The Asiatic Society was fortunate to host the MP for Bolton North East, Mr Mark Logan, on Thursday 25th November. He led an informative talk entitled ‘UK–China: Asymmetry in Understanding?’, which provided an insight into his role in the political world, both nationally and internationally, and his experience of UK–China relations.
Besides being a Member of Parliament, Mr Logan is also the vice chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on China, which consists of MPs from all the major political parties and believes that whatever happens in China will likely directly or indirectly affect the UK. Their main aim is to ‘widen the parliamentary contribution to the UK–China bilateral relationship’.
Our talk began with Mr Logan’s varied background. Originally from Northern Ireland, he began studying Chinese alongside Law at Queen’s University in Belfast, continuing his studies in Beijing. He later read Contemporary Chinese studies at Oxford. Mark worked at the embassy during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and later he was Head of Communications at the British Consulate-General in Shanghai.
The main focus of his lecture was the asymmetry in understanding between the UK and China. He spoke about how a recent statistic revealed that 400 students a year were enrolled in Chinese studies in the UK – whereas close to 200,000 Chinese students study in the UK at any given time, and literally hundreds of millions of Chinese people have been exposed to the English language. There is a great cultural gap between the countries, both in education and knowledge of the other, as well as a number of other contributing factors such as media perception and culture clashes.
Over time, the UK has become more individual and diverse, with different representatives of accents in news programmes like the BBC – whereas China seems to be heading in the opposite direction, believing that the West has gone too far with individualism, with for example China’s drive over the last few decades to popularise the usage of Mandarin across the country. Mr Logan felt that despite their differences, China has actively learnt from the West. They have observed what does and doesn’t work in more capitalist nations, and carefully applied the successful aspects. He stressed the importance of the UK Cabinet taking more of an interest in China, in the way that Chinese leaders have studied the West.
After his introduction to his background and work, he offered to take questions, giving answers that only someone with his experience could offer. Mr Logan helped us to understand that the UK has a lot to learn about China, and we need to approach it with an open mind. Both nations are radically different in many aspects: from generation gaps and influences from other countries to attitudes towards everyday life. In the same way as the United States has been a powerful influence on every country over the last half a century or more, China is now becoming a powerful influence in many countries and in their peoples’ development. Finding a way to coexist is not only preferable, but necessary.
Iona G (L6)