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

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Red China Blues by Jan Wong

This is a bright shiny book written by someone with a sense of humor and irony. It seems hard to believe that the author, or anyone for that matter, could've ever bought into the Communist socialist paradise spiel in the first place. But, it happened. Now that she's recovered, as is usual with people who go far to the left during their youth, she's now over on the right of the political spectrum.

Wong, the student, was president of the Canadian Girls in Training and selected as one of five "freshet princesses" at her Montréal University. She complains about being on the receiving end of prejudice as one of the only Chinese families in Montréal. Perhaps she evolved into an not uncommon phenomenon: the minority diva/dominitrix who avenges mainstream culture on behalf of fellow minority members in return for first rights to playing Messiah. Like Michelle Malkin and Iris Chang she was angry and outspoken, having found an excuse (always of cardinal importance) and conduit to vent her grievances.

As usual with books about China, there's plenty of xenophobia. She mentions intolerance and narrowmindedness but one gets the feeling that she's simply not ignorant or crude enough for the locals despite the spin she puts on the following from page 75: "I myself tried so hard to fit in, even learning Chinese body language. To indicate "me," I learned not to crudely thump my chest the way Westerners did but to delicately point my index finger an inch away from my nose. I adopted the slack-armed shuffle of the local populace. I stopped gesticulating.... but China was so relentlessly conformist that all lefties were forced from childhood to eat and write with their right hands. My lefthandedness attracted instant crowds."

Slack-armed shuffle, no gesticulating, conformity? In other words, no exercise, no communication, no independence of thought. Westerners crudely thumping their chests? Where I'm from we point to ourselves with our thumbs. If memory serves, crude thumping of chests is something I've only see in Hong Kong gangster films.

There's even reverse racism. On page 78 she writes, "we were treated rudely until people realized we weren't Chinese." This is a classic double-standard which exists right down to the present day. In North America minorities are treated rudely, which is unfortunate. But in China, who really wants to be treated as badly as locals treat each other? Despite the loud bragging about China being the land of protocol and politeness, it's of course a bumpkin backwater full of citizens constantly bumping into each other, when not elbowing, cutting in line, or hacking spit, and who don't have the civility to say excuse me, pardon, or I'm sorry. Of course, whenever a society loudly parrots any sort of trait it's pretty much guaranteed that trait is lacking locally; otherwise, why bray about it? If you took it for granted like oxygen, there'd be nothing to squawk about.

Also mentioned is the double standard in terms of the treatment foreigners and locals received on campus. Foreigners are given their own rooms with furniture and something approaching the level of conveniences enjoyed in the decadent West. If it seems unfair, well nothing is fair. Period. It's a moot debate; a stillborn argument; the sort of thing coddled sophomores from the burbs argue, along with the meaning of life (as if the answer wasn't patently obvious). And more importantly, the reason foreigners enjoy luxuries is because they come from countries where luxuries are commonplace. They're commonplace because the invisible hand of greed works. Commonplaces become luxuries in socialist countries because socialism is a system rigged by the house and thus incredibly and even deliberately inefficient. Visitors to socialist nations often remark on how cheap local goods are, forgetting that by local standards these same goods are incredibly expensive. Socialist countries are levellers of income (not to mention art and talent) and eliminate most of the gap between the rich and poor, but only succeed in doing so by making most things so expensive that they're beyond the reach of everyone. This is the opposite of the US, where most consumer items are within the reach of most people. Patriotic China was a sort of worst possible scenario for nearly everyone involved.

On page 163, the author has a photograph of a slogan which she translates accurately as: "enthusiastically develop a mass of criticism in academic fields!" I say accurately because the original Chinese is gibberish, just as the ensuing translation makes no sense either. It's a tough act to swallow but true nevertheless that most Chinese cannot speak their own language competently, let alone to write it. This is another by-product of the socialist system and its spies and gulags. Without the freedom to speak, there's no freedom to debate. Without the freedom to debate, people cannot develop clear thinking. Without clear thinking, there's no such thing as clearly expressed sentence. Ergo, it's authors are even worse quacks than those of the West.

Also interesting is that with the death of Zhou Enlai in the early 70's, the appearance of numerous protesters in Tiananmen Square was followed by the capture of 60 or so who were then dragged to the forbidden city and beheaded. The author claims two reliable sources for this. Apparently protesters were beheaded and not shot because Mao gave orders not to fire weapons in the Square. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Which brings us down to the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident. The author brings up a number of interesting claims such as the Incident could have been solved by any reasonably competent crisis-management professional. Of particular interest is that the government warned people not to go to the Square that night threatening them with death. And even after the first barrage of guns fired into the students, the students soon regrouped and came back for more. Indeed, this was the way things worked that night. Barring the occasional rain shower, when students refused to come out to protest, they apparently had an irrational rage and dared soldiers to fire on them again. Of course, the soldiers met their dare. And the students dared them probably more than 20 times.

In other words, and although my sympathies certainly lie with the students, it appears that the incident was easily avoidable. The government did not want to kill anybody. Indeed, the government bent over backwards to limit the number of deaths. I realize writing this must seem a heresy of a sort, but I try only to go where the evidence takes me.

Further, the students acted in many ways like the government they were trying to overthrow. Student leaders did in fact collect a cache of rifles and later lied about tanks crushing students in their tents. Furthermore, the famed student hunger strike was faked, with students sneaking off for food or sucking on half-hidden bottles of yogurt. Like the student hunger strike in Taipei recently, it was a fraud; although, to their credit, Beijing's students at least pretended to go on a genuine hunger strike. Taipei's took turns going 12 hour stretches without food, in between which they binged.

I've long wondered whether the successful overthrow of the national government beginning with the Tiananmen protests would've been better for the country. The students had no working knowledge of democracy, explaining their love of democracy as deriving from the fact that the United States had democracy. And what was good about American democracy? Well, it was democratic. And what was good about democratic governance? Well it was democracy in action. And why was democracy good, well...America had democracy, right?

As mentioned above and in the book at length, the student leadership often engaged in the same sort of sneakiness, lying, double talk, and lust for power as the regime they were protesting. This is hardly something to be surprised by. After all, morality is not a matter of the inner goodness or decency of a human being; it's the product of one's environment. Growing up in a nation committed to snoops and thought-crime, it's not so surprising that the students would engage in deceit, or to learn that they were fundamentally dishonest and even crooked. As such, I'm dubious the students would have led the country to a better place had they acquired power by some unlikely miracle.

The French Revolution was supposed to lift the country up by its bootstraps but the revolutionary government quickly showed it's true colors by mass-murdering everyone from the landed gentry on down to their political opponents. The government was then overthrown by a Messiah, Napoleon, who engaged in various European military campaigns which in turn led to the glorious decimation of even more of the French population.

In other words, it is by no means the case that changing the leadership makes a country better off. After the American Revolution, Americans paid higher taxes, enjoyed less freedom of personal expression (even Thomas Paine was jailed under the new libel laws), far less impartial courts, and by the turn of the century the Alien and Sedition Act resulted in the imprisonment of a number of newspaper editors and the country was halfway down the road to Civil War. Freedom of speech in United States was not product of high-minded thinking, but a political negotiation to prevent Civil War.

Yet another example is India. If India had remained under the rule of the Raj living standards would be much higher today, the incredible massacres that took place after partition would not have occurred (the Raj would have jailed the instigators who would have become known as political dissidents, i.e. heroes), and such venerable institutions as the burning of one's wife alive on the husband's funeral pyre would've been extinguished permanently decades ago.

The only way for democracy to come to China is via a sizable middle-class. Rhetoric is hot air only. For otherwise, had there been régime change in 1989, my guess is that the old fogies would've been thrown out only to be replaced by younger clan of parasites with sharper teeth and redder claws.

Fortunately there's also some good news in this. The Tiananmen incident was not an easy thing to arrange and the 27th and 38th armies ended up fighting a shootout against each other. Deng Xiaoping had to round up these good old boys and negotiate an end to their mad spat. Furthermore, and only did a number soldiers refuse to shoot, even those who did truth incapable of shooting accurately. All this bodes well for an attempted invasion of Taiwan. (If one was to take place, who knows in the end just which armies would be fighting against Taiwan and which would be fighting against each other; after all, the grand prize is not Taiwan, it's China.) Although the prison population of China has been estimated to be somewhere around 20 million and the number of executions today are much greater today compared with the dynastic era, the single child policy has produced a generation of selfish and self-centered brats destined to make excellent democrats and not slaves. Democrats have to be selfish and self-centered and not given over to group-think and going along to get along.

In conclusion, the book is not always engaging because the subject has been worked to death and the final 100 pages required quite a bit of effort and perseverance on my part. Nevertheless, the book contains some very interesting stuff for even the jaded reader. Worth checking out.

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