Steven Mosher is a hero to those of us who hate and fear the current Chinese government. He has the honor of having been persona non grata in the People’s Republic for twenty years — longer, I think, than any other American scholar.
Mosher was the first social scientist from this country invited to do research in rural China after the death of Mao. He witnessed communist population policy — forced abortion, infanticide and sterilization — at first hand, and after leaving China in 1980 wrote about it. This enraged the Chinese government, who warned Mosher’s university, Stanford, that no further visas would be issued to their scholars unless he was punished. Stanford caved, of course; Mosher was dismissed from his Ph.D. program. He has subsequently written several books and campaigned against Chinese policies of population control and religious persecution.
In Hegemon, Mosher puts forward the argument that China’s present leaders have a grand strategic plan for the future of their country: first to get the U.S. out of Asia, then to exert as much influence as they can over as much of the world as they can reach. Mosher gives the historical background to present-day China’s outlook on the world before showing how current Chinese government policies, from education to defense, are designed to further Chinese hegemony.
Hegemon is particularly good on the great success the Chinese Communist Party has had in re-branding itself from the incarnation of Marxist-Leninist theory to the standard-bearer of Chinese patriotism. “Patriotism” is, in fact, too feeble a word for the attitudes the Chinese authorities have attempted — successfully, to judge by the younger Chinese I meet — to impress on the post-Mao generations. The blood of young Chinese is charged with a heady fascistic mix of racism, grievance, hyper-nationalism and imperialism. They have been taught, and believe, that China is the victim of great historical wrongs that cry out to heaven for vengeance. America is generally hated. Mosher observes that the TianAnMen protests of 1989 were the high tide of agitation for democracy in China. No such movement is conceivable nowadays.
As howling mobs raged in front of the American embassy following the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, I spoke with an American businessman with many years of experience in China. “Ten years ago they were ours,” he told me sadly. “Now they are theirs.” He meant that the Chinese Communist Party, having successfully waved the bloody shirt of nationalism, had reclaimed its young.
Most terrifying of all is the current campaign against corruption in the People’s Liberation Army, which actually seems to be succeeding. So long as China was a corrupt, leaky despotism we could hope that the whole rotten edifice might fall in on itself. China as a sleek, efficient despotism does not bear thinking about.
It is rather easy to anticipate some of the reactions to Hegemon. Be ready for the smiling assurances that China, following the hoped-for subjugation of Taiwan, has “no further territorial demands.” China, her officials and western mouthpieces will purr, has never been an expansionist power. As Mosher points out, this is untrue. China’s territory has expanded more than tenfold since proper historical records began in the 8th century b.c. Her current land area is more than twice what it was at the height of the Ming dynasty 500 years ago — an average rate of expansion throughout the modern age of nearly 4,000 square miles per annum. This is even after allowing for the loss of Outer Mongolia in the 1920s, a loss which rankles bitterly: when Khrushchev visited Mao Tse-tung in 1959, the first item on Mao’s agenda was a demand for the “return” of Outer Mongolia (by that time a Soviet satellite).
Mosher’s final chapter, “Containing the Hegemon,” gives his prescriptions for countering the growing threat of Chinese imperialism. America must, he says, “shoulder its responsibility.” This means military preparedness, stricter export controls, anti-missile defences, a firmer commitment to Asian allies. Though well worth saying, this evades the fundamental problem that always sets a democracy at a disadvantage when dealing with a dictatorship: the problem of wishful thinking. When Hitler and Stalin signed their 1939 pact, Evelyn Waugh exulted that the true nature of the totalitarian regimes was “out in the open, huge and hideous.” One day, ten or fifteen years from now, China will perform some similar revelatory act — the invasion of Outer Mongolia, perhaps — leaving her apologists suddenly speechless (oh, come the day!) and opening the eyes of even the most gullible. Until then the China lobbies will continue to hold the field, lulling us with the promise that just one more trade concession, just one tilt further away from Taiwan, will bring down the communists, usher in constitutional government and remove all threats to U.S. interests. This is nonsense, and in their hearts a lot of intelligent people probably know it is nonsense; but unlike Steven Mosher’s message it does not require us to do anything arduous or expensive.
Is there any way we can help China transform herself into a normal country, with whom we can engage in friendly competition? I have offered my own suggestions, for what they are worth, in another place (The Weekly Standard, 2/14/00). Mosher’s principal proposal is that we should preserve Taiwan as an example to the mainland. Unfortunately this takes us back to the problem of appeasement’s superior appeal to a self-absorbed, hedonistic electorate. Americans are not willing to wage war to defend Taiwan’s democracy; the Chinese are very willing — they are eager! — to wage war to destroy it.
Perhaps China just cannot be transformed. Her political history is certainly not encouraging. There are only two autochthonous traditions: Legalism and Confucianism. The first teaches despotism maintained by government terror; the second, despotism facilitated by internalized moral codes. Actual Chinese rulers have employed a blend of the two. True, Taiwan’s success suggests that culture is not an insuperable obstacle to political reform; but it is difficult to see how the Taiwan experience might be duplicated on the mainland. The prospects for rational politics in China are, frankly, rather bleak. To find grounds for hope, without succumbing to wishful thinking, is very difficult; but Steven Mosher has done his best, as we all must.
Hegemon is a welcome addition to the growing body of monitory books on China — what one of my Chinese friends calls “yellow peril literature.” The editing leaves much to be desired, though. The historical errors are particularly disconcerting. It was the QianLong Emperor, not the KangXi Emperor, to whom Lord Macartney refused to kowtow. The period of division into three states did not last from the Han dynasty to the Sui, but only from the Han to the Western Jin — an error of 324 years. And who was “empress Wu of Han”? Presumably either Empress Lü of Han or Empress Wu of Tang is meant. This is not mere pedantic quibbling. In writing a book like this, Steven Mosher is throwing down the gauntlet to huge, rich, powerful interests — universities, corporations, bought politicians and ex-cabinet officers, the entire diplomatic establishment. Every error weakens the force of his argument, and will be seized on by the China shills to help discredit him. That will be a pity, because his message is true and timely, and of the utmost importance to all of us.