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‘Guard against arrogance. For anyone in a leading position, this is a matter of principle and an important condition for maintaining unity. Even those who have made no serious mistakes and have achieved very great success in their work should not be arrogant.’

Chairman Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book

China was blessed by two great leaders in the 20th century. Mao Zedong created modern China out of the wreckage of a nation devastated by war, western and Japanese imperialism, ferocious poverty and lack of national spirit. ‘Great Helmsman’ Mao made catastrophic mistakes that killed millions and was dotty at the end, but he put modern China on the path to greatness.

Clever, crafty, deeply wise Deng Xiaoping took the inchoate mass of China and laid the groundwork from 1978-1989 for his nation’s miraculous transformation from dire poverty into the world’s second largest economy and newest great power. The only title the great Deng held was Chairman of the Chinese Bridge Association. He didn’t need titles or fanfare: everyone knew he was the boss. Deng urged China to discreetly grow rich and strong while keeping its head down so as not to alarm the outside world.

I saw much of this happen from the mid-1970’s when I began exploring China, which was then still in the final stages of the crazy Cultural Revolution. To my wonder, I saw the new city of Shenzhen rise from rice patties into a booming metropolis of 11 million, one of the world’s fastest growing cities. The magical transformation of China continues to leave me awestruck.

After Mao and Deng, China’s collective Communist leadership imposed rules limiting party leaders to two five-year terms. The Communist Party heeded philosopher Vilfredo Pareto’s warnings in his ‘circulation of elites’ that to preserve itself, an elite group had to allow new members from below to join. Collective leadership was intended to end or at least lessen the murderous power struggles that, with regionalism and separatism, had cursed China for centuries.

China’s last two leaders, Ziang Zemin and Hu Jintao, both chosen by Deng, followed Pareto’s maxim. But China’s new supreme leader, Xi Jinping, did not. Using his power base in the Central Military commission, the most powerful organ of government and party, Xi steadily eliminated his powerful rivals over a decade and put his men into key positions. Xi’s sleepy demeanor belied his startling ability to wage political siege warfare and his ruthless elimination of opponents.

This past week in Beijing, China’s 19th Party Congress not only re-appointed Xi as party leader but enshrined him in the Communist pantheon right next to Chairman Mao. In effect, Xi has become China. Paraphrasing France’s Louis XIV, Xi was saying, ‘I am the state.’ Which means that anyone opposing Xi Jinping will become an enemy of China.


Xi now appears poised to become as all-powerful as Chairman Mao, though he does not yet command the Great Helmsman’s near-divine status or adulation. If recent years are any guide, under Xi a severe crackdown will continue against dissenters, religious groups, and would-be westernizers. In Xi’s view, the west has little to offer China besides decadent behavior, racial mixing, loud music, and social rot. The United States, Japan and India are seen as dangerous, determined enemies bent on destroying united China.

The major problems facing Xi and his men will continue to be the deep unrest and resistance by the persecuted Muslim Uighurs of China’s western Xinjiang province (once Eastern Turkestan), Tibet’s equally restive people, ‘rogue province’ Taiwan, and the irksome North Koreans. Further on, China is girding for a Pacific war with the US, and a mighty struggle with southern neighbor India over control of the eastern Himalayas and Burma (see my book ‘War at the Top of the World).

At the same time, Xi has said that he will press ahead with plans to continue advancing China’s soft power around the globe through trade, culture, medicine, foreign aid and investments. His eventual plan is to divert the primary flow of trade between the US and Europe eastwards to China. The People’s Republic will also continue to buy up key foreign industries and export Chinese abroad. While the US bleeds itself through small but expensive wars in Asia and Africa, China is using its huge trade surplus to buy key assets and influence around the globe.

China is doing all this at a time when its ruler, Xi Jinping, commands absolute authority and has a clear strategic vision, backed by a mighty economy and some of the world’s most intelligent people. The same cannot be said for Washington which is floundering.

But before you put all your bets on China, recall Lord Acton’s famous dictum about absolute power corrupting absolutely. Even the great Mao went off the deep end later in his rule, sending millions to their deaths due to starvation and terrorized all China with his demented Red Guards. No one dared challenge Mao’s later-life follies. Xi Jinping is a voracious reader of history like predecessor Mao. Let’s hope the lessons from Mao’s days are noted.

(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: China, Xi Jinping 
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  1. Annon says:

    “In Xi’s view, the west has little to offer China besides decadent behavior, racial mixing, loud music, and social rot. ”

    What is your source that indicates Xi holds such view? I know in recent years the Chinese government has been trying very hard to draw foreign talents to work and live in China.

    “The United States, Japan and India are seen as dangerous, determined enemies bent on destroying united China.”

    Didn’t the US, Japan and India hold joint naval exercise a few months ago? Just your typical geopolitical stuff. Not China’s big concern. There are so many ways for China to deal with this kind of stuff diplomatically.

    The Chinese are in Tokyo now talking with the Japanese. See link above ”
    Japan, China to bolster security ties for regional stability”

    Not every country wants to be like the US or wants to behave like the US. If you want to understand China, you cannot think like your typical American.

  2. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Did you looked at South-up maps for too long? India is a SOUTHERN neighbour to China.

    And you spelled Jiang ZeMin wrong.

  3. China was blessed by two great leaders in the 20th century. Mao Zedong created modern China out of the wreckage of a nation devastated by war, western and Japanese imperialism, ferocious poverty and lack of national spirit. ‘Great Helmsman’ Mao made catastrophic mistakes that killed millions and was dotty at the end, but he put modern China on the path to greatness.

    Not this nonsense again.

    Mao didn’t do ANYTHING special. Anything positive he did would have been done by Chiang and KMT and much better. Suppose the KMT had won the Civil War and suppose Mao had been sent running to Mongolia or USSR. China would have been unified. Japanese would be out. And just like Western imperialism was collapsing all around the world, it would have failed in China too. The Western imperialists couldn’t even keep Vietnam, Indonesia, and Algeria. How long were they going to stick around in China? Furthermore, Chiang was a modernizer, and he would have went about modernizing China by trading with the world.
    In contrast, Mao alienated not only the West but also USSR too, and why? After Stalin, he wanted to be the ruler of World Communism. His infantile megalomania drove him blow smoke in Khrushchev’s face and splash water all over him in the swimming pool. Khrushchev didn’t appreciate being nearly drowned by Mao.

    If anything, the KMT was on its way of unifying China during the Nanking Decade. It was Japanese imperialism and the ensuing war that destroyed the KMT and gave commies a second chance. Mao owed his victory to the Japanese and then Soviet intervention.

    Once in power, Mao made a total mess of the economy. Not only did he ruin industry and development, his policies killed tens of millions. Stalin was a mass-killer too, but at the very least, he built real industry that was bigger than the German on the eve of WWII. Stalin did achieve certain ends with his terrible means. Mao’s horrible means led to horrible ends. If there was ANY industrial growth under the Mao yrs, it had little to do with Mao. It had more to do with managers who let engineers do their thing.

    Mao didn’t only ruin the economy and destroy countless lives but he waged war on arts and culture.
    Stalin smashed churches and stuff too, but he was not a total philistine. Under Stalinism, there was estimable production of worthy literature, film, symphonic music, etc. Shostakovich(whom Tom Courtney resembles in DOC ZHIVAGO), Prokofiev, and Eisenstein were sometimes shi**ing bricks under Stalin, but Stalin did appreciate some of their works. And worthy novels like QUIET FLOWS THE DON were published under Stalin. Stalin made artists sweat, but he did appreciate real talent.

    In contrast, Mao had no sense for art and culture. He even said military band music is the best. Not a single worthy film was made under Mao. Everything was propaganda. And things got even worse with Madame Mao taking over culture and putting on these silly revolutionary operas(though hardly worse than HAMILTON). Prior to the Cultural Revolution, Mao mainly suppressed artistic freedom and creativity, but during that madness, the Red Guard lunatics went about smashing traditional art and culture and tormenting and torturing writers, artists, and the like.

    I can’t think of a single positive achievement of Maoism. As for stuff like modernization and unification of China, both would have happened under KMT rule. Also, there would have been far more modernization under KMT. Just compare commie Asia with capitalist Asia. Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong led the way while China turned into a land of Flying Pigeon bicycles. And Vietnam under communism failed totally at economics, and Khmer Rouge Cambodia was one of the most insane human experiments, a Jim Jonestown on a national level.

    Now, one may argue that even though Japan, SK, Taiwan, Singapore, and HK did pretty well under the US umbrella, they lacked genuine sovereignty. So, could we at least give Mao credit for that? Maybe, but I think KMT-ruled China would not have been a puppet of the US. Japan lost to the US. China, under Commies or KMT, would have been seen as one of the victors, or at least survivors. Also, China was too big and too populous to be a puppet of any nation.

    As for Deng, it goes to show that the ideological pioneers sometimes have more sense than the ideological progeny, especially if the latter were raised under radical indoctrination. Granted, Mao was a pioneer and a total nutter, but it turned out that many who’d joined the CCP were far more sensible figure than not only Mao but the ideological children of Mao. Deng, Liu, Zhou, and the list goes on. Though they were ardent believers in communism, the saving grace was that they’d been shaped by political, social, and cultural forces OTHER than communism or Maoism. So, they had a sense of a reality apart from communism, esp as some of them had spent time in France during WWI. Pioneers may be firebrands and true believers, but because they grew up in a world-not-of-their-own-making, they had had to adjust to many more facets of reality. They knew reality is more than ideology even as they sought to shape reality to serve their ideology.

    In contrast, the new generations that grew up under Mao only knew Maoism and communism. So, they had no conception of reality other than what was drummed into them from cradle. And it was this generation that would turn out to be Red Guards. Totally blind and utterly devoted to utopianism and radically intolerant of ANY idea or view deviating from Maoism.
    So, radical education and indoctrination of the young generation under Mao made them ill-suited to deal with reality.

    It is then unsurprising that the men who finally steered China away from madness and toward meaningful modernity were Deng and others who’d grown up in a non-communist China. It had been a bad China filled with all sorts of strife, but it was politically and culturally rich since there were so many forces contending for influence and power. There was tradition, modernity, capitalists, socialists, intellectuals of all stripes, and etc. It was that kind of world that led some Chinese to choose communism. Even as they chose communism, the world they knew and lived in offered something more and something other than their ideological dogma. So, for these men, it was conceivable that China could embark on a path that was not totally Maoist. But for young Chinese raised on hard dosage of Maoism, the only conceivable reality was the Little Red Book.

    So, the modernization that happened under Deng owed less to Maoist legacy than the pre-Maoist legacy(that had formed men like Deng). Men like Deng remembered a China that hadn’t been totally communist. A more pluralistic China of different ideas and modes. If Deng had been 30 yrs old when he took power in the 70s, the ONLY reality he would have known was Maoism. As such, he would have been ill-prepared to pave the way for a different kind of China.

    We saw the same thing with European leaders after WWII. So many of them were very old, with formative yrs even in the 19th century. Yet, why were they sound leaders? Precisely because their formative yrs hadn’t been radical. After WWI, so many young people became radicalized and their ideology became their only reality. And under Bolshevism and Nazism, a new generation was raised to tolerate and accept ONLY the Absolute Truth. They’d been so radicalized that they weren’t suited to rule Europe after the horror of WWII. So, Europe looked to leaders like Konrad Adenauer.

    We see some of the same thing with PC-cornfed millennials. They were raised in such an ideological bubble that they cannot deal with anything that deviates from Purity Spirals of PC. Everything ‘triggers’ or ‘micro-aggresses’ against them. The sight of past monuments freak them out. In their estimation, Christianity exists only to serve homos and Diversity.

    So, sometimes for a society to move forward and heal itself, it has to rely on the OLDER people with memory of a reality that wasn’t so narrow. It’s the way to move out of the cul-de-sac and try another path.

    Pioneers may have radical ideas but their formative influences didn’t include only those ideas. They grew up in a world of plurality, of old and new, left and right, religion and modernity. They thrived on a sense of discovery and adventure. In contrast, the ideological progeny may ONLY know the New Reality in which they were raised. As such, the progeny begin to accuse the pioneers of not being pure enough. Mao played on this factor to regain total power in 1966. He told the young Red Guards that the Pioneering Generation of communists were not pure and true enough. So, people like Deng came under attack. It’s like the Young Eternals purged the Old Eternals in ZARDOZ. The older ones, even as pioneers who embarked on the new path, remembered a world that had been different. In contrast, the young Eternals cannot conceive of reality from the one in which they were raised.

    In a way, ideological pioneers tend to be mentally more flexible and adaptive than the progeny. As pioneers, they don’t have a clear blueprint. So, they have to be creative and clever to make things work. There is a sense of trial and error. In contrast, the ideological progeny are raised with the idea that the Truth is already settled and they ONLY need to remain on the set path. Thus, they become mentally more rigid and even lazy. It’s like older sibling tends to be more creative because he has to figure things out for himself. Younger siblings don’t have to be so adventurous since the older one teaches them what to do and shows the way. Older sibling leads, young sibling follows.

    This may be a problem in the Alt Right too. Older members of the Alt Right had to be open-minded and creative in arriving at a new way of approaching society, politics, and ideas. They weren’t told what to think or handed some blueprint to follow. They had to do some thinking and soul-searching. They had to make their own way, rebelling against the Establishment and forging ahead on their own.
    In contrast, Generation Z that grew up in the Alt-Right-sphere don’t have to be venturesome. They can just go with the Formula, and that makes them rigid in thinking… as with Red Guards who ONLY knew Maoism or Hitler Youth who ONLY knew Hitlerism.

    Perhaps, one advantage that China had over USSR in their reforms in the 1980s is that there were more Chinese who recalled a time when China was NOT communist whereas just about everyone in the USSR only remembered and referenced communism. After all, Bolshevism came to power in 1917 whereas Chinese communists came to power in 1949. Since everyone in USSR only knew communism by the 70s nad 80s, they may have a harder time conceiving of a world that isn’t communist.

    Now, one could argue that Maoism did some good by its very failures. By destroying so much of the communist bureaucracy during the Cultural Revolution, it may have forced the leaders after Mao’s death to take bold new steps. If China had not undergone the Cultural Revolution, maybe the bureaucracy would have been much more entrenched and resistant to reforms…like USSR under Brezhnev. Who knows? If Khrushy had pushed a kind of Cultural Revolution in USSR and messed up the bureaucracy royally, maybe something bolder would have resulted than the tepid halfhearted reforms of Gorbachev.
    And even though Mao’s rift with USSR was really dumb, esp at a time when China sorely needed technological assistance from other nations, perhaps the break did more good than bad in the long run. Maybe if USSR and China had remained on good terms, Chinese economy would have been more integrated with the moribund economy of the USSR. Granted, it would have been a boost for the communist world as Chinese manpower and Russian technology would have achieved more in tandem. On the other hand, it would have meant China would have been less likely to move closer to the US, thus missing out on world trade that led to its recent rise.

    History is like that movie HIDDEN FORTRESS by Akira Kurosawa. Fortunes turn into unforeseen curses, curses turn into unforeseen blessings and so on and on.

  4. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Eric Margolis’s name is in Jeffrey Epstein’s little black book.
    A journalist, Mr. Margolis certainly knows what an interesting story it would be to write about his visits to Lolita Island. Why no comment, no article? See for yourself:

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