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February 23, 2010

The Empire of Lies

The Truth about China in the 21st Century
Guy Sorman - ISBN - 9781594032165

Sorman is a prominent French intellectual and a champion of democracy and free markets who has written some 20 books on various contemporary issues, many of them economic. In this lengthy essay he looks under the hood of the current Chinese bustle, glamour and shining achievements to expose the one billion who live in abject poverty, well beneath the world's radar. His conclusions are not dissimilar to The China Fantasy, reviewed here several years ago, but the text is much more detailed.

He exposes the disenchantment, human rights violations, governmental corruption, censorship, repression and propaganda. While 200 million subjects are relatively prosperous, even they are protesting, loudly in some cases, and frequently suppressed vigorously for so doing. None of this will you see in the popular media. Nor will you be apprised of the ignorance of the general public about the past, distant or recent. No one under forty has a clue about the reality of Mao, so complete is the control of history by the government. The current economic development plan, geared to the world--and especially the American--market is basically urban oriented as it exploits the rural population, and in any event is largely for the purpose of developing further the infrastructure to support massive military and related endeavors. "For the price of one rocket, hundreds of schools and hospitals could be built. There would be greater harmony, but the world might not be as impressed."

In Europe, the law preceded capitalism; in China the opposite is true. In China profit comes first. Respect for property and contractual obligations have yet to follow. The path is unpredictable and fraught with uncertainty. Still, China is an economic midget with a per-capita income 5% of that in Europe. Before the midget turns into a giant it has to overcome internal contradictions, unpredictable political institutions, the absence of the rule of law, mass poverty and an insufficient energy supply, with banks on the verge of ruin, the flight of national capital, and the risk of epidemics. (AIDs is rampant, along with other things which you haven't read about in the news recently.) "We in the West can only be threatened if we choose to sit back and do nothing."

Chinese laws exist only on paper. Those in command operate behind the scenes. Only the Party hierarchy matters, and most functionaries are faceless bureaucrats. Meetings are held in secret. No one permeates the top of the party. Local cadres terrorize the people daily. The Party crosses all bounds and has demonstrated its extraordinary capacity to kill, steal and lie; the so called Central Commission for Discipline is nothing like the name implies. It is not a watch-dog operation, but "searches out" corruption and imprisons or executes the perps for the purpose of eliminating fraud. Since the Party is in charge, corruption is worse than ever before. The whole point of Communist Party domination is to maintain its hold over society and ensure the prosperity of its members. (Gee, sounds a lot like modern Washington, doesn't it?)

The Party continues its search for legitimacy, but becomes slowly weaker over the years. Early on Mao promised democracy. Later it was felt that an authoritarian regime was necessary for modernization, but the Great Leap Forward was a disaster. To revamp the system Mao serially eliminated the old Chinese elite. The people have been lied to and used for years, and it would be a mistake to underestimate the desire of the people for freedom and justice. Note the rising number of religious protests, worker demonstrations, dispossessed peasants and petitions of intellectuals. Development alone will no longer satisfy the people, and the Party is looking for another reason to justify its existence. It could be nationalism and war. He explores, as he reminds that the yawning gap between what is said and what happens has, in the past, led to the fall of emperors. In 1912, he notes, the people got to elect their leaders--after 2200 years of imperial rule--and they elected the Republican Party.

Investment decisions are made on a political rather than an economic basis. Skilled university graduates cannot find jobs commensurate with their qualifications. The Chinese economy is based upon the massive deployment of unskilled labor rather than R & D, which is why so many of their graduates emigrate to the U.S. or Canada. Worse, purchasing power depends on proximity to the Party rather than education, enterprise or productivity. The way to wealth is by getting loans and not repaying them, which requires connections, and commissions must be paid to the bankers who then pocket the money. Those with connections get rich at twice the rate of their entrepreneurial counterparts in India, which embraced globalization at about the same time. The wealth of the fortunate fails to take into account the unequal distribution of income.

Some recall that Korea and Japan were once in identical circumstances, yet managed to prosper. China may, but she still lacks the innovative spirit because of her institutions. Simply exploiting the masses for instant profits will not suffice, and they cannot steal their way to prosperity for all. Shanghai, he observes, is "nothing but a fa├žade of modernity erected by the Party; the Chinese version of a Russian Potempkin Village. China is not a miracle but an illusion. Further, it has been observed that with the one child rule China will "get old long before it gets rich."

Its religions are ancient and universal, but are not really religions in the customary sense. The much touted Falun Gong along with Qigong, is probably less suited to a Chinese mien than is Christianity, which is making rapid headway there. At least, if properly taught, it might introduce tolerance, equanimity, morality etc., for which the Chinese were formerly quite famous (Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, etc.), and which ancients are, according Sorman, already dead following their century-long struggle against communism. Chinese religions set little store in feelings, love or other ephemeral stuff. They abide by rules. In the West, to do good is to love. In China, to do good is to obey the rules. As a result the malice of communism has destroyed the rituals while the quality of love remains unvalued. Cruelty has come to dominate.

The myth that powerful China will submerge the rest of the world is just that. It is a poor, overpopulated nation with a GDP barely the size of the France. The mindlessness of the West is astounding, and reflects stage management by the government. It is no more "exotic" than India, and probably far less so, yet the fascination with the "slumbering giant" is unabated. Since the government ascribes the failure of communism to mere ineptness, the Party deludes itself into thinking it will go on forever.

The West, he notes, almost universally overlooked the weakening of the USSR. When Gorbachev balked at ordering demonstrators to be shot, he lost, and the Russian empire was finished. The Party works at convincing the West that it is supportive of the people and their desires--that they reflect the will of the population. They don't. The Chinese themselves are not deluded. China should be looked at not as a country of like people, but as Europe, with its many states, ethnicities, attitudes and religions. Getting them all to agree is all but impossible. It has been a country for millennia, but throughout its history there has never really been a unified whole, just a group of coexisting principalities under the rule of one Emperor.

In closing he argues for continued contact and trade because of the benefit to the peasant masses, and to maintain contacts which, however slowly, are infiltrating those masses with a yearning for more of the freedom they see in other parts of the world . . . especially the West. As a reminder recall Tiananmen, and 1989! These people can change their government when they get furious enough, and they are not happy, regardless of what the Party tells the world.

Posted by Curmudgeon at February 23, 2010 12:49 PM