Friday, August 08, 2008

Echoes of 1936?

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


Liam said...

They do own us creditwise, just as oil-producing states have us by the... uh... gas pump.

I think one of our problems is that consumerism has turned us into such an infantile society that it's impossible for us to adapt to limitations and challenges. That's why the GOP's dishonest grandstanding about off-shore drilling is working with Americans -- they don't want to admit that there are no simple, short-term solutions to gas prices. Not that the dems are really eager to be the bearers of the bad news.

Another scary thing about China being such a great power is how they're dealing with the Third World: "You're a corrupt regime, repressive (sometimes to the point of genocide), and willing to destroy your environment and sicken your people for the sake of a few pennies, and all you want is capital, cheap consumer goods, and lots and lots and lots of weapons, but the killjoy West is wagging its finger at your? Just call 1-800-CHINA."

I respect the Chinese people greatly and wish them the best, but sooner or later the government is going to have to learn the Spiderman dictum.

crystal said...

Yeah, I guess they do own us - we're so for sale. At least I don't have the moral dilemma of whether to watch the olympics or mot - no tv :) Somebody has to stand up to them.

Jeff said...

Hi Liam,

The offshore drilling controversy is a good example of this country's constant and inflexible demand for instant gratification, although in this case, it wouldn't even be instant. Just clutching at straws... Another example of us putting off the difficult choices once again. Procrastination nation.

It's pretty scary when Paris Hilton makes more sense than a major presidential candidate (nobody in attention-deficit-land cared before when Ross Perot talked about a giant sucking sound... Now maybe they will??)

I watched the opening ceremonies last night. Despite some of it's obvious beauty, it was pretty much the fascist spectacle I'd expected to see... Thousands of anonymous people acting in lockstep and unified precision. That's not a knock against Chinese people. It's just a fascination with how much better totalitarians are getting at manipulating and mastering the art of propaganda. Everyone has caught up with modernity in some way.

Recent events, however, suggest that Russia may be well out ahead of them in the slide towards outright fascism.

Crystal, No TV? What happened?

Jeff said...

By the way, did anyone catch the way Bush was banished way up in the cheap seats somewhere with his binoculars? Checking his watch and fidgeting?

Maybe he was wondering how his buddy Vlad could stay so cool, invading a country and handling his ceremonial duties at the Olympics with such aplomb, all on the same day! I'm sure he'd ask him if could have him over at Poppy's house in Kennebunkport just one more time, but that's probably not going to happen now.

Marcus Aurelius said...

I agree with Natan Sharansky. If not for the west aiding and abetting them every step along the way their arms would be too tired to hold the guns up against their captive populations' heads. Its time for protectionism. Trouble is, everyone is convinced that protectionism was one of the causes of the depression, even the union-loving liberals seem convinced of that. I have to agree with Lou Dobbs on this point - that there is a time and place for protectionism particularly with the moral certainty that China is an immoral, fascist state and a grave threat to the west.

Jeff said...

Hey B,

How are things? I haven't seen what Sharansky said about it, I'll have to check that out. Thanks for the tip. It's not quite the libertarianism that I usually expect from you, but that's OK. :D

Garpu said...

Not disagreeing with you in the least. At least dealing with these six-legged sublettors (not in my place), we haven't even had time to think about the Olympics.

Jeff said...


That stinks about your uninvited guests. You've been missing some pretty nifty swimming too.

Garpu said...

Oh, there is more in the saga of the Great Engaged Encounter Amazing Bug Race. I'll be making a full post once this is done.