As the youngest Briton in China towards the end of the Cultural Revolution, local man Hugo de Burgh (pictured left) was called to meet Prime Minister Zhou Enlai. It began his lifetime fascination with China. After reading Chinese at London University, Hugo worked as a journalist for Scottish Television, BBC & Channel 4. Now Professor of Journalism at the University of Westminster, as well as Director of the China Media Centre, he spends several months a year in China, setting up valuable links between UK/Chinese governments, universities and media. Hugo grew up in Woodbridge, and still returns to his home here (and St Marys) whenever his hectic schedule permits.
In his recent book, China: friend or foe? Hugo shares with us his intimate knowledge of that country. Every day we hear so much of China to cause concern: its huge economic growth as the worlds manufacturer, its move to international dominance, its poor human rights record and its environmental damage. But Hugo tells of the old China, whose 4,000-year civilisation had been the longest lasting in history. Confucian philosophy, one of harmony and balance, had underpinned every facet of life, with respect for the earth and its wildlife, a regard for history, religious tolerance, education for all, the family unit valued, a care for others and a rich culture including all the arts.
Then came the Cultural Revolution, which annihilated so much in the name of modernisation: All religions were banned. Traditional arts were ridiculed as old-fashioned. General education ceased for a decade, and intellectuals set to manual labour. The family unit was broken up. And more. The result? China today, Hugo explains, lacks a tacit set of moral values, its society has been laid waste, the national identity lost.
So is China a friend or foe? Hugo sees much to encourage: todays leaders, seeing that these policies have hindered Chinas progress, aim to restore all of value from the past. Historic sites and areas rich in wildlife and scenery, once wrecked for industry, are now preserved as vital for tourism. Religious practice is tolerated, education reinstated and the old arts revived. There is a major drive to train athletes; hosting the 2008 Olympics has hugely boosted Chinas self-image. And while queries remain over human rights and the environment, there is progress.
In China: friend or foe? Hugo de Burgh writes with infectious enthusiasm on every aspect of China imaginable. Yes, he says, let us welcome China as a friend! And his latest book, China impact, will be launched at the House of Commons this November.
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