Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Hasta la vista, ma cherie

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, could celebrate the fecundity of Europe without irony or embarrassment when he wrote, in Locksley Hall that:

I that rather held it better men should perish one by one,
Than that earth should stand at gaze like Joshua's moon in Ajalon!
Not in vain the distance beacons. Forward, forward let us range,
Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change.
Thro' the shadow of the globe we sweep into the younger day;
Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay.

Unless plans miscarry, within the next 36 hours, Yang Liwei, Zhai Zhigang and Nie Haisheng will be the first Chinese to ascend into the cosmos in a spacecraft manufactured in Cathay. It is an historic moment in more ways than one. For the first time since the humiliation of the Opium Wars, China will demonstrate a clear mastery over Europe in a key and complex technological area.

Nothing could underscore the emptiness of European socialist pretensions more than the imminent launch of the taikonauts from a country at once ex-socialist and ex-colonial. Nothing daunted, the Guardian sneers: "What will the Chinese find on the moon? Anything and everything that the Americans may have left behind." And there, in a phrase, is the entire imposture of supposed European superiority and sophistication. It manages to embody a disdainfulness of everything American together with the suggestion that they simply scorn to achieve what they could easily win were they to turn away from 'higher' pursuits. Now comes a hint that the lofty 'would not' is really a 'could not'. And the darker suggestion that their reluctance to confront Islamic Terror is less attributable to moral courage than to a palpating and naked fear.

But where they could clothe themselves in the mantle of artistic loftiness to explain away the fact that middle class white Swedes earn less than blacks in Alabama, what excuse remains now for European backwardness in the face of the Chinese technological demonstration? None whatsoever. And so:

Thro' the shadow of the globe we sweep into the younger day;
Better fifty years of China than a Brussels stuck in yesterday.