More Thrills Than Skills – A Half-Life in Journalism, Part 116

Over the next few weeks, is to publish, each weekday, extracts from the memoirs of Scottish war correspondent, Paul Harris. ‘More Thrills than Skills: A Half-life in Journalism’, is to be published March 1 next year, by Kennedy & Boyd, Glasgow, and available from

A more interesting article in May in the state-run Workers’ Daily raised some rather more germane issues.

“Now the epidemic is challenging not only the country’s public health care system but also China’s mechanism against non-traditional threats to security.”

It acknowledged that future threats to China might come not so much from political or military developments but from new sources. The potential list was long: financial security, environmental protection, information security, internet systems, terrorism, arms proliferation, outbreaks of disease, trans-national crime, smuggling, drug trafficking, illegal immigration, piracy and money laundering.

The newspaper – almost certainly reflecting the official viewpoint emanating from the top of the pyramid – opined: “Although people have always showed concern for sustainable development, some local governments have put too much stress on economic growth while neglecting other important issues, such as protecting the environment or public health, which serve as the basis of economic development.

“This misunderstanding might push the economy forward for a short time but cannot maintain growth in the long run. It is difficult to achieve long-term growth without the support of non-economic factors, such as environmental protection, the prevention of natural disasters, social security and public health.

“To date, the development of a non-traditional security system has lagged behind the country’s economic growth. The country should wake up to the fact that the absence of a sound non-traditional security mechanism might finally bring disaster to the economy and even the whole of society.”

This opinion piece seemed to me to be of enormous significance and, in a way, illustrated maybe a beneficial effect of SARS on Chinese government thinking. That having been said, China will always be an enigma to western observers. There was a poster which could be seen all over Shanghai during the period I lived there. I asked my wife what it said.

“It says Chinese civilisation flows like a great river,” she explained. The implications of that poster, which would automatically be understood by any Chinese, would rarely be interpreted by a foreigner. In a city, ‘invaded’ by tens of thousands of foreigners, it was felt necessary to remind Chinese that their civilisation is ancient and unstoppable. The intrusion of foreigners is brief and of little consequence. The Chinese have always, and will continue to, take a long view. That is where the west fails. We have no real long term vision; our view of the world is coloured by short term political and economic imperatives.

That’s why I believe the Chinese will rule the world . . . I suppose I have to admit that. On August 23 2003, I married Sun Yumei, the woman who fled Sri Lanka with me, in Shenyang, northern China. We celebrated the marriage at the end of October by hiring a riverboat and cruising the Huangpu River through Shanghai.

On August 3 2004, our daughter Lucy was born in Shanghai.

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