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Comments (34)

Nov 30, 2021 - 10:55pm

I've enjoyed this site for years and have enjoyed actively posting recently and engaging in open discussions.

I wouldn't think that the leadership here would bow down to China but if so it just goes to show how powerful China is. The amount of influence they have is scary

Nov 30, 2021 - 10:58pm

I'm mostly just joking. Patrick took down a post of mine last week for being too political and it was about one-tenth as political as the China post. I think that he's trying to curb the out of control discussions across the board. Understandable as it does draw away from the site at times but other times, it is really great. So hard to say.

Nov 30, 2021 - 11:00pm

Bro no need to go from 0 to full on Qanon, I've definitely noticed political posts in general have been getting cleaned up. For better or for worse (personally I think for better because the quality on WSO dropped off when there were so many posts on politics) WSO's been trying to clean up the site of trolls or people trying to post inflamatory political takes (like that one guy who just posts a bunch of troll racist stuff IloveWaspybroads or something).

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Nov 30, 2021 - 11:01pm

Managed to save it, credit to whoever the OP was.

To offer some context, I'm Singaporean and split my career between Singapore, HK, and Beijing.

China right now is undergoing an extremely transformative moment. From a foreign policy point of view, the current Politburo has believed for the past few years that China is ready to take on the role of being a prominent superpower in an increasingly multi-polar world and is "strong enough" to break out of the current US-led world order. This has been a debate in China for decades. Quite famously, Deng Xiaoping stated decades ago "Hid your strength, bide your time, never take the lead," as back then, China was incredibly weak and Deng quite believed that China would have to act in a second-string role to the Soviet Union and the United States, and remain relatively non-aligned on the world stage, in order for China to develop without facing either side's wrath. Deng believed that in order for China to economically develop and become stronger, China would have to turn the other cheek when slapped, and could not risk retaliation. Since the mid-2000s or so there's been an increasing division among Chinese politicians about whether or not China is ready to go its own way and establish itself as a true superpower on the world stage, and quite ironically the Trump administration gave the win firmly to the more hawkish side. The Trump organization's trade war on China gave a lot of political ammunition to the hawks, as it confirmed what they believed that China would have to break out of the US-world order, or else the US would try to quash China, much like what happened to Japan in the mid to late 1980s, and the "doves" in the government were largely sidelined. And over the past few years, you've seen this. China is now moving ahead of being more self-reliant from the United States with Made in China 2025, and has invested massive amounts into areas of technology in which China traditionally relied on the US or US allies. China has also been more active on the world stage with the Belt and Road initiative, and has strengthened relationships with traditional US allies like Saudi Arabia, Israel, the UAE. China's border disputes are all different stories, but China's ongoing cross-straight crisis has by far been China's most important one in the past 70 years. China's had the same stance and red line on the issue since 1949, but the issue has been accelerated and is more prominent than ever because the DPP in Taiwan has increasingly been taking a separatist stance, which is increasingly in contrast of the 1992 Consensus that China and the then-ruling KMT agreed on which helped defuse tensions for a while back then. China's official position has always been reunification, but its definitely even more emphasized now, as shown with China giving an official deadline of reunification by 2049, as (1) On the mainland, nationalism and reunification sentiment is higher than ever, and (2) China believes that it has the military capabilities to do so now, even if the US and its allies intervene. On the Indian front, the border dispute will continue to be a clusterfuck. China has shown that it is willing to give up its claims on Arunachal Pradesh, but for strategic reasons China will never give up its claims on Ladakh, which India won't budge on either because that would be political suicide for the Indian government. The SCS disputes will never be solved as its an absolute mess between 5 or 6 countries, each with overlapping claims.

On the domestic front, China is also on a pivotal moment, and their direction is actually not that surprising or unexpected if you follow Chinese politics. The Politburo and Central Committee have looked to reign in the "Deng Xiaoping era" of a market economy since the second half of Hu Jintao's reign, as unchecked inequality has been more and more of a problem. However, Chairman Hu couldn't do much, as he simply didn't have the political capital or support (the business community in China has a lot of political influence, just like the business lobby in America). And then came Xi. Xi took unprecedented action at the very start of his tenure as the leader through the "Tiger and Flies" program, which earned him massive goodwill among the common people, who were tired of political corruption, and removed a lot of most pro-business politicians (who were often found taking bribes from companies). That move gave Xi a lot of political capital to do what Hu couldn't.

To understand where China is going, you have to know about about the two Wangs, Wang Huning, and Wang Qishan.

Wang Huning has arguably been the most influential Chinese leader in the past 20 years. From 2002 till 2020, he was the Director of the Central Policy Research Office, perhaps the most important office in the Party, and since 2020 he's been promoted to a First Secretary as well as the director of the Central Commission on Building Spiritual Civilization (this will be important later on in the discussion). For much of the second half of Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao, and Xi Jinping's tenure as leader, Wang Huning has been the architect of major policy moves (including all of the major recent ones, such as "Common Prosperity", "Chinese Dream", as well as "Xi Jinping Thought".

For much of his career in academia before politics, Wang Huning was actually a classical liberal who admired the West. In 1989, Wang Huning spent six months in America as a visiting scholar, and came back completely turned off from western liberal democracy. He wrote his observations in the book America against America, which I highly recommend a read, as you'll probably draw a lot of tangents with American society today from those observations. Essentially, since then, Wang Huning has been a major advocate of controlling the excessive amounts of inequality in Chinese society, which he believed would eventually tear the country apart. Wang found an ideological counterpart in Xi, and since then Wang and Xi have heavily been focused on inequality and poverty reduction, especially in terms of developing the less developed regions (nowadays the wealthier provinces are expected to help subsidize the less developed provinces and chip on "equalizing" the country).

Back to Wang's other role as director of the Central Commission on Building Spiritual Civilization. In his trip to America, Wang noticed that the consumerism of American society was corrupting the very bones of American culture. As China economically developed, China culturally definitely became more similar to the West, and he believed that in order to stop Chinese society from reaching the level of individualistic, hedonistic nihilism that he believed American culture has become, which he thought would tear the Chinese society and civilization apart, China should culturally re-embrace a mix of communitarian and Confucian values. Once again, you should definitely read America against America, which shows Wang Huning's thoughts a bit more. Overall, this largely provides some background to China's pivot towards "Common Prosperity", or state-controlled Socialism, from market-era reforms. You see China's government encouraging companies like Tencent to re-invest their earnings into the community, a crackdown on extravagant spending and ostentatious consumerism, etc. You also see the government cracking down on speculation in the real estate market in favor of more affordable housing, and even a pivot in some cities towards a Singaporean-styled state-owned housing (I believe Shenzhen's government set a goal to house 60% of its population in state-owned housing).

Similarly, on the cultural front, you also see the government actually enacting stricter consumer protection and labor laws (to get rid of 996 culture), reducing the amount of homework and the studying culture for kids, cracking down on video games in favor of real-world interaction, reducing celebrity culture, etc.

Onto the other Wang, Wang Qishan. Wang Qishan is one of Xi Jinping's closest allies in the government, and is commonly known as Xi's "fixer", as he has a history of being able to tackle some of the toughest challenges during his time in the Guangdong and Beijing government as well as back when he was Vice Governor of China Construction Bank. The government's been concerned about risk in China's economy and financial system for a while, and Wang's been tasked with reducing risk. Since 2015, he's led the government's deleveraging initiative, and he's also cracked down on other areas of financial risk (crypto, Ant, etc).

Sorry as this wasn't very organized, as I was just writing down some of my brief thoughts, but overall tldr The Chinese government believes that China's at a pivotal moment both internationally and domestically. Internationally, the government believes that China's ready to truly step into the role as a superpower in a multi-polar world and challenge the US-led order. Domestically, the government believes China's society is at a tipping point, and they've been making large corrections to avoid China's economy and society into looking like America's towards a more collectivist and I guess somewhat communistic society, and is largely bringing an end to the "Deng Xiaoping era". We are seeing the beginning of the "Xi Jinping era", defined by a more pronounced foreign policy, as well as a pivot of internal policy from "Get rich quick" to "Common Prosperity" and "Rejuvenation of the Chinese civilization". It's too soon to tell if Xi's ambitions will pay off.

Also, just to add, no, Xi isn't some maniacal dictator that everyone is labeling him to be. His removal of term limits for President was completely overblown. The Presidential title has historically been ceremonial in Chinese politics (Deng Xiaoping in fact never held the title despite being probably the most powerful leader in modern Chinese history), while the other two titles that are commonly held by the "paramount leader" (Chairman of CMC and Party Chairman) have no term limits, so Xi was essentially modernizing the Chinese political system by making the titles actually align. For what it's worth, the only Chinese "paramount leader" to have served as "paramount leader"  in accordance to the supposed 10-year limit is Hu Jintao, and even he didn't really as he was in this weird power-sharing dynamic with Jiang Zemin from 2002 to 2004. Personally, I believe that Xi won't step down in 2023, but will step down in 2028. The reason? Simply because I believe that the Politburo currently believes that China needs stability in leadership and course right now in such a pivotal moment when China is truly challenging America on the world stage and reshaping internal society, and Xi's pivot hasn't finished. By 2028, I think the foundations for the "Xi Jinping Era" will have truly replaced the "Deng Xiaoping Era" and Xi will give way to the next generation of leaders who build on his administration's foundations, much like how Jiang and Hu built on Deng's foundations.

Nov 30, 2021 - 11:30pm

Incredibly good read. I know nothing about China. Always want to learn more.

My Brother. My Captain. My King.
Nov 30, 2021 - 11:38pm

You might be surprised to know that as a Chinese, I often find my knowledge about China lacking because it's such a big place. It's like you've lived in NYC downtown Manhattan your whole life and then you talk to people living in Wyoming or Vermont. I've traveled over 10 countries and ~half of provinces in China, but that statement still holds. 

Dec 1, 2021 - 12:01am

if you're a history and political nut like me, here are some decent reads that I can recommend for an introduction:

Politics

China's Political System by Sebastian Heilmann: done by some German think-tank, offers a pretty good overview of China's political structure.

The Search for Modern China by Jonathan Spence: A must-read, provides a concise history of the past 300 years of China that provides quite a lot of context for modern China's foreign policy and domestic policy views.

America against America by Wang Huning: Basically a journal of the leading political theorist in Chinese government. Offers great insight into how some of the top Chinese politicians see American society.

The Governance of China by Xi Jinping: 3-volume collection of Xi Jinping speeches that obviously offer some insight into Xi and the current Politburo's ideology. Nothing breathtaking though as its essentially just a collection of speeches, but still may be pretty insightful if you know nothing about current Chinese politics.

How Asia Works by Joe Studwell: Obviously not just focused on China, but China's obviously an important part of Asia, so this book still provides some good insight on the region.

Haunted by Chaos: China's Grand Strategy from Mao Zedong to Xi Jinping by Sulmaan Wasif Khan: I normally don't like books that seek to pontificate and lead towards a pre-determined conclusion, but it's still a decent book on China's grand strategy.

Culture

A Short History of Chinese Philosophy by Fung Yu-Lan: Just a primer on the most important philosophical movements in Chinese history

My Country and My People by Lin Yutang: China's culturally changed a lot over the 80 years since this book was written, but scrape away the surface and you'll still see much of what this book describes in Chinese people today.

There are some other books, but I'm assuming you don't read Chinese and their English translations are garbage. A lot of books, written in a prose-like or poetic fashion, are very tough to translate into English, and their translations lose much of the meaning.

History

The Cambridge History of China: Probably the best and most comprehensive English book series on Chinese history. There's something like 20 volumes, each like 800 pages, so it's very heavy reading, but a must if you're interested in Chinese history. The series was written over like 150 years, and the next volume is still being written as the series hasn't caught up to modern China yet. Seriously impressive work.

China: A History by John Keay: The Sparknotes version of Chinese history. It's far from comprehensive and not the best book on Chinese history, but it provides a great overview of Chinese history in a short 500 pages. Would recommend if you don't have the will or time to read the Cambridge History series.

How China escaped the Poverty Trap by Yuen Yuen Ang: A pretty good work on the recent economic history and development of China.

Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China by Ezra Vogel: Obviously to understand China today you have to understand Deng, and this book is probably the best English biography on him. Obviously Deng-centric but still a solid read.

Dec 1, 2021 - 12:11am

We're really having someone suggest Winnie the Pooh speeches on this forum?   What has this forum come to?

This week it came out that Xi himself ordered the sterilizations, concentration camps, and forced cotton picking.  Not that anyone was surprised, but still.

Dec 1, 2021 - 12:15am

Ah yes, reading someone's speeches is obviously an ineffective way to learn about his ideology. Especially when he's a head of state and you want to learn about said state's current politics.

Jeezus Christ, this would explain why you probably voted for Biden, you probably avoided all of his speeches and talks on his political positions.

Dec 1, 2021 - 1:57am

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