Soft infiltration vs. hard invasion

“Look what I have got.” my Mandarin teacher of 6 years proudly showed me her latest trophies—books on Chinese arts, history, and calligraphy. She was elated with her latest collections because the low price: half the market standard. I only had to glance at the book covers to understand why they were so inexpensive. They were all written in Simplified Chinese: in other words, the language of the Communists.

My teacher is a classy Taiwanese lady carrying deep respect toward Taiwanese traditions and a pro-independence stance. I didn’t dare to ask her what she thought of the language, but it did make me realize that I had just witnessed the finest example of cultural infiltration. If the books were forced, she would have accepted them over her dead body. But they appeared as an offer—and she couldn’t refuse it.

Invasion is usually associated with brute force: the bigger and the stronger vs. the smaller and the weaker. Russia vs. Chechenia, Germany vs. the rest of Europe & Japan vs. the rest of Asia during the 1st half of the 20th century. But history tells us that invasion is always met by an equally strong power of opposition. None of the cases mentioned above is recorded in the history book as a success story. People have a remarkable ability to hate something that is being forced.

Infiltration, on the other hand, works much more effectively because it directly stimulates our fundamental weakness, the 3C: the Cheaper, the Cuter, and the more Convenient. Cheaper: Even national flags are made in China these days. Cuter: A certain kitten character from Japan is busy working as one of the world’s most efficient ambassadors. More Convenient: We might openly bad-mouth overpriced coffee from Starbucks, but we do enjoy their comfy sofa, fast wifi, accessible locations (and green tea latte).

Cultural infiltration works, forced invasion does not. That’s true tactically, but is it also true morally? Is cultural infiltration another form of invasion? I don’t have an answer yet. But I do say that infiltration does not leave a long trace of hatred. People are not killed, properties are not taken away (at least directly), and the number of physical conflicts does not increase. What is negatively affected is mainly our pride, which reminds us that an important part of our cultural and spiritual heritage has been destroyed.

I would say that in the end, pride might feed us with what we want (power and dignity), but not with what we need (health and peace).

P.S. In my dreams, the U.S. rely on their soft power to conquer the Middle East. Internet routers with built-in software to deactivate government surveillance will be provided for free through the black market. (If Cisco supplied the Chinese government with the great firewall technology, it is just a matter of reversing the filtering direction.) The routers also include free Netflix subscriptions, and instead of the usual copyright warning message before playback, a petition note shows up that says pumping cheap oil into the U.S. economy helps producing more Hollywood films. Doesn’t that work better than throwing out bombs from unmanned planes?