Important introduction to a research volume on China's adaptive governance mechanisms which helped the nation to develop despite all odds. While not a recent publication, its historical research method provides timeless insights which are highly interesting under the light of recent Zero Covid policies.
Winston Churchill once said that the further we look into the past the better we can understand the future. The Chinese past defines everybody who is not part of the cultural hemisphere of the Middle Kingdom as barbarian. The barbarians were seen as the far extreme opposite of the emperor or Son of Heaven | 天子, who was divinely appointed and emanated universal and well-defined principles of order. His spheres of influence were clearly classified according to physical proximity and as such exposure to his culture, into court officials, officials at vassal courts, tributary courts and their respective subjects, and finally barbarians, who were not yet under his heavenly mandate.
Later dynasties, in particular the Ming who moved the capital in the early 15th century to Beijing and had there the Temple of Heaven | 天坛erected, continued to apply this essentially social and strongly hierarchical structure of the emperor and his court being the center of the known world, culturally superior to any other form of human life. Only if one tries to understand this more than two millennia long self-perception of the Chinese elite, one can phantom the emotional dimension of the what the British kicked off in 1839 with the Opium Wars and what is known by the Chinese as Century of Humiliation | 百年国耻.
I guess we can summarize a few answers to the questions raised earlier at this point:
1. Wait, but why do US and Chinese governments invest about 10% of their public expenditure on security measures?
The American elite is captivated in a prolongation of its obsolete 20th century world dominance, the related economic model of industrial growth and its profit focus which can only be sustained by creating a world of scarcity and poverty. The Chinese elite is enthralled in a 150-year long pursuit to regain cultural and political world hegemony and therefore spends insane amounts, in particular in terms of purchasing power, on domestic security and national defense, and has adopted the US economic system as means to meet that end.
2. Can China provide a better system of international governance than the US? Will there be any change in how we run this planet under a Pax Sinica, or will we just swap the color code from Yankee blue to Maoist red? Where is Xi Jinping’s weakness?
Xi Jinping has a clear inner and outer focus, which makes him contrary to Donald Trump a strong national leader, but he most likely lacks the required other focus to understand the global dimension of environmental and social challenges ahead, which demand a concerted effort of all of mankind and thus an integral, inclusive and pragmatic leadership. With a continuation of the same economic growth model he will only change the color code of the world hegemon, but won’t be able to give future generations hope. There is though a chance that Xi himself initiates in the tradition of Chinese pragmatism a transition from nationalist to globalist leadership; if only for pure power based calculations; and I give him my full endorsement following the thoughts of management philosopher Peter Drucker who once said:
One hears a great deal today about “the end of hierarchy.” This is blatant nonsense. In any institution there has to be a final authority, that is, a “boss” – someone who can make the final decisions and who can expect them to be obeyed. In a situation of common peril – and every institution is likely to encounter it sooner or later – survival depends on clear command. If the ship goes down, the captain does not call a meeting, the captain gives and order. And if the ship is to be saved, everyone must obey the order, must know exactly where to go and what to do, and do it without “participation” or argument. “Hierarchy” and the unquestioning acceptance of it by everyone in the organization, is the only hope in a crisis.
有地球才有家 | One World One Home
If Xi Jinping is our Captain Planet, then I would have a few recommendations for his second term during the next five years.
1. Convert all military forces into planeteers to clean up the debris already created and prevent future degradation of natural resources. Allocate national defense and homeland security spending to environmental protection. If Captain Xi takes the lead, I am pretty sure that quite a few nations will follow en suite.
2. Convert all nationalist propaganda which decorates Chinese streets, schools, cinemas and public spaces into globalist propaganda. Change slogans from Happy National Day – Wishing the Motherland a Future of Unlimited Bliss to Happy World Day – Wishing our Planet a Future of Unlimited Bliss.
3. Transform the China Dream | 中国梦into a World Dream 世界梦 and make clear to everybody that we have only one world, which is all our home.
4. Transition from an industrial growth system to an integral growth system, which creates abundance instead of scarcity.
5. Initiate a landslide transformation from an industrial education model to an integral education model, setting Chinese students free from the competitive drudgery of excessively acquiring cognitive skills and making space and time for the playful acquisition of collaborative social skills.
This is part of analysis of the 19th Party Congress in 2017. The full text was published as Fish, Energy and XJP: is he the captain planet the world has been waiting for?
In my early China days more than 20 years ago, I was enthralled by average Chinese having a deep understanding of how food impacts our health. 以食为疗 | let food be medicine - soon became a guiding proverb for a new found lifestyle which abandoned Western industrial food for a varied Chinese cuisine. I turned vegetarian barely two years after my arrival to the country and remained so ever since.
While I was bored in my Chinese classes which I soon abandoned, I was inspired in our neighborhood restaurants, where I copied laminated menus and quizzed the owners of small food stalls about the ingredients and the meaning of each dish. Food was without doubt my entry ticket to a culture which is now closer to me than what I used to call home.
The Shanghai born physician Adeline Yen Mah explained in her 2001 book 守株待兔 | Watching a Tree to Catch a Hare - which I devoured in my Kunming days over peanut sauce filled erkuais | 饵快 (see above picture) - how the healthy diet of Chinese peasants outperformed already in the pre-CCP era the diet of wealthy urbanites; and how the variety of Chinese vegetables offers itself to a balanced as well as vegetarian diet.
Watching a Tree to Catch a Hare became the entry point to a much larger topic of how food, culture, individual and societal health are interconnected. I readily learned from my Chinese relatives which 'cold' food like bitter gourd (see picture below 苦瓜烧鸡蛋) should be eaten during hot summer days, and which 'hot' food like ginger should be eaten during cold winter months.
China has experienced during the last two decades an enormous transformation of its cuisine. While traditional cooking remains to be a cultural stronghold, going out for a decent lunch or dinner is not anymore, a bargain like it once was. The recent lockdown of Shanghai has moreover shown that access to healthy and fresh food is everything else but a certainty.
A surge in diabetes, obesity and many other nutrition related diseases reveals that Chinese society follows despite its rather recent agrarian roots a similar trajectory as affluent Western economies. The findings of the China-Cornell-Oxford Project, which was conducted in the 1980s and turned by biochemist Colin Campbell into a bestselling book on nutrition have been largely ignored.
Campbell concludes that people who eat a predominantly whole-food, vegan diet and reduce their intake of processed foods and refined carbohydrates—will escape, reduce, or reverse the development of numerous diseases. Who would have thought that the science of health and nutrition receives tailwind from a Chinese government which has set its sails towards Sakoku, the island of isolationist policies?
The 14th Five-Year Plan of China sets forth a national strategy towards lab-grown meat and plant-based eggs among food production technologies that will be supported to cut reliance on overseas know-how and imports. This is overall great news, considering that China has turned into the world’s largest single market for meat and thus a major contributor of food caused climate change.
The shift towards plant-based foods might also impact the epidemiological future of animal born and human contracted viruses like Covid-19, since there are indications that the intensive and economy of scale husbandry farming techniques practiced in China are a direct cause for the increase in pandemic diseases.
Quite few years back, I attended an interesting course about China’s food security under the title “Can China Feed Itself?“ (see above research chart) and now wonder if the Chinese government’s interest in food independence is not a best practice for other nations and regions to follow. Reducing the reliance on global trade and industrial food corporations is in line with sustainable farming techniques and the Permaculture method.
Whether plant-based high-tech foods reduce the dependence on large corporations remains to be seen. A world in which industrial agriculture produces ingredients which are healthy for planet and people is however to be preferred over the system which we have inherited from US capitalism and which has been the subject of numerous documentaries like Forks over Knives, Planeat, Food Inc. or Fed Up.
So, go CCP, go! 加油共产党！
“In a line behind a billion people” as economist Damian Ma wrote a decade ago. The West needs to realize that it can’t win a race in exploitative capitalism against the world’s largest corporation, i.e. state capitalist China.
Like Putin’s insanity will teach in the long run that dependent economies must build a non-fossil energy security, Xi’s techno-nationalism will teach that we can do better with less tech and consumption but instead more fairness and empathy for each other.
There is always a crack in everything; that’s where the light comes in. So, at least Leonard Cohen says.
Beijing 2022 - On Chinese Nationalism, Western Bigotry and Global Sustainability of Large Scale Sporting Events
Friday afternoon, Feb 4. I return from a meeting at the Vienna Natural History Museum and encounter a situation similar like back in 2018 when the telly showed the Worldcup 2018 finals in our Shanghai apartment. The opening ceremony of the winter Olympics is broadcasted from Beijing’s nest stadium into our living room and my family is glued to the screen. National anthems, national flags, national winter tricots, national tricolore painted into the faces of athletes and participants – and new in 2022: on covid-19 masks.
What I wrote then is still valid today: large international sporting events which celebrate nationalism are ecological and social anachronisms which must not be any longer tolerated. I argued that we live again in a panem et circenses world which gives us dopamine and mass event driven oxytocin kicks to make up for the community disruption which we increasingly experience in the course of the industrial revolution.
The neurology of mass sports events was early recognized by psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich who wrote with ‘The Mass Psychology of Fascism’ a seminal book to explain why Worldcups and Olympics are not just athletic competitions (as it was the idea in ancient Greece) but dangerous international events which build Herrenmensch idols and homo deus images to drive the agenda of the power elites which organize them. Following the laws of decentralization and sustainability formulated by Nobel laureate F. Schumacher, their size indicates the progression of decay in a society.
What is different between the two events? The 2018 Worldcup was celebrated in an already declining Western world just a year before our latest pandemic hit the ground. The 2022 Olympics are organized in the country where covid-19 erupted and which has convinced most of the rest of the world (ROW) that a totalitarian regime found a solution to the disease: large scale ghetto like quarantines and compulsory vaccinations, if necessary, enforced with police and military.
As a side note, ROW is an abbreviation which Western industry started to use to describe two different technical standards for the same product: one for China, i.e. enforced by the absolutist technocrats, and one for the rest of the world. We can observe that this separation of the world in China and ROW extends increasingly to non-technological aspects of everyday life. It reflects China’s traditional self-understanding of being the center of the world and is driven by its increasingly seclusionist policies.
Let’s take a closer look at the power elites which orchestrate such large-scale events. The Worldcup is the flagship event of FIFA, the United Nations Organization of the soccer sect. FIFA’s annual revenue stands at approx. USD 1 billion – the tip of an iceberg of infrastructure investment, tourism turnover, and sales in various industries from F&B to advertisement, etc. The Worldcup is big business and confirms what historian Yuval Harari summarized eloquently:
Modernity has turned ‘more stuff’ into a panacea. […] Economic growth has thus become the crucial juncture where almost all modern religions, ideologies and movements meet. The Soviet Union, with its megalomaniac Five Year Plans, was as obsessed with growth as the most cut-throat American robber baron. Just as Christians and Muslim both believed in heaven, and disagreed only about how to get there, so during the Cold War both capitalists and communists believed in creating heaven on earth through economic growth, and wrangled only about the exact method.
The International Olympic Committee or short IOC is of a similar revenue dimension as FIFA. Statistica writes that the revenue for IOC from TV rights and ticket sales fluctuated since Nagano 1998 until Pyeongchang 2018 between USD 0.6 and USD 1.6 billion. That seems to be a moderate revenue considering the dimensions of the games. The IOC website reveals that the organizations budget is similar like FIFA’s only the tip of an enormous capitalist iceberg.
IOC made between 2013-2016 USD 5 billion in “funding” and kept 10% that is a staggering USD 100 million per anno for its operations. It’s safe to assume that responsible functionaries receive high six-digit salaries for fostering nationalism, competition and environmental degradation. What is more important to note is the new speak terminology of funding. IOC’s funding is bluntly spoken corporate revenue and can with a polemic tinge be seen as capitalist lobbying which aims at infrastructure investments and many other multibillion-dollar deals.
Why is that? Because the Olympics are the world’s largest franchise: an applicant-city has to convince the IOC that is has already prepared, or will prepare in time, what is necessary for the Games. Bearing all associated costs. ‘What's necessary’ is at the sole discretion of the IOC. In exchange the successful bidder gets the right to call its competition ‘the Olympic Games’. The lion’s share of expenses is always borne by the organizers, including, but not limited to, building sport facilities, organizing lodgings and transportation for athletes and officials, feeding them during the games.
One might think that because the financial burden on the organizing city / country is enormous, IOC shares the revenue fairly. Wrong. The IOC retains and controls almost all the marketing rights associated with the Games. Profits from on-site Olympic paraphernalia and venue tickets sales are shared – but those are minor compared to the main sources of income: TV rights. The main profits from those marketing rights always go straight to the IOC.
Now, you might ask yourself (I did) why any nation would be interested to host Olympic Games if they are financially rather unsustainable. The answer is somewhat not straight forward. Fame? Vanity? Pride? Do such concepts exist in a collective dimension as it is the case with 1.4 billion Chinese? This is the point where Berlin 1936 and Beijing 2008 converge as historical events which gave a rising political power the opportunity to show to the world through a large-scale public event that it needs to be taken seriously; and to its own citizens that his has reached what it has promised: a lead position within the international community.
The boycott of the US government and its allies to not send any diplomats to the Beijing Games confirms this analogy. A war brews behind the scenes and prompts the defining question about global order for this generation: Will China and the United States escape the Thucydides’s Trap? The Greek historian’s metaphor reminds us of the attendant dangers when a rising power rivals a ruling power—as Athens challenged Sparta in ancient Greece, or as Germany did Britain a century ago. Most such contests have ended badly, often for both nations, a team at the Harvard Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs has concluded after analyzing the historical record. In 12 of 16 cases over the past 500 years, the result was war. When the parties avoided war, it required huge, painful adjustments in attitudes and actions on the part of not just the challenger but also the challenged.
The mass psychology of fascism doesn’t know cultural borders. The human being and nationalism are everywhere the same. The competition of individual athletes is embedded in a larger competition between nations states, the largest entities of a capitalist economic system. The athletes turn into ambassadors for the achievements of a society, an economy, a civilization and their accumulated won medals into the PISA ranking of physical not intellectual prowess. Statistics confirm that won medals in relation to the total population of a nation are a clear indicator of economic development in GDP terms.
The power elites which orchestrate large events like the Olympic Games follow the same principles which drive our ecological system into havoc. They are motivated by power and profit. While corporate interests are the main driver of Olympic Games in the decaying West, state capitalism motivates the Olympic Games in China where capitalism and communism have blended into an ideology which comes straight from hell. Its again Yuval Harari who has found an eloquent metaphor of how a sporting event and the instilled admiration of athletes reflects the competitive rat race which humanity can no longer afford if it wants to survive.
When it comes to climate change, many growth true-believers do not just hope for miracles – they take it for granted that the miracles will happen. […] Even if we go on running fast enough and manage to fend off both economic collapse and ecological meltdown, the race itself creates huge problems. On the individual level it results in high levels of stress and tension. […] We blame ourselves, our boss, the mortgage, the government, the school system. But its not really their fault. It's the modern deal, which we have all signed up to on the day we were born.
Olympic Games are an elite version of the everyday rat race our knowledge economies engage in. They come at an extremely high social and environmental cost – and there is no green washing or nice talking possible. The medal tables mentioned earlier confirm that only GPD strong nations which invest lots of resources into the training of their cadres can participate or even succeed in the games. The games are therefore made for the rich to participate and for the poor to watch. They are the most prominent example of how a global and inclusive society must not work.
When it comes to the environmental impact of Olympic Games, I think lately only of the European policy during Covid-19 peak infection periods of shutting down all social activities which are not system relevant. Let’s ask this question in all seriousness: are Olympic Games in the face of a climate crisis systemically relevant? Or should we rather consider spending CO2 emissions caused by 2800 participating athletes, and additional trainers and medical teams in other more meaningful ways?
How about decentralized Olympic Games which are held in small regional events during the same two weeks every four years? Or how about cancelling them all together for the sake of initiating a shift from competition towards collaboration? Or how about letting athletes only participate under their name and not a flag? Humanity needs to be unified by events which cause such tremendous environmental costs and do not promote a fair distribution of global wealth but aggravate the already existing inequalities.
Biathletes with awkwardly black band aids in their faces to avoid skin rupture discuss on Austrian national TV that the arid climate and the strong wind make the competition particularly difficult. Listening to their serious concerns raises in my mind only one question: how will this planet’s athletes compete against each other when increasing precipitation and more frequent storms disrupt the atmosphere and what has been dubbed goldilocks conditions?
What are goldilocks conditions? you might ask. They are the climate conditions which the world experiences since about the start of the Neolithic revolution, that is approx. 10000 years. And how are they characterized? Goldilocks conditions are a set of rather stable parameters which define our current climate zones and probably even more significant: the current sea levels. Climate change and global warming most simply defined will result in 7% more water in the atmosphere for every 1˚C warming.
The future (and as a matter of fact the present day) will bring more storms and heavier rains in areas which had less precipitation and in different periods of the year. it will be less predictable whether skiing resorts will have snow and many events will be cancelled due to storms. Imagine ski jumping or ski acrobatics with storms breaking in. Imagine biathletes shooting at their aims when snow hurricanes flatten the landscapes.
What disturbs me most in this spectacle is the bigotry of Western media which does on the one hand not see how capitalist greed plays in the hands of a nationalist demagogue; and on the other how capitalist greed undermines sincere efforts to initiate a turnaround in regard to climate change – maybe even with the support of China. The Austrian national TV reported on Jan 27 that the 2022 Olympic Games are a fake snow event of hitherto not seen dimensions and quoted an international study which projects that only 10 of the 21 locations which have hosted Winter Olympics since 1924 will be able to do so in future.
The Austrian trade commission in China promotes national winter technology since years as one of the hottest export products. Doppelmayr cable cars and national team trainers, products and services are exported to fuel the Chinese boom in recreational sports as well as the national economy. The dilemma of unsustainable Alpine tourism which was the subject of a well known 1980s TV production is exported to Far East Asia 40 years later. How can we request from China more environmental empathy if we do not start at home?
How can we complain about Alpine slopes in brown landscapes and downhill races without spectators at the Beijing Olympics when we do the same here? Shortly after I returned to Austria in fall 2020, Worldcup races were executed during Covid-19 lockdowns. TV moderators commented on the races as if no frame condition had changed. No spectators watched the race and the slopes looked exactly like the one above north of Beijing this winter. Chinese nationalism and Western bigotry must stop for the sake of global sustainability.
The size of the participating teams is good indicator for the importance of winter sports, economic development and Western bigotry. While most of the climate change impact is caused by wealthy nations, they send huge teams to participate in games which celebrate their athletic achievements at the expense of the poor south. It is in particular the winter Olympics which shows a group picture of those nations with the largest carbon foot engaging in non-system relevant games when the impact of their selfish attitude depletes resources and destroys the planet.
The Austrian team doesn’t make it into the top 10, but with 106 members it represents an extraordinarily large share of the global population. Just as an exercise in carbon footprint justice: 2874 athletes participating on behalf of a human race which now counts about 8 billion people. One athlete represents 2.8 million people and a small country like Austria uses the carbon footprint share of 295 mio people, i.e. almost the population size of the US and more than Indonesia.
Writing these lines from Innsbruck, a small Alpine city which hosted the winter Olympics in 1964 and 1976, I remember my youth as enthusiastic Alpine snowboard instructor and the joy which I got from practicing the sports. Thinking about the past, I know that we need to decouple sports from capitalism and thus from mass sports events. The sustainable future of winter sports lies like with almost everything in small, community-based activities like ski touring. Nationalism and capitalism are poisonous ingredients, which turn the purest forms of recreation into planet and people devouring phenomena.
Its rare that I find somebody who writes on China in similar interdisciplinary manner I do. Dan Wang is such a philosopher who takes on every subject and thinks about it deeply. We might not agree on what we see, but it is essentially the same object to which we devote so much affection.
I read his annual review for the first time last year and felt compelled to provide a glossed review to his 2021 observations reading them today. Dan, I hope you excuse that I quote some paragraphs of your ruminations directly - it puts my comments into context. And thank you for doing this - I have given up on my annual reviews already a few years ago.
Having lived myself in Shanghai for eleven years until a short while ago and being a frequent guest in Beijing, Tianjin, Wuhan, Guangzhou and Hongkong over the last decade, I share most of what Dan Wang wrote on the three Chinese metropolis areas. Beijing is mordor, sucking its hinterland dry in both ecological and metaphorical manner. It is a showcase for urban dystopia and what Schumacher called economics as if people didn't matter.
[...] The aura of state power is overbearing in Beijing. By power I mean the physical infrastructure, which is meant to intimidate. Beijing’s boulevards are so unwalkable because they are designed less for pedestrians than for army parades. [...]
[...] Beijing isn’t satisfied with greater national wealth. It is also seeking socialist modernization and the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese people.” That is a messianic drive, complete with sacred texts, elaborate rituals, and the occasional purge. [...]
More sober and less outspoken China watchers call this messianic drive a renewed cultural revolution and an aspiration for world dominion with similar results: what can’t be remembered must repeat itself. highly recommended to read The Landscape of Chinese Souls on this subject.
[...] In spite of my physical dislike of Beijing as a city, I find myself sympathetic to its spirit. There is a use for the hard men of the north. I appreciate this line from Amia Srinivasan in Tyler’s interview this year: “One thing history might show us is that it is the prophets, and not the mere pragmatists, who are the most powerful world makers.” [...]
I have understood the word prophet always with a positive connotation. A prophet tries to help people out of misery and into utopia. Beijing's prophecy is double speak, because its prophecy is directed at a new in group which excludes in this religious nation myth 4/5th of humanity. Beijing lacks prophets unless Hitler was one. Dan cannot write this because he is still in China.
[...] Beijing’s goal is to channel entrepreneurial spirit towards useful goals. Profit cannot be the final standard of value, and the country’s best and brightest must work towards national salvation. I see that dynamic playing out in the regulatory campaigns this year. [...]
The most shocking event of 2021 was the national youth parade on July 1. Dan does not even mention it. It was a clear sign that Beijing goes down Berlin’s path with a century of delay. Whoever does not see this, is either blind or applies Chamberlain’s appeasement politics.
Shanghai is probably best as far as city life can go, but recent policies aiming at removing migrant workers and the insane clamp down since 2018 starting every year six months (!) before the Import Export Fair in Qingpu have made my home town pay such a heavy toll that I decided to leave for good. I share Dan's observation that Hong Kong is largely obsolete - how is that possible considering the marvelous setting of that city? A lesson for the non believers: the wrong from of government can turn Madeira into Alactraz.
Contrary to Dan, i did not change my residence much in China. I lived in Qiqihar, Kunming and Shanghai. I chose the periphery over the epicenters until i came in touch with Shanghai's gravity which is indeed 21st century New York, unless further tightening cuts it off from the rest of the world.
[...] While Beijing has restrained internet companies, it has done nothing to hurt more science-based industries like semiconductors and renewables. In fact, it has offered these industries tax breaks and other forms of political support. The 14th Five-Year Plan, for example, places far greater emphasis on science-based technologies than the internet. Thus one of the effects of Beijing’s squeeze has been prioritization of science-based technologies over the consumer internet industry. Far from being a generalized “tech” crackdown, the leadership continues to talk tirelessly about the value of science and technology. [...]
And there is a good reason to do so. Yuval Harari eloquently pointed at the intrinsic connection between science, technology and state power since the scientific revolution by showing how both religion and science get corrupted under power seeking institutional influence: In fact, neither science nor religion cares that much about the truth, hence they can easily compromise, coexist and even cooperate. Religion is interested above all in order. It aims to create and maintain the social structure. Science is interested above all in power. It aims to acquire the power to cure diseases, fight wars and produce food. As individuals, scientists and priests may give immense importance to the truth; but as collective institutions, science and religion prefer order and power over truth.
[...] I don’t think that Beijing’s primary goal is to reshuffle technological priorities. Instead, it is mostly a mix of a technocratic belief that reducing the power of platforms would help smaller companies as well as a desire to impose political control on big firms. [...]
That’s blatant euphemism. Beijing is itself a state capitalist enterprise and its motivation in cracking down on platforms is strengthening its own sphere of influence. As the saying goes, 一山不容二虎 | there can’t be two tigers on one mountain. Beijing centralizes wherever possible and therefore turns into what Fritz Schumacher called big and ugly. Beijing is as a matter of fact the last stage in an organizational evolution which celebrates in the scheme of General Motors’ centralized decision making and was described by authors like Ken Wilber or Frederic Laloux as being obsolete.
[...] But there is also an ideological element that rejects consumer internet as the peak of technology. Beijing recognizes that internet platforms make not only a great deal of money, but also many social problems. Consider online tutoring. The Ministry of Education claims to have surveyed 700,000 parents before it declared that the sector can no longer make profit.
What was the industry profiting from? In the government’s view, education companies have become adept at monetizing the status anxieties of parents: the Zhang family keeps feeling outspent by the Li family, and vice versa. In a similar theme, the leadership considers the peer-to-peer lending industry as well as Ant Financial to be sources of financial risks; and video games to be a source of social harm. These companies may be profitable, but entrepreneurial dynamism here is not a good thing. [...]
Every move that Beijing makes is ideological. Dan wrote himself a few paragraphs earlier that Beijing has a messianic drive, complete with sacred texts, elaborate rituals, and the occasional purge. The ideology which cyberleninist Beijing is enamored with is one of Chinese cultural superiority fueled by 百年国治 | 100 years of humiliation. It manifests itself domestically in the resurrection of Chinese religion and internationally through the 一带一路 | One Belt One Road policy.
It is important to recognize however that an orange leader perceives himself as last instance in anthropocentric hierarchy. Power supersedes truth. This is the reason why a potential decentralization and breakdown of the state education monopoly is viewed by Beijing as a direct threat which must be eliminated. What if students all over the country could decide where they get their brains washed and even worse with which detergent? A nightmare for Beijing‘s elite which needs enemies like the West or Japan to rally its troops.
[...] The Chinese leadership looks more longingly at Germany, with its high level of manufacturing backed by industry-leading Mittelstand firms. Thus Beijing prefers that the best talent in the country work in manufacturing sectors rather than consumer internet and finance. Personally, I think it has been a tragedy for the US that so many physics PhDs have gone to work in hedge funds and Silicon Valley. The problem is not that these opportunities pay so well, rather it is because manufacturing has offered dismal career prospects. I see the Chinese leadership as being relatively unconcerned with talent flow into consumer internet and finance; instead it is trying to fashion an economy in which the physics PhD can do physics, the marine biology student can do marine biology, and so on. [...]
Not everybody in a society of 1.4 billion can get a STEM PhD. A power-driven regime leaves behind 700 million rural Chinese who don’t have a part in the Chinese Dream and there is another narrative about China’s stellar rise which is told by people like Scott Rozelle, a Stanford economist who researches China’s health and education sector since more than two decades. Dan's observations are highly biased towards urban centers which are in Deng Xiaoping's words the places which need to get rich first | 一部分先富起来。
[...] It’s too early to tell if in a decade China will have fewer founders of Jack Ma’s daring. So far at least, entrepreneurial types around me have found his example too removed to be worth bother. [...] In this best case, Beijing would succeed at taming its robber barons without extinguishing dynamism in the following century. [...]
com’on. Beijing is the robber baron. political scientist Sebastian Heilmann made a good point in showing that there is only a thin line between organized crime and Far East Asian style state capitalism which instrumentalizes corporations for its own power goals.
[...] I expect that China will grow rich but remain culturally stunted. By my count, the country has produced two cultural works over the last four decades since reform and opening that have proved attractive to the rest of the world: the Three-Body Problem and TikTok. Even these demand qualifications. Three-Body is a work of genius, but it is still a niche product most confined to science-fiction lovers; and TikTok is in part an American product and doesn’t necessarily convey Chinese content. Even if we wave nuances aside, China’s cultural offering to the world has been meager. Never has any economy grown so much while producing so few cultural exports. Contrast that with Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, which have made new forms of art, music, movies, and TV shows that the rest of the world loves. [...]
This too is an interesting statement: does a civilization like China really have to produce any of the superficial cultural kitsch we know from the US? there is so much about Chinese culture which keeps the world in East and West enthralled. Tea rituals, Daoist philosophy, TCM, just to name a few. The Chinese have as social psychologist Lin Yutang once noted a penchant for pragmatism which most likely is the result of early overpopulation and a constant fight for survival. The fact that there was little space for fantasies and utopias is most prominently embodied in the teachings of Master Kongzi himself, who found no interest in transcendence as long as social life was disorganized and ravaged by war.
[...] The Metaverse, which represents yet another escape of American elites from the physical world, can only exacerbate social differences. It is too much of a fun game, like cryptocurrencies, played by a small segment of the population, while the middle class dwells on more material concerns like paying for energy bills. It might make sense for San Franciscans to retreat even further into a digital phantasm, given how grim it is to go outside there. But Xi will want Chinese to live in the physical world to make babies, make steel, and make semiconductors. [...]
Fully agree on this paragraph and also with a government which endorses life in the physical world – the question is though if life is just a means to an end if yes, which end we spend it for. Another paranoid terracotta army potter does however not get my support.
[...] China is like the thinking ocean in Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris: a vast entity that produces observations personalized for every observer. These visions may be a self-defense mechanism, allowing leftists to see socialism and investors to see capitalism; or, as Lem’s ocean might be doing, China is vastly indifferent to foreign observers and generates visions to play with them. Whatever the case, we need a better understanding of this country. Too many commentators have been interested in the story of China’s collapse. When the collapse doesn’t come, they lose interest and move on. It’s a more important and more subtle skill to figure out how this country can succeed, because that is the exercise the Chinese leadership is engaged in. [...]
In an interconnected and globalized world that we live on, in an era that is called Anthropocene, if one country the size of China succeeds alone, it means that we fail as a species. The same might be true for China’s failure. The question is thus how we can succeed together.
[...] In 2018, I started to say to people that China would close its doors in 40 years, by the centenary of the country’s founding. At that point, the Celestial Empire would be secluded once more, while its people can be serenely untroubled by the turmoils of barbarians outside. Everyone reacted with disbelief, saying that there’s no way to shut down a country. But it looks like I was off only by the wrong centenary: China has been mostly shut in 2021, a hundred years after the party’s founding. I think that the government has no real exit plan for this pandemic. Any time it looks like it might relax, another variant shows up. The leadership probably has no firm aspiration to open the border at any date, and instead will assess the situation of variants and medical treatments every so often. If things don’t look good, then it won’t open up. [...]
Agreement here as well. I have been observing the Sakoku tendencies for a while and explained its ecological effects in a review of Evan Osnos’ Age of Ambition. That was about a year ago, when I first read and mostly disagreed with Dan’s annual review. Our affection for commenting on China is however such a broad common ground that I appreciate every disagreement as an invitation to contemplate a different perspective.
4 years ago i wrote here in depth about how China greenwashes its policies and argued that an economy, which labels nuclear power as climate neutral, displays ultimate ecological aggression. Yesterday, I learn that the EU Commission under former EU Defense Commissioner Ursula van der Leyen plans to do the same in Europe. This intention confirms the convergence of political systems, in which the people on the top try to maintain their power and ignore the ecological consequences of their acts.
Enlightened Aldous Huxley explained in 1962 in his lucid essay On the Politics of Ecology, that the need for power is the single root cause for the futility of politics and runaway ecological devastation. Decisions about energy security are the most lasting and impactful decisions any economy can make. They are taken up to 50 years in advance and set the very basics of peaceful and sustainable development.
European history is grounded on the European Steel and Coal Treaty from 1951. European future must not be grounded on an EU Taxonomy regulation which labels nuclear power as sustainable. If this happens, then the convergence of political systems under the pressure of market forces is completed and Europeans have accepted to play according to the rules of Beijing's unsustainable power game. A game in which we all - in particular our children - will loose.
Read my in depth analysis of why China - despite its massive investments in green technologies - is not on track to become an ecological civilization. This essay reveals in a logical manner how the power driven need to rule top down destroys the planet, depletes resources in an unprecedented scale and drives infinite energy consumption for the sake of military dominance.
The catastrophe of Chernobyl in 1989 is still fresh in my memory. What many have forgotten is the fact that ecological disasters like Chernobyl have fueled a bottom up green movement in the West since the 1960s. There are few topics more sensitive than nuclear power which has the potential to realign the social and political left against a technocrat and increasingly totalitarian EU government. Leyen is in other words working on her political demise. And that is after all good news.
There is however much to be discussed and made up for. The European Union was in the unique position to form an alliance with Maghreb nations for much of the last 50 years but failed to do so. Instead of fulfilling its duty of making courageous political long term decisions Brussels has lazily wasted time and money of the EU citizenry in self complacency.
It is a government's first responsibility to secure the resources for the survival of its citizens. Brussels has failed in fulfilling this responsibility in so many ways, most importantly in planning ahead for a transition to sustainable power security. There would have been so much time to forge fair agreements between North African nations where sun is abundant and rather sun deprived Europe. There would have been so much time to make solar power the primary source in the European energy mix and by doing so, create a larger political entity based on a common ground of sustainable development which encompasses at least the reaches of the Roman Empire.
Instead, European nations are depending on Russian gas, making any negotiation with Russia over its Crimean aggression a joke to Putin who knows that he can let Europeans freeze in a long and cold winter. A government like the European Commission which has failed for decades to fulfill its most basic duties, i.e. planning for long term energy security and sustainability, needs to be removed.
In the light of the EU taxonomy regulation, which is the major driver of Leyen wanting to label nuclear power green, this failure becomes even more problematic. While Beijing's motivation for labeling nuclear power as green energy is mainly grounded in the nation's security, Brussels' motivation is the protection of the finance and investment industry. In other words: Brussels sells the security and sustainable future of Europe to bankers.
Gideon Rachman writes these days in the FT about the implications of China's self-isolation and calls it a global concern. I wrote about this tendency to seclude China from ROW already in 2017 when dissecting the Japanese term SAKOKU.
There is also reason for concern that a cosmopolitan FT correspondent like Mr. Rachman does not dig deeper and tries to understand the roots of this self-isolation and by unearthing the roots, giving the reader more insights about the consequences of such regime behavior.
Since FT is restricted in access I copy Mr. Rachman's article here and ad a short video from my son's Chinese school. The Giant's Garden is a widely known primary school text. It is a fable about a Giant who denies children access to his garden and builds a wall around his estate to keep them out. Its a story which like no other explains the problem with China's self-understanding of cultural superiority and uniqueness.
China’s self-isolation is a global concern
Beijing’s zero-Covid policy is damaging international business and global governance
November 8, 2021 1:00 pm by Gideon Rachman
The most important invited guest at COP26 did not show up. As president of China, Xi Jinping leads a country that emits more carbon dioxide than the US and the EU combined. But, unlike other world leaders, Xi did not give a speech to the climate summit. Instead he submitted a written statement of less than 500 words for the conference website.
Xi’s dismissive attitude to the climate talks was not so much Middle Kingdom as middle finger. But the Chinese leader’s refusal to travel to Glasgow for COP26 — or to the G20 summit in Rome, before it — is part of a broader pattern of national self-isolation.
In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, China has installed one of the world’s strictest systems of border controls and quarantines. Foreigners or Chinese citizens entering the country must go into strict quarantine for a minimum of two weeks. Extra controls apply if they enter Beijing, where the leadership resides.
This system has in effect made it impossible for foreigners to visit China without staying for several months, or for most Chinese people to travel abroad. Xi himself has not left China for almost two years. The last time he saw a foreign leader in person was at a meeting with the president of Pakistan in Beijing in March 2020. Xi’s forthcoming summit with President Joe Biden will be held by video.
When much of the globe was in lockdown, the extreme nature of China’s measures seemed less remarkable. But as most of the world returns to something close to normality, China’s self-isolation is increasingly anomalous.
The effects on international business are already apparent. China continues to trade and invest with the outside world. But business ties are fraying. Foreign chambers of commerce in China report that international executives are leaving the country and not being replaced. Hong Kong’s role as a global business centre has taken a battering.
China’s leadership may actually welcome some of these developments. Yu Jie, a fellow at Chatham House in London, argues that the pandemic has allowed Xi to accelerate down a path where he was already heading — towards national self-reliance. That policy began well before the pandemic, with the “Made in China 2025” campaign, which promoted domestic technology and production.
But with Covid-19, an emphasis on economic self-sufficiency has become a much broader inward turn — with dangerous implications for China and the world. China’s extraordinary rise over the past 40 years was triggered by Deng Xiaoping’s embrace of “reform and opening” in the 1980s. Deng saw that the isolation of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution had led to poverty and backwardness. He was humble enough to realise that China could learn from the outside world.
The current mood in China is very different. Rana Mitter, professor of Chinese history at Oxford, points to a danger that “closed borders will lead to closed minds”. After 40 years of rapid growth, China is self-confident.
The Chinese media portray the west, and the US in particular, as in inexorable decline. The Chinese government believes that the country is well ahead in some key technologies of the future, such as green tech and artificial intelligence. Beijing may believe that the world now needs China more than China needs the world.
Pandemic control has also become closely entangled with the political legitimacy of Xi and the Communist party. The official death toll in China is under 5,000, compared with 750,000 deaths in the US. The Xi government argues that while the US prates about human rights, the Chinese Communist party has actually protected its people.
But China’s zero-Covid policies now risk becoming a trap. As the outside world transitions towards living with low levels of the disease, contact with foreigners may look even more dangerous to China — leading to a renewed emphasis on restricting interaction with the outside world.
Even relaxing internal controls in China is difficult, since the Delta variant has led to small outbreaks of the disease in two-thirds of China’s provinces. Suppressing these outbreaks encourages the worst control-freak tendencies of the Communist party, which uses technology to monitor citizens ever more closely. In one episode, more than 30,000 people were locked inside Disneyland Shanghai and tested, after the discovery of a single case of Covid.
These kind of draconian policies are now causing some public debate in China. But controls are unlikely to be relaxed any time soon. This week the Communist party is holding a meeting that is preparing the ground for Xi to extend his period in power at a vital party congress in November 2022. The Chinese will not want to take any political risks before then. After the congress, China will be heading into winter when the disease can spike. As a result, many experts think that China’s zero-Covid policy — and the sealed borders that go with it — will extend well into 2023.
By that stage, China will have been in self-imposed isolation for more than three years. The Chinese and world economies are likely to suffer as a result, and so will global co-operation.
Yet the biggest and most intangible effect may be on the Chinese people. It is much easier to believe that foreigners are dangerous and decadent if you never meet them. When China eventually opens up, the world may encounter a much changed country.
In a series of propaganda events to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) foundation in 1921 [庆祝共产党成为100周年] a national elite of primary and secondary school students assembled Jul 1 on Tiananmen Square to declare their absolute and complete submission to the Chinese nation. Paramount leader Xi Jinping observed the spectacle in a front row seat.
China Youth People’s Magazine [中国青年报], the party’s media outlet for Chinese youth, published on its wechat video channel a five minute long video which summarizes the mass event. The video has been each viewed, liked and shared by more than 100k users and has been during the last week the top content on the Chinese social media platform wechat.
4 model students lead a battalion of 1068 pupils from 37 schools from across the nation and share a message to their national age peers behind TV sets: CCP, be at ease, my country has me to stay strong! [“请党放心，强国有我!] Several battalions of soldiers from all Chinese war forces surround the students as if they were already part of one large army.
A frightening scene, in particular if one remembers Nazi-Germany youth rallies from the 1930s. The Hitler Youth has been identified by some historians as the cradle of war and destruction. Will it be any different with the CCP youth? What are Xi Jinping’s plans with the next generation of labor and armed forces? World dominion or saving the world?
Nationalism is an obsolete concept in the era of the Anthropocene. Global challenges like the climate crisis or the radical transformation of labor markets through automation and digitization call for a post-national mindset, which offers truly global and paradoxically also truly local solutions. Political entities like nation states might sooner than we think be part of our collective history. If they are not, our species will be.
The future – and our all survival - belongs to trans-national and trans-organizational movements like One Army, which empower people from all walks of life without any bias of race, gender, nation, religion or ethnicity. What counts is contribution to challenges our species faces by thinking globally and acting locally.
Its truly distressing that not even educated Chinese realize how dangerous the waters in which captain Xi navigates are. When I shared my concerns about the Beijing Youth Parade in a wechat group which I moderate, two Chinese with completed academic education replied in a brain washed manner, that I have no right to make any analogy with historical events: China is unique and cannot be compared to anything that ever took place in human history.
As somebody who grew up in the country where Adolf Hitler was born, I am particularly entitled to make such analogies. On the contrast to most contemporaries I still remember accounts from my own grandmother about how nationalism unfolded in Germany and Austria and how it transformed into vicious fascism. Comparative historian Barrington Moore showed in his seminal work Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy social development and culture formation are subject to systemic laws. Laws which the average citizen does not see, but nevertheless laws which guide the evolution of societies.
Only societies with a strong and independent bourgeoisie turn out to be democratic. All others go down the route towards dictatorship, no matter whether it is called fascism or communism. The size of a country or its cultural hemisphere are insignificant variables in this equation. China’s bourgeoisie has either sided with the government or left the country in a diaspora throughout the last decade which can only be compared with what took place in the years preceding Hitler’s ascent to power in Germany.
Neither democratic capitalism which has evolved out of European 19th century nation state entities, nor Chinese state capitalism will save this planet and the next generation. The adaptive governance the CCP has installed might react faster upon systemic challenges, it is however still subject to the laws of nature. State capitalism as practiced in by the CCP devours natural resources in unprecedented scale and rejuvenates the words of economist and Nobel laureate Fritz Schumacher:
“The illusion of unlimited powers, nourished by astonishing scientific and technological achievements, has produced the concurrent illusion of having solved the problem of production. The latter illusion is based on the failure to distinguish between income and capital where this distinction matters most. Every economist and businessman is familiar with the distinction, and applies it conscientiously and with considerable subtlety to all economic affairs – except where it really matters: namely, the irreplaceable capital which man has not made, but simply found, and without which he can do nothing.”
Schumacher has shown that all of traditional economics is wrong and that small is beautiful. 21st century China is the largest capitalist economy humanity as ever seen and thus the ugliest human organization one can imagine. If it proceeds to evolve in the manner it has done so far, we must expect similar consequences to what we have seen emanating from Nazi Germany. Events like the July 1 youth parade are confirmation of that trajectory.
A great leap forward has for a sinologist a negative connotation. The Great Leap Forward caused severe famine and cost 30-55 million Chinese their lives. Anthropologist turned social entrepreneur Colin Flahive refers though to a completely different leap despite having written this enticing account about urbanizing China from my favorite Chinese province, Yunnan. Colin writes about a leap into an adventure, into a different playbook than the one written based on your pedigree, education or family’s wealth.
Flahive quotes Henry David Thoreau, the great American essayist and transcendental philosopher who is best known for Walden – a life in the woods and Civil Disobedience: We must walk consciously only part way toward our goal and then leap in the dark to our success. Flahive, his friends and employees all made such leaps and were rewarded with exciting lives, which were all anchored at Salvador’s Coffee House. They left their old lives behind to make a new home in a foreign land and found their place in the modern Chinese dream.
I met the author last summer in Salvador’s Coffee House during my probably last journey to Southwest China, where he gave me his beautifully Klimt-like ornamented book as a present. We both arrived at a similar time about 20 years ago in China and we both ended up in Kunming, he more permanently though. We both got married to truly interesting Chinese countryside girls, and we both try to improve people’s livelihoods with our work. There is a lot we share, above all, I guess our side job as wordsmiths.
Flahive presents a blend between memoir and an applied anthropological study on cause and effect of urbanization: China’s urban migration, now the largest in the history of the world, is fueled by the idea that, regardless of birthplace or social class, cities offer everyone a chance at success. It’s an idea tantamount to that of the American Dream – that people can start with nothing but succeed through hard work alone. Some might argue that in today’s global climate the American Dream is dead, but for hundreds of million in China a similar dream is alive.
While Flahive moved 2004 from Dali to Kunming, I moved 2003 from Kunming to Shanghai, where my then not yet wife studied, then back to Europe and 2009 back to Shanghai. Shanghai is to me probably what Kunming is to Flahive – the city where I have spent so far most years of my adult life – it is my second home. When I describe Shanghai to non-residents, I compare it to New York of the 1970s: it’s the world’s epicenter, the Dragonhead of the world’s largest single market, the cutting edge of commercial and to some extent also social innovation. It’s the place where ambitious young people go in search of their dreams. The American Dream is indeed dead. We now all live our dreams against a Chinese backdrop.
When outsiders hear about urban China, they hear about pollution, overpopulation, heavy traffic, mass consumerism and a blind rush toward modernization. Though all of those characterizations are often what people experience when they come to China, many millions of rural Chinese think of China’s cities in a very different context. For them, cities are the gateways to the modern world. [p169]
Flahive explains through the stories of his employees why they prefer long working hours in Chinese cities to staying in often picturesque villages. Cities are not only gateways to modernity, they are above all gateways to freedom. This phenomenon can only be understood when one applies a longitudinal perspective. China was in many ways until the 1980s stuck in a sort of European middle ages. The delayed onset of the scientific and industrial revolution meant that up till 2011 more than half of the population lived in the countryside as farmers while less than two percent of the labor force in industrialized nations works in agriculture.
The city has therefore a similar value like it had centuries ago in Europe. Kunming has given them the opportunity to look beyond their fate on the farm. It took coming to China for me to learn that cities are more than just consequences of growth. They are places where people can shed their rural shackles to become something more. [p172] School is the one place in the countryside where kids really get a chance to be kids. [p142]
It takes Flahive a while to understand in the narrative of his book why his employees want to trade a life which he seeks, to one he wants to give up. For me, China’s countryside represented the kind of lifestyle I’d always idealized. It was a place where there were no concerns about traffic and pollution – where people’s lives revolved around agriculture and family. The girls had come to Kunming for exactely opposite reasons. For them it was the city that they sought a lifestyle that I had left behind, while I sought a lifestyle that they left behind. [p130]
An explanation can be found in human development psychology and our species’ much underrated learning instinct, which I described in an essay on cities and their evolutionary value as learning spaces. But that’s another story. This one is about why we need to take great leaps if we want to find a fulfilling life. Flahive did it.
- 01 blog 博客
- 02 about 关于
- 03 Resources 资源
- 04 Podcast 播客
- 05 proverbs 成语
- 06 quotes 引语
- 10 语言 Sprache
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