Cracked Heads

As the second half of 2021 dawned, market participants were greeted with more headlines documenting the world’s efforts to contain the “Delta” coronavirus variant as well as soundbites out of Beijing, where Xi Jinping delivered a somewhat unnerving address to mark the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party.

Speaking to a multitudinous, handpicked crowd, Xi pledged never to “bully, oppress or enslave the peoples of other countries.” China has never done that, isn’t doing it now and won’t do it in the future, he said, dressed in a Mao suit.

Then came a rather stark warning. “At the same time, the Chinese people will never allow foreign forces to bully, oppress or enslave us,” Xi said. “Whoever nurses delusions of doing that will crack their heads and spill blood on the Great Wall of steel built from the flesh and blood of 1.4 billion Chinese people.” (Well, since you put it that way.)

“Xi has warned that foreign powers will ‘get their heads bashed’ if they attempt to influence the country,” the BBC wrote, flatly.

The choreographed ceremony made for an ironically pretentious spectacle. Tens of thousands gathered in rows to hear Xi in person. Everyday Chinese used their cell phones to take videos of the speech as it was broadcast on giant screens across Beijing. The festivities included a 100-gun salute and thousands of performers chanting “Listen to the party, be grateful to the party, and follow the party,” as Xi looked on.

“The streams of Communist Party youth groups in color-coordinated uniforms had filed onto the square from all directions at the beginning of the ceremony as dawn rose,” The New York Times wrote, recapping the pageantry and adding that,

They mostly wore polo shirts in lime green, pale orange or bright red. Most wore black or white pants, but some of the young women were in matching poodle skirts that would not have looked out of place in the 1950s. A military brass band in dress blues filed into the back of the Great Hall of the People.

Taiwan featured heavily. Xi described the Party’s “unshakable commitment” to unification and warned that China would take “resolute action to utterly defeat” efforts aimed at promoting Taiwan independence.

“Nobody should underestimate the staunch determination, firm will and powerful capacity of the Chinese people to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he warned.

Xi alluded to the “people” nearly 90 times in the space of an hour, describing the nation’s “tenacious struggle.” “Gone forever” are the days of the country being “abused by others,” he said.

The Sydney Morning Herald declared the world “on notice.” “The message was clear,” the paper wrote. “Having wiped out any opposition at home over a century of building power, the great struggle of Xi’s CCP is no longer against counter-revolutionaries, it is against those outside China’s borders who would seek to contain its rise.”

Xi left little room for “analysis.” There was no equivocation. Only the Party is capable of securing long-term gains for the people and ensuring the nation’s rise. And only he can lead the Party.

There’s no chance of communism (in the Cold War sense of the term) making a comeback as a totalitarian ideology capable of getting significant buy-in around the world. That’s not the issue. This isn’t about capitalism versus communism. Implemented strictly, communism simply doesn’t work from an economic management perspective. And, as we’ve seen in the US, capitalism unconstrained can produce objectively absurd outcomes.

If there’s such a thing as an “optimal” model, it’s almost surely capitalism with guardrails. That may seem like a rather glib assessment, but as obvious as it sounds, you’ll note that the world’s largest economy still hasn’t come to terms with the need for those guardrails.

If it’s not about communism versus capitalism, what’s it about? Well, it’s about autocracy and, increasingly, whether it’s possible for a superpower to thrive under one-man rule in modernity.

As one expert told Bloomberg on Thursday, “Since the death of Mao, we’ve never had the Communist Party run by essentially an autocrat unconstrained by elite politics.”


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8 thoughts on “Cracked Heads

  1. What is it with these autocrats and their obsession with pointless real estate? Putin with Ukraine (or bits thereof) and China with Taiwan? I get wiping out a “century of humiliation”. Fine. But can’t Xi find another way than conquering Taiwan?

    Also – Xi pledged never to “bully, oppress or enslave the peoples of other countries.” China has never done that, isn’t doing it now and won’t do it in the future…

    Yeah, hum, I think Korea, Vietnam, Tibet, India and Russia might disagree on that… I mean, historical conflicts, you can argue about who started it for a long while but the idea that China never attacked anyone beyond its borders? Serious revisionism going on there…

  2. It’s really good to see this thought provoking article.

    While what you doing mostly is educating people about what Chinese nationalist party is saying. The follow on effects that of debating the role of capitalism and the management of a capitalist economy is extremely important for our future.

    A brief inspection of our country and the lack of guardrails during the railroad era leads one to see that unrestrained capitalism will result in poor outcomes for the country. Your focus then on talking about autocratic rule also creates an opportunity for reflection on the goals of our far right, you know that 25% that wants to rule the rest of us.

    So I ask, while it’s important to know the thinking of other economic groups in the world, how do we get our people to have a historical perspective that has led us to the decisions that we live with today?

    Why do we have the largest socialist project in the world?

    Why do the wealthy demand ever more socialism to the point that they do not pay any taxes whatsoever?

    Is it possible to encourage the wealthy to be patriotic? Or his patriotism only reserved for the poor?

    1. “If there’s such a thing as an “optimal” model, it’s almost surely capitalism with guardrails.” Once in a while this works, then those whose ox is being gored want to take away all the guard rails and go back to the dirty old wild west.

      “… that 25% only thinks it can rule the rest of us.” As long as all politics in America is about the ability to buy and control those we elect, it’s the 1 or 2% that will do the bossing, at least nationally. Locally, everybody is looking for someone they can be in charge of, That’s where the real evil is. I lived for 30 years in what was once a moderate state and I once asked a friend who was in the know politically how much it would take to buy a state representative. Without hesitation he told me that a $5000 donation to one’s campaign would buy me regular access and at least one significant vote per legislative session. I made a $100 contribution to a mayoral campaign campaign and discovered that not only would that get my name in the paper as a “major supporter” but also elicited an offer by the candidate to make me his campaign manager. Amazing what money can buy.

      Socialism is not about taxes and rich people. Rich people don’t want socialism they want an oligarchy. Socialism in the US isn’t new, by the way. We started that way. If you’ve never read it check out the Mayflower Compact, signed by the Pilgrims in 1620 before they set foot on shore. They agreed to become a collective, pooling their resources, taking care of all their collective needs, helping the weak and the sick, each getting a equal vote … well you know, Christianity. In exchange for their participation they were each promised an equal share of whatever they collectively produced. That, by the way, is what socialism actually is.

      As to patriotism. As Samuel Johnson said, “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” One might even say today that it is the first line of defense for those who are about to take your liberty. Check it out while we still have some liberty left. While people who think themselves to be patriots are running around protecting their gun rights they are giving up most of their actual liberty to the NSA, their local hospitals, tin pot local politicians, Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter, the department of motor vehicles and others who are collecting and selling their information. Next time you are on your browser, assuming you haven’t got an ad blocker, you will see a constant line of fine print speedily crawling across the bottom of your screen. That is an ad manager, usually Google, auctioning your personal information to ad buyers for the right to target you for ads. My daughter runs a cloud server and data warehouse for a digital ad agency. One of the “products” she sells is an up-to date list describing the most effective code words advertisers should buy to use in targetting you for ads. What liberty?

  3. There’s some testosterone for you …

    Reminds me of the US in 2000 –
    Budget surplus to the Moon.
    Leader of the free and democratic world and mostly respected.

    All changed with the election of 2000 where minority vote getter took control of the presidency …

    The similar non democratic winner of the 2016 presidential election put the decline on steroids and here we are …

    good luck to Taiwan, I think you’ll need it …

  4. I have thought about this article since yesterday and I think what Xi’s speech demonstrates is what he learned from Trump. This speech is very similar to Trump’s inauguration speech. This whole notion that the \world has been taking advantage of us and “laughing at us”. That he’s the guy who is going to fix that. Xi’s been in power for 9 years and we’ve never seen this sort of language coming from him. I think he’s doing his best Trump impression because he’s seen how successful that type of personality has been here. It’s true that China is now a credible threat and that before Trump they were becoming one but not a serious threat. Now I have to wonder, are they a credible threat now because they were always going to become one? Or did Donald Trump giving them credibility, globally, empower them to grow into the role they now possess?

    1. I too saw parallels with Trump’s inauguration speech and was surprised by it’s unusual brashness … I’m hoping as Mr Lucky referenced that Xi is playing the “patriotism card” as a reflection of China’s internal suffering while he continues on his imperialism efforts…

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