Bad press about China hides the story of success the Asian giant has become


It took a week in China - where Facebook, Twitter and Google are banned - for me to realise just how addicted I am to social media.

Granted, there's a lot of Chinese interest in South African political news so one was not totally ignorant of what was happening in one's own country.

But I still wanted to hear what my friends were saying on Twitter and Facebook.

Most importantly, I wanted to keep my friends up-to-date with the discoveries I was making about China on my first visit to the home of chairman Mao.

Growing up in South Africa, in the shadow of colonial rule and at the height of apartheid repression, one was given an impression that China was a backward country inhabited by "inscrutable" citizens.

The South African stereotype of China, as one of the last places you'd want to visit, is so embedded in the minds of many South Africans that, right up to the moment I left South Africa, many of my friends were warning me: "Careful of what you eat over there."

China has received a bad press, not only in South Africa but all over the world, thanks to white people who cannot abide a non-white nation that is so successful it trumps their "established" economies.

What gets the goat of many westerners is that China is successful despite the fact it is a communist country.

Communism, we've been told, is dead. To which my retort will be: that truism is valid only if you conflate the Soviet Union with communism.

When I was growing up, communism was a scare word that white South Africa (and America!) resorted to in an attempt to drive the fear of God into black people's hearts when it became clear that they were generally predisposed to communism.

This predilection probably stemmed from the fact that precolonial Africa was communal.

Sharing is one of the underpinnings of unadulterated communism.

White South Africa has never been happy about sharing things - especially with black people. But I'm digressing.

China is the second biggest economy in the world.

However, the biggest economy, the United States, owes trillions of dollars to China. Ain't that a delicious irony?

One of the reasons China is still a closed book to most South Africans is that we do not have literature by their authors, translated into English, and distributed here. The few Chinese writers we are able to access are those who are based in the West, and whose stories are about their experience as immigrants in foreign countries. But we need writings by those writers who have stayed on in China.

I was, therefore, happy to be part of a delegation of local writers to visit China and participate in a literary forum with scribes from the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries.

Through this exercise it is hoped that, starting this year, a conversation must begin that will involve South African writers from this country having their work translated into Chinese (Mandarin, to be more precise), Russian and Portuguese.

It is also hoped that writers from the rest of the Brics world will be translated into English and made easily available in this country.

It is in our own interests to understand what the Chinese are all about because they're on the verge of becoming the most powerful nation on earth.

We need powerful friends.

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