Friday, March 12, 2010

China shows signs of neo-fascism

With its strong emphasis on technology, the military, strong single-party leadership and a collective national identity that refuses to recognize pluralism, China is displaying increasing — and worrying — symptoms of fascism. From the military parade surrounding the 60th anniversary of the birth of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on Oct. 1 to forced relocation and assimilation programs targeting ethnic minority groups such as the Uighurs, China is in many ways reminding us of the fascist states that reared their ugly heads in the first half of the previous century.

In some ways, it is difficult to apply that term to the rising dragon, primarily because of some marked differences from its predecessors. For one, fascist states tended to be short-lived and led by strong — and often charismatic — rulers. China, even if we take 1949 as its starting point, has a long history and its leaders, with the possible exception of former premier Zhou Enlai (周恩來), are not known for their charisma.

China’s embrace of capitalism in the early 1990s has also masked its fascistic tendencies, because “unrestrained capitalism” was one of the principal targets of fascism. The fact that the PRC finds its roots in communism and class conflict — both of which fascism traditionally opposed — can also mislead the observer.

Still, today’s China arguably represents fascism 2.0, neo- fascism or “fascism with Chinese characteristics.”

One of the most peremptory signs of fascism is the state’s negation of individualism and the idea that citizens draw their identity and raison d’etre from the state. Evidence of this emerged earlier this week when Chinese Vice Sports Minister Yu Zaiqing (于再清) chided 18-year-old Olympic champion short track speedskater Zhou Yang (周洋) for thanking her parents — but not her country — after winning gold at the Vancouver Winter Games last month.

“It’s OK to thank your parents, but first you should thank the motherland. You should put the motherland first, not only thank your parents,” Yu told the Southern Metropolis Daily.

This article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.


Anonymous said...

chinese ultra-nationalism does appear to be fascism with chinese characteristics. and remarks about sports are starting to sound more like fascism:
Like Beijing Sports University's Yang Hua who said that chinese children need to be more involved in sports in case they need to fight Japan again.

Anonymous said...

You should read the works of A. James Gregor

Anonymous said...

Whats so bad about totalitarian or one party dictatorship? Sure, fascism sounds scarier, but fascisms core feature, the fixation on the strong leader is just not really existent in China anymore.

Btw, Franco Spain was not that shortlived in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

err, just to clarify what I wrote, I meant, whats so bad about using the TERMS. I'm of course not defending the political system.

Jade said...

If the world can not see what's coming from China today, a few years from now, I'm afraid, it will wake up wondering how we let this happen. The price will be huge to fix a problem that the free world would want to fix.

Dixteel said...

I agree with your observation that there are many similarity between fascism and current Chinese government. However, I also have some different opinions:

1. Chinese leaders should be considered "strong and charismatic," even if people outside of China don't think so. The important thing is most of Chinese people think that is the case. Even Mao, for example, with all his stupid faults, are considered a national champion by many in China. Young people hold up his small red book and cries when he made the speech in Tianmen Square. It's a classic fascism type of leader. Deng is also a charismatic one. With his economic reform policies many in China now probably consider him a god.

2. Fascism does not necessary means unrestricted capitalism. Some argue it's the product of unrestricted socialism. Fascism in my opinion is more of a combination of ultra-nationalism, racism, militarism and imperialism. China certainly contains some of these characteristics and might be moving further along that direction. And maybe that is the scary part.

3. Another interesting observation is how Chinese government is now advocating the legends and teaching of ancient China etc. This kind of resemble that of 3rd Reich and Arian legend of German Nazi. Even the 2008 Olympic ceremony shows that kind of signs.

Two questions that I am not sure of is if this fascism model can sustain itself and intensify, and what should Taiwan do in face of this trend?

Thomas said...


I don't think anyone is arguing that modern China has never had charismatic leaders. It is just that the current crop of guys at the top seem to be lacking in that department. Out of Hu Jintao, Wen Jiabao, Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang or any of the people on the Standing Committee of the Politbureau or of the whole Politbureau, who can you name that has "charisma"?

In contrast, one reason why it appears, from an armchair analyst's perspective, that Bo Xilai's star is rising is because he DOES have charisma. He knows how to use his personality and the media to garner public support for his projects, as his success at winning over the public in the fight against triads in Chongqing shows. He will be one to watch in the future.

Question: Is the current lack of charismatic leaders at the top due at all to the machinations of Deng? Could it be that, in laying down the law by choosing successors two generations into the future, he reduced the need of the Chinese upper crust from having to be charismatic to win support? What if a few media darlings start to make waves? I would think that the toning down of charisma would only last as long as everyone agreed that nobody should be overly charismatic.

Dixteel said...

Actually, I think Chinese media portray Hu and Wen as charismatic leaders. And I think many in China think Hu and Wen as nice guys. Even Ma and a lot of KMT people think Hu as charismatic and want to learn from him (check past quote and actions by Ma and Lien).

In today's age it's less a matter of personal charisma but a charisma created by the media as a whole. Ma (and maybe even Obama) is a perfect example. While personally Ma lacks much charisma, the media can project him into the realm of sainthood. China, with its strict media control, will have even a much easier time to do it.

Remember Wen's "close to people" act during the earth quake? How people praise him etc? And Chinese media has no lack of praises on Hu neither. The only leader that lacks any sort of charisma is Jiang Zhaming (don't know how to spell his name, but sounds like that). But that is also why he stepped down rather quickly.

It is impossible to see the kind of rally which Mao performed, but I think that is just due different circumstances. If a perceived crisis occurs, I have no doubt Hu and Wen have the capacity to create a national fervor rivaling that of Mao's.

Thomas said...

I see what you are saying, but I don't agree that what you are calling charisma is charisma. I see charisma as a charm that motivates others to like and support you. It comes from the person. It can't be conferred by someone else.

Ma really does not have charisma. Ma is good at talking out of both sides of his mouth, but what he says in particular is not that motivational. Obama does have charisma. His speeches uplift people and make them really want to help him achieve his goals.

Hu and Wen do not have charisma. Most of what they say is staid and uninspirational, unless you find typical propagandizing (We must overcome our differences and build a harmonious society, blah, blah) charismatic.

Wen was portrayed favorably by the media following the earthquake in Sichuan. His behavior in that instance was indeed charismatic. But should we define Wen by one moment of opportunism, or should we think of the whole? How has Wen really been charismatic in other instances in 10 years?

Let's talk about the Dalai Lama. Now THAT is someone with charisma. When he talks, he COMMUNICATES with the crowd. He laughs, he jokes, he throws in some inspirational comments, he talks about deep issues, and he does it without looking scripted. So people like him AND they want to further his cause.

How about Mao? OK, terror was much of the impetus for the support of Mao at many times during his reign. But he had a forceful personality and could lead events where he wanted them to go. He had charisma.

You mentioned the role of the media. This is indeed important. Ma would not be where he is today without a supportive media establishment and a relatively handsome face. But does the media add to the person's charisma? Not at all. If it did, Ma would have a group of dedicated followers today. Ma has his supporters among Taiwanese who support his agenda. But how many of those people like him and want to help him for who he is?

Once the gaffes started, and the people realized that the media had built him beyond his capabilities, his popularity plummeted. He has People don't like him. He comes across as a fool. He has no charisma.

Obama on the other hand is still widely liked. It is becoming harder and harder to find Americans who agree with his policies, but the majority still wants him to succeed as a person.

The point of this long message was only to say that charisma is an inherent quality. Positive media coverage of Hu and Wen don't make Hu and Wen charismatic. They may be admired as good leaders, but they are not motivational. I have never before heard anyone say, for example, "That Hu Jintao really gets me going."

Nope. No charisma. And this is why I mentioned the particularity of Bo Xilai. Politicians who come to the NPC don't typically make an effort to show off their personality. Which is why you get stories like this:

Find me a case where someone has recently talked about the charming and motivational qualities of Hu and Wen, and I may be inclined to give your argument more credit.

Thomas said...

Sorry. I just want to say that, on second thought, one can also say that Obama is not charismatic. We tend to get two different Obamas at different times. As a public speaker in a controlled condition, he is uplifting. He seems to be charismatic. When he is improvising, or conversing, he can come across as bookish and he can stutter. Perhaps this is one place where positive media attention helps -- by playing up the charismatic moments and playing down the impromptu stuff.

FOARP said...

Fascist? Yes, depending on the definition that you choose, thee are definitely persuasive arguments that China is a modern example of a fascist nation. Becoming more fascist? Here's where you run into problems. The examples you choose - the military parades, the assimilation programs, the crack-down on dissent, censorship - have been around for decades, and have existed in many dictatorships which are not usually labelled 'fascist'. The incident of the Chinese medallist not thanking her country - well, this is arguably an example of China becoming less fascist, not more so, since Chinese medallists in the past have in the main simply mouthed slogans when interviewed.

Actually, I prefer to label China as exactly what it declares itself to be - a communist dictatorship. This way you avoid actually having to define fascism - something which even George Orwell had difficulty in doing, and which your quotes from Umberto Eco, given their equal applicability to every dictatorship and some (at least notional) democracies do not seem to properly do either. Not only that, but you will find that if you want to argue that the CCP is still a communist tyranny the CCP has provided you with a wealth of documents supporting your position. The fact that China no longer operates a Marxist economic system is neither here nor there, since the political structure of the state remains thoroughly Leninist. Of course, traditionally communist states justify Leninism (i.e., rule by a 'revolutionary vanguard' - the local CP - through 'democratic centralism' - one-party dictatorship) as necessary to implement a Marxist economy. In the case of China, the modern-day CCP has replaced this with the idea that their rule is necessary to allow certain national goals to be met - first and foremost being economic growth and super-power status, but 'national reunification' also being of high importance. The CCP has therefore co-opted nationalist sentiment, hence the nationalistic tone they have struck since 1989. None of this is new, but then that doesn't make good copy.

Reese said...

China has indeed acquired a distinct 1930s Germany look. Sure, it's easy to point out differences, but what's remarkable is how much the two societies share. We see the same chest-thumping nationalism, paranoia, race-based ideology, ambitious building projects, grandiose architecture, rapid arms buildup, one-party stranglehold on power, Olympic coming-out party, denial of rights to citizens, tight national control of the press, stated expansion plans prior to the onset of the actual empire-building, the violent suppression of dissent, and a resentful concern with settling old scores even with the rest of the world lifting glasses to you.

With China acting so much like Germany, we have to wonder: who will be Austria? Poland? Belgium?

FOARP said...

Oh, and you are quite wrong about simplified characters creating "an intellectual Year Zero in 1949":

1) Simplified characters were not introduced until 1956.

2) Everyone who can read simplified can read 99% of traditional characters.

3) Simplified characters reduce the number of strokes making up each character, the number of cases in which two characters were simplified into a single character having both meaning is less than a couple of dozen, most of which are obscure. The idea that simplified script "limit[s] the instruments for complex and critical reasoning" is simply bizarre. I cannot help but think that you are simply ascribing evil traits to simplified script because of the government which brought them in.

J. Michael said...

FOARP: "Everyone who can read simplified can read 99% of traditional characters."

Uh, no. No, no, and no again. You should observe, as I have, Chinese tourists scanning books at Page One in Taipei 101 or Eslite Xinyi — most don't understand what is says. Only those who came to Taiwan under special study programs in the 50s and 60s understand it fully.

Yes, some can get the gist, but it's in precision, in a language's nuances, that lies the pith of knowledge.

Othwerwise, why are restaurants and gift shops at, say, Sun Moon Lake, putting up signs in simplified Chinese? If trad and simp were so similar, surely there'd be no need to do that.

I still maintain that simplified Chinese created a disconnect with the past that served the purposes of those in power. Dumbing down a language is an age-old technique to limit intellectual knowedlge of a subjected people.

FOARP said...

J Michael - Well, maybe you should observe, as I have, the endless stream of DVDs with Cantonese soundtracks and traditional subtitles which the (non-Cantonese speaking) populace of the mainland has no trouble understanding. Or the mainland offices of a Taiwanese company which I worked for in which I worked all mainland workers had to constantly work in both simplified and traditional, and did so with no problem. Or Hong Kong and Taiwan's many mainland immigrants who seem to have no problem living and working in these places without having first undergone re-education. Taiwanese merchants don't put up signs in simplified so that mainland tourists can necessarily understand, but for their convenience and as a sign that they (and their money) are welcome.

Traditional and simplified both have their fans, and fairly obviously neither is going to disappear any time soon, but to argue that mainlanders can't read traditional is simply ridiculous given their constant exposure has to traditional characters from DVDs, KTV, the internet, and in the work place. Likewise, the Taiwanese I've known in mainland China may not like the simplified characters, but they have no trouble understanding mainland menus, signs, etc.

As for 'dumbing down the language', yes, indeed, this is why, for example, 1949 is universally referred to as the 'liberation' even by people who clearly do not think of it as such. The government does try to frame everything about itself so that it can only be interpreted in a positive light. Simplification of the script, however, is not part of this and the two should not be conflated, not unless you think that Japan also became more dictatorial after they similarly simplified Kanji after WW2, or the United States somehow became more dictatorial after they 'simplified' their spellings.

Anonymous said...

As somebody who bothered to learn simplified, traditional as well as Japanese simplified I can tell you that FOARP is spot on on this one.

There are some characters that would cause problems to mainland Chinese, just like some characters wouldn't be instantly recognized by Taiwanese. But we are talking here about something that would be (and is) usually acquired within days.

Dixteel said...

I don't think Simplied Chinese dumb down language. I don't like the look of it in terms of word structure, but that is just personal opinion.

However, I think Michael's claim that some Chinese have difficulty understanding traditional is not unfounded. I heard from relatives and some Chinese indicating that is the case. However, I am sure not all Chinese have such trouble.

I also agree with Michael on the account that it creates some sort of discontinuity with the past. Just imagine the education system in Taiwan swtich to Simplified immidiately. Or just teach children with Beijin style pronouciation. It will create a huge gap between this generation and the next. Sure, people can still understand each other, but not to the extend as before and not as efficient. Adding on the generation gap factors, and people's preference to take easier path (avoiding older books/articles etc) and you can get yourself some major cultural shift.

FOARP said...

@Dixteel - Absolutely, as you say, the reason for such a generational gap would be to do with the cultural change, not the fact of simplification. Old books can and are re-printed in the modern script and are readily available for purchase on the mainland. The first book I ever read in Chinese was a book of short stories in simplified by Lu Xun (the second was War of the Worlds).

Yes, the mainland does have its 'newspeak', but this is the nauseating Marx-Lenin-Mao-Deng-Jiang-Hu-ist gobbledygook spoken by the CCP and thoughtlessly repeated by those who know no better, and it can just as easily be written in traditional as simplified.

Anonymous said...

After reading jim jubak's piece 'Is China Actually Bankrupt?' I think it still might be possible for an economic collapse to occur resulting in regime change. Whether that new regime will be nationalist and autocratic, or pluralist and democratic remains to be seen.