The Scoop

What Boris Johnson really thinks of China

Adam Bienkov | Monday 14 October, 2013 09:45

Boris Johnson and George Osborne are on a tour of China this week, accompanied by a rather large begging bowl.

According to George, British attitudes towards China need to change.

“I think there is a bit of a British attitude which treats China as a sweatshop on the Pearl River. One of the things I’m trying to do this week in China is to change British attitudes to China.”

Perhaps he could start with the attitude of his travel companion, who believes that: “Chinese cultural influence is virtually nil and unlikely to increase” and thinks “the Chinese have neither the ability nor the inclination to dominate the world.”

It’s worth reading the whole of Boris’s 2005 Telegraph piece on China for explanations of why Boris thinks “almost all” of Chinese culture is imitative of western culture and why China is “not even out of the paddock” in the global race.

It’s also worth reading this later piece in The Spectator where he adds that:

“To see how remote is the day of Chinese cultural dominance, ask yourselves how many Westerners would have surgery to make themselves look more Chinese.”


I was particularly struck by Boris’s thoughts on teaching Western kids Mandarin.

It has become a cliché of geopolitical analysis to say that China is the next world superpower, that the 21st century will belong to Beijing, and that we had better get in tutors to teach our nippers Mandarin if they are to make it in the new world order. It is all stark staring nonsense… We do not need to teach babies Mandarin.”

But that was then and this is now. Here’s the same Boris Johnson speaking in China today (as quoted in the Guardian)

Osborne and Johnson engaged in a bout of offspring one upmanship. Osborne said his 10-year-old daughter was learning mandarin. Then Johnson went one better. “George mentions his daughter, I have a 16-year-old and she is not only learning Mandarin George, she’s coming here next week to pursue her studies.”

It’s funny how attitudes can change isn’t it?

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Adam Bienkov

About this writer

Adam Bienkov

Adam is a reporter for You can find links to his other work at

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