China


One of the realities of student life in China is ‘ideological education’. It is compulsory in middle school and in university. Obviously, such an approach has its benefits and problems. On the up side, I find that everyone knows the essential categories of Marxist analysis, socialism with Chinese characteristics, and so on. On the down side, many find it onerous, especially since it is a major feature of the gaokao, the university entry examinations. Or, as an article today in the Global Times, put it,

For college teachers, the ideological and political course about Marxism, Mao Zedong Thought and moral education is a hard nut to crack. Almost synonymous with dullness, for years, the class has been an ideal place for students to nap or play as long as one could bone up before the exam. The teachers were equally disinterested, and mostly repeated what was written in the books.

Many are those who have made similar observations to me when we have discussed it. But I also know quite a number of people who teach such courses and discussed with them the various strategies to interest the students.

But now Xi Jinping has come to their assistance. A little over six months ago he stressed the need to overhaul the whole way of teaching. For Xi, ‘moral education the central task in cultivating talents and making the ideological and political work run throughout the whole education process’. In fact, 2017 is the year focused on improving the quality and techniques for teaching this courses.

Plenty of examples in a long article in the Global Times, from the use of virtual reality to courses on friendship (youyi) at Fudan University by one of the ‘four zheng goddesses’, but I like this one from a colleague of mine at Renmin University:

“Do you believe in Communism? You may have different answers to the question. But if I ask, do you want to make a fortune, your answers may be unprecedentedly similar,” Wang Xiangming, a professor at the School of Marxism Studies of the Renmin University of China, said in his class.

“As a matter of fact, pursuing material wealth is what Communism is about. But real Communists don’t pursue fortune for themselves, but work for the welfare of the human beings. As long as we try our best in our positions to serve the people, we are adhering to Communism. Communism is not intangible. It is around us,” Wang told his students.

 

A great article in the Global Times on the waywardness of the Nobel Peace Prize. Out of a number of telling insights, let me select the following:

The Nobel Peace Prize has shown increasing preference for those that embrace Western values, and has become increasingly political. Of prize winners in the past century, the majority are from Western Europe or North America, according to statistics from the Nobel committee’s website. Is it because Europeans and Americans make more contributions to world’s peace? Of course not.

In fact, the Nobel Peace Prize committee has made numerous controversial decisions. Its award to then US president Barack Obama in 2009 confused not only the majority of the world, but Obama himself, as he was just eight and a half months into the White House. The Dalai Lama, also a laureate, has long engaged in anti-China separatist activities under the guise of religion. The committee’s decision to award Le Duc Tho, a Vietnamese diplomat, and the award to former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger aroused a storm of criticism in 1973.

As China’s foreign ministry said, the prize was wrongly awarded to criminals who attempted to split China, sabotage national unity and subvert State power, for the purpose of achieving their political agenda … it’s time to just cancel the prize altogether.

The University of Newcastle’s news team has, believe it or not, posted a news item on my involvement with Chinese Marxism. It has its expected focus, but they quoted me fairly. Full text copied here:

After 11 years of increasingly longer visits to China, The Centre for 21st Century Humanities’ Professor Roland Boer is tapping into collaboration opportunities with Chinese scholars of Marxism and has created deep connections for Chinese students to spend time at The University of Newcastle.

Having been invited to teach at Renmin University of China in 2013, Professor Boer currently holds the role of Distinguished Overseas Professor in a research position at the University.

“I direct a project called ‘Socialism in Power’, with Chinese and international scholars. It will run for 6-7 years and focuses on issues such as the socialist state, socialist democracy, socialist civil society, the role of the communist party, socialist market economy and contradiction,” Professor Boer said.

Professor Boer is forging bonds that are leading to an increasing level of collaboration for UoN, especially in the area of Marxism, which is now a scholarly discipline in China in its own right.

“Every university in China has a school of Marxism, let alone major research institutes like the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the Central Compilation and Translation Bureau. Marxism opens many doors otherwise closed to foreigners and offers a range of collaboration opportunities,” he stated.

“Further, it is now mandatory that every Chinese university lecturer who is seeking promotion must spend a year overseas, so an increasing number of Marxist scholars are coming to UoN for that year. Also, postgraduate scholars are often expected to spend a semester or year overseas, so more of these are coming to UoN.”

Reflecting on his time in China, Professor Boer is “amazed and bewildered” about the way Chinese tradition meets Marxism in China. He notes the main difference to scholarly Australia is that Chinese scholars are closely involved with key social, economic and political issues, with much of their research focused on dealing with solutions to problems.

“This is both part of Chinese tradition and the Marxist heritage. The scholar has a venerable place in Chinese society. The intellectual is simultaneously expected to devote significant time to reading, thinking and writing and to the good of public life,” Professor Boer remarked.

“One volunteers to contribute in some way to the greater good of society, but this is simultaneously a duty or obligation. Although it is manifested as many levels of social relations, for an intellectual it means service in or for the government, or perhaps work that contributes to solving a commonly recognised problem.”

Boer, who is a Marxist and a scholar, is especially aware of the extremely high ethical standards expected of his role in China.

“The combination of Confucian and Marxist ethics entails an expectation of almost impeccable morality – speaking plainly and directly, being honest, living simply, avoiding any sign of personal gain, and substantially focused on the public good.”

“By living here in China, I’ve been able to immerse myself in Chinese Marxist ethics, which has had a profound influence on me and my lifestyle. There is a traditional Chinese term, jianku pusu, which means ‘to work diligently and live simply’. This has also become a feature of Marxist ethics in China, and, in a rather different way, was the way I was brought up,” Professor Boer said.

But what it is that Professor Boer likes most about his post in China? The answer is quite obvious given Boer’s fascination with Marxism and the fact that China is a socialist country.

“I like Chinese culture, food, tradition, people, pace of life, etc., but the main reason I like China is because the communist party is in power.”

Yesterday, Liu Xiaobo died of liver cancer at the age of 61. He was given the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, but was in prison at the time. He also died while still serving his sentence.

Such a death is bound to spur the expected demonisation of China and Chinese responses. So let’s parse a number of statements made here, here, and here.

First, he was an activist for liberal or bourgeois democracy and an end to so-called “one party rule.” These comments make light of the fact that he was convicted for trying to overthrow the government (and socialist democracy) and replace it with a very different system. But this is actually what he did: attempt to overthrow the state. In most countries, this constitutes an act of treason.

Second, he is presented as having advocated, in the words of the Nobel Prize Committee “fundamental human rights in China.” What this means is European derived human rights, which typically play up political and civil rights of individuals and neglect the Chinese Marxist approach to human rights in which the collective right to economic wellbeing is basic. This approach is, not unexpectedly, conveniently ignored. The Nobel committee betrays its agenda here, advocating a form of European neo-colonialism.

Third, the corporate press typically speaks of “global condemnation.” But if you look closely, you can see the usual suspects: USA, UK, Taiwan, Germany. Hardly “global.”

Fourth, he was denied proper medical treatment. It is assumed with this comment that he should have been able to leave China for such treatment. The implied meaning is that China’s medical system is inadequate or – with the usual dog whistle – that he was denied treatment. What is not noted here is that a whole team of Chinese, US and German doctors were focused on the best treatment.

Fifth, the comparison is made with Carl von Ossietzky, who died in 1935 under the Nazi regime in Germany. This is a move first perfected in attacking the Soviet Union: the reductio ad Hitlerum. When all else fails, simply equate communism with fascism.

What is the Chinese position? I have already noted some of these implicitly. But the main point is that he had actually betrayed China and that his long-term effect will be negligible. The reason: none of China’s heroes and heroines were identified by foreign interests. Instead, “One’s position and value in history will be decided by whether one’s endeavors and persistence have value to the country’s development and historical trends.”

NB: A much sharper piece can be found hidden away in, of all places, the Guardian. Written by Barry Soutman and Yan Hairong, it reveals that Liu Xiaobo is not only ignored in China, but that he was a militant and reactionary colonialist, supporting United States attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan, and stating that China needs 300 years of more of ‘Western’ colonialism to become thoroughly ‘westernised’. Statements like this, as well as observations that the Chinese are ‘wimpy, spineless and fucked-up [weisuo, ruanruo, caodan]’ certainly hasn’t won him any friends in China.

 

 

It has taken 29 meetings between Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin over the last few few years for the rest of the world to begin to take notice. As Xi observed during the latest meeting in early July, China-Russia relations are at their “best time in history,” saying the two nations are each other’s most trustworthy strategic partners.

Plenty of stories on Xinhua News and the People’s Daily. These include general reports on the meeting, with both sides agreeing on coordination on major economic, military and geopolitical issues. You can also find specific reports on their positions regarding Syria and North Korea, with a statement that the USA should cease deploying weapons in South Korea and Eastern Europe. It may well be that the considered and united position concerning the Korean Peninsula is the reason that the relations are finally gaining attention.

I am also intrigued by the statements on the Paris climate accord, as well as joint efforts to counter a “Western” discourse that attempts to spread a “Hobbes’ style world view upon China and Russia,” distorting facts and hyping up “claims that China and Russia are self interested and have no regard for international orders and rules.” Indeed, they are quite clear that the China-Russia partnership underpins global strategic stability.

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This from the People’s Daily today. While I can understand the move, it does mean that a quirky feature of China will disappear.

The odd translation of Chinese dishes’ names into English will disappear soon, as a policy released by Chinese authorities on June 20 will take effect on December 1st. The policy will guide English translations for food and other services.

Translations of Chinese dishes with names that are odd, such as “Chicken without Sex,” “Four Glad Meat Balls,” and “Tofu Made by Woman with Freckles,” have created misunderstandings for years.

In fact, there is a lot of variety in Chinese cuisine, and their names have a lot of cultural meaning. Dishes are named according to appearance, taste, cooking methods, and ingredients, but their names also come from cultural elements, including the historical allusions and folk customs behind them.

Taking “Dongpo Pork” as an example, it implies the life story of Su Dongpo, a famous litterateur of the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127 A.D.). The “Four-Joy Meatballs (Meat Balls Braised with Brown Sauce)” contains people’s expectations for “happiness,” “affluence,” “longevity,” and “joy.” Research into their translation is as interesting as tasting the delicacies.

As a matter of fact, the ungrounded translations reflect a lack of service awareness, as names can influence foreign diners’ understanding of both Chinese delicacies and Chinese culture.

The new guidelines will standardize translation of dishes’ names, so that diners will not be puzzled by odd translations while enjoying the many delicacies in Chinese restaurants, both in China and overseas.

Big celebrations this weekend in Hong Kong, with the 20-year anniversary of the return of Hong Kong to China. For some strange reason, corporate media is not making much of the important speech by Xi Jinping, who today is wrapping up a three day visit. The full speech can be found here, but I would like to highlight a few features.

First, the story of Hong Kong is very much part of the story of modern China, moving from the humiliation at the hands of European colonialism to the overcoming of humiliation under the leadership of the CPC. As Xi puts it:

The destiny of Hong Kong has always been intricately bound with that of the motherland. After modern times, with a weak China under corrupt and incompetent feudal rule, the Chinese nation was plunged into deep suffering. In the early 1840s, Britain sent an expeditionary force of a mere 10,000 troops to invade China and got its way in forcing the Qing government, which had an 800,000-strong army, to pay reparations and cede the island of Hong Kong to it. After the Opium War, China was repeatedly defeated by countries which were far smaller in size and population. Kowloon and “New Territories” were forcibly taken away. That page of Chinese history was one of humiliation and sorrow. It was not until the Communist Party of China led the Chinese people to victory in a dauntless and tenacious struggle for national independence and liberation and founded New China that the Chinese people truly stood up and blazed a bright path of socialism with distinctive Chinese features. Thanks to close to four decades of dedicated efforts since the launch of the reform and opening-up policy in the late 1970s, we have entered a new era in the development of the Chinese nation.

Further, the role of Deng Xiaoping is crucial, not merely with the reform and opening up (gaige kaifang) from 1978, with its emphasis on the central Marxist feature of unleashing the forces of production under socialism, but also the policy of ‘one country, two systems’.

It was against the historical backdrop of reform and opening-up that Mr. Deng Xiaoping put forward the great vision of “One Country, Two Systems”, which guided China’s diplomatic negotiations with the United Kingdom that led to the successful resolution of the Hong Kong question, an issue that was left over from the past. Twenty years ago today, Hong Kong returned to the embrace of the motherland. This ended past humiliation and marked a major step forward toward the complete reunification of China. Hong Kong’s return to the motherland has gone down as a monumental achievement in the history of the Chinese nation. Hong Kong has since then embarked on a journey of unity and common development with the motherland.

In case you wanted to know about the exact status of Hong Kong in relation to the rest of China, Xi lays it out very clearly:

As a special administrative region directly under the Central Government, Hong Kong has been re-integrated into China’s national governance system since the very day of its return. The Central Government exercises jurisdiction over Hong Hong in accordance with China’s Constitution and the Basic Law of the HKSAR, and corresponding systems and institutions have been set up for the special administrative region. Hong Kong’s ties with the mainland have grown increasingly close, so have its interactions and cooperation with the mainland.

In short, one country, two systems, means that Hong Kong can remain capitalist while the rest of China is socialist. This is also a model for global cooperation.

But they say of Xi Jinping that he is ’round on the outside and square on the inside’ In other words, he is very gentle and understanding in dealing with people, but very tough inside. For example:

To uphold and implement the principle of “One Country, Two Systems” meets the interests of the Hong Kong people, responds to the needs of maintaining Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability, serves the fundamental interests of the nation, and meets the shared aspiration of all Chinese. That is why I have made it clear that the Central Government will unswervingly implement the policy of “One Country, Two Systems” and make sure that it is fully applied in Hong Kong without being bent or distorted.

Indeed, as is common in the tradition of leaders of socialist states, a speech also engages in criticism and self-criticism. Of course, there are problems that need to be addressed, such as distorted images among some of Chinese history and culture, public consensus of key political and legal issues, the challenges as Hong Kong loses its economic edge, the pressure on housing and opportunities for young people, and so on.

Let me emphasise these points:

First, in line with the nationalities policy from the 1990s, China’s sovereignty is not negotiable:

“One Country” is like the roots of a tree. For a tree to grow tall and luxuriant, its roots must run deep and strong. The concept of “One Country, Two Systems” was advanced, first and foremost, to realize and uphold national unity. That is why in the negotiations with the United Kingdom, we made it categorically clear that sovereignty is not for negotiation. Now that Hong Kong has returned to China, it is all the more important for us to firmly uphold China’s sovereignty, security and development interests.

Dialectically, this enables the diversity of the ‘two systems’, as embodied in the Constitution:

We must both adhere to the “One Country” principle and respect the differences of the “Two Systems”, both uphold the power of the Central Government and ensure a high degree of autonomy in the HKSAR, both give play to the role of the mainland as a staunch supporter of Hong Kong and enhance Hong Kong’s own competitiveness.

Another aspect of Chinese (and indeed socialist) culture is the simultaneous desire for peace and harmony, as well as the constant process of criticism. At times, this relationship can suffer by focusing on one or the other side too much:

So it comes as no surprise that there are different views and even major differences on some specific issues. However, making everything political or deliberately creating differences and provoking confrontation will not resolve the problems. On the contrary, it can only severely hinder Hong Kong’s economic and social development.

In other words:

Any attempt to endanger China’s sovereignty and security, challenge the power of the Central Government and the authority of the Basic Law of the HKSAR or use Hong Kong to carry out infiltration and sabotage activities against the mainland is an act that crosses the red line, and is absolutely impermissible.

As Mao would put it, contradictions are to be expected, but antagonistic contradictions are not acceptable. Or as Xi puts it, invoking a traditional concept: ‘Harmony brings good fortune, while discord leads to misfortune’.

Xi wraps up his speech by invoking key features of CPC policy:

China is now in a decisive phase to finish building a moderately prosperous society in all respects. People of all ethnic groups across the country are engaged in a joint endeavor to realize the Two Centenary Goals and fulfill the Chinese Dream of national renewal. Ensuring the continued success of the practice of “One Country, Two Systems” in Hong Kong is part and parcel of the Chinese Dream.

All the key ideas are here (which I have written about extensively elsewhere). The ‘moderately prosperous society’ (xiaokang shehui) is a key element of Chinese socialism, drawing on a Confucian term, xiaokang. This is expressed in Xi’s signature ‘Chinese Dream’, which has the concrete elements of the two centenary goals. The first is the centenary of the CPC in 2021 and the second is the centenary of the People’s Republic in 2049. During this period the moderately prosperous society through ‘socialist modernisation’, will be achieved, which really means the second stage of socialism. How? Through lifting the remaining people, mostly in western China, out of poverty (700 million have so far been lifted out of poverty since 1978), through gradually bringing about a socialist welfare state (an original invention of socialism), through the Belt and Road Initiative, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the Asia Infrastructure Development Bank, and – with specific reference to Hong Kong – the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area.

So what is Hong Kong to do in light of this? Xi quotes a local saying:

After leaving Suzhou, a traveler will find it hard to get a ride on a boat, meaning an opportunity missed is an opportunity lost.

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