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    China and the world according to China's intellectuals

    continued from "Facts about China that may surprise you"
    It is always worth reading what Chinese intellectuals write. While their freedom of speech has declined dramatically over the last decade, their analyses offer an interesting balance between government thinking and the views of ordinary people.

    There are two strands in what Jilin Xu, professor of history at East China Normal University in Shanghai, has been preaching about China. One is that the Chinese are particularly scared of "chaos", and therefore will always choose the certainty of order over the uncertainty of disorder. It is pointless to offer them an alternative that is less "orderly" than what they have. The other one is an unashamed defense of "high culture" against the encroachment of mass culture in the age of digital information, a view grounded in the principle that the most revered individual should be the Confucian scholar-official and that society should be led by such individuals, not by mass phenomena. Like most modern philosophers, Xu is worried that modern China has no moral values. Mao's cultural revolution destroyed many Confucian values and replaced them with communist values, but then Mao's regime was abandoned and Deng replaced it with pragmatism and no ethical foundations. Now China is an odd case of extreme materialism incapable of believing in either its traditional values or Western values. Weiwei Zhang, a professor of political science at Fudan University in Shanghai, is another apologist of China's Confucian culture and critic of mass culture. He views today's consumerism and materialism as a frontal attack against the noble tradition of Confucian ethics, and therefore a threat to Chinese civilization. He also reminds foreigners that the Chinese mind is shaped by four characteristics that few nations can match: China's "super-large population, super-vast territory, super-long traditions, and super-rich culture."

    Several philosophers think that China's current government is ideal. Hui Wang, perhaps China's best-known intellectual, argues that the Communist Party has been shaped by the people, not viceversa, and that is what makes it the legitimate leader of the nation.

    Shaoguang Wang, another famous intellectual, has claimed that democracy should not be viewed as "every vote counts the same" (a system in which money tends to win because it can influence many votes) but as "the government satisfies the will of the people".

    Duanhong Chen, professor of law at Peking University, views the state as a security system that must guarantee the safety of both the individual and the nation (that's his reading of Hobbes). The constitution of a country is a "law of national self-preservation." He praises Abraham Lincoln for launching into a bloody Civil War against the secessionists (Chen quotes competently from a speech delivered by Lincoln on 4 March 1861). A consequence of his thinking is that no part of China should be allowed to secede (read Hong Kong and Taiwan). He argues that nations evolved through four steps of "loyalty" required from citizens culminating with constitutional loyalty. (Video of a talk by Chen Duanhong, and his keynote address delivered at the "2020 Constitution Day Seminar", held in December 2020 in Hong Kong) Yang Gan is one of the thinkers who encourages a merge and synthesis of Confucian philosophy, Mao's revolutionary thinking and Deng's reformist thinking.

    Xuetong Yan of Tsinghua University, applying the millennial Confucian model of the benevolent leader, has written of how China should seek "benevolent authority" in contrast with the "dominance" that the USA seeks worldwide.

    In 2018 Shigong Jiang, another professor of law at Peking University, published the essay "Philosophy and History" in which he advocates Xi's model of socialism (known as "socialism with Chinese characteristics") as a universal model that would work for every nation. He starts out by criticizing both Soviet Union's communism (that collapsed in 1991) and the USA's liberal democracy (that collapsed in the 2008 financial crisis): both failed to guarantee progress and stability. On the other hand, Xi's China has found a way to produce both technological progress and internal stability. Far from being the terminal point, he thinks that Xi's China is a system that will keep improving towards communist perfection. (Jiang is not alone in claiming that China can be a role model for the whole world. In 2016 Xi delivered a speech in which he said that: "History has not ended, nor can it be brought to and end... the Chinese Communists and the Chinese people are fully confident that they can provide a Chinese solution to humanity's quest for a better social system"). Jiang's view of recent US-China relations is interesting. His essay "The New Roman Empire" (2020) compares the relationship between India and Britain during the British Empire with the relationship between China and the USA between 1978 and 2018: China provided cheap labor and materials for the US empire. Indirectly he blames Deng for help the USA create a world empire. He specifically mentions that the USA fought wars in the Middle East thanks to the way China was helping its economy. Jiang views the US empire through the lenses of what Lenin said a century earlier: multi-party democracy is just an excuse to establish the global dictatorship of global capital; and therefore in his view "economic privatization, intellectual liberalization, and political democratization" are simply instruments to create this global dictatorship of global capital. The US goal of creating a new Roman Empire has been crushed (after the 2008 financial crisis) because the USA failed to conquer China after Xi took power. Jiang argues his theories by quoting dozens of Western thinkers. For example, Jiang recalls that in his book "Political Order in Changing Societies" Samuel Huntington (the author of "The Clash of Civilizations") criticized the dogmatic belief that liberal democracy represents the best political system based precisely on the consequences of US actions (promoting political democratization in the Third World has often resulted in anarchy). The model that third-world countries should follow is not the US model but the Chinese model, and Western countries themselves will eventually recognize it. Quote: "It's like dealing with the pandemic. Whether they wanted to or not, Western countries finally did like we did, put on their masks and practiced social distancing."

    Huning Wang has been the intellectual leader since the 1990s and one of the intellectuals who have consistently tried to warn the Chinese against becoming like the West. His first book was a sophisticated study of the West's concept of nation, covering almost 4,000 years of Western history, from the Sumerians to Marx via Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, etc. In 1988 he published the essay "The Structure of China's Changing Political Culture" in which he argued that the evolution of a nation depends on both "software" (culture and values) and "hardware" (politics and economics), and he warned that there were no "core values" in post-Mao China, only a struggle for economic improvement. He warned that without core values a nation loses social cohesion. He then traveled to the USA, where he spent six months and visited dozens of cities and universities. That US trip changed Wang's view of China's reforms and he became a strong opponent of political and economic liberalization. He returned to China just in time to witness the Tiananmen Square protests (and massacre). He published a scathing critique of the USA, "America Against America" (1991), a depicting of all the evils that were devastating Meiguo (the Chinese name for USA, which literally means "beautiful country"): homelessness, family disintegration, drug addiction, black slums, wealth gap, loneliness, nihilism, etc. He identified a root cause of all these evils: the individualist ideology at the center of US liberalism. Since then, Wang has advocated a return to Confucian and Legalist philosophy as an alternative to the unbridled capitalism that was accelerating in China. He remained a believer in socialism, but also a nationalist, convinced that a strong, centralized state was necessary to avoid the kind of disintegration that happened in the Soviet Union in 1991. In 1993 Jiang elected him to the Communist Party's Central Policy Research Office. Wang has been instrumental in shaping Chinese ideology since then, basically playing the traditional role of the "dishi" (emperor's teacher), a sort of modern Han Fei (the legalist philosopher of the 3rd century BC who became the archetype for the dishi figure). Wang was probably behind Jiang's "Three Represents" policy of 2000 (the Communist Party must represent the productive forces, the cultural trends and the interests of the people) and behind Hu's "Harmonious Society" policy of 2004; and Wang helped Xi shape the "China Dream," the anti-corruption campaign, the "One Belt One Road" Initiative, and in general what has become known as "Xi Jinping Thought." Huning Wang was appointed to the Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee in the same congress in which Xi was appointed general secretary: it is not obvious whether Wang has obeyed Xi or Xi has listened to Wang. Over the last decade Wang must have realized what any foreign visitors notices: that China has become much more similar to the USA than it wants to admit. The economic boom has created a greedy materialistic society with a wealth gap bigger than the USA's (China's Gini Coefficient in 2020 was 0.47, worse than the USA's 0.41). The top 1% owns one third of the nation's wealth, about the same share as in the USA. China's situation is even worse because it still has about 600 million people living with less than 1,000 RMB ($155) a month. Because they were nurtured and protected by the government, Chinese tech giants are now even more monopolistic than the USA's tech giants, with market shares that Facebook and Amazon can't even dream of. Chinese workers are routinely exploited by their employers (the famous "996" work schedule, 9am to 9pm, 6 days a week). Study and work are ruthlessly competitive. And the society has become as consumerist as US society. Chinese family is not disintegrating like US family, and drugs and crime remain negligible problems, but China's fertility rate has falled to 1.3 children per woman, the second lowest in the world after South Korea's, and young people are increasingly individualistic. Wang must be painfully aware that China has slowly but steadily replicated the very ills that he abhorred in 1988 while in the USA. Again, China is more similar to the USA than it wants to admit. Hence the "Common Prosperity" policy launched in 2021, the crackdown on big tech companies, the condemnation of the "996" work ethics, and so on.

    See also: Common Prosperity and Digital Billionaires: Why China is Cracking down on Big Tech

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TM, ®, Copyright © 2020 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.