Saturday, 18 December 2010

A Highly Speculative Political Rant: Party Pseudo-logic, High-Speed Trains and Mental Programming

Rant Disclaimer

     Please note that the main intent of this article is not to bash the Chinese government or its people, but rather to expose the falseness which is so commonplace in its state-run media and which could have devastating consequences for the future of Sino-International relations. I believe that China’s communist-led education system has resulted in black-and-white attitudes towards critical thinking when it comes to social and political analysis, more especially when any Westerner dares to make such analysis regarding China. If any Chinese should feel offended by the following analysis I am very sorry that I cannot apologise for what I believe to be true. Chinese people themselves tackle political problems in their own country with increasing vigour and success, so I believe it is only fair and equal that foreigners like myself who have studied most major aspects of China, possess intimate knowledge of Mandarin Chinese and who have lived in China for many years, also have the right to an opinion and, in fact, have an obligation to speak up against intentional political manipulation. If Chinese have the right to critically analyse their own society and other nations, the same should be held true for non-Chinese analysis toward China. This is what is called fairness and equality. If Chinese people make critical statements about their own government, then logically they should not reject the right of non-Chinese individuals to do so as well. To do otherwise would be hypocritical!


     Well this whole rant started from a seemingly perfectly innocent announcement on a Chinese television news programme:

“It takes an average of 10 to 15 years for countries to develop high-speed trains attaining speeds of 250 km/h. China came out with its own in 3 years.”

     This was a statement I heard on one of China Central Television’s news programme a couple of days ago. Although it appears to be a perfectly bland and innocuous statement, it represents an example of Chinese Communist pseudo-logical propaganda, which quietly creeps into the ears and minds of many unsuspecting Chinese listeners because they are not presented with the immunising force of scrutiny and rational criticism and/or because they lack political awareness. In a nutshell, such statements serve the purpose of uniting the Chinese people under the Party by imbuing them with a sense of pride and patriotism, by any means necessary, in order to display the outstanding achievements or perhaps even superiority of China, which in turn is attributed to the correct and superior leadership of the Party. And that’s not necessarily all bad. Most governments promote patriotism and unity for the nation in some form or other. Still, there is a line that governments should not cross. They should not promote unhealthy or faulty nationalist pride through deception for their own political ends.
     If we were to break down the subliminal message of the above statement regarding China’s achievement in the field of high-speed train development, its core message might read something like this: “China’s superiority is due to China’s wise, benevolent and exceptionally efficient government so all of the happy and proud people of China stand behind the Communist Party. For example, we developed high-speed trains several times faster than other countries.” Thus, the implication is that China is superior to other countries because either Chinese are smarter than other people or more efficient at developing these high-speed trains, hence we developed them much faster. But, of course, to be perfectly fair, the statement about how China developed high-speed trains 3 to 5 times faster than the average country didn’t actually say why China’s accomplishment was so outstanding. Therein lies the most insidious aspect of the party’s pseudo-logic; it is left to the listener to imagine just how China managed to be so utterly exceptional. So, for example, if I was a Chinese person who watched the news and was then asked to speculate as to why China was able to develop high-speed trains several times faster than other countries, I might answer that it was because Chinese people are inherently smarter than other people or more efficient or because there is an inherent advantage to one-party dictatorship in terms of the efficiency and unity of the Chinese nation or perhaps as a result of China’s 5,000 years of glorious civilisation and culture. And it would be quite natural to think in these ways, as that is what they have been taught in school since day one, and what the news reinforces every day of their lives. At the same time, this sort of positive self-stereotyping dovetails and feeds on such false beliefs that are already fairly prevalent in Chinese society as a whole. And what is most fascinating is that, despite the countless number of times I have heard these claims of superiority based on either superior culture or mental capacity made by Chinese people of all walks of all life and levels of education, almost every single Chinese person will flatly deny admitting to such stereotypes if pointed out to them by a foreigner; just as easily as most of them would categorically reject the notion that any racism exists in the minds of Chinese people, which as we know is extremely unlikely, since racism is a part of human nature (albeit an ugly part) and exists in every society. As a whole, however, one may claim that most Chinese are very open, welcoming and friendly to foreigners. Then again, this is also true of most people on the planet, but I digress ……
     Another interesting point is that this blatantly boastful statement about China’s superior train-developing skills is beautifully cloaked in the seeming neutrality of numbers, which helps to make it appear to be an objective fact, while the crucial element of this pseudo-logic is that it never explains the factual basis behind the claim. For example, is the statement implying that China developed 250 km/h high-speed trains in three years from scratch? In other words, what was the yardstick for measuring the definition of ‘developing’ in the statement? What level of technology did they start from three years ago? For instance, if they had high-speed trains that could travel 220 km/h three years ago, would it be a great achievement to add another 30 km/h of speed over a period of three years? And where did all the technology to develop these high-speed trains come from to enable the Chinese to surpass the average nation by such a high degree. Was it based on 99% independently developed Chinese technology or did 70, 80 or even possibly 97% of the technology for these trains originally come from Japan, France and Germany? If most of the technology did, in fact, come from abroad, then it would obviously be dishonest, deceitful and self-serving to suggest that China developed all of the technology for this 250 km/h high-speed train in 3 years by itself. Regardless of the actual level of truth behind the statement, the point is that we are not presented with any objective point of reference to prove or disprove this claim. Therefore another inference we might easily make from this kind of statement is that the state-run media is not necessarily concerned with or interested in objectivity or hard facts. In other words, facts are expendable and honest, responsible journalism is far less important than proving that China is superior and the fact that a superior China means a superior Chinese Communist Party and that Chinese are proud and patriotic because they have a good and effective government. And it is this very cycle of mental reinforcement that endlessly worms its way throughout China’s state run media.
     Of course, there are many other classifications of such primitive mental reinforcement techniques bombarding the airwaves all over China, but the one thing they all tend to have in common is that they almost invariably attribute China’s successes to the Chinese Communist Party and therefore the intended message is that true patriotism springs from total support and obedience to the Party. The corollary of this pseudo-logic is that China’s failures are never the fault of the Party, but rather the work of traitors or enemies of China who look down on China, are afraid of China and want to sabotage it. Therefore the people should unquestionably stand behind the party, because after all, China is one big family and therefore must defeat the evildoers such as human-rights activists, or people with minds of their own, or even the sneaky and immoral Westerners or Japanese constantly conspiring against China and hatching plots to undermine it.
     The most frightening thing about these primitive propaganda techniques is that they reinforce an ‘us versus them’ or ‘we’re better than they are’ mentality which seeks to create barriers between China and the world in order to control public opinion and maintain a one-party oligarchy. At the same time, such feel-good propaganda seeks to assuage a population that is dissatisfied with many serious social and economic inequalities in present-day China by constantly playing the nationalist card while distracting the populace from dwelling on the many inherent disadvantages of a totalitarian regime. Sadly, this method is reasonably successful with the lower-class, less-educated majority which also happens to be furthest removed from contact with the outside world and independent news sources.

Epilogue

     I am fully aware that this rant may be misunderstood by some, however I also firmly believe that the freedom to engage in political debate can only come from actually exercising that right. And yes, I admit that there is a certain degree of subjectivity and much sarcasm in the above content, but I also believe a lot of it to be true. In today’s China, where there is still a lack of transparency and accountability, added to the vigorous efforts at deliberate deception and manipulation of the news by the Chinese government, we are often forced to speculate and to use sarcasm to counter the harmful effects of long-term exposure to its propagandistic radiation. Political pressure, however slight it may be, must be brought to bear on the collective conscience of the Communist Party of China to make good on its promises of democracy and the freedom of speech it has claimed to have instituted since 1949. Only this year, dozens of retired communist party cadres petitioned the government to respect and implement the right of citizens to freedom of speech as it is enshrined in the very constitution of the People's Republic of China. Political reform is well overdue and vital to the future stability of China, whether it be to the detriment or to the advantage of the government. Even Premier Wen Jiabao’s persistent pleas for democratic reforms have been omitted or rewritten by his own party. A government that denies its own premier the right to freedom of speech makes itself look backward, dictatorial and absurd.