China


I must admit that I have given in to buying an air cleaner for my apartment in Beijing. In general, the air is improving here, with weeks at a time having clear skies. On these days I go for a run outside, and use some outdoor exercise equipment. But the air can also become quite thick, although the particles you can’t see are the ones that can do the most damage. Hence the air cleaner.

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It is basically a strong fan with a good filter. It helpfully indicates when the air is clean, with a friendly blue light illuminating to tell you it is so. However, when the air is less beneficial, it displays an array of red lights: two means mildly polluted, four more so, and six … However, at some points the machine has a habit of suddenly switching from the blue light to six red lights, with no apparent reason.

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After a number of such occurences, I began to suspect that the light system was merely a gimick, to make one feel as though it was doing it’s job. However, then I hit upon the reason: whenever I break wind in its vicinity, it let’s me know it’s displeasure and sets about cleaning up the burst of air pollution.

Some initial dates for the ‘Socialism with “National” Characteristics’ lecture tour, China 2015

15-16 April, Fudan University, Shanghai: ‘Socialism with National Characteristics: Theory and Practice’

20-21 May, Xiangtan University, Xiangtan (at the Mao Zedong Thought Research Centre): ‘Adorno, Marxism and the Ban on Images’

24 May, Henan University, Kaifeng: ‘The Sacred Economy of Ancient Israel’.

27-28 May, Harbin Engineering University, Harbin: ‘Christianity and Culture between “East” and “West”‘

29 May, Jilin University, Changchun: ‘Socialism with National Characteristics: Theory and Practice’

More dates soon, although I will not be giving a talk on my visit to North Korea in June.

My new Chinese name has been something of a hit. As I told both of my classes here at Renmin University, they began to smile and then laugh. Why? Bo Guoqiang is not only a strong name, it is also typically Chinese. Or at least it was for people of my generation. In China, of course, they are the generation of the Cultural Revolution, when one’s parents chose names to express the desire for a strong communist country. I am told it is the typical name an uncle might have – at least Guoqiang. So the students are now calling me Bo Guoqiang, using it when speaking among themselves, even when sending me email messages. But now it becomes even more intriguing. At the first of our informal seminars, for some of the postgraduate class, we began speaking of communism. At one point, I asked whether anyone present was a member of the party. At first one, then two, then more than half of those present raised their hands. Or rather, they are members of the youth organisation, in between the Young Pioneers and the full adult membership. Others are studying the courses in preparation for the exams to enter the youth organisation.

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One even asked me whether we have pioneers and youth organisations in Australia! I began to imagine not only Schools of Marxism in all the universities, but school students keen to join the Young Pioneers, and then young adults studying in order to join the Youth Organisation. I told them I am thrilled to teaching a class like this, not least because we can delve into some of the more complex and intriguing issues around socialism, communism, and the party. Of course, at one point, I was asked whether I am a communist. In reply, I stood up and showed them my Lenin T-shirt:

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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‘.

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