Twofish's Blog

April 5, 2007

Thought provoking article

Filed under: china, iraq, politics — twofish @ 8:35 pm

Here is a thought provoking article

Thinking is hard.  Scholarship is hard.  What makes  it hard is that it’s easy to be blindly in favor of the Chinese Communist Party, but it is just as easy to be blindly against the Chinese Communist Party, and the conclusions that you come up with by assuming that everything that the Party says or does is wrong are likely to be as incorrect as the conclusions that you come up with by assuming that everything that the Party says or does is right.  Trying to sort through and  figure out what is going on is hard work.

The way that the Chinese Communist Party manages to co-opt people is interest.  They just talk.  If you talk with most Chinese officials, you end up finding that they are normal, decent, well-meaning people, and if you spend a lot of time talking with someone that seems nice, normal, and decent, you end up starting to see the world in the same way that they do.
Let me point out one thing that  Dr. Holz didn’t mention and that is the huge impact that Iraq has had on discourse.  Before this Iraq thing, there was a clear coherent ideological alternative to the Chinese model of development.  Now there isn’t.  If you open your mouth today and talk about freedom and democracy spreading across the world, the first thing that people will think about is George W. Bush and the war in Iraq.  The amount of damage this has done to democracy promotion efforts throughout the world is incalculable since Beijing looks infinitely better than Baghdad at this point.



  1. I see little or no connection between your comment and the article posted here. The article is not an indictment of the CCP in general, but discusses the risks businessmen and social scientists run when they refrain from asking questions that may challenge the rule of the CCP. Surely we should worry about that?

    Comment by Amban — April 9, 2007 @ 7:04 pm

  2. The problem is that the article seems to imply that if you were to think about these questions that you’d come up with answers that would indict the CCP. There also seems to be the implication that if you come up with certain conclusions that don’t damn the CCP, that you haven’t thought hard enough about the questions.

    This was from a discussion at China Law Blog which I’m happy that you found that went into these issues.

    Also, I should point out that a lot of this discussion is arising because the CCP is growing increasingly adept at dealing with the media. Until about three or four years ago, the CCP was completely incompetent at talking with reporters, but it is growing better and better at media relations, and learning how to manage the news media. The methods, techniques, and strategies that the CCP are learning are similar to the one’s that Western governments and big multi-national corporations have mastered, and which *they* use to keep themselves in power. Coca-Cola convinces people that they should spend a lot of money to buy overpriced fizzy water. Politicians in advanced societies also use the same techniques to “sell ideas.”

    People have short attention spans, and there are a lot of tricks of human psychology that governments and MNC’s use to make sure that they get their version of the truth across. Basically people have a “master story” that they try to fit information into, and the trick is not to fight that “master story” but trying to fit inside of it. In order to get at what is really going on takes more time, energy, and effort than most people are willing to get into. This “master story” can be changed by external events, and one thing that has also caused a lot changes in public attitudes is Iraq. The “democracy activists overthrow evil dictatorship and bring in new age of peace and prosperity” is not one that people in the United States find credible now.

    Ultimately, I think this is a good thing that the CCP is learning how to govern through media. Government by spin and sound bites might be annoying, but it is a lot better than throwing journalists in jail, and if the CCP starts to learn to stay in power using soft methods (and Chomsky goes through a lot of these methods in Manufacturing Consent), it may find that “hard methods” are unnecessary and counterproductive. I agree with Chomsky that there are subtle media techniques that people in power use to keep their power, and make people *think* that they have more influence and control than they really have. I disagree with Chomsky that this is necessarily a bad thing.

    Politics is a lot like professional wrestling. There is the “show” that everyone focuses on that isn’t that important, and then there are the quiet discussions and back room deals where things really get done. The CCP is getting better and better at putting on a good show, and people who find the CCP objectionable should prepare for that.

    Comment by twofish — April 9, 2007 @ 10:20 pm

  3. No, you are reversing the argument here. As a matter of fact, it is the CCP that assumes that independent thinking will come up with answers that indicts the CCP. Why the CCP does not have more confidence, I do not know. No matter how adept the CCP is getting in manipulating media, there are certain areas you do not go and certain questions you do not ask, and it is the CCP that decides how for you can go. The problem is that very innocuous questions, questions that have no direct connection with CCP ruke, can be branded as subversive That is a knotty problem for anyone who is interested in China and wants to ask interesting questions, regardless of the outcome.

    Comment by Amban — April 10, 2007 @ 2:58 pm

  4. This is a typical problem with bureaucracies. What happens is that when people are confronted with reporters, their first reaction is to shut up, and if there is an issue that makes them look bad their first reaction is to cover it up. The CCP is not unique in this at all (ask Bill Clinton). The trouble with this strategy is that the cover-up then becomes the story, and what reporters and people assume is going on is usually a lot worse than what is actually going on.

    What the CCP is learning (slowly) is that if you let the reporters go where they want, and see what they see, you end up with generally better coverage. If you cover things up, then people will assume the worst, but if you let people see what is going on then the chances are that what they see isn’t nearly as bad as what they guess they will see if you don’t let them go. Also, if you let lots of people see a situation, then chances are that you will have lots of different opinions about what is going on. Once the “issue is confused” and its hard for a reporter to present the issue in good guys and bad guys, a lot of the bad coverage will disappear.

    It might help if you give examples of “questions that cannot be asked.” One problem I had with the Holz article was that some of the questions he argues that people “cannot ask” (such as the role of the Communist Party in business regulation) are questions I see people asking all of the time.

    Comment by twofish — April 10, 2007 @ 5:49 pm

  5. I’m procrastinating on my final master’s China paper just because your blog is so freakin’ good. I’ll try to update my blog more often once I graduate, but you’re DEFINATELY the best China blog I’ve read, and I read many. Its a shame your pinchant for deconstructing broad and simplistic media cycle “themes” don’t get more attention, especially since you may be one of the few who can understand and speak coherently on substantive economic issues.

    Comment by Joshua Xanadu — April 22, 2007 @ 4:16 am

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