China's emerging civil society openly arguing about the nation's public image in the Year of the Dragon? Michael Sylvester

There is an interesting argument going in the opinion / editorial pages of the local papersYear of the Dragon.jpg here.

To welcome the Year of the Dragon, China Post last week issued a stamp featuring an image of the mystical creature.  However, the design by Shenzhen-based Chen Shaohua has triggered controversey (among the Chinese themselves) as some have criticized the dragon stamp for appearing too ferocious and potentially damanging China's image abroad.

For example, writer Zhang Yiyi attacked Chen's design, saying it showed ignorance of how the dragon is seen in other cultures.

In response to the criticism, Chen Shaohua told the Shenzhen Special Zone Daily that he hoped his dragon would help exorcise evil spirits in 2012 and protect China's economy at a time of global financial turmoil.  

And also that "it symbolized a rising China and the world should listen to the Chinese Nation."

And that seems to be where the trouble started.  Some have even called for a recall of the stamp.

Now, back to why I find this so interesting...  

There is an emerging civil society here that not only has an editorial page in the local paper, but uses it freely to express themselves about issues like the international reputation of their nation.

Now, of course this emerging civil society is not one cohesive group, as can be seen from the ongoing discussions about whether the outside world might be worried about something as small as a commerative stamp issued by the China Post office.

But, it has to be recognized that there is a participatory civil society that is emerging here. And as with everything else, they are evolving in their own way, in their own time and with their own goals.  They do not want to be us.  They want to be themselves.  

And they are going to be arguing about what that means for a long, long time...