Looking back at China, and the purpose of this blog

[Note: I meant this to be a brief post about my plans for blogging in the future, and how China would fit into that plan. Then it took on a life of its own. If it is a bit polemical and/or boring, I apologize in advance.]

I’m going through a major change of heart regarding what I want this blog to be. I don’t want to chronicle the malfeasances of the CCP as I used to (though I’ll do so when I think it’s important enough). I don’t want to spend the day proving and re-proving that the Communist leadership in China is evil. This will probably disappoint some readers who come here for the daily litany of CCP sins. But I decided during my last few visits to China that my former approach can be misleading, or at least incomplete.

I saw (and see) what can be safely described as evil in the current system in China. The stories of corruption and brutality against the disenfranchised underclasses are true and they are important. The government’s approach to SARS will always be fresh in my mind, as I was so in the thick of it and saw first-hand just how dreadful this government can be. This topic is usually greeted with a chorus from those who see the CCP as an instrument of positive change: The CCP learned from SARS and they are getting better. I’m still open-minded to this argument. I just haven’t seen enough evidence of it yet.

But I believe now that the CCP is not monolithically evil. I know there’s a number of CCP members who truly hold a vision of a free and democratic China. Such reform-minded individuals have always been a part of the CCP. Unfortunately, they are up against a formidable entourage of party dinosaurs who cannot simply be swept under the carpet. Nice guys in the CCP always seem to finish last.

Scanning The Tiananmen Papers, I understand even more just how divided the party has been, and how actively some of its members have fought for real reform. Those who fight against such reformers are not necessarily evil. I think many of them really believe they are doing what is best for the country. But their first concern is their own political survival and preservation of their power base. If, in ensuring their ongoing power, they have to trample on the innocent, it’s a shame, but it simply has to be done. Like an elephant brushing up against a sapling and crushing it. Not malevolent, but destructive nonetheless.

I also have understood for a long time that the current CCP is amazingly similar to the ancient emperors’ regimes, in which government was to be used not for the benefits and protection of its subjects, but for ensuring the survival of its leaders. So the CCP is not so unique in China’s history and it did not materialize in a vacuum. And it’s not going to change drastically overnight.

So while I’m trying to consider all sides of the picture, I’m trying to cut the leaders a little more slack. A little. I remain adamant when it comes to the issue of political reform (though I’d love to be convinced otherwise). So far, the reforms have really been about guaranteeing the CCP’s power, not about diminishing it. In the wake of the Cultural Revolution, Deng had the wisdom to realize that the ongoing descent into radical leftist insanity would ultimately turn China into a nation of isolated, fanatacized cretins. His reforms did as they were intended to: they ushered China into the modern world, gave the people new hope and often new wealth, and set the stage for China to become a true superpower.

But at the heart of it, these reforms were true to the CCP’s traditional ideal of maintaining total power and control, of self-preservation. They totally failed to end the awful caste system, in which the party members are entitled to all sorts of luxuries and privileges, and the subjects are powerless to complain about their leaders’ excess and cruelties. (A bit of credit here: more and more lawsuits are being filed against the government in China, and some plaintiffs have actually won. A teensy-tiny drop in the bucket, but still a positive sign)

The economic reforms have been dazzling, the envy of the world, and social reforms, especially recently, have been impressive. But when it comes to political reforms, we’re still in the dark ages. Yes, there have been some important improvements. Obviously, people are far more free to speak their minds, and some clever journalists are subtly getting out their messages about the government’s failings. And the Internet has become a key instrument in sharing ideas and information, despite the frenzied attempts of the CCP to control it.

But the fact is that censorship is worsening, corruption still reigns supreme and many of the antique laws of the old days contniue to cause the Chinese people terrible and unnecessary grief. I look at one example, the hukou system (a grotesquely unfair entitlement system that determines where a person can and cannot live and work) and I have no choice: I have to conclude some of the most revolting aspects of Maoist rule are alive and well. The word of the day is Reform; it’s all we hear about. And yet, aside from racier magazines on the racks and more sex on TV, we still see no signs of true political reform.

I have some good friends and lots of acquaintances in China who believe in what the CCP is doing. Basically, this faith is generated by the improving quality of life for so many Chinese — more people have more money. This is important. Money can be the determining factor between comfort and misery. Where I disagree with them strongly is that this is the result of any grand scheme of the CCP’s, that they designed it all to be this way. What happened after Deng took power was that he gave the people an inch and they grabbed a mile — once there was room for capitalism, the Chinese — the world’s most capitalistic people — made their own wealth, just as they have done in every country they’ve gone to. (This has nothing to do with race or genetics, but about culture. The Chinese have always been taught to save money, and to use it to make more.)

As far as trade and commerce goes, I think the CCP has been a bungler, hardly the geniuses some would have it. The people made their money because the government got out of their way, not because the CCP offered great financial wisdom. With foreign trade, the party deserves even less credit. Ask any foreign company doing business in China what kind of hoops they had to jump through and how many palms they had to grease along the way. It’s as though the CCP has put up every conceivable obstacle to real free trade for outsiders. This is a key component of the corruption system that keeps party members rich and that created the “princeling” phenomenon.

My friends who are more positive about the CCP always tell me that the sheer size of China’s population makes it impossible for the government to control what its local cadres are doing. These cadres, they tell me, are the source of many of the evils and the CCP cannot be blamed for their crimes. The CCP is more concerned about the massive general population, not about a group of AIDS patients who are beaten up by local police, or of a group of coal miners jailed and tortured for protesting the outrageous taxes collected by their local leaders.

There’s a lot of truth to this. When we’re talking about a population so vast and distributed over so much space, controlling what happens in each village is a dizzying challenge. And yet, and yet….

Let’s look at how well China has done in controlling this vast population from Mao to now. Every single person is registered in the aforementioned hukou system. Meticulous records are kept on most of them. Government checkers go door to door of every home and make sure the women are not producing too many babies. About 30,000 government bureaucrats spend their entire day watching the Internet for signs of subversion. Under Mao, the type of corruption that runs rampant today was trifling. It was controlled. (Of course, this was more than compensated for by mass murder, famines and unspeakable tyrannies.) So is it really so impossible to keep the behavior of local cadres in check? Or is this corruption the main reason cadres remain loyal to the CCP? Is it insurance against disloyalty? I can’t say for sure, but it’s something to think about.

So those are some of my personal feelings about the CCP. But as I said at the start, I’ve tempered some of my animosity because I believe there are forces at work for real change and increased freedom. I know it takes time, and there really are risks of moving too quickly. But Deng seized power more than a quarter of a century ago. I’m not convinced that constantly allowing them more time, showing patience and understanding, giving them “space” and always forgiving their excesses as “teething pains” — I’m not convinced that such coddling is the way to go. Look at SARS: It wasn’t coddling and patience that brought about the extraordinary press conference in which the party actually admitted its crimes. No, it was the international outcry, precipitated by a Beijing whistleblower and brought to a crescendo on the world’s editorial pages, that blew the CCP’s cover and literally forced them to account for themselves. The soft and gentle approach might at times be appropriate, but the evidence tells me they are more likely to respond to international pressure. Pressure that threatens investment and damages the reputation the CCP has worked so painstakingly to build over the past ten years.

But even after saying all that, I have more hope than I did before, if only because the dinosaurs are dying out and the new generation appears more open to democracy and real freedom. My attitude is, keep up the pressure, call them on their misdeeds, but don’t approach them as a force of pure evil. Our best hope is to continue to lead by example, so the new generation of leaders continues to see liberty and democracy as goals to strive for.

So back to my blog. I am finding it really difficult to maintain Peking Duck’s persona as a China-focused blog. I am going to try, but as I said, I’m not inclined simply to list all the CCP’s outrages or to scold them ad infinitum. So please don’t be surprised if this blog focuses a little more on US politics and my personal situation, and a bit less on China. I think it will always be a China blog; I feel too attached to the community to simply give it all up. But it can’t be quite the same as when I was living and working in Asia.

Thanks for your patience if you made it to the end of this over-long and all-over-the-place post.

[Updated at 4:50 pm Mountain Time]

The Discussion: 42 Comments

Richard I have been reading your blog for more than a year and i do not think you are too hard on China. Sometimes like today I think you are too generous. It is ok to write more about US, but please keep up the good work keeping readers posted on CCP atrocities. Calling them evil is not unfair, it is truth.

April 4, 2004 @ 4:48 pm | Comment

This is the way to write an opinion piece Richard. Balanced yet true to your views. You’re a great blogger and I shall continue to read no matter what.

April 4, 2004 @ 7:28 pm | Comment

A really good post. As someone who also tends to be critical of China, I’ve had some of the same questions you’ve talk about: at what point does criticism cease to be warranted or fair and at what point does it prevent us from seeing the whole picture?

So as someone who is coming to the end of his stay in China, a similar reckoning of my attitudes is coming on. I haven’t come to any conclusions, but your post will definitely be like a guide for my own thoughts.

April 4, 2004 @ 7:59 pm | Comment

Completing the picture

Richard of Peking Duck looks back at his blog and China in an excellent post that all China-bloggers should read. For those of us who are also critical of China he gives a good reappraisal of that attitude, how it

April 4, 2004 @ 8:23 pm | Comment

fine job, but i wonder if there’s something in the american water….

makes you want to turn into America, tuck in, so to speak and focus on that more.

April 4, 2004 @ 8:43 pm | Comment

Phil, thanks a lot for the kind words.

Andres, I’m glad you’re so open-minded. It’s fairly easy to criticize. Attempting to get the whole picture is a lot more challenging. That’s probably why writing this post, which I’ve had brewing for three weeks now, was such hard work. That said, some of your posts are among my absolute favorites, and you’ve made a great contribution to our little community. I’ll be interested in seeing how your blog metamorphoses after you’re back home.

Douglas, America is my home, and I’ve always been fascinated (obsessed?) with politics here. So this transition is hardly surprising. When I was in the PRC, that was the focus of my attention. Same in HK. (Singapore was the exception — there was nothing going on there to write about most of the time!)

April 4, 2004 @ 9:25 pm | Comment

Richard … I’d like to add my agreement to all the positive comments. This is one of the best (possibly the best) opinion pieces on China I’ve ever read.

One little note: the book Tiananmen Papers. I’ve got a friend who is a former diplomat who lived and worked for many years in China and still has a lot of contacts within the Chinese government … when he asked him, “so is it accurate?” the contact replied, “true, but incomplete.” The release of the documents was timed (it would seem) to have an impact on internal jockeying for power before the upcoming retirement of the last generation of the leadership … and as such, had a definite motive behind it. So, my guess is that the side that comes out looking better in the book probably aren’t as good as it would appear … evidence incriminating against them has been left out.

April 4, 2004 @ 10:33 pm | Comment

“I told you so!”

(Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Anyway, I salute whatever project you have for yourself, and I’ll still be reading, as well as a whole bunch of others as well.

Nicely done.

April 5, 2004 @ 12:52 am | Comment

Great post; you’re being upfront and honest. Something the CCP could learn from!

April 5, 2004 @ 2:40 am | Comment

check your email, I’m sending you a link

April 5, 2004 @ 3:08 am | Comment

It’s touchig how considerate the Great Cyber-Nanny is in pointing out interesting posts on this blog : They stop loading halfway through ๐Ÿ™‚

April 5, 2004 @ 7:00 am | Comment

In fact, I believe most of the educated people in China have realized fatuity of the CCP. We university students sometimes even critize much harder on the CCP than what you commented on it. It is also pathetic to hear these words from a professor in my school:” Sometimes you will feel pessimistic to the government, but when one day, you get into it, you will finally feel accustomed and even go further.”

April 5, 2004 @ 9:44 am | Comment

Li En, thanks for the praise, and I’m taking the Tinanamen Papers with a grain of salt. It’s definitely worth reading. Whether it’s the whole story is doubtful.

Sean, great to see your comment. I always appreciate a view from inside China.

April 5, 2004 @ 1:33 pm | Comment

Richard,

I’ve had a reader (and a commentor here, no less) mention that they’re experiencing problems loading this post from Beijing. It’s not blocked, though, I can load it from Tianjin with no problem, but …

Isn’t it hilarious that you write a post like that and they finally notice you?

April 5, 2004 @ 6:46 pm | Comment

Richard,

I’ve had a reader (and a commentor here, no less) mention that they’re experiencing problems loading this post from Beijing. It’s not blocked, though, I can load it from Tianjin with no problem, but …

Isn’t it hilarious that you write a post like that and they finally notice you?

April 5, 2004 @ 6:46 pm | Comment

Richard,

I’ve had a reader (and a commentor here, no less) mention that they’re experiencing problems loading this post from Beijing. It’s not blocked, though, I can load it from Tianjin with no problem, but …

Isn’t it hilarious that you write a post like that and they finally notice you?

April 5, 2004 @ 6:47 pm | Comment

Adam, someone emailed me from BJ that they are able to load the post. Hope this isn’t the start of some new problem.

April 5, 2004 @ 10:35 pm | Comment

Richard,

I’ve been reading your blog for a while now, and I’ve always appreciated your posts and viewpoints.

My blog has been overwhelmingly apolitical, mostly due to the fact that I know some of my students read it and I hardly wish for such topics to come up in class. But I do admire you for writing honestly about the things I, for the most part, only ponder in my mind.

Are you too critical? I don’t think so. I find it is hard for an intelligent, thoughtful person to not be critical about many things they see here. We only appear so focused on the negative because all the other news is overwhelmingly positive (the “fitter and happier” line, or the “everything is fine, perfect and only getting better” approach).

I will be returning to North America sometime this summer to resume my studies, and I am unsure how I feel about that. I love it and hate it here all at same time, and after two years I am more confused about China than ever.

Don’t worry about whether you are being too one-sided or not: just write what you feel. Lord knows there is enough fodder around here to keep your site busy for years to come. If I wanted my news more balanced, I would jaunt over to China Daily ๐Ÿ™‚

April 5, 2004 @ 10:38 pm | Comment

Patrick, I appreciate it. I especially appreciate your remark about being more confused than ever re. how you feel about China. I relate 100 percent. A part of me wants to run as far away as I can, another part wants to go back so badly…. An interesting phenomenon.

April 6, 2004 @ 11:15 pm | Comment

richard, i think we share similiar views on most topics concerning china. you always speak my mind with better writing and more lucid explanation. other times i learn a lot from your blog. i’m pretty sure you will continue to bring us news about china. it’s impossible to just forget about something you’ve been compassionate about for so long. thanks for sharing your expertise ๐Ÿ™‚

April 8, 2004 @ 11:36 am | Comment

Richard,
Belatedly, would like to echo some of the sentiments made by others here. In fact, when I started blogging last summer, it was because of your blog, and a small number of others, that made me think that it was worth putting my ideas, rants, ramblings and chronic bias into a blog.
I share your views about wanting to retain a China-focused blog (I am in the process of leaving China now – hopefully temporarily) but it can be very difficult to have a good feel for what is going on if you are a long way away from it all.

I don’t always agree with what you write, however, but blogs are rapidly creating an electronic universe where people can argue their points and put forward their views peacefully and without rancour. In China, blogs are about the only place that one can get a true feel for the issues of the day. I have said before, on my blog, that I am relying less and less on the international media for my knowledge of China, and more on the blogging community.
I hope you do manage to keep writing on China. I, for one, will miss it if you do not.

– Mark

April 11, 2004 @ 10:52 am | Comment

Richard,
Thanks for your insightful writings on China. One common excuse for not having democracy in China is that Chinese population are not educated enough to make it work. This argument is used by givernment officials as well as average Chinese citizens or even intellectuals. I wonder if you can shed some light on this, or any good argument against it.

By the way, today I read the NY Times article on the high school student and I was brought to tears. There are many many Qingming Zheng’s in China, and I could have been one of them myself if I were not lucy enoough to be born 15 years earlier.

I look forward to your response.

-Eugene

August 1, 2004 @ 4:14 am | Comment

Eugene, thanks for the kind words, and I’ve already written up the story you mention.

About the old argument, “The people need to be more educated first,” it’s obviously a canard — it’s a way to hold onto power. It is groundless, like most excuses. It allows the CCP to stall on elections forever.

August 1, 2004 @ 12:10 pm | Comment

Thank you Richard,

A very good post. I share all points of view with you. I learned them all from painful experience, and now I understand more about CCP.

At the same time, I share the confusion about China with you, and with all others who have such confusion – I don’t know if there will be the day that we can really see a clear China? Maybe not, I doubt it, for many reasons… culture? tradition? CCP? the country’s unique situation?… I don’t know, but it’s sad, and especially sad for those Chinese people who are living underclass and no power to protect themselves. Wanting them to have a fair life as they are supposed to have is still a long long way to go…, if you know more about those never been seen by public truth of many many things. Power and money have been the best relatives bounded together and the most powerful to rule everything and to attract the whole nation into the sin… It is true it has become worse than ever after Deng, although economy is going upper and upper, but you’ve said the reson in your post.

I do hope more people will see the point especially Chinese people themselves, but sadly I do not see any hope that the situation can be changed in any short or in my living time, even the new generation of CCP leaders are indeed intelligent enough, determinative enough, and strong enough to make the change, I may still doubt…, sorry. That’s China – very nice ordinary people, so nice that they can believe it’s true when the visible or invisible power tells them their life is nothing but still willing to contribute all, versus the vast of very bad rulers who know only to grab for themselves and to create the environment for their grabing in the community – you mentioned this problem too. They need law, and the need the people who have the law mind even more. But who can make this happen? so sad.

September 22, 2004 @ 2:35 pm | Comment

hey.. i made my way here after yahoo-ing on Singapore Blog. and so this was how i found you, albeit it didn’t really fit the defination of Singapore blog.

i would like to say as a 3rd generation Chinese living in Singapore, many chinese in Singapore still maintain their cultural heritage and customs from China. the China that you speak about. i find it hard to stomach the criticisms that you’ve made about the CCP in China.

the CCP has made general improvements in health, trade, political, and social factors since the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911. i’m sure you will remember Yuan Shikai and Chiang Kai Shek. both whom i’m sure are more dictatorial than the CCP currently in power. the CCP has contributed to the masses living in countryside, but as leaders of a country of 1billion people, i see it as impossible to ensure the very situation all China Chinese live in. i’m glad and probably happy to say that most Chinese do not live in situations more worse off than when it was under the previous governments.

the CCP, true be told, has not made significant improvement in their political reforms. but i do not believe that you can actually blame it against them. coming from a country where the son of the founder of PAP, just took over the country, i believe that most political parties try to ensure the succession of their party’s legacy and survability of it. thus you can’t expect a party to actually threaten it’s very existence by offering full-fledged democracy.

democracy is over hyped. if democracy were really present, the army of the USA would not have stepped into the soil of Iraq or Afghanistan. and you have to think about this: democracy works in the favor of the majority. even if china were to hold a, say referendum in Xinjiang province, the majority of Chinese there would vote to remain as part of China. whereas the Ughirs, the rightful inhabitants of Xinjiang would be a minority, hence it’s voice would be useless.

Hongkong and Taiwan are clear examples on the effect of democracy in Asian societies. Asians have lived under centuries of authoritarian governments. if we follow the rules of evolution, we are “suited” to authoritarian governments. what happened when we present to them on a platter democracy? we have a case of Taiwan-nitis. Taiwan is a chinese-majority country where is undergoing political chaos and thus social. it’s parliments are no-holds-barred, and punches could be thrown at anytime. coming from Singapore, where all politicians are sqeaky clean, i personally despise the taiwanese politicians action.

i believe that while the CCP isn’t totally a masses-orientated party. i have to recognise the fact that it brought the chinese race a decade of prosperity. you have to admit that the middle class in China is growing. a phenonmenon considering the middle class were always declining in recent China history. the CCP has also prevented the disintegration of the Chinese race as we know it. and for that kudos should go to it.

the 21 demands is just but one of the many unfair treaties foreign power has exerted over the China of the past.

and as a Chinese, i can only say that i’m glad that i came from a land, who has finally be able to sustain it’s own rights. and not being under foreign hegemony anymore.

correct me if i’m wrong please. thanks alot

September 27, 2004 @ 8:12 am | Comment

Wrong on all counts, at least from my perspective. If you read my post, you’ll see I specifically make the poiint hat the decade(s) of prosperity came not from some any great deed or wisdom of the CCP — quite the contrary! For the first time they simply got the fuck out of the way of their industrious people, and of course they prospered. In fact, the CCP nearly always makes prosperity more difficult.

Chiang was a brutal dictator, a monster and mass murderer. But look at Taiwan today. It’s huge reforms came with Chiang’s death, and there is full-blown democracy, prosperity, development, etc. Why should China have to lag so far behind? Simple: the CCP retains an iron grasp on just about everything, and there is no rule of law. Corruption, repression and exploitation run rampant, and anyone who raises a voice can simply disappear. So I have very little praise for the CCP and lots of criticism.

September 27, 2004 @ 9:49 am | Comment

i’m sorry to disagree.

maybe we both differ on the defination on what democracy means, and what it brings to Asian society as a whole. and taiwan is no good example to exhort the reforms exerted by democracy.

in anycase, i would like to point out that regardless of which system the Chinese were in at any point of their history, capitalism were always outplayed by bureaucracy, be it under Communist rule, or the KMT.

September 28, 2004 @ 6:12 am | Comment

Free and Democratic China?

How is that possible when the dream of every Chinese is to enslave all other Chinese? I don’t mean this to be a joke. They always play one man takes all game, no rules, no mercy, no accountability.

October 12, 2004 @ 11:49 am | Comment

One thing to keep in mind was that political repression in South Korea and Taiwan increased during the 1970’s, which is roughly the stage I’d say that the PRC is right now. In the short run, economic prosperity allows the government to increase political control and it also encourages the population to be more docile and focus on making money.

Ultimately, however, a large middle class will simply demand more pluralism, but this tends to happen late in the game. (Late 1980’s for South Korea and early-1990’s for Taiwan.) I think that the main thing that the PRC needs to do is to increase the institutionalization of power so that things don’t totally fall apart when the revolution comes.

The thing that makes me optimistic is that people see the problem, and problems that you see generally get resolved. It’s the problems that you don’t see (like an Indian Ocean tsunami) that causes disasters to happen.

January 2, 2005 @ 1:32 am | Comment

You might be interested in ‘China without Deng’ by Goodman and Segal. They say “What we have in China is the crumbling remains of an authoritarian system ruled primarily by personality and smoke and mirrors…”
The say Beijing pretends to rule and the regions pretend to be ruled.
This fits with what some have said above.
It also fits with my own experience in the last four years in China – small scale, limited, just an English teacher interacting with the Foreign Experts Bureau and various schools and universities – where I gathered precisely this impression.

I think the problem now is not the CCP or anything else. If there’s any problem at all it is the Chinese people.

As someone said they are the world’s greatest natural capitalists.

This is deep, deep, deep within their natures.

As is the obligations to family, mother and father, etc.

As is the total disregard for what is happening to someone else, not of the family.

They don’t care for each other. They hardly care for themselves beyond the family and money making things mentioned.

I mean primitive working conditions – winter classrooms with open windows, no heating, no cupboards, no drying facilities, no hot water, stinking filthy trench in the ground toilets – all of this is accepted with total equanamity. Even by those who’ve been and experienced overseas standards and sanitation.

29 working days a month. Arbitrary cancellation of leave. Extra hours. The whole thing. They accept it.

The hardly care for themselves. A month’s work for 400 yuan, and living, sleeping on the job in a dormitory bunk bed, eight to a room. Then send all the money home to mum and dad in the village. Equanamity.

They are Spartans. 1.4billion. The idealistic beauty of the spartan lifestyle is marred somewhat when you see how it manifests in practice. Acceptance not of mere rugged possibly spiritually uplifting hardships such as those we westerners chase after, mountain climbing, outward bounding and whatever. No, acceptance rather of filth, dirt, rubbish, stench and all its concomitants. And what’s the major one of those? Lack of any appreciation of beauty whatever.

They care nothing for beauty. It has no economic value hence it doesn’t signify.

Various ritual forms are held to be beautiful by custom and they get repeated, manufactured, created, here there and everywhere and presented to, say, the westerner as examples of beauty.

Things like endlessly boring identical painstakingly manufactured (by hand) pottery.

Elaborate and wonderfully expensive looking wooden furniture in deep rich red tones which when turned upside down will turn out to have the back and underneath quite literally unfinished – often the raw wood not even planed.

Stretches of park, lawn that no one is allowed to walk on.

Stretches of water full of rubbish and stench.

Food in dining rooms where one ‘beautiful’ traditional dish may cost twenty or even a hundred times what it is worth on the street (if it were available on the street, which it is not, of course). i.e. it is savagely overpriced and the price is willingly paid because it is homage to the ideal of chinese beauty as manifest in dining. And it is a sham. Like all else.

And under all this sham – this pretence of appreciation of what we call the ‘finer things’ of life is the raw grim reality. Hundreds of millions of Chinese living lives of the grimmest and ugliest austerity and steadfastly pursuing the goal of more money – NOT beauty or finer things, simply more money – and with nil regard for their fellow citizens.

Regard for your fellow citizens is altruism. No one can afford altruism in China. And it is not the custom. It is not the heritage. It is not the way.

The only real altruism is practiced by the Army and that’s why the people would be fanatically in favour of them. When there’s a flood or fire or earthquake or any other disaster it is the army, in sandshoes and without a change of clothes, that goes there and often gives up their lives to help the people.

They do what no one else will do.

And everyone knows that.

The problem today in China is the Chinese. China has essentially been handed back to the people, finally, for the first time, with the gift of free enterprise, interaction with the rest of the world and the overt recognition that money is king. Not the king is king or the chairman is king or the emporer is king or the warlord is king but money is king.

So now the ratrace begins and they’re off to an incredible start. Good for them. What else would anyone expect or want?

Maybe nothing. Maybe everything is fine. But maybe not. Maybe ratraces are not the best thing.

In the western world we find it difficult to build a civilized and valuable place, society and we are not driven by the compulsions of the chinese nor saddled by their centuries of oppression and poverty. We were raised in a culture of relative liesure and kindness and appreciation of beauty. Yet we more and more manufacture ghettoes and a culture of violence and sick drug dependancy and lost souls.

i.e. we have no example to display to them.

So what are they going to build?

Perhaps the richest most flamboyant and glorious savage, heartless, cruel and uncaring civilization ever seen – and that’d be saying something.

February 20, 2005 @ 5:14 pm | Comment

“Our best hope is to continue to lead by example, so the new generation of leaders continues to see liberty and democracy as goals to strive for.” So true – but with what the US is doing … is that a good example?

“Chiang was a brutal dictator, a monster and mass murderer. But look at Taiwan today. It’s huge reforms came with Chiang’s death, and there is full-blown democracy, prosperity, development, etc. Why should China have to lag so far behind? Simple: the CCP retains an iron grasp on just about everything, and there is no rule of law. Corruption, repression and exploitation run rampant, and anyone who raises a voice can simply disappear. So I have very little praise for the CCP and lots of criticism.”

the fundamentals for taiwan’s prosperity was build during Chiang’s and his son’s tenure. in fact, one can argue that economy of taiwan has had deteriorated with the increasing democracy.

as for rampant corruption, repression and exploitation, India (the world’s largest democracy) is no better and in many aspects worse. but one don’t hear too much of that coz the western media and governments would hate to highlight an example where democracy has failed to deliver better lives to hundreds of millions. ditto the philippines…

my point is that democracy is not a cure all.

February 20, 2005 @ 9:35 pm | Comment

The problem with China is the Chinese people???!!!
I must have been living in a different country because I found China to full of civilised, polite and interesting people who defied all the inscrutable/uncaring/greedy stereotypes that I heard so much about.

Why do people always find that there is something “wrong” with China because it doesn’t fit their ideas of what is right and good?

February 21, 2005 @ 4:00 am | Comment

re: “democracy is not a cure all.”

yes, but wouldn’t you agree people in india and the philippines prefer democracy to dictatorship?

ts

February 21, 2005 @ 6:11 am | Comment

I’ve been studying at Bei Da since last year and while I have, at times, looked around me and just wanted to scream in frustration, I think you’ve gone too far…

While noting the growing weakness of the government and the people’s widespread apathy/distaste for it, you do not give the Chinese themselves enough credit. In their own context they have changed their lives radically in the space of a few decades, and while such development carries an edge of lawless abandon with it, our own history is not without such periods. Remember ‘The Jungle’, remember Tammany Hall, remember the Mafia, remember the Klan, remember the inversions in London where people actually suffocated just walking around in the street…western society is something to be proud of and defend, yes, but not without a cultured awareness of its sources in a long and often ugly development. I know you’re not holding it up as a panacea or whatever, but as your (our) context and background, it’s the only easy alternative to envision, and it ain’t necessarily pretty, either.

“China has essentially been handed back to the people, finally, for the first time, with the gift of free enterprise, interaction with the rest of the world and the overt recognition that money is king.”

Handed back to the people? Come on, don’t pretend the central government doesn’t still command an enormous amount of respect/fear, even if it is disproportionately because of the army. Censorship, control of the economy, crushing of dissent; all these still regularly occur. And why is money so bad? Money has created more rich people than China has ever had, and may be the first step in shattering this cursed ‘equanamity’ that bothers you. Jealousy is a good motivator, no?

“They care nothing for beauty. It has no economic value hence it doesn’t signify.”

If you truly believe beauty is just a ritual we developed, I don’t see how that makes us any better. Do we really have a cultural ‘appreciation’ for Oil of Olay that they lack? Besides, the Chinese have their own standards for how a woman should look and while they are increasingly influenced by our standards, things like foot-binding and somewhat less of a preoccupation with weight show that they are not slavishly following us in every respect.

“We were raised in a culture of relative liesure and kindness and appreciation of beauty.”

I guess the key word there is relative (and, on a very large scale, and limited timeline, I agree…), but I still think it’s silly to generalize on such a ludicrously large scale.

In summary: Many of the things you note are, in fact, very disturbing features of contemporary Chinese society, but are not unique to it, nor should they be expected to persist indefinitely. It is not fair to condemn the whole culture and people for flaws that are more likely systemic, no matter how grave they may be.

On the other hand, you may just be condemning humanity in general, in which case, well, sorry, we’ll all try harder.

February 21, 2005 @ 6:21 am | Comment

this is what it always comes down to, there are so many ugly sides to China and its not hard to find them. But there is also much beauty, hope, passion that exists and that can go unfound. The probelm is, and is not, the Chinese people. The fact that people are accepting of their fate, of the daily hardships they face is nothing new under the CCP, its the way things have been going back hundreds, thousands of years. I don’t want to go back over the “China is huge, the countryside has never changed” type argument…

The problem is simply the CCP and nothing more. The people have had their spirits between down, not just by the CCP but by the KMT, the Qing, the Ming, and on and on…However the CCP doesn’t even know which path it will take, its policy is just to make things up as it goes along with the only “principle” that is sacred is finding a way to stay in power.

February 21, 2005 @ 9:22 am | Comment

ts: “yes, but wouldn’t you agree people in india and the philippines prefer democracy to dictatorship?”

not really, that is why there are so many incidents of lawlessness. when the poor feel that they are unable to get their fair share, they would want to overturn the system. hence the continuing attraction of communism in india, the philippines and nepal.

February 21, 2005 @ 6:43 pm | Comment

“the richest most flamboyant and glorious savage, heartless, cruel and uncaring civilization ever seen – and that’d be saying something.”

Despite the other responses to Arthur Brogard’s comment, I tend agree in someplaces wholeheartedly, and in some places less so with his comment.

I don’t see, however, the Mainland Chinese becoming the most flamboyant, savage, and great civilization to the global community, because of the very qualities that Brogard’s notes, and, notes keenly I might add, although it is quite a feat for some of the commentators to stomach because it threatens that correct stance in their minds.

The Chinese are the problem in China; at times, one can observe this over and over again. Just watch them daily crossing traffic oblivious to instant death while jabbering away on their cellphones. The policeman ignoring their violations–such things may strike one as trivial but in fact, it is symptomatic of a ancient culture that obstinately has refused to develop their mindsets to deal with the modernation that is taking place in China, despite the government’s attempts, and as a result, Mainland Chinese continue to look backwards, ignorant, and at times, wretchedly stupid.

Look at the begging, the amount of poverty and misery, and look at the foreign help China receives because its own people refuse to assist their own.

One wonders if China really does succeed in its great drive to modernize, and let’s face it, the drive to modernize tends to rely on some image of expanding the knowledge of “science, technology, and economy,” if its people are so steeped in backwardness that it will merely just be another windowdressing attempt to display to the world.

The problem with window dressing attempts, though, is when the international community really steps foot on Mainland soil and sees the Mainland Chinese daily life and encounters it, then Brogard’s comment makes sense, too much sense.

Beijing in 2008 could be an interesting dissection , despite all the hoopla and the attempts of the PRC government to put on a good face for the rest of the world.

March 5, 2005 @ 6:06 pm | Comment

Yes, it is quite magical. I remind you of where I began:

You might be interested in ‘China without Deng’ by Goodman and Segal. They say “What we have in China is the crumbling remains of an authoritarian system ruled primarily by personality and smoke and mirrors…”

They say Beijing pretends to rule and the regions pretend to be ruled.

I think this is true. Only the Chinese (perhaps) can fully appreciate it.

It is all pretence. All smoke and mirrors. All mutable, flexible, transient and yet all fixed, solid and eternally Chinese.

The English have their monarchy that is no monarchy. The Chinese have their government that is no government.

Theories and opinions. Bemused observation of life and people, institutions in that incredible land.

But how about some cold facts starting with the obvious, ostensible, clear goal of China:

To build a prosperous modern society for its 1.4 billion citizens.

O.k.? We can all agree about that, surely?

Well the facts:

They don’t have the water to enable them to take a ‘civilised’ number of baths per week.

They don’t even have the water to enable the provision of modern flush toilets to every household.

They don’t have the means to provide sanitation engineering to these toilets and bathrooms if they had them.

They don’t have the power supplies to enable them to provide the ‘civilised’ amount of home power consumption per capita.

They don’t have the space to put the cars if there was a ‘civilised’ number of cars per capita.

They don’t have the ability to provide clean air for their newly ‘civilised’ citizens.

They don’t have a model to follow.

Those are just a few easily observable facts. Almost ‘off the cuff’, ‘off the top of the head’ things. Professionals would list pages of problems the Chinese would have, do have, trying to uplift 1.4billion people to western world-lookalike standard and mode of living.

The most significant of them is the last one. They don’t have a model to follow.

For two reasons:

1. Nowhere in the west has such a task with such numbers of people and such a list of problems, constraints, been even attempted.

2. Nowhere in the west is there a successful model democracy in any case. The west is NOT an example. The west is NOT good. The does NOT function well. The west does NOT know what it is doing. The future of the west is NOT assured.

You could even go as far as saying the West is in imminent danger of downfall. Like a house of cards.

So this ‘smoke and mirrors’ magical Chinese society is setting out on an overtly impossible journey to chase a myth.

I don’t think they’ll succeed.

I think they’ll tear themselves apart in the process.

They already are apart. The rich special areas on the East Coast and the poverty stricken inland.

‘One China, Two Systems’ they say – that’s mainland China and Hong Kong. A Chinese way of settling a problem we wouldn’t be able to settle.

But there’s One China Two Systems before that. There’s the gulf between rich and poor – agricultural and urban. And it is widening quickly.

This government is working as hard as it can, I think. They are doing good things as fast as they can, I think. I think the Chinese have a good government, given the situation.

They are trying to urbanise the whole country as fast as they can – this is their simple solution to the city/country rift.

Unfortunately the urbanised villagers are then worse off than they were in the village. Now they have nowhere to sleep when they can’t pay the rent. Now they cannot grow anything to eat at all when hungry.

Chinas strength – like that in Cuba – was, to my mind, the village society. A billion Chinese feeding themselves, housing themselves, organising themselves, looking after themselves.

Now come the western influence, the western knowledge, the idea of a materialistic, modern, consumer world and the village looks as it is – old, dirty, decrepit, poor – and everyone wants out.

And when they get out we’ll have urban slums, limitless urban slums. China will be destroyed there and then.

On the surface it will be glitter and gloss. Underneath it will be poverty, hopelessness and oppression.

That’s my sad prognosis. And why? Because that has been the progress of all western societies.

Because we need another way. Mindless consumerism, corporatism, is not the way, it is a sterile, heartless, cruel and stupid way.

Our current governments do not provide leadership into a new world. They simply entrench us further in the failings of the old world.

They are slaves to the doctrines of ‘corporatism’, of rational economics, of market forces – of money for money’s sake.

Read John Stanford Saul to appreciate what corporatism is doing to the planet.

In closing a quick aside regarding Communism and America.

China is not communist Americans are often laughable in their fear of communism and even more laughable in what they take to be communism and ‘communist threat’. They commit murder and atrocities all over this globe in the name of this silliness.

China is not a communist state engaged upon some diabolical plot to bring down the west and enslave it forever in some communist slavery.

June 4, 2005 @ 8:52 pm | Comment

We must all keep an eye on Microsoft, Google and Yahoo and make sure that they uphold freedom of information and speech in EVERY country in which they operate. These companies should be answerable and accountable to the people of the world.

June 12, 2005 @ 2:25 am | Comment

So guys, when will China invade Kazakhstan to preserve an important source of oil for its own use?

July 3, 2005 @ 5:59 pm | Comment

Rich, indeed you can’t be too critical of the CCP. That SARS whisteblower – Jiang Yanyong. What did they do with him when he wrote a letter to the Politburo asking them to rehabilitate the Tiananmen protestors? Why ship him off to be re-educated.

China is a great country but it deserves a much better government……

July 14, 2005 @ 7:00 pm | Comment

I posted this on my own web site:
Wal-Mart and China have teamed up to help build us a โ€œNew World,โ€ one in which cheap junk is yours to own, but youโ€™ll pay for it with โ€œrolled back wages.โ€ What we now have is the sweat-shop king united with the worlds last fake communist giant.
The TVโ€™s and other products you buy where we are told that prices are rolled back are rolled back because Chinese workers earn about 50 cents an hour, or as Time reported in โ€œWal-Mart Nation,โ€ June27, 2005, $100 a month to make products.
But donโ€™t feel left out, according to the article China has allowed Wal-Mart the opportunity to invade Chinaโ€™s and is promoting its โ€œconsumer vs. workerโ€ philosophy. According to the article โ€œThe worlds largest retailer isnโ€™t just buying-and selling- stuff in Chine. It has become a major force for change.โ€
What does that really mean? Time had a number of special articles on China telling many of us what we already know- that the country is a kind of โ€œfree-market Stalinist state.โ€ That is โ€“ most of the political repression of Joseph Stalinโ€™s Soviet Union, without any of the social benefits he provided to make life better for the common man.
Although they adopted a โ€œfree-wheeling- free-marketโ€ system that lets people enjoy US style affluence, Time pointed out that the affluence is not uniform. Under A New China Rises,โ€ Time pointed to individuals who have been left behind by Chinaโ€™s market economy.
Then thereโ€™s the political side of things. Time admits there still is no legal opposition to the Communist Party and criticizing it can lead to either imprisonment or a marginalized existence were a person becomes โ€œA non-person.โ€ Time gave such an example in โ€œThe Last Frontier, Almost anything goes these days-but you still canโ€™t oppose the Communist Party. Will China ever really be free?โ€
One thing that Time leaves out is that it is just as illegal to be a left-wing Marxists as it is to be a so-called โ€œrightists.โ€ Since the Death of Mao Zedong, the far right has arrested and jailed and kept out of site any of the old โ€œleft-guard.โ€ Under Mao, both factions had the right to exist and did exist all the way to his death. Mao believed in the Taoist principle that the unity of opposite was required to keep harmony. He favored the left, but allowed the rightist to keep their positions of power.
Today the left faction of the Party has bee completely suppressed and made illegal. It has been wiped out of the government all together. One example of a person who stood their ground and defended his beliefs was Zhang Chunqiao. He was arrested after the โ€œGang-of-fourโ€ trials. He refused to denounce his politics so he was sentenced to death. The sentence was commuted to life-imprisonment. He remained unrepentant and spent the rest of his life in prison. See Revolution, May 22, 2005.
China has re-written its own history. The government released a book in1992 and re-released it in 1996, called Mao Zedong Man, Not God, by Quan Yanchi. It is mostly positive about the countryโ€™s โ€œfounderโ€ as if he were a second George Washington. But in the end it talks about the Cultural Revolution:
โ€œMao did not find everything about the Communist Party or the nation which he had founded to his satisfaction, and he always tried to โ€œdo something to rectify it.โ€ In my opinion, this is one of the reasons why he initiated the โ€œcultural revolution.โ€ Unfortunately for the Chinese nation this โ€œsomethingโ€ which he did, turned out to be a mistake which triggered ten years of catastrophe.โ€
There are also plenty of Chinese living in the US who have cashed in on the anti-cultural revolution ban wagon. Most of the books, such as Born Red: A Chronicle of the Cultural Revolutionby Yuan Gao or China’s Son : Growing Up in the Cultural Revolution by D A Chen are filled with horror stories of brutality and senseless violence. Of course Americans are getting in on this bandwagon also, such as with China’s Cultural Revolution, 1966-1969: Not a Dinner Party (East Gate Reader)by Michael Schoenhals (Editor). Anything positive about the Cultural Revolution is not printable today. The cold war is over and anything anti-socialist, pro-capitalist, sells as revised history. V.I. Lenin is just as bad as Joseph Stalin. The entire Spanish Civil War was directed by Stalin (anarchist are left out as if they didnโ€™t exists). The assertions are ridicules, but the winners wrote them and our history got revised.
The Cultural Revolution was much like our civil rights struggles in the 1960s. China was fighting classism and trying to empower the powerless. There are always violent reactions when people feel their privileges are under attack. That happened here in the south, as Blacks fought for their rights. For the other side of the Cultural Revolution see: โ€œThe Truth About the Cultural Revolution,โ€ Revolutionary Worker #1251, August 29, 2004.

August 14, 2005 @ 10:11 am | Comment

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