Drop Your Pants!
The Party Wants to
Patriotise You All Over Again
In part four of Drop Your Pants!, our overview of the Patriotic Education Campaign launched by China’s Communist Party on the last day of July 2018, and the latest in our series of Lessons in New Sinology, we discuss the make-up of Homo Xinensis, the comrade-consumer of Xi Jinping’s vaunted New Epoch 新時代. An appreciation of the Homo Xinensis requires a review of the Communist Party’s plans to create its own versions of the New Person 新人, a concept with modern origins that date back to the late-nineteenth century. With a renewed energy and focus, not to mention budgetary largesse, the Chinese party-state is attempting to nurture its New People through cradle-to-grave education, exhortation, thought moulding, career-guidance and tireless manipulation. These New People, be they fully realised or half-baked, are ‘imagineered’ to be patriot-participants in The China Dream, that is a national vision for China’s Wealth and Power in the twenty-first century.
‘Drop Your Pants! The Party Wants to Patriotise You All Over Again’ is a five-part study of the origins, content and significance of the Patriotic Education Campaign launched by Communist Party Central on the last day of July 2018. This study is written in our in-house style of New Sinology 後漢學. It consists of:
- Part I — Ruling The Rivers & Mountains — in which we review the Thought Reform Movement of the early 1950s, which included the Party’s inaugural patriotic re-education putsch, noting its connection to the Yan’an Rectification Movement of 1942-1943, which we first discussed in Mendacious, Hyperbolic & Fatuous. We offer this historical context because we believe that a basic familiarity with those earlier movements is helpful in understanding not only the 2018 Patriotic Offensive, but also the Communist Party’s ‘correctional re-education’ 矯正教育 policies in Xinjiang and Tibet and its long-term aims at managing and supervising China as a whole, as well as the globalised enterprise of the Chinese party-state;
- Part II — The Party Empire — provided a short account of how, under various regimes and leaders, party and state have repeatedly been melded and promoted in twentieth-century and early twenty-first century China. This contentious history is useful in appreciating that country’s politicised patriotism and the desire to impose unity on diversity;
- Part III — Homo Xinensis — considered the 120-year history of the comrade-but-not-citizen and the hyper-patriots imbued with Core Socialist Values that are nurtured and encouraged by the party-state under Xi Jinping;
- Part IV — Homo Xinensis Ascendant — the present essay, outlines the desiderata for Homo Xinensis today, and for the future. By way of contrast we also quote from Alexander Zinoviev’s Homo Sovieticus, the Doppelgänger of the New Person of Xi Jinping’s New Epoch; and,
- Part V — Homo Xinensis Militant — this final essay in ‘Drop Your Pants!’ discusses Red DNA 紅色基因, Peaceful DNA 和平基因 and how traditions of warfare and the lyrical militancy of revolution commingle to create a romanticised warrior ethos.
This series takes up some of the themes of the 24 July 2018 public appeal by Tsinghua University professor Xu Zhangrun 許章潤, Imminent Fears, Immediate Hopes — a Beijing Jeremiad 我們當下的恐懼與期待 (China Heritage, 1 August 2018). It should also be read in conjunction with:
- Lee Yee 李怡, What’s New About Such Thinking? — The Best China, II, China Heritage, 5 November 2017
- Lee Yee 李怡, Who’s on First — China’s Successive Failures (The Best China, IV), China Heritage, 20 November 2017
- The Editor and Lee Yee 李怡, Deathwatch for a Chairman, China Heritage, 17 July 2018
- The Editor, A People’s Banana Republic, China Heritage, 5 September 2018
— Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
16 September 2018
In ‘Homo Xinensis Ascendant’, the fourth part of ‘Drop Your Pants!’, we examine the New People that China’s party-state is training as a vanguard to realise the country’s centennial dreams.
In essence, the nurturing of New People 育新人 and the evolution of Homo Xinensis is about identifying and training ‘Revolutionary Successors’ 革命事业的接班人. Starting with the secret denunciation of Stalin in 1956 by his successor Nikita Khrushchev, the rift between the Soviet and Chinese Communist Party widened. The clash lead Mao and his colleagues to focus not only on the future of world revolution, but in particular on the immediate future of their own efforts to transform China by means of radical economic and social engineering. During what some call The Great Sino-Soviet Debate, in 1964 Mao wrote:
On the basis of what has been happening in the Soviet Union, the political forecasters of the Western Imperialists [that is, the United States and Britain] predict that, given the potential for Peaceful Evolution [and popular disillusionment with socialism], there is hope for [the corruption of] the third or fourth generation of China’s Party leaders. We must prove their predictions wrong. We must concentrate on tirelessly and thoroughly nurturing [培養造就, a term still used in 2018, see below] Revolutionary Successors. 帝國主義的預言家們根據蘇聯發生的變化，也把‘和平演變’的希望，寄託在中國黨的第三代或第四代身上。我們一定要使帝國主義的這種語言徹底破產。我們一定要從上到下地、普遍地、經常不斷地注意培養和造就革命事業的接班人。
As we have noted in previous Lessons in New Sinology, in the early 1960s, Mao Zedong felt that he was faced with an ever-expanding bureaucracy and a stultifying rules-based regime. The kind of Stalinist over-regulation against which he bristled was also, in crucial ways, the response of his colleagues to his unrealistic, and malefic, visionary policies. Mao was increasingly concerned that a Chinese form of post-Stalinist revisionism would undermine the Party’s élan and dampen popular revolutionary enthusiasm, already severely damaged by his deadly political flights of fancy. With the support of the head of the army, Lin Biao, and a cenacle of trusted allies, Mao engineered a civil war (that is, the ‘Cultural Revolution’), the chaos of which allowed him to achieve complete domination of the party-state (or, at least, what remained of it once his zealous supporters had smashed it), and to rule via the army. In the maelstrom Mao hoped to identify and empower a generation of battle-hardened revolutionary successors. His efforts were simultaneously both ‘disastrously successful’ and a bloody denouement.
Since the 1960s, China’s succession politics have proved to be a preposterous failure:
- In 1967, Mao Zedong purged Liu Shaoqi 劉少奇, his originally nominated successor, along with most other likely contenders for the position;
- A few years later, in September 1971, his ‘hand-picked successor’ Lin Biao 林彪 died in mysterious circumstances;
- In October 1976, Wang Hongwen 王洪文, a potential inheritor of the revolutionary mantle was arrested along with other potential leaders as part of the ‘Gang of Four’ (minus its leader, Mao Zedong) in an army-led coup d’état;
- That saw Hua Guofeng 華國鋒, Mao’s stand-in and accidental successor, sit awkwardly in the chair before, as a result of a series of canny manoeuvres,
- Deng Xiaoping 鄧小平, one man Mao did not want in power, rose to dominate the party-state;
- Deng, as the main arbiter of Party power in the 1980s, first forced Hu Yaobang 胡耀邦, head of the Party, out of office in January 1987, and,
- In June 1989, agreed to the ouster of Hu’s (and his own) successor, Zhao Ziyang 趙紫陽;
- Jiang Zemin 江澤民 was made leader by default and after a decade in power he was succeeded by Hu Jintao 胡錦濤, Deng Xiaoping’s candidate who had proven himself by the murderous repression of Tibetan protesters in 1988.
- In 2011-2012, a superficially orderly power transition following Hu Jintao’s decade in office was marred by the purge of Bo Xilai 薄熙來, one of only two contenders for the top job;
- In November 2012, Xi Jinping 習近平 was proclaimed head of the Party and,
- In 2017-2018, Xi achieved term-less tenure without having divulged a succession plan.
Following the 1989 protest movement in Beijing and other Chinese cities, identifying and training Successors to the Socialist Cause became an urgent task once more. The social transformation of the nation, and cultural evolution, had created a generation of independent-minded young people and, egged on by liberal thinkers and Party members, they had threatened one-party rule. It was time to re-educate that ‘lost generation’ and, to use Lu Xun’s famous May Fourth-era call, ‘save the children’ for the sake of the Party’s enterprise. One of the new role models was the ‘heroic youth’ 英雄少年 Lai Ning (賴寧, 1973-1988) who died helping fight a forest fire. Such wasteful heroism might have had little appeal to an increasingly modern and sophisticated society, yet like clockwork, Lei Feng and the Party’s pantheon of ghoulish martyrs like Lai Ning were commemorated with great fanfare. Once more, children and adolescents were extolled to follow their example; to make sure they did, complex in-school regimes of rewards and punishments were drawn up and imposed. Mao’s vision for Revolutionary Successors trained during political chaos was replaced entirely by stifling bureaucracy.
Now, half a century after the mêlée of the Cultural Revolution era, and thirty years since those renewed efforts to rein in youthful rebellion, China once more faces a ‘successive vacuum’. As a result of an understandable horror vacui, in recent years Party leaders have gone to great lengths — doing so in pleonastic marathon-like speeches and droning essays — to articulate what they expect of upcoming generations of successors, even though they are reluctant to create a system to empower their own heirs. Since announcing a timetable for the realisation of The China Dream in late 2012, Xi Jinping has made the issue of Successors a central feature of his revived push for Core Socialist Values 社會主義核心價值. In late 2017, he spoke of the urgency of the task ahead:
The Core Socialist Value Worldview must infiltrate every aspect of society and refashion people’s emotional lives and actions. We must implement a national action plan led by Party cadres that starts with the family and gets hold of children when they are still infants.
Theoretically, membership of this multi-generational group of ‘China Dreamers’ is open to all. However, just as in the past, only a select few — some with approved kinship ties — will survive the rigours of Party indoctrination, the byzantine bureaucratic processes of selection, the betrayals, purges, infighting and upward political percolation required to join the ranks of the elite of those who not only dare to dream, but who have the power to impose that dream on the nation. Rather than being the inspired shock-troops of revolution, these future generations of youthful apparatchiki will be thoroughly inculcated with the values, ideas, language and ambitions outlined in our previous introduction to Homo Xinensis, and described at length below.
First, we offer some observations on China’s Three Ages — a timeline laid down by the central planners — followed by a consideration of the dialectical dilemmas of Marxist-Leninist materialism. We then provide an overview of China’s educational aims followed by a list of the officially publicised desiderata for the creation of Homo Xinensis. This is followed by Alexander Zinoviev’s observations on Homo Sovieticus or Homosos, insights into the kind of personality created by institutionalised socialist hypocrisy. We end, back at the beginning, by touching on the Party’s totalising view of society and the cramped vision of its leader.
— The Editor
China’s Third Age
Chinese history really (and not merely apparently) is a history of congresses, meetings, plans, obligations, overfulfillments, conquests of new fields, new departures, demonstrations, decorations, applause, folk-dances, farewell ceremonies, arrival ceremonies, and so on; in brief, everything which can be read in official Chinese newspapers, journals, novels, or which can be seen on Chinese television, and so on. There are certain things which happen in the People’s Republic of China which do not appear in the media of mass information, education, persuasion, and entertainment. But all this represents … is an immaterial non-historic background to real Chinese history. Everything which, to an outside observer who has not passed through the school of the Chinese way of life, may seem a falsehood, demagogy, formalism, a bureaucratic comedy, propaganda, and so on, in fact represents the flesh and blood of this way of life, in fact is life itself. And everything which may seem to be bitter truth, the actual state of things, commonsense considerations, and so on, is, in fact nothing but the insignificant outer skin of the real process.
— Alexander Zinoviev,
The Radiant Future, 1981
(Note: The words ‘Soviet’ and ‘Soviet Union’ in the original have been replaced with ‘Chinese’ and ‘People’s Republic of China’. — Ed.)
Time for Xi
Upon assuming leadership of the Communist Party in November 2012, Xi Jinping began refashioning the timescape of modern Chinese history. Over his years in power he has laid out a timetable for the country’s future, as well as re-writing the chronology of the past. The start of the modern era is still the First Opium War of 1839-1842 which ended with the calamitous defeat of the Manchu-led army of the Qing dynasty. What, in the 1910s, would become known as the era of National Humiliation 國恥, would continue into the middle of the twentieth century, only ending with the creation of a ‘New China’ under the Communist Party in 1949. Both the disasters and the achievements of the Maoist era, 1949-1976, would become known as the First Thirty Years of the People’s Republic, while the Second Thirty Years of economic reform and modernisation were dated from 1978 to 2008, when Beijing hosted the XXIXth Olympiad.
In early 2013, Xi Jinping moved to reconcile the two eras by declaring that there was no fundamental difference in the Party’s rule over that sixty-year period. He then set out a timetable for the next three decades by means of what is known as the Two Centenaries. The first falls in 2020, a ‘rounded-down date’ used to mark a hundred years since the founding of the Chinese Communist Party on 1 July 1921. By then, according to a complex body of official metrics, China will have achieved ‘basic prosperity’. The second centenary falls in 2049, marking a hundred years since the founding of the People’s Republic. That is when the China Dream of Wealth and Power will be realised.
Intermediary moments of achievement are constantly being added — in 2015, for example, the year 2025 was added to the calendar to mark ‘Made in China’, a point at which the country will have increased creative and industrial capacity to compete more effectively with the United States. At the Party Congress in October 2017, Xi Jinping added to the calendar the year 2035 when China is supposed to have achieved Socialist Modernisation, a goal first announced in 1954. Most importantly, however, was the announcement of the Three Ages of the Communist Party, or three stages in the Sinification of Marxism-Leninism. On 26 July 2017, in the run-up to the October Party meeting, Xi told a gathering of provincial leaders and government ministers that China had experienced Three Historical Flying Leaps 歷史性飛躍, advances that led China first to Becoming Independent 站起來, then to Becoming Prosperous 富起來 and now to Becoming Mighty 強起來. ‘Flying leaps’ had featured in Party discourse previously, but Xi and his ideologues offered something particular. Our calculation of these Three Ages of Modern China is as follows:
- The Age of Independence 站起來, 1935-1978, from when Mao took over and consolidated his leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, through the establishment of the People’s Republic (when Mao declared that ‘the Chinese people have stood up’), the building of a centrally planned economy on the Soviet model, the delirium of High Maoism and right up to the post-Cultural Revolution de-Maoification (according to Party dogma, The Age of Independence can also be dated from the founding of the Communist Party in 1921);
- The Age of Prosperity 富起來, 1978-2012, from the inauguration of economic reform policies until the end of the Deng-Zhao-Hu-Jiang-Hu era, including what the Party regards as the liberalising experiments or missteps of the 1980s; and,
- The Age of Might 強起來, 2012-2049, from Xi Jinping’s rise as head of the party-state-army until the realisation of The China Dream of national prosperity, military might, economic dominance and global authority.
(Note: The ‘Flying Leap’ fēiyuè 飛躍 is semantically slightly different from the singular ‘leap forward’ yuèjìn 躍進 of the late 1950s. The Great Leap Forward 大躍進 managed to cast the nation back in time, killing tens of millions of people in the process.)
The Age of Power has been summed up in the following way:
The Party has focussed on realising the aims of the Two Centenaries and fulfilling the Historical Mission of bringing about the Renaissance of The China Race. Guided by a series of new concepts, ideas and strategies that form the basis of Xi Jinping-style governance, we have advanced resolutely on the way to marked achievements. China has never come so close to realising the aim of National Revival; it has never been so close to the centre of the world stage. It is realising a Magnificent Flying Leap into The Age of Power. 中國共產黨著眼於實現「兩個一百年」奮鬥目標和中華民族偉大復興的歷史使命，在一系列治國理政新理念新思想新戰略的指導下，砥礪奮進，碩果累累。中國前所未有地接近中華民族偉大復興目標、前所未有地走近世界舞台中心。中國實現了強起來的偉大飛躍。
— 李貞, 從站起來、富起來到強起來的歷史性飛躍,
People’s Daily, 6 September 2017
Here suffice it to say that the new periodisation featured at the Nineteenth Party Congress in October 2017 means that Xi Jinping located himself at the helm of an unfolding era of Chinese global strength. Previously, the Communists marked such epoch-making transitions by producing long and authoritative ‘Historical Resolutions’. These documents, written by the victors after long periods of internal dissension and struggle sum up both the failures and the successes of the previous phase of Party history.
In April 1945, for example, following the conclusion of the Yan’an Rectification Campaign — repeatedly featured in our series ‘Drop Your Pants!’ — the Party adopted a ‘Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party’ 關於若干歷史問題的決議 that set out the orthodox view for the period 1921 to 1945, as well as announcing that Mao Zedong Thought was the guiding theory of the Party. In June 1981, it passed a ‘Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party Since the Founding of the People’s Republic of China’ 關於建國以來黨的若干歷史問題的決議 that announced a definitive verdict on post-1949 Chinese history, including the achievements and abhorrent failures of Communist rule, including (some of) Mao’s errors. (Both documents involved the Svengali-like genius of Hu Qiaomu 胡喬木 and Deng Liqun 鄧力群, men repeatedly featured in our accounts of Party propaganda from the 1940s.)
With the announcement of China’s ‘Third Historical Leap’ to Becoming Mighty, and given the fact that the year 2018 marks the fortieth anniversary of the formal launch of the economic reforms that have transformed the country, it seemed likely that Xi Jinping’s ideologues — or what is known as the ‘Xi Thought Group’ under the direction of Wang Huning 王滬甯, an éminence grise who achieved membership of the Standing Committee of the Party’s Politburo — would have been drafting a third historical resolution. As had been the case with the 1981 resolution, this would require an analysis not only of the successes, but more importantly a critique of the failures of Xi’s predecessors, the most prominent of whom was the ‘Architect of Reform’, Deng Xiaoping himself. (In keeping with the Three Flying Leaps schema, the clutch of Party economic reformers is now effectively lumped together as the ‘Leaders of The Age of Wealth’, in other words: Deng Xiaoping-Hu Yaobang/Zhao Ziyang-Zhao Ziyang/Li Peng-Jiang Zemin/Zhu Rongji-Hu Jintao/Wen Jiabao.) Perhaps, for the moment at least, practical politics could win out over the vanity of the Chairman of Everything, and the third Party resolution on knotty historical questions will remain on the drawing board?
[Note: The Third History Resolution was released in 2021 as part of the centenary year celebrations of the Chinese Communist Party. See ‘History as Boredom — Another Plenum, Another Resolution, Beijing, 11 November 2021’, China Heritage, 14 November 2021.]
While the ideologues weighed up the past, and mulled over how they could use it to serve the present, Xi Jinping was unabashed when describing the genius of his new epoch. In the lead up to the Nineteenth Party Congress that put him on a par with Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, he declared:
Since the Eighteenth Party Congress [in November 2012, when I rose to power], on the basis of the major achievements from the founding of the People’s Republic, and in particular since the Open Door and Reform policies [first mooted in December 1978], a historical transformation has overtaken the enterprise of the party-state. We are at a new historical starting point. Socialism with Chinese Characteristics has entered a new phase of development. Our major accomplishments mean that The China Race, which has experienced such difficulties since the dawn of the modern age [which we date from the First Opium War of 1839-1842], has now passed through the Historical Leaps of The Age of Independence and The Age of Prosperity to The Age of Might. This signifies that Socialism in China has been reborn; it is evolving exponentially. It signifies that Socialism with Chinese Characteristics can offer a way for other developing countries to achieve modernity. We can contribute our China Wisdom to solving the problems of humanity; we can offer The China Solution. 黨的十八大以來，在新中國成立特別是改革開放以來我國發展取得的重大成就基礎上，黨和國家事業發生歷史性變革，我國發展站到了新的歷史起點上，中國特色社會主義進入了新的發展階段。中國特色社會主義不斷取得的重大成就，意味著近代以來久經磨難的中華民族實現了從站起來、富起來到強起來的歷史性飛躍，意味著社會主義在中國煥發出強大生機活力並不斷開闢發展新境界，意味著中國特色社會主義拓展了發展中國家走向現代化的途徑，為解決人類問題貢獻了中國智慧、提供了中國方案。
People’s Daily, 28 July 2017
Spears & Shields
Heads & Tails
In Ruling the Rivers & Mountains 穩坐江山, the first essay in our series ‘Drop Your Pants!’, we quoted Czesław Miłosz’s description of ‘Ketman’ in The Captive Mind (1953), a form of double-think that allows an individual to retain their own ideas while expressing the opposite in public. Previously, in Totalitarian Nostalgia, we introduced the Russian philosopher Mikahil Epstein’s analysis of ‘ideologemes’, that is those ideas and word-clusters that embrace both leftist and rightist concepts, as well as seemingly contradictory ideological gestures. Epstein argues that such ideologemes encompass the spectrum of shifts constantly made in a totalitarian or totalising system that employs ‘dialectical materialism’ (唯物辯證法 in Chinese) to justify policy volte-face. It is a mental orientation that lies at the heart of Communist Party thinking and policy making. The Chinese interpretation of dialectics was initially outlined by Mao Zedong in his August 1937 tract On Contradiction 矛盾論 which, along with On Practice 實踐論, formed the fluid ‘philosophical’ basis of Sinified Marxism-Leninism contra the narrow Soviet-style ‘dogmatism’ of his then-opponents. To appreciate ‘contradiction’, 矛盾 in Chinese, is to grasp how the ‘spear’ 矛 goes with, rather than against, the ‘shield’ 盾.
In the present, what to ill-informed observers appear to be irreconcilable differences between the socialist system (or what is coyly termed ‘the initial stage of socialism’) and its market orientation, or what some call China’s ‘socialism with capitalist characteristics’, is in fact the latest dialectical evolution of long-term party-state thinking. Here, as we delve into the background, history and makeup of Homo Xinensis, it is necessary to introduce readers to contemporary Chinese ‘dialectical materialism’. In practical terms, this signifies the intellectual trickery involved in justifying the glaring contradictions in thought, word and deed that form the underpinnings of Xi Jinping Thought. This Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist-Maoist Socialism with Chinese Characteristics continued to evolve from 1978. It now suffuses ‘China’ 中華 itself: this is simply the geopolitical territory of the People’s Republic, it is also constitutes a mytho-poetic realm, about which more will be said in ‘Homo Xinensis Militant’.
An Approach Dialectical
First, a few perspectives on dialectical materialism both in theory and in practice:
Q: ‘Which deviation is worse, the Rightist or the Leftist one?’
A: ‘They are both worse!’
— Joseph Stalin
We are waiting for the withering away of the state. But at the same time we are in favour of the strengthening of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the strongest and mightiest state power that ever existed. The highest development of state power in preparation of the preconditions for the withering away of state power — that is the Marxist formula. Is that ‘contradictory’? Yes it is ‘contradictory.’ But this contradiction is inherent in life and it completely mirrors the Marxist dialectic.’
— Joseph Stalin, ‘Political Report of the
Central Committee at the
Sixteenth Party Congress’, 1930
Dialectics is a way of moving blindfolded in an unknown empty space filled with imaginary obstacles; of moving without support and without resistance. And without an objective.
— Zinoviev, Homo Sovieticus (1982), p.73
BEIJING, Oct. 20 (Xinhua) — Everyone who followed Xi Jinping‘s speech at the opening of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) got the message loud and clear: A new era has begun.
Central to Xi’s declaration that socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new era, was his statement that the ‘principal contradiction’ [主要矛盾] facing Chinese society, a maxim that has stood for 36 years, has changed. It is a shift that ‘affects the whole landscape.’
The ‘principal contradiction’ is a term most Chinese are familiar with from grade school, but only a tiny number of foreigners, experts in sinicized Marxism will know this seemingly obscure piece of political jargon.
Marxists interpret the world through dialectical materialism 唯物辯證法. Contradictions — or ‘dynamic opposing forces’ — are omnipresent in society and drive social change. The ‘principal contradiction’ is what defines a society. By identifying and solving it, society develops peacefully. Left unsolved, it can lead to chaos and eventually, as Marx predicted, to revolution.
Since coming to power in 1949, the CPC has identified the principal contradiction, and, as the times changed and contradictions changed, crafted new policies in response. …
In 1981, the CPC changed its assessment of the principal contradiction to ‘the ever-growing material and cultural needs of the people versus backward social production,’ a historic policy shift at the heart of reform and opening up. Developing the economy, mainly through growth, was thus endorsed by the CPC as the ‘central task’ [中心任務]. Market economic reforms, seen at the time as a magic bullet to transform production, were unleashed on an unprecedented scale.
The rest is a history we all know well. …
‘What we now face is the contradiction between unbalanced and inadequate development and the people’s ever-growing needs for a better life,’ Xi said.
— China embraces new ‘principal contradiction’
Xinhua News, 20 October 2017
The Chinese Communist Party is a principle-driven political party that believes in Marxism. It is a collective vanguard whose historical mandate, revealed by Marxism, is pursued with commitment and a spirit of sacrifice. It is a highly secular, rational and organized organ of political action. For this reason, the Party’s first mission is to resolve the tension between philosophical truth and historical practice, to unite the universal philosophical truth of Marxism with the concrete, historical reality of China’s political life, producing lines, orientations and policies that can provide concrete guidance in practice. This process is one where theory guides practice and practice tests theory, and where practice allows for the evaluation, improvement, and creation of theory. This process of dialectical movement between theory and practice, philosophy and history, is precisely the ‘Sinification of Marxism’, which has created a long and rich intellectual tradition. The Party’s new thought can only be understood, inherited, and carried forward when viewed within a tradition beginning with Marxism, Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, the Important Thought of the ‘Three Represents’, Scientific Developmentalism, and Xi Jinping Thought for Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in the New Era, revealed at the Nineteenth Party Congress.
— Jiang Shigong, Philosophy and History: Interpreting the Xi Jinping Era
强世功, 哲學與歷史—從黨的十九大報告解讀 ‘習近平時代’, 開放時代, 2018年第1期
trans. David Ownby, Reading the China Dream
Dialectics is the jolly art that enables the Supreme Leader never to make mistakes — for even if he did the wrong thing, he did it at the right time, which makes it right for him to have been wrong, whereas the Enemy, even if he did the right thing, did it at the wrong time, which makes it wrong for him to have been right.
— Simon Leys, quoted in Under One Heaven
China Story Yearbook: Shared Destiny 共同体, 2014
The moulding of Party loyalists is a long-term undertaking, the background to which we have outlined in Homo Xinensis. For Communist educators it is, to use Maxim Gorky’s well-known line about socialist realism, ‘the ability to see the present in terms of the future.’
As with any cult or sect, unless its members are isolated from the secular world, they can easily fall prey to various enticements; they find themselves torn between lofty beliefs and worldly desires. The Marxist-Leninist worldview is at its core contradictory. It demands that devotees accept two or more mutually exclusive ideas or practices as being simultaneously correct. As the compilers of the official history of the People’s Republic of China put it when establishing the National History Institute in Beijing in 1992, the rise of the Communist Party was both ‘an historical choice and the inevitability of Chinese history’ 中國歷史的選擇和必然. Homo Xinensis is the product of this knot of contradictions. As the Party focusses once more on creating the latest version of the New Socialist Person:
- It continues to maintain that while it is subject to the inexorable processes of History, at the same time it holds a unique Chinese mandate to shape and lead History
- Its Party Constitution promotes the ‘Grand Vision of Communism’ for the future while declaring that China will be going through the ‘primary phase of socialism’, including the market economy, for at least a century
- Its 1982 Party Constitution expressly forbad any and all expressions of a personality cult, yet its 2017 revisions allow for the ‘unquestioned authority of Xi Jinping as the core of Party Central’
- It claims that ‘What we now face is the contradiction between unbalanced and inadequate development and the people’s ever-growing needs for a better life’ while re-invigorating Party policies based on austerity, anti-consumerism, self-negation and sacrifice for the party-state
- It wants to eliminate the state but to do so it argues that it must enhance state control to historically unprecedented levels
- It wants social stability and harmony, but to achieve these it must wage war on its own society, homogenise difference, police dissent, crush discord and obliterate ethnic and religious uniqueness
- It claims that The China Race 中華民族 is made up of multiple ethnicities but they must now all conform to Party-legislated ‘Chineseness’
- It encourages constant economic growth and quarterly profits in every sector, yet it rejects as a matter of principle both luxury and consumerism
- It advocates frugality and simplicity 艱苦樸素英文 yet maintains a complex and secret system of luxury provisioning for Party functionaries
- It has a brazen capitalist-oriented outlook while championing socialism and state control
- It claims a unique approach to consensual or ‘representational democracy‘, but no one is allowed to express dissent
- It champions ‘democratic centralism’ that it describes as ‘a political environment in which there is both discipline and freedom, unity of will and a relaxed and lively individual politics’
- It imposes a Party-led patriotism that contributes to a grand vision of the nation, but it demands absolute devotion to a single, self-appointed organisation, the Communist Party
- It supports an advanced form of state-capitalism that exalts neo-liberalism calling it Socialism with Chinese Characteristics
- It promotes initiative and creativity, but demands that scientists and technicians must be first Red (politically loyal) and then Expert. Under Xi Jinping the party-state is reshaping entrepreneurial culture to conform, at least superficially, with its political dogmas
- It declares that The China Race has a Peaceful DNA 和平基因, but it aims at regional military dominance. In the coming years, Xi Jinping’s China will give new meaning to the slogan in George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-four: ‘War is peace… freedom is slavery… ignorance is strength’
- It cautions against the dangers of paternalism but its behaviour and values re-inforce gender stereotypes and practices
- It claims it is building pre-eminent, global universities while demanding ‘correct political thinking’ from faculty members. The policy is called Dual Pre-eminence 雙一流, or ‘China Style, but World Class’ 中国特色、世界一流
- It talks of equality but every aspect of its world view is hierarchical, be it in relation to gender, identity, ethnicity, power, economics, society, culture or international affairs
- It preaches amity and friendship, but is aggressively inimical to anything perceived as being non-compliant with its own policies
- It wants to build the broadest possible United Front to support its efforts both at home and abroad, but it demands that everyone involved in the Party’s China Dream must comply with its vision
- It promotes The China Story to express the variegated world of Chinese lives, hopes, ideas, traditions and achievements, but in the process it imposes a crafted monologue that accords with the Party’s historical view
- It promotes the Yan’an-era Party tradition to Seek Truth from Facts 實事求是, but in the process it eliminates Facts that don’t accord with its Truth
- It constantly preaches the need for morality and righteousness, often using traditional Confucian-inflected terms, but it denies that these have any abstract, humanist value
- It claims the inheritance of ‘5000 years of history and continuous civilisation’ but denounces as ‘historical nihilism’ any academic views or historical facts that clash with those of the Party
- Its historical narrative from 1921 claims Party wisdom as the culmination of China’s search for wealth and power, its journey to modernity
- It promotes Party martyrs who are selfless, frugal and hard-working, but its economic policies demand consumption, indulgence and frivolity
- It boasts that ‘criticism cannot threaten the Communist Party’ 中國共產黨是罵不倒的, but it is intolerant of any opposition
- It claims it is uniquely capable of self-correction 自我糾正 and perfectibility 自我完善, but the Party has no independent mechanisms of oversight, such as a free media or judiciary
- It celebrates the peerless wisdom and infallibility of its party-state-army chairman, Xi Jinping, while decrying the autocracy of the past.
Like any quasi-religious organisation, the Communist Party maintains absolute control over the way it speaks and is spoken about; interpretation of dogma is the task of priest-like cadres and ‘thought workers’. People are exhorted to internalise the ideas, language and standards of behaviour of the Party. Massive budgets are allocated for the training of tame intellectuals at universities and Party-affirming research projects. Regime apologists also vie with each other to provide the Party with new catch phrases, theoretical formulations and policy points. Although still preaching reform, Xi Jinping’s Communist Party regards the Reform era of 1978-1989 as being problematic since it allowed limited pluralism and experimental social evolution and was marred by the popular protests of 1989. The Party praises its own flexibility and massages the abiding contradictions of its rule with education, thought re-moulding, propaganda, economic tools, rewards and punishments, as well as the tireless monitoring of individuals and groups. This will intensify with new technologies, the development of the Social Credit System 社會信用體系 and the overlordship of the National Supervisory Commission. The party-state:
- Claims to represent the dreams of all Chinese but strictly controls the One Dream
- Claims the May Fourth tradition but crushes student protest
- Wants creativity and innovation but considers individuality dangerous
- Wants to encourage imagination and but imposes bans on Sci-Fi themes in audio-visual culture
- Treats adults as children and children as adults
- Praises Core Confucian Values but encourages children to report on their parents, students to betray their teachers, brothers and sisters to sell out their siblings
- Demands unswerving loyalty to the Party and offers a distorted interpretation of such key Confucian ideas as Righteousness 義 and Humanity 仁
- Constantly preaches peace and security in the global environment but extols militarism and aggrieved ethno-nationalism through education and the media
- Calls for human aspiration but its radical materialist philosophy negates the concept of unique and individual human worth and by extension human rights
- Claims that the Party represents the collective and has the numbers, and the might of arms, to crush any opposition
- Wants to forge a Unified Field combining Party and Society under Central Control and Command (known as the Central Supervisory Commission) but expects the society to blossom with pluralism
- Claims that having coming to power in 1949 (through warfare, propaganda, artifice and the betrayal of its promises about democracy and human rights), it can never be unseated
- Claims to be the culmination of Chinese development and the means for achieving all national goals. It will refuse to give up the historical stage and maintains both political and historical hegemony. In effect, the Chinese Communist Party poses itself as the End of Chinese History
The Chinese Party, like the regimes created by Germany’s National Socialists and Russia’s Bolsheviks, is the product of modernity and evolving twentieth-century technologies. Today, it is guided by statistics, targets, technological innovation. Its world view is materialist, it denies the value of humanity in its own right, limits the full range of human expression and, in its pedagogical aim to instruct and mould the nation, it is the ultimate ‘engineer of human souls’ 人類靈魂的工程師.
Grow People in Established Virtue
To mark Teacher’s Day 教師節 on 10 September 2018, People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s main propaganda outlet, published an Editorial in which it declared that the critical questions facing China’s educators were ‘what kind of people are we nurturing, how are they to be nurtured and who will they serve? 培養什麼人、怎樣培養人、為誰培養人。
Readers were reminded of Xi Jinping’s august directive: ‘Education is Key for the Nation, Key for the Party’ 教育是國之大計、黨之大計. In particular, it reiterated the line on education announced at the October 2012 Party Congress that had installed Xi in power, that education must ‘grow people in established virtue’ 立德樹人 while ‘enhancing political indoctrination in schools’ 加強學校思想政治工作.
‘When Mushu (Bao) went to Jin, Fan Xuanzi met him, and asked the meaning of the saying of the ancients, ‘They died but suffered no decay’. … 春。穆叔如晉。范宣子逆之問焉。曰：古人有言曰死而不朽，何謂也。
Mushu said, ‘… I have heard that the highest meaning of it is when there is established [an example of] virtue; the second, when there is established [an example of] successful service; and the third, when there is established [an example of wise] speech. When these examples are not forgotten with length of time, this is what is meant by the saying — They do not decay.’ 穆叔曰：… 豹聞之，大上有立德，其次有立功，其次有立言，雖久不廢，此之謂不朽。
— Twenty-fourth Year of Duke Xiang, Zuozhuan
《左传 · 襄公二十四年》, trans. James Legge,
The Chinese Classics, vol. V
Traditionally, exemplary virtue, service (or achievement) and speech were celebrated as the Three Eternals 三不朽, or ‘things that do not decay over time’. The word 德 dé, roughly ‘Virtue’, itself has a long and complex history. As Arthur Waley notes in his discussion of Laozi’s Daodejing 道德經, originally the word dé 德 denoted ‘a universal and all-embracing “power” that can draw to itself “everything under heaven”‘. However:
Only when the moralistic position was thoroughly established, that is to say, after the doctrines of Confucianism had become a State orthodoxy, did tê [dé 德] at any rate among the upper classes, come to mean what we usually mean by virtue, that is to say, conduct beautiful and admirable in itself (as a work of art is beautiful) apart from its consequences.
— Arthur Waley, The Way and its Power:
A Study of the Tao tê ching
and its Place in Chinese Thought
In his discussion of the ancient Chinese written language and the world of objects and ideas which it expressed, Waley also observed that, ‘Nothing is more harmful to a state than that different realities should share a common name; nothing more dangerous than that theories and doctrines which belong only to the world of language should be mistaken for truths concerning the world of fact.’ For China’s materialist dialecticians, however, these dissonances are of great value, for they allow ancient words of power and majesty such as dé 德 to be freighted with Party grotesqueries so they can masquerade as essential Chinese cultural values.
The Communists have taken up the concept of dé 德 and re-defined it to formulate policy. They claim to pursue a ‘Rule of Virtue’ or benevolence 德政. Education, as Xi Jinping declared on Teacher’s Day, ‘is the work of today, but it will benefit the project of benevolent rule for ages to come’ 功在當代、利在千秋的德政工程. He then listed nine ways in which teachers should train Socialist Successors.
As we noted above, at the October 2012 Eighteenth Party Congress it had been announced that the ‘fundamental role of education is to nurture New People Grounded in Virtue’ 立德樹人. The youth of China were to be trained as ‘Builders of and Successors to the Socialist Cause’ 社會主義建設者和接班人. What is meant by ‘Virtue’ dé 德, or ‘moral sense’, here is none other than the Core Socialist Values the history of which is described at length in ‘Nurturing New People 育新人: A Chronology’ in Homo Xinensis. Or, as a major commentary in the People’s Daily put it:
What is meant by being ‘ground in virtue’ is to train students to have a China Heart, one devoted to Realising the China Dream 所謂「立德」，就是要讓學生有一顆中國心，這顆中國心裡裝著中國夢。
It means that the most sublime state of human existence is to Establish Virtue 立德 and Have a Sense of Virtue 有德 and to Realise Virtuous Ideals 實現道德理想. Of secondary importance is the pursuit of a career or personal success, and in third place is to acquire knowledge and thought and thereby to write and publish. These are the Three Eternal Expressions of Life. ‘Grounding in Virtue’ is first and foremost because all else springs from that. As [the pre-Qin philosopher] Guanzi puts it: ‘Planting crops is the work of a year; planting trees is a task for a decade; but it takes a lifetime to nurture a person’. This shows that our ancient thinkers understood the long-term importance of training talent. ‘Growing People in Established Virtue’ is virtually a concept that has been honoured by Chinese educators through the ages. 意思是，人生最高的境界是立德有德、實現道德理想，其次是事業追求、建功立業，再次是有知識有思想、著書立說。這三者是人生不朽的表現。把「立德」擺在第一位，是因為萬事從做人開始。 「一年之計，莫如樹谷；十年之計，莫如樹木；終身之計，莫如樹人」，《管子》中的這段話說明我們的先賢已充分認識到培養人才是長遠之計。「立德樹人」也幾乎是我國歷代教育共同遵循的理念。
Academic knowledge is to be acquired in the process of ‘cultivating individual morality, social responsibility and devotion to family and nation’ 個人道德修養、社會擔當、家國情懷, ‘only then can people be of use to the country, society and themselves’ 這樣才能有益於國家、有益於社會、有益於個人, this in turn will ensure the massive contribution of talented individuals to the Grand Renaissance of The China Race 才能為中華民族偉大復興提供強大的人才保障.
Reviewing educational policy under Xi Jinping on 9 September 2018, the eve of Teacher’s Festival, People’s Daily pointed out:
A rolling survey of political thinking among university students conducted in 2017 indicated, National Pride, a Sense of Responsibility to the Era and a Belief in Historical Mission is still on the rise. 92.6 percent of university students agreed with the statement: ‘When my personal needs and those of the State and the Collective clash, I will first consider what is good for the State and the Collective’. 94.4 percent agree that ‘university students should be unwavering believers in Core Socialist Values, promoters of those values and model examples of those values. 2017年大學生思想政治狀況滾動調查也表明，高校學生民族自豪感、時代責任感、歷史使命感持續增強。92.6%的大學生贊同「在個人利益與國家利益、集體利益發生衝突時，應首先考慮國家利益和集體利益」。94.4%的大學生贊同「大學生應成為社會主義核心價值觀的堅定信仰者、積極傳播者、模範踐行者」。
From this short overview it is easy to conclude that formally, at least, Homo Xinensis is supposed to be an amalgamation and evolution of Soviet Man, Mao’s Lei Feng and Jiao Yulu models, Deng Xiaoping’s ‘Four Haves New Youth’ 四有新人, as well as being an embodiment of Hu Jintao’s Core Socialist Values and the makeup of Xi Jinping’s New Person 新人 (for more on this, see below).
In reality, as at various points in the near-seventy-year history of China’s People’s Republic official Party policy, along with the folderol of propaganda requirements, metrics, statistics and public declamations, average parents and students will perforce pay due regard to Party demands as they pursue the best education possible so as to enjoy fulfilling lives, successful careers and to build happy families. In an era in which political ambition can best be achieved through compliance with the numerous demands of the Party, there will also be no shortage of careerists who hone their talents for personal advancement in the guise of the collective good.
- For the full PowerPoint presentation of ‘Persevere with Training Students in Established Virtue’, click here.
- For an account of how Xi Jinping-era propaganda cum-education policies related to ‘Morals Education’ 德育 are tailored to the evolving Social Credit System 社會信用體系, see here.
Save the Children
In May 1918, a year before the momentous student demonstrations on 4 May 1919, the writer Lu Xun (魯迅, 1881-1936) published his first story. Inspired by Nikolai Gogol, Lu Xun’s ‘Diary of a Madman’ 狂人日記 decries the hypocrisy at the heart of Chinese kinship, society and politics. It declares that lurking behind a venerable skein of Confucian pieties 禮教 and hidden within the talk of ‘humanity and righteousness’ 仁義 is a vicious history of inhumanity and cannibalism 吃人. The story, and its final appeal, resonated throughout the century. In the twenty-first century, Homo Xinensis is built on the dashed hopes of writers like Lu Xun:
Everything requires careful consideration if one is to understand it. In ancient times, as I recollect, people often ate human beings, but I am rather hazy about it. I tried to look this up, but my history has no chronology, and scrawled all over each page are the words: ‘Virtue and Morality’. Since I could not sleep anyway, I read intently half the night, until I began to see words between the lines, the whole book being filled with the two words — ‘Eat people.’
I can’t bear to think of it.
I have only just realized that I have been living all these years in a place where for four thousand years they have been eating human flesh. My brother had just taken over the charge of the house when our sister died, and he may well have used her flesh in our rice and dishes, making us eat it unwittingly.
It is possible that I ate several pieces of my sister’s flesh unwittingly, and now it is my turn …
How can a man like myself, after four thousand years of man-eating history — even though I knew nothing about it at first —ever hope to face real men? …
Perhaps there are still children who have not eaten men? Save the children…
The 2018 call to promote, yet again, the Lei Feng spirit 雷鋒精神 of self-abnegation and service to socialism ended by returning to a familiar theme from the early 1940s and one that we discussed at the beginning of this multi-part study of ‘Drop Your Pants! — Washing 洗澡.
As Dong Junshan 董俊山, the head of the Party’s Study Publishing House 學習出版社, put it:
Becoming a New Socialist Person is not as easy as renewing yourself by a simple wash in a bath. It is a gradual process; that’s why the activity encouraging the emulation of Comrade Lei Feng is an ongoing, regular and systematised undertaking. Only when everyone in the society is mobilised will more and more New Socialist People appear in our midst. Only then will we be sure that generation after generation of New People will continue the Socialist and Communist Cause, and that they will pass the task onwards ensuring that we remain Eternally Red. 成為社會主義新人，不可能像洗澡那樣一下子就煥然一新，而是一個逐步的過程，因此，應該把學雷鋒活動在全社會持久性、經常性、制度化地開展起來，只有全社會都自覺地行動起來，社會主義新人才會越來越多地湧現出來，社會主義、共產主義事業才會在一代代新人手中堅守和傳遞下去，千秋萬代，永不變色。
People’s Daily, 24 August 2018
In 1963, shortly after Mao first exhorted the nation to ‘Learn from Comrade Lei Feng’, he launched the Socialist Education Movement 社會主義教育運動 (or the ‘Four Clean-ups’ 四清), aimed at purging the Party of corruption, enhancing ideological compliance and training revolutionary successors. As the Chinese Communists clashed with the Soviet Union over who would lead the future world revolution, Mao also listed the Five Requirements for Successors to the Revolution 革命事業的接班人的五項條件. They were:
- They must be true Marxist-Leninists 他們必須是真正的的馬克思列寧主義者。
- They must be Revolutionaries working wholeheartedly for the majority of People in China and everywhere in the world 他們必須是全心全意為中國和世界的絕大多數人服務的革命者。
- They must be Politicians capable of bringing people to work together. Not only must they be capable of working with people with a similar mindset, they must be good at bringing in people with different ideas, as well as working with people who have opposed them in the past who have proven to be wrong. 他們必須是能夠團結絕大多數一道工作的政治家。不但要團結和自己意見相同的人，而且要善於團結和自己意見不同的人，還有著善於團結那些反對過自己並且被實踐證明是犯了錯誤的人。
- They must be model practitioners of Democratic Centralism and appreciate the practice of ‘From the Masses and To the Masses’. They must be natural democrats who know how to listen to and act on views held by those outside the Party. 他們必須是黨的民主集中制的模範執行者，必須學會‘從群眾中來，到群眾中去’的領導方法，必須養成善於聽取群眾意見的民主作風。
- They must be modest and prudent, guard against arrogance and rashness while extolling the spirit of self-criticism while daring to correct their own inadequacies and mistakes. 他們必須謙虛謹慎，戒驕戒躁，富於自我批評精神，勇於改正自己工作中的缺點和錯誤。
In August 2018, Dong Junshan also outlined the desiderata for the New Person of the Xi Jinping Epoch. Building on decades of education and experience in reshaping humanity in its image for the Party today:
It is necessary to cultivate New People for the New Epoch who are capable of taking responsibility for the Grand Revival of The China Race. To do this we must persist with nurturing people who are Ethical, who have been Culturally Transformed, who are fit to Build Socialist Civilisation. Furthermore, they must be Trained in and Capable of Acting in Accord with Core Socialist Values. In the process, we will Elevate the Thinking and Understanding of All People, along with their Ethical Standards and the Quality of their Civil Behaviour. 要堅持立德樹人、以文化人，建設社會主義精神文明、培育和踐行社會主義核心價值觀，提高人民思想覺悟、道德水準、文明素養，培養能夠擔當民族復興大任的時代新人。
According to Dong Junshan, who at every point accords with Xi Jinping’s various pronouncements, the cultivated Homo Xinensis:
Must with greater self-awareness apply their acquired knowledge in practical and material ways to the transformation of nature, the refashioning of society and the remoulding of humankind, along with self-transformation. In so doing and with heightened self-awareness, they must tirelessly struggle for the realisation of the Grand Dream of China Race Revival. 必須更加自覺地把學習成果轉化為改造自然、改造社會、改造人類、改造自身的強大物質力量，更加自覺地為實現中華民族偉大復興中國夢而不懈奮鬥。
The New Person will be Nurtured 培養造就 (the same terms as used by Mao Zedong in 1964, quoted in the Introduction above) in such a fashion that they:
- Believe in, pursue and protect Xi Jinping Thought for the New Epoch of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics. Our Party has always emphasised the need for ideological training and the use of political theory to strengthen the Party. Xi Jinping Thought is contemporary Chinese Marxism, Marxism for the twenty-first century, and the infallible guide to the Grand Revival of The China Race. 習近平新時代中國特色社會主義思想的信仰者、貫徹者、捍衛者。我們黨始終重視思想建黨、理論強黨，習近平新時代中國特色社會主義思想，作為當代中國馬克思主義、21世紀馬克思主義，是我們為實現中華民族偉大復興而奮鬥的行動指南。
- Are Believers in, Practitioners of and Propagandists for Core Socialist Values. Core Values are those things that bind a nation together, the shared ideological and moral basis of a country. It is absolutely vital to establish a high level of cultural self-awareness and confidence as we undertake the Grand Revival of The China Race. 社會主義核心價值觀的崇尚者、踐行者、傳播者。核心價值觀是一個民族賴以維繫的精神紐帶，是一個國家共同的思想道德基礎。樹立高度的文化自覺和文化自信，是實現中華民族偉大復興的題中應有之義。
- Are Inheritors of the Outstanding Traditional Culture of The China Race who will support and enhance it. The China Race has a 5000-year-old civilisation that has been developed and inherited over the millennia bequeathing to the present an extremely rich cultural tradition. General Secretary Xi Jinping has pointed out that the riches of China’s outstanding traditional philosophies, humanistic spirit, spirit of cultivation and ethical transformation can offer important insights for people who would understand better and meaningfully transform the world in which we live; all of these things can contribute ideas to improved governance practices as well as play an inspirational role in enhanced ethical behaviour. 中華民族優秀傳統文化的堅守者、傳承者、弘揚者。中華民族有著5000多年的文明史，創造和傳承下來極為豐富的優秀文化傳統。習近平總書記指出，中國優秀傳統文化的豐富哲學思想、人文精神、教化思想、道德理念等，可以為人們認識和改造世界提供有益啓迪，可以為治國理政提供有益啓示，也可以為道德建設提供有益啓發。
- Commit to struggling for and contributing to the construction of an all-round moderately prosperous society [in 2020] and a strong modern socialist country [in 2049]. … [T]hey require a tireless spirit and an ambition that looks beyond all obstacles; they have a sense of mission and aim to achieve real change with a sense of utmost urgency …. [T]hey enthusiastically engage in the Long March of the New Epoch, and push to achieve a high-quality, more efficient, more equitable and sustainable path to development. To that end they enthusiastically commit themselves to the building of a Strong Socialist China that is Prosperous and Mighty, Democratic, Civilised, Harmonious and Beauteous.全面建成小康社會、全面建設社會主義現代化強國的追求者、奮鬥者、貢獻者。… 以永不懈怠的精神狀態和一往無前的奮鬥姿態艱苦奮鬥、幹事創業，以時不我待、只爭朝夕的緊迫感使命感 …奮力走好新時代的長征路，推動實現更高質量、更有效率、更加公平、更可持續的發展，積極投身富強、民主、文明、和諧、美麗的社會主義現代化強國建設。
- Are Advocates for, Participants in and People who advance the cause of creating the Community of Shared Destiny. The China Race has always emphasised that ‘All-Under-Heaven is One Family’ and promoted the idea that We Are All One, believing thereby in harmonious relations with all countries and supporting the idea of the Great Unity of Humanity. The China Race aspires to bringing about a world in which ‘The Great Way is Followed and All Share the World Equally’. As New People in the New Epoch responsible for bringing about the Grand Revival of The China Race all must adhere to the ideas related to ‘All-Under-Heaven is Shared By All’, ‘All-Under-Heaven is One Family’ and the ‘Great Unity of Humanity’ and develop an acute appreciation of win-win, win-on-all-sides and joint winning while working towards the creation of a Community of Shared Destiny based on ideas around ‘All Sharing the Same Boat’ and the ‘Joint Responsibility of Shared Rights and Duties’. 構建人類命運共同體的倡導者、參與者、推動者。中華民族歷來講求「天下一家」，主張民胞物與、協和萬邦、天下大同，憧憬「大道之行，天下為公」的美好世界。作為擔當民族復興大任的時代新人，必須秉持天下為公、天下一家、天下大同的理念，樹立雙贏、多贏、共贏的意識，堅持同舟共濟、權責共擔，推動構建人類命運共同體。
Nurturing the New Person for the Grand Task of the New Epoch of National Revival is crucial for the renewal and continuity of the Party’s Enterprise and to ensure hope for the future through Successors. To do so is an undertaking to raise the Civic Virtues and Quality of citizens and to enhance their level of Socialist Civilisation. To achieve this is crucial for the sense of achievement, good fortune and security that the Men and Women of China must necessarily feel in this New Epoch. This is paramount for the ultimate victory in bringing about an All-round Moderately Prosperous Society [by 2020], and in the creation of a Modernised Socialist Nation [by 2049] and thus core to the achievement of the Grand Revival of The China Race. 培養擔當民族復興大任的時代新人，是關乎黨的事業承前啓後、繼往開來、後繼有人的希望工程，是關乎全面提升公民文明素質和社會文明程度的奠基工程，是關乎中華兒女體驗新時代獲得感、幸福感、安全感的靈魂工程，是關乎決勝全面建成小康社會、全面建設社會主義現代化國家，進而實現中華民族偉大復興的主體工程。
People’s Daily, 24 August 2018
It should be emphasised that all of the above, every slogan, formulation and exhortation is based on the underlying assumption of the absolute, 360-degree direction, policies and leadership of the Chinese Communist Party as led by Xi Jinping himself.
In translating this material, and providing the original texts, we hope to let the Reader appreciate that this seemingly lunar language of hyperbole and bombast is building on a tradition of Communist Party writing that dates back to Lenin and Stalin. It also inherits the 1930s Maoist-Liu Shaoqi legacy of Sinified Marxism and builds on the New China Newspeak of the last four decades while embracing diction of revived State Confucianism. This is not only how the Party speaks ABOUT ITSELF it is also how the Party speaks TO ITSELF. This is not some aberration, a sudden departure or that much of a new epoch; nor is it a joke, for no matter how one’s eyes might glaze over when confronted with this material, these bloviations have a real-world social impact; they are relevant to understanding Xi Jinping’s China, its people and its behaviour. Of course, what goes on between New Socialist People behind closed doors is another matter.
It is also noteworthy, and profoundly worrying, that nearly six years into Xi Jinping’s New Epoch precious little has been said about female New People, the relationship between the sexes, or for that matter gender diversity or identity. Similarly, questions related to opportunities for women or the LGBTQ community in politics, social participation and in regard to equality, respect and basic dignity are rarely posed, let alone addressed. Over the past four decades, the Mao-era dictum that Women Hold Up Half the Sky narrowed in scope as consumerism and broad-based reactionary gender politics accompanied a revival of Party-sanctioned traditional mores.
More broadly speaking it should be emphasised that in the New Era, diverse individuals and groups are, as in the past, denied the full range of their humanity; equality is frustrated, individuals from non-Party groups have their dignity, history and role denied. For that matter, their unique personal share in contemporary life as members of what the Communists call ‘The China Race’ 中華民族 is suborned. Inevitably, they search out or create various social, political and economic interstices in which to flourish.
In 2019, as the Communist state celebrates its version of May Fourth, perhaps rogue women and men will dare to promote once more the liberating message, and behaviour, of that period.
The Reality Behind
Alexander Zinoviev (1922-2006) was a Russian contrarian, thinker and novelist. A decorated fighter pilot in the Patriotic War against Nazi Germany he became a state philosopher and, over time, articulated dissenting views that forced him into exile. As Clive James wrote of him in 1981:
Zinoviev, a man of the highest distinction whose intellectual integrity does honor to his country, was deprived of his Soviet citizenship by personal decree of Brezhnev, whose chief quality of mind is the ability to produce speeches so boring that the Pravda compositors fall senseless into their keyboards when transcribing them for an indifferent posterity.
In 1982, Homo Sovieticus Гомо советикус, Zinoviev’s account of a particular, universal breed of New Soviet Man, was published in translation. It is a satirical study of people trained by decades of state socialism to live lives of hypocrisy, betrayal, self-pity and self-justification. In the Epoch of Xi Jinping, the market for Chinese-style double-think is bullish and Party careerism and the culture of denunciation (檢舉; 小報告; 小彙報; 告密; 彈劾 etcetera) is flourishing. Children are encouraged to report on errant parents and ‘information officers’ 信息員 are assigned to universities by the National Supervisory Commission 國家監察委員會 to compile secret ‘problem records’ 問題記錄 that list ‘problematic comments’ 問題話語 made by ‘problematic teachers’ 問題教師. Zinoviev’s biopsy of the party-state personality offers a useful perspective on Homo Xinesis — or should we call them HomoXi? — whether as an abstract Party ideal, or as a cynical, living reality.
— The Editor
In the West clever and educated people call us Homo Sovieticus. They are proud to have discovered the existence of this type of man and thought up such a beautiful name for him. Moreover they use this term in what is for us a derogatory and contemptuous sense. It has never occurred to them that we have actually done something, more than simply ﬁnding a name for ourselves, that we were the ﬁrst to develop this type of man, while it took the West 50 years after this to invent a new little term for it; and the West reckons that its contribution to history was inﬁnitely greater than ours. The conceit of the West deserves our mockery.
Well, there it is. If they call us Homo Sovieticus we’ll use Homo Sovieticus. I will go a bit further in this direction and outdo the West. I will introduce a more convenient abbreviation of this long expression: Homosos. At least it sounds Soviet.
The Homosos is a fairly disgusting creature. I know that because I know myself. When I lived in the Soviet Union I dreamed of living in a democratic country where you could join any party or form one of your own; go out and demonstrate, take part in strikes, expose every sort of fraud and lies. More like heaven than life on earth. Now that I have lived in the West for a while I have swivelled my dreams round 180 degrees. Now I dream of living in a good old police state in which Leftist parties are forbidden, demonstrations are broken up and strikes suppressed. In a word, down with democracy!
Why am I dreaming of this? Because I am a Homosos. I am an extreme reactionary marching in the van of extreme progress. How can this be? For the Homosos, nothing is impossible. In the West even the most rabid reactionaries struggle for democracy because for them democracy offers the last chance of struggling against democracy. We are against democracy because it prevents us from struggling for democracy honestly and without the use of lies and play-acting. And so, down with democracy!
We are beginning a new history. But we are beginning it not from the beginning, but from the end. We will reach the beginning only at the end. And so, once again: down with democracy! [pp.39-40]
It emerged that one critic of the Soviet regime was bad for the regime, but not very. Two critics were worse than one. But not twice as bad; only one and eight-tenths. And 20 critics are better for the regime than ﬁve. Then you can partly leave it to the dissidents themselves to conduct the struggle against dissidents. When you’ve got even three critics they already start gnawing away at each other. With ten critics the regime is already becoming merely a motive for bashing each other in the face. At least one out of three is helping the KGB. And at least ﬁve out of ten can be regarded as voluntary assistants of the Organs and even as their supernumerary staff. And I don’t need to add how many full-time operatives can be inﬁltrated into such groups.
True, as the number of critics of the regime grows, unforeseen consequences occur. The most important is that the critics of the regime begin to compete with the apologists of the regime in understanding the regime itself. The Ideological Secretary of the Central Committee wept tears of vitriol when the news reached him that one émigré critic in the West had said that the Soviet system was stable. ‘There’s a scoundrel for you!’ shouted Secretary. ‘It is we, the genuine Marxist-Leninists, who claim that the Soviet system is stable. And here’s this disgusting traitor having the impudence to assert that our Soviet system is stable.’
Our rulers hate critics of the regime not because they undermine the regime (no criticism can do that, it can only strengthen it), but because the regime’s critics usurp the inalienable prerogative of the highest Soviet leadership: to criticize the Soviet way of life. Of course for me in my position a scientiﬁc tract would be best of all. But I’ve no money for graphs and tables: in Moscow I drew them at government expense. [pp.22-23]
It is undeniable that we have lost the reverent and tremulous attitude to denunciations that we used to have. They have lost their revolutionary-romantic tinge. And it’s no longer possible to say what their role in the history of our times has been. But the denunciation has retained a very great epistemological significance. It is the only branch of human culture in which people can achieve some competence without any training or literary ability. To write denunciations there is no need to be a member of the Soviet Writers’ Union. And, as they sing in a opera, all ages are susceptible to denunciation. [p.12]
Western Experts on Homo Sovieticus
There is a conference at the university on the subject: Homo Sovieticus. They invited all us Pensionnaires to go along. Why? Whiner was surprised. ‘As a visual aid,’ said Joker. He was dead right. The speakers vied with each other in telling us what Soviet man was. They produced quotations, they showered us with ﬁgures, facts and names. They showed in every possible way how clever and high-minded they were in comparison with that stupid and disgusting creature called Soviet Man. Then they asked us to give our opinions. They pushed me forward as the only Pensionnaire who could speak German. I said,
‘I am a characteristic example of the miserable and disgusting species which you are pleased to call Soviet Man. I am ﬂattered by the characterization you have given us. In reality, gentlemen, we are much worse. We were clever enough in our time to destroy a mighty state created by representatives of the highest race, homo sapiens, and to create our own mighty state from fear of which you here, if you will excuse the expression, have long since dirtied your trousers. We, gentlemen, are altogether more dangerous than you think. And do you know why? We are not such idiots as you would have us be. And the main point is that we are capable of losing things not only at others’ expense but at our own expense too.’ [pp.117-118]
Predicting the Future
‘It’s very simple. Any hopes that one can make scientiﬁc discoveries in the sphere of predicting the future are without foundation. First of all, in the Soviet Union predictions about the future are the prerogative of the highest Party authorities, and so scientiﬁc small fry are simply not allowed to make any discoveries in this area. Secondly, the Party authorities don’t predict the future, they plan it. It is in principle impossible to predict the future, but it can be planned. After all, in some measure and in some form, history is the attempt to correspond to a plan. Here it’s like the ﬁve-year plans: they are always fulﬁlled as a guide to action, but never as predictions.
‘The problem is not what is going to happen but what should be done to force history to follow the course we want.’ [p.123]
‘And what sort of crack-up in the ideology of the Soviet system are they talking about?’ Individual continued.
‘Here there are millions of people who are ready at the drop of a hat to betray all the values of Western civilization. It’s my tenth year here. And I’ve yet to ﬁnd a single committed defender of these values. It’s only among us Soviet people that defenders of the West’s ideals can be found.’ [p.231]
The Homosos is Homo Sovieticus, or Soviet man, regarded as a type of living being and not as a citizen of the USSR. Not every citizen of the USSR is a Homosos. Not every Homosos is a citizen of the USSR. Occasions on which people behave like Homososes can be found in the most varied epochs and in the most diverse countries. But the man who possesses a more or less full complement of the qualities of the Homosos displays them systematically, transmits them from generation to generation and himself appears as a typical mass-phenomenon in a given society; he is, indeed, the product of history. Such a man is generated by the conditions inseparable from the existence of a Communist (or Socialist) society. He is the carrier of that society’s principles of life. He preserves its intra-collective relations by the very way of life he leads. For the ﬁrst time in history man became Homosos in Moscow and in Moscow’s sphere of inﬂuence within the Soviet Union; that is to say, in Muscovy. …
Let us take, as an example, the Homososes of today who are living in Muscovy. Food prices have gone up. Will the Homosos arrange a protest demonstration? Of course not. The Homosos has been trained to live in pretty dreadful conditions. He is ready to face hardships. He continually expects something even worse. He is humble before the dispositions of the powers-that-be. How will the Homosos behave if he has to adopt a position in public (that is, at meetings, in his collective) towards the dissidents? Naturally, he will endorse the actions of the authorities and condemn the actions of the dissidents.
The Homosos always tries to put a spoke in the wheels of anyone disrupting the customary forms of behaviour; he toadies to the powers-that-be; he is on the side of the majority of his fellow-citizens who are approved by the authorities. How does the Homosos react to the militarization of his country and to the growth of Soviet activity throughout the world, including its interventionist tendencies? He totally supports his leadership because he possesses the standardized consciousness formed by the ideology, a feeling of responsibility for the country as a whole, a readiness for sacriﬁce and a readiness to sacriﬁce others.
Of course the Homosos is also capable of feeling discontent with his lot: he can even criticize what is going on in the country and the authorities themselves. But only in the appropriate form, in the appropriate place and to the appropriate degree; that is to say, in a way that doesn’t appreciably threaten the overall interests of the social organism. …
Homosos society has its own criteria for the evaluation of the qualities and behaviour of its individual members. In many ways these criteria do not coincide with analogous criteria in societies of other types. They are situational. From this viewpoint the Homosos is supple and plastic to a degree that makes him seem quite spineless. He possesses a comparatively large range of fluctuations vis-à-vis social and psychological situations and values, but he also has the ability to revert to a certain average, middling position.
The Homosos, for example, can hear you out attentively as you lay bare the ulcers of Soviet society, and he may agree with you one hundred per cent. But do not rush to the conclusion that you have de-programmed him and converted him to your own beliefs. He himself can immediately produce a mass of examples to support what you have said and even express views about his own society that are more critical than yours. But that will not make him cease to be a Homosos. His essence will remain the same. Only a minute percentage of Homososes swallow the bait of such propaganda. We can estimate this percentage in advance: there are marginal deviations of this sort in any mass of people. And the Homosos may, for example, give a sincere undertaking to co-operate with you in your dissident activities. But don‘t be too quick to congratulate yourself on your success. He can immediately denounce you just as sincerely to the authorities. …
If one looks at the behaviour of the Homosos from the viewpoint of some abstract morality, he seems to be a completely immoral being. The Homosos isn’t a moral being, that’s true, but it isn’t true to say that he is positively immoral. In the ﬁrst instance he is an ideological being. And on that basis he can be either moral or immoral, according to circumstances. Homososes are not villains. Among them there are many good people. But the good Homosos is a man who either doesn’t have the opportunity to cause other people harm or who finds no special need to do so. But if he has the opportunity, or is compelled, to do evil, he will do it not less but even more thoroughly than the most inveterate villain. …
Evolution-wise the Homosos is not decadent. On the contrary, he is the highest product of civilization. He is superman. He is universal. If need be, he can commit any frightfulness. Where it is possible, he can possess every virtue. There are no secrets which he cannot explain. There are no problems which he cannot solve. He is naïve and simple. He is vacuous. He is omniscient and all-pervasive. He is replete with wisdom. He is a particle of the universe that bears the whole universe within itself. He is ready for anything and anyone. He is even ready for the best. He awaits it, although he doesn’t believe in it. He hopes for the worst. He is Nothing; that is to say, Everything. He is God, pretending to be the. Devil. He is the Devil, pretending to be God. He is in every man.
Gentle reader, look into yourself and you will see there at least the embryo of this crown of creation. For you yourself are human. You yourself are Homosos. [pp.258-262]
(Note: As a critic both of the West. and of Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of Perestroika (which he decried as Catastroika), Zinoviev became a champion of the defunct Soviet Union in his later years. — Ed.)
A Totalising New Epoch
The Stalin Test
Leszek Kołakowski (1927-2009) was a Polish philosopher and historian of ideas best known for his critical analyses of Marxist thought, the most famous of which is his three-volume Main Currents of Marxism (in Polish, 1976, English translation in 1978). The following excerpt is taken from an conversation between George Urban and Kołakowski published in 1981. — Ed.
George Urban: We might test the validity of the application of ‘totalitarianism’ to the Soviet system by measuring the Soviet Union against Professor Carl J. Friedrich’s five basic traits which, so he tells us (in his Totalitarianism, 1954), mark off a totalitarian society from one which is not so…. Carl Friedrich lists five clusters of traits which I shall summarise in shorthand. First, an all-pervading ideology which claims to offer the perfect final society for the whole of mankind.
Kołakowski: True for the Soviet system.
— Second, a single party organised in a hierarchical manner, usually under a single leader, superior to or commingled with the government bureaucracy.
Kołakowski: Applies to the Soviet Party.
— Third, the complete monopoly of all means of effective armed combat, that is, the police, the border forces, the army, navy and air force.
— Fourth, monopoly of the control of all means of mass communication such as the press, radio, television, motion pictures, and so on.
— Fifth, terroristic police control directed not only against demonstrable “enemies” of the regime but against arbitrarily selected classes of the population.
Kołakowski: Applies. Stalinism was all these things but it went beyond them in several important respects. Stalinism in its mature form was a unified state-organism facing atom-like individuals. With civil society virtually destroyed, everyone was supposed to become his brother’s spy. The unattainable ideal of the system was a situation where all people were at the same time inmates of concentration camps and secret police agents — a unique combination in human affairs.
— The Devil in History:
A Conversation by Leszek Kolakowski and George Urban,
Encounter (January 1981): 9-26, at pp.14-15
The Duck Test
At a labor meeting in 1946 Emil Mazey, secretary-treasurer of the United Auto Workers, accused someone of being a Communist:
I can’t prove you are a Communist. But when I see a bird that quacks like a duck, walks like a duck, has feathers and webbed feet and associates with ducks—I’m certainly going to assume that he is a duck..
Ever since the bloody denouement of the 1989 student-led protests in China, speculation has been rife as to when a ‘Chinese Gorbachev’ might take the reins of power. It was hoped that such a figure would usher in a new era of political reform and liberalization. Over the decades, hope has been (mistakenly) placed in figures like Qiao Shi 喬石, Hu Jintao, Wen Jiabao and, for few heady moments in 2012-2013, even in Xi Jinping and his henchman Wang Qishan 王歧山.
Of course, events in post-Soviet Russia should have given analysts in- and outside China reason enough to pause. After Gorbachev came the chaotic interregnum of Yeltsin, followed by the quasi-imperial restoration of Vladimir Putin. Perhaps China has followed a similar trajectory: after the juddering liberalisation of the 1980s and the chaos under Hu-Zhao, the complex era of unfettered commerce and stagnant social evolution under Jiang-Hu, the People’s Republic under Xi Jinping is, indeed, finally experiencing political reform. Rather than being a reform that enfranchises the population, enhances civil society, eases political and personal freedoms to create a mature modern polity, however, Xi Jinping and his colleagues are ‘reforming in reverse’. They are reaffirming practices that proved so effective, albeit socially disastrous, in the past. They resist Peaceful Evolution and work to ensure the Red Mountains & Rivers of Party dominance.
Since Xi Jinping’s 2012 investiture China Experts have enjoyed a new parlor game: debating whether he is a strongman, a frontman or just a partyman. The sobering reality is that Xi Jinping, personal quirks and ambitions aside, is an embodiment of the Communist Party apparat, an avatar of the security state. His rule seems to conform to the criteria of totalitarianism, and as such, he is an instrument of history; he is not as important as the machinery in which works. Like Lei Feng his ambition is to be ‘a bolt that never rusts’ 一顆永不生銹的螺絲釘.
The Frog-eyed View of Xi Jinping
In recent years, the ancient term Tianxia天下 — literally ‘All-Under-Heaven’ — has gained currency. Tianxia can also mean ‘realm’ or ’empire’; it is frequently used to refer to the Chinese party-state under Xi Jinping. In the second essay in our series ‘Drop Your Pants!‘, we introduced the history of China’s party-state and touched on the tragic fate of Chu Anping 儲安平, the journalist who dared caution Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai against turning China into a ‘Party Empire’ 黨天下 in 1957. Here, in conclusion to Homo Xinensis, we return to the point from which we set out in rural Shaanxi with Mao Zedong, Liu Shaoqi, Kang Sheng, Hu Qiaomu, Deng Liqun and the other architects of the Yan’an Rectification campaign of the early 1940s.
This is the environment, the ‘political ecology’ in which Xi Jinping and his colleagues grew up. It is the world that, through the propaganda model of Jiao Yulu, influenced Xi’s idealised view of the Party and its New Socialist Man. It was to this world that, in 1969, Xi was sent as a sixteen-year old, allocated to live in the cave-dwelling village of Liangjiahe in Shaanxi province 山西省梁家河村, not far from the ‘Communist cradle’ of Yan’an. It was in Liangjiahe that Xi Jinping grew to maturity and became the local Communist Party Secretary. In many respects, Xi Jinping retains the perspective of a local Party Secretary from a far flung rural backwater; it helps explain both the grounding of and the limits to his Weltanschauung. It is also why Ke Yunlu (柯雲路, 1946-) based his popular 1984 novel, New Stars 新星 on the activities of Xi and those like him. Xi Jinping’s obsessive references to the model Party Secretary Jiao Yulu and his district of Lankao, along with his praise for what is now called the ‘Great Wisdom of Liangjiahe’ 梁家河的大學問 may reflect a certain Communist authenticity, but they also betray the limited purview, and the anxieties, of a man whose vision for China is in many ways as narrow as that as a local Party bureaucrat. As Tsinghua professor Xu Zhangrun commented in his 24 July 2018 petition to the party-state:
All of this reflects the low IQ of the Concerned Official and His craving for fame. 當事人如此弱智而好名。
Added to all of the above is, of course, a lifetime of resentments related to the disgrace of his father, Xi Zhongxun, rejection by peers in the Red Nobility during his adolescence, the support of old comrades at crucial moments in his subsequent bureaucratic career and the long shadow cast by a Napoleonic sense of self-worth…. Such themes worth taking up in later Lessons in New Sinology.
Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World opened at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York on 4 October. Some of the more controversial works selected by the curators were ‘elided’ in the actual exhibition or, to use an old Chinese term for censorship, ‘skylights were opened’ 開天窗, leaving gaping holes that served to draw attention to the cultural lacunae.
An uncensored, and unintentional, postscript to the exhibition was located on the ground floor of the Guggenheim’s rotunda tucked away next to the entrance of The Wright restaurant. By reconfiguring an installation made in Beijing in 1995, the artist Wang Gongxin (王功新, 1960-) opened a skylight in the museum floor itself. The original, Sky of Brooklyn — Digging a Hole in Beijing, consisted of a 3.5-meter ‘well’ dug in the living room floor of the artist’s Beijing house. A television monitor at the bottom of the well showed footage of the sky of Brooklyn in a continuous loop. Wang added a soundtrack: ‘What are you looking at? What’s there to look at? There are a few clouds in the sky. What’s there to see?’
For the Guggenheim exhibition in 2017, the artist imported his old floor tiles and replicated the well. This time the work was called Sky of Beijing — Digging a Hole in New York, and the television monitor offered an unbroken view of the sky over the Chinese capital. Sotto voce, small-scale, discreet, Wang’s work was a welcome relief after the cacophony and bristling ambition of much of the rest of the exhibition. Wang’s bottomless well invited the viewer to reflect on two clichés: one is the notion that if you were to dig a hole straight through the earth you would end up in China; the other comes from Zhuangzi 莊子, the third-century BCE Taoist thinker who said that you can’t discuss the vast ocean with a frog at the bottom of a well for he only sees what is over his head 井蛙不可以語於海者，拘於虛也.
Looking through Wang Gongxin’s well at the Guggenheim in New York and seeing Beijing skies the viewer confronts a skylight onto a country that is the dominion of an invigorated Communist Party under the most powerful leader in the history of the People’s Republic (Xi not only has more titles than Mao Zedong, but he controls every lever of party-state power and has done his best to eliminate the political factions that were a constant feature of Mao’s fractured rule). Yet, as we noted earlier, in the reams of Xi’s ‘important speeches’ and voluminous published works we are faced with a ruler who essentially sees the world from the perspective of a local apparatchik. With pettifogging ideas about humanity, ideology and social control, backed up by the vast machinery of state, Xi manages to reduce the potential grandeur, and even greatness of China, on the world stage to that of pusillanimity. His vision is that of the frog at the bottom of the well, or, of an ant on high …
Ascent of the Ant
An ant reached the summit of a mound of manure. Gazing over the vast emptiness, afflatus swelled in the ant’s chest: Surely such an experience was unique, unknown to those in the past, impossible for future generations to savour!
A poetic inscription was called for. With a flourish of the brush, the ant set to inscribing two lines from [‘Marvelling at Mount Tai’ 望嶽 by the famous Tang-dynasty poet] Du Fu on the mound:
Standing atop the highest peak,
with one glance all other mountains
grow tiny beneath me.
Before the last words were written, the skies opened up and the ant sunk into the soggy shit.
— trans. G.R. Barmé