News & opinion on Greater China and the even Greater Beyond: by Biff Cappuccino.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

This is a hasty review of Dick Wilson's, The Long March 1935: the Epic of Chinese Communism's Survival

According to the author Bio, Dick Wilson was born in England, was a graduate of Oxford and went on to the University of California at Berkeley. He was a journalist for the Financial Times and the Guardian, a director for the Far East Economic Review and editor of the China Quarterly. He served as financial editor of the Straits Times and senior editorial adviser to the New Nation, both of which are/were Singaporean publications.

Well, fabulous résumé qualifications but an unfortunately incredible book written by someone who appears to have little grasp of human nature, real politik, or even economics. How this pretender managed to serve on these publications was a mystery at first, but on reflection, the answers come quickly. Clearly, paper qualifications and the ability to write what is popular, in unabashed opposition to common sense and facts that get in the way, and to ride with the herd and adhere slavishly to the fashions of the day were, and remain, more important than actually having something new to say or having spine enough to say what one believes at heart. As always, intellectual temerity is the rule and intellectual courage and fortitude the exception. In my view, it's because most people cannot think on the fly and are thus incapable of confidently refuting the arguments of the mainstream when they're challenged in social or professional situations. It's more comfortable, easier, and professionally safer to hew to the views of the majority, regardless of how ignorant or incredible they may be.

This book is a case in point demonstrating how such lunacy can be propagated and be profitable, and doom the rest of us to wasting ever-more time refuting pseudo-history. When one is young, the more vigorous have often have a healthy ambition to dominate their world or at least leave a noteworthy mark on it. Now that one has graduated, homework is a thing of the past. A shortcut is greatly appreciated. Enter the easy fight, the moral engagement, the popular cause: socialism which is, at heart, a quack's nostrum proposing to cure a conspiracy theory. An incompetent solution to an imaginary problem, you complain? But it's the best kind for their purposes as the alleged goal can never be achieved. Thus, one can keep chasing one's tale for generations, centuries, millennia.

Superficially, young socialists wish to save the downtrodden. But quite clearly the animus is the latent wish to uplift their jejune selves in the fastest way possible and outshine their elders; the end justifying the means, as always when we are young.

Like Dick Wilson, they wish to wrench leadership from their betters (i.e. the older generation) and so they try to adopt their means and jump into the leadership saddle. They take to paternalism. But with a twist. Needing to distinguish themselves, they accuse their jaded betters of cynicism and selling-out. They take take to guilty causes and saving society's downtrodden: i.e., it's misfits, lunatics, and incompetents. But saving the underdog, allegedly an act of contrition and altruism, is of course a self-help project; a form of favoritism with oneself being the favorite; a hope that if one gets behind the ranks of other failures in life, then perhaps oneself, who is not yet successful and who senses a personal mediocrity, will have a chance to get ahead. As always, safety in numbers, or in lieu of that, the rule of the majority that was feared by the Founding Fathers and who predicted the inevitable end. As they stated, history shows that full democracy grows democrats who eventually, when they have their druthers, vote into office monsters: Cleon, Napoleon, Mussolini, Hitler, and Stalin. All of these good old boys promised national socialism, and boy did they deliver. You better be careful what you agitate for.

If I'm not mistaken, this sums up the side of Dick Wilson that appears in this book and which animates his many absurd interpretations of events.

On page seven appears the following sentence: The rebellion reflected the miserable conditions of this region of China at that time, which were exacerbated by the effects of China's forced trade with the West and by some of the worst floods and famines in Chinese history.

One wonders what the phrase "forced trade" means. The only kind of forced trade that comes to my mind is: "your money or your life". How else can trade be forced? If trade is forced, surely it's theft. In other words, the writer doesn't seem to know what trade is.

Other things come to mind, such as the Opium War and the forced trade in drugs. But this brings to mind that America's "Opium War" (i.e. the drug war, a war to keep drugs out of America) has been a fabulous failure for the home country too. And surely the rationale behind legalizing drugs in the US should apply to China. If so, and I view things this way, then the Opium War takes on a new, sweeter flavor. It legalized part of the drug trade: i.e. it was a step forward; it was progress. You can't force people to do drugs. And anyone who does their homework knows that most opium users were not addicts, they were recreational users just like most beer-users are recreational users. (Even cigarettes were once banned in the United States for their alleged moral hazard.)

The end of the US drug war will come when the drug trade is liberalized; when it becomes laissez-faire; when it becomes just another tentacle of global free trade, prying open domestic monopolies.

This book was published with a 1971 copyright. Surely Dick Wilson was familiar with the Golden triangle drug traffic. It was common knowledge in the day that the Golden triangle was a KMT run operation. As such it can be said, and especially if one wishes to play the idiotic patriot game, that China has already had its revenge for the Opium War on Western Europe. Opium harvested in the Golden triangle was processed in Hong Kong (producing famed China White heroin) and then shipped to Marseilles for the infamous French connection. Drugs were sold to Europe because the shipping agent, the CIA's Air America, was expressly forbidden to ship the drugs to America.

On page eight, the same politically motivated painfully naïve description of economics appears yet again. This time, there is math bungling as well. It is curious but true that reporters often have trouble with their times tables. Check this out: By the time the Communists were fighting for supremacy in China, the situation of the Chinese peasant was as bad as it had been during many of the previous revolutions. The average size of the Chinese farm was about 3.3 acres, from which an adult farmer could earn perhaps ¥65 (or US $16) a year. The landlord usually took half of this, and the balance was hardly enough for the tenants' livelihood and that his family. He was obliged to borrow from money lenders to tide of the slack season, and to pay interest of 30% or more a year.

If this was a situation of the average farmer, and the average farmer could barely get by with the balance left over after the landlord took a share, the interest payments on the borrowed money could never be met. If that is the case, then, for mathematics sake, let's say 50% of farmer's per annum lost their farms. In two years 50% of the remaining 50% would again lose their farms. In other words 75% of farmers within 2 years would not have a farm. If you push the math farther, within five years 97% of farmer's in China would not have any property. Two more years later, and 99% of China's farmers don't have any property. Are we really supposed to believe this?

He goes on to say to: these poor tenant farmers were harassed, as in previous centuries, by extortionate taxation on the part of both the central government and the provincial or regional warlords, and by the corvée.

Beyond the verbal overkill of "harassed... by extortionate taxation" (as opposed to being harassed by non-extortionate taxation?) there is the lack of common sense.

Surely the central factor in this exploitation, so-called, was the tradition of having as many kids as possible. It's been said that what ended feudalism in Europe, amongst other things, was the Black death. Once laborers died en masse in one of nature's coordinated leaps into the grave, labor became scarce, tenants could demand rights because they were no longer dime a dozen, they were no longer next to worthless. Rousseau, that loudly protesting lover of the noble savage, children, and most importantly of all, himself, sent six of his infant children to their deaths in the state owned and operated slaughterhouse for the newly born. Again, was this institution's existence due to the harassment of exploiters? Was Rousseau being exploited when he exploited the convenience of letting the government kill his children for him? Or was this a matter of people having too many children and the population growing above the capacity of the land, the technology of the day, and the marketplace?

Obviously, it's the latter. And quite as obviously, this same notion is familiar to people who pretend not to take it seriously. Why don't they take it seriously? Because simple folk need something to blame. Their mindset is still medieval. They don't like systems and they don't like math both of which are presumed too complicated and to require time and effort to understand (though very little, actually). Worst of all, systems and math provide no opportunity for sport. They replace the blame-game with cause-and-effect. There is no immediate gratification and no entertainment (no chase, no slaughter, no hero, no villain, no climax.) Where have all the good times gone? Thus, this science-based and spirited explanation is a no-go from the start for natural, primal factors. I.e.: from youthful willfulness, from giving in to the latent immaturity and desire to galavant irresponsibly that lurk in all of us.

(I didn't intend for this to be a rant against socialism, but I'm short on time and I will have to stop here.)

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