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.

Who can Hong Kong people turn to?

South China Morning Post  |  Mar 14, 2005

By Sin-ming Shaw

Hong Kong's elite are short-changing the community. They can and should do more. Take Sir Gordon Wu Ying-sheung, educated at Princeton University in the US. He has famously declared that those who do not pay taxes should not get to vote, a view that finds currency among the privileged.

Without the non-taxpaying truck drivers to move cargo, brick layers to build and taxi drivers to take tourists around, Hong Kong would be dead.

Hong Kong loves rags to riches stories. "Superman" Li Ka-shing is an iconic inspiration to many. The city sorely needs a business party to promote fair and open markets, not through rhetoric, but with a platform to outlaw market-rigging so that future heroes can emerge.

Once upon a time, Teddy Roosevelt rose above his social biases and brought down the "robber barons", members of his own class, making America a more competitive economy. Later, another Roosevelt (Franklin D.) gave the common people a better deal, levelling the playing field further.

Liberal Party leader James Tien Pei-chun had the same promise. Born with money, he is beholden only to his parents. Yet Mr Tien votes against anti-competition laws and chants his mantra: "Hong Kong people are not ready for democracy." By so doing, he slaps the faces of a knowledgable people and insults those who voted for him. Roosevelt material he is not.

The founders of the Democratic Alliance for Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong once had classic communist convictions. They should have been the lightning rod against monopoly capitalism.

Instead, the DAB invariably votes for the status quo favourable to big business, following orders from its masters in Beijing who have become patrons of capitalism. Does the DAB have any moral compass left?

Local communists and their fellow travellers need to learn that they are a mere political convenience, useful when needed, expendable when not. Will they ever wake up?

The Democratic Party, once the people's hope, is a shadow of its former self. Its leaders should "investigate its shortcomings", to borrow President Hu Jintao's words.

The only hope may lie with those independents standing up for democracy. But they need to build an organisation to reach the masses.

Hong Kong's academic leaders have long ceased to provide a voice of thoughtful policy analysis on behalf of the public that pays them handsomely. These leaders covet favours from the ruling elite by showering on them honorary doctorates and trusteeships. With rare exceptions, the business elite return the favour by sending their children to a prestige college abroad, a Princeton or a Harvard, with generous donations to follow. It is a humiliating bargain.

Take the campus bookstores - they resemble corner shops with few books and not much stationery. Property is just too expensive for the colleges to build decent bookshops.

By contrast, the Harvard Co-op or the smaller Columbia bookstore (12,000 sq ft) in expensive New York is an oasis for the curious mind. How can the business elite constantly brag about Hong Kong being world class when it has no decent bookshops? Our eight university leaders should ask the tycoons who wear their honorifics on their sleeves to collectively donate eight first-rate bookstores to serve future leaders.

A good bookshop is a far better manifestation of culture than a nouveau-riche canopy for the West Kowloon cultural hub, costing hundreds of millions of dollars, while so many in Hong Kong are still poor.

If some tycoons now wish to reinvent themselves as arts patrons, they should first provide Hong Kong with fabulous bookshops. How ironic that Page One, the best in town, hails from Singapore - the place that Hong Kong's elite love to denigrate as brain dead.

Do our university leaders have the gumption to tell the tycoons that books, not bricks, are what the mind needs? Will Hong Kong's rich oblige?

Sin-ming Shaw is a visiting scholar at Columbia University. This is the last of a five-part weekly series on Hong Kong's economy and leadership

Donald Tsang - best and the brightest?

South China Morning Post  |  Mar 8, 2005

By Sin-ming Shaw

Chief Secretary Donald Tsang Yam-kuen is now Beijing's "blue-eyed" boy. The choice may also be based on the central government's assumptions that a person with business connections is unsuitable to become a public leader.

Many people suggest that leaders in the capital shun anyone from Shanghai, a city associated with the faction of former president Jiang Zemin and ex-premier Zhu Rongji , which picked Tung Chee-hwa to be Hong Kong's chief executive. Financial Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen is also from Shanghai.

If any of this is true, it would be a classic case of throwing out the baby with the bath water.

There are reasons to be wary of Mr Tsang's "qualifications" for the role, other than his intimate knowledge of the bureaucracy. In 1997, anything British was suspect. Now, Mr Tsang's colonial past has become an asset. How the pendulum has swung.

Beijing is ignorant of how Hong Kong worked and has forgotten that people like Mr Tsang were never in the policymaking driving seat. Instead, he and his fellow civil servants were merely implementing policies drawn up by the British.

In other words, he has no experience of conceptualising policies prior to 1997. After the handover, it is different: in the late 1990s, he famously urged people to buy property when the bubble was about to burst, as if it was the government's duty to call the shots in the market.

As financial secretary, he approved the massive intervention in the stock market on the erroneous assumption that the collapse was the work of speculators.

Well before the Asian financial crisis, a number of academics warned Mr Tsang and Joseph Yam Chi-kwong, head of the Monetary Authority, of structural problems in the Currency Board that regulates capital flows and exchange rates. Unless these loopholes were plugged, they said, Hong Kong would be vulnerable to "attacks".

Those asked to present their case recall that their argument was met with condescension, and rebutted, point by point, in the Monetary Authority's April bulletin in 1998. In the autumn, the crisis struck.

The subsequent calming of the market was not, as claimed, due to the stock market intervention. It was because of the famous "seven measures" announced after the intervention - the same ones suggested by the academics and dismissed by Mr Tsang. Without these, Hong Kong's exchange reserves would have been exhausted within one more week.

Now, there is the West Kowloon hub. Mr Tsang insisted on an ostentatious canopy as an "icon" for a city that had "arrived". He insisted on a single-developer approach, and went from a design concept by Lord Foster to actual development, all because he obviously thought he knew best.

All that is most alarming. When Lyndon B. Johnson inherited the US presidency after John F. Kennedy's assassination, he waxed lyrical about inheriting the "best and the brightest". They were urging him to escalate the war in Vietnam.

The "best" included Robert McNamara, a "whiz kid" who, as the president of Ford, took the legendary but near bankrupt car company to renewed glory. With him was national security adviser McGeorge Bundy, a former dean of Harvard, and first in his class at Yale. Johnson's mentor in Congress, Sam Rayburn, a legendary legislator from Texas, famously said: "Well, Lyndon, you may be right, and they may be every bit as intelligent as you say, but I'd feel a whole lot better about them if just one had run for sheriff once."

Johnson did not take the words seriously and led the country into perhaps its worst military and foreign-policy disaster.

There is every indication that Mr Tsang thinks very highly of himself and is not a good listener. Hong Kong may once again have to pay a price for that kind of leader.

Sin-ming Shaw is a visiting scholar at Columbia University. This is the fourth of a five-part weekly series on Hong Kong's economy and leadership

A good tax in service of democracy

South China Morning Post  |  Mar 3, 2005

By Sin-ming Shaw

On a normal day, only fools, tax-and-spend politicians or billionaires with a conscience seek higher taxes. But not every day is normal. Raising taxes can be good, and lowering taxes may be bad.

Under US President George W. Bush, taxes have been lowered while the country has runaway fiscal and current-account deficits. The US dollar has dived. A better policy would have been to keep president Bill Clinton's higher tax rates, plus add a new fuel tax to cut imports and reduce dependence on Middle East oil. Of course, Mr Bush has done neither.

Hong Kong is only just recovering from six years of recession - raising taxes here is a bad idea. There is, however, a strong case for a goods and services tax (GST) - provided that it is part of a tax reform which must include a cut in direct tax, from the current maximum of 15.5 per cent to, say, 8 per cent.

This is necessary to offset the economic drag of a new sales tax. It would also put a cap on government profligacy that took the administration's share in gross domestic product from 17 per cent in 1997 to 21 per cent last year. Under the reform, every working person must pay income tax.

The Tung administration knows that such a task is too daunting, but the next chief executive will have to tackle the issue. A leader who can summon the best in people could convince them that it is a good idea.

There are three important reasons for a GST. First, it will enable a future government to avoid being over-dependent on property sales and in that process influenced by the private interests of a handful of tycoon underwriters. That relationship is unhealthy for a free society. The government must get revenue from a new source.

Second, a GST introduces more equity. At present, the tax burden falls on a small number of people. Out of a labour force of 3.2 million, nearly 2 million (62 per cent) pay no direct tax. About 300,000 income-tax payers account for 80 per cent of the total tax revenue from the payroll. That is unfair.

Many object to the regressive nature of a GST because the poorer classes would pay more, as a proportion of their earnings, than high-salary earners. This is true, and therefore, we should limit the GST to a less onerous 1-1.5 per cent.

Third, a tax regime that makes every citizen pay into a common "pot" also makes that person aware that everyone has a stake in how the money is spent, and by extension, how the government is run. This would effectively lay a more solid foundation for democracy. Everyone would become far more concerned with public affairs and, out of that concern, future leaders are born. Those unhappy with the way their hard-earned dollars are spent may wish to get elected to kick out those in power.

The people who always say that Hong Kong is not ready for democracy should be pushing for an overhauled tax regime, and should trust the public to vote for its own interests. The end result will be more stability, less chaos. That is what democracy is about.

Sin-ming Shaw is a visiting scholar at Columbia University. This is the third of a five-part weekly series on Hong Kong's economy and leadership