Magazine article The Spectator

Chinese Mythology

Magazine article The Spectator

Chinese Mythology

Article excerpt

On hearing that the allegedly inanimate and certainly taciturn President Calvin Coolidge was dead, the wit Dorothy Parker is said to have asked, `How do they know?' Deng Xiaoping may have officially died only last week, aged 92, but in effect he has been dead for years. No one stays alive to politics when they are getting on for 90, let alone at 92. While he was sunk in senile dementia, the myth of his continued stewardship was fostered to put off grappling with problems of succession. They can no longer be postponed.

Meanwhile, we would be well advised to be cautious about all those forecasts of China as the coming market for the West, and the West as the coming market for China. In the old days that used to be said of Mao's China by Western liberal-leftist savants and China-watchers. Now it is Western free-marketeers who forecast China's Great Leap Forward. In the past, it was the Western Left which excused or minimised Mao's repression of political freedom as unavoidable if China were to advance economically. Later, when China's proclaimed method of economic advance became a capitalist economy rather than a communist one, elements of the Western Right excused such repression. The spectacle is no less repellent.

What capitalist economic growth has occurred has swollen the cities. A real proletariat is emerging, antithetic to the mythical proletariat on which the Party rationalises its hegemony. It will take time for these workers to generate political power, and there is no certainty that it will parallel the educated classes' aspirations for intellectual freedom. But it will shake the ground one way or the other.

Most of China is still very poor, while television teaches its people about the affluence of the capitalist world in which millions of their fellow-countrymen have settled and prospered. True, some of the worst excesses of Maoist socialism have been relaxed, but there is no guarantee that they will not be reimposed as the rulers grapple with uneven development between North and South and coast and hinterland, the emergence of moneyed classes and the pervasive corruption and abuses which are an inevitable concomitant of unrestrained

Party power.

China's 4,000-year history divides roughly into half under centralised rule and half in separate (warring) states. There is no inherent reason why this should not recur. In the 1950s, Communist leaders who proposed a federal structure were purged. But the same expedient could arise quasi-spontaneously were conflict inside the politicomilitary to grow to a point where they create their own territorial bases. …

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