I just read on we chat that all of the new history text books that were issued this semester were recalled without explanation. This was interpreted to mean that criticism of changing references to the Cultural Revolution as “the ten years of catastrophe (十年浩劫) to the ten years of “difficult exploration (艰幸探索)” had successfully pushed back Xi Jinping’s attempt to revise history. At any rate, students were told to go borrow copies of last year’s history books, while the new books are recooked.
So there actually is an office dedicated to “sweeping away black and removing evil (扫黑除恶办)” office in the Shenzhen Government and they’re sending text messages to my phone. The program aims to forward the spirit of Xi Jinping’s vision for society. My problem is that I don’t actually know what groups and or behaviors the phrase “黑恶势力 (forces of dark evil?!)” refers to. On the face of it, it might be corruption, but then again, the full title of the program is “扫黑除恶专项斗争 (a special struggle to sweep away black and remove evil)” which, of course, gives rise to all sorts of CR alarm bells, especially because we’ve been given telephone numbers to report on the evil forces in our midst. But who are they? In the cartoon, for example, the target seem to be village heads and rooting out traditional alliances. According to Baidu, the project is targeting gangs and triads. And if this is in fact the case, what are they doing in my middle class neighborhood? Am I living next to gang members? So its hard not to feel that the program seems less about “using law to govern (依法治国)” than it does about the increasing militarization of society.
I’ve just returned from time in North Carolina and what have I learned? In addition to realizing that Donald Trump and Xi Jinping both have distinctive and easily mocked hairstyles, I also learned that ordinary US Americans are as worried about the trade war as are ordinary Chinese citizens. Indeed, in both countries I’ve been advised to invest my money “over there.” Chinese friends encourage me to take the money and run back to a US bank, while American friends tried to convince me to invest more in the Chinese stock market. In both Shenzhen and NC, there is a sense of frustration and defeat over the antics of leaders who are not leading, but rather seem to be wandering aimless instead of dealing with real problems and the well-being of ordinary people.
(cartoon from scmp editorial)
I’ve just realized that all of Xi Jinping’s announcements refer to deepening “reform (改革).” Here’s the thing. Shenzhen has been about reform and opening (改革开放). I know. Quibble, quibble. But. I suddenly realized I wasn’t paying enough attention to the words used. And this in a country where words are serious politics. We were warned about the aggressive closing down of ideological alternatives, but because my eyes glazed over (from propaganda overload) when I got to “reform” in announcements, I unconsciously supplied the “opening” as if we were doing more of the same.
For those who haven’t visited the Shekou Museum of Reform and Opening, it’s worth a trip if only to check out where the story begins. All stories of the Special Economic Zone begin with Deng Xiaoping, however, the historical problems that Deng Xiaoping is said to have solve differ from museum to museum. At the Shenzhen Museum of History, for example, Deng Xiaoping solves the historic problem of colonialism. In contrast, at the Shekou Museum of Reform and Opening, he solves the social problems that were caused by political mistakes–famine during the Great Leap Forward and relative poverty during the Cultural Revolution.
I have come to think of “theories” in Chinese political culture to function like guidelines to acceptable behavior. The difficulty for folks in Shenzhen arise from contradictions between extant theories and changing social condititions, or what might be called “double bind theory”; General Secretary Xi Jinping has tightened the space of critical thinking and debate, even as his government, especially Premier Li Keqiang is exhorting people to be creative. But there’s the rub; people need to take critical stances in order to create new solutions to entrenched problems and critical stances have been routinely discouraged throughout the Reform and Opening era, begging the question: can Shenzhen evolve from “suck it up theory” to creativity? Continue reading
While in Tianjin a friend said to me that she wanted to forward one of my posts about the Hong Kong protests to her WeChat circles, but was afraid of being “harmonized” (被和谐掉) — a euphemism meaning “to be arrested for political activism”, or as Orwell might have said, the crime of speaking one’s position. The expression ironically activates Xi Jinping’s relentless calls for social harmony through a return to Chinese values, that might be otherwise expressed as “shut up and do what you’re told” much as Lee Kwan Yew deployed Neo-Confucianism in his pursuit of a well
ordered managed Singapore. Continue reading