Ideology Matters: Parsing Recent Changes in China’s Intellectual Landscape

Rogier Creemers is the author of this weekend’s guest commentary. Dr. Creemers is a Rubicon Scholar at the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, an Associate at the China Centre of Oxford University and the editor the indispensable China Copyright and Media blog.

In recent weeks, the ideological drumbeat has been growing ever louder across China. After the crackdown on social media that started in 2013, late 2014 saw the targeting of the academy. It started in November, with an open letter in Liaoning Daily, which accused academics of portraying China in overly disparaging terms. Professors, it was argued, did not pay sufficient respect to China’s history, to the specificity of its political system and to the Party. In December, Xi Jinping gave a speech at a conference on Party building in higher education, in which he called on universities to keep a tighter grip on ideological rectitude. Reports emerged of a secret missive, nicknamed Document No. 30, which demanded the eradication of Western ideas from campuses. Then, in one week, the Party Centre released three documents outlining a comprehensive restructuring of China’s intellectual institutions. A first imposed new demands on ideological research and teaching in higher education, a second outlined plans to develop political think tanks, while a third – another Xi speech – stressed the importance of dialectical materialism as a methodology for addressing political questions.

One way of looking at this latest campaign is by framing it in the broader ideological rectification and discipline campaign that Xi Jinping has deployed since his accession in November 2012. When he took over as General Secretary, Xi Jinping found a Party and a state in chaos: corruption had become endemic, and the Party organization was still reeling from the Bo Xilai fallout. Social media and the Internet had severely challenged the Party’s ability to manage information. Observers both inside and outside China denounced Hu Jintao’s tenure as a “lost decade”, and that democratization and openness had become an inevitable necessity for China’s further development.

Rather than catering to these demands, however, Xi has methodically neutralized opposition across the political spectrum. When liberal reformers called for “constitutional governance” (xianzheng) at the end or 2012, the leadership countered with Document No. 9, another secret circular that identified seven crucial ideological dangers, including the promotion of Western constitutionalism, universal values, civil society, neoliberal economics, freedom of the press, historical nihilism and challenging Socialism with Chinese characteristics. The Internet and the academy were singled out as the two main venues where these ideological risks materialized.

The Internet was targeted first. In the second half of 2013, a protracted crackdown took down the online celebrities and opinion leaders that had become known as Big Vs. New regulations imposed jail sentences on the publication of harmful information, if it were retweeted more than 500 times. This vastly reduced the attraction of public communication forums such as Weibo, and hastened an exodus towards more private applications, most notably WeChat. The Internet governing order was consolidated in 2014 with the establishment of the Central Leading Group for Cyberspace Affairs and the expansion of the Cyberspace Administration of China. Public WeChat accounts were put under stricter controls, real-name registration systems began to be more aggressively implemented across various areas, and online video and literature came under closer scrutiny. Concerns about foreign infiltration through computer software and hardware are currently being addressed through import substitution measures and security reviews.

Tackling the academy was thus the next logical step. According to the January Central Committee Document, universities are to put a higher priority on teaching (research is only mentioned insofar it concerns Marxist and Socialist theory), strengthen a common ideological basis and enhance Party leadership in higher education. Political theory courses and textbooks are to be centralized, and new evaluation and performance management systems introduced, in order to standardize the curriculum. Teaching staff will be required to participate in regular ideology training and study sessions, and to spend time engaging in “social practice” outside campuses. In the weeks since this document was published, the heads of all elite education institutions have published pledges of allegiance in various Party media.

There are quite a few reasons why the academy is targeted. First, it has internationalized more than any other professional group in China. Many well-regarded Chinese professors have either been educated abroad, or have spent considerable time outside China as visiting researchers. This considerable time spent living in a different political environment has provided them with a more nuanced understanding of social and political organization in other countries than can be gained in short trips. Second, they have considerable input into policymaking processes. China’s technocratic governance mode has often valued expert input more than public participation. This, therefore, provides academics with avenues to transform imported ideas into reality. Third, “patriotic worrying” is a part of Chinese intellectual tradition, which compels academics to relentlessly search out flaws in the China of the present in order to perfect the China of the future. Fourth, as educators, they are crucial in shaping the worldview of a new generation. However, the current generation of millennials (balinghou and jiulinghou) is already seen as rebellious and hedonistic, and it seems the leadership has decided that they’d better not be further confused. Remember: political protests in China over the last century, from May Fourth to Tiananmen, have tended to originate from universities. [Editors note: Pang Xianzhi, the former Director of the CPC Central Committee Party Literature Research Center, recently said this explicitly in 关于意识形态问题的一些看法, an essay that was republished on People’s Daily Online. Pang wrote “历史经验证明,出事往往从高校而起.” ]

Previous administrations had tended to accommodate and tolerate intellectual gadflies. Perhaps they preferred critical voices inside the tent; perhaps it was recognized that open debate (albeit in closed circles) would enable the emergence of new ideas and suggestions for policy reform. Certainly, foreign academics attending Chinese conferences are often surprised by the vigour and the robustness of the debate. That debate has now been strictly circumscribed. Xi’s rhetorical push of the Chinese Dream, and his call for more self-confidence about China’s unique path, buttressed by “the theory and the system of Socialism with Chinese characteristics” have been oriented at making clear once and for all that the core elements of the Western liberal democratic order are utterly unsuited to the Chinese context, and that no illusions to the contrary should be harboured. Instead, Xi proposes a nativist-exceptionalist approach, which focuses on – a politically correct version of – Chinese history and politics.

In short, this ideological push is primarily aimed at curtailing the independence and autonomy of Chinese academy, imposing ideology, and refocusing the task of universities toward teaching, rather than research. The latter task, as the second Central Committee document seems to suggest, will be shifted towards a batch of to-be-established think tanks. Specifically, this plan for their development seeks to enhance think tanks’ role in enhancing the Party’s governing capacity at home, and its soft power abroad. In particular, Party schools, scientific academies such as the Chinese Academy of Science and the Chinese Academy of Social Science and administrative academies are tasked with developing institutes providing policy recommendations and consultancy, to be operational by 2020.

In an interesting manner, this move not only reduces the importance of the higher education sector, it can also be interpreted as a move to centralize decision-making powers. Hitherto, the specialist knowledge needed to make policy decisions was mostly found within ministries. This gave them considerable power vis-à-vis the central leadership, as well as ample opportunities for obfuscation, to deflect demands from higher up and shirk responsibility. The successive new leading groups and commissions created in the wake of the 3rd Plenum took a considerable chunk of policy responsibilities away from the state bureaucracy, but therefore require comprehensive knowledge and information input. Furthermore, research by bodies whose primary allegiance is not their supervisory ministry can function as an additional layer of internal oversight and accountability, as these think tanks will be evaluated on the basis of the utility of their reports to the central leadership and their staff organizations, rather than individual departments.

Why, then, does Xi Jinping stress the importance of dialectical materialism? Does he actually believe in Marxist theory? Roderick MacFarquhar, the doyen of Chinese political scholarship, suggests Xi is mostly interested in Leninism: the organization of centralized power. Certainly, the way in which Xi has reorganized the central Party organization and seems to understand the importance of information in bureaucratic processes suggests he is a shrewd political operator. From that angle, invoking dialectical materialism allows Xi to do two things. First, it is a direct reference to the intellectual lineage of the Party. Dialectical materialism and its associated doctrine of contradictions were key elements of Mao Zedong Thought, and their revival demonstrates a further turn away from foreign models and approaches. Second, it allows Xi Jinping to hold out a carrot to researchers and policy wonks. Simply put, the message is that if they want to get the ear of the central leadership, analysts should frame their message in a particular manner, limiting the ways in which questions can be framed, which methods can be used in addressing them, and which kind of recommendations can be made. In particular, it stresses that research should focus on material issues, not on philosophical or ideological debates.

The renewed emphasis on Party theory can also be seen against a broader background of relegitimizing CCP rule. Earlier in this space, Tim Heath argued that a move away from revolutionary politics led the Party to seek legitimacy through the claim that it alone possesses the intellectual method that can ensure good governance and “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”. It must therefore continually demonstrate its ability to define a discourse of proprietary terms, concepts and methods, as much as its capability to develop and implement sound policies. In many cases, this discourse is hollow, vapid or fails to stand up to rigorous evaluation – yet another reason to ensure that academics are muzzled.

What are the implications of these initiatives on Chinese governance, and how should outside observers respond? Certainly, Xi Jinping is playing for high stakes, and there is an army of critics who suggest we are witnessing the last throes of a waning regime. In his relentless pursuit of discipline, austerity and rectitude inside and outside of the Party, Xi has made life rather more difficult for a considerable number of people, and it is not impossible a day of reckoning might come sooner or later. Such events, if they were to happen, could well be catastrophic. The Party is so enmeshed in all aspects of social, economic and political life in China that it is nearly impossible to conceive of the country without it. In any case, it is difficult for any political system to keep up with the levels of stress we are seeing in China for a prolonged period of time. Sooner or later, Xi will need to preside over a return to some sort of normalcy.

Inevitable democratization has essentially been the mainstream scenario in Western China-watching circles since the Eighties. La Chine sera démocratique ou elle ne sera pas. But what if this is wrong? What if Xi succeeds creating a model of non-democratic statecraft that is able to generate political stability, administrative efficiency and material well-being. To many, this is unimaginable. Yet prudence dictates that we imagine it. A political crisis in China would reverberate around the world because of its magnitude. But a successful China might, in the end, provide a more profound challenge to the outside world. At least, China watchers should attempt to take Xi’s ideological claims seriously, rather than dismiss them as mere political rhetoric. They may be around longer than many China watchers might hope or think.

 

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25 thoughts on “Ideology Matters: Parsing Recent Changes in China’s Intellectual Landscape

  1. Taking ideology seriously is an excellent recommendation. A good place to start may be to remember that dialectical materialism has much deeper roots than Mao, and is a foreign idea. So the renewed emphasis on ideology need not be seen as either xenophobic, nationalist or Maoist. And there is a rich traditional of debate and dispute among Marxist intellectuals about dialectical materialism, so stressing ideology does not necessarily imply obsequious obedience. It is possible that Xi Jinping is interested in developing a way of understanding the world that is not based on the same ideological assumptions that govern the thinking of what might be described, in Chinese Marxist terms, as a U.S.-led capitalist world order. The Obama administration is fond of talking about “rules” and in emphasizing ideology Xi and the CCP he leads may be attempting to mobilize the intellectual and academic resources at their disposal to critique those rules, which, on many levels—environmental, human security, social justice—are seen to be failing a good percentage of the global population. They are not just inappropriate for China, in such a view. Then again, Xi’s grasp for control of the ideological debate may indeed be a petty, cynical or fearful reaction to perceived threats from an intellectual elite that has already rejected Marxism, and its worldview, in favor of the ideology, and the rules, of the U.S.-led world order. Thanks for posting!

  2. Well put. After 50 years of observing China’s internal affairs I came to the conclusion that Xi is the new emperor-in-chief and left it at that. How long he will last is another matter. I’m sure a lot of his opponents in China are sharpening their cell phones and ipods to bring him down.

      • He may have internal party opponents – officials who fear they’ll be next to be found to be corrupt for example. And such people have far more weight than ordinary citizens.

      • How do you arrive at such a figure? Even the government has no clue what the real level of support for its governance and policies are in such a closed and non-transparent system.

        There is a mixture of relish in the anti-corruption campaign against the rich fat cats, because that goes down well in any country, especially in China, but also severe doubt and fatigue about the same-old politics and propaganda in China.

        The confidence in Xi’s new path quickly starts to erode in private conversations, if you take the time to carefully phrase questions in a gradually probing manner. For the time being, I think many people are just too scared to comment critically of Emperor Xi because he is on a war path against political opponents. This is not a state of normalcy for China. A few months back, I came to the realisation that Xi will be creating more and more enemies and that it may be his eventual undoing Since then, my own thinking has been bolstered by many famous political pundits in this regard.

        If Xi is so confident, then why he is embarking on such a massive witch hunt and a huge crackdown on freedom of expression and learning? He makes Hu Jintao look like a liberal by comparison. I believe that Hu Jintao understood that there was a line that you don’t cross in terms of heavy interference into people’s personal lives and finances, provided no serious challenges were made public toward the dictatorial regime. Xi Jinping seems to fancy himself as some sort of messianic figure. He is waging a war for the existence of the party, but the party has never been in greater control. As he chases his tail, he will continue to build resentment and sow the seeds for future dissent, because there is always a reaction to high pressure politics, even in authoritarian states like China.

        Is he sincere, perhaps? Is he corrupt as well, absolutely, but he may not see it that way, as he has a sense of entitlement of being born into the ‘red aristocracy’. Has he lost touch with the current reality of the world and the development of society in China? The answer, I believe, is a resounding yes.

        • According to a recent World Values Survey, 96.7 percent of Chinese expressed confidence in their government, compared to only 37.3 percent of Americans. Likewise, 83.5 percent of Chinese thought their country is run for all the people, rather than for a few big interest groups, whereas only 36.7 percent of Americans thought the same of their country. With this relatively higher trust, China’s government and enterprises are better able to enact and implement strict policies that promote saving and growth. http://www.wvsevsdb.com/wvs/WVSData.jsp?Idioma=I

          Approval:

          According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, “Nine in ten Chinese are happy with the direction of their country (87%), feel good about the current state of their economy (91%) and are optimistic about China’s economic future (87%).” 2010.

          http://www.pewglobal.org/2010/06/17/obama-more-popular-abroad-than-at-home/6/ (How Pew Conducts Surveys:

          http://pewresearch.org/pubs/2285/surveys-abroad-polling)

          Trust:

          According to the Edelman 2012 Trust Barometer, 80–90% of Chinese trust their government, the highest trust level of any national government.

          http://www.slideshare.net/EdelmanAPAC/2012-edelman-trust-barometer-china-results

          Press Freedom:

          http://www.inpraiseofchina.com/2014/07/press-freedom-china-vs-usa.html

          Incidentally, In 2008, Reporters without Borders ranked Singapore as 144th out of 173 surveyed countries in terms of freedom of the press.[19] The Singapore Government said it is not ashamed of its low rank for press freedom because it has achieved top ratings for economic freedom and prosperity.[20] Instead of subscribing to the Western press model, it believes that a non-adversarial press can report accurately and objectively. A recent Gallup poll found that 69% of Singaporeans trusted their media.

          Can You Criticize the Government of China?

          Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government

          http://www.inpraiseofchina.com/2014/09/can-you-criticize-the-chinese-government.html

          Corruption:

          China Gets Passing Mark in its Fight Against Corruption

          http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/728342.shtml

          Pew Research just came out with 2013 nations survey. Pew Charitable Trusts found that 88% of the Chinese surveyed are happy with the economic conditions [compared to the 33% for the U.S., and 15% for the U.K.]. Only 52% say inequality is a very big problem [47% in the U.S. and 50% in the UK]. Less than 10% of Chinese could not afford their food last year [compared to over 20% for the USA, and over 15% for the UK].

          • Whilst the studies you cite are excellent – the sad fact remains that when you ask someone who lives in a relatively oppressive regime whether or not they approve of the regime, they are likely to say yes, for fear of consequenses their response became public.

            I’m afraid I don’t see any government confidence survey in China as worth the paper it is written on. In my experience most Chinese people I speak to don’t really care about the government.

          • So what you’re saying is that the brutal dictatorship in China is universally admired and adored by the Chinese. At the same time, we Westerners are unhappy, starving and totally mistrust our governments. And yet, the vast majority of wealthy Chinese have foreign passports and many dream of living abroad. When I mention I’m from Canada, quite a few Chinese people will say, “What a great place! Why would you choose to live here in China?”

            Selective surveys can be used to bolster any viewpoint. Obviously any survey regarding China cannot be considered to be verifiable. China barely allows NGOs and journalists to carry out their work comprehensively, so these surveys you quote are highly suspect.

            If you really believe that the average Chinese citizen is that happy and impressed with the government, you are either extremely naive or simply no zero about China.

            Having lived here for 20 years and being fluent in the language, both spoken and written, having worked in Chinese government work units, having undertaken post-graduate studies together with mostly Chinese fellow classmates here in two universities in Beijing (including Beijing University) and having married a local and even lived together with my Chinese relatives under one roof, not to mention meeting thousands and thousands of Chinese individuals from beggars to fairly high level officials, I can tell you that these surveys are not an accurate reflection of Chinese attitudes toward the government. Many people here (I live in China and studied Chinese politics and Sinology) are just as cynical and distrusting of their government, if not much more so, than the average Western. The difference is that negative or critical reporting and discourse is allowed in free countries like ours, whereas almost anything critical of the Chinese government is disallowed and deleted or confiscated and the people expressing such views are often severely punished and/or disappeared and, in some cases, also killed. Sometimes even their relatives will be punished or placed under house arrest, as well, and are often denied access to medical care when they become ill. In other words, the government may even let your spouse die because of something critical you said about them.

            Secondly, Chinese tend to present a united front toward foreigners in showing their pride and patriotism at being Chinese, which is understandable given the heavy anti-foreign propaganda in the schools and in the media, but also given the fact of foreign aggression against China for hundreds of years by the Mongols, Manchus and later Japan and the West. This, however, is a flimsy exterior which breaks down quickly when you are able to speak their language, debate these points with them and present counter-arguments and information about political and historical information about their country that even they did not know because of the heavily-biased and propaganda-based education system and society they grew up in.

            There is an aversion to speak ill of their own country to strangers and especially to foreigners. Many Chinese feel it is appropriate to crticise their culture, society and government amongst themselves, but feel these issues should not be brought up in front of foreigners. Quite a few Chinese also believe that foreigners do not even have the right to debate about Chinese politics or present critical views with respect to China in any respect. You will find this tendency is even more intense among Koreans, however, if you are able to establish that you know what you’re talking about with respect to Chinese history and politics, you will discover that many of them will agree with your criticisms and may often present a more cynical and negative viewpoint of their own government. While I am highly critical of the current regime, I do usually try to offer suggestions and express hope for the future, while some of my Chinese interlocutors have simply resigned themselves to the fact that they have no political rights and that nothing will change, so there is no point in even discussing the matter.

            Having said that, there is always hope that things will change for the better whenever a new leader steps into power. Usually after a few years, people realise that the dictatorship is still corrupt and refuses to allow any political freedoms. As for Xi, we are beginning to see the dissatisfaction with his political regression and further tightening of the screws on rights and freedoms. Fear is an exhausting emotion and it often turns to anger as a natural defense mechanism. His enemies are increasing by the day.

            Having said that, Chinese people, like people around the world have a whole range of views. Some are one hundred supportive and happy, others wish that the United States could come and colonise and civilise China (most likely in a fit of cynical despair and with a bit of sarcastic humour thrown in for good measure). Some are even openly positive and admiring of the Japanese, which is almost tantamount to traitorous treason in China.

            Finally, many Chinese have little knowledge or experience outside the strictly controlled confines of a propaganda-based society, so they simply believe that the government news that the world is in chaos and turmoil and that China is stronger, brighter and better than ever. A Chinese say describes these people very well: 井底之蛙 (a frog at the bottom of the well). The frog at the bottom of the well can only see a tiny patch of sky and thinks that its well is the grandest and most wonderful place to be.

            I suppose the same could be said for many Russians living under Putin’s parallel universe of propaganda reality and state-controlled media. I am paraphrasing from a famous Russian-Ukrainian writer in the previous sentence.

            One of my Chinese friends recently informed me of a new Internet term to mock China’s political system, by referring to China as 西朝鲜 or West Korea (meaning that China is a bigger version of North Korea).

          • Though the Chinese and Russian governments are chosen by completely different procedures, both are wildly popular with their citizens. Doesn’t it seem odd to you that both are evil, yet both are peaceful; and prosperous?

            Your views are consonant with Fox News and the US Department of State. You’re hanging out with the wrong crowd if you live in China, too.

          • Sorry to disappoint you Godfree, but I am a left-leaning social democrat. Secondly, you’re statement that both Russia and China are evil is putting words in my mouth. Those are your words, not mine. China and Russia are nations, therefore since they are not people, they cannot be attributed with human traits. A basic logical error.

            Secondly, what possesses you to believe that Russia and China are peaceful? Both countries have active and massive police state apparatuses to suppress their people whenever challenged or when their people demand greater rights or justice. Again, what do you mean by prosperous? There a lot of poor Russians and Chinese and far fewer wealthy ones. The Gini co-efficient (rich-and-poor gap) in China is one of the highest in the entire world. The world has also seemed to have forgotten about the destitute poor in many parts of Western China, with no proper access to education and medicine and very little prospect of rising out of extreme poverty

            Russia is peaceful? What planet are you on? Invading and annexing another country’s territory is the exact opposite of peaceful.

            As for China, it has had serious disputes with many of its neighbours such as the Philippines and has engaged in wars with Taiwan, Vietnam, India and Russia since the founding of Communist China in 1949.

            More recently it violated Vietnam’s maritime sovereignty by parking its ships 60 miles off the Vietnamese to search for oil and is occupying an island some 40 miles off the coast of the Philippines, which again is another violation of that country’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone under a treaty signed by China.

            A few years ago, the government instigated widespread anti-Japanese riots which resulted in deaths, injuries and massive economic losses for many local businesses. When the protesters started to show support for Bo Xilai and waving Mao posters, the government got scared and started arresting people in order to shut it down.

            The state-run media daily churns out strongly anti-foreign and anti-western rhetoric.

            If that is peaceful, I’d hate to see your definition of belligerent and hostile.

            I was just sharing my informed opinion after living here for the last 20 years and having had political discussions with thousands of Chinese from all walks of life from the very poor to party members and officials. I guess by the wrong crowd, you mean an entire cross-section of Chinese society?

  3. What are the implications of this new ideological paradigm for China’s continued economic development? Is it possible to import foreign science and technologies completely divorced from the values and ideals that underlie them? Can China become a truly innovative economy if it prioritises “teaching over research”?

  4. The same rectification is going on in Russia, for the same reason: the West has begun its aggressive war on both countries, and national ideology needs to be strengthened for the fight. We will rue the day that we started this war, for it will end badly for us.

    • What war are you referring to? China is threatening its neighbours and Russia has invaded the Ukraine. Meanwhile, the West has been unusually muted and subdued in its response to real and potential threats to global stability and security. If anything, China and Russia are challenging the current world order and this will not benefit either the West or these two countries.

  5. I’d go for “petty, cynical or fearful.” Very few Marxists over the past century-plus have taken dialectical materialism seriously while sitting atop the world’s rapidly developing capitalist economy. I wonder if Mao ever did–esp. as he watched millions starving in the 1950s while his own paunch grew. Xi is only the most recent in a long line of cynical (there’s that word again) CCP leaders holding onto power by his fingernails. No need to over-intellectualize.

  6. History is the best judge. We’ll know in few years whether or not the steps taken were right or wrong.

  7. “The Party is so enmeshed in all aspects of social, economic and political life in China that it is nearly impossible to conceive of the country without it.” – It’s not hard at all, just visit Taiwan.

    • Very true! Taiwan has been able to preserve Chinese quality far better than under the chaotic, Soviet clone regime in Mainland China, all the while having a viable and vibrant democracy. It is also more important to world culture and more cosmopolitan, with higher standards of education. If Chinese people were given a choice, they would likely prefer to have a multi-party system where the government was accountable to the people and under the control of the rule of law.

  8. Does anyone disagree with the author that Secretary Xi is not a Marxist but rather a Leninist? That he cares about control and power, not about “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs”? That seems pretty obvious to me.

  9. I quite believe that Xi is attracted to Leninism incl the repression apparatus to keep control as he tames and domesticates his huge beast. Xi is safe as long as the Party delivers broad wealth year over year and the Party can subdue the growing diverse centers of wealth (aka power). Infighting must intensify whan times go south and they will eventually. That is when only a Leninist purge of all relevant power centers will retain control for the Party top leaders and prevent China coming apart as it has so often in its history. Democracy is no alternative as it eternally fails to deliver stringent leadership in times of crisis. However, democracy is the best means of trading off legitimate interests on a low level under conditions of stability, wealth and education. These exist in China’s wealthy regions where democracy will grow. But below a Party roof – in the end justified by guns.

  10. Thanks to Professor Creemer for his survey of China’s intellectual landscape.

    Hovever, his survey is incomplete focusing as it does almost exclusively on Xi’s efforts to reorganize Chinese society, but leaving out swaths of dissent, and forces of opposition, including elements within the party. Most of these forces are hidden, e.g. members of the elite (the PLA included) with a vested interest in the corrupt status quo, or openly suppressed , e.g. members of the New Citizens’ Movement, Student Movement in Hong Kong, Uighurs, Christians, etc. In fairness, how could anyone accurately survey the extent of this largely subterranean sector of China’s intellectual and political landscape? That said, we know the important sector exists, and cannot be ignored in a general survey of the landscape, at least if we want an accurate picture. But, not knowing does makes predictions about Xi’s potential for success in his grand if not grandiose enterprise all the more speculative.

    I believe the answer to that question lies in the hearts and minds of
    the Chinese people; of students who “jump the wall,” learn something about the outside world, but return to dreary hours of political indoctrination that passes for “higher education” in Xi’s planned Brave New World; of educated parents who look through the polluted haze and know there is a better life for their children; of villagers who trek to the cities to eke out a living, leaving their children behind to an empty nest; of reform-minded academics educated abroad who return to an intellectual straightjacket; of cynical PLA officers and government officials who lose their commissions and fortunes in the latest corruption takedown;and the list goes on and on….

    At some point China’s already simmering colletive misery may come to a boil. Or, Xi may succeed in his experiment to transform living human beings into the Borg. In my opinion, the first alternative is the better outcome.

  11. “What if Xi succeeds creating a model of non-democratic statecraft that is able to generate political stability, administrative efficiency and
    material well-being.”

    Well, to me it looks like Xi and his predecessors have already achieved this. And many countries are looking at China in the hope for a better government recipe than Western’s one.

    But if we dig a bit deeper in Chinese history, we can see two things: Most of Chinese philosophy has been about government recipes, we should not be surprised to see it reappear today. Secondly, in fact, “Chinese values” not only do exists, but they are not in direct contradiction with Western values. Liberalism, if understood as secularism, freedom of thought and economic freedom, is compatible with Confucean values. The Chinese meritocracy so highly regarded by Voltaire and the likes is not very far from the fundemmentals of democracy, and human rights.

    We should remember that not so far in the past, European countries were ruled by religion, which was just a nicer word for brain washing, and aristocracy, which stole and kept politcal power for centuries.

    Maybe the future will tell me wrong, but my guess is that countries where the civil law is decided by a religion are much further away from Western values than China.

    So I mostly disagree with the pessimism of this article. Most Chinese people I know hope for a better China, for the rule of law, for a peaceful coexistence with other countries. And to them Xi is able to lead China –a very big boat– in this direction. They know how broken and dirty the engine is, and are thankful is someone is cleaning it, even if it means some increased slowness in the cruise.

  12. The current leadership seems to suffer from a severe case of amnesia considering not less than half a decade ago, China wasn’t prospering under Mao’s ideological dictatorship and attempts to bring Lenin’s socialist writings to life, but in fact under the innovation of farmers in the countryside who used explicitly private means to improve their livelihood and gradually move towards an agricultural system that was strong enough to provide support to the nationwide industrialization effort–it began with some pretty Western concepts, rejected by the Party initially, then deemed indispensable, then clamped down on again (hello FDI in the 90s…).

    The same story can be applied to the recent tightening control over freedom of academic discussion and the internet. I think we can all foresee an even less internationally integrated society if this isn’t just a phase in the official agenda. It feels like China wants to be ruler of the world and do it from another planet.

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