The Economist Weekly: Views on China — Part 2
This glimpse is based on the Economist’s weekly edition published on October 2nd, 2021 in the China section under the headline: Xi Jinping’s clampdowns herald a tense political year in China [13 min read]
The plethora of articles and opinions in the media on Chinese politics can become overwhelming for someone new to this space. This ongoing series is my attempt at consolidating the media coverage on this topic, highlight and supplement interesting points in the article with commentary, and provide a glimpse to readers before they commit valuable time and energy.
Cake Theory ¹
The author sets the tone for this article by digging up a metaphor used in the early 2010s in China to refer to a political debate. The cake theory is in itself a rich topic to explore for those interested in learning more about China’s ideological precedents and how a decade later it continues to influence politics. This NPR article² describes the two philosophies — The Chongqing Model of Equal Slices and The Market-Driven Guangdong Model — in further detail. The first few paragraphs expand further on how Mr. Xi has pivoted his political strategy to match Bo Xilai, his political and ideological rival, from the “cake theory” era to appeal to China’s “common prosperity” ideals.
Chinese critics of the country’s state-led capitalism often refer to Mao. It is a relatively safe way of poking at the party, which remains officially wedded to Maoism and Marxism even though it is highly selective in the way it applies those ideologies ¹
At the beginning of the sub-section titled “Raising the red flag”, the author provides interesting details on one of the few forms of criticisms that the Chinese government is willing to tolerate today. This also marks the onset of an intriguing discussion of the prevailing ideology in China. A discussion that suggests how modern political ideology is not strictly derived from a single theory or historical reference but molded by a concoction of complicated geopolitics, Chinese elites, and Mr. Xi’s desire for control and stability.
Hukou reform has been slow, too, in part for similar reasons: middle-class urbanites do not want to share schools and hospitals with huge numbers of poor rural migrants ¹
The article introduces the Hukou reform as an opportunity for Mr. Xi to translate his newfound populist ideas into concrete policy reform. Despite this intention and opportunity, the author fleshes out Mr. Xi’s reluctance to impose any sort of political reform due to the complex nature of China’s ambivalent middle-class population and fear of civil strife.
Mr Xi, however, has been signalling that his “Chinese dream” is of a conservative society: Xi Jinping Thought is suffused with references to ancient Chinese philosophies stressing conformity ¹
The final segment of this article, “The end of fun?”, provides various examples of how the notion of entertainment is being rewritten in China. The author elegantly juxtaposes recent Chinese curtailment of pleasure activities (online gaming, celebrity witch hunts, etc.) with “Xi Jinping Thought”. Though the article implies an indulgence in Maoist ideology, Xi Jinping Thought is clearly differentiated by Mr. Xi’s devotion to stability. Xi Jinping engaging in this delicate dance with neo-Maoists is also captured perfectly and the author reveals how this scenario is being allowed to play out in media outlets by the Chinese government.
Mr Xi is already remoulding society in a way that neo-Maoists endorse. Recent events have taken place against a broader backdrop of more-visible involvement by the party in people’s everyday lives ¹
The concluding paragraph affirms Mr. Xi’s efforts to rebuild Chinese society (and ideology) from the ground up using Grassroots organizations. This menacing but highly effective tactic to reorder societal behavior using “moral review councils” is another indication of the generational changes taking effect to preserve power and maintain control by the Chinese Communist Party. The author concludes by stating that despite all the theorizing of ideology, at the end of the day the final say comes down to Xi Jinping and his propagation of Xi Jinping Thought is what really matters.
Final Thoughts -
This longer article on China expands on the headline article published in The Economist’s weekly edition and follows a similar theme. The Economist, as do other Western media outlets, continues its trend of raising the alarm bells on Chinese politics. The detail and depth of analysis prevalent in these articles make them a highly engaging read for anyone interested in politics and philosophy.
Bottom line: Read further if you enjoyed the headline article of the Economist’s October 2nd Weekly edition and want to explore further interpretation and analysis of China’s politics and Xi Jinping’s leadership ideology.
(1) The Economist | Xi Jinping’s clampdowns herald a tense political year in China | Updated on October 7th, 2021
(2) NPR | ‘Cake Theory’ Has Chinese Eating Up Political Debate | Updated on November 6th, 2011
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