Paranoia as black hair-dye

China’s 18th Communist Party congress has included all the predictable ingredients: bans on such improbable threats to social order as pigeons and open taxi windows, a blockage of Google, stunningly boring and vacuous speeches, and Tibetans burning themselves to death. Least surprising of all, and the curtain raiser to the gathering last week, was President Hu Jintao’s clear warning that corruption could lead to the fall of the one-party regime. It sounded like a gloves-off, no-more-kidding-around declaration of resolve to really get to grips with graft. So, of course, did all the previous such warnings.

The conventional view is that China’s political structure is almost designed to create corruption. It is a top-down Leninist system, with no checks and balances, no separation of executive, legislative and judicial powers and no oversight from independent courts or media. Add selective economic reform, with bigger and bigger amounts of wealth up for grabs, and the rise of political/business family dynasties, and you end up with a kleptocracy in which the best connected and most powerful can help themselves to as much as they can.

We usually assume that the political structure creates the corruption. But could it be the other way round? Could it be that it is corruption that is the cause of the structure? One of the other predictable events of the congress was the usual announcement that multi-party democracy and separation of powers were un-Chinese and out of the question. This is tantamount to a refusal to change the current system, and therefore essentially a promise that corruption must and will continue. Atlantic quotes a Mainland social scientist as saying that:

…in the name of “stability” the party has “suppressed the livelihood of the people, suppressed human rights, suppressed the rule of law, suppressed reform,” but it has “not suppressed corruption, nor has it suppressed mining tragedies, nor has it suppressed illegal property demolitions and seizures.”

The suppression can be seen as a means to enable the corruption. It is to serve the needs of the Wen family, the Xi family, the Bo family (once) and their counterparts in state-owned industries and the People’s Liberation Army. These are the people who have created this system – and outsiders are expecting them to change it?

It sounds unlikely. But in the upper reaches of the military, at least one ultra-paranoid thinks they might want to, and is determined to make sure they won’t. Australian journalist John Garnaut (of the excellent Is China Becoming a Mafia State? presentation) has received notes of a speech given by a leading PLA general warning of parallels between the fall of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and the possible fate awaiting China’s ruling class. The officer drew on earlier work on a Western conspiracy to lure China’s up-and-coming princelings studying in the US and elsewhere into accepting dangerous Barbarian ideas about freedom and democracy as ‘universal’ values. The Westerners brainwashed Gaddafi’s son Saif this way, and now they have toppled tyrants in the Arab Spring it’s obviously China’s turn.

In short, people who advocate political reform (and economic, legal and other liberalization) are part of a Western plot to overthrow the regime, and Ferrari-driving princelings returning from Harvard to join the power structure are especially suspect. It is an amazing contradiction. Some figures who (like the PLA commissar) are truest to Marxist or Maoist ‘red’ ideals, and who are most worried about vice and fraud, are fearful that the next generation of people with a material interest in keeping the corrupt system will nonetheless want to change it. The clean-handed idealists want, in effect, to keep the corruption, while the corrupt want to end it. It is paranoia squared. It does not exactly bode well for a decline in graft either as an unfortunate by-product or raison d’etre of one-party rule.

This also gives us an insight into the constant warnings about foreign interference, even in little old Hong Kong and, incredibly, Macau. When Chinese leaders mention hostile foreign forces they are not simply looking for a scapegoat for anti-government sentiment. Nor are they necessarily thinking of specific agencies like the CIA, Taiwan or Neil Haywood. It is the very ideas and concepts of democracy and human rights and rule of law, that are seeping into the country and are foreign and hostile. Paranoia is to these guys’ minds what black dye is to their hair.

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14 Responses to Paranoia as black hair-dye

  1. Lois Beluga says:

    The funniest political event and the most robotic is of course the State Of The Union address in Washington.

    Up and down, sixty-five spontaneous bursts of applause (sometimes there are only sixty-four).

    And everyone knows in Washington that your salary quadruples when you leave office and become a lobbyist.

    The land of the free – where your life expectancy is lower than Cuba.

  2. Maugrim says:

    Lol from today”s news: “China’s top official in charge of fighting copyright piracy has slammed what he said was deliberate distortion of the problem by the Western media caused by the country’s poor”

    But of course. Intellectual property will mean something else entirely should the west ever begin copying Chinese developed materials.

  3. Lois Beluga says:

    And since when have you been a China expert? You never lived there. At least I did my porridge as Foreign Expert.

    You Jonathan Fenby you.

  4. Stephen says:

    What I find increasingly common is when anyone comments (critically) on the government structure of the PRC the knee jerk reaction is to bring USA into the argument – George W Bush et al etc. Plenty to criticize the USA but the subject matter is China.

    The CCP will have to reform or it will fall – human history tells us that. It may take a prolonged economic downturn or an embarrassingly one sided dust up with the US military but it’s inevitable. Presently it’s corrupt to the core (Up to the PM at least?) and believe by changing a few (all too similar) faces at the top they can carry on regardless. Complete with all their paranoia, censorship, secrecy and restrictions on freedom. Yes it’s better than before but it’s still fucking tragic in 2012.

  5. Big Al says:

    @Maugrim
    However, since the Chinese haven’t developed any materials worth copying since, say, gunpowder, paper, Iching, the wheel, etc. it’s a bit of a moot point …

  6. Joe Blow says:

    The CCP is a Frankenstein monster. It’s alive, it can walk, it can mumble, it can dye its hair black but it cannot pro-create. Ergo: when it dies, the party is over.

  7. Vile says:

    It’s the old trick: when faced with an argument you know you’re going to lose, point in another direction while yelling, “Look over there!” and make a sharp exit. Works every time.

  8. Sojourner says:

    It’s called an ad-hominen argument.

    But I don’t think Bela was doing that so much as winding up Americans. I do it all the time.

  9. PropertyDeveloper says:

    The CCP know full well that once reforms have started, they are difficult to stop. The whole system is designed to put perpetuating itself above all other aims, even if it involves massacres of Han Chinese or systemic corruption.

    For the moment most Chinese genuinely support the government, and, pace Stephen, I’m not sure that another humiliation from the encircling Barbarians would necesssarily alter this semi-stable equilibrium. But foreign relations must be their achilles heel: they’re so xenohobic as to lose all judgement, meaning they’re likely to alienate, well just about everyone.

  10. Real Tax Payer says:

    An interesting quote from another blog:

    “Look at the elections results in France, USA or other western countries. The result is always 51%-49%, 52%-48%… 55% is considered as an overwhelming victory, a triumph, a plebiscite…. But what’s the consequence? It’s that 45%, 48% or even 49.9% of the people are unhappy with the result. Whereas in China, 100% (or at least 99.5%) of the people are EQUALLY UNHAPPY with the result…. Isn’t that fairer ?”

    This coincides well with a Chinese management maxim which was taught to me when I arrived in HK yonks ago: it’s better to be nasty to everyone than to be nasty only to some staff and nice to the others.

  11. So So Thirsty says:

    Is Grandpa Wen wearing a hat with an enormous cock on it? If so, how apt.

  12. Real Tax Payer says:

    I thought Grandpa Wen was wearing a french hat, like what the revolutionaries wore at that time as they towed the aristocrats to the guillotine

    ( Am I correct on the hat thing ? )

    If so, what is the message he is trying to get across ( assuming the pic is not a spoof) ?

    But on a related matter : why does every ( and I do mean EVERY) photo of Xi Jin Ping show him with a half smile/ half smirk on his face, and his mouth firmly closed ( I would even say CLAMPED closed ) ?

  13. Sojourner says:

    “why does every ( and I do mean EVERY) photo of Xi Jin Ping show him with a half smile/ half smirk on his face, and his mouth firmly closed ( I would even say CLAMPED closed ) ?”

    Bad teeth?

  14. PCC says:

    I’m looking forward to the usual “crackdown on corruption” which accompanies every 10-year power shift, when the previous administration’s bagmen are replaced by the new ones.

    Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

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