Activism, Asia, Must Reads, Recommended, World Affairs

China and the Difficulties of Dissent

Over the last couple of weeks, a small but dedicated band of free speech advocates at the University of Queensland (UQ) have managed to catch the attention of the international media with their protests against the Chinese government. The struggles of the protest organisers have a significance far beyond university campuses, as the recent media attention devoted to China’s influence over our politicians, technology, infrastructure, and educational programs demonstrates. The recent campus protests provide a timely reminder of the difficulties of dissenting from the entrenched orthodoxy that China’s rise is benign or even beneficial for Australia and the wider West.

The Rise of Fascist China

It is important to understand that China is a fascist dictatorship. The term “fascist” is now thrown around with such carelessness that it has lost most of its meaning outside the offices of a few historians or political science professors. But fascism, in its original early twentieth century incarnation, meant a political system defined by three attributes—authoritarianism, ethnonationalism, and an economic model in which capitalism co-existed with large state-directed industries and partnerships between the government and corporations.

China is an ethnonationalist, corporatist, authoritarian state. The government harasses, imprisons, or murders those who demand the right to vote. It engages in cultural genocide and seeks to make the Chinese dictatorship ideologically inseparable from the self-image of the Chinese people. It protects its domestic economy from foreign competition, subsidises all its important industries, mandates that government officials sit on the boards of all large companies, and does not allow independent labour unions. Despite the use of the word “communist” in both the name of the state and the name of its ruling elite, China is fascist. The label of communism is now merely a historical anomaly, relevant only to the extent that totalitarianism remains an underlying principle, the source code of a regime that has likely killed more people than any other in history.

Enter the Dragon

As the world’s most powerful fascist regime, one would expect China to encounter great difficulties spreading its influence on liberal Australian university campuses, the student bodies of which are hypersensitive to right-wing teaching or teachers. The student opposition to the Ramsey Institute teaching UQ students about the achievements of Western civilisation is particularly instructive in this case. China, however, has had no problem spreading its influence.

This is partly because most of its influence is not visible to students or the general public. For instance, China scholars from Western universities require access to Chinese sources and travel visas. In order to secure interviews or travel permits, they must not write anything the Chinese government dislikes. To be critical of the Chinese government’s stance on Taiwan is to be blacklisted. To speak out against China’s treatment of the Uighurs, Falun Gong, Hong Kong, the South China Sea, trade, technology theft, or espionage is dangerous academic territory. Students do not see this influence. Media representatives who interview “China experts” are typically unaware that they are speaking to a self-censored source, even though that source may be an Australian citizen, resident, and not ethnically Chinese.

Most academics speak euphemistically about this self-censorship. They will claim that you “have to be measured” when talking about China and that you have to be “sensitive” to Chinese feelings, which makes acquiescence to Chinese coercion sound warmer and fuzzier than it really is. They will claim that you have to see things from “China’s perspective,” and omit that this is the perspective of a regime that makes dissidents disappear.

The corporatisation of Australian universities has also made them vulnerable to implicit threats of Chinese sanctions. The commodity at stake is student fees because China can control how many students it will allow to leave the country to study at a foreign institution. Should a particular university prove hostile to Chinese interests and decide to, for instance, invite the Dalai Lama to speak, it can expect reduced enrolments. And although Chinese cyberattacks aimed at stealing technology from universities are extremely common, it must cross the minds of administrators that China has considerable disruptive powers in cyberspace, and that those powers can be put to work against “anti-Chinese” staff to the detriment of all.

Students and outside observers may, in the abstract, see the presence of so many Chinese studying on campus as another element of China’s growing influence. While that observation is correct, the modes of influence are, again, mostly invisible to the uninitiated. The mere fact that Chinese students are now the largest single national group in many classes does not automatically mean that the Chinese state gains something other than an education for those students (maybe). However, these students play an important role in shaping debate on campus.

For instance, when I was a lecturer it was relatively common to go through an entire semester without a single criticism of the Chinese regime by Chinese students in front of their classmates. Occasionally, a courageous student would privately explain why. Students who voiced objections were monitored by their classmates and denounced to the home government. They in turn had representatives within the student bodies whose job it was to warn students about their activism and remind them of the consequences of dissent. By making sure the students knew they were being watched, the students would self-censor (as a minimum requirement) or defend China in whatever debate was taking place.

In this way, the Chinese students provide something priceless to the cultivation of China’s national image—they make the regime appear to be popular at home. Ask a Chinese student (from the mainland) in public whether or not they approve of Chinese government policies, and you’re likely to get either a nervous and uncertain reply, and possibly a question about why a Westerner cares about Chinese affairs, or you’ll be provided with a vigorous defence of China’s reputation. This isn’t accidental. This is a product of deliberate, well considered policies, crafted by a dictatorship to subvert countervailing foreign policy initiatives.

Naturally, in the same way that China only allows self-censoring or friendly academics to enter the country, it only allows politically reliable students to leave it and study abroad. Students need to have family at home, good “social credit” scores, and it is best if they have family members who work for the Party. Hence, when I privately asked a friend why he could not speak out against China, despite his liberal inclinations and many years of residency in Australia, he excused himself from open dissenting duties with reference to his family at home. “It is dangerous for them,” he said.

Although Chinese governmental coercion is real and far-reaching, it is important to understand that visiting Chinese lecturers and students often firmly believe in all the fundamental elements of Chinese fascism (although, they do not call it that). They are brought up in a nationalist education system. They have usually made a lot of money under the regime (otherwise they could not afford to travel). They are taught there is no difference between the people, the Party, and the state. They are taught that all opposition to Chinese policies is either hypocritical, a misunderstanding, or racist. They are taught that China is being contained, hemmed in, limited in its growth by pernicious outside forces. And nothing will persuade them otherwise. Our openness to Chinese students, immigration, technological cooperation, investment, and trade is meaningless. Chinese victimhood is an ideology crafted for expedience, not because it accords with reality, and it is believed, disseminated, and defended by an indoctrinated, nationalistic establishment that has done rather well out of the regime.

The Confucius Institutes

Not content with the influence they have acquired over academics and students, the Chinese government decided to back the creation of “Confucius Institutes” in Western universities. These universities use the ancient name of a Chinese cultural icon but their role is to disseminate modern propaganda. Confucius Institutes run classes on Chinese language and culture, host debates, fund lecturers and conferences, and do not even bother to conceal their role as monitors and censors of other academics.

Amazingly, Politburo member Li Changchun actually admitted that Confucius Institutes were “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda setup” as far back as 2009, and by 2014 some of the Institute leaders were openly censoring conferences by tearing out pages and refusing to hand them back. As comically juvenile as China’s representatives can be, the boldness with which China is attempting to stifle debate is alarming. Their success, even more so.

The University of Queensland, like the other universities around the world which have Confucius institutes, signed agreements on hiring policies and academic discourse which gave China significant control over what is taught on who is teaching it. That is an extraordinary concession to grant a fascist state at a liberal university, and UQ, like other local universities, is still in denial about its impact. Despite the fact that Confucius Institutes have been caught censoring debate and influencing the curriculum in literally hundreds of universities around the world, and despite the fact that foreign dictatorships don’t generally fund Western, liberal colleges out of the goodness of their hearts, some university administrators are still keen to host the Institutes.

Nonetheless, China hasn’t had it all its own way. Some governments have moved to review Chinese influence on campus, and others have said they will close those centres that are not transparent in their contracts. The U.S. government has even managed to prevail upon some universities to close their institutes due to well-founded fears of espionage from Chinese government employees. Others universities have closed the Institutes voluntarily, perhaps realising that fascist propaganda centres are a bad idea, although it seems that threats by other sources to withdraw funding are frequently a part of the calculus.

The Protest

It began in Hong Kong. A bill was brought forward by Hong Kong’s legislature which would allow suspected criminals to be sent to face trial and imprisonment in mainland China. Although Hong Kong has been part of China since 1997, it has a local police force, its own courts, a limited democracy, and generally more political freedom. Predictable as ever in its patterns of oppression, China has been rolling back Hong Kong’s freedoms and the “extradition bill” was correctly identified as part of that pattern by the population of Hong Kong.

Street protests quickly developed. Millions of Hong Kongers took to the streets in defiance of the government. When the government suspended the bill, the protestors demanded its complete withdrawal and the resignation of Hong Kong’s chief minister. As the weeks passed, rounds of protests and police actions increased amid gathering international activism by Hong Kongers overseas. Some of that activism made it to the University of Queensland where I was able to witness it firsthand.

What started as a rather innocuous demonstration against the Confucius Institute was joined by those protesting the slow death of Hong Kong’s self-governance and it gradually escalated into scuffles between pro-Beijing and pro-Hong Kong protestors. The pro-Beijing students angrily surrounded pro-Hong Kong and anti-Confucius Institute students until police and security managed to defuse the situation. From this point on, things only became more confusing.

The University Takes Sides

Following a successful social media campaign, these confrontations caught the attention of local and international media, and the pro-Hong Kong camp decided to protest again. Amid Facebook and Twitter wars freely available to the reader (particularly UQ Stalkerspace), it became clear that Chinese nationalists were making threats of violence against pro-Hong Kong protestors. Even the Chinese consulate in Brisbane got involved, sending a message of support to “patriotic” Chinese protestors, a clear indication of how Beijing likes to deploy its “soft” power.

Quite rightly, the University of Queensland decided to act. Unfortunately, UQ shares a great deal of commercialised intellectual property with fascist China. It has even promoted a Chinese diplomatic representative to the post of adjunct professor without advertising the fact. It was therefore not entirely surprising that, when the university did finally act, it was against free speech.

First, they attempted to shut down future protests by threatening the enrolment of the protest’s student leaders. The pro-Hong Kong students would be “held responsible” for any violence in a future protest and potentially expelled. In effect, Chinese nationalists were handed a “heckler’s veto”—they were free to cause disruption, secure in the knowledge that the university would silence the speakers, not those disrupting them. The university said it was acting in the interests of safety. Fortunately, the protestors refused to be intimidated, and plans went forward for the protest.

In a final gambit, the University of Queensland decided it would allow the protest but wanted it moved, away from everyone else and away from the plaque commemorating the Tiananmen Square Massacre, which is where it was due to be staged. Again, the protestors refused to back down and the protest went ahead. By now, the issue had become wider than Hong Kong.

The Fragility of Collective Action

The media attention generated by the first two groups of students and their allies caused other dissidents to emerge from the shadows. Free speech advocates, Taiwanese, Uighurs, Falun Dafa practitioners, and Tibetans came out in support of the Hong Kongers and their protest, and soon formed a tiny but determined coalition. Their enemy, however, had changed.

Originally, the enemy had been the Confucius Institute on campus and the extradition bill in Hong Kong; now, it was now the University of Queensland, the Confucius Institute and its propaganda, the lack of transparency regarding Chinese Communist Party (CCP) influence, Vice-Chancellor Peter Høj, and the Chinese nationalists on campus. By the time the protestors gathered a second time, they had various speakers arranged from China’s persecuted minorities, Australia’s own left-wing political parties, and a woman from Hong Kong. As if that wasn’t broad enough, the Taiwanese (ROC) flag was hung above a nearby building, emphasising the common struggle of those threatened by the CCP.

Chants were directed against the oppression of the Uighurs, Tibetans, Hong Kong, and Falun Dafa. Former Greens senator Andrew Bartlett said in his speech that these events should be understood in the broader context of Chinese influence, UQ and freedom of speech, digital surveillance, and colonialism. There were land acknowledgements to the Aboriginal people of Australia, who were neither present nor lending any support to the protest. There were party policies on free speech read aloud to little fanfare or resonance. And there was a speech on the executions and organ harvesting of Falun Dafa practitioners which (if I read the mood correctly) was treated with incredulity and disbelief.

China’s government teaches its people that all dissent against its policies is ultimately directed towards the breakup of the country, and the protest served that narrative perfectly. Protestors really did shift from “close the Confucius Institute” and “withdraw the Hong Kong extradition bill” to “free Hong Kong, free Xinjiang, free Tibet, free Taiwan, free Falun Dafa” in a single move. I agree with all of those aims, but that is exactly why the Chinese nationalists on campus are hypersensitive to any protest movement, to any sense of dissent, to anyone who dares delegitimise the CCP, to anyone who opposes the dictatorship.

In such circumstances, even more moderate Chinese nationalists, who may not be enamoured by many of China’s internal policies, will line up to defend the regime. The status quo seems much more attractive to the average Chinese person than the anarchy they (falsely) think is demanded by liberalisation protest movements. Collective action is fragile and vulnerable to fragmentation, and leftwing protestors who had initially shown solidarity with Hong Kong broke away. UQ’s Socialist Alternative student group refused to back the protest, fearing that somehow it would be hijacked by racists, a fear which proved unfounded.

The Protestors Lose Control of the Narrative

As protestors gathered for the second protest, I saw two curious and unrelated things which I suspected would become related and consequential. First, I watched a man with a deliberately insulting, profane, homophobic sign directed at China’s dictator, Xi Jinping, being led away by police. Second, I watched a Caucasian reporter conduct interviews which appeared to be aimed at creating a pro-China angle.

The interviewer was a left-wing, pro-communist journalist eager to conflate protests against China’s government with racism, and to ignore the depredations of Chinese fascism. The protest, he reported, was “ugly,” and the presence of a former Greens senator was a “cynical effort to put on a more favourable face” on Australian racism. When the protestor with the profane sign was arrested, no one from the protest movement followed him, supported him, or attempted to interfere with his arrest. Indeed, when someone pointed out the arrest taking place, two of the protest organisers urged people to “ignore him” and reiterated “he’s not with us.” However, because the arrest was the only piece of action that day, a media scrum ensued and the headlines followed.

The pro-China Left had a field day, and used that protestor to tarnish everyone else as racists and homophobes, and, naturally, fascists. The Tibetans and Greens in attendance had been duped and used, the argument went. This was all dismayingly predictable. No matter how often the speakers reiterated their commitment to universal human rights and their opposition to the CCP not the Chinese people, their reassurances only succeeded in making them sound defensive. The pro-Hong Kong protestors had been drawn into a bitter squabble with the leftists who ought to have been their allies against Chinese fascism. Their battle has been lost.

A similar argument now prevails in academia, where scholars cannot shake the reputation of being “anti-Chinese” or racist simply for criticising China’s rather open attempts to influence Australian politics. Their battle is probably also lost.

The Danger is Real

Interestingly, and contrary to expectations, the pro-Beijing counter-protestors and most of the Hong Kongers decided to stay away from the second protest. This was not providence—at least, not in every case. Several Hong Kongers were told by family or friends not to attend. Several people reported visitations by the local branch of China’s party representatives. These representatives are either Australian residents or Chinese students who act as informants and messengers for the regime. The message from the Chinese government seemed to be that it was best to stay away entirely, rather than create more publicity in defence of the regime. The absence of the counter-protestors was, in its own way, a fascinating look into Beijing’s ability to discipline its own people in other countries.

Of course, this isn’t new or surprising. Chinese students have been known to report anti-Beijing activists directly to their embassy, and there have been concerns about China’s leverage of its students here for a long time. China’s diplomats in Australia have even been recorded explaining to a Chinese-Australian audience in great detail how “they are at war” and their job as soldiers for China is to influence the Australian political system. The danger is real. Given that China is a country that arrests you if you want to vote, unionise, or criticise the Party, it would be rather surprising if there were no risk involved in allowing China unfettered access to our politicians, academics, infrastructure, and markets.

 

Simon Leitch is a former lecturer in international relations and a free speech advocate.  His PhD focused on China’s post-Cold War strategy.  He can be reached at sleitch080@gmail.com

Featured Image of protests in Hong Kong courtesy of Studio Incendo

Comments

  1. The best-case scenario when your country is taken over my socialists or communists is that it slides into fascism. You’re never going to shake the totalitarianism, but at least moving away from a totally planned economy means you might see some economic growth. In light of this, it is unsurprising that leftist student organizations don’t want to get involved. They realize their ideology leads there and have no problem with it. They are the natural allies of the CCP, not of the liberals. Does anyone still believe leftists care about freedom of speech?

  2. Congratulations Simon Leitch, by authoring Quillette’s latest anti-China screed you have induced me to try to comment, for the first time since the new comment system was introduced.

    I am not going to try to respond to everything in your article all at once. But I want to immediately push back on three points. First, your claim that China is “fascist”; second, that it is “ethnonationalist”; and third (a relatively minor point), that the left had nothing to do with the anti-China demonstrations at the University of Queensland.

    Calling China fascist may win you points with the elements of the Quillette readership who like to say that the left are the real fascists, but it’s a surprisingly crude categorization from someone who actually has a PhD in political science. Would you say that Stalin, during the period of “socialism in one country”, was fascist as well? And that Barbarossa was a war between two fascist regimes?

    Similarly, calling China ethnonationalist makes little sense when the state ideology takes pains to emphasize that the various ethnic minorities are just as Chinese as the Han majority. You’re coming across as an ideologue rather than as a student of objective fact.

    Finally, I have it on good authority that the anti-China demonstrations at the University of Queensland were co-initiated by someone from the left. So again, you seem to be polemicizing rather than analysing.

  3. When the Chinese govt says minorities are truly Chinese it is to mollify the minorities.

  4. I’m afraid you’re wrong when you claim that China is not ethnonationalist. The whole concept of the zhonghuaminzu or the ‘Chinese nation/ethnic group’ (as well as being kind of ethnonationalist in itself) has always been heavily Han-centric; politically, every autonomous minority official is pretty much a puppet for a Han Chinese secretary who actually calls the shots, there are increasing restrictions on minority languages, especially in Xinjiang, and there’s a consensus in official circles that non-Han practices (except for dances and costumes) are backwards and uncivilized. Another great example is China’s attitude towards overseas Chinese (huaqiao); China consistently offers refuge and support to ethnic Han, such as during anti-Chinese demonstrations in Indonesia, even wielding its political and economic might in their defence, but allows horrific treatment of non-Han overseas, such as with allowing massacres of the Hmong (another ‘inseperable’ part of the zhonghuaminzu) in Laos after the conflict there, without batting an eyelid.

    The official discourse about minorities was a really important part of the communists’ success, but I’m afraid it’s almost all empty rhetoric now.

    As for the fascist claim, I think China manages a good proportion of the characteristics defining fascist regimes. I’m often tempted to use the word, although I rarely do so.

  5. The pro-Hong Kong protestors had been drawn into a bitter squabble with the leftists who ought to have been their allies against Chinese fascism. Their battle has been lost.

    They look to China and they like what they see. It’s an object lesson in how to control people! Why would they ally themselves in opposition to it?

  6. While critical, I feel as if this piece captures a number of salient points that may have been missing from wider discussions on the goings on, and this appears to be one of the only write-ups of recent events that remotely approaches contextualising the issues accurately. I am only on the edges of the organising committee- I’m the stereotypical eternal student with three degrees, having spent nine years at university, so chose to place myself in less of an organising role or as a face for interviews, so my opinion may not match the opinions of others, most of whom hadn’t even been to a protest until the week prior. But there are a few things that bear mentioning, anyway:

    The pro-Beijing students angrily surrounded pro-Hong Kong and anti-Confucius Institute students until police and security managed to defuse the situation.

    The security and police “defused” the situation by informing the pro-democracy protestors and their allies that they did not have the numbers to protect us if the pro-CCP mob seriously made an attempt to charge through their lines, and that our safety was at risk. Senior members of UQ staff (including the head of security) informed pro-democracy protestors that our signs about Tiananmen Square and the like were “inciting violence” and that we would be held personally responsible for anything that happened as a result of us holding placards along those lines, if pro-CCP students were “incited” into further physical confrontation. After being pushed away from the “Grassy Knoll”, the pro-CCP students stood around chanting pro-CCP songs for a good hour after the people they were attacking had left the field. This is the key reason students were so willing to ignore the commands and directives from the university and hold it wherever the hell we wanted: we’d backed down in the hopes of maintaining an amicable relationship, but the university’s follow up response was so pathetic and limp-wristed nobody was in the mood to negotiate away anything else.

    The pro-China Left had a field day, and used that protestor to tarnish everyone else as racists and homophobes, and, naturally, fascists… I watched a Caucasian reporter conduct interviews which appeared to be aimed at creating a pro-China angle.

    The relatively poor showing at the second protest the following week was partially influenced by threats against HK students, this is true. But the poor showing from domestic students was due to something far more insidious: that the protest organisers refused to let a particular Trotskyist faction take the entire thing over, because they were demanding the ejection of not only everyone to the right of Labor from involvement, but also various anarchists, Marxists, and other leftists they didn’t like. The reporter you mention is a leading figure of that sect. They are not pro-China- they are career student politicians who are furious students managed to organise a protest (no matter how hamfistedly) without their direct control or involvement. That this is helping the pro-CCP side of things is irrelevant, as far as they’re concerned, any protest on campus they can’t control is to be destroyed by any means necessary, even if it means empowering extremely reactionary groups. For days prior to the protest, the reporter and his mates were going around, trying to paint the entire thing as being organised by “white nationalists” and “white supremacists”, lying to other left-wing people on campus to try and get them all to oppose us (to little effect, but still). I have seen a lot of messed up things, but the way the Trots went around labelling everyone a “white nationalist” or a “racist” for not letting them hollow out the protests to use to shill their newspaper and student political faction is the most disgusting thing I’ve seen.

    When the protestor with the profane sign was arrested, no one from the protest movement followed him, supported him, or attempted to interfere with his arrest.

    This is slightly inaccurate- another of the organisers did go with him, and another man with protest experience also went with him to the van.

    The media attention generated by the first two groups of students and their allies caused other dissidents to emerge from the shadows. Free speech advocates, Taiwanese, Uighurs, Falun Dafa practitioners, and Tibetans came out in support of the Hong Kongers and their protest, and soon formed a tiny but determined coalition.

    The second rally last Wednesday had little HK involvement: an active decision was made to focus on more broad issues, for two reasons. The first is that the HK students are capable of organising their own events and speaking at their own events without westerners being involved. This is actually for the best: it prevents political factions (again, Trots) from trying to take things over or “speak on behalf” of this group for political capital, which as westerners we must be incredibly careful of. A HK student did speak, yes, but the intention was to ensure this could provide a broad church of different groups in order to highlight a range of issues, taking as many different speakers as could be organised over only a few days. The intention was also to move towards offering critique of all external influence and dodgy relationships on campus, given most of the organisers are concerned about other issues too: but just within a week it was difficult to really arrange this or come up with a good list of speakers. We should have done more to highlight this kind of thing. These are lessons that have been learned, quite harshly.

  7. @michellporter

    Given that the word “fascist” no longer has a precise meaning (perhaps it never did), I dislike any and all use of it, either on the left or the right. It leads to quibbling and distraction.

    As for ethnonationalism, your remark that: “… state ideology takes pains to emphasize that the various ethnic minorities are just as Chinese as the Han majority …” seems not only naive, but something that I would expect from the press office of the Chinese Communist Party.

    Finally, when someone tells me that they have something on good authority, I expect them to tell me the source of that good authority. Otherwise, I will ignore it.

  8. All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.

    – Benito Mussolini

  9. Several points need to be made. First, the Han Chinese, especially on the mainland, conflate ethnicity with nationality. They see third generation Americans or Australians of Chinese background as Chinese, and are honestly confused when they identify themselves as Americans or Australians. Hence the ease with which the CCP can brand the Hong Kongers and Taiwanese as “traitors” because they don’t want mainland Chinese nationality.

    Second, China is an empire, not a nation-state. 94% of its population is Han Chinese, but half its territory is Tibetan or one of the various ethnicities in Xinjiang. These parts and their inhabitants don’t want to part of China. The Chinese response has been to overwhelm those areas with Han Chinese immigrants (easy to do when their are 15x as many of them), and dilute the local populations down to insignificance.

    And lastly, the description of the CCP as running a fascist dictator ship rings true. The Chinese political-economic system is very similar to that of Germany or Italy in the 1930’s, as is their ethno-nationalism. There are even similarities in the way they control their students and business-people travelling abroad.

    And finally, much of the West is treating them with kid gloves, much like the West treated Hitler and Mussolini in their early years. This article illustrates a good example of that.

    Fortunately, the CCP does not have the same hyper-aggressive foreign policy aims as Germany did back then. However, even the modestly aggressive policy that China is following now can be immensely challenging (ie, potentially destructive) to the West simply because China is so much larger and richer than Germany or Italy ever were.

  10. It says “Comments Closed” on the article! Why oh why did Quillette replace one of the Internet’s simpler and clearer comment systems with this ludicrous “Circles” thing?

  11. I know this is a major distraction from the main point, but the author goes out of this way to discuss it, so I might as well bring it up.

    What is the point of calling China “fascist”?

    Let’s look at his three criteria.

    1. Ethno-nationalism

    This is true of nearly all states throughout history. It’s true of states in Asia today (the Japanese and Koreans would certainly consider themselves ethno-nationalists). It was true of China under Mao. It was pretty apparent in the Soviet Union. While the ideology of Communism treats the idea of race as some kind of social construct, in practice everywhere it took on a nationalist flavor. In Vietnam we made a big deal we were fighting communists, but it was pretty clearly about ethnic Vietnamese rallying around whatever was available to push out other ethnics and get self determination.

    I’m not sure ethno-centrism is a useful concept here. Not useful enough to transform the Chinese Communist Party into a facist party.

    1. Authoritarianism

    This admittedly is true, but again could apply anywhere in different degrees. Japan, Korea, and Singapore all had essentially one part rule for a long time (or still going). They use speech laws people occasionally accuse of being fascistic.

    On the western side we have things like “hate speech” laws in Europe. Generally though, our censorship is led by non-state actors. Primarily because the most important power centers in our societies aren’t the official elected government. In China, you can say the wrong thing and your social credit score will go down, and maybe you will get fired from your job. In the West you say the wrong thing and something kind of like a social credit score, though not an official one you could actually measure and access, goes down and maybe you will get fired from your job.

    Communist societies, including China, have obviously been authoritarian. Compared to the period of communism, I think its clear that the Chinese government is less authoritarian today compared to the hardcore communist Mao era. So why say that a lower level of authoritarianism means they have transitioned from communism to facism?

    I don’t mean to denigrate the real problems with the CCP. I wouldn’t want to live under them. But I hardly see this as an argument why China is specifically “fascist”.

    1. and an economic model in which capitalism co-existed with large state-directed industries and partnerships between the government and corporations.

    This could describe…every single government system ever. Is there a system of actually existing historical government at any scale that didn’t have something like this? The Japanese have MITI, are they facists now? If China transfers a bunch of state-owned enterprises over to the free market, and most of the same people are on the board, does this change in official designation now shift them from Communism to Facism?

    I’m sympathetic to most of the traits you ascribe to the China of today, but I think its a real waste of time to get into whether or not its “facist”.

  12. As Soviet writer and war correspondent Vasily Grossman (Life and Fate) came to realise - communism and fascism are each side of the same coin.
    Oppressive police states (fascism if you like) inevitably arise out socialism/communism because such ideology requires forced national cohesion and conformity and the surrender of personal liberty. Socialism/communism/fascism assume that people value only materialistic things and will give away their liberty in exchange for stability and order.
    As history shows, totalitarian states inevitable fail even though they may amass huge power. As Taiwan and Hong Kong show and the Chinese ‘Communist’ government doesn’t get, humans do prize liberty above the material and forced stability and order.

  13. Well, there is this picture of China you will get when you look at it from the outside and there is the picture you get when you actually live in China…

    Ethnonationalist is exactly what the current government under Xi Jinping is going for. Hands down. You see it at every corner in China these days. In every little decision by the CCP that doesn’t make it into the international headlines. I understand it is really hard to see for people who are not into the whole China thing and just glance over it once in a while, but take my word for it, it is happening.

    Actually, Leitch specifies pretty thoroughly why he uses the word fascist and he is not wrong on that. Sure, the slowly building fascism with Chinese characteristics is not a 1:1 copy of what we have seen in Europe in the early 20th century, but based on the policies that are getting established, how the society is getting structured, how the national narrative getting bend, you can see clear fascist tendencies there. It is rather a photo-fascism born out of the authoritarianism on crack…but fascist tendencies none the less.

    Not sure why you are trying to pin the “you are just creating propaganda against the left” when literally nothing in the article makes any reference to socialist or even communist elements ( it even distances the current CCP regime explicitly from its Communist roots ).

  14. It’s interesting to hear about the events at the University of Queensland from the Iain Banks fan (“GOU Xenocrat”), you were closer to them than I am, and I defer to your account.

    Fans of Simon Leitch might like to know that his PhD thesis is available online, from the Griffith University repository.

    I am very concerned by the rising tide of anti-China militancy in the west, but I’m not yet ready to go to war against it. However, I do think a little self-awareness is in order.

    An image of China is being constructed, according to which it is the heart of a new illiberal evil empire, and China itself, the contemporary state, needs to be dismembered, before Tibet and Xinjiang are overrun with Han Chinese, and Taiwan annexed.

    I believe self-awareness dictates that we should try out this kind of perspective on the western world, which of course is an American empire. The heart of the American empire, even in its new populist phase, is to be found in the Anglosphere countries of the “Five Eyes” spy alliance: USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand.

    One should try out the idea that the last three or four countries in that list, stand in a similar relation to America, as the contested parts of contemporary China, stand in relation to its Han core regions, whatever those may be. For example, in a comment under Aaron Sarin’s essay in Quillette, “When the Lion Wakes”, I compared Australia to Xinjiang, as a region overrun with settlers. But I could also compare us, or even contrast us, with Taiwan. Taiwan is treated as part of China, but is effectively sovereign. Australia is treated as sovereign, but…

    Also: the most aggressive, conquering ideology in the world for the past generation, has not been Chinese communism or even political Islam, it has been western liberalism. It is the United States, not China, which rules the waves, has bases in a hundred countries, promotes revolution in dozens of others, and do I need to go on?

    And let me draw a few other parallels. China has its political mechanism for hearing from the people, the political consultative conference; and America has its political donor class, who ensure that government policy is what the top 10% rather than the bottom 90% want. China has its liberals, concerned about the personality cult around Xi Jinping; and of course America has meanwhile embraced its own strongman, Donald Trump, first of his name, who is personally associated with a number of revolutionary policies, such as the wall on the southern border.

    Free thought and free speech is a western tradition. Free thought lives at Quillette, Simon Leitch is a free speech advocate. Well, another western tradition is: know thyself. Before we enlist in the new cold war, with Trump as the Reagan 2.0 who will take down Chinese communism, we need to take a long hard look at ourselves.

  15. I agree… preferred the freedom of the earlier open threads. But I’m warming to the circles :slight_smile: Amazingly good site though (just recently had it recommended)… content is A1.

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