Chinese citizens have been indoctrinated for decades with the idea that Party is country. The idea was introduced by paramount leader Deng Xiaoping soon after the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989. He realised that as long as the state and the people were seen as separate entities, then the door would remain open for recognition of the Party’s many historical crimes—and also for recognition of the ongoing subjugation of the people by the Party. He wanted to make sure that citizens would never again rise up as they did in 1989. As China-watcher Clive Hamilton explains: “For many new Chinese arrivals in the West, one of the hardest concepts to understand is the distinction, essential to democracies, between the nation and its government. When they do grasp the difference, they are open to becoming critics of the party-state without feeling they are betraying their homeland.”2
The problem is that people in the West don’t always understand the distinction themselves, and so they will regularly criticise “China” when referring to the authoritarian policies of the Communist Party. This leads firstly to defensive reactions from patriotic Chinese, and secondly to criticism from Westerners highly attuned to issues of racism. Accusations are flung back and forth, confusion reigns in both East and West, and all the while the Communist Party quietly extends its influence across the globe. So how concerned should we be? Party officials have soothed us for decades with talk of China’s “peaceful rise,” and Xi Jinping has even sought to qualify the famous Napoleon quote. “Today, the lion has woken up,” he declared in a speech in Paris a few years ago. “But it is peaceful, pleasant, and civilised.” All this smooth talk has certainly convinced US presidential hopeful Joe Biden. “What are we worried about?” he cheerfully asked a recent audience.