By Jeff J. Brown
Pictured above: Dongping Han on the left and yours truly on the right, in Hong Kong.
Sixteen years on the streets, living and working with the people of China, Jeff
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Note before starting: WOW! What a treat to finally meet my good friend and comrade Dongping Han, when our paths crossed in Hong Kong recently.
Here is my interview with Dongping Han, discussing his book and growing up during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Simply fascinating,
Dongping takes a jaundiced view of a Westerner’s book covering Chinese history,
Here is Dongping’s Author Page, where you can buy his book,
Jeff J Brown (Host): Good evening, everybody. This is Jeff J. Brown and I am in Hong Kong and I am with a wonderful, wonderful person, Dongping Han. This is the first time we have ever met, but we have known each other for years via email. This is what happens when you write and publish books, you become email friends. And so, we have been friends for so long. And so, he told me, Jeff, can you stay a couple of days longer so that we can meet after your trip to China? And I said, yeah. So, I paid to have my ticket extended for a couple of days. And so, we get to actually get to meet each other. So, great to have you.
Dongping Han is a professor at Warren Wilson University in North Carolina. I have interviewed him I think twice. And I think I’ve put a couple of his articles on my website. His book about the Cultural Revolution is so good. I was publishing, I mean, I had actually sent my last book to the publisher and I finished Dongping’s book and I said, can you give me my book back? I’ve got to change it because I learned so much reading this book about the Cultural Revolution because he was there and he was there for the Great Leap Forward. Anyway, he’s an amazing guy. And what do you teach in Warren Wilson?
Dongping Han (Guest): I teach eight classes. I have not designed eight classes. I don’t teach them all at the same time, but I teach one class called Chinese Government and Politics. I teach International Politics of the Pacific about US, Japan, China, and all this stuff, right? I teach a class about third-world countries compared to the government of third-world countries. I teach the global environment how the environmental crisis started in the world. Why Agriculture Ophelia is a very big part of it. So, the class, according to agriculture, community, and the environment, how these three things were interconnected.
Dongping: And I also teach a class called the Chinese Cultural Revolution. And yeah, altogether eight classes.
Jeff: Well, Dongping actually lived in China. He grew up. We’re both almost the same age. So, he was a young boy during the Great Leap Forward and a teenager during the Cultural Revolution. And so, he knows all about it. And he wasn’t in some swanky party apartment in Beijing. He was in the boondocks in Shandong, living in the village. So, you read his book. I will put the links to all his stuff on my website and his book. You really should read it. It’s just fabulous.
Well, Dongping, you’ve also gone back to China many times and done fieldwork and research. Tell us, obviously China, Taiwan, the United States, and Japan is all very, very much in the news. What do you think the fans out there who do not really know China very well need to know about the current situation with NATO and its allies, South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan?
Dongping: Okay. I think most people didn’t realize how strong the Chinese people feel. Taiwan is part of China. When I was in Jiangxi Province I was very happy. For the last few weeks, the Chinese government refused to talk to the US government. Why? I think in China if somebody betrays their promise. Right. You are not a trustworthy person. I don’t want to have anything to do with you anymore. Yeah, we do. Countries should be like that, too.
The US from Nixon, right? Nixon came to China part with the Chinese leader, Mao, and Zhou Enlai. They agreed Taiwan is a part of China. There is only one China. Taiwan is part of China. That promise for Chinese people. That’s a solemn promise. And over the years, Americans used Taiwan and what? Chinese wall. Why they squeezed the Chinese wall? So, they help you abuse China over Taiwan for so long. Finally, Xi told Americans.
Jeff: Xi Jinping.
Dongping: Yeah. You want to deal with China, you change your position on Taiwan. I think there’s a wiring problem. I will tell you a story most people didn’t know. I was doing rural research in 1996, in a Chinese village in Hunan province.
Jeff: Hunan is in the central part of the country.
Dongping: And I was in a County Chengdu village one night. At that time, the US sent two carriers to Taiwan Straits because there was some pushback there. So, that night about 22 men came to my room and asked me if China was in danger of losing Taiwan.
Jeff: This was in 1996.
Dongping: 1996. I said to them, you know. Let me ask you, the risks involved, what am I supposed to tell about our independence? If China was trying to take it back, there will be a war between China and US. And how many people among you are ready to risk your lives to fight this war with America? I remember there was no hesitation about the 22 people raising their hands. Yes, we are ready to die for it. Only one person didn’t raise his hand, because he is married and he said, I need to talk to my wife before I commit myself.
Jeff: That’s reasonable.
Dongping: Yeah. You know, the next day he came back to me, said, I talk to my wife. My wife asked me how much money do we have, but why? Because my wife said we are good to donate our money to the government for buying bombs if they are going to fight America. You know, sometimes the farmers really cry. Serbia when the US bombed the Chinese embassy.
Jeff: In 1999.
Dongping: There are so many Chinese farmers here. We are Chinese, we let them abuse us like this. We should use the money to buy bombs to bomb the US. There are a lot of people doing that in the countryside. I have a lot of respect for Chinese farmers. I have a lot of respect for the Chinese young people today. They are no longer think there’s+– nothing to do with their lives. They take this very seriously and they are ready to fight for Taiwan to return to China.
Jeff: I have seen polls. And when these polls come out in China, it’s not the Chinese government doing these polls, it’s Pew Trust, it’s Gallup. And Pew, I think, is in England. Gallup is in the United States. Ipsos is in France. These are Western polling companies that are international because they want to see what different countries think. And they have done surveys asking the Chinese, would you be willing to go fight to protect your country?
And China was at the top of the list. It was like 80-something percent of the Chinese that they surveyed were ready to go fight a war to protect their country. And they had France and they had different countries. The United States was about 30%. And I agree. I just came I just spent three weeks, more than three weeks in China. And there’s a real sense of cohesiveness. There’s a real sense of solidarity, a real sense of solidarity.
Dongping: Also, part of the reason is China has been abused by the Western powers for over about 150 years. And the Chinese government has been teaching the Chinese people about that part of history. And the Chinese people take that part of history very seriously. And Americans, never fight and defend their country. What did they really fight in Korea? What Korea had to do with the American people’s lives? But for the Chinese, they were ready to defend their motherland, to defend their own people. The slogan was Fighting America Defending the Motherland. And for Americans fighting in Korea. You don’t see any connection between their lives and the fighting they had in that.
Jeff: In Iraq and Afghanistan and Syria.
Dongping: That’s right. In the beginning, all of them are fighting to defend democracy. But once they get there, they see this unison, local people, and nothing against Americans. Why do you want to kill these innocent people?
Jeff: Yeah. Do you feel like that? I mean, do you have a timeline? I mean, to me, it seems like NATO is prepping preparing Taiwan.
Dongping: I personally think.
Jeff: To use like Ukraine against Russia. They want to use Taiwan against China.
Dongping: I don’t think the US government will take a military move.
Jeff: You don’t think so?
Dongping: No. They knew they have people. There’s the idea, it’s easy to give up. But there are some generals who are hurt, just lots of companies. Do you think they can mess with China? It’s on the Chinese front door. Right? America has a huge stake in Asia. All the American bases are in Japan. More than 100 American bases in South Korea. The Philippines would be all in the range of an Chinese missile strike. It’s not as ugly when you try and lose. That’s too big. Too big a Stick for America to take the risk.
Jeff: Not only that, Dongping, of course, you know this but a lot of people in the West don’t know it, is that China and North Korea have a mutual defense treaty.
Dongping: That’s right.
Jeff: That they signed with Zhou Enlai and Kim back in 1960, so that if the United States attacks China, they’re going to be attacked by the DPRK, North Korea and you do not want to mess with 1.2 million ideologically motivated North Korean soldiers, because they’re tough people. And they also have hundreds of thousands of missiles. They’ve got thermonuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles so they would be taking on China and North Korea.
Dongping: Russia, too.
Jeff: Yeah, Russia, too.
Dongping: Because Russia is the corner.
Jeff: Yeah, Russia has a common border with DPRK. I hope you’re right, Dongping. But I think what I worry about is, is that the two generals that you talk to, they know the facts.
Dongping: I think the Chinese from the Chinese military perspective, Taiwan is not a military issue anymore. How to do it with the least cost of human life and other disruptions. It’s not a military problem anymore.
Jeff: I also point out to people that Taiwan’s only about the size of the US state of Indiana or Switzerland in Europe and it’s only got like 20 million people. It’s not even as big as Shanghai or Beijing.
Dongping: I think Shandong a promise where I off. I had a conference with a Taiwanese professor about seven years ago at Shandong University. And he was telling the US to teach at Taiwan University as a philosopher professor, but he’s originally from Shandong. He said Shandong has 100 million people. Shandong province has 100 million people. Taiwan, 23. But Taiwan wants to challenge China, he said Shandong province enough is enough to take back Taiwan. Why have I against 23 million? But most Chinese generals told me it would be one day.
Jeff: It would last for one day.
Dongping: One day.
Dongping: The Chinese. The missiles. Right. They, one day, will take out all of Taiwan’s defense and air defense, and missile defense. One day it will be like.
Jeff: They’ll sink all the Navy, too. They’ll sink.
Dongping: They will kick out their commander in one day. They knew where they are.
Dongping: The airplanes will demobilize.
Jeff: Electronic warfare. Satellite warfare.
Dongping: The whole electricity network will be destroyed in one day.
Jeff: Yeah, yeah. Well, I hope that people like Joe Biden and the Democrats hate the Russians, and the Republicans hate the Chinese. So, I hope all these people back in the States have listened to Dongping, and let’s avoid a hot war. Another thing I’ve always thought about, people don’t realize 5% of Taiwan’s people live and work in China. You know, they’re 5%. There are over a million Taiwanese living and working in China.
Dongping: They are 5%.
Jeff: I’ve always joked that, well, all all they have to do is just cancel about, I don’t know, 10,000, 20,000 visas, because these guys from Taiwan are not driving taxis and cleaning rooms. These are CEOs. These are business owners.
Dongping: These are mid-level management staff at Foxconn.
Jeff: Presidents of companies, scientists, researchers. And all they have to do is cancel about 10,000 or 20,000 of those visas. And it would create so much chaos in Taiwan with those people and their families all coming back, that I’m sure it would make Taiwan think twice about trying to.
Dongping: Also think the Ukraine situation teaches Taiwanese people to be aware of an important lesson. When you fight, you get destroyed like in Ukraine. Who suffers the most? They are not the Americans, not the Russians. They are the Ukraine people, their livelihood is being destroyed, and their homes are being destroyed. They could easily negotiate a settlement before the conflict started.
Dongping: The same thing with the Taiwanese people.
Jeff: Yeah. I have heard and I’m sure you can confirm this, that and this is, of course, this is not divulged in the mainstream media. But polls in Taiwan show that close to half of the people are ready to go back and be with China anyway.
Dongping: Yeah, in the old days, the Taiwanese government did allow people to carry the Chinese national flag. There are so many Taiwanese holding the Chinese national flag to show the government we don’t want a war. We want to be part of China to avoid war.
Jeff: Yeah, I know there was a Taiwanese athlete who won a medal or something in some Asian competition.
Jeff: Yeah, Taekwando.
Dongping: Taekwando is very important in Asia.
Jeff: Taekwando, he actually held up the Chinese national flag instead of the Taiwanese flag.
Dongping: There are a lot of Taiwanese, so young people openly defy their dominance, and tell the local government to support unification.
Jeff: Yeah, unification. I’ve heard that Taiwan had a lot of growth back in the 70s and the 80s, but its infrastructure is kind of like Hong Kong. It’s just kind of hanging in there. It hasn’t really developed. And I’m sure that since then and I’m sure that they go to Shanghai, they go to Beijing, they go to Xiamen, which is right across which is 150km away. Guangzhou, Shenzhen. And they see the incredible development in China. And they’re like going, man, why don’t we have this in Taiwan?
Dongping: The Chinese do with the standard in many ways. It’s about an hour, you know, it’s in the old day in the 80s. Compare with Taiwan, the Chinese people’s living standard was lower. Yeah, but by today, China actually was a higher standard.
Jeff: And we’re actually on the 72nd floor of a hotel where Dongping is staying and we could also say that about the Hong Kong people, other than the 10% that are super rich here. You know, Hong Kong is owned by ten families. Yeah, every time you spend a Hong Kong dollar here, it goes to one of those ten billionaire families. But for most of the Hong Kong people, their lives here are not great.
Dongping: Not grace. So much stress.
Jeff: And they go to Shenzhen and it’s like, wow. That’s right.
Dongping: So, Shenzhen, Qinghai, Chengdu, from Shenzhen in the last four decades, it’s unbelievable.
Jeff: When I walked across the bridge today from Shenzhen, there’s a bridge across the river into Hong Kong. I said, well, I’m leaving the 21st century and now I’m going back to the 20th century because that’s exactly what it was like in China 30 years ago. It’s just not going very far.
Dongping: There are some very, very poor.
Jeff: A lot of people just barely hanging on, living in rooms as big as a bed.
Dongping: You don’t see that in China.
Jeff: No. No. And well, any closing comments, Dongping?
Dongping: I think the world is changing very, very fast. Covid and the war in Ukraine and Russia.
Jeff: That was a catalyst.
Jeff: That changed the world.
Dongping: I don’t think American elites realized even that they tried to hurt China with Covid, right? I mean, they turned out to be actually the Chinese people as a very cohesive society. They are more prepared to fight in this kind of thing. Whereas Americans not that well.
Jeff: And you live in North Carolina. Your testimony is based on living and talking to people in China every day.
Dongping: And the things in Ukraine and the Russian conflict, Americans thought Russia will be destroyed by these.
Jeff: They were going to run out of missiles in two weeks.
Dongping: Be that is a moral. We need what the Europeans need and Americans realized that I think the Russian economy does better.
Jeff: Yeah, they’re doing well.
Dongping: US was doing a trade war with China.
Jeff: Yeah. Yeah.
Dongping: In the last couple of years.
Jeff: And then, of course, China and Russia now are like brothers, you know.
Dongping: They’re like Brazil.
Jeff: Brazil and Iran and North Korea.
Dongping: Yeah, many, many countries. Those who suffered in the Western sanctions now go together. So, I think the world I hope American people realized when we are hurting other people, we are executing ourselves at the same time.
Jeff: Well, I’ve always joked about those Western leaders going back to the times of the Greeks and the Romans other than the couple of hundred years when a few of the small Athens and a couple of other states in ancient Greece had a direct democracy. Other than that, American leaders have been mostly reptile brains. They just have reptile brains. They think like lizards. And I really love your optimism.
And I hope that they will avoid a hot war with China because it’s something that I know the Chinese want to avoid because obviously if you’re having a war, it slows down development and decreases the prosperity of the people. But the United States will have about 1.4 billion out of 1.5 billion Chinese heading to Taiwan to defend their country. Well, listen, Dongping, thank you.
We’re going to go have a nice dinner here in Hong Kong. And he invited me so I can go to a conference tomorrow about China labor and work in China. And then Sunday I head back to France and then I’ll reflect on everything I saw in China for the last three weeks and Hong Kong. And then I’ll go back to France and put it all together and have another report. Anyway, thanks, Dong Dongping. It’s so nice to meet you in person.
Dongping: I’ve learned so much from you over the years.
Jeff: I learned so much over the years. I know for all the fans out there to be able to talk to someone who actually lived during the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward and has spent his adult years in the United States, he is absolutely a huge resource. And I hope you will read his books and the articles that I posted and learn more about the real China. So, thank you, Dongping.
Dongping: You’re welcome. Thank you, Jeff.
Jeff: Bye bye.
Do yourself, your friends, family and colleagues a favor, to make sure all of you are Sino-smart:
Google ebooks (Epub) and audiobooks:
44 Days Backpacking in China: The Middle Kingdom in the 21st Century, with the United States, Europe and the Fate of the World in Its Looking Glass https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=YBKHEAAAQBAJ
China Rising: Capitalist Roads, Socialist Destinations https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=YNmLEAAAQBAJ
BIG Red Book on China: Chinese History, Culture and Revolution
Amazon print and ebooks (Kindle):
44 Days Backpacking in China: The Middle Kingdom in the 21st Century, with the United States, Europe and the Fate of the World in Its Looking Glass
China Rising: Capitalist Roads, Socialist Destinations
BIG Red Book on China: Chinese History, Culture and Revolution
Praise for The China Trilogy:
Why and How China works: With a Mirror to Our Own History
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