Jonathan Mirsky

A gangster comes to town

Jonathan Mirsky says that the state visit to Britain of China’s President is no cause for celebration

Jonathan Mirsky says that the state visit to Britain of China’s President is no cause for celebration

When China’s President Hu Jintao sits next to the Queen at her state banquet for him on 8 November he will be a contented man. In the words of the Royal Academy of Arts, ‘China Turns London Red’. Somerset House, the London Eye and other buildings will be illuminated in the Communist party’s preferred colour to mark, says the Academy, ‘an extraordinary moment in Britain’s continuing relationship with China’. To deepen this relationship, Mac Cosmetics is launching ‘Ruby Woo’, a new range of lipsticks, and Shanghai Tang, already a byword in sucking up to Beijing with its watches bearing Mao Tse-tung on their faces, will display a shearling coat embroidered with 90,000 crystals.

During President Hu’s visit, the Academy will exhibit Qing Dynasty (1636–1912) art emphasising the greatness of three of China’s most powerful emperors. According to an article in the Times (22 October), which is sponsoring this show, Dame Jessica Rawson, warden of Merton College, Oxford, a respected Sinologist and chief curator of the exhibition, feels that today’s Chinese leaders will appreciate the Qing rulers’ view of themselves at the centre of the universe ‘as Chinese nationalism displaces old-school communism as the state ideology’.

In early September, as he was leaving China, Tony Blair observed that ‘the whole basis of the discussion I have had in a country that is developing very fast — where 100 million people now use the internet and which is going to be the second-largest economy in the world — is that there is an unstoppable momentum toward greater political freedom’.

But the Prime Minister’s ‘Sinologues’, as the Foreign Office quaintly calls its Chinese experts, will have furnished Mr Blair with a dossier on his guest.

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