For reliable information on the Coronavirus outbreak, check this site

While the media in a small number of former colonising countries (the ‘zero-sum stragglers’) may be full of gossip, lies and propaganda, the best place to keep up to date with reliable information on the cornoavirus outbreak is at China Daily. This news outlet provides a daily table that sums up the situation.

For example, today’s table is as follows:

You will notice that the rate of new infections has fallen dramatically and that the number of those recovered is now almost eight times the number of those who have died (who are 80 percent elderly and with underlying medical conditions). The recovery rate has been increasing almost daily, so keep checking the China Daily site.

We should keep in mind that thanks to China’s efforts – possible only with a socialist system – 99 percent of cases have been restricted to China. This is clearly a model for the rest of the world to follow, given that future outbreaks arising from the human-animal disease cycle will occur in the future, anywhere in the world.

On a different note: Time for the Trans-Manchurian

A decade ago, my wife and I travelled from Copenhagen to Beijing by land (click here for the account). It took 10 days and we travelled by train and ship. I have always wanted to do the journey again, although not exactly along the same route (we went via Mongolia).

Now I can. I have never been keen on flying, doing it out of necessity rather than preference. I prefer ships, trains, bicycles and whatnot.

Now that I am retired, I can once again plan such journeys, with a passion. For example, in a couple of months I will travel from Copenhagen to Dalian (in China’s northeast). This entails a train to Stockholm, a ship to Riga, an overnight train to Moscow, and then what is now called the ‘Trans-Manchurian’.

Actually, it is the original route of the Trans-Siberian link. When the Russians were first constructing the railway in the late nineteenth century, they found that the loop north (along the Amur or Heilong River) was somewhat challenging for engineers at the time. So they did a deal with the much-weakened Qing emperor and opened up a corridor through north-eastern China as a short-cut to Vladivostok. This was the origin of towns like Harbin, which still has a Russian core but is now the capital of Heilongjiang (Black Dragon River) province.

 

These days, the route goes through Ulan Ude and Chita to Harbin and then Beijing. I will disembark at Shenyang, south of Harbin, since from Shenyang it is only 2 hours by a high-speed train to Dalian.

I hope to follow the route again later this year, perhaps adding a ship voyage between China and Australia. Or, I could take the Silk Route trains (in yellow in the following map):

Route map - The Silk Route & Central Asia by train

Where do you find information about all of this? There is a great website, which I have used on many occasions, called ‘The Man in Seat 61‘. Run by a former station master in the UK, it is simply a treasure, with information and links concerning every train service in the world. Click on the ‘Trans-Siberian‘ page for more information, or on the ‘Silk Route‘ page. The website had its initial heyday a decade ago, with a bunch of awards, and then went quiet for a while. But it now has a new lease of life.

Is this a ‘product endorsement’? Not really, since ‘seat 61’ remains a hobby. But if you want to find everything you need to know about the great country of Russia, which is with China a force of stabilisation and peace in a troubled and fearful time for some in the ‘West’, you can get all you need at Real Russia.

Those who undertake such a journey do it perhaps once in a lifetime. I hope to make it a regular journey.

 

Wang Yi: Lies become truth when the United States is the subject

The quote of the month must go to Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister. At the Munich Security Conference, which is agonising over the decline of the ‘West’, Wang Yi observed in response to the groundless accusations by the cowboys from the United States:

All these accusations against China are lies, not based on facts, but if we replace the subject of the lie from China to America, maybe those lies become facts.

I am reminded of a Danish saying: a thief always thinks everyone else is a thief. Another version: when you point a finger, three fingers are pointing at you.

What country leads the world in science and innovation?

You have probably guessed already: last year (2019) China lodged 1.54 million patent applications at the World Intellectual Property Organisation (see here). Staggeringly, this is about equal to the rest of the world put together.

By comparison, the United States dropped to 597,141, followed by Japan (313,567) and South Korea (209,992).

Simply put, China is now the world’s major scientific and innovation centre (see here).

This leap by China is in some respects a realisation of Deng Xiaoping’s dream: that the socialist system in China would one day prove to be superior to capitalist systems elsewhere.

Wish I was in China now: Leishenshan (Thunder-god Mountain) hospital completed in 12 days

Unfortunately, I am not in China as I write. I am in Australia, which is fast becoming a small-minded and fearful country once again. I remind myself constantly that the vast majority of countries in the world have expressed solidarity with China in light of the coronavirus outbreak, and that many of them have sent much-needed medical supplies. At the same time, China is – as acknowledged by the World Health Organisation, among others – setting a new global standard for dealing with an epidemic. The world is changing fast, almost as fast as the second (click here for the first) specialist hospital built in Wuhan. Called Leishenshan (Thunder-god Mountain) hospital, it was completed in 12 days and will cater for 1500 acute patients. The secret: China’s socialist system.

Here is a time-lapse video:

 

Liberating Thought, Part 2: On Democratic Centralism

This is the second part of a draft concerning the philosophical basis of Deng Xiaoping Theory. In the previous part I dealt with liberating thought as the correct theoretical line. I also pointed out that we need to deploy contradiction analysis (deriving from Mao Zedong) in order to make sense of Deng’s arguments – especially as they are found in the key text from 1978, ‘Liberate Thought, Seek Truth from Facts and Unite as One in Looking to the Future’.

The second contradiction concerns socialist democracy, which is embodied in the term ‘democratic centralism’, and even more sharply – in Mao’s reinterpretation of the dictatorship of the proletariat – in ‘democratic dictatorship’ (Mao 1949a; 1949b; 1950b, 28; 1950a, 114–15). The core of the theory is not difficult to grasp,1 especially in light of its longer history from the Soviet Union onwards (Li 2010; Li and Wang 2018), although Mao gives it a distinct formulation in terms of contradiction analysis:

Democracy and freedom are both relative, not absolute; both come into existence and develop in the course of history. Within the ranks of the people, democracy is relative to centralization and freedom is relative to discipline. All these are contradictory facets of a unity; they are contradictory and at the same time united. We should not place one-sided emphasis on one aspect while negating the other. Within the ranks of the people, freedom is indispensable, and so is discipline; democracy is indispensable, and so is centralization. Such a unity of democracy and centralization, or freedom and discipline, constitutes our system of democratic centralism (Mao 1957a, 209; 1957b, 314).

Our interest is in what Deng makes of democratic centralism in the context of the late 1970s. He makes a number points, each of which seems somewhat lapidary on the surface, but has significant implications: a) an over-emphasis on centralism requires a correction in the direction of greater democracy; b) in relation to economic democracy, greater decision making powers, and thus innovation, should be devolved to enterprises, provinces and counties; c) greater scope should be given for elections, management and supervision by workers, which would lead to greater responsibility; d) a comprehensive legal system should be developed that enshrines democratic realities and responsibilities.

To begin with, the correction towards greater democratic involvement may, on a cursory reading, suggest a ‘golden mean’ approach, in which one searches for a reasonable balance between two poles of democratic centralism. Not quite, For Deng actually points out that centralism is not strengthened but weakened without a healthy dose of democracy. Therefore, ‘we must exercise democracy to the full so as to enable proper centralism’ (Deng 1978b, 143). Obviously, we are in the territory of contradiction analysis, where the one strengthens the other by its full exercise. A little later, Deng would – invoking Mao Zedong – elaborate on the contradictory unity of democratic centralism: ‘We practise democratic centralism, which is the integration of centralism based on democracy with democracy under the guidance of centralism’. While this integral element of the socialist system focuses on the collective and the greater socialist good, it entails a unity of contradictions, a ‘unity of personal interests and collective interests, of the interests of the part and those of the whole, and of immediate and long-term interests’ (Deng 1979b, 175–76; 1979d, 183).

Further, the emphasis on economic democracy, on creative decision making at levels (see also Deng 1979a, 195, 197; 1979c, 202–3; 1980b, 280; 1980a, 278–79), should be seen in light of the interactions between the two components, or institutional forms, of market and planned economies in a socialist system. This point is dealt with more fully in my study of the socialist market economy (which Deng assiduously promoted), but here the key is that while a planned economy may give greater scope for centralised planning, a market economy has a greater tendency to foster decentralised initiative.

As for elections and responsibility, here we broach the fascinating development of de-politicised elections. By ‘de-politicised’ or ‘non-political’ elections – a concept that derives from Marx and Engels (Boer In press) – is meant the fact that elections are not the manifestation of class conflict in antagonistic political parties, but that elections are based on qualifications, expertise and merit for positions.

Finally, there is the matter of a legal framework, concerning which the deeper issue is captured in Deng’s observation that formerly ‘what leaders say is taken as the law and anyone who disagrees is called a law-breaker’. Thus, such a ‘law changes whenever a leader’s views change’ (Deng 1978b, 146; 1978a, 156). Here Deng is anticipating the whole development of a socialist rule of law (fazhi – 法治), which I have discussed elsewhere. The key opposite term is ‘rule of a human being’ (renzhi), which would come to be equated with ‘rule by law’ (fazhi – 法制). Clearly, Deng finds the latter unacceptable, at least in the late 1970s with some 30 years of the construction of socialism behind them. This rule by human beings, or rule by law, had once again come to the fore during the Cultural Revolution and caused untold havoc. Hence the urging for developing a comprehensive legal system.

The next post will focus on seeking truth from facts, which is the proletarian world outlook as well as the theoretical basis of Marxism. Put sharply: if seeking truth from facts means to integrate theory with reality, then liberating thought entails ensuring that thought conforms with reality.

Bibliography

Boer, Roland. In press. Friedrich Engels and the Foundations of Socialist Governance. Beijing: Renmin University Press.

Deng Xiaoping. 1978a. “Emancipate the Mind, Seek Truth from Facts and Unite as One in Looking to the Future (13 December, 1978)”. In Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Vol. 2:150–63. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1995.

———. 1978b. “Jiefang sixiang, shishi qiushi, tuanjieyizhi xiangqian kan (1978.12.13)”. In Deng Xiaoping wenxuan, Vol. 2:140–53. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2008.

———. 1979a. “Guanyu jingji gongzuo de jidian yijian (1979.10.04)”. In Deng Xiaoping wenxuan, Vol. 2:194–202. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2008.

———. 1979b. “Jianchi sixiang jiben yuanze (1979.03.30)”. In Deng Xiaoping wenxuan, Vol. 2:158–84. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2008.

———. 1979c. “Some Comments on Economic Work (4 October, 1979)”. In Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Vol. 2:201–8. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1995.

———. 1979d. “Uphold the Four Cardinal Principles (30 March, 1979)”. In Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Vol. 2:168–91. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1995.

———. 1980a. “Adhere to the Party Line and Improve Methods of Work (29 February, 1980)”. In Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Vol. 2:273–82. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1995.

———. 1980b. “Jianchi dang de luxian, gaijin gongzuo fangfa (1980.02.29)”. In Deng Xiaoping wenxuan, Vol. 2:274–83. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2008.

Fewsmith, Joseph. 2012. “China Politics Twenty Years Later”. I Socialism Vanquished, Socialism Challenged: Eastern Europe and China, 1989-2009, edited by Nina Bandelj and Dorothy Solinger, 44–59. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Li Weidong. 2010. “Lun Liening minzhujizhongzhi sixiang zai Sulian de lishi yanbian jiqi xianshi”. Shehuizhuyi yanjiu 2010 (2): 31–34.

Li, Zhijun, and Wang Yizhe. 2018. “Zhongguo gongchandang minzhujizhongzhi sixiang de lishi yanjin”. Makesizhuyi yanjiu 2018 (6): 117-23 + 160.

Mao Zedong. 1949a. “Lun renmin minzhu zhuanzheng (1949.06.30)”. In Mao Zedong xuanji, 4:1468–82. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe.

———. 1949b. “On the People’s Democratic Dictatorship: In Commemoration of the Twenty-Eighth Anniversary of the Communist Party of China (30 June, 1949)”. In Selected Works of Mao Tse-Tung, Vol. 4:411–24. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1961.

———. 1950a. “Closing Speech at the Second Session of the National Committee of the CPPCC (23 June, 1950)”. In The Writings of Mao Zedong 1949-1976, edited by John K. Leung and Michael Y. M. Kau, Vol. 1:111–15. Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, 1986.

———. 1950b. “Zuo yige wanquan de geming pai (1950.06.23)”. In Mao Zedong xuanji, Vol. 5:25–29. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 1977.

———. 1957a. “Guanyu zhengque chuli renmin neibu maodun de wenti”. In Maozedong wenji, Vol. 7:204–44. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 1999.

———. 1957b. “On Correctly Handling Contradictions Among the People”. In The Writings of Mao Zedong 1949-1976, edited by John Leung and Michael Kau, 2:308–51. Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, 1992.

Weller, Robert. 2012. “Responsive Authoritarianism and Blind-Eye Governance in China”. I Socialism Vanquished, Socialism Challenged: Eastern Europe and China, 1989-2009, edited by Nina Bandelj and Dorothy Solinger, 83–99. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Notes

1. It is therefore quite puzzling why foreign observers often fail to understand democratic centralism and the nature of socialist democracy. They tend to deploy the authoritarian-democratic distinction, which is drawn from the Western liberal arsenal, but at a specific level they fail to understand how socialist democratic practices actually work. A good example is the development of local village elections, which they postulate arose in the 1990s in response to political pressure, but which has ‘failed’ to bring about the perceived need for bourgeois democracy (Fewsmith 2012, 52–55; Weller 2012). These superficial analyses (often based on newspaper articles) fail on a number of counts: organic democracy is the oldest form of democracy known to human societies and has been transformed – as Engels already foreshadowed – in light of socialist governance; it works within a larger structure of direct and indirect elections; and it is a clear embodiment of democratic centralism, and not a hierarchical ‘party controls the cadres [党管干部]’ or ‘responsive authoritarianism’.