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« Confucianism and Corruption in the PRC | Main | America's Flawed Democracy and China's Opaque Authoritarianism »

November 05, 2012


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Nice post, Sam.

Famine is not a distinguishing mark of the Chinese Government and there seems little doubt that the Chinese practice of not crying over spilt milk is the culturally preferred path. The government there made huge changes as a result of that disaster, and that's probably enough for most people.
By contrast, India's ongoing famine receives no attention in our media, even though it's longstanding, just a preventable (much more so, many would argue) and is almost entirely political in origin – just as Amartya Sen predicts.
Speaking of whom, Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize winner, points out that in 1949 China and India had striking similarities in their social and economic development. But, Sen goes on to say, over the next three decades, “there is little doubt that as far as morbidity, mortality, and longevity are concerned, China has a large and decisive lead over India.” As a result, Sen estimates that close to four million fewer people would have died in India in 1986, if India had had Mao’s health care system and food distribution network.
-- Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen, Hunger and Public Action (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), pp. 205, 214.

Noam Chomsky made an interesting calculation using Sen’s data: "There is this anticommunist study called The Black Book of Communism. It talks about what it calls the “colossal failure” of communism and accuses communism of having caused the deaths of 100 million people." Now even if that number were true, which it is not—still, as Chomsky puts it, and let me quote: “in India the democratic capitalist ‘experiment’ since 1947 has caused more deaths than in the entire history of the ‘colossal, wholly failed…experiment’ of communism everywhere since 1917: over 100 million deaths by 1979, tens of millions more since, in India alone.”2
2. Noam Chomsky, “Millennial Visions and Selective Vision, Part One,” Z Magazine (January 10, 2000)

This would be more convincing if either Sen or Chomsky knew anything about China.

Even the most cursory glance at local data will show you that food insecurity, malnutrition, etc, with the accompanying preventable deaths, continued in China up to the early 1980s - exactly the period at which the Maoist food distribution was abandoned. So will talking to anybody over 40 or so; one of the chief memories of even the 1970s, as I found in my own interviews, was of being hungry much of the time, even for city dwellers.

Sen bizarrely trusts Chinese central national data, self-admitted by Deng Xiaoping to be a barrel of lies. Even today, Chinese figures are wildly unreliable, as the NBS itself frequently complains; far, far more so in the 1970s. That's why local studies are so important.

As for Chomsky, the idea that communist states never experienced ordinary, annual preventable deaths of their own outside of the periods of state murder is fucking ridiculous. They were *in addition* to the usual problems of bad government, not over-and-above.

The only scrap of truth here is that the Maoist rural healthcare system was pretty good - not all its admirers claims, but it did a lot with a little, and suffered greatly from the 1980s reforms.

As a side note, obviously - after glancing at his blog - this will have no chance of convincing the original commentator, who thinks Xi Jinping is the next Nelson Mandela and makes other ... interesting ... claims. It's here as a public service for others.

Jacques cannot speak Chinese and has never lived long-term in China. If someone tried to put themselves forward as an expert on the UK without ever having properly lived there or learned to speak English I would laugh at them, as would the majority of British people. Unfortunately people are rather more credulous when it comes to China.

Jacques gets away with making bald statements about how you can analogise from learning Chinese to learning about China (how would he know?), how Chinese see the state as part of the family (really? not in my experience), how China is only 'calling itself' a nation-state (errr . . . did he pay attention to that whole Senkakus thing?) and so forth based on the flimsiest of evidence. Take his assertion that the 'one country, two systems' arrangement with Hong Kong shows that China is really a 'civilisation state'. Even accepting that nothing has changed in Hong Kong and there is no process of mainlandisation there (something a great number of Hong Kongers would challenge, particularly in the wake of the NME debacle) plenty of nation-states have arrangements allowing local autonomy (which is all 'one country two systems' actually is when you strip it of its excuse-making for not immediately forcing communism on HK). It was not even the first time a territory had been reabsorbed into China under these terms - Weihaiwei was returned to the Republic of China in 1930 under similar terms. 'We' (by which I guess he means . . . erm, I'm not sure, but let's say the British people) did not automatically disbelieve the Chinese government's commitment to autonomy in HK, otherwise 'we' would never have allowed Hong Kong to be transferred to the PRC. The comparison to the reunification of Germany is simply assinine - the DDR was a bankrupt state which was happily voted out of existence by its own people. HK was the exact opposite - the entire reason why the PRC government was so willing to allow a relationship of autonomy was because HK was so much richer than the rest of China and both they and HK's residents wanted it to stay that way.

Similarly the idea that the PRC now is 'one country many systems' has quite simply no basis in fact. The fate of the supposedly autonomous areas of Tibet, Inner Mongolia, and Xinjiang indicates very clearly that the opposite is true - China is the unitary state that it claims to be.

Similarly his idea that a China-dominated world would see the nation-state disappear. Has he even been paying attention this year? We have seen continual crises between China and her neighbours that has in every instance seen both the Chinese and their neighbours rally to nationalism.

And the idea that Taiwan would be able to keep its multi-party system whilst accepting PRC rule simply because he believes that all the PRC government cares about is 'sovereignty' is simply inane. Put simply: the independence issue is a major part of Taiwan's party system and is THE divide between the pan-blues and the pan-greens. The idea that the PRC government in its current form would allow pro-independence paties like the DPP and the TSU to operate in a Taiwan absorbed into the PRC is nonsense given that advocating independence is anathema. Even HK's arrangement is only set to last for 35 more years - the end goal is not a mere re-assertion of sovereignty but total absorbtion.

I could go on, but what would the point be? The man appears to know almost nothing about modern-day China.

When you attacked Mr.Jacques on the question on whether China is more legitimate than West you didn't really address the question. Sure on the question of sovereignty and nationalism you were correct that China has changed from the imperial China to more a western stance, but that is beside the point. When he says that China is more than a national state my view is yes and no. China is a national state with attending characteristics, but China is also a civilization state similar to the Jews that cultural influence and history are very important. When he raised the question of legitimacy and contrasting leadership changes he didn't give a definition which he obviously taken for granted, Here I will try to remedy that. He mentioned various indexes on measuring the well being of her citizens contrasting to West which is not the same as popularity contest. Obama was elected and probably will be re-elected with like 52% of the votes, yet the percentages of elegible voters is more like 26%. The rules are such that so call democratically elected president doesn't really represent the majority of the people. He was elevated to the top because of a great speech in the Democratic convention of 2004 and circumstances of electoral politics. So called Democracy may make you feel good, but with the "Citizen United decision" money is speech and the question of "Why Kansas vote against their interest" I really question the legitimacy of the ruling elite. While you may feel China with their closed picking of leadership I suspect Xi is really better qualified and legitimate representive of Chinese people without the trappings of so call democracy.

When Mr.Jacques says West I think he means more United States rather than West in general. The quesion of legitimacy can be put in many ways; here I would like to mention the book by Chris Hedge, "Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt", in which he describes the life of people in Pine Ridge, South Dakota; Camden, New Jersey; Welch, West Virginia; and Immpkalee, Florida; Anyone who has read this book can't but feel this government that allow the present affair to continue cannot be legitimate.

As for the famine during the Great Leap Forward, as someone who left Shanghai in 59 who lived in the city and left early I do remember some of the privation even in the city, not to mention for the people in the rural areas. I agree that's some of the history that needs to be addressed, including Cultural Revolution. But remember Mao was the leader and probably beared most of the responsibilty for the fiasco and also the founding father of People's Republic of China. How long did we in United States deal with the legacy of slavery and the genocide of American Natives? Probably even today most would not accept resonsibilty for their forefathers. Give another 50 years I am sure history will give its verdict.

Martin Jacques is not far off when he says that the majority of Chinese see the government as a sort of intimate part of their family, the invisible patriarch. I live and work in China. The majority of people I have spoken too about issues of the moment respond, 'the government are responsible' or 'the government will take action'. They are, through no fault of their own some may say, except perhaps putting up with the status quo, naturally when self-preservation and getting your basic needs met are the order of the day and the status quo permits both, in a position where they have no power, but no responsibilities either - much like children in a family. So, I can certainly understand MJ's analogy. All you clever clogs think that your average Chinese has read Chomsky and Sen? Pah! What planet do YOU live on.

Great post. Nice to read a thorough and reasoned skewering of Jacque's piece, if for no other reason than that it is much more logical than Jacque's index effort.

Jacque's entire piece is doomed to the logic dust bin for precisely the reason you stated: he can't claim the CCP is legitimate, or that it is more legitimate than some other country's government, without first defining the metrics of said legitimacy. Sure, he's entitled to his opinion, just as Ngok is entitled to his opinion about Xi's qualifications, but in and of itself that is hardly worth talking about. I'm surprised Jacque's piece made it past the copy editor.

I agree with Claire, insofar as that Chinese people will look to government to solve things beyond their control. However, i don't think that's unique...I imagine lots of people on Staten Island are looking to their government right now too...and I don't think reliance or dependence on the government in some aspects of their lives equates to them considering the government as an extension of their family.


Just because you live and work in China and has talked to a couple of "natives" doesn't mean you have a good understanding of how an authoritarian state like China works, and how fear, brainwashing in school and self-censorship works.

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