In Chinese author Lu Xun’s (魯迅) novella The True Story of Ah Q (阿Q正傳) — one of the earliest works of modern Chinese fiction, first serialized in 1921 — the story’s hapless protagonist, Ah Q (阿Q), is a poor itinerant worker from China’s peasant class, living during the part-feudal, part-colonial dying embers of the Qing Dynasty. Ah Q is a feeble and psychologically flawed individual who bullies the meek and cowers before the powerful. Despised and regularly mocked by villagers, after every episode of public ridicule and failure, Ah Q consoles himself that he has won a “spiritual victory.” Utterly deluded regarding the abysmal failure of his life, Ah Q nevertheless snootily holds himself up as “spiritually superior” to all around him. The character is a thinly veiled satirical swipe at the Chinese national character of the day.
Just over a century after the novella was first published, arguably little has changed — a (paper) tiger does not change its stripes. For several weeks, Chinese officials have warned of “serious consequences” and vowed that China’s military would not “sit idly by” should US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi “dare” to visit Taiwan during her tour of Asia.
On Monday afternoon, the Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper) reported that Pelosi would indeed visit Taiwan.
China’s propagandists must have already been sharpening their pencils to claim a “spiritual victory” for the Middle Kingdom.
On Monday, Radio Free Asia reported that a script covering four likely scenarios that depicted each eventuality as a “win for China” was circulating online:
Scenario one: If the visit goes ahead, it shows that the US is facing serious domestic problems and Washington needs to provoke an external disturbance to distract the US public’s attention from the state of the economy. Win for China.
Scenario two: If Pelosi does not visit, it demonstrates the US is just talk, and is militarily and politically inferior to China. Win for China.
Scenario three: If Pelosi visits Taiwan and China takes military action, it would show that a confident and strong China is determined not to forfeit one inch of sovereign territory. Win for China.
Scenario four: If Pelosi visits and China does not issue a military response, it would show that the Chinese government has not succumbed to blind impulse, and would respond to the challenge calmly, thereby denying Washington the opportunity to divert the attention of the American public away from the US’ internal contradictions. China would continue to focus on economic development and enhancing the welfare of its people. Win for China.
In other words, whatever occurs, whether Beijing impotently sits on its hands or fires a few missiles into the South China Sea in a futile show of force, it will be cast as a momentous “spiritual victory” for China by its propaganda machine.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) might instruct China’s military to put on a limited display of force to save face — yesterday saw reports of irregular troop movements in China’s Fujian Province — but Taiwan’s military is prepared for such a contingency. It is unlikely that Xi will “Cry ‘Havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war,” as he has enough on his plate suppressing factional coup attempts and keeping the wheels from falling off China’s struggling economy.
The Chinese Communist Party detests Pelosi for her robust support of the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre — another “Ah Q” moment for the party, when it bullied the meek by mowing down unarmed student demonstrators.
Taiwan extends a hearty welcome to Pelosi: a true friend of Taiwan and downtrodden Chinese, and a comrade-in-arms in the fight against tyranny and the pursuit of liberty.
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