Saturday, February 11, 2012

We're in no position to lecture China on democracy

There's a level on which it's inherently embarrassing to see any European wagging their finger at a Chinese leader: our common history in their country is not a proud one, and is not forgotten there. I've seen colonial-era film footage of the signs in parks in China reading, "No Dogs or Chinese Allowed" – and this was less than a century ago. We knew better than the Chinese then, too, even in their own country. Perhaps it's something to do with our beigeness.

This was at a time when we still treated Chinese immigrants as a special case, when we dreaded the "yellow peril", and had recently had a prime minister, Richard Seddon, who used such racism as a political platform.

Our great-grandparents voted for him, and even erected the odd pigeon poo-bedecked statue in his memory. That Norman's display was on the steps of parliament, near where Seddon stands on a plinth in all his glory, was unpleasantly apt.

Thanks to this attitude of ours, from 1896 until 1944, Chinese immigrants had to pay a poll tax of 100 pounds – a heck of a lot of money – to be allowed to come here, and couldn't bring their families. In 1908 they were deprived of the right to be naturalised, an insult which remained legal until 1951. All in all, it's a history that's shaky ground to preach from, even if we've apologised for it, to a country with a history and civilisation going back thousands of years.


Last updated 05:00 27/06/2010

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