Chris Patten on China (video)

A 2008 perspective of China that holds true in 2013


This is a clip from an interview I did with Chris Patten in Oxford back in 2008, shortly before the Olympics when I first came to live in Beijing. Rewatching it now, the two minute clip makes as much sense in context five years later as it did then. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Patten reminds us "not to regard China's success as a threat", nor to think of the 21st century as a "struggle for hegemony between China and America". And he pushes the same line he has stuck by for years – that an emerging Chinese middle class will inevitably demand greater political freedom. Whether history will vindicate his patience, while China still proves an exception to this intuitive logic, remains to be seen. We'll check back in another five years.

Later in the interview (not in the clip) I asked him which myth about China he would most enjoy busting. His response:

"I think the Chinese have been pretty good at busting their own myths. First of all, it's very important for us in the West not to talk endlessly about the emergence of China as a great power. China has been a great power for millenia. Until the 1820s and the industrial revolution, it represented maybe 30% of thereabouts of world GDP. So what we're seeing is a spin of the wheel, the re-establishment of China as probably the biggest economy in the world, which after all it's been for 18 out of the last 20 centuries."

Nothing new, but a timely reminder of the big picture. Also watch his recollections of his first sight of China (looking across the Hong Kong border into Shenzhen in 1979). And keep checking into the Anthill for more narratives of and from China – and not just from us British colonialists, promise.