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March 5, 2018
Unsettling news has emerged from China. The country’s leader, Xi Jinping, changed China’s constitution. This will firm up his hold on near absolute power. It lets him stay in office for life. The country has also imposed some bizarre new forms of censorship on citizens. So The Stream decided to interview the leading American, Christian expert on China, Steven Mosher. He is author of the powerful new book on that country, Bully of Asia.
You’ve read the strange, alarming story about the latest changes in China. Before we get into the important stuff, what’s with banning the letter “n”?
Stephen Mosher: China’s internet censors are becoming more aggressive by the day. For example, the Winnie the Pooh meme is banned in China. Why? Because Xi Jinping’s stout figure bears a passing resemblance to the portly bear. It’s used to mock him.
But why in the world ban the letter “N”? The answer lies in Chinese algebra. The letter “N” represents an unknown variable. Where we in West use “X,” the Chinese use “N.” When the Chinese Communist Party secretly eliminated the two-term limit for president, the equation “N = ?” (N equals what?) became popular overnight. It meant, “How many terms is Xi Jinping going to serve?” The censors were not happy.
The Chinese people could not be allowed to directly criticize President Xi’s plan to stay in power forever. Not even indirectly by sending the letter “N” to each other. That subtly suggests that they oppose an indefinite number of five-year terms for Xi. The ever-alert censors quickly banned the letter “N” from all electronic communications.
No criticism of the new Red Emperor, however subtle, is allowed.
Dictator for Life
In your book, Bully of Asia, you talked about Xi Jinping. Especially his efforts to consolidate his one-man, strongman rule. Can you recount these latest developments in light of what they mean?
In today’s China, Xi Jinping is Mr. Everything. President is the least of his titles. He is also the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. And, most importantly, the Chairman of the Central Military Commission. He often puts on a military uniform. He struts around as Generalissimo Xi, directly overseeing military maneuvers.
Xi is now, I would argue, as powerful as the late Chairman Mao Zedong at his height. President Xi has even moved into Mao’s old palace in the Zhongnanhai leadership compound. This had been converted into a museum upon Mao’s death in 1976. The message is unmistakable.
The Secret History of China
Perhaps the most surprising thing about your book for me was its deep look at the dark side of Chinese political culture. We absorbed a very different picture of China in school. We learned its ancient history and some amazing cultural achievements. (Like the invention of printing and gunpowder.) Apart from that, what we were taught about China was that it was a victim. First of Western colonialism. The Opium Wars. Then its carving up by a number of Western powers. And the Boxer Rebellion.
Then the heroic experiment of Sun Yat-Sen in trying to found a modern democracy. But the Chinese were victims again, of the brutal Japanese. When the Japanese finally left, the Chinese were victimized again by the Communists. They imported a brutal, Western ideology that had already killed millions in Russia. It went on to kills many millions more in China. You paint a very different picture of China’s relations to the outside world and its neighbors. Can you give us a capsule history, please?
Until about 1820, the Chinese Empire had the largest military, the largest population, and the largest economy in the world. The past 200 years have been an anomaly. In the course of its long history the Chinese imperium has much more often been victimizer of the peoples around its periphery than victim. It started out on the North China Plain hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. The Chinese empire spread east and south, absorbing by military conquest dozens of peoples in the process.
China long ago produced its own high civilization, which it imagined surpassed anything the rest of the world had to offer. It thought that, by reason of its superior culture, it deserved universal deference and submission. That’s why the reign of a Chinese emperor was theoretically infinite, spanning the entire globe. In fact, the Chinese empire justified its constant wars of expansion on the grounds that China owed a duty to bring civilization to the lessor peoples around its periphery. The oriental version of the White Man’s Burden. But predating it by thousands of years.
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We mostly learn about the beauty of Confucian philosophy. But you show how it was subverted centuries ago. Co-opted by the “Legalist” apologists for autocracy. Can you explain that, please? Were they forerunners of Machiavelli and modern totalitarianism?
Underneath the silken costume of Confucianism lies the iron framework of Legalism. That’s a brutal bureaucratic totalitarian system of government “Made in China.” As I write in Bully of Asia:
China long ago invented totalitarianism — the total subjugation of the individual to the state — and still practices this kind of all-embracing political tyranny today…. China’s leaders conclude from their long centuries of regional hegemony that they have a natural right to once again bestride the region, and they narcissistically “dream” of a world under their hegemony.
All of the things we associate with “modern” Marxist-Leninism, from a secret police and political commissars in the military, to state ownership of the means of production and a rigorously enforced state ideology. … All were found in China over 2,000 years ago. Sadly, they are still found in China today, in even more exaggerated form. The more China changes, the more it remains the same.
The Chinese people, yesterday and today, have been just as victimized by China’s system of governance as China’s neighbors.
Is It Still Even Communist?
To what degree is what we see in China still Communism? Or a new kind of dictatorship drawing on native traditions?
With every addition of “thought” to the political theory unpinning CCP rule, the PRC becomes less and less Communist and more and more Chinese. From Mao Zedong to Deng Xiaoping, to Jiang Zemin’s “Three Represents” to Hu Jintao’s “Harmonious Socialist Society,” and now to Xi Jinping’s “Thought.” China, in other words, is reverting to type.
The official ideology is no longer Communism. It’s “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” The Chinese characteristics in question? An exaggerated view of the superiority of Chinese culture, of China’s history, of the Chinese race as a corporate body, and the Chinese state itself. Taken as a whole it can be best summarized not as a Communist system, but as a National Socialist one. What we are dealing with, like it or not, is a Chinese version of fascism.
China’s Growing Military
Please talk about the military threat China poses to the U.S.
China maintains ongoing double-digit increases in military spending. Combine that with its ongoing cybertheft of the plans for various U.S. weapons systems. All that enabled it to become a near-peer competitor with the United States in a record amount of time. We spend a billion dollars developing the F-35 fighter. Then China pilfers the plans and produces a knock-off version for a fraction of the research and development cost.
Unless and until we can can stop China’s ongoing cyberwar, we will continue to “gift” China with new weapons systems paid for by U.S. taxpayers.
The Chinese empire justified its constant wars of expansion on the grounds that China owed a duty to bring civilization to the lessor peoples around its periphery. The oriental version of the White Man’s Burden. But predating it by thousands of years.
The Bully of Asia, like all bullies, will continue to bully us as long as China’s leaders think they can get away with it.
An Economic Siege of the United States
How has China waged economic war against us?
Richard Nixon himself worried that he was “creating a monster.” But he decided to play the China card against the Soviet Union in the Seventies. He opened American markets to Chinese goods. He fostered the free flow of capital and technology to backward China. All that enabled Beijing to develop its economy at a double-digit pace.
Allowing China into the World Trade Organization ranks as one of the greatest strategic blunders made by any great power in human history. We aided and abetted a hostile foreign power’s rise to geopolitical ascendance. That ascendance now threatens America itself.
The Chinese Communist Party does not operate in good faith in trade arrangements. Or in anything else, for that matter.
China had no intention of playing by the rules of the WTO. Nor by the rules of the existing world order, for that matter. In the view of Chinese strategists, all warfare — including economic warfare — is deception. Rules are for fools. The world is an anarchic system in which he who has the most force will ultimately win. Operating on these Machiavellian principles, China pretended to be a weak developing country in order to get favorable terms in the World Trade Organization. Then, as soon as they were admitted, promptly broke all the rules they had just agreed to. Beijing has been behaving in predatory fashion ever since.
By now, it is abundantly clear to nearly everyone — except perhaps former President Barack Obama — that China cheats on agreements and ignores international law. It has unilaterally terminated its deal with Great Britain on Hong Kong. It has rejected the International Tribunal at the Hague’s ruling condemning China’s illegal islands in the South China Sea. Despite repeatedly promising to stop stealing U.S. intellectual property, China makes off with about $600 billion in U.S. intellectual property every year, according to the FBI.
Totalitarianism of the Womb
I met you back in 1988, at the New Orleans meeting of Human Life International. You weren’t that long back from China. What did you find there? How did China try to cover it up?
I was the first American social scientist allowed into China in 1979-80. What I found there were horrifying human rights violations being carried out in the name of curbing China’s “population problem.” During my time in China, the one-child policy began. Pregnant women were rounded up by the millions and forced to undergo abortions and subsequent sterilizations.
I was present in the operating room. People’s Liberation Army doctors operated on women who were 7, 8, and even 9 months pregnant. They first administered lethal injections to kill their unborn children. Then they performed Caesarean sections to remove the now dead or dying babies. The women were, of course, heartbroken. Some went on to end their own lives in protest.
China’s “Planned Birth” program continues today. Couples get told by the state how many children they can have. They were originally allowed to have one child. Now they are permitted to have two. Women who become pregnant before marriage, and women who become pregnant with a third child, however, are still routinely aborted.
China’s War on the Churches
Finally, can you please comment on the future of Christianity in China? How has the Holy See’s decision to ally with the Communist party and abandon the underground churches affect Chinese believers in future? Will the Protestant churches be the only ones with credibility?
China is persecuting Christians and tearing down churches. Why? For many reasons. The CCP is officially, militantly atheistic. Corrupt officials are motivated by greed to seize church land. And Xi Jinping is determined to crush any and all resistance to his rule.
But the primary reason that Christians are being targeted? The religion of China is China. Christians, especially Catholics, stand suspect as having divided loyalties.
This is why China, under Xi Jinping’s dictatorial rule, is becoming more and more hostile to religious belief and expression. At last October’s Party Congress, Xi demanded tighter controls over religious activity. He insisted that the party “exercise overall leadership over all areas of endeavor in every part of the country.”
New regulations banning unauthorized religious activity appeared on February 1. According to a priest of the Underground Church, the new rules state that
all religious sites must be registered, no religious activities can be held beyond registered venues, non-registered clergymen are forbidden to host religious liturgies, and that minors and party members are forbidden from entering churches.… The living space for the Church is getting less and less.
I hope that the Vatican pulls out of its negotiations with a China that is quickly reverting to Maoist type. If the Underground Church is forced into the embrace of the Chinese Communist Party. … It will be slowly strangled to death.