Category Archives: China

The vice of outsourcing everything to China

Dalrymple notes that Wuhan flu and its consequences have been rather revealing about the West’s condition. On the matter of supply chains and interdependence,

the economy, as we have constructed it, hangs by a thread.

Western folly

The speed with which so much unravelled came as a surprise —

untune that string, And, hark, what discord follows!*

If we had stopped to think,

we might have realised how unwise it was to outsource production of almost everything to distant and not necessarily benevolently-disposed foreign powers.

Ponzi scheme

Yet, says Dalrymple,

our habits — spending more than we earned for decades — required it. To maintain the illusion of solvency, money had to be created and interest rates kept low. But to avoid the appearance of inflation, prices (except for property and financial assets) had to be kept low. The only way was to outsource manufacturing to low-cost economies, and voilà, with the able assistance of the coronavirus, the economic situation that we are in.

Will we ever learn?

We discover when shortages arise that

most of the things of which we go short are not necessary to our happiness; materialism, that the good life is ever greater consumption of material goods, whether refined food or sophisticated electronics, is false, and we have run after false gods.

But

as soon as normal service is restored in the form of endless supply and huge choice of material goods, we revert to our materialism.

We were probably sincere in declaring that consumption of material goods was not all-important or necessary to happiness. It was just that

the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

*Troilus and Cressida act I, sc. 3
†Matthew 26:41

An advanced East and a backward West

China flu and the ignominy of Europe

Anyone who has been to church in France, writes Dalrymple,

will have noticed that the direction of the tide of evangelism has reversed. It used to be from France to Africa; now it is from Africa to France. Many of the priests are African: they come to serve or convert the heathen who once colonised them.

It points, he notes,

to a loss, not only of faith but of cultural confidence. The idea of Europe preaching to the world now seems ridiculous. Europe has lost the mandate of heaven.

Who would have thought, Dalrymple asks,

even 30 years ago, that China would be sending humanitarian assistance to Italy, both in the form of medical material and technicians?

There has been a reversal

of what people in the West, for so long, took as the natural order of things.

The Wuhan virus

has revealed what Westerners would have preferred not to know: they are no longer in the forefront.

Dalrymple points out that Europe cannot even console itself that, if it has not responded with the efficiency of Korea, Taiwan, or Singapore, it is at least not authoritarian. Near where Dalrymple lives, people are required to show a laissez-passer. Taking a short walk in the district, Dalrymple says he half-expects someone to jump out of a doorway and shout

Halt! Ihre Papiere, bitte.

A Chinese aid worker loads humanitarian relief supplies bound for Italy at Hangzhou airport

The economic consequences of China flu

The epidemic, writes Dalrymple,

might well have effects far beyond any that its death rate could account for.

The Wuhan virus has woken the world up to

the dangers of allowing China to be the workshop of the world and of relying on it as the ultimate source for supply chains for almost everything, from cars to medicines, from computers to telephones.

No doubt, he says,

normal service will soon resume once the epidemic is over, even if at a lower level, but at the very least, supply chains should be diversified politically and perhaps geographically; dependence on a single country is to industry what dependence on monoculture is to agriculture.

And

just as the heart has its reasons that reason knows not of, so countries may have strategic reasons that economic reasons know not of.

The danger is that the Wuhan virus

will be used as a justification for beggar-thy-neighbour protectionism, and for zero-sum-game economics, to the great impoverishment of the world. Judgment, that mysterious faculty that is so difficult to define or quantify, but which undoubtedly exists, will be needed to adjudicate the claims of strategic security and economic efficiency.

Western intellectuals and the Maoist tyranny

Communist dictatorships, Dalrymple points out,

were at their most popular among Western intellectuals while they still had the courage of their brutality. Once they settled down to grey, everyday oppression and relatively minor acts of violent repression (judged by their own former standards), they ceased to attract the extravagant praises of those intellectuals who, in their own countries, regarded as intolerable even the slightest derogation from their absolute freedom of expression.

It is as if, he says,

not dreams but totalitarian famines and massacres acted as the Freudian wish-fulfilment of these Western intellectuals. They spoke of illimitable freedom, but desired unlimited power.

Mao Zedong, Dalrymple notes,

was the blank page or screen upon which they could project the fantasies that they thought beautiful.

China

was a long way off, its hundreds of millions of peasants inscrutable but known to be impoverished and oppressed by history; its culture was impenetrable to Westerners without many years of dedicated and mind-consuming study.

Western sinologists,

almost to a man, upheld the Maoist version of the world, some of them for fear of losing their access to China if they did not, and thereby created the impression that Maoism was intellectually and morally respectable. And so perfect conditions were laid for the most willing and total suspension of disbelief.

Mao’s Thoughts

— that is to say, clichés, platitudes, and lies — were treated by intelligent and educated people as if they were more profound, and contained more mental and spiritual sustenance, than Pascal’s.

As so often before,

mere reality as experienced by scores of millions of people was of little interest to intellectuals by comparison with the schemata in their minds and their own self-conception. ‘Let the heavens fall so long as I feel good about myself’ was their motto.

J.K. Galbraith: either a naïf or a knave

A blackguard — or a bloody fool

Anyone visiting China, writes Dalrymple, especially during the Cultural Revolution,

who took official declarations at face value

was

at best naïve and at worst a knave.

Dalrymple notes that when it comes to communist China,

a whole genre, a whole library, of books of so-called eyewitness testimony is utterly worthless. The economist J.K. Galbraith wrote one of them.

Galbraith was one of the countless Western authors who

visited China without experiencing it.

Bilge

Tripe

Drivel

Maria-Antonietta the shepherdess torn to pieces

Leys turns wolf and eats Macchiocchi for breakfast

Sometimes Marxist baloney requires to be countered — and vigorously

Simon Leys, writes Dalrymple,

conveyed his authority—moral and literary—from the first sentence of everything he wrote. He never descended into obscurity and could say the most serious things with a light touch and in the simplest language.

He was a mild-mannered, restrained and courteous man,

as remote from self-advertisement or self-promotion

as it is possible to be, yet he once unaccountably found himself on television, on a talk show called Apostrophes. He was pitted against a conceited Maoist by the name of Maria-Antonietta Macchiocchi, a journalist-politician who had briefly visited China for the Gramsci-founded newspaper L’Unità. Speaking not a word of the language and knowing almost nothing about the country, she had been led by the nose by her guides. Her ignorance did not prevent her from publishing Dalla Cina (1971; 433 pages), which on the subject of the Cultural Revolution was, Dalrymple notes,

full of gushing sentiment. Because of the ideology she espoused, she was utterly credulous and foolish. She believed she was witnessing a dream come true — when she was in the midst of a nightmare involving scores of millions of people and the total destruction of much that was precious. In terms of deaths, the Cultural Revolution was not as bad as the Great Leap Forward, but it was bad enough.

The immensely learned China scholar Leys — who among many other things, produced an outstanding translation of the Confucian Analects — was outraged by people like Macchiocchi and their abominable ideas

because he loved the people and civilisation of China.

Leys rightly regarded Macchiocchi and her kind as

frivolous and ignorant, fundamentally uninterested in that of which they wrote, and using China as a tool in the resolution of their trivial personal psychodramas.

Macchiocchi: mammouth de la bêtise

On the TV show, the presenter asked Macchiocchi to speak first. She prattled about her life having been one of chastity and of devotion: the saints were wedded to God, she to the People. And she would redeem the People; she positively immolated herself day and night for the People.

Rot of such egregiousness, says Dalrymple, was too much for Leys, who remarked:

Je pense que les idiots disent des idioties, c’est comme les pommiers produisent des pommes. C’est dans la nature, c’est normal.

Une certaine idée de la Chine

Leys made clear that what he was saying was nothing personal, it was just that he had to take a stand against all the frivolous idiocies that had been written about Mao and Maoism by Western intellectuals. He had this to say about Macchiocchi’s 433 pages of drivel:

Le problème c’est qu’il y ait des lecteurs pour les prendre au sérieux et là évidemment se trouve le problème qui mériterait d’être analysé. Prenons le cas de Mme Macciocchi par exemple. Je n’ai rien contre Mme Macciocchi personnellement, je n’ai jamais eu le plaisir de faire sa connaissance. Quand je parle de Mme Macciocchi, je parle d’une certaine idée de la Chine, je parle de son œuvre, pas de sa personne. Son ouvrage De la Chine, c’est — ce qu’on peut dire de plus charitable, c’est que c’est d’une stupidité totale, parce que si on ne l’accusait pas d’être stupide, il faudrait dire que c’est une escroquerie.

It was as devastating as Leys’ comment on Malraux, Barthes and and all the other frauds who thought they had grasped the essence of China:

Ces mammouths de la bêtise qui n’en finissent pas, depuis un quart de siècle, d’étirer leurs pondéreuses caravanes sur les rayons des librairies.

Leys’ ferocious television onslaught on Macchiocchi was, of course, richly earned and necessary, for as Dalrymple observes,

any Chinese who had lived and suffered through those terrible years would suffer a second time if he read the praise lavished on his tormentors by those who were so easily duped by the régime’s flattery machine. Macchiocchi deserved what she got.

A sad fate

Macchiocchi, Dalrymple explains,

never fully recovered from the humiliation that she suffered on that night because Leys was so obviously a man of integrity, intellectual quality, and attachment to the truth that she must have known that what he said was both true and justified.

She lived with this knowledge for another 24 years, dying at the age of 85. You can, Dalrymple supposes,

endure such a humiliation when you are young (though it might deform your character if you are inclined to be so deformed), but you still have time to overcome it by later success. But to live the last quarter of a long life in the shadow of such a humiliation, one that nothing will now erase, is a sad fate indeed.

Barthes in Beijing

By a Western expert

Malraux and friends

Leys delivers the coup de grâce

Though it operate from a minuscule base, the party can succeed

Coming across the above in Simon Leys’ 1996 essay ‘The Art of Reading Non-Existent Inscriptions Written in Invisible Ink on a Blank Page’, Dalrymple asks: ‘Does this passage call to mind anything in the current condition of Great Britain? Of course, analogies are never quite exact (which is why they are only analogies). Mr Corbyn is no Mao Tse-tung: he washes more regularly for one thing, and unlike Mao I doubt that he has the courage of his cruelty. It is going too far to call the British authorities brutal. Finally, I do not think that anyone who knew them would call British youth generous or idealistic. The mess left behind by British youth at Glastonbury after the festival should be enough to disillusion anyone on that score. And yet, all the same, the passage has a certain resonance. If we are not careful, we shall soon experience our own Great Leap Forward — into the abyss, of course, though more gently than the Chinese.’

Why Shakespeare should not be taught in schools

Screen Shot 2015-12-06 at 19.08.33There are, Dalrymple discovers,

no Chinese characters in Shakespeare,

despite the Chinese representing a fifth of the global population. Moreover, fewer than 16 per cent of Shakespeare’s characters are women — a fact drawn to Dalrymple’s attention via electronic message by Oxford University Press. Dalrymple is shocked, and believes

it is time to impose quotas on the sex of characters. Until Shakespeare is rewritten to include more women, his plays should not be taught in schools, banned from them in fact.

Screen Shot 2015-12-06 at 19.13.22If, he points out,

you measured the proportion of lines spoken by women in Shakespeare, the situation would be worse.

While, Dalrymple says,

the impact factor of certain female Shakespearean characters, such as Gertrude and Ophelia, Juliet, Desdemona, Cleopatra, Lady Macbeth, etc., is considerable, it is numbers that count.

Broken windows

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 08.41.39

Charming

Dalrymple picks up a copy of A China Passage by J.K. Galbraith, the American fellow traveller who was highly esteemed and very wealthy (he spent his winters at Gstaad) but who also possessed a touching simplicity and modesty.

In 1973, Dalrymple explains, Galbraith had visited China

in the slipstream of Nixon.

It was during the Cultural Revolution, with its

appalling suffering, in which perhaps a million people died and tens of millions were horribly persecuted, and only a few years after the greatest man-made famine in history. Nevertheless, Galbraith quotes the Sinologist John K. Fairbanks, who wrote as if he had learned his style directly from Galbraith himself:

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 08.44.08The big generalisations are all agreed upon: there has been a tremendous betterment of the material life and morale of the common people.

The remarks, Dalrymple points out, are extremely callous. Galbraith offers vignettes of the Cultural Revolution like this one:

The workers were rather proud of having confined their fighting to the morning. Sadly some windows did get broken.

Such is the way, writes Dalrymple, that Galbraith discusses

the greatest episode of deliberate cultural vandalism of modern history, accompanied as it was by cruelty on a gargantuan scale.

Galbraith is

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 08.42.05a mouthpiece of Maoist propaganda, accepting its categories uncritically. In the 1920s and 30s, sheeplike Western travellers in Russia had accepted its category of kulak. Similarly, Galbraith can write about a factory that

had been partially disrupted until the People’s Liberation Army moved in to restore order. The union I gather to have been one of the reactionary elements that aroused the antipathy of the Red Guards. It was disestablished.

This use, says Dalrymple,

of the phrase reactionary elements betrays a startling lack of awareness that visitors to the Communist world had been gulled before. Nor was Galbraith interested in who the Red Guards were or what they actually did. The fate of individual people was far beneath his notice, which explains why his anecdotes are so rarely interesting, let alone illuminating. His is a humanitarianism without a human face.

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 08.43.28

By an American aristocrat

Galbraith tells a story about how the Chinese farmed areas of low fertility:

We were told how one production brigade had transported soil for many miles to make one peculiarly rocky spread slightly productive.

According to Galbraith, the decline in agriculture in New England

would not have taken place if politicians rather than market forces had been in charge. The moral of the story for Galbraith?

The market can be ruthless as politicians cannot.

That market relations, Dalrymple comments,

can sometimes exact a human price is no doubt true; but to have lived through the first three-quarters of the twentieth century, and to suggest that there is any cruelty and depravity of which politicians are not capable, requires a capacity for incomprehension amounting almost to genius.

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 08.42.19This remark is also made in the book:

At the close of almost every meeting one is asked for ‘your criticisms’ of the institution or the New China. I’ve found one that is true, irrefutable and well-received. ‘You are smoking far too many cigarettes.’

Dalrymple comments:

Millions of people beaten, tortured, and humiliated, the remains of a millennial civilization wantonly smashed, and Galbraith bravely takes up the antismoking cause.

Galbraith wrote of the Nanking Hotel:

Sufficient for the needs of this modest, simple patrician

Sufficient for the needs of this modest, simple patrician

I have a bedroom, sitting-room, bathroom and air conditioning. But that is sufficient.

What touching simplicity and modesty, says Dalrymple. However, in Paris, having suffered such deprivation in Nanking, he is more salubriously accommodated:

I was two days at the Ritz with no grievous sense of social guilt, no insuperable problem of culture shock.

Dalrymple comments:

How delightful to be so generous, so very right all the time, and yet make a fortune and stay at the Ritz!

The time of optimism

The optimists

The optimists

Dalrymple comes across a reference in the Guardian to Maoist groups in the West during the late 1960s, a time when, the newspaper says approvingly, many young people

threw themselves wholeheartedly into the leftwing politics of optimism.

This was, Dalrymple points out,

during that great time of optimism for the Chinese people that lasted several years,

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 08.40.43namely the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, in the course of which, Dalrymple points out,

unknown numbers of people were killed, but certainly hundreds of thousands at the least.

During the time of optimism many millions of people in China, Dalrymple reminds us, were

  • persecuted
  • publicly humiliated
  • tortured
  • Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 08.34.11hounded from their jobs
  • separated from their spouses
  • exiled
  • subjected to forced labour.

All this occurred

to the cheering sound of smashed cultural artifacts, demolished monuments,

and the

hosannas

of large sections of the Western Left.

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 08.33.37

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 08.34.50Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 08.41.07 Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 08.41.45 Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 08.37.05 Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 08.37.33 Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 08.35.48