January 19, 2019

A Troubling Conversation

One of the advantages of being on a College Campus is that there will often be some sort of academic shindig which will bring together a bunch of people at the top of their field who are, for a brief time, accessible to us interested laymen. I recently had a conversation with an academic who specializes in China. I asked what said academic thought about the situation in The Middle Kingdom and where it was headed over the next 5-10 years.  I mentioned things that I'd heard regarding the economy, social credit system, consolidation of power under Xi Jinping and the analogies to Germany in the lead up to WW1. This can be gleaned from reading the news or the output of any think tank (not purchased by China). However, Chinese culture is so very different from ours that I don't feel very confident about what can be gleaned from such analogies. I'm old enough to remember the U.S.S.R. (a rather less inscrutable organization) just collapsed to the utter astonishment of all the best experts and we're 4 years past the centenial of a previous group of experts being amazed at how some damned fool thing in the Balkans suddenly became rather consequential. 

     To my surprise the academic in question pulled me aside partially closed a door and spoke to me in hushed tones. Now I should note that this individual has a reputation for being very positive and optimistic about the P.R.C. and had been doing research in China last month. What they'd seen had caused a reassessment of the academic's premises. China outlawed Christmas this past year. I'd heard something about this but its significance had been lost on me because I was unaware that China celebrated Christmas at all. Aparently it was, until this year, a fairly big deal in the cities. More significant to the China Hand I was speaking to is the fact that the Yuletide festivities were replaced with a celebration of another birthday; That of Mao Zedong

The academic in question was even more concerned about the recent Provincial elections.  There's now a colonel or a general on the provincial politburos. I'm told there's also a political officer and that neither of these positions have existed  in the civilian government since the cultural revolution. The Historian I was talking to says that this is a very recent (past several months) development and indicates that the C.C.P. may be preparing to deal with something along the lines of civil unrest, or a major war. 

The China expert was also somewhat freaked out by the Winnie the Pooh thing and the general censoriousness that has become so much more marked in the last two years. 

Anyway, after the conversation I was presented with a big stack of books and was told to return them to a contact person by the end of Spring Break. So I have reading to do on top of my other work. 

Not reading simplified Chinese, I can't confirm anything and I don't want to give the professor's name because I got the distinct impression (from the hushed tone) that discussing this might cause them issues. 

So this whole post is about as well cited as a Buzzfeed article. However, the conversation did drive home the fact that we don't know what we don't know and the few tidbits I gleaned did not give me the warm fuzzies. 

Take with a grain of salt, but I get the distinct impression that china, and perhaps by extension the world are, over the next few years, likely to experience interesting times. 

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at 11:47 PM | Comments (5) | Add Comment
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1 What things will be like in a year or two I couldn't tell you, but at least in the "free-er" economic and social areas in China, they don't seem to have noticed the Christmas ban. Christmas videos from Shenzhen were very popular this past holiday season.

Of course, Shenzhen is one of the very special cases in China, as it has a high Western ex-patriot population...appearances are very important there.

Posted by: Ben at Sun Jan 20 02:54:43 2019 (4TRZx)


Given that Xi has gone out of his way to fashion himself after Mao - and he has been public about his admiration of the dead librarian - these kinds of news have not been in the least surprising.  The expansion of the PLA into the political sphere is slightly more surprising. Since the central government has forced the PLA's officer corps to divorce themselves from their business empire, diverting their attention with politics makes sense, though it is a major issue for a Communist state to do so, given the traditional unease over that.

Oddly enough, I was talking with a family friend last week who mentioned about a trip to the PRC that one of their siblings intern was going to make later this year.  Apparently, a big thing in the PRC now is the virtual replacement of cash transactions with purchase via smartphone apps, whichis easy for the young people today...As well as making it easier for the government to track your purchases and activities.

Posted by: cxt217 at Sun Jan 20 17:21:56 2019 (LMsTt)

3 Another point, which might been making the expert you talked with uneasy - it is easy to forget these days, but the Tiananmen Square protests initially started as demonstrations against corruption among the officialdom of government and Communist Party.  One consequence of the crushing of the protests was the realization that future public outcry against corruption would be equated with treason by same officialdom, with corresponding undermining of the confidence and respect in the same.  Given how corruption has bloomed under Xi, despite the occasional show trial, it would not surprise in the least that certain parties are preparing for massive civil unrest in the PRC.

Posted by: cxt217 at Sun Jan 20 17:29:06 2019 (LMsTt)

4 Interestingly, the professor was of the opinion that one of Xi Jinping's good points (at least in the professor's initial assessment) was his anti-corruption stance. I was told that careful analysis of the anti-corruption policies under Xi indicated that it was a remarkably  sincere and effective attempt to root out corruption. I was taken aback by this but have no research on hand to debunk it. Certainly it flies in the face of what I've read in the western press on the matter. However, (with 20/20 hindsight) one should probably keep in mind that many of the officials whose defenestration raised eyebrows in the west had deep and broad ties to western business interests and perhaps advocates there as well. The initial lack of corruption in this anti corruption campaign was one of the larger influences on the professor's previous optimism regarding China's prospects. 
Note though that since Winnie-the-Pooh-Gate the definition of "Corruption" has broadened considerably and the academic I spoke to  agreed with me on this. 

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at Sun Jan 20 19:02:18 2019 (gxCG3)


I tend to be very suspicious of any claims of a Communist official being honest.  It is possible, like anything else, but they are very unlikely, given how corrupt and hypocritical the average Communist is (At least then they are not bloodthirsty.).  Unfortunately, past experiences in the family have tended to confirm the impression.

Amusingly enough, Ace of Spades had a link to an article from Forbes talking about the impact of the trade war on the PRC, but they ended with the conclusion that the PRC will ultimately win, no small part because they take the long view on things.  That might very well be true, but 'taking the long view' generally does not work well when dealing with civil unrest and rioting crowds (Another point that raised an eyebrow was the way the article portrayed Vietnam as some sort of junior accomplice to the PRC...)..

Posted by: cxt217 at Mon Jan 21 22:34:51 2019 (LMsTt)

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