A photo for the ages: Xi Jinping on Chongqing poverty alleviation tour

China has set 2020 as the year for total alleviation of basic poverty, a key plank in the target to achieve a ‘xiaokang society’ – moderately well-off, healthy and secure for everyone. This was first proposed by Deng Xiaoping, who picked up an old Confucian term and reinterpreted it in light of Marxism, but it also pre-empts the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CPC in 2021. Or as Xi himself put it, stressing two sides of the dialectic of actually constructing socialism (liberating the forces of production and ensuring equality and justice for all): ‘Socialism means development. Development must serve the common prosperity for everyone‘.

As the date draws near, efforts are being stepped up in all aspects. This includes ensuring that people do not slip back into poverty later. China’s standards for poverty alleviation are somewhat higher than international standards, so this makes the project – especially for local CPC officials on the front line – even more demanding.

Recently, Xi Jinping undertook an inspection tour in poor areas of Chongqing. As Xinhua News reports, the visit had many levels, from a forum to visits to a poor village in the mountains. But I was taken with this photo. Look at the faces of the two girls who are shaking the hands of the person whom Fidel Castro called one of the strongest and most capable revolutionary leaders of the 21st century.

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Chinese Rule of Law and Religion

In a small number of countries (former colonisers all) somewhat sensational and misinformed accounts have appeared of a new wave of religious ‘repression’ in China, targeted at Christian groups and certain forms of Islam (the Uyghur in Xinjiang). Crosses have been removed, churches have been closed down, pictures of Mao Zedong have been installed, and misguided believers have undertaken vocational and ideological training. What they do not say is that the only religious activities they mention are actually illegal. Why? They constitute so-called ‘house churches’, which are not registered with the government and are thereby outside the law. In this respect, they are no different from small Muslim cells in some (usually western) parts of China where extremism and radicalism are promoted. Obviously, these activities too are illegal.

What these reports miss is the underlying reason for such a development (I am never sure whether this is deliberate or due to ignorance). The reason lies in consistent, uniform and countrywide application of socialist rule of law. Since I have addressed the rule of law in an earlier piece, all that is needed here is a summary.

Rule of Law

On 11 March 2018, the annual National People’s Congress amended the preamble to the Constitution, from ‘improve the socialist legal system’ to ‘improve the socialist rule of law’. The change was only in the final character of the phrase, from 制 to 治 – although they have exactly the same pronunciation: zhì. Significantly, there is no inherent opposition between ‘legal system (fazhi)’ and ‘rule of law (fazhi)’: the former designates the legal system as one among others, such as economic, political and cultural systems; the latter indicates that law is foundational to all the other systems.

Why the shift? The reason lies in the opposition between ‘rule of law (fazhi)’ and ‘rule of human beings (renzhi)’. From the late 1970s to the 1990s, debate over this tension led to a clear preference for rule of law, since ‘rule of human beings’ recalled the ‘evil fruit (eguo)’ of the Cultural Revolution and the unwitting evocation of the sage-king whose virtue was key. In light of this debate, ‘rule of human beings’ came to influence the understanding of ‘legal system’, which at times bore the sense of ‘rule by law’. More specifically, the existence of a legal system was not enough to prevent ‘rule by human beings’. Thus, from 1997, we find the promotion of rule of law, or literally a ‘socialist rule of law country (shehuizhuyi fazhi guo)’, which entered the Constitution in 1999.

The test of all this is in practice, where the key phrase is ‘governing the country according to law (yifazhiguo)’, particularly ‘in all respects’ or ‘in an all-round way (quanmian)’. As Xi Jinping put it in his report to the CPC nineteenth congress in 2017: ‘We must promote the rule of law and work to ensure sound lawmaking, strict law enforcement, impartial administration of justice, and the observance of law by everyone’. It is precisely Xi Jinping – who is seen by some as an old-style communist hardman – who is assiduously promoting socialist rule of law. The implications are that everyone in China – from the highest officials through citizens to foreigners – is subject to the rule of law.

Religion

The impact is being felt in all areas, whether prostitution, corrupt CPC officials, foreigners on improper visas … Long is the list, but I would like to focus on the revised Regulation on Religious Affairs (published in 2017, coming into effect in early 2018). It is by no means new, for it continues an emphasis already apparent in the 1982 Constitution. As article 36 of that Constitution state: ‘Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief … The state protects legitimate religious activities. No one may use religion to carry out counter-revolutionary activities or activities that disrupt public order, harm the health of citizens or obstruct the educational systems of the state. No religious affairs may be dominated by any foreign country’.

The revised regulation of 2018 may be summarised in article 3: ‘protecting the legal, stopping the illegal, containing the extreme, resisting infiltration, and combating crimes’. Let us see what these phrases mean.

Protecting the legal (baohu hefa): legal religious activities are not only permitted, but also proactively protected by government at all levels. Examples of such activities include the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) churches of Protestant persuasion, the 2018 agreement between the Chinese government and Vatican on uniting the two arms of the Roman Catholic Church in China, Islamic institutions, Buddhism and so on. As the recent ‘white paper’ indicates, China now has 200 million believers of various faiths, of which the legal forms of Christianity number about 50 million. In other words, if you want to practice your religion in China, there are more than enough legally recognised ways to do so.

Stopping the illegal (zhizhi feifa): unregistered religious activities are illegal, including the ‘house churches’ that have been the focus of some sensationalised accounts in the small number of countries mentioned earlier. Through a complex and diverse history, some ‘house churches’ have developed more conservative evangelical theology, anti-communist assumptions and can be subject to foreign interventions by conservative international Christian bodies. Further, they can see themselves as the only genuine form of Christianity, dismissing organisations such as TSPM and its associated China Christian Council as ‘compromised’ or ‘heretical’. How is ‘stopping the illegal’ practiced? More directly, unregistered meeting places have been closed down, which has risen to a new level after the revised regulation – at times heavy-handedly and with reprimands from the government. Indirectly and informally, individual TSPM members often encourage those involved in ‘house churches’ to join registered churches, while TSPM ministers ensure that congregations are not tempted by ‘house church’ claims.

Containing the extreme (ezhi jiduan): the focus is not merely on terrorism in Xinjiang and Tibet, but also intolerance among other religious groups. Evangelical Christians, who tend to be found in unregistered ‘house churches’, are mostly at fault on this matter. In the new regulation and the white paper, key terms relating to these concerns appear: religious harmony (zongjiao hemu), social harmony (shehui hexie), stability or steadiness (wending) and security (anquan) – although each term is difficult to translate.

Resisting infiltration (diyu shentou): no religious organisation should be influenced or controlled by an outside body – a consistent feature of anti-colonial sovereignty.

Combatting crimes (daji fanzui): if ‘illegal’ includes sins of omission, ‘crime’ designates sins of commission.

By now it should be obvious what ‘governing the country according to the rule of law’ means in relation to religion. However, it is not a Western liberal approach to rule of law, which is framed to protect capitalism and the private individual. Instead, as an article by Chen Youwu and Li Buyun (2018) observes, ‘socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics’ arises from the fact that China follows the socialist road, which entails Marxist jurisprudence, takes account of China’s concrete conditions, socialist democracy and a socialist market economy.

To sum up: as socialist rule of law is being enforced across the country, everyone and every organisation is subject to this rule of law, which is central to the construction of socialism. In this respect, illegal religious activities are no different from: foreigners who operate in China under false pretences; the scam operators who used to be prevalent a decade or so ago; prostitution which has effectively been shut down in more and more parts of China; the fake student ID cards that used to be for sale close by where I live in Beijing; or the government official who secreted away monies in offshore accounts (these are rare indeed as I write).

Some may wish to practice religion in China and some may not, but if you want to do so, it is possible in perfectly legal ways. If not, watch out. The socialist rule of law is here to stay.

Fidel Castro: ‘Xi Jinping is one of the strongest and most capable revolutionary leaders I have met in my life’

Yes, Fidel Castro said this in 2014: ‘Xi Jinping is one of the strongest and most capable revolutionary leaders I have met in my life’.

This is noted in an article by Ajit Singh called ‘China: A Revolutionary Present’ (well worth a read).

A couple of decades earlier, Fidel also observed:

I think China is a socialist country, and Vietnam is a socialist nation as well. And they insist that they have introduced all the necessary reforms in order to motivate national development and to continue seeking the objectives of socialism. There are no fully pure regimes or systems. In Cuba, for instance, we have many forms of private property. We have hundreds of thousands of farm owners … Practically all Cubans own their own home and, what is more, we welcome foreign investment. But that does not mean that Cuba has stopped being socialist.

Riding the Anti-Fascist border route (on a Brompton)

Some like to call it the ‘Iron Curtain Trail’, a bicycle route running from the top of the Russian-Finnish border to the Black Sea.

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However, in the German parts there is a distinct reluctance to name the route in such a fashion. Every now and then, you may come across signs like this:

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But they are quite rare. Instead, you may find the ‘Green Belt Route’.

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Why the reluctance? German unity has always been a problem, as Engels analysed carefully in the 1880s. So no need to exacerbate differences. Another reason is that citizens of the former DDR object to the demonisation of their country by such a name. I would add that the author of the phrase ‘iron curtain’ was an extreme racist.

A far better name would be the ‘Anti-Fascist Route’. The reason: the border was in parts described in the same terms, representing a visible line preventing for a time NATO forces from moving further east.

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Korea takes another step in solving its own problems

While the United States is looking increasingly desperate and floundering, the two parts of Korea have taken yet another step in solving their own problems – a long-standing wish and policy, as I have pointed out on a number of occasions.

Yesterday, Moon Jae-in ducked across the informal border for a candid and unannounced discussion with a new friend, Kim Jong Un. As one does in Korea!

No better source that Rodong Sinmun to report on it (KCNA carries the same report):

The top leaders of the north and the south open-heartedly listened to each other’s opinions on the crucial pending matters without formality, and had a candid dialogue. The meeting offers another historic occasion in opening up a new chapter in the development of the north-south relations.

In a little more detail:

At the talks there were in-depth exchanges of opinions to tackle the matters that should be resolved to quickly implement the Panmunjom Declaration agreed upon at the third north-south summit and to realize the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and achieve regional peace, stability and prosperity, and the matters the north and the south are now faced with, and the one of successfully holding the DPRK-U.S. summit.

Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae In shared the view that the two sides should trust and take care of each other and exert joint efforts to make sure that the Panmunjom Declaration reflecting the unanimous desire of all Koreans is implemented at an early date.

They agreed to hold the north-south high-level talks on coming June 1 and further accelerate the talks of various fields including the ones of military authorities and Red Cross.

They shared the opinion that they would meet frequently in the future to invigorate dialogue and pool wisdom and efforts, expressing their stand to make joint efforts for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula …

The fourth north-south summit held at Panmunjom, recorded in history as a symbol of national reconciliation and unity, peace and prosperity, will provide all Koreans with a new hope and vitality.

Or as Moon himself observed after the meeting: ‘I wish to place a great meaning on the latest talks that were held as if they were an ordinary event between friends. I am convinced that this is the way that South and North Korea must meet’.

Meanwhile, the United States is feeling somewhat left out of all this, so they are now begging to meet Kim Jong Un in June – although by then matters will have moved on. The declaration of course includes the removal of hostile US troops from the peninsula.

To add another twist, KCNA debunks the spin that the DPRK is desperate for ‘economic aid’ from the United States. Simply put, the DPRK does not need that kind of assistance, not least because it has China’s backing and has been doing quite well of late.

The article observes:

This is the nonsense of hack media on the payroll of power, ignorant of who is the rival …

Now that U.S. media are still building up public opinion that the DPRK comes to the negotiating table with the U.S. in a hope to get “economic aid” from it, we can not but make the fact clear.

It is the U.S. that asked for DPRK-U.S. talks first.

The U.S. has recently come to realise that the military strength, it regards as almighty, and the anti-DPRK sanctions, it pinned hope on, were all doomed to failure. After all, there could be no other way out for the U.S.

The international community contends that the world-startling dramatic change in the DPRK-U.S. ties was entirely thanks to the DPRK’s efforts for peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula and the world.

As far as the “economic aid” advertised by the U.S. is concerned, the DPRK has never expected it.

U.S. media would be well advised to stop talking nonsense as hack media and deeply study what the strategic line advanced at the historic April Plenary Meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea means.

Finally, a useful piece in Rodong Sinmun called ‘Let Us Give Full Play to the Advantages of Socialism’.

Pictures from yesterday’s meeting:

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The text by Moon Jae-in reads: ‘Peace and Prosperity of the Korean Peninsula, together with Chairman Kim Jong Un of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea! May 26, 2018. President of the Republic of Korea Moon Jae In’.

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And here is a video report of the meeting:

Codes and Conspiracies, or, Trying to Understand the Infantile Disorder of ‘Left-Wing’ Communism

From time to time, I try to understand those who believe that China has made or is still making a transition from socialism to capitalism. Earlier, I explored the orientalist dimensions of this belief, as well as the reliance on a ‘betrayal narrative’, but here I would like to focus on the need to rely on codes. In brief: all of the statements by the CPC, from Deng Xiaoping to Xi Jinping, function as a code. They say one thing but actually mean something else. So what one needs is the key to the code, after which one can set to work deciphering the various statements.

What is the key to this code? According to those who believe in the code, the key is a conspiracy: from Deng Xiaoping onwards a vast conspiracy has been unfolding, which is nothing less than the transition from socialism to capitalism. I will not go into the details here as to why this conspiracy theory arose, based as it was on selected interpretation of events in the 1980s and even 1990s. Instead, I am interested in how the need for a code arises from the conspiracy theory.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate this is through a few examples.

There are more obvious examples, such as the hypothesis that the ‘reform and opening up’ (celebrating 40 years in 2018) is not so much the necessary process of reform after a communist revolution (already clear from Lenin’s work), but simply a code for the passage to capitalism. Or the ‘socialist market economy’ is a coded way of speaking about capitalism with government ‘interference’ – neglecting the historical fact that a capitalist market economy is only one form of market economies.

But there are some more intriguing examples. To begin with, Deng Xiaoping famously said that if one wishes to cross a river, one must feel each stone on the river bed at a time with one’s feet. The obvious meaning of this statement is that the passage to socialism, and then communism, requires careful attention to each problem, each fact, which requires analysis and solution. But no, for those who believe in the conspiracy theory, he was speaking in a code: crossing a river entails going from one bank to another. Since China was socialist at one point, they believe, the other bank must be capitalism. A bit of a stretch, given that Deng made it clear China was in the preliminary stage of socialism.

More recently – 2017 at the nineteenth congress of the CPC – Xi Jinping famously announced a new primary contradiction that would guide government policy. This contradiction is between uneven and unequal development and the people’s desire for a better life (meihua shenghuo). Apart from drawing straight out of Mao Zedong’s major essay, ‘On Contradiction’, Comrade Xi made it clear that a ‘better life’ meant not only a ‘moderately prosperous society (xiaokang shehui)’ by 2020, but a ‘strong modern socialist country’ by 2050, which would be achieved through socialist modernisation. At the core of all this is Marxist political economy and the construction of socialism.

But what do our conspiracy theorists make of this? The desire for a ‘better life’ is a code for the full transition to capitalism.

Now we come the obvious problem of this use of a code. The more Xi Jinping makes Marxism central to China’s project, the harder one must work to fit it all into the code. Anomalies appear, much thought is devoted to working the many pieces into the code … so much so that even doctoral theses are devoted to deciphering the code (outside China). A waste of energy.

I am reminded of someone who taught me biblical languages many, many years ago. She believed that the New Testament was a massive code that really talked about specific events at the Qumran community (which wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, as many hold). I recall her coming into class on some days full of excitement: she had cracked another part of the code that had been bothering her. Do not get me wrong: she taught me Hebrew, Syriac and Coptic very well indeed. The discussions about her code-cracking were held around the edges of class time. But the experience has made me acutely aware of how much time and energy people devote to deciphering codes after they have believed in a core conspiracy.

All of which brings me back to Lenin and his great booklet from 1920, ‘“Left-Wing” Communism – An Infantile Disorder’. Lenin’s immediate target may have been different, but the problem persists. Stalin faced the problem, as did Mao, Deng and indeed Xi Jinping today. Among the international Left one can find such ‘left-wing’ communists from time to time and they are keen to find the occasional person in China who is happy to pander to their desires. I find it both a lazy approach and one that faces immense problems to sustain not only the great conspiracy, but also to need to believe in a vast code that they must constantly seek to reinforce.

Get used to it: Chinese influence is the CPC’s influence

Another good article in the Global Times concerning the CPC on the international arena, called ‘CPC’s role cannot be detached from Chinese influence‘. As China becomes a global power once again, some countries have begun expressing a close-minded concern about the ‘evil’ effects of the CPC, trying to distinguish between Chinese influence and the role of the CPC.

The catch is that you can’t detach them so. As the article points out:

With its 89 million-strong members, consisting mainly of the elite of different sectors, the CPC is a team representing the backbone of Chinese society. The CPC’s organizing ability, inclusive policies and acceptance of differing ideas, has proven essential to helping the country weather various storms since the CPC’s founding in 1921.

As the CPC continues to lead China’s ascent, the influence of China and the CPC is deeply integrated and one cannot be separated from the other.

The many who work to further Chinese influence at all manner of levels consciously also promote the CPC – they have not been strong-armed into doing so. After all, who does not want the ‘community of shared future’, which is the core of Chinese international engagement.

The more international influence of the CPC, the better, if you ask me.

Returning to socialist realism

Socialist realism has had a bad press. Due to Cold War mindsets and the corroding effects of liberalism, many still see it as a crude ideological imposition on the freedom of artists, writers, film makers and so on. ‘Stultifying’, ‘stilted’, a sign of Stalin’s ‘dictatorship’ – these and more are some of the observations you still hear. A common narrative is that after the creativity of the late 1910s and early 1920s in the Soviet Union, Stalin stifled these developments in favour of a ‘conservative’ artistic agenda.

But I have travelled enough and seen enough art, sculpture, posters and so on to realise that socialist realism is an amazing genre, producing some fantastic art. It was the dominant genre in the Soviet Union from the mid-1902s until the 1980s. It also deeply influenced other socialist states, from Eastern Europe to Asia, and it is still manifest in the DPRK, Vietnam, Laos and China. As for literature, long ago I read Mikhail Sholokhov’s And Quiet Flows the Don (1935-1940). Regarded as one of the greatest works of the twentieth century, it focuses on the lives of the Don Cossacks before and after the Russian Revolution. And it has the unique distinction of being awarded both the Stalin Prize in 1941 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1965. From a different part of the world, I recently completed ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Sharqawi’s alArd (1954), translated as Egyptian Earth. Not only is this one of the great Egyptian novels, and not only did it break dramatically from traditional Arabic literature, but it was inspired by socialist realism. In other words, this genre had a significant effects in many parts of the world, especially in the context of anti-colonial struggles.

It is high time for a complete reassessment of a major artistic genre.

Is China becoming a world leader on human rights?

They are certainly busy in the people’s republic. As the United States undergoes a UN investigation for extreme poverty, with the investigator citing profound human rights violations in terms of private wealth and public squalor, and as that wayward country refuses to ratify international human rights agreements (Australia, I should add, does not have a bill of rights), China moves on with a major ‘white paper’ on human rights. The full text may be found here, but this image provides a handy overview:

From the fuller document, I particularly like section V on CPC leadership and direction concerning human rights, as well as due attention to international concerns – in light of ‘building a community of shared future for humanity’ – in light of Xi Jinping Thought.

But you have to love this one, concerning the enhancement of social mechanism:

Guaranteeing people’s right to self-governance at the community level. China has made constant effort to improve self-governance at the community level, strengthen community consultation in urban and rural areas, and complete the mechanism to help urban and rural residents express their demands, coordinate interests and protect rights and interests. By 2016 about 85 percent of villages had set up villagers’ meetings or meeting of villagers’ representatives. Eighty-nine percent of communities had established congresses of residents. Sixty-four percent of communities had established consultative councils, and consultative forms such as “villager discussion”, “community consultation”, “property owner consultation”, and “villager hearing on decision-making” have steadily taken shape in China. By 2016, 98 percent of rural villages nationwide had formulated villagers’ codes of conduct or villagers’ self-governance regulations, while similar residents’ codes of conduct or residents’ self-governance regulations had been formulated in urban communities. These play an extensive role in social governance.

 

Images from Chinese socialism today

Welcome to China, where communist banners are back in a big way. The latest series concerns the 19th congress of the CPC (shijiuda):

Apart from following events very closely, I took myself to the local Xinhua Bookshop, to find a huge number of Xi Jinping’s books for sale – carrying on the tradition of communist leaders who actually think and write:

Almost 20 books to read over the southern summer, along with Mao’s works:

In many places, I also came across signs reminding one of the achievements of Chinese socialism: