(Another politically-incorrect rant by Chris Harry)
In his recent article, Jeremy Goldkorn gives a very good analysis of the so-called "China Dream", which is every bit as empty as the endless barrage of vacuous rhetoric spewing forth from the “brains” behind the regime's latest propaganda offensive (double entendre intended). On closer inspection, however, I would argue that there is a clear and consistent message embedded within the party's code which may be far more sinister than its seemingly upbeat title suggests. When you place the pieces of the "China Dream" puzzle together in the right sequence, it starts to look a little less optimistic and inspiring.
The government is sort of hinting at what the so-called “Chinese Dream” is all about: “the great revival of the Chinese Peoples” (also trying to include its repressed minorities), “ensuring the Chinese army can fight winning battles”, and what Jeremy Goldkorn refers to as being “self-confident in the Chinese path, theories and system”.
In other words, the dream is a collective concept which calls for the whole Chinese nation to unite fully under the “correct leadership” of the party to make China strong so that every citizen can feel proud of China’s spaceships, jet fighters, and its refurbished Russian aircraft carrier, and to ensure that no foreigner will ever insult the Chinese ever again.
In this dream, there are no guarantees of food safety, environmental protection, no statements of respect for the constitution, nor any announcements about the implementation of an independent judiciary, rule of law, freedom of speech or political rights. It’s just about giving the Chinese people face, which makes it a very cheap and simplistic DPRK style dream.
There is a gigantic billboard at the gate of Beijing’s Capital Airport on which is printed the three characters for "China Dream", in which a woman in a traditional Beijing Opera outfit is featured on a plain white background; suggesting that the so-called “Chinese Dream” is also about the renaissance of China’s traditional culture.
Another giant “China Dream” poster appeals to the ideals and aspirations of children which depicts a young girl in a traditional red dress and hairstyle reminiscent of Tang dynasty China.The same poster girl is now featured on smaller propaganda murals plastered around construction sites in Beijing with the caption, "China dream - My dream". If I were to guess, I believe it may well be implying that the future will be brighter for China’s youth, perhaps indirectly imploring the population to suffer and sacrifice further for the sake of the next generation. While this is subjective speculation, such an explanation is consistent with the CCP’s martyr-worship and self-sacrifice culture, whereby communist heroes suffer and die gloriously merely for the sake of the party's honour.On the other hand,all of these cute cartoon murals and simplistic slogans may simply be just a lame attempt to project a kinder, more positive albeit empty message to shore up the party's image.
"Beautiful China": Deluded and Fanciful Party Reverie
Superficially speaking, you might say there is at least one positive element about the Chinese dream, which refers to “Beautiful China” and this is part of the government push for a so-called “ecological civilisation”, although efforts toward environmental protection and renewal are vital and unavoidable to ensure the future stability and sustainability of China, so this aspect of the dream has far more to do with a meek and belated attempt by China’s rulers to mask the ugly reality of decades of massive environmental degradation and devastation. Far from what most human beings would qualify as a dream.
Instead of facing the harsh reality of toxic rivers, smog-filled skies and ubiquitous piles of rubbish strewn across many of the suburbs of its mega-cities, townships, and farmlands across a vast nation which has already begun to erode the quality of the environment well beyond its borders, the government childishly proclaims China "beautiful".
What is more, if you deign to take issue with this specious description, you are by definition a traitor to the Chinese people and a lackey of the West as defined by the boundaries of officially-sanctioned discussion and the monolithic construct of omnipotent thought coercion that is so innocuously referred to merely as propaganda in the English language.
The motive and strategy behind the "beautiful" aspect of the Chinese Dream is identical to the previous leadership's emphasis on "harmonious society". Instead of acknowledging a problem and dealing with it through reform and substantive measures, the party simply pretends that black is white; brushing over the reality of a host of crises on many different levels with idyllic and abstract strokes of denial.
Based on precedence and on pragmatic analysis of spurious phrases like "Beautiful China" and "Harmonious Society" , which are not backed by concrete steps toward their eventual attainment, they should be taken as a warning signal that the party is still not committed to undertaking responsibility for the future of China, nor is it exhibiting any real concern for an increasingly denuded land or the drastic consequences of its consistently harmful approach, even though it is fully aware that delaying action can only increase the financial and human costs that will inescapably translate into a political deficit.
"Beautiful China" is a bit of feeble daydreaming concocted by a gang of deluded and unimaginative despots with an enormous lack of sympathy for enhancing the quality of life for its people. "Beautiful China" simultaneously offends the intellect while revealing a vertiginous chasm where wisdom is most desperately and urgently required.
The “Party Dream”: Follow the Party Forever
The “Chinese Dream” is not at all about reform or eventual democracy. It’s as if the party went back forty years in time to reinforce the idea that the sole purpose of existence for Chinese people is to work tirelessly for the eventual victory of Chinese communism over the world and for the total and utter supremacy of China in every sphere of human endeavour.
One of the latest phrases rolled out by the regime since Xi Jinping’s rise to the throne could not be more point-blank: “Follow the party forever.” Once again, it displays an inability of the party to look or think beyond the confines of its sterile and stultifying dogma.
Personally, I believe the government was pathetically overreaching when they came up with this slogan in 2013. Doubtless, the majority of independent-thinking Chinese citizens would find this statement inappropriate and an insult to their intelligence.
One young Chinese lady I spoke to last night in a convenience store as she was complaining to a shopkeeper here in Beijing about the ridiculous pronouncements of the government said adamantly, “Why the hell do we have to follow the party forever?”
This is one of many signs indicating the increasing ideological gap between the government and the people. It is shocking, distressing and embarrassing that the government is dredging up ancient slogans from the failed Mao era such as the “Mass Line” and is still trying to sell “Lei Feng” as the selfless party member who should stand as the model for all Chinese citizens. In this sense, the “Chinese Dream” is an unconvincing and uninspiring plea from the regime to retain absolute power.
From this perspective, it would actually be far more appropriate to refer to it as the “Party Dream” and the government is simply trying to ram this party dream down the peoples’ throats through the same-old repetitive, moribund technique of mass media propaganda blitzes. Unfortunately for the party, the average person on the street here in China has grown cynical of the party's motives and its
slogans more often than not become the butt of an endless stream of sarcastic jokes appearing on China's social media platforms.
Nevertheless, the fact that the Western media even refers to the “Chinese Dream” and tries to ask what it is all about shows that people around the world are yearning to see some sort of positive development in China’s political culture. This is equally true of Chinese citizens, so there is some sort of weak logic behind the “Chinese Dream” in terms of inspiring a degree of misplaced hope in the future of China’s current system of governance which continues to hemorrhage credibility by the day, especially at the beginning of this new dynastic cycle.
As a proactive and positive approach, the "Chinese Dream" also represents a wider attempt by Emperor Xi to genuinely rejuvenate and consolidate the regime from within, in order to save it from self-induced collapse. It is an attempt to put a more human and optimistic face on Xi's mainly draconian approach to ruling the party by calling for more austerity, less ostentatious abuse of power and other obvious forms of corruption, and through his main governance strategy of applying a vigorous and ongoing anti-corruption campaign to destroy political rivals and consolidate his grip on power. However, the remarkable emptiness of the “Chinese Dream” concept itself is compelling evidence of the “ideological bankruptcy” of the Chinese state.
Nationalism, Xenophobia and the “Chinese Dream”
In expounding upon the "Chinese Dream", Xi Jinping also makes reference to a “Strong Army Dream” and this gives a collective, nationalistic “Chinese dream” an obviously aggressive and militant tone. Notice that little or no mention has been made of China’s “peaceful rise” since Xi took over the reins of power.
Long before Xi Jinping sat on the throne as the new head of the regime, my biggest worry about the future direction of China was that, once Chinese people felt confident and wealthy enough, they might tend to start looking down on other nations and become more nationalistic, which could then lead to the potential for large-scale military conflict.
Painstakingly cultivated nationalism and xenophobia is really one of the last aces up the sleeve of the government when trying to bond with its own populace, yet it is admittedly still a very strong ace card, because it has absolute control of all official media and the entire education system. For this reason, one of the few things that a fair proportion of Chinese people and the government share is a certain degree of xenophobia and distrust toward outside powers, particularly the United States, and most especially, Japan. To an extent, there are some legitimate historical reasons for these sentiments, but the fact remains that xenophobia is patently and blatantly promoted throughout China’s media and its educational system. Xenophobia and the promotion of anti-Western, anti-Japanese sentiment is a core government policy in China.
I first noticed a trend or current of nationalism back in the nineties when Chinese people began to look down on Russians as being poor, despite the fact that Russians still have a higher level of per capita income, a higher level of education and more advanced technology than China, even today. Decades earlier, the Chinese leadership was so enthralled with Russia’s leaders they even tried to boil their eggs in the same manner as their dear comrades. This can only be described as an emotional, illogical form of nationalism which swings wildly from one end of the pendulum to the other without a solid basis for such huge discrepancies in attitudes toward the world at large.
My point is that there is a very distinct way of thinking prevalent throughout Chinese society which places face, wealth, winning and success far above most other goals in life. It is a selfish, zero-sum gain mentality that, to some extent, influences behavior in China from a very early age. This is not meant to show any disrespect toward Chinese people; rather it is a statement of an existing mentality that is quite common in Chinese society. Such a mentality is also understandable given that there are 1.4 billion people all fiercely competing for a better life for themselves and their families, in a country with limited financial and natural resources where the government offers very limited welfare and assistance.
The “Chinese Dream” serves as a “spiritual victory” for the Chinese people to placate feelings of inadequacy or inferiority toward more advanced and wealthier nations. By the same token, incessant smear campaigns against "vile and immoral" foreign powers makes China look more positive and upright by comparison. This is where "fighting and winning battles", a "strong army dream", unity through xenophobia and the "Chinese Dream" intersect with the real motives behind the dream campaign--keeping the party in total control by preying on an under-informed population already suffering from a severe inferiority-superiority complex cultivated by decades of propaganda.
China’s Preeminence and the Chinese Dream
There is undoubtedly a strong element of competition, hero worship and a clear sense of hierarchy in all levels of Chinese society - from the regime’s own ambitions to achieve the most number of Olympic medals and which, incidentally, recently described its athletic contingent to the London Games as an army, right on down to the pedestrian who stubbornly refuses to yield to oncoming traffic even at the risk of bodily harm or the nouveau riche who frequently act in an aggressive, rude and violent manner toward those in Chinese society who are poorer than themselves.
There is very much a strong desire to be number one instilled in the schooling system and in the family, which is why Chinese people took it personally when the national soccer team recently lost to Thailand 5 to 1. Chinese refuse to accept that Thai people can be better than China at anything and this sense of competition is most obvious with Japan.
Probably the one thing that Chinese hate, or at least envy the most about Japan, is that what they perceive to be as this small “student or copycat of China’s magnificent civilization” is so much more advanced, wealthy and successful than they are -- all the while retaining their own culture and many aspects of China’s Tang culture even better than the Chinese themselves. This is extremely vexing and does not fit with the Chinese perception of their rightful position in the world. It is this hierarchical feeling of superiority that is being promoted by the government day and night across all forms of media.
The most alarming example of this was last year’s destructive anti-Japanese riots that were condoned or even encouraged by the government, and which led to the injury of Chinese people and damage wrought to Chinese citizens’ cars and properties, not to mention likely further convincing the Japanese not to try to making friends with China.
Chinese feel shame at being lower or less successful than others and this can easily be converted into jealously or hatred toward others in a higher position or, in this case, into hatred of other countries. Add to this an elevated boost in pride and arrogance stemming from propaganda which constructs an artificial sense of Chinese preeminence and you have the dark elements of the party’s vengeful, anti-foreign, and nationalistic “Chinese Dream”.
Confidence instilled through economic success in China often quickly leads to arrogance and disrespect toward those whom they have "surpassed", whether we are speaking from an individual, societal or international standpoint. The government is constantly seeking to channel this complex and potent mixture of pride and shame amongst the people and turn it into a political force for the long-term strength of party rule by concentrating negative emotions such as jealousy, fear, mistrust and a sense of superiority against foreign powers; as well as by stoking the flames of nationalism and convincing the population of the existence of an international anti-China conspiracy that constantly seeks to humiliate, divide and weaken China.
The most obvious examples of sowing distrust and hatred toward other countries can be found in the government's nationalistic rag, The Global Times, and the Chinese version of this paper is even more intense and explicit in its patriotic efforts than the English one, because they are assuming that almost no foreigners are capable of or even interested in reading it.
The Chinese Dream is a late-stage attempt at mass brainwashing that is out of all proportion in an era of instant, global, open and omnipresent communication. Nevertheless, if the party is successful in manipulating the minds of the majority in China by carefully nurturing these very powerful, illogical and negative emotions away from the party and toward Japan and the West, it will be able to work toward its “Party Dream” of permanent control.
A Chinese artist once told me that the Chinese are a very “emotional” people and his pronouncement made me rethink my perceptions of China. Perhaps it is this “emotional” element of Chinese people that the government is banking on to persuade them that something as illogical as permanent dictatorship is somehow uniquely suited to China, and that the only respect Chinese people can expect is the face gained through the collective success of the nation’s economic and military power or its Olympic medal count, rather than through the peaceful and gradual development of democracy, political freedoms and the rule of law.
It as if the party is saying that it can exact revenge on the western powers and Japan that humiliated China in the past through its sheer dominance and that this should somehow be enough to make the people feel content and proud to remain under party rule in perpetuity. This is perhaps the party's ultimate, albeit inexplicitly stated dream.
However, even if China were to become the world's dominant power, why would anyone want to settle for nepotism, politically-based hierarchy and dictatorship?
Xi’s Hollow Dream
It is Xi Jinping’s all-consuming passion to rescue the party from political oblivion. He undoubtedly does not wish to go down in the history books as the last emperor of a withering communist dynasty and the “Chinese Dream” is symptomatic of Xi’s form-over-substance approach thus far. He seems to actually believe that propaganda over real change, and that campaigns over the rule of law, are the path forward for the party’s salvation In short, the "Chinese Dream" may be extrapolated to infer the likelihood of a failed presidency, which will likely only shorten the lifespan of party rule. The emptiness and abstract nature of the "Chinese Dream" may very well come to define Xi's career as a paradoxically ambitious yet irresolute leader.
The “Chinese People's Dream”: Democracy, Freedom and a Higher Quality of Life
The outspoken Zhang Xin, President of China's real estate giant Soho, was asked about the “Chinese Dream” recently in an interview with the BBC, in which she said that she didn't really know what the government meant by the term, but that the "Chinese Dream" of the average person in China was about increasing their quality of life and being able to live more freely. She also stated that she felt Chinese people are the same as any other people in the world in the sense that they also want freedom and democracy.
As Zhang Xin mentioned in the interview, she believed that the trend toward democracy is spreading across the world and that it is unstoppable.
It is certainly true that it is easier to come by an increasing number of Chinese from all walks of life who have lost faith in the government and tend to share an increasingly similar view of China with the wider world in terms of rejecting the current regime and embracing the universal values of human and political rights. The other side of this phenomenon is that more Chinese people are more willing to admit to holding such views and less bound by an invisible boundary which once exerted a much stronger and self-imposed mental barrier to reflecting on and accepting a diversity of opinions and debate which contradict the party’s narrow and xenophobic world view. To paraphase Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese have slowly begun to "liberate their own thinking" .
In other words, the regime’s latest propaganda campaign appears to be losing the war for the hearts and minds of the Chinese people. That is why I am also confidently predicting China’s true dream is not the “Party Dream” but rather a “Democratic Dream”.
After all, Taiwan has proven without a shadow of a doubt that a peaceful and relatively orderly transition to democracy is perfectly compatible with Chinese society and culture. In doing so, it has presented an alternative "Chinese Dream" which embraces the world and promotes universal human values.
On July 1st of 2013, 430 thousand people in Hong Kong also reminded Beijing, through peaceful and public demonstrations, that they are quite content with the rule of law and are eager for China’s central government to fulfill its promise of full democratic elections in Hong Kong by 2017. If the Chinese government can actually keep this promise, granted highly unlikely, then at least one region of China will have democracy within 4 years time.
Imagine how disrespected and second-class the Mainland populace will feel should Hong Kong citizens be granted full democratic rights whilst they have none!
Meanwhile, the party continues to dream on....