I may be in the minority here, but in my experience there’s enough subtlety and disagreement in even the simplest of government policy decisions, in any country, to remove any incentive for blaming said policy decisions on a specific city. For example, whether or not you agree or disagree with Barack Obama’s fiscal stimulus program, you’re not very likely to say – much less, write – something like this:
“Washington views a multi-billion dollar fiscal stimulus as an essential part of any American economic recovery program.”
Why? Because Washington is a big place, where big disagreements take place and – as it happens – there are more than a few people in Washington who don’t agree with that statement. And that brings me to a question that’s troubled me for some time: namely, why do perfectly sane journalists who would never ascribe a policy – controversial or not - to “Washington” (or “London,” “Rome,” “Tokyo” or “Seoul”) throw caution to the wind and insist upon referring to the Chinese government as “Beijing” – as if it were a monolithic entity ["Beijing is concerned about the declining value of the dollar;" "Beijing is concerned that the US won't have a pavilion at Expo 2010." etc etc etc], and not a government town riven by disagreements and factions? I’ve long been annoyed by this lazy practice (while occasionally resorting to it myself), but never quite so much as when I read Francesco Sisci’s absurd “China’s Catholic Moment” in the current issue of First Things (full disclosure: a publication that has been critical of me). Take, for example, this sentence:
Beijing views the Catholic Church as an unambiguously Western embodiment of Christianity, untainted by syncretic confusion and therefore indispensable to the Westernization of China.
Got that? Beijing views the Catholic Church as indispensable to the Westernization of China. All of it. Continue reading