(November 7, 2010) Writing in the National Post, Chinese dissident writer and Probe International Fellow Dai Qing says China’s much-celebrated “rise” is no rise at all.
The whole world is talking about “China’s rise.” Even the Chinese people themselves–especially officials and the official media–describe the current situation as the achievement of “a prosperous society” brought about by “the miracle of economic growth.” So we behold China’s annual GDP growth and the government’s stash of foreign bonds. We behold skyscrapers and the Bird’s Nest Stadium. We behold the largest dam in the world, the Three Gorges project.
Not so obvious to us now, however, is that China has another very special “export”: the ideology of authoritarianism — an export that feeds China’s “rise” and makes China seem even more powerful. The most attractive new faces advertising China’s success today — the product of a “rising China” — are those of the new rich Chinese who have emerged in China and elsewhere in the world over the past 20 years. In China, they are known as the new-born Red Nobility. They or their family members are government officials, or at least, those with very strong links to government officials. These people are extravagant, smart and arrogant. They feel they can do anything they want, and that there is nothing they cannot do.
Recently, Netizens — the Chinese term for people who are free to act as citizens only anonymously on the Internet –have coined a title for a new special elite called “Naked Officials.” These “Naked Officials” move their cash and their dear ones — wives, children, concubines — abroad, buying houses for them to settle down in in their new country. Meanwhile, these “Naked Officials” continue to live in China but usually have several passports in hand. They are prepared to escape China at any moment to join their families abroad.
Is this true evidence of the “rise” of China? After Deng Xiaoping’s Southern tour in 1992, when he declared that “getting rich is glorious,” the Communists — officials, their families and the ones around them — began to build a “power-linked capitalist system.” To achieve this goal, the new Red China established a unique operational system. It completely marginalized the idealistic early Communist supporters, replacing them with Red Technocrats pursuing practical interests.
This capitalist system, however, was not a market-driven economy. Instead, the drivers were the ones who spent the state’s assets as if those public assets were their own. This soulless system has been going on now for nearly 20 years. Under the banner of “representing the interests of the people,” the Red Technocrats became more and more powerful.
At first, they snatched money through special policies and channels, such as foreign currency exchange and shortages of materials. Then they started to make money by selling weapons and operating projects with their government access. Now all of those money-making opportunities are not enough. So they have become involved in banking and stock market manipulation, and real estate and land development, which has become the most important source of income for local government officials.
What kind of lives have the Chinese people led in the 60 years under the rule of the single-party state? There is a simple saying from Netizens to sum up the years of the Red Empire of the People’s Republic of China, from Mao to today. This saying, which has spread far and wide on the Internet, goes like this:
In the name of revolution, they justified killing.
In the name of the people, they justified nationalization.
In the name of reform, they divided the spoils of the nation.
In the name of harmony, everyone must now shut their mouths.
In China, we have no independent trade unions, farmers’ unions, chambers of commerce or industry associations — only countless silent workers who have no sense of rights and no channels of complaint. In China, we have no independent media or independent academic research — only television, radio, newspapers, publishing houses, research institutes and universities which are either mouthpieces of the government or subject to the party’s control. In China, we have no independent and registered human rights and environmental NGOs, and no independent foundations. Those public interest researchers and lawyers who try to be watchdogs and uphold the Chinese Constitution are watched themselves and suppressed when they try to contribute to the peaceful transition of China to a country of laws.
And we have no meaningful protections for the environment. According to the Constitution, China’s land, rivers, forests and mineral resources are all state-owned. In practice, this means owned by state officials. Any official who puts his hands on our resources can own them. Land grabs have become the primary means for officials at all levels to get rich.
Nowadays, the public model that everyone hopes to follow is a career as a government official — the gateway to becoming rich. The traditional Chinese ethic is gone from this society. With people believing in neither traditional values nor the rule of law, money means everything to almost everyone.
People are driven by the sense that they must become rich. To become rich, they will follow the example of their superiors, even if it means tyrannizing the weak and plundering public resources. Today, the Chinese know that they are free to do anything, as long as they remain silent about politics. They can chase money — no matter how immorally. The rulers get the lion’s share of the spoils and hand out small morsels to those who follow the rules of game, and know enough not to challenge them.
Nobel economist Friedrich Hayek once said that a tyrannical government without any restriction means only war and enslavement. Today, because we have an authoritarian system in China, our resources, our environment and the welfare of the people are all insecure. China’s great “rise” is no rise at all.
Dai Qing is a Chinese author and a Probe International Fellow. These remarks are adapted from her presentation at the Centre for Asia-Pacific Initiatives at the University of Victoria.
Dai Qing, National Post, November 07, 2010