I like Sam Crane’s demolition of Daniel Bell’s latest nonsense on China as a Confucian meritocracy, but I disagree with him about the meritocracy bit. It’s not that I think China is a meritocracy in the sense promoted by fans of the concept, but that meritocracy in practice is an amoral doctrine in which capability is regarded as a metric for gaining power in society: ‘meritocrats’ are aristocrats in formation, and therefore any actually existing meritocratic state would look a lot like China.
On the more general matter of China and its apologists, I’m constantly surprised at how few there are, and how lame they have turned out to be. A rising power of China’s dimensions, with money to spend and on more or less good terms with everyone should be beating flatterers off with a stick - proper flatterers too: plausible, persistent, articulate.
Instead we have Martin Jacques, who seems to have gone into retirement recently, and whose main insight was that China’s politics follow a unique course because it is a civilisation rather than a state, in other words, whose main insight was a non-sequitur unless he meant that the Chinese people are locked in some kind of mystical bond with their rulers, in which case he was merely being ridiculous.
And then we have Daniel Bell, who I’m beginning to think is actually a bit bonkers. At any rate, his power of wish-fulfilment seems to run very high. It’s not that you come away from his work feeling that China doesn’t work that way. You come away from it thinking that nowhere could work that way. But Mr Bell has a vision and it has alighted on China. So be it.
Eric X Li – love the X, great bit of branding – offers a marginally coherent account of Chinese governance based on the facts that China was an autocracy then and is an autocracy now so therefore its current autocracy is firmly rooted in native soil.
The thing is that China is actually run by a Leninist power vertical with the population of Germany. The clue is in the name of the ruling party. There seems to be an automatic assumption that the CPC keeps its name basically for old time’s sake: that it abandoned Communism because it embraced Capitalism and that now it is something squashily autocratic that can be reformed, if willing, or overthrown, if weak. But communism is not an economic policy. It is a way of organising the state. The economics follow from that, and they also give the Party the ability to organise the economy in any way it chooses. The CPC is a highly orthodox democratic centralist formation, and in many ways has become more orthodox over the reform period as it expands into areas developed and uncovered in the course of economic growth and consolidates its appropriate place within them. Take some time to actually read a Hu Jintao speech. This man is a communist to the core of his very being, democratic centralism in approximately human form. He is partinost, as they used to say in Russia. He keeps telling us this, but no-one seems to listen. And this fellow, responsible as he is as a good party man to the relevant organs and the broad masses, is first among equals among the responsible workers, to use the 1920’s Soviet term.
There’s a market for Eric Li and his feeble chums because we do actually need to listen to some relevant lies: we need to know what general account China gives of itself in order to orient ourselves around it. But it’s easier to refute Eric if you acknowledge that Communism actually exists and that it is running China and that therefore his recruitment of Confucius for Chinese Communism is a matter of opportunism, not recovered history.
Anyway: rant over. This was going to be a post on why I think that general ideological impoverishment may push the Party in a pseudo-liberal direction. That for tomorrow, maybe.