There’s been much made of late of the notion that we are living in ‘filter bubbles‘. One such bubble which most of us inhabit without especially considering it, is existing almost entirely amongst people who believe that free and fair elections are the right way to determine who leads a country.
That makes the video an interesting commodity. I’m not entirely sure what it is but it appears to be journalists who are members of the Chinese Communist Party explaining their allegiance. It was tweeted out by the English language account of the main state backed news agency, and uses English subtitles and speakers. This leads me to believe that this is in essence, the Communist Party explaining itself to the kind of person who watches TED talks.
What’s worth noting about the video and the rationales it presents?
1. Note the rather antiseptic feel. There is little in the style to distinguish it from something produced by a mainstream western political party or, for that matter, a management consultancy’s recruitment video. It is professional but not terribly inspiring. which basically China’s attempts to build global soft-power in microcosm.
2. The strident nationalism that would probably feature prominently in most messages aimed at a domestic Chinese audience are largely absent. There is no wallowing in the injustices done to China by outside powers and the consequent requirement to restore its dignity. That would disrupt the video’s upbeat and inoffensive tone. One of the journalist does talk about Chinese culture being distinct but leaves it there. He does not go onto to suggest it is superior.
3. What it does dwell on at great length is China’s impressive economic performance. That goes with the rather corporate presentation. Indeed, at one point the story of the Party is even told as if it were a start-up.that achieved spectacular growth.
4. The somewhat aggrieved tone at the beginning provides further proof that everyone thinks they are discriminated against: even members of an organisation with a legal monopoly on power in the world’s largest country.
5. The speakers willingness to see a lineage between elements of China’s pre-modern past like confucianism is striking, given that the during the Cultural Revolution, the Party propogated the slogan: “destroy old things“.
6. There are slightly weak gestures towards pluralism. ‘Tolerance’ and ‘openess’ get mentioned a couple of times. But the most concrete it gets in justifying this is mentioning that ‘you don’t have to join the party’. Which is true but merely demonstrates that China has a state that’s authoritarian rather than totalitarian.
7. We do have to take these arguments seriously but we should not mistake them for good arguments. The Party’s mission is not to pursue an ideological agenda: there’s precious little consistency between today’s CCP and Mao’s. Rather if it has a purpose, it is now to keep itself in power.
It is not uniquely capable of producing economic growth. China remains poorer than not only the western democracies but also countries like Thailand, South Korea and, crucially, Taiwan.
China’s recent growth spurt is in a large part its recovery from the damage done to it by the CCP. In the early years of its rule, the Party pursued terrible economic policies. One of the communist journalists in the video explains that her grandmother still always keeps a bag of flour at home, because she is still haunted by the famines amongst which she grew up. This is supposed to be an illustration of the the strides China has taken under the party’s rule. However, it should really be a reminder of the damage it did to the country. During Mao’s ‘Great Leap Forward’ food shortages killed more Chinese than the Japanese invasion did and wrecked the economy. That left China well behind the rest of the world, and the speedy development of its economy since the Deng Xiaoping era is progress delayed not progress delivered.
We must be aware of the arguments for autocracy but we should not be seduced by them.