The New Chinese Nationalism

— Au Loong Yu

CORPORATE GLOBALIZATION HAS been remarkably successful in driving down wages and the welfare of working people across the world. Resistance to this is necessary and inevitable, hence the birth of the anti-globalization movement. The movement is vastly heterogeneous, but internationalist aspirations are strongly visible.

Far right thinking, however, does exist within anti-globalization discourse, as Ray Kiely has observed:

"One of the most prominent populists in the United States, Pat Buchanan, has blamed globalization for the decline of manufacturing employment, the erosion of national sovereignty, increasing immigration, and the movement towards global socialism represented by institutions such as the IMF and World Bank…. This appeal to tradition is also a unifying theme among other right-wing challenges to globalization, including Hindu nationalism in India, Islamic nationalisms in the Middle East and Asia, and resurgent fascism in Europe. Right-wing nationalism therefore appeals to 'the people' and the nation as a defensive response to the uncertainties of globalization."(1)

Gerard Greenfield, in his essay Bandung Redux: Anti-Globalization Nationalisms in Southeast Asia, expresses deep concern over the rise of Asian nationalism, citing political developments in Thailand as a case in point:

"While the mass mobilizations that occurred in response to the Asian economic crisis of 1997-98 broadened the base of anti-globalization movements, the revolutionary potential of these protests and their limitations remain subjects of debate among activists. What these movements did show was the primacy of nationalism as the reference point for popular discontent with globalization, whether understood primarily in liberal terms as corporate globalization or in more radical terms as capitalist globalization or imperialism. Across a broad political spectrum, the IMF emerged as both symbol and source of the injustice and social devastation wrought by the crisis and its aftermath.

"The desire for an independent strategy to emerge from a correct set of policy choices, unrelated to the structural power and interests of capital, is a recurring weakness in the (Thai) Visions Project. Insofar as capital is incorporated into the analysis at all, it is premised on a foreign-national dichotomy according to which national capital becomes virtually synonymous with the nation…. One of the most remarkable aspects of the Thai Rak Thai Party’s ascent to power in 2001 was its ability to draw into its ranks prominent figures from NGOs and social movements…. These broad political alliances enabled Thai Rak Thai to channel nationalist sentiment into a comprehensive political project aimed at radically reorganizing the state to better serve the interests of 'progressive capitalists.'"(2)

If the Left and the labor movement align with “national capital” to oppose Western imperialist-led globalization, it might turn out that labor will merely be helping capital to reinforce the logic of globalization, albeit a version a bit more favorable to the needs of national capital. Thus the nationalist response to globalization necessarily subjects working people to the interests of ruling elites in the fight for the supreme cause of an often fictitious “national” interest.(3)

Within this general framework, let us now examine Chinese critiques of globalization.

A Nationalist Approach

The first well known contemporary Chinese Nationalist, He Xin, was allowed to put out anti-Western books in the early 1990s. This occurred against the background of the post-Tiananmen crackdown and subsequent Western-imposed sanctions. But even after Washington stopped and searched the Chinese ship “The Milky Way” in international waters, there was little nationalist protest. It was not until May 1999 when Washington bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Serbia that nationalism made a comeback, triggering of massive anti-U.S. protests.

I define this reaction as New Chinese Nationalism. While old Chinese Nationalism (1840-1949) was to a great extent a legitimate response to foreign aggression and popular aspirations for national independence, New Chinese Nationalism is entirely different. It is both a response by the ruling elite and important parts of the intellectuals to internal and external problems as China is reintegrated into global capitalism.

But the ideology also advocates modernizing China via strengthening the one-party state. Thus the ultimate purpose of New Chinese Nationalism is rebuilding the glory of the past China Empire, thus the propaganda on “the rise of China.”(4) I do not believe it contains anything progressive.

Zheng Yongnian argues in his book, Globalization and State Transformation in China, that the revival of nationalism springs from the new needs of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP):

"In the post-Mao era, the search for political legitimacy has replaced the foreign threat and has become the primary factor underpinning the revival of Chinese nationalism. In other words, the main sources for nationalism in the post-Mao era are domestic rather than external."(5)

Elsewhere Zheng elaborates on what he means by “the search for political legitimacy”:

"Nationalism has been used by the Chinese Communist Party as a response to the decline in Maoist faith, and nationalism is ready to become another vision of the CCP ideology."(6)

Zheng’s dichotomy of domestic/external is not entirely satisfactory, yet his contention that the CCP needs nationalism for its new source of legitimacy is on target. Previously the CCP’s position was to condemn nationalism as the “bourgeoisie’s viewpoint on nations.”(7) Nonetheless there has always been an element of nationalism in its policies on ethnic minorities, public education and cultural programs — packaged, however, as patriotism. Yet the CCP had not explicitly endorsed nationalism, let alone allow nationalist writings to be published. That policy shifted as the CCP gradually opted for a full-scale embrace of global capitalism.

The CCP may loosen control over part of the economy to private business and foreign capital, but it is not going to loosen control over production and distribution of information. It does not want to concede power over what and how people think. When basically all publishing houses, media, and film companies etc are still in the hands of the state, what the CCP allows is paramount in shaping public opinion and debate. No book is published, no film made, without prior approval from the Party.

It is here that the state’s position remains crucial. All dissident voices have been severely censored — democratic appeals, labor advocacy, and even mild critiques of environmental policy. For instance, when a Chinese publisher prepared an edition of Blue Gold by Tony Clark and Maude Barlow, the few paragraphs mildly criticizing Chinese policy on water were censored.

Now the Party allows the production and wide distribution of nationalist works. Books and TV programs glorify past great Emperors, thus advocating Chinese chauvinism and anti-Western thinking. Between 2004 and 2006, a state publisher printed 900,000 copies of the novel Wolves Totem, the story of the fierce and vigorous Mongolian Wolves. Fearing that readers might not understand, the author wrote a long postscript explaining his motive: the Chinese people must learn from the Mongolian Wolves how to survive in the globalization jungle. Chinese civilization was once great because it absorbed the culture of wolf worship of northern nomads, which helped the elites to maintain a great empire. This, of course, is outright Social Darwinism and Chinese Messianism.

While in the ‘80s themes of TV programs and books were dominated by a deep sense of national inferiority, a fear of being marginalized in global competition,(8) and a yearning for social reform, by the mid-’90s the mood had radically changed. Today the CCP is confident that the West cannot resist the temptation of the Chinese market, and in order to do so is ready to forgive the 1989 crackdown.

Furthermore, the 1999 bombing of the Chinese Embassy reminded the CCP and the Chinese people that Washington is not a reliable partner. This incident occurred during a period of intense negotiation with the United States over China’s accession to the World Trade Organization, when Washington was forcing Beijing into accepting more concessions. Foreign capital had been buying up Chinese firms, a fact that many regarded as threatening the country’s economic security.

The New Liberal, Nationalists and New Left

While Zheng sees “the main sources for nationalism in the post-Mao era are domestic rather than external,” this is a hotly debated issue between the New Liberals and the New Left. By New Liberals I refer to both Chinese liberals and neoliberals; indeed it is difficult to distinguish between the two. For example, the Liberal Yu Jie enthusiastically embraces privatization, the World Trade Organization, the sacking of workers in state-owned enterprises (SOE) as well as the U.S. attack on Iraq. Chinese liberals have few progressive values. New Liberals tend to think that China’s greatest enemy is its own obsolete institutions; globalization is the incarnation of modernization and civilization.

On the other hand, New Leftists are a very broad category; as New Leftist Dale Wen points out, the range includes “social democrat to Economic Nationalist to Maoist.”(9) Leading New Left spokespersons argue that if anything goes wrong in China, the blame should lie with external enemies, namely globalization and imperialism. If prominent New Leftists raise a charge against the CCP, it is that the CCP being too soft in dealing with external challengers.(10) In the dichotomy of market/state, foreign/national, West/East, liberals tend to argue for the first paradigm, while the New Left tends to favor the latter.

In 2004 the New Liberals issued their polemic against the nationalists and the New Left in a book Qian Liu (Under Current) — Critique on and Rethinking of Narrow Nationalism. One of the authors, Xiao Xuehui, attacked the nationalists for believing “that ‘the law of might makes right still constitute the basic principle of this world’….The nationalist cannot see that many countries in the world, U.S. included, is… making the rules (governing the world) more just, more fair and reasonable in their handling of international affairs.”(11)

The more famous liberal, Qin Hui, argued:

"Liberalism, in the final analysis, implies Universalism. This is because economic liberalization and its impartiality demands that all factors of production move freely around the globe.... Under the conditions of fair competition, the return of the factors of production tend to be equalized…. For poor countries, to fight for free movement of all factors of production is more advantageous than to fight against free trade. Universal Liberalism is necessarily more effective than nationalism in the defense of national interest."(12)

The New Liberals actively support China’s accession to the WTO. Liu Junning, another well-known liberal professor, suggested:

"China’s accession to WTO will pressure the Chinese institutions of economic management to reform… When Western companies come to China in large scale, they will demand a more open and fair market economy…. Accession to WTO requires the Chinese government to increase openness of its policy and action…. This is determined by the principle of openness of market economy and the principle of accountability as well…. Accession to WTO implies a China now officially integrated into the world capitalist system and its entire economic and political institution, characterized by market economy and democracy."(13)

This is the crudest version of market determinism. On the question of war, Yu Jie condemned the New Left for their denunciation of the U.S. attacks on Iraq in 2003, identifying this as support for Saddam. “There is a kind of war,” he wrote, “which is fought to defend the ultimate value of liberty and humanity. We regard the USA’s war against the Saddam regime of Iraq as one of these…. Days ago, a group of Chinese intellectuals issued a so-called anti-war statement. We believe the statement represents an exacerbation of the degeneration of Chinese intellectuals. The authors of this statement disregard the universal moral value of humanity and express deep-rooted hatred against the U.S., which represents civilization and the progress of humanity.”(14)

One may wonder how a sincere liberal could have written this. In Yu Jie’s case one may even suspect that he is simply a U.S. accomplice. The New Liberals’ enthusiasm for privatization, which has resulted in 40 million workers being sacked, has given the New Liberals a nick-name, the “Partitionists” (of state assets).

While the New Liberals tend to embrace everything arising from globalization, nationalists like Wang Xiaodong are just the opposite. In the aftermath of the U.S. bombing of the Chinese Embassy, Wang published The Chinese Road Under the Shadow of Globalization,(15) which mocks the post-Cold War world as nothing but the same old story of “might makes right,” in contrast to the notion of the New World Order as promoted by the elder Bush.

Wang regards pro-U.S. Liberals as nothing but people who deny their own cultural and traditional identity, and labels this as “inverse racism.” He repeatedly argues that since the nation-state is still paramount for security, it follows that nationalism is still an important value. Instead of uncritical integration with globalization, China should opt for “splendid isolation,” relying not on alliances but only on her own defensive capacity. In 2000 he released On Contemporary Nationalism, which refers positively to the Nazi theory of “living space,” and openly embraces Social Darwinism.

The term New Left may lead non-Chinese readers to evaluate them in the light of the 1960s New Left. In reality there is no ideological link between the two. The Chinese New Left is a term used to distinguish it from the Old Left, or Conservatives, who are die-hard Stalinists. The New Left is by contrast very diverse. Their common ground is a critique of globalization, the market, privatization and liberal democracy. There is less agreement as to an alternative.

A common point may be the emphasis on the role of the one-party state, the value of collectivism, the importance of holding the multi-ethnic Chinese state together, a more autonomous path of economic development, and reference to a Maoist legacy, although not every one of the New Leftists share all of these.

Major spokespersons of the New Left display strong statist tendencies, supporting the one-party state as far back as the post-Tiananmen crackdown period, although at the time the term New Left had not yet appeared. While the New Liberals welcomed the collapse of Soviet Union, the New Left regards it as a disaster, a fate which China must try to avoid at all cost. In fact, their anxiety to keep intact the multi-ethnic Chinese state — with the Han the dominant ethnicity — is so great that one may say this is their primary concern.

New Leftists’ skepticism about neoliberalism and liberal democracy is chiefly driven by their anxiety about “stability,” which they see is threatened by market reform, accession to the WTO, or implementation of parliamentary elections. This strain of thought echoes the Deng and Jiang administration’s well-known saying that “Stability overrides everything!”

While the liberals believe the state must shrink in order to facilitate a growing market economy, New Leftists Hu Angang and Wang Shaoguang argue the opposite. In 1993 they published A Study of China State Capacity(16) in which they argue that a strong state is necessary for market reform. They argue that the revenue of the central government has been far too low, thus making China vulnerable to centrifugal forces. While the particular issue of central revenue may be a case worth making, the authors have a larger concern. Two years later Hu produced Challenging China, expressing his worry on a possible collapse after Deng’s death:

"Whether China can peacefully and stably make a transition to the post Deng era is the core issue…. Mao Zedong knew that the Cultural Revolution which he had launched was very unpopular; in contrast Deng Xiaoping knows that the reform and openness which he launched is popular…. But he knows that a country’s fate depending on the authority of one or two particular persons is unhealthy and dangerous…which makes the present need to strengthen institutional reconstruction ever more important and urgent."(17)

His advice is “institutional reconstruction” to strengthen central power through tax reform and the eradication of corruption, but also to strengthen the one-party state. Another New Leftist, Cui Zhiyuan, is deeply skeptical of liberal democracy and parliamentary elections, seeing them as vulnerable to manipulation by the wealthy. He praises Mao’s idea of the AnGang Charter as the best alternative. AnGang is a steel mill that in the 1960s had promoted the idea of worker participation in the mill’s management; cadres were to take turns working in the workshops. The experiment received Mao’s endorsement as an expression of economic democracy.

Cui writes that the AnGang Charter “is the best part of Mao’s Thought. Disregarding those mistakes made during the implementation of AnGang Charter, its idea of economic democracy is still a treasure of spiritual resources for China in the coming of the 21st Century.”

The AnGang Charter is largely forgotten in China now, but according to Cui it flourishes in Japan and has become the mode of operation of the Toyota company, which allows elements of economic democracy.(18)

AnGang in reality never had workers participation, through democratic elections, in its top management, nor at the plant level, nor at the workshop level, but only at the work team level. It is pale if compared to the workers self-management model of the former Yugoslavia, where workers had the power to choose management.

As for requiring leading cadres to work on the frontline, this is reviving the vision of Xu You, who lived more than 2000 years ago. He advocated an equal society where kings worked side-by-side with common farmers to till the land. The vision, however, has nothing to do with a modern socialist vision: The latter envisages an equal society, characterized not by coercing mental laborers to perform physical labor but rather by eliminating the social division of these two kinds of labor through technological innovation, the shortening of labor time and the elimination of exploitation.

Merging of New Left and Nationalists

By 2003 foreign firms accounted for 31% of all manufacturing output in China, up from 9.5% in 1992. The growth of market share for foreign capital at the expense of State Owned Enterprises (SOEs), and the immense pressure to restructure SOEs in order to maintain competitiveness after China’s accession to the WTO resulted in the sacking of 40 million SOE workers. Transnational corporations were considered by some as threatening China’s economic security.

Two main New Left scholars, Han Deqiang and Yang Fan, have written extensively against globalization and China’s accession to WTO. In 2000 Han published The Crash — The Global Trap and China’s Realistic Choice.(19) He describes the high hopes among Chinese about the supposed efficiency of market as “market romanticism.” Contrary to the neoliberals’ claim, he pointed out, China’s accession to the WTO under the current terms would only jeopardize the population. He noted:

"The effect of globalization is the rapid seizure of the high value-added branches of the Chinese economy by foreign capital and imported goods. Some of them have now been totally dominated by foreign capital. SOEs and other (domestic firms) have found their profit sources are drying up, losses are reported, bad debts are rising, firms are on the verge of bankruptcy, and real unemployment rises steeply. All of these seriously threaten the betterment of people’s livelihood and social stability."(20)

In place of “market romanticism” Han counterpoised “market realism,” which sees protectionism, rather than free trade, as necessary for developing countries. In his book Han never opposed China’s accession to the WTO in principle, but merely considered the terms odious. He argued for a better deal, one that would protect China’s market and at the same time enable China to acquire a bigger share of the world market. How to achieve this? His answer is:

"Market realism demands that we take the state to be the embodiment of our highest interest, and to have a sober understanding of the market as a battlefield of competition. Under the guidance of market realism, all our infant industry will be combined and formed into a single unit under the auspices of the state, and then join competition in the world market, fight a prolonged war of the weak against the strong, and eventually achieve the genuine rise of China.(21)

"When we ultimately win this economic war, China will not only develop fully within the WTO regime, but it will even become possible to dominate it."(22)

Han’s critique of globalization and WTO reminds me of a popular TV show in the 1990s where there was an episode in which a mother wrote to her son, who was studying in United States and working part-time washing dishes. She wrote, “Son, study hard. In the future, when our country grows strong and powerful, then we will make those Laowai (westerners) wash dishes for us.”

Han does not oppose corporate-led globalization, but only advocates for a stronger element of protectionism. There is always an element of Chinese Messianism in Han’s (and other New Left authors’) writings:

"If the Chinese path can solve what Western Civilization cannot solve, the Chinese nation will be able to conquer the heart of the world, and China will stand in the East as a rich, democratic and civilized nation."(23)

Another well known New Leftist, Yang Fan, lays out his program in his article 2005-6: Ideological and Theoretical Struggle in Chinese Society:

"On the question of development, [we need] to base our fundamental researches on the theory of the Great Nation, with which we can find the path towards the rise of China as a special and great country.

"On the question of opening up to the world against the background of globalization, we need to explore the road to our national security and the rise of our nation. We need to break the logic of capital, to abandon the assumption of the absence of external enemies, and put national security as the core issue of our strategic adjustment.

"On the question of reform we uphold the kind of reform which is fair, and to achieve theoretical transcendence over both right and left discourses and abolish the dogma and fundamentalism of both planned economy and the market. In place of those we propose a new ideological guideline for reforms… the concept of 'strategic national industry.' We must pay special attention to guide private entrepreneurs and private business into National Industry.\On the question of theory we uphold a kind of central left position which combines new socialism and patriotism. We are for an alliance with the centre right, the centre and the left liberals, even for a bloc with the planned-economy-fundamentalists — the old left — in order to build a common front to oppose the Chinese neo-liberals and the far right partitionists."(24)

This program is not new. It is the same old story of state-led growth. Han and Yang embrace Great Han nationalism so completely that they have been urging the government to attack Taiwan and incorporate it as soon as possible. “If we win this war,” Han wrote, “the years of insult inflicted upon us by the US will be left behind, the Chinese people will once more unite around the CCP, and the development of the Chinese economy and society in the 21st Century will then be guaranteed.”(25)

Han and Yang, and many of the New Left as well as the CCP, have been so immersed in Great Han nationalism that they can never conceive of the democratic right of the Taiwan people to decide for themselves if they want unification with Mainland China and on what terms. They are also blind to the fact that ethnic minorities in Tibet and Xinjiang have been denied basic democratic rights.(26)

Domestic Factors are Also External

Han and Yang’s essential argument is neither market protectionism nor Keynesianism, but strengthening the one-party state as the salvation for China against the external threat of globalization, and as a way to out-compete rivals in the world market. While the New Liberals argue the opposite, both commit the same fatal mistake of counterpoising “internal” factors to “external” ones.

When Han and Yang argue that globalization is an external threat, they are blind to the fact that it is the one-party state which opened China up to global capitalism, opting for a strategy that is fiercely dependent on foreign capital and the market. It does all this consciously on its own. While it is not entirely free in the choice of policy (who is?), one can hardly argue that such policies have been forced upon China by the U.S. empire. Given the size of China and the high degree of state control over all levels of the society and economy, China is in a much better position than many developing countries to defy the United States and maintain a more autonomous development course if need be. If the bureaucracy failed to make such a choice, it is first and foremost because it sees the alternative, namely harmony with global capitalism and an economic alliance with the United States, as most beneficial to its self-interest and therefore a desirable course.

The administrative bureaucracy of the Mao era has transformed itself into the kind of “bureaucratic capitalists” that prevailed during the rule of the KMT before 1949. From Beijing to the county level, responsible officials are often directly or indirectly — through family members and cronies — involved in business. It is in their interest to pursue a grand alliance with global capitalism.

Peter Nolan notes the interdependence between China and the United States:

"China has become a “supply engine” of the global economy, while the USA has become the world’s “demand engine.” Each is growing in a deeply unbalanced fashion (Roach, 2005)….Today, the USA accounts for almost two-fifths of China’s exports and China holds most of its foreign exchange reserves in dollars….The Chinese and US economies have become deeply inter-twined."(27)

The grand economic alliance between the Chinese ruling elites and those of the West is of course not entirely stable, particularly in the context of the present apparent “rise of China.” After 20 years of integration with global capitalism, Chinese firms have grown to a point that they are becoming confident enough to demand a larger share of the value added in the global supply chain — a development unwelcomed by the West and Japan. The race for oil between China and the rich countries has added fuel to the fear of “yellow peril.”

These frictions, however, do not and cannot negate their common interests. This interest reflects a globalized world where the dichotomy of domestic versus external becomes obsolete. Today large Chinese firms, often SOEs, are more and more denationalized in their ownership. They are listed on the Hong Kong or New York stock exchanges; part of their shares are sold directly to Western or Japanese TNCs. This includes even state banks, which supposedly occupy the economy’s commanding heights.

Many SOEs have been involved in joint ventures with Western, Japanese or Korean firms. Leslie Sklair speaks of “a transnational capitalist class based on the transnational corporations is emerging that is more or less in control of the processes of globalization.”(28) One thing is sure: in the era of globalization, terms such as “national bourgeoisie” or “national industry” have to be greatly qualified before they can achieve useful analytical value. The truth is that “national” elements often carry foreign elements as well. We need to investigate the internal mechanisms of the global capitalist class and global capitalism at work.

Does the New Left Represent Workers?

This Nationalist discourse is not merely the result of incorrect theory. In fact, it is correct from the perspective of the Chinese elite, whose ambition now is to seize a larger share of the world market with the state’s help. From this position other nation states and TNCs all appear to be external contenders. Chinese workers and farmers appear to them as domestic only because they are workers in the world’s sweatshop. But it is their low wages that allow Chinese firms to be competitive in the world market.

Here the dichotomy of national versus foreign makes sense. Instead of advancing a common national interest, the nationalist discourse only defends the narrow interest of the ruling elites. Zheng, however, has a different viewpoint: “New Liberals represent the interest of newly rising rich class, while the New Left represents the interest of workers and farmers.”(29)

Zheng’s view of the liberals is incorrect, as Han Deqiang frankly admitted in a NGO workshop held during the 6th Ministerial Meeting of the WTO:

"The New Left does not have a workers and farmers position. Our main concern is how to avoid catastrophe. We hope to have adjustment (of government policy). We have widespread support among the middle and higher rank (of government officials). In the eyes of workers and farmers, we may be considered as running dogs of the capitalists. We do not want instability. We are reformists."(30)

Later Han wrote an article explaining further:

"The new leadership of the Central government has already noticed the problem (of the widening gap of rich and poor, unemployment etc). That is why they advocate sustainable development, harmonious society, autonomous innovation, etc. Their ideas are to a certain degree influenced by the New Left.

"As to the question of ‘should we not do something for workers?’ my reply is that I am more concerned about social crises and the outbreak of catastrophe. My position may be regarded by workers and farmers as 'running dog of capitalists.' What I propose is to replace one-off exploitation with sustainable exploitation."(31)

In another article he argues that

"The issue of today’s Chinese economy is not whether we want exploitation or not, but whether we want a kind of exploitation which is one off, or the kind which is sustainable.(32)

"The casualties of mines accidents are called one off exploitation, because workers are killed. If workers (are treated as such that they) can survive, or even able to support their families, I think the miners should be thankful for having a kind of exploitation which is sustainable."(33)

Yang Fan also explicitly told his readers which class he favors:

"We are for upholding the banner of patriotism. Chinese national capital and state capital need the protection of the state. Without state protection, after we joined the WTO we would not be able to compete against TNCs …. I think most SOEs should be liquidated. We do not need so many SOEs. However, the state must play a role to support state capital and private capital, through making common rules to protect our intellectual property and brand names."(34)

The differences between the New Liberals and certain prominent scholars of the New Left (not all of them, of course) is not that they represent diametrically opposed classes, but rather that they represent a different path for the newly ascendant capitalist class. The New Liberals enjoyed greater resonance in the 1990s, when the government launched the policy of completely embracing foreign capital. After ten years of dependent growth, the danger of economic recolonization has become real and the New Left’s discourse of national rebirth appeals to the bureaucracy.

Neither the bureaucratic capitalists nor the private capitalists are homogenous. Because of their specific position in the economy there is always a faction seeing closer partnership with foreign capital as a choice, or, in contradistinction, another faction want more state intervention. The former is therefore more receptive to the New Liberals’ perspective, while the latter more inclined to the New Left.

This explains why major New Left spokepersons have accommodated to state repression even when the sword is directed at the Old Left. The New Left see the state in general, but first and foremost the one led by the CCP, as the sole salvation for China against foreign aggression and internal underdevelopment. While they exhibit deep hostility toward the New Liberals (and the New Liberals react similarly to the New Left),(35) Dale Wen (or Han and Yang) refuse to make any criticism of the one-party state. Towards the end of the Chinese version of her 47-page report, she expresses these hopes for Hu Jintao:

"Fortunately, the government is responding to the people’s appeal (on the social and environmental crises). Since 2003, the new leadership of the government has made many adjustments to solve the problems caused by the neo-liberals policies promoted during the past several years…. Will the Chinese government opt for a more thorough policy re-thinking and further break away from neo-liberalism? We are optimistic about this."(36)

We are then told how the Hu leadership has adopted “progressive measures” including reduction of rural taxes and promises of additional funding for education. At most these are piecemeal economic improvements. There is nothing in Hu’s package that empowers people with basic political rights like freedom of association or freedom of the press. But if the people enjoyed these rights they would not have been totally defenseless in the face of expropriation by state officials in the first place!

The CCP can always make episodic economic concessions, but never political ones. It adheres to the political philosophy of all ruling elites: “one must work for the good of the people, but the people must do nothing for themselves.”(37)

While the state appears to the New Left as the solution, it is in fact a big problem. The degeneration and corruption of the one-party state has been so severe that Chen Yun, leader of the CCP, second only to Deng Xiaoping, remarked before his death in 1995 that it might end up wangdang wangguo — the downfall of both the party and the state. More than ten years has passed and the corruption then pales in comparison with that of today.

Widespread corruption and ruthless privatization contributes to growing centrifugal forces within the CCP. Before the reforms, corruption was mainly confined to the theft of public property in the form of consumer goods. By the mid-1980s, officials began to speculate in the market. Since the early 1990s, however, officials have rushed to set up their own companies or prompt their friends and relatives to set up private companies. One of the easiest methods of making money is transferring public property to private companies.

A popular joke sums up today’s degree of corruption: randomly pick 100 medium-ranking officials and shoot them, probably only 10 are innocent; pick 100 Big Mandarins and do the same, maybe only one is innocent.

It is common knowledge that all statistics in China are unreliable. For instance, trade balance figures for August 1998 recorded a US$20 billion surplus. Strangely, the foreign currency reserve recorded an increase of less than US$1 billion. This anomaly not only reflects unreliable statistics but also illegal capital flight (unreliable statistics masking theft). Hence, it is common for problems to accumulate to the point of crisis, only after which do they come to the attention of the central government — by which time it is often too late.

Moreover, corruption is the most important issue that antagonizes common people. It has resulted in countless protests, strikes, even riots. The Tiananmen crackdown stands as a message to all officials that even when these incidents happen, the Party will not yield to people’s pressure. This is a kind of mianzui tiejuan.(38) No wonder that since the early 1990s the bureaucracy’s appetite has grown immensely, and no wonder a second wave of rebellion is brewing.

The CCP’s crony capitalism is preparing a financial crisis for itself. No one knows exactly the amount of non-performing loans in the Chinese banking system, nor can they be sure that the ledgers of the publicly listed companies are accurate. One cannot manage something that one has no idea about. The reason why China escaped the 1997 Asian crisis was simply because the money (RMB) was not convertible. With its convertibility on the government’s agenda there is doubt that China could contain a second crisis.

Could an economic crisis provoke a social upheaval?(39) In the course of robbing workers, farmers, and state properties, the bureaucracy plants the seeds for economic and social unrest.

Although Chen Yun made corruption his main concern, most prominent New Leftists tend to mention it only in passing. Even when they deal with it, they see corruption as the result of “spiritual pollution from the West” or globalization — hence the necessity of party scrutiny. Never do they turn to the simple solution of ending one-party rule and placing the state bureaucracy under popular democratic control. Without this action it will be impossible to stop the bureaucracy from enriching itself. The bureaucracy knows this very well, which is why they fiercely resist any moves toward democratization. For the CCP, it is a good strategy to encourage the growth of nationalism, diverting attention from domestic problems to external enemies.

Democracy is Paramount

The Chinese party-state is all-powerful. Civil society is close to nothing. The further strengthening of this state and the development of state capitalism under its auspices only implies a further race to the bottom in the globalized market, or worse, war.

Anti-globalization along Chinese nationalist lines only assists the CCP’s effort in removing all obstacles to this road to hell. People who advocate such a course could hardly be described as New or Left. It is just the same old nationalist story. Some of the New Left, in an attempt to differentiate themselves from Cui, Han and Yang, describe the latter as qiangguo zuopai, or left nationalists, rather than New Left.

Certainly something we must take into account is that Chinese participants in the debate may not be able to speak freely. However, even under conditions of censorship there are some New Leftists, sincere Maoists or broad leftists who have not succumbed to nationalism and statism.

Wang Hui, another prominent scholar of the New Left, exhibits little nationalism in his critique of globalization. His emphasis on the active role of the workers’ movement in making social change is rare. Kuang Xinnian, who is considered a Maoist, in many respects remains faithful to the CCP’s original critical position on nationalism and even to certain extent supercedes it:

"Nationalism is a kind of bourgeois ideology. Essentially it is a kind of thinking used to suppress the class consciousness of the proletariat and socialist ideology. One of the important causes for the collapse of Soviet Union is the limitation of “socialism in one country,” which resulted in ideological degeneration from a socialist vision to that of nationalism, and ultimately metamorphosis into “social-imperialism.” … If China simply endorses nationalism as an alternative ideology, it will not be able to solve domestic class antagonism and also the conflict between nation states, on the contrary it only serves to reinforce these conflicts. This would be a tragedy not only for China, but also for the world."(40)

Unfortunately these voices are far too marginalized. Additionally critical New Leftists seem to avoid direct debate with the Nationalists. This is by no means accidental; critical New Leftists are too heterogonous to make effective responses.

There are good reasons to expect a stronger response to neoliberalism and corporate-led globalization in the years to come. The one-party state, however, with the help of nationalists and the qiangguo zuopai like Han and Yang, has largely shaped the response into a nationalist discourse. If a movement from below is steered in that direction, it will add fuel to Chinese nationalism.

It is therefore an urgent task of the Left to make a thorough critique of the deeply rooted Chinese statist and nationalist tradition — as well as the one-party regime. If another world is necessary, then it must make individual rights, pluralism in party politics, political and economic democracy, and last but not least, internationalism, its core values. It also implies a transcendence of the narrow discourses of both the New Liberals and the Nationalist Left.


  1. The Clash of Globalizations — Neo-liberalism, the Third Way and Anti-Globalization, Historical Materialism Book Series, 177.
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  2. Socialist Register 2005, Merlin Press, 170, 175.
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  3. We have to differentiate national identity and the attachment to national culture from nationalism. We have to be careful not to identify the Keynesian economic program or of the welfare state with nationalism as well.
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  4. On this subject please refer to the author Post MFA era and the rise of China at the website of Globalization Monitor:
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  5. Globalization and State Transformation in China, Cambridge University Press, 2004, 51.
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  6. Ibid, 41.
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  7. “Nationalism is the bourgeoisie’s viewpoint on nations; its program and principle in dealing with national issue…. In colonial, semi-colonial countries and independent nation, national struggles against imperialism, nationalism is to a certain extent progressive, but only to the extent that this is in accordance to the interests of the bourgeoisie…. The world view of proletarian parties is internationalism, not nationalism.” Ci Hai (Dictionary), Shanghai Dictionary Press, 1980, 1805.
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  8. There was then a common and deep anxiety across social classes on the danger of China losing qiu-ji, or global citizenship, because of the slowness of reform.
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  9. China copes with globalization —- a mixed review, published by International Forum On Globalization, 39.
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  10. There are of course New Leftists who are less pro-government, but very often they are less well known. A major exception is Wang Hui.
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  11. Published by Huadong Shifan Daxue Chubanshe, 2004, 16.
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  12. Ibid, 316-7.
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  13. Beijing Spring, Jan 2000, Hong Kong.
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  15. Published by China Social Science Press, 1999.
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  16. Zhongguo guojia nengli baogao, Liaoning People’s publisher, 1993.
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  17. Tao Zhan Zhongguo, 1995, Xin Xinwen Cultural Ltd. Company, Taipei, Taiwan, 248, 272-3.
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  18. The AnGang Charter and Post-Fordism, Dushu, 3 (1996), 11-21.
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  19. Pengzhuang, published by Economic Management Press, 2000.
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  20. Ibid, 5-6.
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  21. Ibid, 160.
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  22. Ibid, 8.
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  23. Ibid, 264.
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  24. 2005-6: Zhongguo de shehui sichao yu lilun douzheng,
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  25. Meiguo zenyang zhizao he zhichi liangguolun (How US manufactures and support Two States Theory), 1999,
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  26. Tragically but not surprisingly, Great Han nationalism necessarily triggers the growth of Taiwanese Nationalism or even Taiwanese Chauvinism, whose advocates love to yell slogans like “Chinese pigs go to hell!” Another cause for the rise of Taiwan nationalism may be attributed to globalization in an East Asia perspective, namely that when China re-integrates with global capitalism, it first and foremost draws Taiwan into its orbit, to the point that economic integration between the two has far reached a point of no return, causing an increase in unemployment.
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  27. Peaceful Rise or Yellow Peril?, Peter Nolan, CITIC pacific research advance, 7 April 2006, 19-24.
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  28. The Transnational Capitalist Class, Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 2001, 5.
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  29. Globalization and State Transformation in China, Cambridge University Press, 2004, 186.
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  30. Shi gongnong de wuhui, haishi xinzuopai de wuhui? (Who have misunderstood things? The working people or the New Left?), a report on the workshop on China organized by Focus of the Global South, International Forum on Globalization, Globalization Monitor. See
  31. Zai Tuopai yanzhong shui bushi zibenjia de zougou — huida yixie pengyou de yiwen, (In the eyes of the Trotskyists, who are not running dogs of capitalists?),
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  32. ianhe qilai fandui xinziyouzhuyi (Unite to oppose neo-liberalism),
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  33. Ke chixu fazhan he shehui gongping (Sustainable development and social justice),
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  34. zhongguo minying jingji yinggai shangshen wei minzu jingji (Chinese private economy should advance into national economy),
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  35. Sometimes it goes so far as to applaud the suppression of the other side by the state.
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  36. shi shaoshuren fuqilai de gaige —- zhongguo yu tongwang jingji quanqiuhua zhi lu (Reform which enriches a few —- China and the road to economic globalization), 50. The quotation in the Chinese version is different from the English version, China copes with globalization —- a mixed review. Whereas the Chinese version is "optimistic" about Hu’s break with neo-liberalism, in the English version this evaluation is absent.
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  37. A French conservative spoke these words against democracy during the French 1797 Revolution. Quoted from Democracy and Revolution, George Novack, Pathfinder Press, 73.
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  38. A kind of certificate, made of iron, was granted by the emperor to his favorite ministers which pardoned in advance all crimes they may be involved, except crimes like treason.
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  39. Peaceful Rise or Yellow Peril? Peter Nolan, CITIC pacific research advance, 7 April 2006, 11.
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  40. Minzuzhuyi yu zhongguo (Nationalism and China),
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ATC 136, September-October 2008

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