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Relentless transformations

Published on 23 October 2013
Updated on 05 April 2024


(a home-brewed China primer)

The second phase of my early reading dates to my high school years, when I began to read poisonous weed. Some books had somehow managed to escape the bonfires- spirited away, perhaps, by true literature lovers – and these fortunate survivors began surreptitiously to circulate among us. Every one of these books must have passed through the hands of a thousand people or more before they reached me, and so they were in a terrible state of disrepair, with easily a dozen or more pages missing from the beginning and the same number missing at the end. So I knew neither the books’ titles nor their authors, neither how the stories began nor how they ended.

China in Ten words

YU Hua

Caixin Online – an online newspaper from China – recently published a rogue gallery of Party officials put under investigation for wrongdoing in the last year or so.[1] Here is the list. The list is not complete – just exemplary.

LI Chuncheng

Deputy Secretary CCP


YI Junqing

Director, Central Compilation and Translation Bureau

LIU Tienan

Deputy Director, National development and Reform Commission


Minister United Front Work Department

Inner Mongolia

GUO Yongxiang

Sichuan Literary Federation President and Vice-Governor


NI Fake



LEE Daqiu

Vice Chairman CPPCC

Guanxi Zhuang AR

JIANG Jiemin

Director SASAC

WANG Jonchun

Vice President CNPC

JI Jianye

Mayor, Nanjing

In most instances, the CCP dealt swiftly with the cases: and expelled the accused. The proceedings were secret. Criminal prosecution may follow.

This “two tier” approach is not unknown in the West. The Catholic Church has always insisted on “extra-territoriality” – its right to deal with misconduct of its members within its own system first, leaving secular justice to pick up the pieces, if any. Secrecy is also much part of this self-regarding system.

China is what it is. We have to be here or nowhere.”

George OSBORNE, Chancellor of the Exchequer

China no longer is a gerontocracy – “the Leadership” has replaced the ”Leader.” Last year, the “fifth generation” leadership took over – we may contrast this smooth transition with some Western politicians hanging on to power until they keel over, or their own Party stabs them in the back.

Economic development is clearly the way forward. At the same time, China’s leader XI Jinping, in a secret Memo referred to as Document No. 9 argues: “Power could escape the grip of the CCP, unless the party eradicates seven subversive currents coursing through Chinese society. These seven are “Western constitutional democracy”; others included promoting “universal values” of human rights, Western-inspired notions of media independence and civic participation, ardently pro-market “neo-liberalism,” and “nihilist” criticisms of the party’s traumatic past.

“Even as Mr. Xi has sought to prepare some reforms to expose China’s economy to stronger market forces, he has undertaken a “mass line” campaign to enforce party authority that goes beyond the party’s periodic calls for discipline. The internal warnings to cadres show that Mr. Xi’s confident public face has been accompanied by fears that the party is vulnerable to an economic slowdown, public anger about corruption and challenges from liberals impatient for political change.”[2]

The Manchu, descendants of the Jurchen people, conquered China in 1644. The Qing dynasty strove to rule by assimilation while maintaining their original identity. Emperor Kangxi published in 1670 the “Sacred Edict” – sixteen maxims that were designed to be a summation of Confucian moral values. They emphasized hierarchical submission in social relations, generosity, obedience, thrift, and hard work.[3] At the same time, Kangxi carried out ceremonies at the Manchu shamanic temples in Beijing and promoted Manchu to high office.

In a sense, the CCP is akin to the Manchu – striving for its legitimacy in a country with over 2’000 years of statehood. Though ethnically Chinese, their underlying ideology is just as foreign as that of the Jurchen.

On the economic front: “What’s received far less attention is the rise of the Chinese yuan to a 20-year high versus the U.S. dollar. That is big news, comparable to the U.S. debt ceiling resolution. And it may have a hugely beneficial impact not only on China, but the rest of the world. China knows that it needs to re-balance its economy, which has been over-reliant on exports at the expense of consumption. A stronger currency promotes consumption as it allows the Chinese to import cheaper foreign goods.”[4]


Will the Chinese buy up all the luxury goods of the world? Maybe, but one seems to be off the list: shark fin soup. “People said it was impossible to change China, but the evidence we are now getting says consumption of shark fin soup in China is down by 50 to 70 percent in the last two years. Thanks to a former NBA star, a coalition of Chinese business leaders, celebrities and students, and some unlikely investigative journalism, eating shark fin soup is no longer fashionable here. But what really tipped the balance was a government campaign against extravagance that has seen the soup banned from official banquets.”[5]



(55th hexagram – Book of changes)

Abundance has success

The king attains abundance.

Be not sad.

Be like the sun at midday.

And an ancient commentary opines: “When the sun stands at midday, it begins to set; when the moon is full, it begins to wane. The fullness and emptiness of heaven and earth wane and wax in the course of time. How much true is this of men, of spirits, and Gods![6]

[1] https://bit.ly/19UsegN

[3] Jonathan D. SPENCE (1990): The search for modern China. Norton, New York; (Pg. 60)

[6] Jonathan D. SPENCE (1990): The search for modern China. Norton, New York; (Pg. 101)

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