While in China I visited several cities, many an airport and tarmac and yes, did encounter a few delays.   But one city I’ve somewhat grown fond of is Ningbo.  Don’t get me wrong, it is a somewhat boring city.  The nightlife seems to be situated in one area, which is convenient, but scarce.   And the lighting of the bridges at night is well worth the visit.  

I’d actually encourage all of you to visit Ningbo, at least for a long weekend.  Stay in the Shangri-la like I did and get a great view of the three rivers converging.  三江口。

There is also an older looking church with a nice façade that I would recommend.  

Anyway, the Chinese have done an excellent job marketing each of the cities I was in.  Regardless of how small the city, there was a concerted effort by the local Chinese government to at least make one area of town marketable.   For tourism or what have you, or a simple walk with family or your lover at night.

Wuxi and Ningbo, along with Wenzhou all stand out in this regard.

But China has also excelled in something else.   And while I could write a whole paragraph leading up to my point, I will simply state here that the failure of the government to succeed in as such would almost certainly have led to the collapse of the Chinese State as we know it today. 

China has achieved the buy in of its people. 

Yeah, we all know the bargain, the contract:  

Basically, “Stay out of politics, and we’ll give you a better life”.

And you know what?  That has worked. Yes, there are a handful of incredibly brave souls every year for whom this contract simply isn’t good enough, and they speak out and for that, those folks’ families pay a price.   China simply has too many weapons at its disposal to make you want to go up against The Machine.

However, I’m not really wanting to talk about the above.  At least not in this context.

I want to talk about how China has won buy in with its view of history.   Elderly “I don’t give a damn anymore” historian or intellectual aside, China has won complete and utter buy in with its view of history, from its own People.

Before I explain what happened to me in Ningbo, let me first state the obvious;

It’s easy to win buy in when you control the press, and thus the narrative.

In America for instance, or France or anywhere else outside of China and North Korea, it’s much harder to do this.

The only thing we Americans can agree on is that Abe Lincoln was a great man.  What of George Washington?

“He had slaves.”

What of even FDR?

“His family were robber barons, and made their fortune off the peasants in China.”

Even going to war with Japan over Pearl Harbor is up to debate,

“We wanted this war, and cowered the Japanese into attacking us.”

There is literally almost no point in American history where we Americans have “buy in”, regarding the historical context of events, and what was the right course vs the wrong course.  

Well, folks, I’m here to tell you China doesn’t have this problem.


Everything in China is crystal clear.  So no need to debate or even discuss.  But silly Fontenot, I just couldn’t help myself.

While stuck in Ningbo during yet another plane delay, I got into a discussion via text with a supplier of mine.  Someone who’s been abroad.  Seen a bit of the world.  Speaks a foreign language!   I used logic and short sentences.  She was open minded.  Open minded enough to hear me out.  (Always easy when talking via text) She agreed with everything I said.   Yet still I was surprised by the ending.

Here is the translation.  It is a bit lengthy:

“I know Americans and Japanese look down upon us Chinese.”

This wasn’t the first time she had said this.  But today she did something different.   She went out of her way to use the Japanese word for America, 米国 (rice country).  She explained it is currently a fashionable phrase.

“You need to let bygones be bygones”.

However, like many Chinese she cannot.

“From the bottom of my heard I cannot like Japanese.”

“Japanese have come here and opened many factories and created many jobs”.   

The above is a typical Western point of view.  It’s not something the Chinese papers dwell on.  But their aware of it all the same.  For instance if Trump really wanted to hit China where it hurts, he could simply put a tax or tariff on all goods exported from Foxconn in China.   Of course that would endanger the livelihoods of over a million Chinese.  Another reminder of how trade wars hurt real people and have real life consequences beyond the text books.

“Japanese have made a lot of money off the backs of our labor force, ok?” she counters.

“Correct”, I say.

“Both sides benefit.  This is called capitalism.  What opportunities the Heavenly Kingdom cannot provide other countries do.”

She concedes this point.

“You’re correct,” she admits.

“So being exposed to the Barbarian has its good points”.  I literally said this.

“But backward countries get squeezed and beaten down”, she replies.

Then I can feel the shrillness of her feelings coming through in her next text,

“No matter how united the West is against us, we Chinese will be even more united!”

I respond:

“Listening to you speak this way is an achievement of the Party’s attempt to build a New China.  You are all led to believe us foreigners are conspiring against “Great China”.”

“This is our history lesson.  I think all Chinese know this.”

“That us foreigners are all conspiring against China?  This is a myth.”

I can’t let it go however;

“To solve a problem concerning either individuals or a country, the first step is to look from within to solve the problem.”

“The backward will be beaten down. 被挨打. This is the lesson,” she clarifies.

Well I agreed with that.

“You are correct.  But how did this backward position come about?  Reference my earlier comment above.  What is the reason a country or person evolves into a “backward” state?  Corruption.  And the loss of curiosity towards studying new things.”

I continue.

“Losing the objective ability to analyze problems, one can only expect to become backward.  Thus there is no reason to feel sorry for backward countries or people.”

“You speak the truth”, she replies.

At this point I’m stuck in the airport for a few hours now, along with everyone else.  Apparently, China was having military exercises in the East China Sea.  Later on my mother in law told me they were actually being held in the South China Sea.   Whatever.  It’s all confusing to me.  Though one can’t help but wonder if China already has enough seas named after it.  

“America Ocean” anyone?

But I know this person reasonably well now.   We like each other and talk a lot, both when I’m in and outside the country.  She’s married to a court officer.  One of those guys who lead away those convicted of a crime in court. Has a smart aleck kid, mature perhaps beyond her age.  And owns two houses.   Like most Chinese women (and men), she’s in a passionless marriage.   I don’t pry, but of course I’m curious.   She’s unhappy her birthday is never celebrated.  Never a gift, nor flowers.   Of course I can flip this around, but I don’t.   Does she ever celebrate her husband’s birthday?

I estimate she makes more than double her husband’s income.  Yet I’m intrigued when I ask her while she shows me around the city if she has any aspirations for her Man?  She says she doesn’t.   And she doesn’t find that out of the ordinary either.   I leave it alone, wondering how my life would’ve turned out  if it  wasn’t constantly hinted to me that I’m not good enough…..

Case in point; though I make a 6 figure salary, my wife harangues me for not having a second job.  

(Yes, she actually does that.  Misses my former stellar income.)

Our conversation in the airport continues.

Referring above to the state of backwardness,

“Being beaten down is inevitable.   This is the only way to transform, however.”

She agrees, “Just like lazy people, no need to feel sorry for them.”

I’m feeling good about this.  She’s easy to talk to, and I enjoy our conversations.  I’m feeling confident about the way things are going.   I think I can actually convert this chick.

I decide to proffer up an historical example;

“In 1793 Britain sent a representative to Beijing, did it not?   To pay its respects to Qianlong.   And what did Qianlong say?  What was the end result?  Afterall, England merely wanted to establish relations, right? Qianlong refused the British representative.   The country with the world’s most powerful navy was turned away.”


I continue.

“Now was this really a good decision?  I’m quite confident Qianlong had no clue who he was dealing with.   A lack of curiosity towards the outside world on his part.”

My soliloquy complete, my Chinese friend finally digs in.

“China was made poor by the Qing!  Corruption was everywhere!”

Without further prompting, she freely offers her thoughts on Qianlong.

Now all my readers are badass with their China knowledge.  No question about it.  You speak the 中文, right?  There are times when I freely write in Chinese without need of translation because YOU know what the fuck I’m talking about.   So without further ado, you all obviously know about 


Qianlong reigned over China for 60 years.  At the time of his passing, China’s population was only slightly less than America’s is today.   That is, China’s population was approximately 100 times greater than America’s.  A “mere”300 million compared to 3 million of our Yankees.

Its territory even included what is present day Vladivostok.  So in a sense China was even bigger during Qianlong’s time than it is now.  His claim to fame in my book is he was the ruler of China during America’s Revolution.  China’s territory expanded under his rule, incorporating Xinjiang and pacifying Tibet (somewhat), while failing to either expand into Burma or Vietnam.

So forgive me for thinking that Qianlong was certainly looked upon favorably by most Chinese.  

China on the outside seemed rather invincible, don’t you think?

Alas, my Chinese friend is about to challenge my assumption:

“Qianlong got nothing done.  All he did was 游山玩水。 

(Please never be accused of this when going on business trips for your company.)   

She wasn’t finished.

“Every Emperor in the Qing Era thought his achievements the greatest.  Alas, because of political corruption, all we had were officials that stood in the way of progress, resulting in the extinction of 
the Qing itself.”

And just how does one say this in Chinese?  And how can we tell if my translation is even correct?

This is her Chinese quote, verbatim.  I’ll let you decide.


Suddenly my involuntary extended stay in the Ningbo airport wasn’t that bad.   Here I was, having an honest conversation about Chinese history, that had started out with the usual but bland comment about how this particular Chinese person disliked Japanese.  I felt privileged.   Yeah, I had experienced these conversations in the past, but they had usually been predictable and defensive.  

They usually didn’t go very far.  And this was the first time I’d been able to have a conversation about the Qing, let alone hear the thoughts from an ordinary but educated Chinese dealing with whom I’d previously considered one of China’s great emperors, Qianlong. 

I had nothing else to do in Ningbo.  Talking about Qianlong really wasn’t on my agenda.  Yet I admit it helped the time fly faster.

In essence, my friend was blaming the Qing for the downfall of China.  So I naturally added, hoping to round the circle,

“So…the Westerner simply opened the door and the house fell in.”   Now more than ever before I was feeling good about this conversation. 

“Yes!  The result of our country having been closed so long.”

The closing of the country after the Zhenghe expeditions was something I simply didn’t have the time to bring up.  Glad she did.

I wound things down.  My plane gate had changed.  I was ready to move on. 

“Chinese history books have always sad China was bullied and humiliated by the West.  But always 
without discussing the context.   When China is ready to discuss the context of the “fall” of China in the 1800’s, then the West will begin to truly have hope towards China’s progress.”

I thought that ended it.

I felt strongly in my own way I’d won over a convert.   Opened up someone’s eyes to a different viewpoint.    It went well.   Surely my comments on Qianlong had struck a chord, right?

As I was meandering down the escalator I saw she’d fired off one last comment.  One last salvo from a sinking ship perhaps? 

Uh…not quite.

“It’s a fact we’ve been bullied by the West. But why we were bullied, we as a nation will have to seriously consider.”

And that was the end of it.

It was then I realized maybe we were simply talking past each other.   I simply wanted a confession, nothing more, the West had nothing to do with the decline of China.   An acceleration perhaps, but nothing to change the inevitable.  (Afterall, that damn house was still going to fall down!) 

And just when I was poised to run that victory lap, she would have none of it.   I realized upon reflection how guilty of my own naiveté I had been.   How can one rinse a lifetime of indoctrination out of one’s system in thirty minutes of conversation?  If ever?

Despite everything I’d said she still believed China had indeed been “bullied” by the West.   That by extension, China was the “victim”. 

Ok, I admit she is right.  If one must be absolute about this, so be it; facts are stubborn things, and the West did bully China.  But I think I had achieved my mission.   Still, by kicking down that door, the house had indeed fallen in unto itself.  And that gave China all the cover it needed to write its narrative.  A  narrative not open to interpretation of course.  Great deal if one can get it.

I looked at my cell, my backpack weighing me down, as I boarded yet another bus on the tarmac of yet another airport, to take me to yet another plane, to yet another city with gray skies and gray streets. Crowded amongst the other passengers, my cell in hand, I simply blankly as a final message came in.

“88”, she said.


  1. This is actually excatly how all debates with my wife ended. I gave up talking seriously to her years ago. She is taiwanese, but this does not change much. Taiwanese are just one flavour of Chinese. West did a lot for China, what did China do for us? Really someone tell me what China did for us? With trade millions of chinese went out of poverty, we got bunch of cheap products while middle class have less jobs. And yea, when my chinese wife comment I do not make enough money, i simply drop my job. Tell you parents am depressed. For one year lived only on (our) savings and her salary. Sometimes is good you are primitive with chinese and they must fear you, be unpredictable. Just like Trump, pain in ass


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