November 10, 2012

China’s current 18th Party Congress may prove even more important that America’s just-fought election whose outcome was perfectly predictable.

Both nations maintained the political status quo.  The Republican Party, as I’ve been saying in recent columns, is headed for irrelevance unless it can change its membership, end religious fundamentalism, and stop getting women angry at it.

China’s once-in-a-decade change of Communist Party leadership was rather more important than the US election: it will determine the course of the world’s most populous nation whose economy is set to overtake America’s before the decade is over.

My big questions about these ultra-boring party snoozfests and their droning speeches is how do the 2,000 delegates stay awake?  Falling asleep means a one-way ticket to the “Lao Gai,” China’s gulag.  Maybe delegates sit on thumbtacks.

While the United States and Europe are in an economic mess and crippled by debt,  China’s long march out of dire poverty continues apace.  During the past ten years of outgoing President Hu Jintao’s leadership,  China’s economy has grown 400%.  China is well on the way to becoming a modern nation with growing military power and technology.

I cannot look at today’s China without vividly recalling my first trip there in 1975, a year before the Red Emperor, Chairman Mao, died.   China looked like a vast concentration camp. A few gangs of Red Guards still rampaged.  Everyone wore dirty green or blue quilted outfits.  A few bluish fluorescent feeble lights lit the grim scene of fear, poverty and depression.

On my twice-yearly visits to China, I marvel at the change:  it’s as if some wizard waved a magic wand and from the ground sprouted skyscrapers, high-speed trains, and giant factories.  Where, I keep wondering, did all the money come from?   Maybe Chinese, like East Europeans, buried all their gold in the ground when the Communists took power and only dug it up when the coast was clear.

The wizard, of course, was Mao’s successor, Deng Xiaoping who was, in my humble view, a greater and certainly more effective revolutionary than Mao.  Deng broke the power of China’s crackpot leftists and released his nation’s vast productive power.

Under Dengs’s inspired leadership, China finally managed to escape the chain of its past two centuries.   Until the early 1800’s,  China, with 400 million people, was the world’s leading economic power, but a military midget.  An  increasingly corrupt, feckless Manchu (Qing) Dynasty  presided over China’s decay.

In 1839, the British pounced on prostrate China, waging two opium wars that caused tens of millions to become drug addicts.  Britain seized Hong Kong.  France, Russia, and Japan fed like wolves on helpless China. Many of the greatest fortunes in today’s Britain were based on the narcotics trade.

In 1850, a farmer declared himself the younger brother of Jesus Christ and launched the frightful Taiping Rebellion that in 14 years led to 20 million deaths.   In 1894, Japan seized Korea and Taiwan from China and humiliated the Imperial armies and fleets.

China’s calamitous 19th century engendered the even more bloody 20th century: 1920’s civil wars; the Japanese invasion of 1937; a fight to the death between Mao’s Communist and the Nationalists of Chiang Kai-shek. In 1958, Mao’s Great Leap Forward, a crazy attempt to modernize the economy, wrecked China and caused 30-60 million peasants to starve. Mao’s equally daft Cultural Revolution almost finished off China.

Seen in the retrospective of this grim history, China’s rise to become the world’s second most important power is even more miraculous.  The deep-seated fear of chaos and government weakness underlies much of China’s current political thinking and allows acceptance of authoritarian rule and lack of human rights taken for granted in many other nations.    Chairman Mao used to read himself to sleep late at night poring over the history of China’s wars between rival kingdoms and peasant uprisings, which he termed China’s curse.

Nearly all dictatorships make use of this argument; so do too many democracies.   There are other choices: look at the way Imperial Japan gave way to a democratic system, however flawed.   China can take this same road, but it will take a long time for it to develop democratic confidence and a nation under law.



copyright  Eric S. Margolis 2012




This post is in: China, History


  1. *Many of the greatest fortunes in today’s Britain were based on the narcotics trade* Eric, such a column would make for some interesting reading.

    • solum temptare possumus says:

      Lawsuits dictate one has to be very careful if revealing names. The ultra rich could destroy an independent journalist without the protection of a large media corporation.
      Better that Mr. Margolis remain an independent pebble in the socks of his targets to irritate them while enlightening others.
      ad iudicium

  2. Democracies are a myth. You have capitalism on the one hand and socialism on the other and mutually exclusive.
    The ultra left of socialism is communism, which needs a dictatorial hand to stay in power and capitalism has its ultra right-wingers, which are kept in power by very much the same methods. The difference is the propaganda, that we are exposed to and brainwashed by.
    China may have had a very dismal past, but ever since Mao has really advanced and still does so.
    “Britain seized Hong Kong. France, Russia, and Japan fed like wolves on helpless China. Many of the greatest fortunes in today’s Britain were based on the narcotics trade” I read here. Is that not a large factor in making and keeping China in that dismal state?
    Under Chiang Kai-shek just as many people would have perished, but from a different background and cause.
    Why would the wealth in China come from a different source than elsewhere? The Chinese have a very high IQ, whether we like to admit that or not.
    If I was a young man today, I would certainly learn Mandarin Chinese, because it will become as important as English is today.
    ” An increasingly corrupt, feckless Manchu (Qing) Dynasty presided over China’s decay”. That may very well be so, but what are we going to call America`s equivalent, that is unfolding now? And what to think of India? The center of power gravity is inexorably shifting eastward
    Everybody gets a turn at the trough. Hopefully man will yet become truly civilized.

    • solum temptare possumus says:

      Your altruism in man’s march towards civility is very positive!
      I am more pragmatic. I heard on the Current this morning a Canadian author, Chrystia Freeland, talking about her new book “Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else”. She had access to interview many in this category. Off the record she was told by an anonymous source that an e-mail was circulated to those within, to garner money and suppport for Romney, who is also in this club.
      It said simply “battered wives”.
      Their paranoia equated them to being battered by an abusive President Obama
      She made the point that in America it used to be the 1% or about 3.4 million that controlled 10% of the wealth.
      Now it is the 0.1% or about 340,000 that control 8% of the wealth.
      Human Nature makes them afraid of losing their money, wealth and status.

      Liken this to the 1000 or so members of the Chinese Central Committee. They are surely all multi-millionaires if not billionaires. (Witness the news of family wealth of Bo Xilai who is not even a Central Committee member!).
      Now what is the percent of 1000 of 1,200 million (1.2 billion)?
      .0000833% !!!!
      Rhetoric, or as you mention, propaganda through the party organs, their newspapers that are posted ubiquitously, instill false hope to the peasantry; that if you work hard and be a good citizen you can reach the lofty heights of “Golden Mountain”, or at least reside on its slopes, above the masses below whence you came.
      It doesn’t sound so different from the diatribe fed the American people!
      Your are Correct. Same propaganda, different system.
      To the members of the Central Committee, the New Mantra is Family Wealth and how to increase it. So how will they maintain their control? Previously the peasant got a penny, the pary member 10 pennies and you got a Gold coin. Give the peasant 2 pennies, the party member 20 pennies and you have doubled their income.
      And of course, in a just communist state, you get two also; 2 Gold coins!
      Authoritarian Central Party control maintains this inequality;… and keeps “CHINAS CURSE” at bay.
      Has human nature changed? I think not.
      CUO BONO!
      ad iudicium

      • solum temptare possumus:
        Man seems unique in the animal kingdom because of his greed and thirst for power.
        Taking only, what one needs to survive, seems the norm for the rest of the animals, which makes that the naturally accepted standard.
        We humans deviate from that, because we, unlike the other animals, abuse the power of our intelligence. We sacrifice true civilization on the altar of capitalism, because as you remarked ‘cuo bono’. We follow the money and that is the root of all evil.
        Personally I opt for social democracy, the more equitable way, ergo civilized.

        • solum temptare possumus says:

          Legi et adsentior
          A vialble social democracy would have to accomodate the very rich or they will simply pull up stakes and leave for a more friendly jurisdiction. Better to appease them through compromise than lose that portion of the tax base.
          This may be a hard sell to those at the lower rungs of society.
          Inevitably messy.
          ad iudicium

  3. I remember a few ‘silly’ students mocking the Chinese population reading Chairman Mao’s book back about ’65 or ’66… my response at the time was, “at least they’re reading”.

    In response to my query about the Chinese language, back then, I was informed by one of the Chinese students that there are several hundred dialects/patois/whatever in China and many areas cannot verbally communicate with other areas, but the written language is common to all areas.

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