Apr 23 • 19M

From Warring States to Warring Factions

Another Blast from the Past I'd Forgotten all about authoring!

 
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Critiquing the Conceits of Exceptionalism - East & West
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This piece - written for my old ‘storify’ platform of the middle part of the previous decade, suddenly popped into mind yesterday, as I read a piece that the sero/crew had put up by a new voice on substack. No less than the Myth of Capital series I’m presently republishing, it read real good - soooo goood, and sooo topical, still, that I’m moved to republish it here as well… because…

as usual, it takes a ‘non-expert,’ boots on the ground kind of dimwit kinda like myself, willing to tramp around the globe to set sight upon what he wishes to scribble about - BEFORE scribbling - to get the real story. And here it be - in all it’s gnarly glory! Read and enjoy!

The Coming Chinese Crackup - Authored by David Shambaugh, originally posted at The Wall Street Journal

On Thursday, the National People's Congress convened in Beijing in what hasbecome a familiar annual ritual. Some 3,000 "elected" delegates from all over the country-ranging from colorfully clad ethnic minorities to urbane billionaires-will meet for a week to discuss the state of the nation and to engage in the pretense of political participation.

My response to Shambaugh's piece above begins here:

The recent WSJ essay by well-known American China scholar David

Shambaugh has provoked much debate over the future of China's current

regime. This debate, while interesting, has been almost exclusively formed from

a perspective limited to the past century or so... a period of such slender import

for understanding the Sino-dimension that it makes moot whether those

weighing in have taken the time to actually reflect upon the question - "Is China

Cracking Up? - as "China" has cracked up - and re-formed - many times in the

past, the questions that really need be asked are... has yet another foreign

power taken control out of the hands of the Han - like Mongol and Manchu

before them - or is a renaissance of autochthonous Sino-culture still possible?

As much as it might seem at first glance absurd to invoke an ancient period like

that of the Warring States (479-221 BC) as background to the current

controversy, the debate over ren zhi xing which rages throughout that era

provides a useful prism through which to properly view the present moment of

China's evolution. Though names like Mencius or Xunzi may seem folkloric and

far distant, the schools which weighed in on the topic of "human nature" bear

similarity to those contemporary and competing tendencies reviewing Xi's rule

and chances. While that ancient debate is framed as one over virtue and moral

agency, it was no more a merely philosophic one than the debate raging over

the future of China at the moment!

When Deng Xiaoping seemed to have upset the apple cart of orthodoxy with

his "glorious to get rich" maxim, the prevailing wisdom was that a more

"western" style of regime was being put in place. Yet it is not properly

appreciated that the existing system of that time - "Communism" - was a

'western' import that noticeably lacked for "Chinese" characteristics in it's

application. Had Deng not been under constraints to appear as a 'reformer'

who would break with tradition, it might have been clearer to all that his

gambit was one which took a cultural tradition of the Han - to value the

material dimension in it's proper place - and re-instituted it for purposes of

propping up a foreign system. A system which, having lost all dynamism and

adaptability over time, would either collapse, or be rejuvenated.

"Sparing the ox" is a well known story in which Mencius discusses the matter of

King Xuan and the ox ... in which the question of how the ruler protects his

people is paramount. After an interregnum of terror such as characterised the

Mao tze tung era, it would be easy to suppose that the ruling elite of the CCP

was immune to feelings of compassion about their 'subjects;' but that would be

a mistake of historic dimension. I well remember conversations with Chinese in

their twenties in my wanderings there - when I would bring up the subject of

Chou en Lai and Deng. There was a visceral sense of being witness to an

emotion of reverence for the former... and a great respect for the later. Which

in every way confirmed my longstanding conviction that at least some of those

close to the the monster at the top of the CCP heap had been true defenders of

their people.... tasked with trying to moderate the worst excesses of a foreign-

backed tyrant gone mad!

There was no way of mistaking in other words, the groundswell of

understanding on the part of the contemporary Chinese generations - that they

had been delivered from a nightmare... into a viable and real transition to a new

dawn. This is key to understanding the nature of the debate over Xi and the

future. Xi has described Mao as “a great figure who changed the face of the

nation and led the Chinese people to a new destiny;

in identifying with the

Maoist legacy he clearly seeks champion the role of the party as state power,

and be seen as the Emperor who rules over it all. In resuscitating the Maoist

legacy, Xi is expecting to be able to reap the rewards of nationalist and

putatively 'socialist' sentiment in the Party and wider realms... but I would argue

that he is also making clear an agenda which has sources identical to they who

controlled Mao... as they control Xi! Herein lies a contradiction and conundrum

which will need be resolved.

Previous to the close of the Maoist era, the legitimacy of the CCP, and the state

it controlled, more or less came down to it's ability to project power - from the

barrel of a gun - or through ceaseless campaigns to direct the Chinese

population into ambitious social reconstructions, designed to show the Party

as a architect of the future. The sputtering halt to which all of these efforts

came with the departure of the "Great Helmsman" called for a means of re-

creating the Mandate of Heaven from new material... as in, material progress,

rather than ideological purity. Pride in China's position in the world, or state of

economic achievement could, under the right circumstances, become a focus

to put the energies of it's people to work - provided the system did not simply

fall apart before the dividends could manifest. Deng's situation was therefore

one of a middeman between the Party's outdated platform, and those looking

on from abroad, with plans to draw China into their blueprint for global

hegemony. Only via the financial werewithal needed to visibly improve the lives

of it's people could the CCP hope to bridge the gap.

The arrival of Kissinger,

and the Rockefeller agents of State Dept signaled the beginning of the

negotiations by which the gap would be closed, and China set up as a

mercantilist state using it's vast labor resources to hollow out the industrial

infrastructure of the western world. The rise, in other words, of the Chinese

people's standard of living and material comforts, would come in tandem with

the decrease of those same qualities in the West. The great convergence was

on!

It's hard for the person looking in upon China from the West to grasp just how

dramatic has been the change for the better in the material circumstances of

the Chinese, in only a couple of generations. It's as if the entire gamut of

gradual change which the USA underwent from the pre-Civil War period to the

1960s had happened in the space of 30 years. The average Chinese of middle

age now can have no doubt as to the reality of this material transformation -

talking to the grandparents is all that is required to understand it! When you

ride the train through the countryside, past the backroad small holdings with

their owner's walking tractors - or even riding tractors - visible on the land...

the impact of this change is equally apparent. Just one generation back, most

all of these settlements were performing the same field labor in a manner not

greatly changed from that of a millennia ago!

Certainly the Party has a large dividend of goodwill to spend from having

overseen this transition. This must not be discounted in the debate of the

moment here - like the King who spared the ox, because he could not bear to

see it trembling in fear of being led to execution without fault, the rulers of

China have gained an aura of concern for the real sufferings of their people...

and a sincere desire to guide improvement of their lot. For all it's rigidity and

corruption, the CCP is still the party of Chou, the legendary Long Marchers,

and the millions who sacrificed themselves so that others might someday

deserve a better fate. Tempering the cynicism which supposes contemporary

Chinese think of nothing more than of their crassest self interest at the expense

of all greater sociality is a necessity. It's exactly at this juncture where our

ancient debates over 'virtue' and 'moral agency' once again enter the picture!

There's a longstanding notion that China, via the revolutionary period entered

into with the overthrow of the Last Emperor, made a concerted effort to leap

out of a "Confucian" past, into a 'modern' present... and by doing so, close the

gap between eastern and western socio-economic systems. But this is only a

partial truth, as there were many permutations of Ancient China's philosophical

discourses which remained embedded - if somewhat disguised - in the political

and economic strata which evolved there through the centuries. In fact,

challenges to what we might think of as "Confucian" systems of governace -

and to orthodoxy in general, occurred even before "confucianism" was a

recognized system.

Amongst the many schools of philosophic debate in ancient China, with it's

Ruists, Mohists and dozens others, the Daoists, and the Primitivists were groups

that especially stood out as anticipating the present juncture at which China

finds itself. Indeed, the theme of the famous Zhuangzi, that encyclopedic guide

to the art of being,explicitly undertakes to examine the theme of "how to

protect and preserve one’s life and last out one’s years while living in the social

realm, especially in circumstances of great danger: a life of civic engagement in

a time of social corruption." What turn of phrase could better encapsulate the

present - when those with capital to protect increasingly do so by sending it

abroad - when even the army... as well as the political hierarchy and business

realm are identified as rife with corruption - and crackdowns on free expression

and personal liberties begin to erode the sense of order which had begun to

make it seem safe to assume that the trend of the last thirty years would

continue? If there is a danger at the present moment, of China "cracking up" - it

is less likely to be a cracking up into another 'warring states' episode than one

of 'warring factions.'

I say this because, though unknown to most observers, China, in it's modern

incarnation, already has an example - even tradition - to draw upon in allowing

for competing ideological currents to exist within what seems to be, on the

outside, monolithic structures of policy and ideology. Where many in the

current 'crack up' debate see an inflexible, ready to be Humpty-Dumptyized,

senility in the CCP, deeper currents of renewal may exist thanks to the presence

of that current of accommodation and compromise which allowed Deng and

his faction to survive long enough to turn the ship of state around. Much like

the neo-Daoists of the Three Kingdoms Era (220-265 A.D.), who gave

Confucian thought a reinterpretation that would align it with the traditions of

Lao Zi, Deng and the group around him made a reinterpretation of the CCP line

possible - and in so doing allowed the Party to survive the transition from the

death of Maoism.

The wily Deng, like Hu Yaobang, Zhu De, and Chen Yi, was a member of the

Hakka Mafia - the group of leaders who survived from the pre-Long March

period through the entire Maoist reign with a competing tendency - right in the

heart of the CCP - intact! You might think that the only thread connecting this

group was their ethnicity - as a subgroup widely dispersed throughout China

and abroad, the Hakka are only rarely -like other minorities - recognized in the

modern Sino-discourse. The Han are well known to seek to avoid mention of

the diversity that exists within their racial majority. In a way, this served as

advantage to the mentioned grouping - who kept that identity both intact...

and semi secret for the balance of a century. Visible and invisible at the same

time... a very useful duality... and not just for themselves!

Given the kind of heavy-handed doctrinaire quality of 'dialectical materialism'...

with it's mechanistic... almost "confuncian" reverence for immutable formula

and unquestionable maxims, the willingness on the part of Deng and company

to ditch the orthodox approach in favor of new ones can be compared to the

way that the neo-daoists of the Three Kingdoms Era were willing to let

traditions fade in favor of new practices... and while not quite 'laissez-faire' in

intent or execution... the project of "Capitalist China Inc." was more in tune

with the daoist wu wei(do nothing)than the Confucian yu wei(do

something)interventionalism.

Here we return to the topics both of 'human nature'... and of 'factionalism' -

the later being one that has been deliberately underplayed since the return of

Deng and his "Hakka Gang" to grace in 1976. During the Cultural Revolution

party Vice Chairman Liu Shaoqi and party General Secretary Deng Xiaoping

were accused of forming a 'bourgeois headquarters' within the CCP leadership

- it is therefore somewhat natural that once in power Deng would choose to

downplay the theme of factionalism. With the 'left tendency' effectively

neutered from the fall of Jiang Qing's Gang, there was an opportunity to

impose an appearance of unity upon the scene with which to effectively screen

the jockeying and struggles between the various 'cliques,' 'circles,' and

groupings which never stopped forming and reforming all the while.

Foreign observers from this period of deliberate downplaying of the competing

tendencies within the leadership were quick to identify Deng's own power base

as being 'liberal' or 'reformer'... the powerful dynamics of the Hakka group were

not visible to onlooker's even within China -let alone outsiders. Nevertheless, it

was the solidarity and shared cultural background of those who were so allied

with Deng that brought them all forward successfully into a new era -of power

for themselves - and economic revitalization for the country! It was, in other

words, those traditional Hakka qualities of rebelliousness, mobility, and

commercial enterprise which all blended together to serve as the glue bonding

these long-term survivors... and which resulted in the unique opportunity

conjuncting with Mao's death, the dismal failure of the leftist tendency and it's

"Cultural Revolution"... and the arrival of emissaries from the West with

offerings of peace - and plenty!

Reaching past facile interpretations of the "Dengist" group as "liberal" or

"reformist" then, we can see the outlines of something that has maintained

itself intact throughout the centuries separating our current debate.. and the

distant past to which I have previously drawn attention here. The delicate

balance of ADAPTABILITY TO CHANGE and THE CONTINUITY OF TRADITION

in Hakka culture was the secret recipe which cast so many of their people into

the original field force of the Communist rebels... and later, the upper echelons

of the government which followed their success. This amazing cohesiveness

and continuity of an ethnic minority so dispersed over China and abroad had

the happy effect of making some of the values of that minority group ones that

would take front stage in the post Mao period... and produce a new "Chinese"

consciousness which resonated with their own! While Deng's homey maxims

about cats and mice were offered as portraying the deep wisdom of Sino

cultural history, they also gained maximum traction from being an accurate

summation of his own groups pragmatic outlook on life - a pragmatism which

had served them well as survivors of a long and dangerous march to power!

In the ancient period of the Three Kingdoms Era, the tendencies advocating

either a)preserving the rules of the past -“do something” (yu-wei), or b) letting

tradition fade and adopt new practices as they organically arose - “do-nothing”

(wu-wei) were posed by debaters as opposing ones.

Millennia later, the new

inheritors of the Mandate of Heaven in the post-Maoist Era would synthesize

the two to produce a happy medium that would serve the country well for the

next half century of transition. An understanding of human nature which

respects the profound oscillations that we all feel - between old and new,

tradition and innovation - was a legacy of Hakka culture which gave an edge to

the Hakka Gang's chances... and perhaps the chances of the Chinese as a

whole! If that period of dynamic synthesis and flexibility is indeed ending now -

with the dying off of the Hakka Gang and it's replacement by the "Princelings" -

then perhaps there is a danger of China "cracking up." But the odds are in favor

of a renewal of the countries connection to it's long standing tradition and

successes... and a fight/debate between the factions/schools which always

heralds these moments of transition!

More than anyone seems to have yet realized - in the pubic domain at least -

Mao was a 'manager' ... of a revolution conceived from abroad, funded the

same, and given it's ultimate staying power in the same manner. While it's

(relatively)much more well known that Stalin, and the "USSR" which grew out

of his putsch against the original group of 'managers' of that foreign conceived

"revolution" were subsidized, coddled,and given the appearance of greatness

by a foreign source... the similar trajectory of Mao's Red China is not well

understood even to this day.

That's it for my response to Shambaugh's piece. But thinking about that

response set me in a mind to go a step beyond what this glance at the record

has addressed. To answer the question 'whither China' ... there's a whole other

set of circumstances which have been either ignored or underplayed by China

observers... the hidden hand of outside players who have left their mark on the

country during most of the past century... and are unlikely to swear off of doing

so also in this one! That's for a separate article - but for now ... just a few points

that occurred to me in the course of assembling this one. Towards an answer

to the open question which I posed in the subtitle!

We might assume from appearances that the present leadership has been given

advice that would direct them towards a more "democratic" or "open" social

program, but that would be to fall into the trap of taking purely semantic terms

at face value. There is little reason to suppose... at a time when "Western

leaders" are uniformly reducing the "openness" and plurality of their own

fiefdoms, in favor of security states and the steady erosion of personal liberties

- which they pitch as the "price" of that "security" .... that the Chinese are being

cued to go against that grain. That is the stuff of propaganda for the masses to

consume ... the real meaning of the terms "liberal" and "western leadership" at

this time is totally antithetical to such a premise. To make an accurate

assessment, in other words, one needs look past the appearance to see the

real. Which is that Xi is, like Mao, a manager of a foreign born and controlled

enterprise ... "Capitalist China Inc." - heir to and outgrowth of "Communist

China Plc." The continuity is not obvious until one chooses to step outside of

the shallow boundaries of dialectical distraction... left, right, east, west,

socialism, free enterprise. All mass deceptions designed to provide a

smokescreen behind which a project of convergence... and global hegemony...

can proceed apace.

There is a paucity of documentation on this important subject of C20th China's

role as a hidden manager of the moneypower's international project of

convergence. The little that we have to work with though is enough to allow

for a corroboration of the link between monopoly finance capitalism and the

highest echelon of the so-called 'communist' government of

China...throughout all of it's phases and transitions... including the present.

Peeling away the layers of deceptive scholarship - which came from the pens of

academics coached and supported by the moneypower itself - we will find a

way forward, through the smoke and mirrors of dissimulation discourse,

towards an understanding of how China has been positioned to become the

new headquarters of the cartel.