Browsing in a bookshop the other day, I noticed among the new titles a considerable number of books about “The New China”. I have not read any of them, and did not buy any of them, but I have nevertheless been thinking about The New China and how it might differ from The Old China.
I began by wondering if I could gain a grasp of the matter by comparing New Labour with Old Labour. A moment’s reflection, however, dissuaded me from going down that path. First, The New China clearly has a definite article, whereas my researches have shown that nowhere was New Labour ever referred to as The New Labour. Second, while New Labour supplanted Old Labour, it has in itself now been replaced by, variously, Blue Labour, New Old Labour, or simply Labour. As far as I have been able to ascertain, this has not yet happened to The New China, which remains The New China in opposition to The Old China.
There is one remarkable similarity, and one glaring difference, between The New China and The Old China. (I am sure there are more, of each, but these two instances will suffice to get us to the nub. The nub, after all, is where we want to be, whether it be The New Nub or The Old Nub, or just The Nub,)
The similarity is this. To a large extent, one will find that the rivers and the mountains of The New China are almost exactly the same as those of The Old China. There may be the occasional small variation, but nothing a geographer of any stripe would deem significant. (I will be writing about the stripes of geographers, in another context, shortly.)
On the other hand, the people of The Old China have been completely replaced by new people in The New China. If we pluck a year of The Old China at random – say 1736 – we find that every single one of those Old Chinese people is gone, and also that not one of the New Chinese people has yet arrived on the scene.
It is of course possible to posit a very different kind of The New China, where all the mountains and rivers have been replaced by new ones, whereas the people are the same. They would be staggering about, withered and wizened and toothless and doolally, without a clue where they were, their familiar landmarks, the rivers and mountains, changed, and changed utterly, in The New China.