China may no longer be a Marxist, but it remains frightfully Leninist – .

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China may no longer be a Marxist, but it remains frightfully Leninist – .


Everything we thought we knew about China was wrong. We imagined that the worst was over, that the trend, however turbulent, was towards freedom. The advent of a market system, we were sure, would lead to more choice for consumers and therefore, over time, to a less authoritarian society. How naïve we were.

“There’s this strange belief that you can’t build a mobile app if you don’t know the truth about what happened in Tiananmen Square,” says Kaiser Kuo, the engine’s former director of international communications. Chinese search engine Baidu. “The problem is, it’s not true. “

The years that have passed since Xi Jinping came to power in 2012 has seen a dizzying swerve into tyranny. Overnight, censorship is tightened, lawyers imprisoned, dissidents forced to disappear, autocracy celebrated, foreign quarrels fiercely pursued.

The New Old China was on display this week for the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party. Xi addressed a huge crowd dressed in a Mao costume (as in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, the proletarian overalls became the uniform of the party elite). He reiterated his determination to force unification in Taiwan and told his supporters, “We will never allow any foreign force to intimidate, oppress or subjugate us. Anyone who tries to run up against a great wall of steel forged by more than 1.4 billion Chinese! “

Ten or twenty years ago there was a superficial quality in China’s socialist slogans. Busts of Karl Marx were stored in cupboards, as in the former USSR. But Xi dusted them off and put them out again, decreeing new statues of the former cadger in Beijing and Trier, his German hometown. Think of the classic Simpsons episode, where the Soviet Union suddenly reveals that it never went away, the Berlin Wall bursts from the ground, tanks reappear in the streets, and balmy Lenin rises like a zombie from his showcase. Now update this image to reflect modern technology.

China has built the most advanced surveillance state ever. Orwell imagined telescreens that could observe our behavior. China has spyware on phones and facial recognition technology that allows it to monitor the attitudes and expressions of its citizens, as well as their whereabouts.

Chinese online networks such as Weibo, Tencent, and Alibaba are among the largest in the world. Yet they proselytize and censor their users obediently. At the start of Xi’s tenure, there were independent voices, politically minded bloggers, online influencers. The authorities were unhappy. “A number of journalists no longer see themselves as party propaganda agents,” complained Hu Zhanfan, the head of state television. “They have redefined themselves as professionals, a fundamental misunderstanding of their identity”.

Xi had the answer. A few prominent critics have been arrested, put on show trials and forced into tearful televised confessions. Then, in 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that anyone who spread an unnecessary “rumor” that had been shared more than 500 times or viewed more than 5,000 could face up to three years in prison. Overnight, all independent bloggers fell silent. Critical journalists too. The same is true of civil rights lawyers who courageously defended some of the personalities targeted by the regime.

The centenary could have been embarrassing for the authorities. The founders of their party denounced the oligarchy and Xi does not want this sentiment to repeat itself. Indeed, when a group of truly communist youths applied Marxist theory to present-day China, protesting poverty and demanding greater freedoms for the masses, the regime cracked down, arresting 50 students in Shenzhen in a single day.

Marx is mainly used by the regime as an antidote to “Western liberalism”. (The few commentators who wryly observed that Marx himself was hardly Chinese quickly learned to be quiet.) The party is militant nationalist and campaigns against any celebration of Western holidays, like Halloween, Christmas and even the fish. April.

But if the authorities are no longer Marxists, they are still very Leninist. The party dictatorship is the guiding principle of China. It is sometimes justified by the Marxist dialectic, sometimes by Confucian analyzes, sometimes in anti-American language, but always with a threatening warmongering.

All talk of peaceful ascension has been dropped. China has become a nation of hurried old people. (Xi, 68, is a young blood in what has often been a government of nonagenarians, and expects to rule for decades to come.) Several neighboring states are now feeling the force of Chinese revanchism: Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam , Brunei, Japan. During the lockdown, Chinese forces shot dead Indian soldiers in a border dispute. Australia has been subjected to an economic boycott for demanding an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus. Hong Kong has been absorbed and assimilated, any notion of “one country, two systems” has disappeared. Taiwan is bracing for a possible invasion that many now consider inevitable.

Taiwanese know what awaits them as a conquered people. They see it in Xinjiang, where a mandatory app on every phone checks for anti-social behavior, like growing a beard, fasting, or coming into contact with strangers. Break too many rules and an algorithm will put you in a “re-education camp”.

Uyghurs bring out all of the party’s complexes: its nationalist aversion to ethnic differences, its Marxist contempt for religion and, most importantly, its authoritarian distrust of anything it does not directly control. Having built a state-of-the-art surveillance machine in Xinjiang, nothing prevents China from turning it against the rest of its citizens.

The worst part is that young Chinese seem to laugh at it. Students at Western universities, outside the censors’ firewalls, show no interest in pluralism. When the late Sir Roger Scruton spoke of the Communist rulers “making robots out of their own people” his words were shockingly distorted by the New Statesman. But the Chinese regime has indeed conditioned its population to move away from rebellious thoughts. Orwell’s dystopia gives way to Huxley’s: “A population of slaves who don’t have to be coerced because they love their bondage.”

Roger was more perceptive than I was. I blush when I think back to my articles from just two years ago lamenting the crackdown in Hong Kong but claiming, with baseless optimism, that the hard-line supporters around Xi were outweighed by more moderate voices. of the Jiang and Hu eras.

The truth is, China has emerged from containment darker, stronger and more assertive. The world we used to know is gone.

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