Xi Jinping's Great Leap Backward should worry us

The Washington Post has published an interesting story about the new cultural revolution that Xi Jinping has been launching in China lately. Technically all of the changes are considered new regulatory action but the big picture here is one of China seeking to clamp down on all foreign influence, from video games and movies to capitalism itself.

A dizzying regulatory crackdown unleashed by China’s government has spared almost no sector over the past few months. This sprawling “rectification” campaign — with such disparate targets as ride-hailing services, insurance, education and even the amount of time children can spend playing video games — is redrawing the boundaries of business and society in China as Xi prepares to take on a controversial third term in 2022…

“The party does not feel comfortable with expressions of individualism that are in some ways transgressive to norms that it puts forward,” said Rana Mitter, a professor of modern Chinese history and politics at the University of Oxford. “The party-state makes it clear that it has the first and last word on what is permitted in mass culture.”…

Regulators on Wednesday summoned Tencent and Netease over their online gaming platforms, ordering the companies to eliminate content promoting “incorrect values” such as “money worship” and “sissy” culture. Both firms promised to “carefully study” and implement the orders.

As I’ve been reading about this new cultural revolution, one thing that comes up repeatedly is an opinion piece which was published last month. The piece didn’t come from a government spokesperson but it was quickly picked up and spread by state media. The first part of the letter rehashes some of the changes being made with regard to films, video games, etc. Then the author gets to the larger motive for all of these changes:

If we take a broader political perspective on this series of events, we can discern a historical and developmental trend…

What these events tell us is that a monumental change is taking place in China, and that the economic, financial, cultural, and political spheres are undergoing a profound transformation—or, one could say, a profound revolution. It marks a return from “capitalist cliques” to the People, a shift from “capital-centered” to “people-centered.” It is, therefore, a political transformation in which the People will once again be front and center, and all those who obstruct this people-centered transformation will be left behind. This profound transformation also marks a return to the original intent of the Chinese Communist Party, a return to a people-centered approach, and a return to the essence of socialism.

This transformation will wash away all the dust: capital markets will no longer be paradise for get-rich-quick capitalists, cultural markets will no longer be heaven for sissy-boy stars, and news and public opinion will no longer be in the position of worshipping western culture. It is a return to the revolutionary spirit, a return to heroism, a return to courage and righteousness.

I would describe this as populist communism, the idea that the real China, the red China, is surging back and shrugging off all of the corrupt foreign influences in the markets and the media. And finally he comes to why all of this needs to happen now. The answer is…because America. [emphasis added]

China faces an increasingly fraught and complex international landscape as the United States menaces China with worsening military threats, economic and technological blockades, attacks on our financial system, and attempts at political and diplomatic isolation. The U.S. is waging biological warfare, cyber warfare, space warfare and public opinion battles against China, and is ramping up efforts to foment a “color revolution” by mobilizing a fifth column within China. If we rely on the barons of capitalism to battle the forces of imperialism and hegemony, if we continue our obeisance to American “tittytainment” tactics, if we allow this generation of young people to lose their mettle and masculinity, then who needs an enemy—we will have brought destruction upon ourselves, much like the Soviet Union back in the day, when it allowed the nation to disintegrate, its wealth to be looted, and its population to sink into calamity. The profound transformations now taking place in China are a direct response to an increasingly fraught and complex international landscape, and a direct response to the savage and violent attacks that the U.S. has already begun to launch against China.

Again, none of this is coming directly from a government source but state media is spreading it around as if they’ve been told to do so. Elsewhere today, the NY Times has another piece about China’s sudden shift away from English.

It’s hard to exaggerate the role English has played in changing China’s social, cultural, economic and political landscape. English is almost synonymous with China’s reform and opening-up policies, which transformed an impoverished and hermetic nation into the world’s second-biggest economy.

That’s why it came as a shock to many when the education authorities in Shanghai, the most cosmopolitan city in the country, last month forbade local elementary schools to hold final exams on the English language.

Broadly, the Chinese authorities are easing the workloads of schoolchildren, amid an effort to ease the burdens on families and parents. Still, many Chinese people with an interest in English can’t help but see Shanghai’s decision as pushback against the language and against Western influence in general — and another step away from openness to the world.

Many call the phenomenon “reversing gears,” or China’s Great Leap Backward, an allusion to the disastrous industrialization campaign of the late 1950s, which resulted in the worst man-made famine in human history.

As China moves from a one-party state to a one-man tyranny under Xi Jinping, it is also ridding itself of western, and especially American, influence. China is rather quickly becoming a bit more like North Korea which ought to worry us, especially if he sees the US as his main rival.

What’s the endgame here? Some observers think Xi Jinping’s ultimate goal is to dominate the world. It seems to me Xi’s new cultural revolution is an attempt to show he learned something from the collapse of the Soviet Union. He doesn’t want to repeat the mistakes of glasnost. He hopes to succeed where the Soviets failed by moving in the opposite direction.