Criticizing China While I Still Can. Is China the Model for the 21st Century?
"All your effort and pain will be for one end: the glory of the motherland."
-- From a Chinese reality TV Show, searching for a coxswain for the rowing team.
The entry of the torch into the Olympic Stadium in Munich, 1936, from Leni Riefensthal's Olympia. Riefensthal also directed Triumph of the Will (she was a brilliant photographer and cinematographer, but remained deeply compromised by her past ties to the Nazi regime until her death in 2003).
Capitalism is not the same thing as Freedom.
There are a lot of people who think it is. I recall that when China and the US re-established ties in the early 1970s, there were quite a few American businessmen setting up enterprises over there in those early days who claimed that the introduction of market principles into China would inevitably lead to political transformation. According to their thinking, free markets would eventually lead to free political parties as a growing middle class would demand change. The Communist Party was not expected to survive this transformation.
I suppose there is a possibility that this might all still turn out to be true. The Tiananmen protests in 1989 certainly looked like the definitively expected and prophesied moment, but the Party was able to hang on. They've been incredibly shrewd and resilient.
In the meantime, we in the West have seemed to have come to terms with the way things are, as long as we can continue to "do business".
There is a sort of precedence for this sort of thing, but with a twist. In the 1930s, those who were non-interventionists, also known as "America Firsters", were in open admiration for what the National Socialists had been able to accomplish in Germany within a few short years. Hitler and the Nazi Party had eliminated the crippling inflation that had plagued the Weimar Republic, had put people back to work, made Germany strong again, and restored the pride of their volk.
Well known idols and luminaries such as Charles Lindbergh were open admirers of the system, and urged a path of non-confrontation, despite the troubling evidence of the persecution of Jews, other ethnic minorities, and political opponents.
Today we see sort of a similar "separate peace" with the People's Republic of China, but instead of it being championed by non-interventionists, we see it advocated by the boosters and proponents of globalization.
Is it an insulting stretch to make comparisons between the National Socialists and the Chinese Communist Party? I don't think so (even though the government heatedly denies that its control freaks have pressured Beijing bar owners to pledge not to serve "trouble-making" blacks and Mongolians). The Party is communist in name only. The Chinese are natural-born merchants. They chucked communism about 5 minutes after Mao died, and they only waited for those 5 minutes to make sure that he was really dead.
Today, China is a fascist state.
I won't get into a catalog of China's whole human rights record; those who read here know enough about what it is, but we need to examine the extent to which we ourselves have been compromised.
Hypocrisy Check: Like most middle-class Americans, I have a diversified stock and mutual fund portfolio. Regarding the "international growth" funds that have been outperforming most of the others in the past few years, I don't know for sure, but I strongly suspect that many of them are tied up in Chinese enterprises. I'm not exactly rushing out to investigate and to divest, I admit. Everything we touch is made there. We are all compromised to some degree.
And there's the rub. This country's whole economic destiny has been tied to a fascist state that already has 160 cities with over a million people, and is throwing new cities up almost overnight. I don't think people here quite appreciate yet the hugeness of China and the scope of the paradigm shift which we are encountering. We've built an ill-disciplined society around credit and disposable consumption, while they've built a disciplined society designed to keep on feeding that insatiable maw, often on the backs of a population that is obsequious to authority to the point of near-slavery.
That's our problem, and theirs too, at least until they can build and find other markets that are not so credit-bound, and cut us loose with relish. The question is, what will be the model for the rest of the developing world in the 21st Century? Has the day of the American model passed? Is the Chinese model of free-wheeling capitalism mixed with political repression going to be the preferred path for those who would follow? Does democracy really have a future?
In the meantime, I'm sure most of us will be watching the opening ceremonies tonight, and the events in the coming weeks, regardless. The Olympics, despite the political baggage that always gets thrown around them, ultimately are a celebration of shared humanity, even in the face of the difficulties that may be posed by a particular host country...
Besides, after all, they pretty much own us, don't they? I suppose they could buy up Google any time they wanted to, if they really felt like it (although I've only had one sitemeter hit from the PRC here that I've ever noticed before). Better get my shots in now, while I can...
Listen on NPR to China Looks To Row Away With Most Gold Medals, a description of China's "Project 119"; their plan to scoop the most gold medals in 2008.
Read Naomi Klein's description of McCommunism... The Olympics: Unveiling Police State 2.0