Trains are now the safer option for moving freight between China and Europe

While we see quite a number of plague ships – both passenger and navy – on the high seas and trying to find a port, and while cargo planes are in high demand and short supply, trains are becoming the safest option during a pandemic.

In an earlier post, I noted the exponential growth of rail gargo along the old Silk Route. With more and more routes opening up (more than 60), there has been since 2011 an exponential growth in rail freight across the Eurasian landmass.

Today, as China is carefully returning to normal and ramping up production, and as Europe and Russia are shutting down and need even more goods, the trains are running even more frequently. They are easier to manage in a safe and hygienic way, have small crews and cover long distances with few people. If you would like to read more, there are a couple of recent stories on China Daily (here and here).

Debunking the myth of the Wuhan seafood market, part 2

Following on from my initial post on this topic, some further and very interesting reading. More and more scientists are now saying:’ the virus came into the market not from the market’.

Please check this initial study from 24 January, 2020, which was the first of its kind and published by Chinese scientists in The Lancet. Of the 41 patients studied, 13 had no links to the seafood market, and the first patient, identified on 1 December 2019, had no links to the others or to the market.

The second piece is also quite early in the piece, published online in ‘Science mag‘, where another researcher observes already then that the ‘virus came into that marketplace before it came out of that marketplace’.

Most recently (17 March, 2020) is a study in Nature that confirms this position (see also a summary here). The study looks closely at the high and easy rate of infection (the virus’s ability to bind) and asks how this became possible.

Two scenarios are proposed:

1. The virus spent quite some time in the animal population, mutating as it went along. At one point, a mutation took place that was able to make the jump to human beings. In this case (like MERS), there would have been multiple such jumps, most of which fizzled out, until the ideal mutation could latch onto human beings.

2. The virus made the move into human beings months, if not years ago, but was initially relatively mild. At a certain point and after quite a lot of circulation among human beings in many parts of the world, a mutation through natural selection occured that made it more lethal.

Increasingly, scientific research is debunking the myth of the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan as the origin of SARS-CoV-19 (the name of the virus itself). But the research for origins is only half the story, for it also focuses on dealing with inevitable future occasions when such things will occur – as has been the case throughout the history of human society.


Poverty is not socialism: China’s poverty alleviation back on track in 2020

In 1980, Deng Xiaoping observed: ‘‘Poverty is not socialism, socialism means eliminating poverty’.

In 2013, Xi Jinping was visiting a poverty-stricken village – Shibadong – among the Miao minority in Hunan province and suggested that the approach to eradicating poverty was to ‘keep track of every household and individual in poverty to verify that their treatment is having the desired effect’.

This led to the program of ‘targetted poverty alleviation‘, which tailors poverty alleviation to the specific conditions in each location. Indeed, it was this targetted approach that was also used in all the many parts of China to contain the COVID-19 epidemic. The outbreak entailed a pause in the poverty alleviation program, but the latter is now getting back on track.

I have written a few earlier posts on poverty alleviation, noting that in China more than 800 million people have been lifted out of poverty, or 7 out of 10 in the world. This achievement has been hailed as one of the greatest human rights achievements in history, in which the Chinese Marxist focus on the core human right to socio-economic wellbeing is paramount.

But let us go back to Deng Xiaoping, since I am completing a long chapter on his theory and practice. One of Deng’s major concerns was the heresy of ‘poor socialism’. We find this tradition in Western Europe with the idea of ascetic communism – lambasted already by Marx and Engels. In China, a localised version was promoted for a time during the Cultural Revolution, when some suggested that poor socialism was better than rich capitalism.

Deng Xiaoping would have nothing of this heresy. In 1980, he pointed out: ‘If the economy remains stagnant for a long period of time, it cannot be called socialism. If the people’s living standards remain at a very low level for a long period of time, it cannot be called socialism’.

One of the problems faced by communist revolutions is that they took place in poorer parts of the world, in places that suffered under Western imperialism and colonialism, and were thus held back from economic development. Was capitalism perhaps the answer?

Deng was very clear: ‘we do not want capitalism, but neither do we want to be poor under socialism [pinqiong de shehuizhuyi]’. Even more: ‘What we want is socialism in which the productive forces are developed and the country is prosperous and powerful’.

In fact, a capitalist system is unable to bring an end to poverty for the majority, so much so that those who have grown up under a capitalist system have come to assume that you will always have the poor with you.

In reply, Deng Xiaoping’s observation in 1984 is especially pertinent

This brings us back to the question of whether to continue on the socialist road or to stop and turn onto the capitalist road. Capitalism can only enrich less than 10 per cent of the Chinese population; it can never enrich the remaining more than 90 per cent … If we were to apply the capitalist principle of distribution, most of the people would remain mired in poverty and backwardness. But the socialist principle of distribution can enable all the people to lead a relatively comfortable life (xiaokang shenghuo). This is why we want to uphold socialism. Without socialism, China can never achieve that goal.

Or as Xi Jinping has stated on countless occasions, ‘no one will be left behind’.

There is plenty of information available on China’s targetted poverty alleviation project, which aims to remove the remaining few millions (about 1 percent) out of poverty by 2021 – with a current cost of 139 billion RMB. But I would recommend the following:

People’s Daily has a webpage devoted to overviews and specific accounts of poverty alleviation.

One feature of poverty alleviation, especially in the north-west, is re-afforestation of land that had become desert. This story about an 82 year old woman, Otgongerel, who has devoted her life to re-greening the Maowusu desert in Inner Mongolia, is worth a read.

And here is a video concerning another re-greening project in the same desert:

Here is a brief report not only only the world-leading role of China in reafforestation, but it also makes the explicit connection with poverty alleviation:

Finally, concerning Xi Jinping’s now fabled visit to Shibadong village, there are many accounts, but this one sums it up very well (see also here) and this is an excellent video:


A useful hour to spend while in lock-down

As more and more people around the world are confined indoors, it may be a challenge to find things to do. Instead of wasting your time on social media or consuming what passes for ‘news’ these days, this hour-long presentation by ‘Vision China’ is worth a viewing. It was organised by China Daily and Tsinghua University and is called ‘Fighting COVID-19: We Are All Together’.

A bit of a talk-fest and the hosts are somewhat wooden (I rather like that), but the views presented come from around the world. The speakers include: Bruce Aylward, senior adviser to the director general of the World Health Organization, He Yafei, a veteran senior Chinese diplomat, Robert Lawrence Kuhn, a renowned China expert, Jim O’Neill, a leading economist from the United Kingdom, Megan Monroe, a teacher from the United States in Wuhan, and Zhang Ruiru, a Tsinghua University student in Wuhan, will offer their views and stories.

A missing calculation: COVID-19 infections in terms of percentage of population

In this article by John Ross, a senior fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China, he points out that a missing calculation of the numbers of the COVID-19 pandemic is in terms of percentage of population. For those of you like me who keep checking the figures, they are normally listed in terms of absolute numbers (let us leave aside the question of inaccurate numbers in bourgeois states due to limited testing and inept regimes)..

This is misleading, since we need to calculate in terms of the percentage of the population. If we take China’s 82,000 infections (of which more than 75,000 have recovered) and then take into account China’s population of 1.4 billion, we get the following comparisons:

United States of America: 160,000 infections in a population of 330 million becomes, by comparison, 679,000.

Italy: 100,000 infections in a population of 60 million becomes, by comparison, 2.3 million.

UK: 20,000 infections in a population of 68 million becomes, by comparison, 412,000.

Australia: 4360 infection in a population of 25 million becomes, by comparison, 244,160.

Clearly, the pandemic is already much worse in such places. Earlier, I did another comparison between China and Australia, relative to populations. If Australia wanted to contain the pandemic to the same level as China, Australia would have needed to limit infections to a little below 1,500 people. The current level of infections, which is still rising, is already 3 times higher than it should have been.

One qualification: China was the first to discover the new virus, so it had a more difficult task. By contrast, a country like Australia was warned and given valuable time by China’s openness and transparency. In this light, the infections in Australia should have been even less than 1500.


New publication: Seeking a Xiaokang Society: Deng Xiaoping and the Reinterpretation of the Confucian Tradition in Chinese Marxism

This article was published in January of this year, just as the first signs of the pandemic to come were emerging in China. It seems even more pertinent now in light of what is happening around the world.

It is called, ‘Seeking a Xiaokang Society: Deng Xiaoping and the Reinterpretation of the Confucian Tradition in Marxism’.

The topic is a xiaokang society, which means a moderately well-off, peaceful and healthly society. Clearly, the emphasis is on the last dimension of the meaning at the moment. It is an ancient term, going back to the Confucian Classics, was reinterpreted at key moments in the tradition, and was then picked up by Deng Xiaoping in 1979. He and those around him began to reinterpret the word in light of socialism, which since Lenin has been seen as the preliminary stage before communism. Developing a xiaokang society in all respects is now a core Chinese policy, featuring in every major speech by the General Secretary since the time of Jiang Zemin.

As China’s socialist system matures and proves more and more superior to the capitalist system, the article provides a concrete example of the meaning of socialism with Chinese characteristics.

It was published in the Berlin Journal of Critical Theory, and you can download the article here. It is also available for download in my selected list of publications.

The Grand Bazaar in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, reopens after China controls COVID-19

Last year, Xinjiang Autonomous Region posted one of the highest economic growth rates in the world, at about 20 percent. This is a fundamental realisation of the Chinese Marxist approach to human rights (see here and here), in which the right to socio-economic wellbeing is the core. Further, Xinjiang has seen no terrorist acts for about three years due to the highly effective de-radicalism measures undertaken in Xinjiang (a model that Muslim majority countries all support).

Today, the fabled Grand Bazaar in Urumqi re-opened, like so many places like this across China as the COVID-19 pandemic has been contained in this part of the world.