The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

When The “Communists” Do The Right Things

So, Xi Xingping, has, recently:

  1. Made all tutoring companies become non-profits as part of an attempt to reduce burdens on the middle class students and their parents: they had to spend vast time and money hiring tutors for competitive exams;
  2. Forced food delivery companies to pay couriers a living wage;
  3. Taken actions to reduce housing prices, so ordinary Chinese can afford them;
  4. Has stated that ride-sharing firms (stupid name for them) are stifling competition, suggesting action is coming
  5. (Shut down bitcoin mining.)

Xi’s priorities, “ahead of growth”, are apparently:

  • National security, which includes control of data and greater self-reliance in technology
  • Common prosperity, which aims to curb inequalities that have soared in recent decades
  • Stability, which means tamping down discontent among China’s middle class 

A lot of international investors have been burned by this, including property investors and those invested in the tech sector (which Xi has been after in particular.)

What passes for a lot of tech “innovation” these days are things like centralized apps for rides, which in countries with labor laws actually just suppress wages and ignore laws or bottleneck companies, as when someone gets a bottleneck position in an app store (Apple is having a big court fight over their 30% rates and approval process) or a market with strong network affects like social networks or Search (Google)

Such “innovations” aren’t really, they’re ways for a few people to take a larger percentage of profits or pass thru funds and leave less for everyone else. Facebook does great; news sites die. Google does great, but strangles internet content creators (who did far better in the early to mid 00s before Google got a stranglehold.)

Xi’s basically right to clamp down on this stuff, and to stop people from making excess profits on actions, like tutoring, that don’t add social value. Tutoring is Red Queen’s Race stuff, and people who can afford more or better tutoring win: that creates social discontent, while providing no actual value to society as a whole. In fact, by creating all the anger and resentment it is damaging society.

A lot of this is also happening because Xi and the Communist Party have given up on being friends with America. They now regard a cold war / clash-of-civilizations as inevitable, and are no willing to play by neoliberal rules and make sure that a chunk of Western elites can also get rich from China’s economy.

In geopolitical terms this may be a mistake, the fewer American and Western elites who are making money off the Chinese economy, the more likely even worse trade war and the sooner Cold War 2.0 happens.

But it’s also understandable. The actions against Huawei, when it took the global lead in 5th gen wireless, then the export ban on microchips made it clear to Beijing that the US was their enemy and was going to use its power to make sure China didn’t take dominance in any hi-tech fields. Since not becoming a leading tech power (remember, internet companies that simply intermediate and chips/phones are very different) means never breaking out of the middle income trap or truly being a first rank great power, that’s unacceptable to Xi.

Overall I think Xi’s been a bad leader for China. He’s fumbled foreign affairs. As a friend pointed out to me, America doesn’t treat its allies and third parties well at all. They should be falling over themselves to align with China, but they aren’t, because China has often been very aggressive and bullying to smaller nations.

This is part of Chinese geopolitical think: small nations should know their place; so should weak ones. When China was weak, it kept quiet and built up, now that it isn’t, it expects deference.

But less bullying would have led to a lot more friends. Few nations actually like America, but a lot are scared of China too.

We’ll talk more about China and the US. This cleavage is probably the most important geopolitical event necessary to understand what’s going to happen over the next twenty years. It’s not as important as climate change and environmental collapse, but almost nothing else is more important.

In a sense it’s almost comforting: the rising great power challenging the old great power and their alliance. Traditional.

But it can still destroy a lot of lives, or, if handled skillfully, leave a lot of people better off. For many, how they maneuver around the giants and the midgets who are their allies will be one of the most important decisions they make; for others simply understanding how the world will change as a result will let them make better choices.

(My writing helps pay my rent and buys me food. So please consider subscribing or donating if you like my writing.)


And The Mass Evictions are ON


The Covid Idiot Shuffle


  1. Plague Species

    China’s zenith was 1979. This article reveals why what happened since then happened since then. The West, as exemplified by the World Bank Report, was licking its chops for China in 1979 and since then it feasted.

    Industrialising without urbanising was remarkable, but it was not the unevenness of China’s development that most impressed the World Bank investigators. What struck them was that the Communist regime had laid the foundations for growth by delivering basic services to its population.

    “China’s most remarkable achievement during the past three decades”, the Bank remarked, was to have made “low-income groups far better off in terms of basic needs than their counterparts in most other poor countries”. As a result, the most basic indicator of human well-being, life expectancy, had surged in China from 36 in 1950 to 64 in 1979. In 1979 China, the most populous country on the planet and one of the poorest, had an average life expectancy that put it in the higher tier of middle-income countries. In Shanghai, China’s richest province, average life expectancy in the late 1970s was 72 years, no more than a year behind that in the UK at the time. Overall life expectancy at 64 years was, in the words of the World Bank, “outstandingly high for a country at China’s per capita income level”.

    I wouldn’t call it a miracle waiting to happen, but rather a nightmare waiting to happen. A nightmare for the living planet.

  2. Joan

    If America started making its own stuff again rather than outsourcing everything, to China and other countries, that would be really good for the economy and stabilize society. I’m surely preaching to the choir though.

  3. different clue


    As a member of the choir, may I say that we appreciate being preached to, too. The choir sometimes needs to have its morale raised, or at least maintained.

    Every American who invested any money in China is a traitor. I hope China nationalizes every last single American investment in China, and that the Free Trade Traitors who invested there lose everything they have.

    The CommuNazi ChinaGov PartyState is planning a Century of Humiliation and Colonization for America. They don’t mind foreign humiliation in principle, so long as they get to be the colonial humiliators humiliating foreigners other than themselves. If we don’t move to prevent it within the next 2-3 years, we will become one of CommuNazi China’s numerous Foreign Tributary Satrapies for a century at least, and probably longer.

    We had our own version domestically of what the ChinaGov is working to build for China domestically now. We called it the “New Deal”. Our internal class enemies worked for decades to destroy it and take it away from us, and they have succeeded.

    Whether we can get it back without first creating a movement to take power and use that power to round up and kill millions of Free Trade NeoLiberalism supporters so they are no longer alive to stop us from getting our New Deal back . . . is an interesting question. I suspect Americans won’t give up on non-violent self-liberation for at least a few more years. When that fails, then we’ll see.

    One way or another ” America will Stand Up!”

  4. Hugh

    China had about 40 years where it could force its way into industries, steal the technology it needed, and undercut its competitors. It was surprisingly successful, but that was never going to be a permanent business model. There was always going to be pushback both from workers in countries like the US who lost their jobs and livelihoods in the process and from the investor class who slowly came to realize that Chinese markets were never going to be free or that open to them. Politically, the writing was on the wall since Tiananmen in 1989, more than 30 years ago. China was never going to open up. Xi, the latest avatar of 2200 years of interchangeable imperial systems, was the natural result. With Xi it is all about repress, suppress, enforce, and control, like every other emperor since forever. It also puts him at odds with the creativity he needs to keep China at the forefront technologically.

    Covid exposed the idiocy of long complicated, just in time supply chains, like those between the US and Asia and those China is trying to build with its Belt and Road projects. Climate change will multiply the problems with these exponentially.

    For me, Xi represents a China that is already past its zenith. Like the US, it will still be capable of great things, but less and less so, less and less often.

  5. nihil obstet

    Fear of communism in the 30s gave us the New Deal. The Cold War in the 50s and 60s kept the New Deal going another generation, and empowered the Civil Rights movement. The U.S. and Western Europe had to show its citizens were better off than the poor people oppressed by the Commies. Eisenhower was explicit about needing to address civil rights for the sake of foreign affairs, especially in newly independent third world countries.

    I wonder what effect this new Cold War might have on the elites’ treatment of American peasants. I suspect none. Our elites now show no evidence of either intelligence or morality. They put all their faith in propaganda. I was going to say “and a glitzy military”, but I wonder if they even believe that the army can win a war or police action any more.

  6. different clue

    @nihil obstet,

    The American oligarchs will try using this new cold war which they are engineering into existence to increase social discipline and mass obedience to their rule among us peasants. They will cite China as the “new threat” to sanctify their ever-rising levels of digital surveillance against us, their rising tide of mass brain pollution leaking over us from every mass and special media toilet bowl, etc.

    Meanwhile, they will defend their Forcey Free-Trade with China at the very same time as being necessary to keep the cold war from getting hot. ” As long as we’re trading eachother, we’re not bombing eachother, right?”

    So they will try creating some very new and very negative effects for us from their new cold war.

    The more of us who understand the Grand Process AND all the granular little details, the more of us can get in their way with mass passive obstruction, weigh them down like a hundred million little anchors, etc.

    Of course, if we could exterminate them from power, and then take over the power positions we could exterminate them from, then we could use those power positions
    to abolish America’s presence in the Free Trade System, and we could begin going into as much economic seclusion as we possibly could. We would express our newfound understanding that trade is a form of cold-war, and the less trade we have with China, the less cold war we would have with China.

    If we could become an essential Autarky, then we would not have to care if China takes over the MacKinder ” World Island”. As long as China and its Satrapies maintained a rigid posture of Zero Contact with us here on Turtle Island and we maintained a rigid posture of Zero Contact with them on MacKinder World Island,we would have no cold war with China at all.

    ( MacKinder was a geopolitical mystic. Here are some images for his mythical World Island concept);_ylt=A0geKeloAQthTEMA9llXNyoA;_ylu=Y29sbwNiZjEEcG9zAzIEdnRpZAMEc2VjA3Nj?p=mackinder+world+island&fr=sfp

  7. Soredemos

    @different clue

    “The CommuNazi ChinaGov PartyState is planning a Century of Humiliation and Colonization for America.”

    That’s…certainly a sentence. If you write more words LikeThis I’m sure you’ll eventually stop looking like a clown. What the hell even is a ‘CommuNazi’?

  8. Temporarily Sane

    I see the anti-China braintrust is foaming at the mouth again. Not particularly shocking given their history, but it’s still “funny” how susceptible these people are to propaganda that denigrates nations the US wants to destroy and “regime change.”

    Xenophobes and shills for empire the lot of them. But I’m sure their “concern” for people of color in the US is 100% genuine.


  9. bruce wilder

    As I read Ian’s brief essay, I was thinking to myself, why is it so hard to recognize Xi as a statesman with goals of public service?

    Maybe not the right goals — but he has goals and sees himself as responsible for shaping the state and the political economy and international system. I have tried to make the same point about Putin — that he quite consciously and explicitly pursues goals in public service to Russia, proposing projects to address Russia’s problems. Again, I would not claim he is saintly or even that he is especially wise. But Putin obviously calculates closely in directing Russia’s foreign and domestic policy.

    American political leaders at the top level nationally do NOT often do this kind of goal-setting or conspicuous strategizing in pursuit of some kind public good. Part of this is that the dominant neoliberal ideology scarcely admits there can be a public good. Tony Wikrent’s preaching on civic republicanism is a reminder of how faded is any concept of public good in American politics (and commentary a reminder of how cynical we all are about its memory or possibility).

    That Xi has, arguably, wrongly conceived goals or that Han China cultivates a nationalist arrogance that ill serves it abroad I would readily accept, but the simple fact of a powerful leader leading and organizing in pursuit of a concept of public good ought to be remarked on as a contrast with the U.S., where spokesmodel politicians fail repeatedly at everything and no one seems surprised.

  10. different clue


    If I look like a clown to you now, I will just have to live with that. If my predictions on this matter come true or even just true-ish over the next 20 years or so, then I won’t look like a clown anymore. If my predictions on this matter all come out false, then events may well have proven me to be the clown I look like to you now.

    CommuNazi is a word I just recently made up to try and capture the Great Han Lebensraum imperative of the ChinaGov PartyState to force millions of Han settlers into the non-Han areas , like Sinjiang and Tibet, in order to ” change the demographic balance” of areas like that, to turn the various nations of Sinjiang and the Tibetans of Tibet into submerged minorities in their own land.

    Perhaps if I had called it Manifest DestiNazi, I would have better captured its similarity to the Great EuroSettler Conquest against the Native Nations here. That might be a more politically correct way to express the same reality on a left wing blog.

  11. different clue


    Oh! also, I just remembered a Russian saying. It goes like this.

    ” I show you the moon and all you see is my finger.”

  12. different clue

    @Bruce Wilder,

    Your statement is correct, so far as it goes.

    America needs an America-centric statesman for America the way Xi is a Chinacentric statesman for China, to an extent within his Party and ideological limits.

    We would first need to grow a movement and a political strike-force to be able to find and force such statesmen into power in the teeth of a hostile Tyrannocratic Oligarchy.

  13. Temporarily Sane

    “In geopolitical terms this may be a mistake, the fewer American and Western elites who are making money off the Chinese economy, the more likely even worse trade war and the sooner Cold War 2.0 happens.”

    Cold War 2.0 is already underway. It is, as you imply, instigated by the US-led West who are actively trying to thwart China’s development and prevent the Chinese people from enjoying a high quality of life and standard of living.

    For now Western elites are still making plenty of money in China but building up the Chinese middle class and becoming as self-sufficient as possible is a must if China wants to become independent of the West and its nefarious sanctions and meddling.

    Of course accelerating climate change chaos will throw a spanner into the geopolitical works and this could lead to some very extreme shit that makes Cold War 1.0 look quaint. Imagine a President Pompeo, or some other end-times rapture nut, ruling a fractured and declining United States beset by climate change induced natural disasters. But I digress.

  14. bruce wilder

    We can hope for Cold War redux, I suppose, but I vaguely recall the first edition followed the successful cooperation of unlikely allies in crushing destructive tyrannies in a very hot war. If Cold War Jr is between Russia and China, . . . you draw the implication.

  15. Hugh

    So what Russian public good was Putin accomplishing in Syria or by running up more and more Western sanctions? What public good is he doing by defending the oligarchs who are looting Russia?

    You could say the same thing about Xi. There are so many issues where a lighter touch, some subtlety, would defuse them. Instead we get one approach, always heavy handed: Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the South China Sea, the drying up of the Mekong. The list just keeps growing.

  16. bruce wilder


    I keep hoping for some kind of herd immunity to develop to plutocracy’s propaganda narratives. Politicians who could not get elected on broadcast or narrowcast bs would not feel themselves dependent on business and billionaires to finance that propaganda. People who no longer stood ready fight the reds or the blues, whom they hold in contempt, and instead stood ready to make good use of the guillotine on our genocidal oligarchs would be refreshing.

    Just a more widespread will to make a political judgment on unsubtle “controversies” (“gee, an enormously costly 20 year war with no good result seems like a failure we ought to walk away from” — and “let’s reform and re-people the institutions that pursued that failed policy” — that kind of basic, unsubtle judgment would be welcome. Some acknowledgment from a prominent political or media (or academic) figure that a decline in height or life expectancy is a sign of serious state failure — an acknowledgment not immediately drowned out by bad faith rebuttals or pious hypocrisy about racial disparities and systemic racism.

  17. Temporarily Sane

    @bruce wilder

    The US and neoliberalized West are ideologically incapable of harnessing state power and resources and “getting shit done” as China is able to do.

    Can you imagine, for example, the United States building a 25,000 mile high speed rail network in the space of a few decades? In the UK the one high speed rail line that’s under construction has an estimated completion date of 2035…for a line that totals only 330 miles! China built its 39,000 km HS rail network from scratch in about 20 years (~2000 to 2020).

    How can the West compete with that? It would require a complete ideological overhaul before something like this becomes possible. In other areas, like providing “aid” to the developing world, the West with its IMF/World Bank grift openly rips off the countries it is ostensibly helping and all China has to do to make itself the preferred option is offer them a half-assed fair deal.

    The West can’t compete with China because it has subjugated the interests of its citizens to the economic interests of a parasitic capitalist class. It’s a grift from top to bottom.

    It has nothing to offer its own people or the world except for lies, coercive “help” and threats of violence and/or hardship. It squandered the lead it had post-1945 and is now a sclerotic and moribund wreck waiting to run aground and break up.

    Hence the rabidly bitter attitude toward a developing China and the Schadenfreude of hoping the Chinese state collapses and its people suffer. Good “woke”Democrats like Hugh and Plague Species – who like to think they are more compassionate and empathetic than the GOP and its ghouls – really let their shitlib hypocrite flag fly with this.

    Sorry if that was a bit of a rant but I had to get that stuff out.

  18. bruce wilder

    In Syria, Russia secured a naval base, both flanks Turkey and pries Turkey from NATO, demonstrates the effectiveness of its weaponry (arms are a major, profitable export), demonstrates its effectiveness as an ally by keeping its commitment to Assad on the ground and in dealing with aggressive, unprincipled Western Powers trying to overthrow Assad and plunge Syria into greater chaos, and does all this comparatively cheaply.

    Stark is the contrast with the U.S., which has spent lavishly on a palsied policy of slapping itself in the face by financing its own worst enemies as well as irreconciliable opposing forces (the Turks and the Kurds, e.g.) with no end game in sight beyond preventing an end game distinguishable from murderous chaos.

    The political conflicts of the Mashriq are beyond complex and if you are looking for “good guys” to root for, you are likely going to be disappointed. Putin, by appearance a cynical realist, suffers no such handicap in calculating his chances. From U.S. media, you would scarcely understand that Russia cultivates a warm relationship with Israel, one of the few countries in the world outside the former Soviet Union with a significant number of Russian speakers. And Putin managed to co-exist in supporting Assad with a hostile Iran, and as I mentioned, cultivated Turkey.

    Bringing the Syrian civil war closer to an end, even under Assad (who gains support from various Syrian minority communities for good reason under the threat of Sunni domination.

  19. different clue


    You ask . . . “So what Russian public good was Putin accomplishing in Syria or by running up more and more Western sanctions? ”

    Putin helped the legitimate government of the Syrian Arab Republic beat back and contain the Cannibal Liver Eating Jihadi insurgency into the Idlib Province where it is backed up into. That has helped to slow for now the momentum of various Cannibal Liver Eating Jihadi insurgencies backed and sponsored by the Global Axis of Jihad.

    The sanctions on Russia have created a defacto-shield of protectionism around the Russian economy. The Russians have been forced to diversify their economy to produce certain things which the EU will no longer sell them. This could make their economy stronger and more balanced in the long run than it would have remained if it had afforded all the European luxury goods it wanted by selling all the gas and oil it could.

    If such ” accidental unintended protectionism” ends up making the Russian economy stronger and more self sufficient and more autarkich in the long run, it will be a demonstration that “protectionism works” and that might inspire a protectionist movement in this country to somehow conquer power, destroy and wipe out its enemies, and Make America Protectionist Again ( MAPA).

  20. Willy

    Sorry to butt in, but I’m thinking that maybe Chinese central planning works.

    Or post Mao it works. Or post Mao and with the help of greedy, corrupt and stupid American corporate oligarchs it works. But I’d certainly give Xi some credit. Wasn’t Hu the one before? And Jiang before Hu? Jiang seems to have invented the term “socialist market economy”. I know for a fact that in the fine print it says “ain’t nothin wrong with socialists stealing capitalist technology.” Stealing tech worked for ancient Rome and nobody bitched.

    Maybe they’re in the middle of a period which historians shall call “The Five Good Premiers”. I wonder who their version of Commodus is gonna be. Will they have a mechanism for yanking their Commodus offstage for being an incompetent nutjob, by then, without too much fuss and mass murder?

    I don’t know Xi personally, but I think he’s one of those determined and competent goal achievers who can get a lot of omelets made, if you don’t mind the broken eggs. I once mentioned Elon Musk as having that quality, breaking eggs omelets and all, but nobody wanted to discuss why those qualities are so effective in the modern world. They wanted to call Musk an egomaniacal asshole charlatan instead. As if I didn’t already know that. Maybe Xi also an egomaniacal asshole charlatan.

    Maybe the Chinese are lucky that he’s more into high speed rail than cultural revolutions. Maybe progressives should be lucky to have such an example of “socialist market economy” to point to as neoliberal America crumbles.

    Carry on.

  21. Hugh

    The legitimate government in Syria is the police state Bashir Assad inherited from his dictator father? Good to know. Sunnis in Syria are the majority. They haven’t been in power for really forever. The Assads have been running the place for 50 years.

    And the idea that Putin cares about legitimate anything after his invasion of Crimea doesn’t pass the laugh test.

    And what can be said of Putin applies to Xi. They criticize the US for its high-handedness because if anyone should be high-handed, they think it should be them. I do not see this as progress..

  22. different clue


    I am happy to remind you as many times as you forget that I reminded you in the past . . . that the United Nations and its Member Governments recognized and recognized the government of the Syrian Arab Republic, from before and then during the Assad period, as the legitimate government of Syria. Whether you like it or not does not matter to the UN and to the recognizing governments

    The Sunnis? Most of the civilized and multi-confessional-society-tolerant among them ended up supporting the Syrian Arab Republic government when it became very clear that the “rebellion” was a Saudi/Qatari/Emirati/Erdogan/DC FedRegime-backed project to destroy civilization in Syria, wipe out all the minority groups, and turn the remains into a Cannibal Liver Eating Jihadi playground.

    Oh! . . . the Sunni majority favored the Cannibal Liver Eating Jihadis? Well, let them be crushed, along with the Cannibal Liver Eating Jihadis they favored. And in their last holdout of Idlib? Let the Idlib abscess be drained in due time, and let the CLEJ and all their supporters be crushed and brought under full and total control there as well.

    Putin saved Crimea from a Hotsie Totsie Banderazi invasion from the Pravi Sektor/ Svoboda regime in West Ukraine. The fact that “legitimacy” would object to Putin’s orchestrating the exclusion of Banderastani Naziism from Crimea has brought “legitimacy” itself to the point of failing the laugh test.

    Ever since Putin began persecuting Russian gay people, you have tried recruiting people to your anti-Russianitic racist antiRussianite agenda when you found out that you couldn’t recruit people to it based on the gay issue as such. I remember pointing that out in a comment once. But I will be happy to keep repointing it out as many times as you pretend to have forgotten about it.

  23. Hugh

    different clue, no one should trust progressives on foreign affairs. They have as many delusions and double standards as any Trumper. It is possible to be critical of American foreign policy without going braindead on everyone else’s.

  24. Thomas B Golladay

    @different clue

    Assad released all the Jihadis he claims to be fighting. He also gassed his own people and wiped out entire cities with scorched earth tactics.

    All because 4 schoolboys wrote a joke on a wall resulting in their rape by one of his cousins. In the early days, the protestors weren’t even calling for Assad’s ouster, just the punishment of his cousin for raping the boys.

    Everything that followed is on Assad and Syria is now a complete failed state with half the population living as refugees in other nations and within the country itself. The parts of Syria controlled by Assad is a mafia state, while YPG controlled areas are a narco state. After years of targeted assassinations and arm twisting, the Turkish held areas have been rebuilt to functionality and purged of Foreign Jihadists not in line with FSA and Turkish goals with the remainder reduced to canon fodder or leaving.

    The civil war continues with no end in sight and no possibility of an end any time soon. Assad can’t win on his own, Hezbollah doesn’t have the numbers, Iran prioritizes Iraq over Syria, and Putin prioritizes Ukraine. Erdogan prioritizes low causalities and the long war against the PKK.

    Neither side has the will to commit decisive force to win the war quickly and are horse trading for their own benefits.

    Long term? Climate change renders it all moot.

  25. Astrid

    I’m curious about why Ian’s friend feels the Chinese are doing diplomacy badly. Is it from deep knowledge of their workings or more of a top level take?

    I don’t pay close attention to China’s foreign policy moves but I’m under the impression that it doesn’t currently seek out alliances and prefers to do business with everyone. They seem to only use sanctions and strong language in response to direct provocations.

    Some small countries are used to play China against USSR or Taiwan to their advantage. Duterte appears to be playing this game recently with his pro-China moves, which got him the backing he really wanted from the US. I think China may have largely stopped playing this game because they realized that it wasn’t beneficial to their international standing and it saddled them with DPRK, which was/is a useful tool for them but also embarrassing and expensive to prop up. How they handle Pakistan and Iran and Russia might be more instructive of how they do diplomacy when they want to do diplomacy.

    For other countries, China seems to do business and offer favorable terms as long as they are not openly hostile to China. But being too friendly with China or Russia might incur US’s ire, as we’ve seen in Europe over Russian pipelines and Chinese 5G. So there wouldn’t be a rush towards alliance with China unless the US is seem as a irredeemably sinking ship. Actual success of Chinese diplomacy may not be currently measurable in terms of formal alliances or even formal state communications. I think you would have to be a trusted member of 3rd party nations’ political classes to get a good sense of how China is doing diplomatically. I suppose that as China becomes the essential trading partner for more and more countries, they can leverage that into “not nice” China anytime they want to.

  26. Ché Pasa

    “Communist” is right. Xi and the CCP are CINOs. Mao and Stalin and Lenin would laugh and then grind their teeth at what they see in China today, and Marx and Engles would pull out their hair.

    And yet…

    Xi and the CCP have figured out what it takes to be a public interest centered modern domestic empire and they have stuck with it through all the storms brought on by man and nature. It’s an impressive accomplishment if not always an enviable one.

    As we always hear, we in the West couldn’t live the way that the Chinese do. Such oppression! Such conformity! Such lack of creativity! They are a people who imitate not innovate! Ruled by corruption and violence! They will be brought to their knees!

    This is straight out of anti-Chinese propaganda from the 19th Century. It’s the foundation of US foreign policy toward China and much of the rest of the world. The collapse of the Soviet Union has long inspired and given hope to the hacks at the various China desks that China, too, will totter and disintegrate, the CCP will wither and die, and the memory of Xi and Mao and all the rest of them will be erased while false memories of Chiang Kai-shek, Sun Yat-sen and the Old Empress Dowager will be raised to mythological status.

    It could happen.

    Probably won’t, but you never know. I’ve long said that the transfer of much of the manufacturing capacity of the US and elsewhere to China was not the fault of the Chinese. They took advantage of an opportunity and made the most of it, I think to the surprise and eventual chagrin of their business partners in the US and the West. They did it faster and better than anyone expected, and they continue to build up their capacity and ability almost unchecked. The Party has simultaneously spectacularly improved the living conditions of the majority of the Chinese people reaching goals nobody thought they could or would. That isn’t how Western Capitalism works. Industrialization and Sino-Capitalism wasn’t supposed to work that way in China, either.

    Will China be able to shame the US and the West the way the Soviet Union once did? Remains to be seen. They’ve been pretty awkward at it. In part, probably, because they really don’t care what becomes of the masses in the US and Europe whereas the Soviets did.

    There are so many ill winds blowing through the US and the Anglo-sphere in general and in Europe. As a whole, they do not present a positive image to the world. In truth, neither does China — yet. But in some important ways, China is the Future while the US, the Anglo-sphere and Europe are the very tarnished Past.

  27. Astrid

    I should say that I’m thinking of “favorable” terms as better than what IMF/WorldBank and US foreign aid offers. China is definitely not altruistic and is always looking out for itself first and foremost. I’m sure they got some great deals from Iran and Russia in recent years.

  28. Astrid


    I actually think that Mao wouldn’t have minded the current incarnation of the CPC. He’s a pragmatic nationalist first and foremost. Only Nixon could go to China. But maybe only Mao could talk to Nixon.

    This hard headed pragmatism gets hidden by to his roles in the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, two massive ideology driven follies. But the first was an attempt at Soviet style rapid industrialization driven by bad feedback data. The second was an internal power struggle, possibly intentionally to push China away from the Soviet sphere.

    I think Mao would have admired the success and nationalism of his successors. But he wouldn’t have had their patience or attention to detail.

    Circling back to alliances. PRC’s only two major wars were in defense of its allies. Both were very costly and the second one against Vietnam was a strategic and moral failure. So if they’re smart, they would not want to formal alliances that gives then few advantages, restricts their freedom of action, and could force then into WWIII.

  29. Ché Pasa

    Mao wasn’t very good at a lot of things, but he was brilliant at unifying the Chinese people against the dragons and snakes of western imperialism and for their own benefit.

    As disastrous materially as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution were, they did something that I think no one in the West believed would ever really happen in China: they unified the people to believe in themselves and to act in concert toward common goals — even if they failed.

    The Great Leap Forward was a failure in the immediate time frame; the Cultural Revolution was catastrophic — temporarily.

    Quite some time ago, I interviewed an artist in California. He had been a Red Guard member during the Cultural Revolution and he had denounced his parents and saw them sent off to some work camp or other. He had no remorse about that. They were counter-revolutionaries as was nearly everyone else who was denounced and sent off to work on behalf of the People. What about those who were killed during the most fervent episodes? Unfortunate, but what was really lost? So much of Chinese history, tradition and culture was lost. No it wasn’t. It’s still there. We just look at it with different eyes now.

    I asked him why he was in the United States if felt so strongly about the justifications for the Cultural Revolution. He said he was sent from his village to art school in Shanghai once he demonstrated talent, and when he got to Shanghai it was a whole different world. His temperament was rebellious, and his teachers saw that the kind of art he did and wanted to do ran counter to the Socialist Realism of the era. One of his teachers said, “You really should go to the United States where the kind of art you do (he was a painter) would be appreciated and you’d have influence. Stay here and you’ll wither.”

    He said he applied for and got a scholarship to the San Francisco Art Institute, and that was that. He’d been a working and highly regarded contemporary artist in the United States ever since.

    Did he miss China? Some, yes, but he’d made his life in California, he was doing well, and there was no point in “missing” China. He might or might not go back one day. It wasn’t at the forefront of his thinking. He had too much work to do right here and now.

    For all his many faults, Mao was an idealistic pragmatist. I think that was passed on to many of his followers — and the that idealism if not the pragmatism was a big part of the Tienanmen uprising.

    So maybe Mao does smile on Xi.

  30. Hugh

    It is always interesting how the perspectives keep changing. It’s like a hall of mirrors. So the Philippines, a country with a population of 111 million becomes a small country while Iran with a population of 85 million becomes more significant.

    North Korea invaded South Korea precipitating the Korean War. Both Mao and Stalin signed off on this. But China is portrayed as being a “good” ally coming to the “defense” of poor ole North Korea when Kim Il-sung was at the point of totally losing that war.

    And China’s invasion of Vietnam was to take pressure off its good buddies the genocidal Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.

  31. Plague Species

    Here’s someone who was a large part of what happened to China since the tantalizing World Bank report of the late 1970s that revealed China was ripe to be exploited and huge profits were guaranteed.

    Next up for Manny and his ilk? Selling America. Down the river, in fact. To the lowest bidder, or free in some cases.

    America’s wealthy elite think of the American Masses as Henry Youngman thought about his spouse. “Now you take my wife. Please.”–o0

  32. Lex

    Poor Hugh, it’s kind of disheartening to see someone so truly believe in the tales of empire. Stalin goaded Kim into attacking, not Mao and then Stalin didn’t provide the help promised to Kim. That allowed the US advance which Mao obviously couldn’t tolerate. At the time, the US was flirting with the idea of giving up on the ROC to turn China and threaten the USSR. Stalin’s play was to drive a wedge between China and the US and it worked. Mao wanted nothing to do with that war when it started, hell, the Chinese didn’t even have enough guns for all their soldiers when they crossed the Yalu. But they still whipped the shit out of the US.

    Putin’s a bastard but he’s fairly logical and rational. If the leadership of the US were either there wouldn’t be so many problems.

  33. Hugh

    Lex, but where are the space aliens? If you are going to write us a fantasy, there should be space aliens. Better hasbara, please.

  34. Soredemos


    From the Russia perspective they prevented there being yet another collapsed state on Russia’s southern front. Had they not gotten involved the most likely outcome would have been an Afghanistan scenario where what was once Syria was divided into a dozen or more warring statelets, and the entire region became a breeding ground for terrorists. As things stand now the terrorists are mostly bottled up in Idlib.

    I note that you omit that the annexation of Crimea was in response to the US backed coup in Kiev. And this was after a vote by Crimeans themselves; the Russian justification was at least as strong as the US justification for intervening on behalf of Kosovo. I’ll also note that the vast majority of Crimeans are quite happy to be (back) with Russia.

    It’s amazing. Russia gets raked over the coals any time it does anything in response to provocation. Meanwhile, the country that has actively destroyed no less than three countries in the last twenty years is implicitly the good guy, ever poised to keep the nefarious Slav in check.

    “It is possible to be critical of American foreign policy without going braindead on everyone else’s.”

    1. That isn’t what anyone here is doing. 2. You’re the one who is utterly braindead on US policy (as well as the policies of every other country). I don’t think I’ve ever seen you comment anything that didn’t read like a neocon fever dream.

    @Thomas B Golladay

    “gassed his own people”


    @Ché Pasa

    “They were counter-revolutionaries as was nearly everyone else who was denounced and sent off to work on behalf of the People. What about those who were killed during the most fervent episodes? Unfortunate, but what was really lost?”

    If this your perspective, or that of the Chinese artist? Either way, it’s downright psychotic. Most likely his parents, just like most of the victims during that insane period, were not ‘counter-revolutionaries’. At most they were guilty of once having said something critical of Mao, which, given that he’d managed to manslaughter several tens of millions of Chinese through his own abject stupidity and fanaticism just a few years before, was an entirely justified position. The Cultural Revolution was Mao playing cynical power games on a vast scale, and riling up his people to shred their own social fabric in service of his ego. And in the end, after a decade of insane bullshit, his power collapsed rapidly and totally (Norman Finkelstein has talked about how he was a committed college Maoist, and when Mao fell from power practically overnight Finkelstein was literally bedridden for about a week, his entire worldview having been completely shattered).

    There’s also something downright sick about the spectacle of a person who betrays their own family in the name of The Revolution™, then effectively abandons that revolution to go and parasitically feed off the ‘evil capitalist west’. That guy you met in California seems like a basket case who has to lie to himself just to sleep at night.

    Also, modern China really does have a huge deficit in creativity. This is understandable, and to a large extent the result of deliberate policy decisions. China has spent decades concentrating on growth and on being the world’s bottom-of-the-barrel, dirt cheap factory, siphoning and stealing western knowledge along the way. That’s worked, and gotten them a long way. But it’s also left them massively backwards in terms of developing their own domestic intellectual production. They’re making concerted efforts to build up the needed talent and knowledge bases, but that will take time (and is also hampered by the fact that China really is an Orwellian surveillance state hellscape awash in usually incredibly dumb propaganda, which is not exactly an environment conducive to artistic and intellectual flourishing).

    Pick a field and most likely China is conspicuously deficient in it. Film? Most of the real talent in China comes from the Hong Kong tradition. The mainland Chinese industry is currently competing with Hollywood to see who can make the biggest, dumbest spectacles. It’s basically wall-to-wall schlock with big budgets. Television? Chinese TV is a wasteland; prestige dramas essentially don’t exist (this seems to be more of an East Asian problem in general though. Korean and Japanese live-action TV are similarly vapid). Animation? They fair a bit better here, in that they’re starting to actually develop genuine domestic talent (well, when they aren’t just outsourcing to South Korea, which itself has been struggling for years to develop a real animation industry that could do more than just be the place Japan outsources in-between animation to). Right now they’re at the point where they can put together a pale imitation of Spirited Away, which is better than they were a decade ago when all they could muster was literally tracing over a Makoto Shinkai film and stealing Macross mecha designs for a bad Saturday morning kids cartoon. Music? It’s mostly just attempts at copying the (already awful) Japanese and Korea pop idol model (I’ve heard there used to be things like a flourishing underground punk scene in Beijing, but the CCP has clamped down on that hard). Video games (older readers might scoff, but this is a major cultural category now and dwarfs film as an industry). Well, just go to Steam and look at the average review scores for Chinese developed games. They mostly strive for mediocrity at best (China is doubly hampered here by not only having little in the way of a video game development tradition, but what industry they do have is heavily biased towards godawful mobile games that basically exist to steal money through microtransactions). The list goes on and on.

    It’s not just cultural production either. It extends to things like engineering. Yes, China has rapidly built a vast amount of new infrastructure. But a lot of that work is shoddy and is going to have to be massively repaired or entirely replaced in the years and decades ahead (ignoring of course for a moment the fact that climate change will likely lay much of it low anyway). The Chinese even have a phrase for this habit: “cha bu dou: close enough”. At best this gets you thinks like houses and apartment buildings where the decorative fixtures fall off after a few years, at worst you get apartment buildings falling over and bridges collapsing to reveal they’re filled not with concrete but with literal garbage (???). I’m not trying to diminish China’s massive infrastructure achievements (by comparison, the US can’t build even a small stretch of highspeed rail or repair a failing tunnel in NYC), but temper an understanding of them with the reality that Chinese engineering knowledge and practices still lag far behind their ambition (they know it too, and some industries are endeavoring to rectify the problem. I’ve heard that some Chinese audio equipment makers are slowly starting to build up a reputation for making stuff that is actually genuinely good). They’ll catch up eventually, but as of now I wouldn’t feel safe driving over a Chinese bridge or flying a Chinese airliner (they have one now, it’s called the Comac C919, and I wouldn’t trust it as far as I could throw it. Of course, I don’t trust any Boeing plane anymore either…).


    Musk isn’t a goal achiever. He hasn’t made any omelets. He’s not ‘also a charlatan’, he’s simply a charlatan.

  35. Astrid


    The Chinese TV and film industry and indeed the populace is pretty terrible. They put out far better stuff in the 1980s and 1990s than in the last 20 years. I used to watch a few mainland productions (though I prefer TVB’s 1980s production) but the stuff they have now is utterly unwatchable. I think there are a couple decent Korean live action directors and TV series. Kingdom, a historical zombie series in Netflix, is quite nice. I do like Tencent’s Flavorful Origins, they do food porn well.

    Having said that, it’s going to take time to build back culture. Eventually cha bu dou is replaced by something better. I remember traveling in China in the mid 1990s, when all the hotels in a particular area would be plagued by exactly the same plumbing or structural problem, every freaking one. Everybody in that city thought it was totally normal that newly installed toilets stopped flushing after a few months and went back to the old stall toilets.

    That doesn’t happen anymore. Tourism, at least, has gotten considerably upgraded and duversified in the 25 years since, as has food safety, healthcare, maybe even environmental protection. Maybe one of these days they can even manage a semi sensitive renovation of a historical temple Even a country where everything changes every 3 years is going to take a couple iterations to figure it out. They have more money now, so maybe they can invest in culture. Or maybe it’ll be just like the old imperial days, when every novel is one of 3 plots and every one referenced exactly the same themes.

    Agree with you on assessment of that artist. He just sounded like an asshole. I know a few people who were Red Guards and denounced their families, they’re pretty much all asshole users. The sort of people who will cozy up to you when they need something from you, then drop you immediately if they think you are no longer useful. Most people who lived through the cultural revolution, even as kids, kept a low profile and stuck to their families.

  36. different clue


    After your constant support for the Cannibal Liver Eating Jihadis in Syria and your constant support for the Ukranazi Coup Regime in West Ukraine, do you think you have the credibility to lecture “progressives” on how no one can trust them on foreign affairs?

    Do you think any sane person would trust you on foreign affairs, after what you have seen fit to support, and what you affect to condemn?

  37. Hugh

    Soredemos, every aggressor on the planet comes up with some BS story of why they were forced, forced to invade their neighbors. Putin’s BS doesn’t pass the laugh test either.

    different clue, some time you must explain why you have this thing for defending dictators.

  38. different clue


    Some time you must explain why you have this thing for defending jihadis and nazis.

  39. Soredemos


    I’d simply forgotten about Kingdom, I’ll be honest. Yeah it’s very good. It’s channeling a lot of Korean film, which unlike their TV series is often exceptional. It’s ostensibly about zombies, but like most of the best zombie fiction, it’s not really about zombies. Parasite, Burning, Train to Busan (more zombies); Korean film keeps pumping out socially and economic class conscious movies. And of course it was a Korean that directed Snowpiercer, about the most unsubtle and explicit class warfare allegory you can imagine (poor people live in the back of the train, rich in the front, and in between are a bunch of enforcers the poor have to literally fight through). Not that its having any effect on slowing Korea’s slide into being a hypercapitalist hellhole, of course, but at least we get some good art out of the mess.

    Meanwhile they assault our ears with groups like BTS, who I think were grown in some sort of genetic engineering vat.

    I’ll add that modern mainland Chinese TV has produced at least one thing genuinely good: the 2010 version of Romance of the Three Kingdoms. I haven’t seen the whole thing (because it’s 95 hours long…), but what I have seen of it is excellent. Which is somewhat surprising, because I’ve come to understand the Party doesn’t much like that book, with its messages of populism and overthrowing of unworthy rulers (“The empire, long united, must divide. Long divided, must unite…”).

  40. Astrid


    I’ll demur on Snowpiercer and Burning. Snowpiercer because it makes no freaking sense as an actual world and barely hangs together as a metaphor, and that ending is supposed to point to liberation? So that everyone in the world can equally die including the oppressed and the pampered kids on the train?

    Burning because…I get what’s telling me and it’s well made, but sheesh it’s boring and slow and awkward as all gets.

    Train to Busan was fun, if a bit predictable.

    I thought Parasite was spectacular, in my book maybe the best movie made in the last 20 years.

    I think the Chinese government has problems with Water’s Edge (rebels rebelling rebelliously) but I don’t think they really have a problem with Sanguo. Sanguo themes and characters resonate so strongly with the Chinese that some characters and scenarios are still the byword for their equivalents IRL.

    And our sympathies are always with the orderly and not so clever Liu Bei and his Han revivalists. This is the role that CPC casts itself in, in its engagement with the world. I’ll consider checking out the production one of these days.

    Most of the Chinese TV series produced these days (my impression is that Taiwan and Hong Kong productions of TV and movies are also dire these days, and everyone in East Asia is still addicted to Korean dreck) is utterly terrible even from a scripting, costuming, and acting perspective. They’re not just mindless propaganda but really shite and embarrassing to watch. I honestly don’t think it’s the heavy hand of the state censors primarily at fault ( though yes, I have heard the story of cropped Tang cleavage and other tales of extreme silliness), but some kind of cyclical market place dip. Maybe there are a bazillion talented filmmakers and actors biding their time as social media influencers, waiting for their chance in the spotlight.

  41. bruce wilder

    I suppose it is mean to pick on Hugh, though to me his opinionating often epitomizes what’s wrong with the vague class consensus that seems to form like a fog of moral certitude around the professional and managerial classes in the U.S., blocking out the sunlight highlighting facts, — you know the people who run everything incompetently because they preach expertise without having it.

    The point I was making about Xi and Putin is not that they are “right”, morally. I am capable of observing them without rushing to a sweeping moral judgment that relieves me of responsibility for actually knowing anything about what they are doing. The point I was making is that they are conspicuously pursuing public ends by proportionate and arguably effective means. They may still be wrong, in either their judgment of ends or means, practically or morally. But, they stand in contrast to American political leadership, which appears to have completely lost the thread on assessing problems or setting goals and proportioning practically effective means to address those problems or achieve those goals. It is that contrast that I wanted to draw attention to, not the ignorant, righteous judgment Hugh wants to express.

    It is hard sometimes to see just how disconnected American politics is from a discussion of reality — as obvious as it is, it is hard to look at and appreciate. The repeated bungling of COVID, continued and extended into new territory by Biden (after people like Hugh convicted Trump of murdering millions and told us electing Biden was the most important thing), continues with the 80-year-old Fauci as spokesperson. Someone thought telling us vaccines would entitle the vaccinated to go maskless was going to be a triumph of messaging — probably the same folks who told us to “follow the science”, and the same people who told us we have been in Afganistan for 20 years to vindicate the rights of women.

    I saw Atrios of Eschaton quoting an article in The New Republic on the infrastructure bill — you know that bill that has been whittled down to a sixth of what Biden initially proposed (and a third! of what Trump nominally proposed). It is all Red v Blue messaging, with no one having the slightest concern for assessing needs in our crumbling country.

    This disconnect is a phenomenon that ought to get more attention. It is a form of collective madness.

  42. Astrid

    I always wonder how much young Chinese people know or understand their history and culture. Based on my experience, not a lot. They’re too busy living and the past is too unfashionable. The best I get are a few mentioning that they read some wuxia novel for fun or read a currently fashionable Mingguo era essayist and say a few clever things. And these are people born in the 1970s and 1980s. I don’t know a lot of people who are in their 20s or younger, but I imagine their life is taken up with video games and social media.

    Even the elderly are forgetting the past that they lived through. It seems that by living in China day to day, they forget their former reality far faster than me, who is American and was exposed to it second hand and through widely spaced trips there. I wonder if they think similarly about American’s sense of lived history, what’s remembered and forgotten.

    Even the ones who still hold onto the past are going away. A dear friend, a famous Daoist scholar (the sort whose body of work justifies healthy writing and speaking fees within their area of expertise) and a serious intellect, recently suffered a serious health ailment and will likely never fully recover. I’m saddened that I may never have the chance to meet my friend in again in this world, due to COVID.

  43. Che Pasa

    I’d say Soredemos and Astrid pegged the Chinese Red Guard artist I interviewed in the early ’90s almost exactly except I wouldn’t go so far as to call him psychotic. I reserve that for our elites and rulers. He was selfish, self centered, absolutely certain of his righteousness and talent — and eager it seemed to tell me his story. It was clear he could not have stayed in China in the early ’70s and survived as an artist. He was the wrong kind of rebel.

    He fit right in in the United States tho.

  44. Soredemos


    There’s a place for completely unsubtle metaphors that beat you over the head with the message like Snowpiercer does, because so many people are apparently just that oblivious. In fact I personally know of people who *still* didn’t get what the movie was actually about.

    Train to Busan is great as commentary on South Korean society. That it’s somewhat predictable as a zombie action movie I find mostly irrelevant.

    Yes, the CCP hates Water Margin/Outlaws of the Marsh more, but Three Kingdoms emphasizes the transient nature of all dynasties, and that they can lose the Mandate of Heaven®. And the Party may identify as Liu Bei in its own mind, but despite the bias of the book, Liu was something of an idealistic fool and Shu ultimately loses. Historically Cao Cao comes out looking on the whole much better, and was the best (or at least least disastrous) for most of the common people.

    @Ché Pasa

    Well I’m glad you were only summarizing the other guy’s perspective.

  45. Astrid


    Yes, the character depictions in Train to Busan were great but I still felt the narrative was just too pat. Responses to movies are highly personal and I can certainly understand others rating it very highly.

    The rise and fall off a dynasty can take several hundred years. The CPC has been running China for 70. They’re not too worried about the inevitable fall part of the story yet. In dynastic timeline, they can claim to be in the Han Wendi or mid Kangxi part of their era. And they don’t have to be just Liu Bei. They can also be Zhuge Liang and Cao Cao. They just need to depict the US as an imperialist Liu Adou.

    As for the future, the can say they broke the cycle with “Communism with Chinese characteristics” whatever that means. No country has much of a chance against the tsunami of global awful rapidly coming our way, but I think China as currently constituted might have as good of a shot as any other.

    In any case, all four of the Chinese classics are far too popular to suppress. What I really hate is how they’ve really butchered the newer Journey to the West adaptations. The old cartoons and the 80s rendition were stone cold classics, the Steven Chow stuff is unbearably awful but so loved in Asia. Similarly, the 80s Hongloumeng was beautifully staged and acted and hasn’t been matched in any Chinese language drama since. What passes these days for Chinese culture, at least in TV, movies, and what I’ve seen of books outside of Liu Cixin’s rather intriguing sci-fi books, is total rubbish.

  46. Michael

    Now is when we get to see just how centralised and effective Xi’s power really is – and where the upper echelons of the CCP leadership are heavily invested (to their own immense personal benefit).

    This should be rather interesting.

    I do wonder, though, how much of this is the inevitable reaction to a period of heavy industrialisation and concentration of financial power (a la the “Progressive Era” in the United States); how much is a reaction to the effects of the pandemic in China; and how much is necessary to shore up internal support for the Party as China undergoes a period of difficult readjustment thanks to Xi’s aggressive policies and Western reactions to them.

    Perhaps it is a reaction to all three.

  47. nihil obstet


    I have watched all 95 hours of Romance of the Three Kingdoms (actually, I’ve watched about 93 hours because a couple of episodes were blocked for Vietnamese claims of copyright violation). The production values weren’t terribly good and the acting was uneven, but the series was absolutely compelling. Being something of a prig, I was against Cao Cao and pulling hard for Lui Bei and Zhuge Liang. I think it was the political machinations and use of violence to support them that brought me back every day.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén