I was bit struck by a post I read today over at ESWN which begins as follows:
You know the meme — the Chinese Communist Party leaders are a bunch of ruthless butchers who have slaughtered tens of millions of Chinese citizens. Okay, so we got that out of the way. Here is the question: Why do they do that? You know the meme. They want to seize onto their power. Next question: To seize onto their power in order to do what? This is where it is usually stuck — they want to seize onto the power in order to seize onto the power, and this is obviously not intellectually satisfying unless you think every one of them is Mao Zedong as portrayed in Jung Chang’s so-called ‘biography.’
Now we get to the question of Wen Jiabao. What does he want? The photo below (via Xici Hutong) was taken during his recent field study trip in Anhui. Here, he is having lunch at the Ma’anshan Steel Factory workers’ cafeteria. For his own meal, he insisted on paying four RMB as required under the rules.
ESWN then makes the case, with which I agree, that Wen is a good guy who wants what’s best for his people and that there are many more in the CCP like him. True enough.
But…I have to admit I was put off by some of his phrasing. What if I wrote, “You know the meme — the Stalin clan was a bunch of ruthless butchers who have slaughtered tens of millions of Russian citizens. Okay, so we got that out of the way.”
I find this disingenuous, because by calling it a “meme,” ESWN is strongly implying this is something of a red herring, something we automatically think, Pavolvian-style, when the CCP comes to mind. It implies we are naive to think this way.
I would counter that it is not a meme at all, it is a matter of fact, and it can be documented, justified and proven. They have done these things. Is there more to the story, and has there been progress? Of course. But they have slaughtered millions, although today they no longer do so and no one claims they do. No one.
I had this conversation with a reader earlier today as we sipped coffee in Sanlitun. There are so many truly noble people in the party, idealistic, urbane, compassionate and profoundly decent. He was telling me about his many friends in the CCP that fit this description. But, he said, that doesn’t change the party’s track record or neutralize their sins past and present. No matter how many good apples in the CCP basket, they are still authoritarian and ruthless, and at times borderline totalitarian. He asked aloud, “How can the party be so bad when there be so many wonderful pary members?”
I’m sorry, if someone said to me, “You know the Nazi meme, about how they slaughtered millions of Jews,” I think I’d be offended. I often agree with ESWN and link to his site more than just about any other, but his choice of words bothered me all day, as it borders on a whitewash. Praise the CCP for the progress of recent years, but don’t deny that it’s got more blood on its hands than just about any other political party in power today. No matter how nifty Wen Jiabao is, that fact remains and is anything but a meme.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.