The Party, the Power and the Praxis

Mike Cormack reviews China’s Dream by Kerry Brown

Kerry Brown’s productivity puts the rest of us to shame. Just in the past few years the Professor of Chinese Studies at King's College London has published CEO, China: The Rise of Xi Jinping (2016), China's World: What Does China Want? (2017), which I reviewed in these pages, The New Emperors: Power and the Princelings in China (2018) and The World According to Xi (2018). All have received strong plaudits, too, making Brown a one-man cottage industry informing, educating and entertaining us about modern China.

Last year he published China’s Dream: The Culture of Chinese Communism and The Secret Sources of its Power. Looking at the title, I wondered if the book might perhaps retread parts of CEO, China and The New Emperors. (How else could he maintain this output?) But I was wrong. China’s Dream is a deep analysis of the culture of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and how it uses this to maintain power. If the renowned The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers (2012) by Richard McGregor established the skeleton of the CCP and its links to the broader Chinese state, Brown’s book is an attempt to put flesh on those bones. It does this by a deep-bore examination of the party’s moral and ethical stances, as well as its use of culture to maintain a remarkable hold on power and sustain its appeal to Chinese citizens – whether urban or rural, Party members or the broader masses.

China Conversations

Guo Yuhua: China’s Suffering Class

An anthropologist of China’s underclasses talks to Jonathan Chatwin

Guo Yuhua is Professor of Anthropology at Tsinghua University in Beijing. She has spent the majority of her career researching and writing about the lives of rural Chinese people. Her work The Narration of the Peasant: How Can ‘Suffering’ Become History? is based on oral histories collected during her research in Ji village in northern Shaanxi province. She has written: “one of the ways to defeat the hegemony of official texts and official discourse is to write the history of ordinary people, the history of the ‘sufferers’.”

Professor Guo is currently undertaking research on food safety and peasant workers suffering from pneumoconiosis, a lung disease which affects workers in coal mines, quarries and foundries. Guo’s books are banned in China. As part of the China Conversations series, Guo Yuhua spoke from Beijing with writer Jonathan Chatwin.


Formosa Fraud

George Psalmanazar’s 18th century fabulations of Taiwan – Graham Earnshaw


Taiwan is the topic on everyone’s lips. What’s going on there? Who does the island rightfully belong to? How important is the influence of the West? What is the real culture of the island’s residents? The debate rages.

Is this the early twenty-first century? No. It’s London more than three hundred years ago, at the beginning of the eighteenth century.

In 1704, a man appeared in England with the most extraordinary stories about Taiwan, or Formosa as it was then called. How eighteen-thousand boys are killed every year as part of Formosan religious ceremonies; the island is a major producer of gold and silver; and Catholic priests are causing trouble there.

He said his name was George Psalmanazar, and his information about Formosa – it’s culture, history, society and economy – captivated the English reading public. He published a book on the topic which went into a second edition, he gave speeches, he was fêted by the Bishop of London, he went to Oxford to teach Formosan. There was just one problem with the situation: his whole story was fake.


Unpredictable Hong Kong

The perils of prognostication and lessons of history when it comes to Hong Kong’s protests Jeffrey Wasserstrom

How long will the large-scale street actions that began to take place regularly in Hong Kong last June continue? And what kind of development is most likely to bring to an end these protests, which were first triggered by an extradition bill but are now in large part calls for the government to rein in and investigate the police?

I was often asked variations on one or both of these questions during the period lasting from early June until early October of 2019 that I spent writing Vigil: Hong Kong on the Brink (Columbia Global Reports, February 2020). As the length of the struggle went from days to weeks to months, I grew used to either dodging the questions or providing equivocal answers. I continued to do so during the final weeks of 2019 and the first weeks of 2020 – right up until the main questions people asked me shifted, just before Vigil came out, from being about the protests to about the coronavirus. Whether I refused to make any kind of prediction or made a careful one with all sort of caveats and prevarications, I typically began my response to the two questions by making some or all of the following points:


Qinghe Prison

A short story by Bei Ling, translated by Scott Savitt

It’s afternoon. I’m being transported in a military jeep. On the road I ask the undercover officer: “Where am I being taken?”

“To a hotel,” the plainclothes officer scoffs.

The jeep is speeding down a newly paved freeway in Beijing’s faceless western outskirts.

The jeep slows down and enters a compound surrounded by a towering wall. An electric fence lines the top of the wall, and armed soldiers man the guard towers.

Next to the iron gate is a sign that says: Qinghe Prison.

I feel like an explosion has gone off in my head.

I am escorted into the detention center’s office. As soon as I get inside, a prison guard snatches my glasses.

Without my glasses I am half-blind. I start to protest, but the guard kicks me and shouts: “Squat down and get your hands behind your head!”

I dodge the brunt of his blow, and start to say: “Please don’t hit me….” when he kicks me again, this time much harder, sending me staggering into the corner of the room.

The plainclothesman that escorted me here says with a laugh: “Did you really think you were going to a hotel? You might be alive when you arrive here, but there is no guarantee that you won’t leave a corpse!”