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China in Crossroad

Recent events from the rise of Trump and his trade war and vaccine scandal inside China present great challenge to Chinese leadership under Xi. The right which I would characterize the liberals and those intellectuals feeling constrained on their freedom, and of course those felt threatened by the continuing anticorruption campaign embolden to challenge Xi on the direction which China is taking is best exemplified by an article written by professor Xu Zhangrun, “Our Present Fears and Expectations”. Professor Xu is a law professor from Tsinghua University. His article is raising a storm of rumors in Western media on whether Xi’s control is slipping. His article probably will be deleted in China, but I would like to summarize it here and rebut him. Those interested in his original article can go to NYT Chinese edition and follow onto his link.
He raised the question of legitimacy of government on 4 basic bottom lines, 8 worries or fears, and 8 expectations. The bottom lines are maintenance of civil society, protection of private property, civil rights/freedom, and term limit/constitution. The fears are of communism(against private property), politics in command, class struggle, isolation from West(result of trade war), waste of resources for foreign aids, ideological extremism, military spending or war, and stopping reform(his version). His expectations/hopes are stop foreign aids, stop wasting resources on international conferences in China, remove retirement benefits for leadership groups, remove special privilege for party members, sunshine on wealth and incomes, stop leadership worship, return to term limits, and finally accounting for June 4, 89 incident. He finally pleaded that leadership should take advices from scholars and intellectuals like himself.
After reading his article, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, but angry nevertheless. I am sure there are many such professors in elite universities in China harboring similar dreams, and angry at what that signify for the education of younger generations.

I will not quibble with the 4 basic bottom lines except to mention term limit is an artificial line totally meaningless. It’s not the length of service as Angela Merkle is serving her 4th term, while Xi is still serving the 2nd, and Donald Trump manage to sow permanent damage to American system in his 1 1/2 years. And Deng managed to dismiss 3 party secretaries while holding no title. As for his fears apparently he hasn’t read the Chinese constitution where communism is the goal. I know the fact that Xi leaded his politburo to study “Communist Manifesto” strikes fear among liberals, and his standing up to Trump’s bullying cause despair among those hoping for U.S. Green cards. Mao has died more than 42 years ago, yet people still recall fondly of him and yes some worship him. History will judge him to be great man and will judge Xi on his leadership, not some propaganda as professor Xu pretends. I am in favor of Sunshine laws, but the corruption Xi is fighting was accumulated since the founding of People’s Republic, or more accurately, thousands of years. No 1 or 10 sunshine laws can suddenly eliminate it all. As for TAM incident I wish Chinese government would teach the lesson not as professor Xu would wish, but as a reaction to the corruption after Mao’s death. Events since then would seem that Deng was correct to restore order with resultant casualties. Mao made the mistake that human nature, selfish tendency can be eliminated by force of will, but if he sees today what professor Xu wrote that China should be selfish, don’t worry about less fortunate people around the world he would want to start another Cultural Revolution.

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  1. alanking
    August 7th, 2018 at 21:30 | #1

    I m just happy that people like the professor are not the ones in power. They are just a bunch of armchair pseudo intellectuals safe in their own ivory tower. It would be a great move to send him to the poorest province as a professor and see if he can improve the scholarship level there. If not at least let him have a taste of living in a relatively backward place and see if it changes him for the better, i suspect not.

  2. N.M.Cheung
    August 8th, 2018 at 05:28 | #2

    Well, his article was deleted in China, but it did stir a reaction on the question of what’s patriotism and for people. I read an article about Sung dynasty on guancha.cn when generals like Yue Fee who wants to fight northern invaders were denigrated as warmongers and waste people’s money by peace suing faction in the name of people as this professor and others who wants to surrender to Trump’s tariff war and against anti-poverty war at home and aboard as wasting their taxes of the petit bourgeoise.

  3. alanking
    August 9th, 2018 at 13:50 | #3

    Fact is Xi is absolutely correct to come up with the Belt &Road Initiative. It seems that the professor treat the various projects especially with Africa and other so called “poor” nations as a money losing ventures. Far from it, fact is the relationship of China with the developed countries (almost all Europen/American) will forever suffer from (a) prejudice and (b) being fully developed, their growth rate will be limited.
    OTOH, in Africa and other so called “poorer” nations, their current problem mainly comes from (a) corruption, (b) poor infrastructure, (c) governance (related to a of course). But their growth rate will be fantastic once (c) is fixed, and one can see it happening, though I wish it could be faster. By building these close trading and business relationships, the contacts and business exchanges will last forever. Only such ventures can China export its surplus capital with great returns. It is truly a win-win relationship, instead of a nonsensical “us Chinese will help you poor Africans” type misrepresentation. The professor obviously know very little, I have no doubt that while he may be raised in the East, he is thoroughly indoctrinated by the West.

  4. N.M.Cheung
    August 9th, 2018 at 14:49 | #4

    Totally agree with you. That’s why I was so angry with his view, not only on moral ground but economic ground. He views everything in capitalism view of money and short term, that’s why West abandons Africa, but China will need Africa for not only resources but markets and allies against U.S.. Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Kenya will be fastest growing parts. His view is no different from Trump’s view, everything is short term and dollars. Someone like him should not be teaching future leaders of China.

  5. August 16th, 2018 at 04:22 | #5

    Well, comparison with Merkel is meaningless: she is democratically elected, so whatever number of terms she is there for, it is decided by the people. Xi is not democratically elected, so by removing a term limit, he has become a “de facto” dictator. Note that I am not saying that in the current scenario, this is necessarily bad: I don’t see any good leaders in current China, so it’s good to continue with Xi, so the country remains strong and can weather, hopefully, the trade wars. However, it sets a bad precedent, as in the future any maverick (or even Xi himself, if he becomes more power hungry) can lead the country on to a disastrous path. As for OBOR, simple economics: one never makes money where there is no money. Investing gargantuan amounts in economic duds like Pakistan or some of the African countries, just so as to make them its dummies, doesn’t really bring you any return on investment. And China itself is still a poor country, judging by the number of poor who live there: it’s atrocious that so much money is being wasted with no prospective return on investment, while so many people in China continue to live in great poverty. The professor is right: it’s foolish to be stretch one’s ambitions beyond one’s means. OBOR is already hurting China, with the result also that much of the OBOR investments now trickling down.

  6. N.M.Cheung
    August 16th, 2018 at 05:57 | #6

    I find the term you used “Democratically elected” laughable. Donald Trump was elected by a minority of voters, about 3 million votes less than Hillary Clinton, which is about 24% of eligible voters, not counting those suppressed votes and electoral college fraud. Of course you are probably justifying it as the way U.S. laws are historically structured, but the question is whether it’s democratic? Whether the 200 years old laws by slave owners can be democratically changed by 51%, or even 70% of the votes? Xi by all public opinion could be elected by probably 80% of Chinese people, but then you will say it did not follow your procedure, that it’s rubber stamped by your standard. Does China lifting 500 million people out of poverty satisfy your definition of return of capital? OBOR may not be totally selfless, but strategic and long term, it’s in China and world’s interest. You and the professor are nor really interested in alleviating the poverty of China’s poor, but use it as an excuse to bash China’s foreign policy. Recently there was a protest by some property owners I think in Beijing because government bought some housing to house poor families with mentally disabled children. They claimed in the name of security and lower their property value or NIMBY not dissimilar to here in the states against housing drug clinics in their middle class neighborhood. Any claim in the name of poor evaporated.

  7. August 16th, 2018 at 11:50 | #7

    Well, if you want to debate about different polling systems in different democracies, then that’s got to be another place, right? And I had not given the example of Trump … Regardless, Xi and his 80% is right now just now your imagination. For now, Xi is a leader who’s there regardless of whether people want him or not, and that’s a fact, which you cannot gainsay. In China, people, even by 3 million votes less, don’t elect their leaders. Of course, China has done stupendous work in lifting a lot of people out of poverty, but credit to that goes to Deng Xiaoping: Mao in fact rather pushed them further into poverty, and Xi’s OBOR could push China to disaster. The ongoing real estate bubble is one flashing warning that all is not well with Chinese economy: it also points to social malaises, such as forced urbanisation. If you think Xi has any sane foreign policy, then he would have avoided traded wars, and then Germany wouldn’t have brought a law to avoid selling strategic companies to the Chinese (and some others). You may continue to praise Mao and Xi, but reality lies in facts, in what’s happening, not in glorious visions.

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