APEC blue paranoia

Suddenly occurred to me that the point of creating APEC blue (APEC蓝) in Beijing is not to give foreigners clear blue skies, but to demonstrate the Party’s superpowers — controlling the weather and people with a single policy decision. I can hear Xi Jinping and evil crew cackling (a la Jiang Zemin), “too young, too simple ha ha ha.” I see them in in black suped-up super up suits, rubbing their hands gleefully as they zoom about the underground tunnels that connect Zhongnanhai to the airport, the Great Hall of the People, and their secret policy laboratories. They need a Marvel tv comic book tv series. In the meantime, however, they already have their own APEC Blue entry on Baidu. I know. Feeling me some paranoia.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=iSIMifYRhnw

 

yan’an by way of frankfurt

Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer’s 1944 essay The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception helps us think through the idea that capitalism in the West functions like socialism in China. The point, of course, is the attempt to control social processes to benefit a few, whether they be investors (as in the States) or cadres (as in China).

In the quote below, for example, I have replaced “consumer” with “the People (人民)” and “producers” with “cadres”. Note that as with the critique of censorship in China, Adorno and Horkheimer’s critique of the Western cultural industry focuses on the enforced passivity of the intended audience. Note also that A&H lament the fact that the cultural industry has coopted enlightment to its own ends. Similarly, the critique of cultural production in contemporary China emphasizes how the progressive ideal of liberating workers, peasents, and soldiers has been subordinated to maintaining Party hegemony:

There is nothing left for the consumer People to classify. Producers Cadres have done it for him. Art for the masses has destroyed the dream but still conforms to the tenets of that dreaming idealism which critical idealism socialism baulked at.

The result of systematically subordinating human creativity to monolithic ends (profit in the West and political power in China) results in boring, predictable literature and art:

Not only are the hit songs, stars, and soap operas cyclically recurrent and rigidly invariable types, but the specific content of the entertainment itself is derived from them and only appears to change. The details are interchangeable. The short interval sequence which was effective in a hit song, the hero’s momentary fall from grace (which he accepts as good sport), the rough treatment which the beloved gets from the male star, the latter’s rugged defiance of the spoilt heiress, are, like all the other details, ready-made clichés to be slotted in anywhere; they never do anything more than fulfil the purpose allotted them in the overall plan.

Adorno and Horkheimer assumed that the extent to which art and literature liberate or nourish or enhance a human life pivots on the the extent to which an individual actively participates in the realization of a work. They followed Kant in understanding that this participation is rational; the work of appreciation is to classify and organize aesthetic experience, creating a critical consciousness. In the Talks at the Yan’an Forum on Literature and Art (在延安文藝座談會上的講話), Mao Zedong also posited a beneficial kind of aesthetic engagement, albeit revolutionary rather than critical because he followed Marx. For Mao, socialist art and literature would facilitate the mental work of transforming one’s half-feudal, half-colonial consciousness into revolutionary consciousness.

I’m actually an advocate of both critical and revolutionary consciousnesses, especially when used to hone each other. Today, however, I’m wondering how it is that human societies end up in these painful and painfully similar cultural ruts. In other words: what’s the generalized (or mass) appeal of repeated bouts of boredom? Indeed, maybe what’s at stake isn’t boredom, but rather our anxiety about the fact that true repetition is impossible. In other words, what if we’d rather be bored than confront the irrefutable freshness of every moment? To the extent that we can’t step in the same river twice, it follows that we can’t watch the same movie model opera twice.

Thought du jour: when Mickey Mouse stepped through the looking glass, he found himself among a Red Brigade of Women, who were applying to study in the United States, where they might realize their Chinese dreams.

party melodrama as prelude to the 18th national people’s congress

Shenzhen friends have been speculating about the political-economic shifts we will see as a result of the 18th National People’s Congress. The latest scandal involves Politboro Standing Committee hopeful Bo Xilai (薄熙来) and his henchman slash vice Mayor slash Chief of Police, Wang Lijun (王立军).

The scandal and source of gossip: Wang Lijun visited the US Consulate. The Chongqing military policy surrounded the Consulate, demanding the US to handover Wang Lijun. Beijing sent Qiu Jin, vice Minister of National Security. 24 hours after entering, Wang Lijun “willingly” left the US consulate with Qiu Jin. Subsequently, Bo Xilai went to Kunming for unknown reasons.

I have been trying to understand what’s at stake, why the fallout, and how to read between the lines. This is what I’ve gathered; some of the gossip may even be reliable.

The dramatic background of the Bo Xilai scandal is the fight to become a member of the Politboro Standing Committee, which is a recognized springboard for becoming President and Premier, positions one and two in China. Bo Xilai is one of the more prominent and/or notorious members of China’s Princeling Party (太子党), the generation of Party leaders who have come to power because of their powerful parents. Bo Xilai’s father, Bo Yibo was one of the “eight immortals” of the Deng era Communist Party. The Princelings are in the news because China’s next leader Xi Jinping, son of Communist veteran, Xi Zhongxun is also a Princeling.

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Thoughts on certain questions since Maoism was overturned…

The “Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party since the Founding of the People’s Republic of China《关于建国以来党的若干历史问题的决议》” was a key document in the political re-evaluation of Maoism and subsequent reforms. On Aug. 27, 2011 in Beijing, a group of influential scholars, political scientists, lawyers, and journalists convened to talk about questions still facing the Party. And yes, I found out about the Beijing meeting as I find out about most political and social events in China – text messages and weibo. Below, I have translated a selection of quotable quotes from a circulating collection of quotations from the meeting. The key message remains – ask not what you can do for the economy, but what the economy should be doing for all of us… 

It is not easy to deny the influence of Reform and Opening, it is possible to broaden democracy within the Party and to have a constitutional government under Party rule – Ma Licheng (马立诚) Continue reading