Mao, the False God

Project Syndicate  |  Jun 1, 2005

By Sin-ming Shaw

Should Chairman Mao’s huge portrait still hang above the front gate of Tiananmen Square? Should China’s ruling party still call itself Communist?

These are not idle questions. Unless and until China’s leaders answer both questions with a simple “No” they will continue to have blood on their hands and a tainted legitimacy. Many Chinese do not accept communist rule precisely because the Communist Party denies its past, (and remains) unapologetic about its cruelty.

This is one reason why China has a Taiwan “problem.” The Chinese Communists insist that being Chinese means accepting the political reality of a sole Communist sovereign. Indeed, many Taiwanese think that, if being Chinese means accepting all that goes under the name of Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party, they will gladly deny their “Chineseness” than assume some of that shame.

Similarly, while a recent poll found that 70% of Hong Kong’s people are proud of being ethnic Chinese, a similar percentage are ashamed of the conduct of the mainland government. Their message to the government in Beijing is this: you cannot take away our ethnicity but you have soiled our dignity through your barbarism. For Hong Kong, the defining symbol of the Communist government is the killing of students with abandon on June 4, 1989.

Enshrined in the Chinese Communist Party’s constitution are the following words: “Mao Zedong, the Party’s chief representative, created Mao Zedong Thought, which has been proved correct by practice and based on which the Communist Party developed the basic system of socialism economically, politically, and culturally after the founding of the People’s Republic.”

But how “correct” was Mao?

In her devastating new book Mao: The Unknown Story , Jung Chang (author of the international bestseller Wild Swans ) exposes startling new details that prove beyond doubt that Mao was a tyrannical, cruel hypocrite whose disregard for human lives and suffering surpassed that of even Stalin and Hitler. Her catalogue of Mao’s “correct practice” is numbing in its immorality and bloodthirstiness.

To help finance his communist movement in the 1930’s, Mao squeezed poor peasant families with any assets in the “Red” zone he controlled. Many “counter-revolutionary” families were forced out of their homes to live in buffalo sheds so that their meager assets could be requisitioned.

While hiding out in the caves of Yenan, Mao became a distributor of opium. Contrary to myths that he and his insurgents lived frugally during the Yenan days, they lived well on trading profits.

After the Nationalist government collapsed in 1949, Mao’s “New China” emerged. Almost immediately, he launched another campaign to suppress “counter-revolutionaries,” berating one province for “being too lenient, not killing enough.”
Killing “enemies” was not the sole purpose. Mao wanted to instill obedience by having as many people as possible witness the terror. As he put it in 1951, “Many places don’t dare to kill counter-revolutionaries on a grand scale with big publicity. This situation must be changed.”

In Beijing millions of inhabitants were ordered to witness some 30,000 sentencing and execution rallies during the early 1950’s. Indeed, in 1950 and 1951 an estimated three million people perished by execution, torture, or suicide.

Masses of Chinese were sent to work camps, where prisoners endured harsh physical labor to “reform” their “bourgeois” habits and thoughts. In any given year, roughly 10 million such “laborers” existed. During Mao’s rule, an estimated 27 million died in the camps.

Close to 38 million people died of starvation and overwork during the infamous Great Leap Forward (1958-61) to catch up with the West. Mao’s reaction? “With all these projects, half of China may well have to die. If not half, one-third, or one-tenth – 50 million – die….but you can’t blame me when people die.”

Mao launched the Cultural Revolution (1965-76) to take revenge against those who opposed his mad programs. Millions more died.

Mao also ordered the country to destroy the “Four Olds”: old ideas, old culture, old customs, and old habits. As a result, his Red Guards destroyed ancient books, priceless antiques, monuments across the land, and nearly all Buddhist monasteries in Tibet.
In all, it is estimated that more than 70 million people died in the “New China” Mao and the present Communist Party leaders so proudly proclaim as their accomplishment.

When Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka went to China in 1974, he bowed deeply to the Chairman, apologizing for the suffering that invading Japanese had caused. Mao famously said: “No need to apologize. We should thank you instead. Without your invasion, we Communists would not have won.”

What about today’s “New New China,” with its skyscrapers, modern highways, and unbridled capitalism? The reality is not as gleaming as it first looks. Annual per capita GDP in Shanghai, China’s showcase city, remains, at $3,000, a small fraction of the levels in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Fifty years of communist misrule have left what was once the most advanced city in Asia a distant also-ran.

China’s communist rulers must own up to their history and drop Mao and the communist legacy. The country needs a new constitution – one that enshrines genuine democracy.

China’s people have long been ready for this. Maintaining the false label of communism while reviving capitalism and insisting that Mao, for all his mistakes and crimes, was 70% “correct” is the bedrock of the moral corruption that afflicts China today. It is as if the Nazis were still in power, with the current leaders claiming that Hitler was only 30% wrong. China deserves better; it requires better in order to reclaim the glory that was China.

Sin-ming Shaw is a Visiting Scholar at Columbia University in New York.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2005.

The Next Revolution  |  Oct 5, 2001

By Sin-ming Shaw

The news is grim, and Asia is ill-prepared for globalization. The region needs to drop its Confucian shackles. Guess what: China is leading the way

Asia's economies had been teetering on the brink of recession before the tragic terrorist attacks on the United States. Now, with a further slowdown in America, a freefall is more likely than a speedy recovery. But that doesn't mean Asia should give up on reform. Now more than ever, Asia must build economic foundations that will withstand the disciplinary forces of globalization.

Asia needs nothing short of a cultural revolution to face this challenge. The root causes of Asia's economic stagnation go beyond the fallout from a U.S. slowdown or crony capitalism. The region's mind set, still largely stuck in old Confucian paradigms, must change. Some economists say the time for reform has passed; mired in domestic politics, Asian governments missed the opportunity to push for sweeping financial change — from cleaning up the banks to improving corporate accountability. Now, in the face of a severe slowdown, just keeping their economies afloat will take precedence over reforms that could inflict more pain. But change is more important than ever. Asia needs better corporate governance, transparent banking practices, governments subject to checks and balances, and sound central bank policies. The region must also recognize that the traditional business structure — family ownership and management control — typically shuts out talent, promoting instead mediocrity.
Such change will be painful, but the cost of not changing will be immeasurable. Globalization is a relentless phenomenon; the markets won't wait while overprotected Asian economies and companies belatedly struggle to boost efficiency. The wrecking ball of global competition eventually knocks down the "walls" countries erect to protect the economically inefficient, the intellectually mediocre and those political systems that don't accommodate their people's yearning for a good education and a dignified life.

But four years after the Asian financial crisis struck, the region still doesn't get it. In this new economic era, ideas are what count. Yet Asia is woefully short of creative solutions. From Japan to Thailand, leaders are unable even to cope with yesterday's problems. In Thailand, leaders lack the courage to clean up the mess in banks that should be closed down or sold. In Japan, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, struggling to push ahead with reforms, will need to convince his people that they need a new Meiji Restoration to revive a nation bogged down in stagnation. Taiwan, China's first-ever democracy, should have been the region's trailblazer; but its body politic, too, is paralyzed by factional strife. The government has failed to address the problems created by an over-regulated economy, an exam-fixated educational system, and primitive financial markets.

Asian values — and the stifling educational systems that they spawn — continue to hamper the region's latent talents. These values are largely derived from Confucian teachings that stress obedience, authority, and moral behavior based on social hierarchy. Asians are certainly not incapable of generating original ideas. The impressive list of Asians who have won Nobel prizes, one good indicator of originality, puts to rest any doubts that ethnicity has anything to do with creativity. But with rare exceptions, these Asian laureates were educated in the West, in an environment that prizes a good contentious argument, regardless of how much it might upset authority.

Surprisingly, China has taken some of the most radical steps to face the changing world. Why China, of all countries? Isn't the country full of policemen who mindlessly jail scholars looking for documents only remotely related to national security? Isn't the Communist Party riddled with corruption and cynicism as most members await the final curtain to fall on their ideology? Isn't it true there is no freedom of the press, without which good ideas do not percolate well?

Yes, China is all of that and often worse. But China is not just restructuring its economy. It is undergoing a quiet social revolution the scale of which will dwarf even that conjured by the Meiji Restoration in 19th-century Japan. This mental upheaval is changing the attitudes of the Chinese and how they relate to the world. Asian values, in fact, are admired less in today's China than in the rest of East Asia, because the Chinese have seen the worst consequence of those values and have rejected them as irrelevant.

With considerable historical irony, it was the murderous Cultural Revolution — launched in 1966 by Mao Zedong to smash his opponents within the Party — that began the liberation of the Chinese mind. In the aftermath of that calamitous upheaval, the Chinese people underwent a cathartic awakening and mental transformation that comes only rarely in the history of nations. It was the beginning of the Chinese Enlightenment. The world is only beginning to see the results.

It took a holocaust to make the Chinese wake up and re-examine the shortcomings of their culture. The rest of Asia must strive to achieve its own Enlightenment without such blood and instability. There is much to learn from China. These days, the Chinese, unlike their counterparts in the rest of Asia, have developed an instinctively skeptical mind towards established "truths," especially when these "truths" come from the higher-ups. The most ardent critics of Beijing's are the mainland Chinese themselves.

Much of Asia's thinking remains mired in an obsolete followers' mentality. That mind-set says when America sneezes, Asia catches a cold; but when America recovers, Asia will resume its growth. In the good old days, Asia's four Tiger economies (Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and Korea) and their cubs (Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia) could count on double-digit growth year in, year out. Most leaders in these countries seem to believe respectable growth awaits them because Asia remains the lowest-cost producer of what the world wants. They are in for a rude awakening. When America picks up after this recession, Asia's growth is likely to remain middling. Morgan Stanley economist Andy Xie estimates long-term growth in Asia (ex-China) from 2002 onward will be at best only half of the 7% growth Asia had before the 1997 crisis.

China poses the biggest new challenge to its Asian neighbors. It is now the region's lowest-cost producer and has become the favored investment destination. China is still far behind Hong Kong's world-class financial services business because it fails to meet the five minimum prerequisites to qualify: a convertible currency, the rule of law, a highly skilled corps of bilingual professionals, a critical mass of global financial institutions, and lastly, a free press. But that, too, may change, as the next generation of leaders in China takes over the reins of power in two years. President Jiang Zemin has set the stage for more change down the road.

In opening the Communist Party's door to capitalists, Jiang has negated its very rationale. Beijing's leaders understand that if China wants to be a player, not a follower, it had better tear down its own walls — a less painful approach than having them torn down by others. Joining the World Trade Organization and reshaping ideology are ways of planning the end of the Party, to be followed by a new act with a new cast. They can't say so, but look at what they do, not what they say.

By contrast, Malaysia provides a case study of a country unwilling to let go of "walls" erected to serve yesterday's purpose. The country's universities still have racial quotas, erected 30 years ago, to favor native Malay students and redress a lopsided imbalance of education levels among its population. For Malaysia to avoid the "wrecking ball" of globalization, it must compete on brains, and brains do not carry an ethnic label.

In Hong Kong, the government must allow assets and wages to go down further. It must adopt an enlightened, rules-based land policy, because high property prices remain an impediment to growth. In Japan and South Korea, governments must reduce their "dirigiste'' role in the economy, break up nontariff barriers, and let conglomerates fail so that more efficient firms can rise to do a better job.

Singapore's leaders, like those in China, have wised up to the need for a new mind-set. They have piped down about "Asian values." Instead, they now are aggressively revamping the educational system. Government leaders exhort the people nearly daily to become more creative. It is doubtful whether creativity can be ordered up by government edicts. But at least the country understands that clinging to the old ways won't work.
Despite the bad news, this is an age of opportunity. The West remains the originator of nearly all the Big Ideas. But nothing is cast in stone. The Internet, technology and global capital are at the service of anyone, any company or any country. The country with the most ideas will come out on top. It is never too late for Asia to wake up. But the Asian mind must be liberated from sham ideas disguised as cultural maxims that define what a Thai, Japanese or a Korean should think or do. Asians must realize that we are the ones to define what we are, not what we are told we must be to remain a Korean, a Chinese or a Singaporean. The mainland Chinese are engaged in that redefinition. If the rest of Asia fails to grasp its destiny, the region's smaller economies, including Japan, will be left behind.

5000Yrs of Chinese Civilisation

Hong Kong Economic Journal   |  Mar 21, 2001

By Sin-ming Shaw

Jiang's appeal to virtue harks back to Confucius

South China Morning Post  |  Feb 20, 2001

By Sin-ming Shaw

It would have been unthinkable at the height of the Cultural Revolution. At the Communist Party Central Committee's recent propaganda conference, President Jiang Zemin raised the slogan of "rule by virtue".

The concept, with its roots in 2,200-year-old Confucian tradition, has never appeared in political documents of the ruling party,

In his January 10 speech, Mr Jiang told his audience that governing the nation by the rule of law alone was not enough. In addition, there must be the "rule of virtue".

He did not explain what he meant by virtue, but the official press is now full of propaganda cadres' columns celebrating the new slogan, quoting tirelessly from the Confucian classics.

This is viewed by some Beijing intellectuals as part of the leadership's effort to fill a vacuum in Marxist political theory caused by the collapse of most of the Leninist states.

This need is especially important as the 80th anniversary of the Chinese communist movement approaches. It could also help communism compete with the influence of Falun Gong's moral teachings.

Reaction has been mixed. For the intelligentsia, Confucianism is part of traditional culture and far more familiar than Marxism. At the same time, intellectuals also fear that, as happened in the past, Confucianism can easily be abused and used to justify bureaucratic and conservative rule.

A researcher at the National Library said Mr Jiang was the first Communist Party member to officially, and unashamedly, inject such a key element as Confucianism into communism. "This man is no longer living under the shadow of his predecessors - Mao Zedong or Deng Xiaoping or whoever. And now he wants to show us that he can also make history," the researcher said.

The concept of the rule of virtue does bring new dilemmas. For example, it also requires rule by virtuous people, which could be seen to place the emphasis on the personality of leaders rather than on the rule of law, which China is trying to establish.

"That's why today's politicians have to be very careful when they play with an ancient concept like this," said a staff member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "It's also why Jiang can only use it as an additional proposal to that for the rule of law."

But the emphasis on the rule of virtue highlights the leadership's main concern: the crisis of legitimacy which the Communist Party faces, due in part to widespread corruption.

Mr Jiang has pointed out that most government servants who grew up during Mao's endless political campaigns, including one against Confucius, have never received any kind of moral education.

An enormous effort is now under way to make Communist Party officials peruse Confucian classics in party schools.

Mr Jiang's other concern is Falun Gong - not so much with its institutional or financial power, which cannot match Beijing's, but with its appeal to people from the lower economic classes.

It is believed that Mr Jiang's policy advisers have told him that Falun Gong and the Taiping Rebellion, led by a self-styled Christian sect about 150 years ago, share the same weakness.

Just as Mao once noted that the Taiping Rebellion failed because it was unable to enlist support from the Confucian gentry and scholars, Falun Gong has never won endorsement from any of the nation's top scholars.

The Beijing leadership's strategy may be an attempt to undermine Falun Gong's moral appeal by promoting Confucian virtue as an alternative.

"It would be a clever move," commented a Western-trained political scientist. Just as Deng Xiaoping advocated socialism with Chinese characteristics, Mr Jiang may be trying to crea

History by The Defected

Hong Kong Economic Journal   |  Jul 22, 2000

By Sin-ming Shaw

Big China, Little China

Time Asia  |  Mar 27, 2000

By Sin-ming Shaw

Let's Get Real, Folks

Time Asia  |  Mar 6, 2000

By Sin-ming Shaw

How to Get China's Attention

Time Asia  |  Feb 14, 2000

By Sin-ming Shaw

Page 1/2