China


For some time now I have been pondering, and asking advice, concerning a Chinese name for myself. I am after a proper Chinese name, rather than a version that sounds like my name: 罗兰博尔.

The family name was little trouble, since a reasonably common Chinese family name is 薄 (Bó).

However, the personal name took more work. A breakthrough came on a recent trip to Shanghai and some very good advice.

‘Roland’ means ‘mighty in the land’, or ‘powerful in the land’.

A good Chinese character for ‘powerful’, ‘strong’ and so on is 强 (Qiáng). The rest should be easy, I thought. Just add 国 (Guó)  and you have 强国 (Qiángguó): powerful in the country.

Now came the good advice: this form draws attention to me, as being the one who is powerful and so on. But it is not really the done thing to make such grandiose claims on one’s own behalf. So far better to have 国强 (Guóqiáng), since this means a powerful, strong country. The emphasis is on the country, not me.

So my full Chinese name is now 薄国强: Bó Guóqiáng.

International Critical Thought has just published issue 5.1. I am taken with a couple of articles from the issue. The first is by Chen Ping, called ‘Has Capitalism Defeated Socialism Yet?—Kornai’s Turnaround on Liberalism, and the Evaporation of Myths about Eastern Europe’. The abstract reads:

The Hungarian economist Janos Kornai has warned the West of the possibility of a reversal of liberalization in Eastern Europe. He advocates a new policy of containment aimed at countries such as Russia and China. This prompts us to investigate the truth concerning the transition in Eastern Europe. After 1990 the West recalculated economic data from the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe (FSUEE thereafter) before 1990, for creating an illusion that “shock therapy” had made progress in FSUEE. However, the Eastern Europeans including the Hungarians, who were enthusiastic for liberalization from socialism, soon discovered that joining the European Union (EU) was damaging the interests of the majority of people in Eastern Europe, while Western Europeans also came increasingly to oppose the financial burdens imposed by EU enlargement and immigration inflows. The short-sighted transition strategy carried out in Eastern Europe and the preoccupation with geopolitical interests have in fact exacerbated the EU’s economic crisis, triggering a civil war in Ukraine and causing Russia to become disillusioned with the West. Kornai’s theory of soft-budget constraints as well as his anti-Keynesian policies during the transition recession, is responsible for the economic downturn triggered by rapid liberalization in Eastern Europe. The reversal of the liberalization trend in Eastern Europe and the change in the mass psychology of Eastern Europeans towards the West together constitute an important rebuff to utopian capitalist thinking in China. Has capitalism defeated socialism, as Western propaganda claims? The success of China’s autonomous open-door policy and the failure of Eastern Europe’s unilateral opening indicate that the collapse of the FSUEE occurred mainly for political rather than economic reasons.

The second is an article review by Tony Andréani & Rémy Herrera, called ‘Which Economic Model for China?—Review of La Voie chinoise by Michel Aglietta and Guo Bai’. In their conclusion they observe:

Our analytical framework being different from that of Michel Aglietta and Guo Bai (2012), whose work is welcome, we interpret the Chinese reality differently. It seems to us that, in China, the socialist road has not been abandoned. At present, the public sector is gaining ground over the private sector—public companies are acquiring many private firms. Besides, the idea that the Chinese policy, including economic policy, can be explained by the will of a hierarchical, disciplined Communist Party to remain in power and, for this, to meet primarily the interests of a state bureaucracy that it dominates and on which it relies, does not seem to correspond to reality. First, it is quite normal that a party claiming to be itself in the line of a revolution seeks to remain in power in order to achieve the goals it thinks are of people’s interest. Second, we must look closely at the efforts of self-reform that this party has started. It is not afraid to expose its own deficiencies concerning its internal democracy, as well as the reforms of its political system step by step. Under these conditions, we can have a different reading of the Chinese political system. That said, there is—this is what we believe—a hidden struggle (not an open one, as during the Maoist era) inside the Party, universities and research centers, intellectual circles and even, more discreetly, within local media, between two political lines, namely, a social-democrat orientation (some people just say “liberal”) and a socialist one. The latter is attributed in part to the “new left,” which is placed in a certain continuity with the Maoist legacy. The socialist way far outweighs the social-democrat way in the strength of its argument—let’s add that, if it were to dominate, it would also experience its own internal struggles. In a sense, we can rejoice at this: nothing is worse in social discourse than monolithic thinking.

As I settle into Beijing for a while, with much peace and quiet and opportunities for writing (and the pleasure of being in a country where the government is mainly the Communist Party), I have been enjoying my favourite restaurant. I treat myself to a meal there once or twice a week, while mostly eating in the dining halls.

One of the pleasures at this little eatery concerns some of the dishes. These include:

Husband and wife lung slice

Thread jujube in Sydney

Boiled salt bath chap

Sneak liver pointed

Beijing heaving

Needless to say, the only way to find out is to order them – in Chinese characters, as is the custom here.

The first is called ‘Stalin, Affirmative Action and the Pentecost of Language‘, and the second, ‘Why a Marxist Entrepreneur is not a Contradiction in China‘.

The third of my China series on Political Theology Today is now up – a revised version of the article on the Hong Kong Protests and Christianity in China.

chinese-school-last-supper-christ-and-st-john

Every now and then you come across a real shocker of a book. I refer to Jasper Becker’s book on Beijing, called City of Heavenly Tranquility. While it attempts to provide a potted history of Beijing, the underlying thesis is that Beijing’s reconstruction is aimed at obliterating any memory of the Tiananmen ‘massacre’. Of course, he has to construct the fiction of the massacre in the first place to justify such an intriguing argument. Or, to be more polite, the whole book is an extraordinary piece of rubbish. But then what you expect from Jasper Becker, who is as about as rabidly anti-communist as one can get? For instance, his book, Hungry Ghosts, undertakes a comparable task to Robert Conquest’s Harvest of Sorrow. Conquest constructs the Ukrainian famine of 1932-33 as a deliberate act of ‘mass murder’ – genocide in other words, now dubbed the ‘Holodomor’. In a similar effort to construct a Goebbels-like big lie, Becker suggests largely the same for Mao’s Great Leap Forward in 1958-62.

This stuff is to be expected, especially from a journalistic and scholarly machine that has a default anti-communist position. But I must admit to being a trifle disappointed that the works come from Oxford University Press. In fact, of all the books on China, and indeed the USSR, from Oxford, only half a dozen are of any real use. Actually, I am not surprised at all. It’s Oxford, after all.

The other day, when I was strolling through the local shops, I came across a big screen full of graceful Chinese dancers prancing about. Intrigued, I stopped to ask the smiling man about them.

‘Shen Yun,’ he said, ‘traditional Chinese dance’, he said. ‘We have two shows in Sydney coming soon’.

‘What a shame’, I said, ‘I’ll be in China then’.

The smile disappeared. ‘You can’t see this in China’, he said.

‘Why not?’ I said.

‘The Chinese government won’t allow it?’ he said. ‘They won’t allow any traditional culture or religion in China – Daoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, all forbidden’.

Puzzled, I said: ‘But I have been to Confucian congresses, Daoism research centres, and Buddhist temples – plenty of those all over China’.

‘They are all fake’ he said. ‘It’s a sham perpetrated by the Chinese communist party. Only Shen Yun, or Divine Performing Arts, presents the truth of 5,000 years of civilisation‘.

Genuinely surprised, I asked, ‘So where is Shen Yun based?’

‘New York’, he said.

Then it hit me: ‘Genuine Chinese culture is found only in New York?’ I asked. ‘What about Disneyland?’

‘Anywhere, except in China’, he said.

I pondered this dialectical possibility for a while, and then the light bulb slowly went on: ‘You wouldn’t be supported by Falun Gong by any chance?’

‘Yes!’ he said, and pointed to some tiny print on the back of a flyer. He seemed to feel the message was getting through.

‘That’s a very impressive con job‘, I said with genuine admiration.

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