They’re not. China has been in the world since the world began and are dramatically less evil than white people. I am not pro-China in any meaningful sense, but I have lived with them for decades and our people have been connected for centuries. Why should we hyperventilate about their rise? China never colonized us. China never attacked us. White people’s greatest fear is that China would be like them, but they’re not. China is China.

The correct response to white people complaining about evil China is “I know you are but what am I?” China is just garden-variety evil for a nation state. Self-interested, but not that interested. It is entirely possible for nations to work with them and remain, like Sri Lanka, non-aligned.

Written by

A writer living in Colombo, Sri Lanka. He/him. indi@indi.ca. Videos: tiny.cc/indication and podcast: anchor.fm/indication. patreon.com/indication

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