Posts Tagged ‘socialism’

One of the biggest misconceptions about China is that it’s given up on socialism in all but name – that by embracing capitalism, the Communist Party has tossed aside Marx, only invoking his name as lip-service to the CCP’s revolutionary roots. In fact, socialism is still the goal. It’s simply the next step on Marx’s stages of development, which consists of:

  1. Primitive Communism
  2. Slave Society
  3. Feudalism
  4. Capitalism
  5. Socialism
  6. Communism

Marx devoted a lot of ink to the 4th stage, where he said capitalist oppressors exploit the underclass and use religion as an “opiate” to keep them content with their repression. Eventually when stage 5 arrives, equality will make religion obsolete.

In 1949, China was more-or-less at stage 3. Mao thought he could just make a “Great Leap” to stage 5 by enforcing the tenants of a socialist society with an authoritarian hand. This included wiping out religion. The next 30 years under this policy were unsuccessful to put it mildly.

Eventually though, Deng Xiaoping came to power and acknowledged that stage 4 is kind of important. So along with a capitalist economy, he accepted religion with the expectation that it would gradually die out on its own through the natural progression of Marxism.

Fast forward 33 years to now and China is living through the worst of the capitalist excesses Marx wrote about. Recent stories on Foxconn have illustrated that, in spite of some improvements in recent years, China’s workers still endure conditions deplorable by western standards. Last month, Elizabeth Economy also revealed statistics that show how the land grab epidemic and exploitation of farmers is getting worse. And last week, Bloomberg highlighted China’s mammoth wealth inequality and marriage of money and politics. Their report said that the 70 richest delegates in China’s National People’s Congress have a combined $89.8 billion. This compares to $7.5 billion for all 660 top officials in the U.S. government.

When faced with such problems, there’s one thing people around the world tend to turn to: Prayer. To see an extreme example of the power of faith during times of exploitation, we can look back to American and European slavery.  By the time the American Civil War came, the slave population was almost entirely Christian. Masters encouraged this because it gave slaves hope for the next world. With the promise of heavenly reward for hard faithful work, inclinations to seek freedom in Earthly life were subdued.

In one form or another, exploitation continued through the industrial revolution as the lower class created capital that mostly went to the upper class. But then the West eventually reached “development.” Some governments have even stepped in and made healthcare and education universally obtainable, which has helped push down wealth inequality. Several western countries are now moving toward what some might consider socialism through these policies. And a funny thing is happening: Religion is shrinking. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Scandinavia.

Those countries have pushed down wealth inequality to the lowest levels in the world, while per-capita wealth and happiness are among the highest. These countries also now happen to be the least religious.

Marxism is lacking in many areas, but it may not be as discredited as previously thought. Pitzer College sociology associate professor Phil Zuckerman has done research that compares religiosity and societal health. His findings show that countries with higher levels of organic atheism do indeed correlate with better indicators of a healthy society. I asked Zuckerman how this fits with Marx’s theory of religion and development.

“Research does support Marx,” he said, regarding religion. “At least to the extent that we know that societies that are ‘secure’ — people have enough to eat, somewhere to live, access to education, health care, and they live in free, open democracies (unlike China!) — such societies tend to be less religious. Conversely, societies that are poor, chaotic, wracked with warfare, instability, etc. — these societies tend to be more religious.”

Whether it’s Weber’s work ethic, Marx’s opiate, or a little of both, data suggests religion plays a role in developing societies and allowing the accumulation of capital. But then affluence, education and equality largely make the supernatural aspect obsolete. So when talking about morality or social effects, secular countries like China – where atheism has been forced from above – are a world apart from secular countries like Sweden. Sweden may be secular now, but it did develop under a religious moral framework.

Nobody can yet say whether the religious work ethicmoral framework or “opiate” are absolutely necessary for China to develop to the level of Western countries, or if Confucianism will be able to pick up the slack. But the developed club is so far overwhelmingly made up of countries that have gone through periods of majority religious populations.

The Chinese government isn’t blind to this. Many in the still-very-authoritarian Communist Party see the potential for religion and want to guide its development…on their terms. But, as Zuckerman pointed out, China’s capitalism is still missing one key ingredient from Marx’s scheme: Democracy. Tomorrow, we’ll wrap up this series by looking at how that’s affecting the potential of religion in China.

 

Christianity series Part 1: Can Lei Feng compete with Jesus?

Christianity series Part 2: The new Christians

Christianity series Part 3: Divine economics

Christianity series Part 5: Communist Christianity

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The new Christians

Posted: March 6, 2012 in Religion
Tags: , , ,

For Chu Zhen, all it took to spark his interest in Christianity was the movie Forrest Gump. The 21-year-old Nanjing college student was struck by a scene where Gump recounted his trip to China on The Dick Cavett Show. Another guest, John Lennon, found it hard to “imagine” that the Chinese don’t practice religion. “We don’t understand why Americans are surprised that Chinese don’t have faith,” Chu said. “We think that that’s very normal.”

Chu started going to church and Bible studies around campus out of curiosity. Within a few weeks, he was a full-fledged Christian. But if Forrest Gump hadn’t nudged over that first domino for Chu, something else almost certainly would have.  He said that before he found peace of mind in his church community, he was a misfit and heading in a dangerous direction. “I used to be aggressive,” he said. “I did a lot of bad things…to my friends, parents, and people who care about me. At that time I just wanted to find a belief.”

When China’s markets were opened in 1978, the socialist economic system started to break down, and with it went the socialist moral framework. The idea of striving for Communism and putting the needs of the masses ahead of personnel interests started to fall by the wayside. Role models like Lei Feng that embodied this spirit gave way to the Steve Jobs’ of the world.

These days, young people like Chu Zhen often feel conflicted about where their responsibilities lie. On one hand they’re still taught to serve the motherland and be honest altruistic citizens, but on the other they see people becoming highly revered in society for getting rich – even if it’s through less than honest means. And as a young man Chu Zhen has the difficult task of attracting a wife and finding ways to fulfill his filial obligation to support his family. Doing what’s “right” isn’t a clear choice.

“In sociology we have a term called ‘anomie’ when many people in society feel kind of lost and don’t know what to do,” said Purdue Professor Fenggang Yang, author of Religion in China: Survival and Revival Under Communist Rule. “Many people felt lost in this market transition. But then they somehow ended up at a church and realized Christianity provides a clear set of values and moral standards, and that it’s good living a life where you know what you should do and shouldn’t do.”

Besides socialist ideology, Chinese have also traditionally looked to Confucius for guidance. But that too is often lacking in today’s China.  Confucianism consists of several hierarchical relationships. Fei Xiaotong, a Chinese sociologist and anthropologist, described relationships in China as the surface of a lake after a rock has been thrown in. The distance of each circle from the center represents social and emotional distance. Blood connections are closest, followed loosely by hometown people and then those with a similar social identity (rich, poor, urban, rural, white-collar, blue-collar, etc.). [1] The further someone is outside your circles, the more they’re seen as a tool to benefit those within; or simply disregarded.

Christianity, however, introduces a concept largely absent in today’s China: Loving strangers. Naomi, a 22-year-old student from Chonqing, was led to conversion through this route. She’s the youngest of three children in a family that didn’t always take the time to show their love. Her father has unspecified “problems” and her mother is constantly worrying about him. Her sister only completed middle-school before later getting married off and having a baby. “She just lives for her family,” Naomi said, as tears started rolling down her cheek. “And my brother isn’t good at communicating with others.”

When Naomi went to college she started spending time with some Christians from Singapore and Hong Kong who were on the same scholarship as her. “They were so kind,” she said. “They came to Nanjing to see me and have dinner with me. They really care for me.” She started going to church with them and remembers that it took exactly six visits before she declared herself Christian.

On an average day, an estimated 10,000 Chinese will follow in converting to Christianity. In a transitioning society with a unique hybrid of authoritarianism and capitalism, the reasons are many. And unlike the local religions of Buddhism and Taoism, Christianity has the benefit of being western and trendy.

In fact, several Chinese converts reported being told by European or American missionaries who converted them that the West owes its success to Christianity. And if China hopes to duplicate that success, it too must embrace the religion. This bold claim invites scoffs from the not-devoutly-Christian, but there may indeed be some truth to it.

Tomorrow we’ll look at how.

 

Christianity series Part 1: Can Lei Feng compete with Jesus?

Christianity series Part 3: Divine economics

Christianity series Part 4: What Marx may have gotten right

Christianity series Part 5: Communist Christianity


[1] Wielander, Gerda. (2011). Beyond Repression and Resistance – Christian Love and China’s Harmonious Society. The China Journal. 65 (1), 119-139

How economic growth happens

Posted: January 31, 2012 in Economics
Tags: , ,

For years now the debate has been going on about the superiority of China’s economic model. China has averaged around 10% annual GDP growth for the past 30 years while, on a very good year, western capitalist countries might see something like 3% – and that’s on a very good year. Yesterday Global Times ran an interview with Ding Chun, a member of the Global Agenda Council on Europe of the WEF, and asked, “Do you think the West should learn from developing countries like China?”

He replied, “I believe so. The West used to praise highly the Washington Consensus. Then they promoted the so-called conscientious market economy. Now the economic situations of developing countries are better than those of Western countries.”

The Chinese government loves to tout the idea that, since Western countries are suffering and China’s economy is soaring, it means capitalism is bunk and Socialism with Chinese Characteristics (AKA authoritarian capitalism) is superior. China is lucky to have the Communist Party ruling it.

I’m not an economist, but I have taken one entry-level economics class – which is one more than anyone who would make a claim like that has taken. China’s meteoric rise would be completely predictable to any economist worth giving himself that title. Let’s dumb down growth for developing countries to its most basic form. Essentially, it’s turning this:

into this:

A poor developing country isn’t very productive, so after people save up enough money from picking wheat, they buy a machine to improve productivity and income. Eventually they can buy the most productive machine there is and learn how to use it most efficiently. Then with all the new money, industries that never existed before (ie-tourism) can also bloom. Voila! Growth.

China is massive and there are still a lot of people doing things the old-fashioned way. So it’s completely normal that, as long as the government doesn’t get in the way, there will be large growth for a long time. But China’s government did get in the way from 1949 to 1979. Then Deng Xiaoping had the wild notion that if you let people reap the direct benefits of their work rather than force them to slave for the good of the motherland, they’ll be more productive. So I suppose you can credit China’s government for the huge economic growth of the past 30 years. Just like if I won a marathon I could credit the guy who was bear-hugging me at the beginning of the race for finally letting go.

To be sure, China’s development under authoritarian capitalism has been much faster than, say India’s democratic capitalism during this stage (although not necessarily better). But what happens when everyone finally has the biggest, most productive machines? Then they have to innovate and make an even better machine or method if they want to keep growing. This is what western capitalist countries are doing now – and it’s much slower.

In fact, this is what they’ve been doing for more than a hundred years because they were the first to build these big machines. Late-comers like China only needed to buy (or pilfer) this technology and learn these methods that already exist – a big 2nd mover advantage. So naturally, its development has been much faster than the West’s was.

Now that developing countries like China, which are more numerous and have much larger populations, are getting these machines, their workers with lower wages and less stringent labor/pollution laws are making it cheaper to produce basic goods while developed countries struggle with ways to make them more efficiently.

During this struggle, developed countries are losing production they’ve traditionally had, yet their people have still clung to the quality of life they’ve grown accustomed to. Hence, many are going into debt. They’re trying to make up for this with even more innovation at the frontier, but again, it’s slow-going. So given China’s huge population, it will indeed continue to grow until its GDP is well past any western capitalist country. However, China’s growth is already slowing because of it’s diminishing returns in increasing productivity. So what happens when China eventually gets everyone the newest, most efficient machines?

Then even less developed countries will take away many manufacturing jobs and China will go head-to-head with developed capitalist countries in innovation. It will come down to who has a better education system and more intellectual freedom.  Given the current atmosphere, who would you put your money on as more sustainable in the long run?

Little Yueyue, victim of the double hit and run, succumbed to her injuries on Friday, but the debate seems far from over. Many people and media outlets are trying to pin down a simple answer as to why 18 bystanders ignored the fallen child. I put out a piece where I argued that the lack of hell may have played a role, but I believe that’s only a small piece of the very complex puzzle. I would still argue that universal human psychology played a predominant role.

And I would also argue that the issue is overblown a bit. This video was put together that highlights plenty of instances where Chinese did rush to aid those in peril. When we ignore these counter-examples it makes us susceptible to confirmation bias and overestimating how serious the trend is. And then you have to imagine how many other incidents have played out just like Foshan around the world where there were no CCTV cameras rolling to capture the sickening tragedy.

Still, as I noted before, this is just one of many abnormally despicable events in China in recent years. So whether it’s universal human factors or Chinese factors, it’s undeniable that there’s a morality problem. So how can it be addressed?

Law

Many have mentioned the idea of a good Samaritan law  to protect, or even require, assistance to those in danger. This would be a good step but one has remember the general regard for the law in China. It’s questionable how well this would be enforced in China’s always arbitrary law-enforcement and judicial systems. Still, if some examples of strict enforcement through huge fines or jail time got high level media attention (think Seinfeld finale), it could counteract the Nanjing Peng Yu incident to some degree.

Religion

I think it’s only a matter of time before the Chinese government realizes what other rulers have known for thousands of years: religion can be a powerful tool to control people and keep public order. Of course, religion has just as much potential for evil as it does good.  But regardless of what the government does, religion is going to keep spreading in China. So I don’t know that there’s much to be done on this front.

Education

Should morality be taught in schools? In fact, China has an extensive moral education in public schools from elementary through grad-school. College entrance exams have questions testing morality.

"Follow Lei Feng's example; Love the Party, Love Socialism, Love the People"

There’s even a holiday dedicated to being a good Samaritan. March 5th is “Learn from Lei Feng Day” celebrating the PLA soldier who did selfless deeds like giving his train ticket to a desperate man who’d lost his. The catch with all of this though is that “morality” is usually in the socialist context. Lei Feng implausibly kept a diary with flowery praise of the Communist Party saying he did his deeds for love of the motherland.

The rest of the moral education isn’t much different. My girlfriend remembers learning in Chinese high school and college philosophy courses that human beings aren’t born selfish.  In primitive hunter-gatherer (communist) societies everyone shared everything and it wasn’t until classes emerged that people became selfish. So the logical conclusion is that socialism lets people be the altruists they were born to be.

I suspect this kind of “morality” education gets discarded with all the other political white noise students have to mindlessly memorize for tests, but never actually think about.

Then there’s this interesting take that Chia-fu Chen from Ministry of Tofu, who was educated in China for 18 years, wrote on the comments section of my hell article:

Sure, we have a lot of education on morality, and we were taught to be like Lei Feng. However, this is neutralized, and even reversed by our parents’ informal teaching: don’t help others unless the act is somehow beneficial to you, otherwise you are acting like an idiot. Many of the Chinese parents constantly give their kids this kind of mental reinforcement. Over time, kids of average IQ will learn this implicit rule:

Protect yourself by agreeing with the social norm, but never BUY INTO IT.

I’m not saying this only happens in China, but I have not seen another country where such parenting practice is so prevalent. Correct me if I’m wrong about this.

Politics

When the Beijing Consensus emerged in the wake of Tiananmen, the basic thinking by the Party was, “We need to get the people rich and do it fast if we have any chance at holding on to power.” This breakneck economic growth has had huge side effects like corruption, wealth disparity and pollution. In China’s face culture, if you’re not well-off now, you’re worthless. This has very practical implications when trying to find a wife or being able to educate your kids in the now ultra-competitive society. So naturally people take shortcuts to get ahead. And with as little government and media transparency as China has, this can be quite easy.

The government realizes this and knows that the current growth-at-all-costs model can’t go on much longer. Hu Jintao tried to address this to some degree with his “Harmonious Society” socio-economic doctrine, but obviously it’s had limited success.

When the power handover happens next year, the politburo could go the left with people like Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai, who wants to address the problem by maintaining a very powerful authoritarian role and using it to clampdown on corruption and distribute the wealth more equally through measures like subsidized low-income housing. It also includes very emotional measures like replicating the rallies of the Mao era.

Guo Baogang, author of the book China’s quest for political legitimacy, recently told me, “It’s effective in some ways. If you look at it in Chinese context a lot of people still have a good memory of those good old days prior to the reforms during the 1950’s, 1960’s. At that time they believed there was no corruption or minimal corruption. Everything was kind of egalitarian.”

Or the politburo could go to the right with people like Guangzhou Party Secretary Wang Yang, who appears to want to address the problem by making transparency and exposure of wrong-doing easier through political reform in free speech, free press and intra-party democracy. This could give some much needed transparency and rule of law that would lessen the need, and the ability, to to resort to immoral behavior to get ahead.

However, Wang is looking more and more like a long shot for the politburo standing committee and definite members Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang are fairly moderate. “Looking at Xi Jinping and Li keqiang, they‘re sort of like the current leadership,” said Guo Baogang. “They’re very stability concerned people so they’re not going to rock the boat and do something crazy or have a major shift. They’ll probably continue to move in the incremental changes.”

So it seems politics could improve the moral situation on the ground, but not dramatically.

Conclusion

In a morbid way, maybe the best thing that could happen is exactly what happened in Foshan. Tragic as it was, it’s thrown a mirror up in front of China, and really, the entire world. It’s been publicized and debated as much as Peng Yu ever was and will undoubtedly be cited for many years to come. Whether it’s human psychology or Chinese society responsible, it’s shown more vividly than any example in history that people have this fundamental problem. Hopefully recognizing it means they can consciously overcome it.

And more practically, the event has highlighted the increasingly universal presence of the CCTV camera, as Kenneth Tan at the Shanhaiist has pointed out. So coming back to Earthly vs. supernatural punishment, I would venture to say that hell hath no fury like an angry Chinese mob with human flesh search capabilities.

Update 10/25: This video was posted yesterday which shows Shanghai citizens rushing to the aid of a fallen pregnant woman. Hopefully this is  a sign that Yueyue really is having an impact on people’s behavior. Hopefully it lasts.

Update 10/27: …and it turns out that previous link was a staged hoax, no further comment needed.

In a somewhat philosophical departure from this site’s usual content, I want to look at some of the ideological foundations of China’s “New Left.” Since Reform & Opening Up began in 1979, outsiders have tended to think true socialism in China is dead and exists in name only.  For the most part, Chinese leaders have outgrown the lust for socialism and the New Left, which advocates a return to Maoist egalitarianism, is a regressive force that wants to undo China’s capitalist development. But China has never really taken its eye off the ball of true socialism.

To understand where the New Left and the entire Communist Party are coming from you have to understand Marx’s stages of human development (abridged courtesy of Wikipedia):

  1. Primitive Communism:  Co-operative tribal societies (hunter-gatherer clans).
  2. Slave Society: a development of tribal progression to city-state; aristocracy is born.
  3. Feudalism: aristocrats are the ruling class; merchants evolve into capitalists.
  4. Capitalism: capitalists are the ruling class, who create and employ the proletariat.
  5. Socialism: workers gain class consciousness, and via proletarian revolution, depose the capitalist dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, replacing it in turn with dictatorship of the proletariat through which the socialization of the means of production can be realized.
  6. Communism: a classless and stateless society.

It’s important to note the difference between the socialism and communism stages. Communism is the ultimate endgame when the entire world has embraced socialism and there’s no longer a need for classes or countries. Communist Parties like China’s hoped to inspire international revolution with their socialist model and eventually achieve communism. But this doesn’t look to be on the horizon any time this millennium and is no longer any kind of immediate focus for China.

Moving to the socialist stage is still very much China’s intention though. China’s initial socialist movement, as well as every other that’s been attempted, failed to adhere to Marx’s order of development. They all tried to jump straight from feudalism to socialism without ever mastering capitalism. This was one of the implications of Mao’s “Great Leap Forward.” He hoped China could successfully leap over the capitalist phase into a socialist utopia. We all know how that turned out.

So when Deng Xiaoping initiated “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” (AKA capitalism) it was an acknowledgement that China couldn’t rewrite the laws of Marxism. They’d have to go through the capitalist phase before they could achieve socialism.

Marx wrote that capitalism will then slowly dig its own grave because the rich will keep getting richer and the poor will keep getting poorer. Eventually the workers will notice the “unpaid labor of the working class” going to the capitalists (like seeing their bosses and leaders buy lavish homes which would take them several lifetimes to afford). The workers have then gained “class consciousness” and see the capitalists for the exploiters that they are. This is when they take back the fruits of their labor and achieve socialism through revolution.

Back in modern China, with inflation, corruption, environmental degradation, and already enormous income inequality worsening, the New Left thinks the time has come to transition from the capitalist stage of Marxism to the socialist egalitarian stage. There are those die-hard Maoists in the movement who never wanted to embrace capitalism, but for much of the New Left, they simply think this is the right time in history to take the step which was taken prematurely under Mao.

But there’s a problem. In Marx’s vision, the capitalist stage of development is under a democracy that’s basically controlled by the capitalist businessmen (sound familiar?). After the workers overthrow this system, the socialist stage dissolves the state and becomes a grouping of autonomous collectives, each democratically governing itself. Mao tried a bastardized version of this which was both premature and under central government control.

The problem is that China straddles these stages now. There’s no democracy to overthrow in the Marxist sense – only a failed socialist system that now has all the symptoms of an exploitative capitalist society…minus the democracy.

Some believe that socialism can be achieved through evolution without revolution, which is what the CCP is banking on. But traditional Marxists would say that’s impossible, since those leaders guiding the evolution would be corrupted and simply become capitalist oppressors themselves (again…sound familiar?).

So the Communist Party is in a sticky philosophical situation. How can they fall in line with the Marxist view of development? China has gone through many cycles in history where the ruling dynasty is overthrown by a peasant movement which then redistributes the wealth. Then that government inevitably becomes too tyrannical and corrupt, then the process repeats itself.

Wen Jiabao seems to think democratization first is the key. “Without democracy, there is no socialism. Without freedom, there is no real democracy,” he said recently in an interview with Xinhua. “Without the guarantee of economic and political rights, there is no real freedom. To be frank, corruption, unfair income distribution and other ills that harm people’s rights and interests still exist in China. The best way to resolve these problems is to firmly advance political structural reform and build socialist democracy under the rule of law.”

He also once repeated the words of Deng Xiaoping saying, “It will take a very long historical period to consolidate and develop the socialist system, and it will require persistent struggle by many generations, a dozen or even several dozen.”

Wen may see democracy as an end in-and-of-itself, or he may honestly believe it’s just the next step toward socialism. But either way he doesn’t seem to think the time is ripe for the socialist stage now. However, New Leftists like Bo Xilai seem to think they can guide a socialist transformation under the current authoritarian apparatus and start it now.

I’ve written before about both Bo and Wen, whom I suspect as individuals are using a lot of empty rhetoric and gimmicks for their own purposes. But their stated ideology is worth looking at because it represents two competing views within the Party.

So could either of their views altering Marxism work in China? Or could the true Marxist vision of socialism work?

Most would probably be inclined to say, “No, just look at history.” But again, socialism has never been tried in the way Marx laid it out. Attempts have always been bastardized in some form. Some would argue socialism is already starting to happen with the Scandinavian countries of Norway, Denmark and Sweden. They have some of the world’s highest tax rates, greatest income equality and all kinds of socialized welfare programs. Interestingly enough, they’re also ranked among the highest in per-capita income and happiness. And they’re evolving this way naturally – without the Marxist need for a revolution.

However, there are plenty of fundamental problems with Marxist socialism. He never anticipated how connected and interdependent the world has become. It isn’t clear how a nation of autonomous communes could be reconciled with an international market that depends on uniformity in currency, law, communication and transportation. And how can there ever be a Marxist revolution without some individuals hijacking the ideology in order to carry out their own agendas – as has happened with every other attempt? (See: Mao Zedong, Joseph Stalin, Kim Il Sung, etc.)

Then there’s the classic Achilles heel of socialism: Greed. Marx’s vision included “labor vouchers” that would be awarded to workers based on the amount of labor they contribute, which could then be exchanged for goods. Marx thought that this would be liberating for the formally exploited, as it would give them freedom to pursue their own interests and develop their own talents. But it failed to address what would motivate someone to spend seven years in medical school if their quality of life would be comparable to a high-school dropout.

So the pure Marxist vision of socialism would probably have to be tweaked if it were ever to work in practice, if indeed it ever could work. The New Left is convinced it can work, and will work, sooner rather than later. But with China still far from catching up to even the developed capitalist societies of the world, it’s hard to imagine a successful transition anytime soon. And it’s very hard to imagine China’s Communist Party will be the one to break the historical cycle both in China and the previous socialist movements of the world.

But to assume it’s totally impossible and that true socialism is dead in the world would be a bit hasty. The Communist Party still sees it as the ultimate prize and is being much more patient and flexible in its approach than any other nation ever has been. On the other side of the world, The U.S. and the PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain) seem like they’ll continue to vote and protest themselves lower taxes and greater benefits until they’re bankrupt; which seriously calls into doubt Francis Fukuyama’s “End of History” theory that capitalist democracy is the end-all-be-all of human development.

Of course, it’s very possible that no system will work in the long-run and humanity is screwed. People at the bottom of any system may continue to want more than they can produce. Those at the top may continue do whatever gives them with the most power – whether that means pandering to those at the bottom or using an iron fist and bastardized ideology keep a hold over them. It would be presumptuous for any ideology to declare victory now or for the foreseeable future, but whatever happens, it should be an interesting century for philosophers.

I recently did a feature for Asia Times about China’s Graduate School entrance exam which can be seen here. These are some select translated questions leftover from my research that came from from the 2010 and 2011 Chinese graduate school entrance exams. Exams are different based on school and major, but there’s a politics section which is uniform across most of the country and accounts for 20% of the final score. The “correct” answers to the multiple choice/multiple mark questions are highlighted in bold, but often the “incorrect” answers are just as telling. You’ll notice several questions are extremely long and seem more about making a point then testing knowledge. But overall I think these questions give a pretty good picture of exactly what the government wants  young people to think.

2010

13) In 2001 the CPC Central Committee issued the “Implementation Outline for Improving Civic Morality,” which explains the main content of civil morality. It focuses on_______

  • A. Patriotism and abiding by the laws
  • B. Honesty and trustworthiness
  • C. Diligence and self-improvement
  • D. Unity and friendliness

[Study guides refer to this as a “memory question.” It tests a very specific time, governing body, or policy that must simply be remembered. Educated guessing doesn’t help.]

14) Our Constitution clearly stipulates the implementation of the rule of law in building a socialist country. The root of the rule of law is______

  • A. that according to the law, the law must be observed and strictly enforced
  • B. to safeguard citizens’ right to information, participation, expression and right to supervise
  • C. an open legislature, public enforcement, and a public judiciary
  • D. legalized social life and democratization

[Study guides refer to this as a “common sense question” that should be easy to guess from the wording]

15) On March 28, 2009 in Tibet, thousands of people from all circles of life dressed in their holiday best to rally at the Grand Potala Palace Square in Lhasa. This was to celebrate_____

  • A. The 58th anniversary of the peaceful liberation of Tibet
  • B. The 44th anniversary of the establishment of the Tibet Autonomous Region
  • C. The Second Session of the Ninth National People’s Congress held in the Tibet Autonomous Region
  • D. The first annual Serf-Liberation Day in Tibet

19) There is a fable about a fox who served fish soup in a flat plate and invited the crane to drink the soup “equally.”  But it turned out the crane couldn’t drink at all and the fox drank all the soup. This fable shows us that the bourgeois declare “everyone is equal before the law”, but_____.

  • A. Nominal equality in laws conceals the true inequality
  • B. This form of equality is the essence of capitalism
  • C. Its nature is to legalize the inequality of economic interests between employers and employees
  • D. The right to equality is built on the basis of the property rights of inequality

[Using animal fables to illustrate political points is a standard question format on exams at all levels]

20) In 1989, former U.S. State Department advisor Francis Fukuyama dished out the so-called “End of History” theory which says the western democratic system is “the end of human progress in social formation” and “the last regime of human society.” However, 20 years of history has shown us that history didn’t end. What ended was the Western sense of superiority. On November 9th, 2009, 20 years after the collapse of the Berlin wall, BBC published a survey of 27 nations. More than half of the respondents were dissatisfied with the capitalist system. One of the organizers of the survey was a company called “Global Scan” whose President Miller told the media that the survey shows the fall of the Berlin wall didn’t bring a landslide victory for capitalism. The financial crisis especially supports this point. So the bankruptcy of the “End of history” theory shows: 

  • A. Social and natural law both function blindly
  • B. Setbacks in the development [of socialism] in human history will not change its progress.
  • C. Particular regimes in some countries and societies cannot change the universal law of historical development
  • D. People’s understanding of a particular social development stage cannot replace the whole process of social development

[Test agency analysis: The universal law is that socialism will overtake capitalism. There are some special cases that seem to contradict this but overall the law cannot be stopped. Westerners think capitalism is great, but it can’t change the laws of social development.]

23) In September 1954, the First National People’s Congress held its inaugural meeting in Beijing, marking the establishment of the people’s congress system. This is China’s fundamental political system where people are the masters. This system is_____

  • A. The Chinese Communist Party’s great creation of combining Marxism and China’s reality
  • B. The Chinese Communist Party’s achievement of leading Chinese people through a long struggle
  • C. A reflection of the common interests and aspirations of the people of all nationalities in China
  • D. The inevitable choice in the social development of modern China

[Study guides refer to this as an “informative question.” All the answers are correct and it’s basically just meant to make a point to students]

24) China is a multi-ethnic country. Dealing with ethnic issues in the socialist period, the basic principle is ____

  • A. Protecting regional national autonomy
  • B. safeguarding national unity
  • C. Opposing ethnic separatism
  • D. Adhering to ethnic equality, national unity, and multi-ethnic co-prosperity

[This is another kind of “memory question.” Choice A is indeed very important, but not the “basic principle.” Students would need to recognize this distinction.]

25) Since reform and opening up, China has successfully embarked on improving national conditions and adapted to the road of peaceful development. Adhering to the path of peaceful development is in line with China’s historical and cultural traditions. This is because______

  • A. The Chinese nation is a peace-loving nation
  • B. Peace and development is the trend of the times
  • C. In foreign exchange the Chinese people have always stressed “loving neighbors” and “finding common interests among diversity “
  • D. Chinese culture is a culture of peace. Longing for peace has always been a spiritual characteristic of the Chinese people

30) In 1955, Qian Xuesen overcame numerous obstacles and finally returned to his cherished motherland. When someone asked him why he returned to the motherland he said, “Why do I return to the motherland? The reason is simple. Since the Opium War Chinese have been working hard and fighting for a stronger China. They’re even willing to sacrifice their lives. As a Chinese I will follow their example and keep exploring, disregarding all other things. Think about the founders and builders of the Republic. They’ve worked hard on this poor nation which has suffered national poverty and an international embargo for years and years to make the new China stand tall in the East. Thinking of this, why can’t I sacrifice personal interests?” Qian’s heartfelt words tell us what about practicing patriotism in the new era?

  • A. Science has no borders but scientists do have a motherland
  • B. We should connect personnel ideals and dreams to national destiny
  • C. Patriotism and loving socialism are synonymous
  • D. Patriotism is a combination of patriotic emotion, patriotic mind and patriotic action.

[Qian Xuesen is regarded as the “Father of Chinese Rocketry.” He did work for the U.S. army and space program, and applied to become a U.S. citizen in 1949. But during the Red Scare of the 1950’s he had his application and security clearance revoked out of unsubstantiated fears he was a communist. When he subsequently decided to return to China, he was put under house arrest for five years but eventually was returned to China in exchange for 12 U.S. pilots captured during the Korean War. Given his circumstances the authenticity, or at least the sincerity, of this statement is highly questionable. ]

31) Political rights and freedoms include______

  • A. personal freedom
  • B. freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, procession, demonstration, voting, and standing for election
  • C .freedom of religion
  • D. Political freedom

[Test agency analysis: Choice B and D are political rights guaranteed by China’s Constitution. Choices A and C are also fundamental rights of citizens, but do not match with the wording of the question.]

Essay Prompt

October 1, 2009

At 10 a.m. sharp in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, the celebration marking the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China commenced. Soldiers and civilians had huge parades and mass rallies to celebrate this grand festival for the great motherland.

In the middle of Tiananmen Square the red walls were draped with a huge color portrait of Mao Zedong, the founder of the new China. The Monument of the People held a portrait of Sun Yat-sen, the great revolutionary forerunner. Wide electronic screens to both sides of the monument said “Long live the great People’s Republic”, “Long live the great Chinese Communist Party” and other eye-catching slogans. To the east and west sides of the square there were 56 images depicting people of all nationalities dancing in a pillar of national unity… a symbol of China’s 56 nationalities, hand-in-hand, celebrating the great motherland’s prosperity and strong foundation.

Hu Jintao delivered an important speech. He pointed out that “60 years ago today, after 100 years of bloody battles, the Chinese people finally won the great victory of the Chinese revolution. Chairman Mao Zedong solemnly declared to the world the establishment of the People’s Republic. Chinese people have stood up. With the Chinese nation’s 5000 years of civilization we have now entered a new historic era of development and progress.”

-Excerpts from the October 2, 2009 “People’s Daily

Questions:

(1) How do we interpret what [Sun Yat-sen’s wife] Soong Ching Ling said about “Sun Yat-sen’s efforts finally bearing fruit”?

(2) Why did the establishment of the People’s Republic mark the “Chinese nation entering a new historic era of development and progress”?

2011

10) On September 10, 1953, Peng Dehuai  [a Chinese General in the Korean War] wrote in a report, “For hundreds of years western invaders could occupy a country by laying down a few cannons. The Korean War victory brought this era to an end. The victory of the war_____

  • A. ended the hegemony of western powers
  • B. broke U.S. forces’ undefeatable miracle
  • C. Laid the basis for national independence and people’s liberation
  • D. was China’s first complete victory in fighting against foreign aggression in modern times

16) On March 16, 2003, the U.S. and its allies launched the Iraq war, which up to this point has lasted 7 years and caused a serious disaster for the Iraqi people. On August 19, 2010, the U.S. military withdrew the last of its combat troops from Iraq. This indicates that under the pressures of the world, the United States has_______

  • A. realigned its military deployment
  • B. changed its pre-emptive strike strategy
  • C. shifted their anti-terrorism focus domestically
  • D. abandoned unilateralism

[Test agency analysis: The United States believes Iraq is no longer a threat. The growing economic and military power of China and Russia pose a threat to America’s global hegemony. The U.S. redirected its troops from Iraq to Central Asia and the Asia-Pacific region to enhance the strength of their strategic encirclement of China and Russia.]

18) In a capitalist society, the banks’ monopoly on capital and the industrial monopoly on capital combine to produce a new type of monopoly capital: Financial capital. On the basis of that financial capital, a financial oligarchy came into being. These oligarchies use which means to control society?

  • A. They achieve domination in the economic sphere through the “participation system” [participation system =  when a handful of companies buy up shares of many companies in order to control the economy as a whole]
  • B. They achieve control of the state apparatus through the “personal union” of the government  [personal union= when companies hire a lobbyist to speak for them in congress or become official themselves, bribe government officials, or hire high officials in their companies ]
  • C. They influence foreign and domestic policies through policy consulting institutions
  • D. They achieve unity of ideology through controlling the media

27) During World War II, Which of the flowing documents clarified Taiwan and Penghu shall be restored to China?

  • A. Tehran Declaration
  • B. Cairo Declaration
  • C. Yalta Agreement
  • D. Potsdam Declaration

[The Cairo Declaration and Potsdam Declaration both actually say Taiwan shall be restored to “The Republic of China”, not simply “China” as this question states. The Republic of China is the current ruling government of Taiwan]

Essay Prompt

Cheng Siwei, a famous economist, former Democratic National Construction Association Central Committee Chairman, and former Vice-Chairman of the 9th and 10th Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, commenting on our country’s party system, he observed:

“The Western party system is like a football game. One team must defeat the other. Ours is like a singing chorus. The democratic parties and the cooperation of the Chinese Communist Party work for a common goal in order to maintain social harmony. For a chorus, we must have command. In terms of history and reality, the Communist Party of China is the only competent one to command.”

People overseas have commented that China’s democratic parties in government are mostly just “filling empty space” and “have no real power.” Cheng said that this does not reflect the actual situation of China’s democratic parties. They’re not simply a “political vase.”

“When serving as Vice Minister of the Ministry of Chemical Industry, I was responsible for our own work and completely had the right to make decisions. As Vice-Chairman of the NPC I am responsible for securities law, law enforcement and inspection of rural finance. I’m like the Communist Party’s vice chairman, but also work independently.”

QUESTIONS:

(1) From the “playing football” and “singing in a chorus” comparison, demonstrate our political party system’s characteristics and advantages. (5 points)

(2) How do China’s democratic parties have a role of political participation within socialist construction? (5 points)

Analysis 

Contrary to what some might think, you can’t just go into Chinese political exams with the basic mindset of:

  • The CCP/Marxism/the motherland/various social policies = Good
  • The U.S./capitalism/ethnic separatism/Taiwan independence = Bad

Obviously that mindset is necessary, but if that’s all it took, it’d be too easy for cynics to fake their way through. I cherry-picked what I thought were the more interesting questions, but most questions on the full test are like the first one I listed. They test some minute detail of an obscure speech or policy made years ago…and they often try to trip students up with redundant choices and trick wording. As such, getting through the test is a crapshoot unless you’ve memorized hundreds of pages of speeches, laws, anecdotes, and political fables…often written in Mao-era ideological language.

This is undoubtedly the real endgame for test writers. In theory, once those slogans and thought processes are etched into students’ minds, they can subconsciously resurface in pre-packaged, government-dictated form later whenever some incident or foreign country shows conflicting information. From the government’s standpoint, it’s pretty useful for keeping a firm control over the ideology of the educated population, but not exactly conducive to building the scientific and creative capabilities they also crave. But it seems it’s hardly effective. If you read my Asia Times piece, there’s interviews with students studying for this test and some Chinese political expert opinions, as well as more about it’s role in China.

Lately Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai has grabbed the attention of anyone with a stake in China. He’s come to embody a movement some have deemed China’s “New left” by resurrecting Mao-era egalitarian ideology. He’s done so with some practical measures like focusing on narrowing the income gap, fighting corruption and building low-income housing; but he’s has also taken a propaganda approach with mass text messages quoting Mao, patriotic song competitions and sending cadres to spend time with peasants in the countryside. He’s clearly caught Beijing’s attention and is considered a front-runner for a seat next year on the nine-member Standing Committee of the Politburo, China’s highest government body

Many Chinese intellectuals and foreign China-watchers are appalled, seeing his actions as a regression toward Cultural Revolution days. A Diplomat article even suggested he’s the antithesis to Wen Jiabao, who’s spoken on the need for Western-like political reform and democratization.

But politically, Bo and Wen are fraternal twins. Like any other Chinese leader who’s risen to high power, Bo is presumably well-versed in The Thirty-Six Stratagems, an ancient Chinese list of tactics for overcoming adversaries.

One of these tactics instructs to “Borrow a corpse to resurrect the soul” (借尸还魂, Jiè shī huán hún). The idea is to take a long-discarded custom or ideology and revive it to suit your own needs.

Disdain for the Mao socialist era is starting to morph into romanticism thanks to modern problems like endemic corruption, wealth disparity and social inequality. Even those who lived through Mao’s dystopia have seen enough time go by that the period’s redeeming qualities like social equality, unity and simplicity are starting to trump the horrors in their memories. When someone has their home seized in a corrupt real estate deal and then sees their Party secretary drive a BMW, it’s natural to miss the equality of socialism, even if it was equality in poverty.

Bo Xilai knows this. Wen Jiabao uses strategic photo-ops and compassionate speeches to present himself as a champion of the common folk. Bo just takes a slightly different approach by playing to common people’s nostalgia for a time when there were no nouveau rich to make them feel inadequate and cheated. And regardless of whatever else was going on at the time, those mass rallies of the red era gave people a sense of belonging and euphoria. Song competitions and quotes from Mao are away of recapturing some of those feelings.

This is why Bo has gotten Beijing’s attention. By the time the Soviet bloc collapsed in 1991, socialist ideology had become bankrupt in China. The Communist Party’s legitimacy has since rested in nationalism and economic growth.  Sometime soon though, the economic growth will slow, then nationalism can only be pushed so far before impeding trade. So if someone can revive some of the lost government legitimacy socialist ideology brought, then that’s more than enough to earn a Politburo seat.

I’m not worried by people like Bo though. He talks the red talk, but he’s not about to close the markets and shove people back into communes. He’s not stupid. It’s a power play, pure and simple. By winning the hearts of the people, he’ll win the hearts of Beijing…just like Wen Jiabao did.

I’m certainly not endorsing Bo, but his propaganda efforts so far have seemed relatively harmless. It doesn’t seem like he’s tried to enhance the Communist dogma in the education system or tried to scapegoat foreigners as many leaders do in their power plays. And if he wants to crack down on corruption and give some poor people better opportunities during his power play, I really don’t see a  problem with that either.

There are plenty of people in China’s radical left that passionately support Bo, but these die-hard Maoists will be disappointed when Bo becomes just another moderate Politburo member.

The Politburo is like the US presidency. It might lean to the left or right in any given cycle, but it’s not going to move radically in either direction. The people voting on the members are too diverse. If “leftists” like Bo are on the politburo, there may very well be some superficial “red” aspects brought in, and there probably will be more emphasis on egalitarian measures to narrow the income gap and pacify the poor. But there won’t be a radical socialist transformation any more than there’s been a radical democratic transformation under Wen Jiabao.