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James Reynolds | 12:18 UK time, Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Back in Beijing now. A good time to have another look at the questions I raised last week. I've read all of your comments, and want to run through some of them...

1) How has the earthquake changed China?

Many of you think it's brought out a side of China that was already there. Here's what bluejeansbj says: "Don't think that the earthquake has changed China, or Chinese. It has simply brought out the patriotism, endurance, and generosity which are at the bottom of the hearts of many Chinese."

buaadallas also makes an interesting point: "This earthquake and the Olympic torch relay united all of the Chinese people. It's very important because our Chinese people paid all our attention in the economy in the past 20 years, maybe something we forgot are important for a nation."

But many of you think that it's too soon to make any sweeping judgements. I tend to agree. Remember what China's long-time premier Zhou Enlai is reported to have said in 1972 when he was asked about the impact of the French Revolution of 1789, "It's too soon to say."

2) How has the earthquake changed the way the West sees China?

Two fascinating posts to compare...

Firstly, mbplee: "The West I believe are impressed with the rapid response, and the ability of the Chinese to manage the logistics of the rescue operations without delays. It shows that China is not the primitive, disorganized and divided country she once was. I shows that the armed forces, the backbone of the rescue effort is organized and disciplined and human (not robots)."

Secondly, jcxjeff: "Hopefully some Western fear mongers will realize that much of China is still quite poor, and underdeveloped, and this is why the death toll and building collapses were so pervasive and devastating. California would not have this kind of death toll from an earthquake because it can afford very strict standards. Therefore, it is not necessary for Western leaders to go on and on about how China is about ready to crush 'us', stoke up fear, etc."

It's also worth saying this - China is often a hard country for outsiders to understand. Most people in the West have never come here, even fewer speak Mandarin, and there are quite a few Westerners who wouldn't even be able to name a single living Chinese person (I want to pick up on this thought in a few days.) So, it's a hard nation to grasp.

But human suffering is not hard to get - everyone can identify with the kind of pain and grief we've all watched over the last three weeks.

Previously, it may have been difficult for many in the West to feel compassion or pity for a hard-to-understand country which is also a rising superpower - complete with nuclear weapons, the world's largest army, and its own space programme. But perhaps the earthquake has made it easier for people in the West to identify with and feel sympathy for people in China.

3) The Chinese government acted with unusual openness during the earthquake and has been widely praised for it. Does this openness set a standard that the government will feel obliged to follow in other areas (eg access to Tibet.) Or do the old rules still apply?

First of all, a couple of interesting points which might explain the government's openness during the earthquake.

liushiyisui writes: "friends of mine here in China believe that in the age of modern communication the government was left with little choice but to act openly so they decided to ride the wave of information rather than try to stem the tide."

cissylau says: "This earthquake is not a political issue, it is a natural disaster. So it is nature for the government to show the truth."

That combination might explain the government's initial openness. But this standard is now being tested. Parents whose children died when their badly-built schools collapsed are now campaigning for justice - they believe their children were killed by man-made negligence and corruption. We're getting reports that the government has told the Chinese media to rein in its coverage of this subject. So, it may be that the government's new openness has already come up against a limit.

When it comes to other areas, including access to Tibet, most of you seem to think that openness won't apply.

EWONGNL makes the point pretty directly: "NO. Old rules still apply. The reason is simple: the main goal of politburo is not to satisfy the west media, but to safeguard the stability of China."


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