I recently came across a Facebook comment from a Hongkonger, arguing that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is nothing communist given China’s prosperous private sector after 1979’s reform. He then linked a video to mock the western electoral democracy that put Trump and Hitler into the office, leading to the conclusion that the West has no credential to criticize the one-party system of China for the lack of democracy. His comment represents the contemporary Chinese sentiment and is quite understandable given the ongoing color revolution in Hong Kong 2019, which is still lukewarm to this day, and the unrelenting blame of COVID19 on China. Although the hybrid war waged on China is unjust, the current Chinese mindset does not help to diffuse but only fuels the conflict even further.
The Facebook comment was right about CPP not being Communist that seeks total control of the economy by the state. Yet, China is state capitalism, an oligarchy, or crony capitalism. China is a plutocracy by the marriage between the party leadership (the state), and the monopolizing mega-corporations (the money) like Huawei, Ali, the four state-owned commercial banks, and Sinopec Group. It is far from a free-market where the only way to win a competition is to provide excellent products, where the state has no role in deciding the winner and no ability to finance itself by forcing the circulation of central-banknotes. China does have a private sector – the semi-free-market, the good part of our bad plutocracy. Still, even that part is weathering after supreme leader Xi took power, and most Chinese do no realize that we are marching back into a more planned, more communism, more Mao Zedong like system, slowly but surely. In China, life is artificially expensive under the tightening state control that imposes layers upon layers of covert taxation, to the point of causing hesitation to have more children.
However, the west, in general, is fundamentally the same, albeit having a façade electoral democracy where no crucial issues (i.e., war and peace, monetary policy, and downsizing the government) are allowed into a debate. The real private sector (not the likes of Google and Lockheed Martin) is also dying. The states interfere with the market relentlessly, in the name of safety, welfare, and stimulating the economy, which achieved the opposite (i.e., the 1929 great depression, 2000 dot com bubble, and 2008 housing bubble). The Federal Reserve finances the government spending via debt, encourages malinvestment by atrocious QE packages, which all translate into taxing away people’s purchasing power by creating tons of money out of thin air. We see the same unholy marriage between the state and the money like big techs, big pharma, and, most disgustingly, the Military-Industrial Complex. People are either covertly forced, or duped into funding the nonsense by paying tax, no matter which party they elect.
Therefore, the Chinese are right about the West not in the position of a critic, but for the wrong reason. We either fail to realize or willfully deny that we are living under a harsh plutocracy. Instead, we are distracted by the never losing fake debate about which system elects the better government, since the "one-party system" is most attacked by western pro-democracy voices. Strangely though, both systems have seemingly good intentions, either emphasizing a person’s moral conduct and experience in low-tier office (the Chinese internal nomination), or the people’s direct control of the government (the West electoral democracy). Strangely, both unanimously favor the use of "government power" the "right way." Yet, power always corrupts its user by attracting the money, no matter how well-disciplined, how experienced he/she was. A system that operates on coercive power always finds its way to circumvent any laws and regulations meant to promote meritocracy. Both have tried to fight cronyism rigorously with new agencies and new legislation, but in the end, cronyism always prevails, for both. For the most part of history, the essence of the Chinese system is not much different from the West, since they are all plutocracies that conned the people into helplessly relying on more power to solve problems caused by power until it collapses. In a 1979 Chinese opera broadcasted nationwide, the protagonist, a low tier official, finds himself risking his political career to enforce the law on the aristocrats who made the law; intoxicated, he yelled in desperation "谁做管官的官," which literally is "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes" in Chinese; in the end, he left his career behind – adding no more to the bloated, self-conflicting bureaucracy, to preserve his integrity. Maybe this was a coincidence, 1979 was the year the Chinese leadership decided to let the government govern less – kudos to them.
The year 1979, and the economic boom that followed, is one of the most common counter-arguments from a Chinese when you criticize the draconian practices of CCP. Admittedly, there are times the state power is not insane. In 1979 Deng Xiaoping at least gave up some government mandate to allow the private sector to grow, resulting in the exploitative system we see today, nonetheless a society much more productive than Mao Zedong’s total state dominance. Some state heads refrained from moving the government "muscle" too much, such as Jimmy Carter’s resistance to wars and money supply that reduced overspending and inflation since the Vietnam War. In these "less bad, more sensible" eras, it is easier for people’s entrepreneurial spirit and creativity to overcome the innate irresponsibility of centralized capital management. As a result, we saw significant progress like the Chinese miracle, and the upswing during the Reagan presidency (even if he turned up wars, debt, and the Fed’s money machine again). Sadly, the leaderships are eager to claim credits, creating the impression that it is the right administration resulting in progress and recovery when it is the lack of governing that allows the people to make sensible decisions on their own, achieving faster growth.
If we Chinese and the American attack each other’s electoral system, it is like the two worst kids in the class picking on each other over their looks rather than their poor study and bullying of other kids, which only makes them both worse. In the real world, we leave the unhinged growth of government power – the real enemy of all people, Chinese and American alike, unattended.
Like that Hongkonger, most Chinese learned to mock Trump’s personal, and naively conclude that the democracy that put him (and Hilter) in the office is a joke. Some more informed Chinese mock the media’s clownish, unfair treatment of Trump, and naively conclude that the freedom of the press is a joke. However, a bombastic president, the democracy, and the media are not the problems; neither are the aggressive sino-phobic policies of which Trump pretends to be in charge. The actual problem is the monstrous government, married with big money, capable of waging costly war, funding wasteful programs that drain the middle class to enrich a selected few, no matter who is in the office. It can either be the well-spoken Obama loved by the media, who started seven wars and won the Nobel peace prize, or the bombastic, scandalous New Yorker hated by the press, who nonetheless continued these wars. People coerced into funding this abusive machine themselves are part of, with their hard-earned tax dollars, is the problem. Yet, you do not see the Chinese majority mocking this miserable setup and come to realize that we are under the same situation!
For us, the Chinese, the real issue is not the superficial corruption that the supreme leader XI fiercely fought, nor the insanity, the incompetence, and the betrayal of the oath of some party members. It is our innate reliance on authorities and the love of collective glory, a part of our culture passing down through generations over more than 2400 years, being the problem. We can never break the dynastic cycle if we do not see the path to the self-destruction of unhinged state power, such as Mao’s era. If we are still yearning for a “just leader” to solve issues like retirement, education, and medication, still admiring exhaustive achievements such as the Belt and Road, the South China Sea, and Taiwan, we then have learned nothing from the downfall of thirteen dynasties and countless hegemonies throughout the history of China. The collective conscious of the Chinese have so far failed to realize the force driving the rise and fall of a dynasty is not the moral and intellect of the leaders, but the people’s economic freedom relatively untouched or infringed at times, by a mixture of chance, sanity, and imperialism vainglory. The blind reliance on leaders and the love of collective grandiosity is only compounded when the Americans fail to take back their power from the government, who is warring with China and covertly overtaxing them. The collective enlightenment of the Chinese population is nearly impossible, since the tyrants in Beijing have no shortage of strawman to throw at the people and say “that is the problem, blame the belligerent Trump and the jealous Americans”, and the Communist Dynasty will always enjoy the “mandate of heaven“.
Even with a sheep’s mindset, the Chinese economy will overtake the US, despite the slow death of its most productive private sector. The sheer momentum of the slight right turn to liberty 40 years ago is good enough for China, since the Americans do not restore their free-market and liberty that had made them an exceptionally productive civilization for a long time. But then what? We Chinese are just molecules burnt to fuel the blinding flash of a new empire not far from its fourteenth dynastic downfall, just like the Achaemenids, the Romans, the Umayyads, the Ottomans, Napoleon’s France, the British, and the Americans before us.
Xiaoran Tong has a Ph.D. in Epidemiology from the Michigan State University (MSU). He is originally from Kunming, Yunan, China and arrived in the US in 2014 to pursue his Ph.D. at MSU. He is Interested in the history of America and its similarities with ancient and contemporary China.