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Yellow Man’s Burden - The Limits of Power Projection Shown with the Belt and Ro

Popularity 1Viewed 1517 times 2017-6-12 01:43 |System category:Life| Yellow, White, Burden, Belt, Road

Some time ago, in the forums of the China Daily BBS, there was a request from the management for folks like myself to take some time to talk about the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’.  It is a rather ambiguous project for the powers to be in Beijing, much like the ambiguous projects the old powers to be in London, Paris, and elsewhere had over the last couple of centuries – an attempt to establish a secure trade network with the world (i.e. the Suez Canal, the Transcontinental Railroad, and so on).  I had my reservations talking about this topic – given the amount of ‘chest-thumping nationalism’ that can occur with projects like this.  However, in light of the incident in Pakistan a few days after I typed this article, there is a need to talk – to avoid the narrative of “the Yellow Man’s Burden” creeping into the collective conscience of the Chinese public.


This term is a play on “White Man’s Burden” which had its origins during colonial periods that a good deal of the super projects that built the trade networks which still stand today (like the Suez and Panama Canals) – to which said builders viewed the lands used as ‘untamed’ and the local people living there as ‘savages’.  It was up to the colonial powers to ‘educate’ these peoples so that they could contribute to the ‘greater good’ that was whatever that colony had to serve.  Suffice to say to this day there are many areas around the world, China included, that have very bitter memories of what these actions really meant (slavery, plundering of resources, introduction of drugs, etc.).  Along with those bitter memories, however, are memories like the ‘Long March’ and other struggles to drive the ‘White Devils’ out.  It is those that defined the last half of the 20th Century, along with a sense of self determination.


Now it is the early quarter of the 21st Century, and the former colonies/savages are now the upcoming powers to be in this very uncertain world.  Yet the tropes, like ‘<insert group here>’s Burden are playing out as they always have in human history.  These powers are attempting to establish their reach in the world, but are for the most part helpless at the ground level if they cannot exert overwhelming firepower.  The locals are viewed as ‘savages’ that need to contribute, while they view these ‘devils’ as something to be driven out.  Some will be crushed and barely remembered, others will resist and eventually to become what will come after the current crop of powers to be.


So… what is the answer for the powers to be in Beijing and the people of P.R. China? I would be a fool to say I had a complete answer, but I can serve some basic warnings from parallels in the past.  In the age of nuclear weapons, the ability to emulate the tactics of former colonial empires like the Romans and Mongolians (i.e. slaughter and enslave everyone and simply grab territory) is not an option.  ‘Educating the locals’ is very much a risk, but a necessary evil if more people are supposed to buy your goods and services.  If nothing else, there may be the need to make alliances with previous ‘devils’ and like minded ‘former savages’ to collectively punish those that are trying to make trouble (i.e. establish themselves as another up and coming power).  As with all things involving Harmony, there is the ever delicate balancing act between needs and wants.  However, once achieved, I do not have a doubt in my mind that ‘Road and Belt Initiative’ can go down in human history as a worthy project.

Will there be a similar political cartoon of P.R. China and India in the history books of the 21st Century?

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




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Reply Report Liononthehunt 2017-7-6 16:07
tradervic: Because I have seen both the benefits and the perils that policy can bring.  No country is an 'island upon itself', to which short term gains are swal ...
The chances you would surprise me are slim to none. As I know too well your mentality on China issues.

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