A Vision for China’s Future

Around the time of the 17th Party Conference in mid-October, Li Datong penned a couple optimistic articles, focusing on the possibilities for change based on which men would be put forward . It is sad that he did not do a follow-up article; only one by a foreigner was posted and really didn’t do much more than report what had happened and give a little background of the men promoted. Li Datong’s article on the re-emergence–or possible re-emergence–of the Communist Youth League was interesting but, for all that, a sidelight. Li Datong’s next article was a rather pessimistic if historically accurate look at the changes that haven’t happened down through the country’s history with each change in regime, the present one included.

Authors Can Xue and Mo Yan have had their hands slapped for saying something similar, that there’s no difference between this regime and the last (meaning the Qing Dynasty). Although I think Li Datong’s appraisal is, in the main, correct, I also think that his analysis is a little narrowed and inward in that it only looks backward at history and does not take into account the outside world happenings that China is so intimately involved in and, thereby, cannot escape suffering from.

With the (inevitable and oft-predicted) meltdown of neo-conservative economics and the US’s irresponsibility and me-first attitude, the worth of the dollar is falling and predictions are for another Great Depression, this time truly involving the whole world. As China holds billions of US dollars in reserve and has threatened to sell them off–who wants to buy?–China is going to be affected in no uncertain terms. It seems that the US is on a mission of self-destruction and is intending to take the world down with it, like a maniacal Samson after his hair’s grown back or a Poe character who will be damned if he’ll be the only one to suffer because of his peccadillo; for the US Congress is bent on imposing tariffs and sanctions on China for its, the US’s, debt indemnity, as if it’s China’s fault that the US’s buy-buy-buy consumerism, with its corporate-created needs and wants, has put the country in debt. If the Chinese government does follow through with its threat, the certainty of a Great Depression will be more immediate than if China lets the US economy fall of its own accord: there is no need of a trumpet at this Jericho. Whether this inevitable horror is to be brought down on humanity immediately or allowed to play itself out of its own accord, China will be affected. . . albeit less so than most other countries if only because of Hu Jintao’s foreign policy: he’s secured markets worldwide to take up some of the slack from the US populace not being able to buy its inexpensive good.

If we look back to one aspect of recovery from the prior Great Depression, we will note that in order for countries to recover, they had to turn their sights and their concerns inward, to the country’s well-being; that is, to the citizens’ needs and betterment. Where this was done to the utmost, the recovery was maximized, despite some countries’ looking outward and creating a need for coherent togetherness by fighting a non-existent enemy. The same thing will occur, I think, this time, as well, and China will have to turn its eye inward and concentrate its resources and energies to buffering its own citizens. This can only be for the good.

With the coming Great Depression–I’m sure some historian or literary-minded person will find a superlative name, as they did to supplant WWI’s “the war to end all wars”–jobs will be even more scarce in China and even more poorly recompensed: there are already too many people to employ and some of the unemployed already rebel. With the decreased ability to sell homemade products, the internal economy of the land will be laid waste. Somehow or other, the government is going to have to come out of its shell and pay attention to the never-important people and their needs since the government is interested in maintaining its power and, without appeasing the hordes below, this will not happen. But there is a further global problem to be considered.

The Earth is warming up. Global warming. Now, I agree that some of the problem is indeed due to humanity but, at the same time, the known prior-pleasant state of the world was not always so. Climate changes. It has in the recent past, it has in the distant past. Nature does not stand still. Change is the only constant. Put the two together–humanity and nature–and there’s a problem. I do not think, however, it is as cataclysmic and end-of-the-world Armageddonish as some. Nevertheless, resources will become less obtainable and the need for conservation and different sources (as opposed to a different source) of energy will become necessary. In this respect, China and other less modernized countries and cultures stand to be less likely to suffer greatly as great strides in industrialization have not taken hold and, therefore, manpower is still available. People have not gotten themselves so distanced from a labor-intensive existence that they will not be able to function or make up for their luxurious loss. There are still more bicycles on the road than cars in China; waterwheels, either powered by the water itself or people, are still at work; farming has found itself to be more productive with oxen and human hands than with machinery–Mao did at least learn from that mistake (The Great Leap Forward)! Smaller farms more humanly managed manage greater yield. There is yet a massive distance between city and country in China; I would wager there are more people in big cities with relatives in the country than not. And this will be a boon. The working class mentality is not so distant as in the US.

When energy demands become fulfillable, the first places to suffer will be the energy-wasting cities. Big cities will become less populated–as well as less ordered. People will move out into the more efficient countryside, even beyond suburbia’s real wasteland. These internal immigrants will gravitate toward the more populace (larger) towns but, there being only a finite amount of room and provisioning, they will be redirected to the surrounding countryside and the satellite villages and hamlets, thus setting up an interconnecting, interdependent society. There will be a great number of medium to small sized cities because they are more conservative of their energy, more efficient in its usage–and they more or less already exist. There may be even a trend to the low-tech, still flourishing in China but almost unheard of in the US.

The government is going to have to step in on this process or the internal repercussions, the violence and corruption, will lead to a breakdown of the system–what system there is–and, eventually, to an overthrow of the government for not taking care of its own when it knew it needed to.

The government will have to step in and open up employment, perhaps along the lines of FDR’s works programs during the Depression of the 1930’s in the US. In whatever form–and this could include uncovering alternative forms of energy-production–the government is going to have to do something to support its populace or the populace will rebel. Not even the politicized Peoples Army could withstand a billion rebels on the march–and they probably wouldn’t. A rebellion would set the country back hundreds of years and the climb out of the new pit would be almost like walking across the La Brea Tar Pits.

In the coming world collapse, the government of China cannot continue to turn a blind eye to its people and bind itself in its cocoon of me-me-me and irresponsibility, two traits it inherited from its founder (Cf. Jung Chang, Mao, the Unknown Story. NY: Anchor Books, 2006). When the needs of the people make their heads of state look up, then there will be the new world order philosophers and rebels have shouted for for centuries. When government truly becomes the mind of the people, it’s father in Confucian terms, it will truly be a government of its people instead of an overlord.

But there’s more.

As the world closes in on itself and China becomes more inward-looking, something will have to be done with the deplorable education system, a system that flounders in routinization and deans and leaders who are do-nothings, perhaps relying on a perverted reading of Laozi’s instructions on how to govern. For this routinization stifles scholarship and creativity, which will be abundantly needed during the depression times. Routinization is a political tool that creates a situation where there is no intellectual threat to the power hegemony; but it produces nothing else. The educational system, and thereby the populace, are entrapped in a cycle of low self-esteem full of excuses for “why not” and a hidden shame and guilt. Conceptualization will have to take precedence over routine and theory and the much misaligned traditional way: there is nothing traditional about the present state of Chinese education.

“Most advances in knowledge have occurred when some brave soul broke out of her/his routine. De-routinized, the learner is able to see a problem that had hitherto had been invisible, and apply a new approach to solving it” (Thomas J. Scheff, Routines in Human Science: the case of emotion words). This is because, with routinization, new problems cannot be approached in a new way, a failing suffered by both the Qing Dynasty and the Tokugawa Bakafu rulers when the West all but invaded. In the past, putting down the problems forcibly and, thence, ignoring them was the way, for if you ignore something long enough it is expected to go away. In reality, it does not.

More and more students are clamoring for study overseas as they are well-aware that what they will get in-country is inferior. When was the last time a Chinese Nobel Laureate appeared? A picture of this routinization might be gotten from the behavior of one of the top ten universities in the country, Beijing Normal University (Beishida), a university that once housed intellectuals and social rebels, it has turned into a space where there is no job, no room for a professional writer to teach writing or literature. Other schools prefer foregoing lectures of quality and competence for the cheaper, run-of-the-mill, no specialty foreigner who will speak on given mundane topics of little interest to students, like the convention of Christmas. . .because providing the students quality means paying for it and the administration only sees the bottom line, not the benefits that accrue down the line. And, of course, students aren’t worth it. Education is not for the student, it is for the continuation of the education machine. (This is autopoiesis, which routinization literally guarantees. Cf. the works of Humberto Maturana and Humbert Mariotti.)

There is a glut of English speaking foreigners in China for the sole purpose of traveling who figure they can teach English since they speak it–and so does the educational establishment; so, the outcome is inferior teaching–but it’s cheap and satisfies a complacent educational machine: as long as the course is being offered and there’s a body teaching it, there is no thought to quality or content. In this fashion, incompetence is generated by the educational system, incompetence and cheating on a pandemic scale, including rampant plagiarism. And why not? The teachers don’t know and even when they do know, the culprit is passed–even at top-10 universities. The teachers aren’t scholars, even in the loosest sense of the word. Teachers for the past 10-20 years have only mouthed what’s been told them before, for teaching in China means the teacher lectures, the students listen–end of lesson. Now, parrot it back on a test. Further, although it is difficult to get into a college, it is easy to get out: once in, a degree is guaranteed.

At the same time, teachers who have gotten their Master’s degrees abroad and studied methods return and try to institute their learning, bringing with them student-centred learning and excitement only to find that this is not wanted–despite the Ministry of Education’s call for such alternative teaching methods. These teachers find that teaching in a homegrown university is a popularity contest: if the students, if too many students (which could be 1-2), complain, the department head calls the teacher on the carpet and orders them to return to the “traditional” way, the way of no knowledge, no learning, no work for the students–who sit in class anyway and do homework for other classes, send text messages on their phones or listen to music from their MP3’s. Why should they work? They’re guaranteed a piece of paper and, after all, the degree is important, not what you learn, no? So. . .why struggle? Only, there are some who want more. Heidegger sympathizes with them, for he maintains routinization promotes boredom (Cf. Paul Thiele, “Postmodernity and the routinization of novelty: Heidegger on boredom and technology,” Polity, June 1997).

This comes, in part, from the attitude toward knowledge at universities: knowledge is a thing to be sold, a commodity for sale, not something to be gained or discovered. Helmut Klaus notes, in Towards a Phenomenological Account of the Completion of Organisational Modernisation, that knowledge is organized as “information, as communication of something useful, and as shaping action, as reporting and effecting” and that it dictates the lifeworld via the experts teaching it, yet is “as devoid of any humanistic connotation, being the outcome of the interactions of forces within a network”; that is, knowledge and technology are manageable, obviating innovation because of a rational approach that sees of nothing outside of the given world order. Which, of course, makes both education and the changing of it a political process (available as a pdf document at www.filoinfo.bem-vindo.net).

With the coming crisis, the government is going to have to offer knowledge and questions and newness to them. The government is going to have to revamp the educational system, the educational environment, or the country will sink. There will be no experts for nothing–one of the results–desired–of the Cultural Revolution: rid the country of those pesky intellectuals, always thinking new things and causing trouble. With the depression and the change in the country’s need, these people will once again be in demand. Methods will have to change. Students will have to work. Scholarship will have to once again take on a top priority: knowledge wins, not incompetence. Different thinking will have to be nurtured in order to deal with the different problems facing the country. . .if for no other reason than the economics of business will have to change. China will need to construct an alternative universe and it will not be able to do this with the present educational system, a system that actually holds the student back. As Nathalie Lazaric notes, “Changing routines and creating new routinization processes are difficult tasks involving both cognitive and political mechanisms” (Routinization and memorization of tasks in a workshop: the case of the introduction if ISO norms and Industrial and Corporate Change, Vol. 14, Issue 5, pp. 873-896, 2005). Diane Mitsch Bush has already noted how China is routinized in deviant fashion, for, it must be stated, that a routine is a necessity–but only up to a point (“The Routinization of Social Movement Organizations: China as a Deviant Case,” The Sociological Quarterly 19 (2), 1978, pp. 203-217). Too much routinization stultifies.

I see, then, necessity dictating a course of action (innovation) that can only be advantageous to China’s internal development because there is more to change than historical precedent and continuation of the same old same old, as seems to be Li Datong’s approach. I see, because of the coming economic depression, the Chinese government coming out of its protectionist shell and opening up to its people, creating real change. Hard-heartedness and inhumanity and repression will not help an injured bear stand up.

JAMES L. SECOR is a writer dramatist and professor of literature at Shaoxing University, Shaoxing China. He can be reached at znzfqlxskj@gmail.com.