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sábado, 16 de maio de 2020

Mao's Great Famine: lessons for today - Cesar Chelala (The Globalist)

Global PairingsPrevious

COVID 19 Today and China’s Great Famine

Are there any lessons to be learned from China 60 years ago for today’s world, which is facing the worst pandemic of the past 100 years?
By César Chelala, The Globalist, May 16, 2020
César Chelala is a global health consultant and contributing editor for The Globalist.

What happened in China during the Great Famine can be a sobering lesson of what not to do during a time of crisis

Between 1959 and 1961, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) underwent the Great Chinese Famine, one of the country’s darkest times.
Yang Jisheng, senior journalist from the Xinhua News Agency, estimated that China registered 36 million deaths back then due to starvation. It was one of the greatest tragedies in human history.

Tragedies then, tragedies now

Although current global circumstances are vastly different now, the following question offers itself up quite naturally: Can any lesson be derived from that experience in China 60 years ago for today’s world that is facing the worst pandemic of the last century?

Any such comparison may strike today’s observers as strange. Not only did this calamity happen long ago, but China was not really on the horizon of many nations anyway during its self-isolation period that lasted for most of the Mao era.

Look at the numbers!

However, one statistical fact stands out. If science-based projections become true, then over the full-blown course of the pandemic — i.e., way beyond this initial stage — millions of people all over the world could die.

Although this wouldn’t put the COVID 19 pandemic in the same range as China’s Great famine in the sheer cost of lives, it could be devastating in the number of lives lost and on the effects on the countries’ economies and development.

Learn from China? You must be kidding

At the same time, the mere suggestion that something is to be learned from China’s past will strike some as fanciful.

After all, its much more enlightened government today has been rightfully criticized severely for its very tactical response to the pandemic – mainly via the accompanying lack of openness.

Blame China, the US, the WHO and the UK

However, anyone who wants to make that argument also needs to acknowledge it isn’t just China that is to be blamed.

So is the U.S. federal government, as well as a host of other big country governments (such as the UK’s) and the World Health Organization (WHO). With good reason, they have all been criticized severely for their inadequate response to the pandemic.

Indeed, leading scientific experts in the U.S. claim that the toll the pandemic has taken on peoples’ lives could have been significantly reduced under two conditions.

That would have been the case if, first, all governments would have been more forthright in the seriousness of the situation and, second, if they had promptly implemented appropriate measures of control.

The global message from China’s Great Famine

What happened in China during the Great Famine can be a sobering lesson of what not to do during a time of crisis.

During that time, the Chinese government enacted harmful policies in spite of the damage they were causing to the general population. At the same time, the government was deaf to any criticism of its actions.

Mao Zedong, Chairman of the Communist Party of China, was keen on promoting drastic changes in farming policy, including the prohibition of farm ownership.

Failure to abide by these policies led to brutal punishment. Some, in the throes of starvation, even resorted to cannibalism, which was described as being “on a scale unprecedented in the history of the 20th century.”

Just as Mao wasn’t prepared to listen…

Mao Zedong was ruthless with those who questioned his policies and persisted in his policies that cost the Chinese people dearly.

This was also true at the top of the political pyramid. Liu Shaoqi, who had been the third most powerful man in China and had been groomed as Mao’s successor, died under harsh treatment and torture during the Cultural Revolution.

One result of the new farming policies was that a huge regional flood of the Yellow River had affected part of Henan Province and Shandong Province in 1958. The flood affected 741,000 people and 18 villages were inundated.

In 1961, Liu Shaoqi, then the second Chairman of the PRC, was honest enough in attributing the famine 70% to man-made policies — and only 30% to natural disasters. His honesty proved to be a deadly mistake.

… Trump isn’t prepared to listen

Similar to Mao Zedong’s relationship with his dissenters during the Great Famine, President Donald Trump is constantly disagreeing with his own top scientific advisers on the course to take to control the pandemic.

Rick Bright, former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, was ousted after the Trump administration ignored his warnings about the seriousness of the pandemic.

Bright has also courageously opposed the use of hydroxychloroquine, a drug to combat malaria, to be used on COVID 19 patients, because of the drug’s proven toxicity.

On May 5th, Bright, not willing to shrink back, filed a suit with the Office of Special Counsel, a government agency responsible for whistleblower complaints.

Mao and Trump: Testy “doctors” wrecking their nations

As was the case with Mao Zedong’s harmful agricultural policies back then, so it is now with President Trump being adamant about promoting false cures to combat the coronavirus.

When Trump suggested in all seriousness that injecting disinfectants under the skin or applying UV light could kill the virus, there was a sharp increase in the number of deaths resulting from poisoning with disinfectants.

In addition, claiming that it would be “counterproductive,” Trump prohibited Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, from testifying at a House of Representatives hearing on the U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic. (He did agree, however, to let Dr. Fauci testify before the Senate).

This riled former President Barak Obama, who had been reluctant to criticize the Trump administration until now, enough to call his successor’s handling of the pandemic “a chaotic disaster.”

Trump is more tone-deaf than Mao

For all our Western assumptions about the natural superiority of our system, let’s look at the flipside of this assumption in the Mao-Trump context.

During the time of Mao Zedong, it was much more difficult for a dictatorial leader to hear dissenting voices due to total suppression.

This is not the case today in the United States. President Trump needs only to watch almost any TV channel (except FOX News) or read any of the country’s leading newspapers to see or read what reality is really like.

His ability to be immune to that – or to twist the facts in a grotesque fashion – is truly bewildering. It seriously questions his fitness for the office he holds.


These are trying times not only for the United States but for the world. On the one hand, it is anxiously waiting for the reemergence of a U.S. government determined to provide constructive global leadership.

On the other hand, it is mentally readying itself for the prospect of another term for Mr. Trump. That such an election outcome would be considered impossible in any other developed nation (other than probably the UK) is no help in the U.S. context.

In the meantime, deaths continue to rise, and the world faces an ominous future.

Although there are many examples of wrong actions by powerful leaders in history, never before have the actions of so few affected the quality of life and survival of so many people.

About César Chelala

 [New York, United States]

quinta-feira, 7 de maio de 2020

Deng Xiaoping: o comunista capitalista - Ezra F. Vogel

Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China 
by Ezra F. Vogel. 
Through time, Deng Xiaoping has become one of China's greatest leaders, even eclipsing Mao Zedong in the minds of some, since it was Deng whose leadership brought the greatest advance in China's economic growth:
"[While living ] in France, [a young] Deng quit his factory jobs and did odd jobs around the tiny Chinese Communist Party office led by Zhou Enlai, who was six years older than Deng. Deng, known then as 'Dr. Mimeograph' for his role in producing the simple propaganda pamphlets that publicized the leftist cause to Chinese students in France, became in effect an apprentice where he could observe how Zhou Enlai, already a leader among fellow Chinese youth, with experience in Japan and England, went about building an organization. Though one of the youngest in the group, Deng soon was on the executive committee of the Communist youth organization in Europe. At Sun Yat-sen (Zhongshan) University in Moscow where the Soviets were just beginning to train Chinese for the international communist movement, Deng was selected for Group No. 7, in which the highest level of Chinese leaders were trained for the international Communist movement. At Sun Yat-sen University Deng had an opportunity to understand how the Soviets had built their Commu­nist movement and to learn their views on how to build a movement in China.
"For his entire career, with brief interruptions, Deng had been close enough to the top seat of power that he could observe from the inside how the top leaders responded to different situations. Not long after he returned to China in 1927, he was again under Zhou Enlai, in the Shanghai underground, as the party tried to devise survival strategies while Chiang Kai-shek, their for­mer colleague, tried to wipe them out. Not only did Deng take part in the planning to create urban insurrections, but at age twenty-five he was sent to Guangxi province to lead urban insurrections. As Mao began to build up the Jiangxi Soviet base, Deng went there where as head of the party in Ruijin county, he learned how Mao was building up his rural base. On the Long March, Deng got to attend the crucial Zunyi conference where Mao began to emerge as leader. Before the Long March had ended Deng had the opportu­nity to become a confidante of Mao's. Not long after Mao set up his base in northwest China, Mao entrusted Deng with major responsibilities as a polit­ical commissar, providing political leadership within the military. Later in the civil war, he was given responsibility for taking over Shanghai and guiding the transition to Communist rule and was then sent to the Southwest where he was given responsibility for leading one of the six major regions of the country.
"Above all, it was at the center of power in Beijing, from 1952 to 1966, that Deng had the opportunity to work closely with Mao to consider strategies for China's development and for dealing with foreign countries. Mao had identi­fied Deng as one of his potential successors, and Deng had taken part in Politburo meetings and after 1956 in its Standing Committee, along with the other five highest-ranking officials in the country. Deng also became a central participant in the planning and creation of a socialist structure that featured agricultural collectivization and nationalization of industry, and played a cen­tral role in land reform in the Southwest. In 1959-1961, he had played a major part in guiding the adjustments to the socialist structure after the fail­ures of the Great Leap Forward. In short, Deng in 1978 had half a century of experience in thinking about strategies used by China's top leaders in guiding the country.
Deng Xiaoping at age 16, studying in France (1921)
"Deng was a military leader for twelve years, and even later described him­self as a soldier. He was a political commissar rather than a military com­mander, but he was party secretary and had responsibility for approving mili­tary actions. Working closely with a military commander, he fought first in small guerrilla activities, but then in huge battles in the civil war. During the Huai Hai military campaign in late 1948, he ended up as the party secretary of the front command, responsible for coordinating half a million soldiers in one of the largest battles in military history and one of the key turning points in the civil war.
"Throughout his career, Deng was responsible for implementation rather than for theory. His responsibilities had grown from leading a small county in the Jiangxi Soviet to leading the work of several counties in the Taihang Mountains as political commissar in World War II, to leading a border area where several provinces intersected after World War II, to leading the entire Southwest after 1949, to leading the country.
"In the 1950s, Deng was responsible for guiding the Chinese Communist Party's relations with other Communist parties, at a time when China had few relations with the West. After he was allowed to return from the Cultural Revolution, Deng served as an apprentice to Zhou Enlai as he accepted re­sponsibilities for leading China's work in foreign relations.
"Some say Deng had little experience in economic affairs, but economic activities were always an important responsibility of party generalists. Fur­thermore, from 1953-1954 Deng had served for a year as finance minister at a crucial stage as China was building its socialist economic structure.
"An important part of Communist activity was always propaganda. In France, Deng had been responsible for putting out a propaganda bulletin. In the Jiangxi Soviet, after undergoing criticism, he was put in charge of propa­ganda for the entire soviet area, and on the Long March he again had respon­sibilities in the area of propaganda. As a political commissar in the military, Deng found that he was most persuasive when he was direct and gave his troops a broad perspective, connecting their efforts to the overall situation and mission.
"In short, Deng had an enormous range of governing experiences at the lo­cal, regional, and national levels that he could draw on. For half a century he had been part of the broad strategic thinking of party leaders. He had held high positions in the party, in the government, and in the army. In the 1950s he had taken part in bringing in new industries and new technology from the Soviet Union, just as he would have responsibility for bringing in new indus­tries from the West in the 1980s.
"Deng was very bright, always at the top of his class. He was the youngest of eighty-four students to have passed the examinations to be sent from Sichuan to France in 1920. He had been good at one of the main tasks in his early Confucian training, learning to recite long passages of texts by memory. In the underground he had learned not to leave a paper trail, but to keep in­formation in his mind. Deng could deliver well-thought-through and well­ organized hour-long lectures without notes. Mao once called him a walking encyclopedia. Before important events, Deng liked to spend time thinking quietly by himself as he considered what to say so that when the time came, he could give clear and decisive presentations.
"Deng had been hardened by seeing comrades die in battle and in intra­party purges. He had seen friends become enemies, and enemies become friends. Three times Deng had been purged, in the Jiangxi Soviet, in 1966 in the Cultural Revolution when he was subjected to blistering criticism, and in 1976. Deng had developed a steely determination. He had disciplined him­self not to display raw anger and frustration and not to base his decisions on feelings but on careful analysis of what the party and country needed. Mao once described Deng as a needle inside a cotton ball, tough on the inside, soft on the outside, but many of Deng's colleagues rarely sensed a ball of cotton. His colleagues did not believe he was unfair: unlike Chairman Mao, Deng was not vindictive -- though when he judged that it was in the interest of the party, he would remove even those who had dedicated themselves to him and his mission."
Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China
author: Ezra F. Vogel 
title: Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China  
publisher: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press 
date: Copyright 2011 by Ezra F. Vogel 
page(s): 6-8

sábado, 25 de abril de 2020

A "diplomacia das máscaras" da China e a AL - Margaret Myers (

China y la “diplomacia de mascarillas” en América Latina

The Dialogue, April 21, 2020

El 17 de abril, Margaret Myers, directora del programa de Latinoamérica y el mundo, fue invitada al programa Cuestión de Poder con Gustavo Alegret en NTN24. En esta entrevista, Myers habló sobre el rol crucial de China en el combate del coronavirus en Latinoamérica, así como la “diplomacia de mascarillas” o “mask diplomacy” impulsada por este país. Myers brindó un análisis sobre las futuras implicaciones en el comercio internacional, el poder y capacidad de China en gobernanza mundial, sus efectos en la imagen internacional de Estados Unidos y las relaciones de China con otros países de la región como Ecuador, Argentina y Venezuela.


“Por parte de China ciertamente, existe una nueva forma de diplomacia, la “diplomacia de las mascarillas”. Hemos visto venta y donaciones de mascarillas y equipo médico, así también como consejos en todo el mundo. No solo por parte de Beijing, pero también de compañías chinas como Huawei, compañías de tecnología y compañías en el ámbito médico. Es una diplomacia coordinada por parte del Gobierno de China. Vemos los efectos no solo en Latinoamérica, sino también en Europa y África”.
“Además de la donación y venta de equipos, hemos visto una iniciativa de cambiar e influenciar la percepción de la población de América Latina y otras partes del mundo sobre la relación entre China y el coronavirus”.
“Existen varias intenciones tras la “diplomacia de mascarillas”. Una de ellas es limpiar la imagen de China. No quieren que China sea visto como únicamente el origen del virus. De igual forma, [esto] es una manera de demostrar que China sí puede jugar un papel importante en asuntos globales. [Igualmente], es una oportunidad muy importante para las compañías chinas de demostrar sus tecnologías médicas y posiblemente abrir mercados en un futuro, por el momento en materia de coronavirus, pero en el futuro para otras industrias”.
“La imagen de los Estados Unidos está sufriendo no solo por China, sino también por las acciones que Estados Unidos ha estado tomando respecto al virus. A su vez, existen actores que pierden. Por ejemplo, había ventas y donaciones de equipos médicos de mala calidad a África, Italia y otras partes del mundo. Argentina dijo que había recibido equipos de mala calidad y estaban tratando de devolverlos a China. Por otro lado, es muy posible que exista una pérdida en la confianza de la gobernanza democrática y en su eficacia en el mundo. Creo que es muy probable que en el futuro veamos discusiones sobre la capacidad de gobiernos autoritarios y gobiernos democráticos para combatir estas dificultades, nuevos problemas médicos, etc… Es una cuestión política que tendrá grandes consecuencias en América Latina y en el mundo”.
“Cada vez que Estados Unidos sale de una organización internacional, vemos que China y otros países toman estos lugares. Ya ha pasado en otras organizaciones. Es una gran lastima la decisión [de Estados Unidos] de salir y no apoyar a la [OMS]. Esto significa que otros países, sobretodo China, van a tener un papel mucho más importante en el futuro sobre todo en la gobernanza global en asuntos médicos”.
“Creo que China no tiene mucho interés en cambiar la situación comercial en Latinoamérica por el momento. China ve a la región en términos comerciales. Respecto a la complementariedad comercial, el país ve a América Latina como una fuente de materias primas y a su vez como un mercado para exportaciones chinas de alta tecnología. Eso no va a cambiar, es fundamental en la relación comercial. Lo que China sí puede hacer, si tiene capacidad después de tratar su crisis económica, es ayudar a estos países a resolver ciertos temas con sus deudas. Ecuador y Argentina todavía tienen deudas chinas. Podrían en un futuro ofrecer mecanismos para manejar la deudas que son más graves, como en el caso de Ecuador”.
“No estoy segura de si China va a cooperar con Rusia o Cuba en su decisión de ayudar a Venezuela. Por ahora, China ha tomado sus propias decisiones. En otras ocasiones ha recibido ayuda de Rusia, por ejemplo, en el transporte de petróleo de Venezuela a otros mercados. Ahora, no hemos visto mucha ayuda de China a Venezuela. Hubo una delegación médica que llegó a Venezuela a finales de marzo, pero en general no hemos visto más inversión ni financiamiento. Es posible que en el futuro el escenario cambie. Resulta importante destacar que China no ha dado ayuda a Venezuela en los últimos tres años. Tiene mucho miedo a dar más al gobierno de Maduro en este momento”.


quinta-feira, 23 de abril de 2020

Frente parlamentar avalia pedir impeachment de Ernesto Araújo após declarações sobre China (OESP)

Não existe nenhuma razão RACIONAL para que membros do governo ataquem a China. Se eles o fazem, só existem duas explicações: ou são extremamente míopes política e ideologicamente, ou são apenas estúpidos...
Paulo Roberto de Almeida

Frente parlamentar avalia pedir impeachment de Ernesto Araújo após declarações sobre China
Ministro das Relações Exteriores falou sobre 'comunavírus' e fez críticas à China, maior parceiro comercial do Brasil
Felipe Frazão, O Estado de S.Paulo
22 de abril de 2020 | 18h12

BRASÍLIA – O deputado federal Fausto Pinato (PP-SP), que preside frente parlamentar Brasil-China na Câmara, ameaça entrar com um pedido de impeachment do chanceler Ernesto Araújo por causa de críticas ao país asiático. O parlamentar encomendou a seus assessores jurídicos a elaboração de uma denúncia por crime de responsabilidade e pretende apresentá-la nos próximos dias ao Supremo Tribunal Federal e à Câmara dos Deputados. O motivo foi o texto intitulado “Chegou o Comunavírus”, publicado pelo chanceler na noite de terça-feira, 21, em seu blog pessoal, o Metapolítica 17.
No texto, o ministro comenta um livro de Slavoj Zizek e denuncia “o jogo comunista-globalista de apropriação da pandemia para subverter completamente a democracia liberal e a economia de mercado”. O ministro reproduz trechos do livro e faz observações críticas sobre o regime do Partido Comunista Chinês e a Organização Mundial da Saúde (OMS).
“A pretexto da pandemia, o novo comunismo trata de construir um mundo sem nações, sem liberdade, sem espírito, dirigido por uma agência central de ‘solidariedade’ encarregada de vigiar e punir. Um estado de exceção global permanente, transformando o mundo num grande campo de concentração. Diante disso precisamos lutar pela saúde do corpo e pela saúde do espírito humano, contra o coronavírus mas também contra o Comunavírus, que tenta aproveitar a oportunidade destrutiva aberta pelo primeiro, um parasita do parasita”, escreveu o ministro das Relações Exteriores.
Pinato disse que vai processar o chanceler nos próximos dias por “reiteradamente externar posições irresponsáveis e depreciativas” contra a China, maior parceira comercial do Brasil. “Logo, contra os interesses do nosso País”, diz o deputado, que também preside a Comissão de Agricultura da Câmara e a frente parlamentar do Brics, bloco formado por Brasil, Rússia, Índia, China e África do Sul. Pinato cita o artigo 5.º da Lei do Impeachment: “cometer ato de hostilidade contra nação estrangeira, expondo a República ao perigo da guerra, ou comprometendo-lhe a neutralidade”.
“Se couber, eu vou entrar (com pedido de impeachment), com denúncia na Mesa Diretora, caso não haja uma retratação. Vou fazer essa manobra jurídica e política”, afirmou o parlamentar. “O chanceler chamar o pessoal de parasita é ódio ideológico que vai contra o interesse do País nesse momento.”
Para o deputado, o aumento das cotas de importação de soja dos Estados Unidos pela China, em detrimento de produtores nacionais, foi influenciado não só pelos termos de acordo comercial entre as duas potências e pelo impacto da pandemia da covid-19 no Brasil, mas também por uma questão de “segurança política”.
“O chanceler é completamente despreparado. Ele está com a visão totalmente distorcida, muito limitada, quando temos que equilibrar saúde e economia, como diz o presidente, e a balança comercial. Ele vai na contramão dos interesses, chamando os caras de parasitas, e nós precisando aumentar exportação e buscar investimento fora. Estamos chutando um dos principais parceiros comerciais. O que o País vai ganhar com isso?”, disse.
Pinato observa que já silenciou em outros momentos da escalada de tensão com a China, iniciada em março, marcada por publicações interpretadas como ofensivas a Pequim feitas pelo deputado Eduardo Bolsonaro (PSL-SP), filho do presidente Jair Bolsonaro, e pelo ministro da Educação, Abraham Weintraub. Eduardo culpou o governo chinês pela pandemia, enquanto Weintraub ridicularizou o sotaque chinês e insinuou que o país asiático seria beneficiado geopoliticamente pela crise mundial.
Nas duas ocasiões, a Embaixada da China reagiu de forma dura e cobrou retratação. O chanceler agiu em defesa de Eduardo, ao repreender a reação do embaixador chinês, Yang Wanming, e se calou sobre o episódio com o ministro da Educação.
Agora, Araújo publica o artigo no momento em que a China tenta reagir globalmente a acusações sem prova de que o novo coronavírus teria sido fabricado em laboratório e difundido pela China como forma de subjugar os demais países.
Também recorre a argumentos da OMS contrários à estigmatização do país como forma de convencer pessoas a não usarem o termo pejorativo "vírus chinês". A expressão foi difundida pelo presidente dos Estados Unidos, Donald Trump, que cortou o financiamento à OMS por considerar a entidade “muito centrada” na China. As teses ganharam ampla adesão entre bolsonaristas.
A manifestação de Pinato, que já havia defendido o embaixador chinês e cobrou investigação de ameaças contra o diplomata, é mais um sinal de insatisfação no agronegócio, cujo principal importador é a China, o que gera uma relação de dependência de produtores rurais brasileiros. Pinato joga pressão agora para que haja uma repreensão dentro do governo Bolsonaro. Ele cobra censura ao chanceler por parte de ministros que cuidam de setores que fazem negócios com Pequim.
“Está na mão do governo. A ministra da Agricultura (Tereza Cristina) tem que falar, o Tarcísio (Freitas, ministro da Infraestrutura) que está mandando avião para buscar insumos, os ministros militares têm que falar. Isso pode prejudicar a gente. Dá a impressão de que quem quer gerar o caos é ele. Alguém precisa brecar isso”, protesta o deputado.

Além da frente parlamentar, o Cidadania também cobrou que Araújo deixe o cargo de chanceler. O presidente do partido, o ex-deputado Roberto Freire, e o deputado Marcelo Calero (RJ), que é diplomata de carreira, afirmam que o ministro é “lunático” e redigiu um artigo “paranoico”. “Ernesto Araújo trai as nossas melhores tradições diplomáticas e desonra a nação internacionalmente com suas ideias toscas, delirantes, desprovidas de lógica e com sentido beligerante”, afirmaram, em nota, Freire e Calero.
“Em plena pandemia, quando as nações precisam estreitar laços e ampliar a cooperação, o usurpador da nossa boa diplomacia insiste em ver um grande complô de um suposto comunismo internacional para dominar o mundo. O ‘des-ministro’ revela-se, em sua forma mais contundente, um incapacitado completo, capaz de atuar contra os mais sagrados interesses nacionais sem qualquer pudor ou cerimônia. Nesse sentido, não é viável que siga à frente do Itamaraty.”
Procurado, o Itamaraty disse que não vai comentar.

quarta-feira, 22 de abril de 2020

Xi Jinping Knows Who His Enemies Are - Book Review

Book Review
Xi Jinping Knows Who His Enemies Are
A new book lays out the Chinese leader’s stark worldview.
Inside the Mind of Xi Jinping, François Bougon, 
Trans. Vanessa Lee, Hurst, 232 pp., $19.95, September 2018
Foreign Policy, NOVEMBER 21, 2019, 3:21 PM

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives for a bilateral meeting with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro (out of frame) ahead of the 11th edition of the BRICS Summit in Brasília on Nov. 13. SERGIO LIMA/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Xi Jinping is a Chinese renaissance man. Self-assured, self-possessed, and utterly unflappable, Xi is equally at home on the hearths of struggling farmers and in the greeting halls of foreign capitals. State media likes to juxtapose the years he spent in the caves of Shaanxi with the days he spent governing Shanghai’s glittering towers. Here is a man as men should be: a leader who can grasp both the plow and the bond market! So things go with Xi Jinping.
Though Xi studied chemical engineering, he presents himself as a littérateur. In Russia, he peppers his speeches with Dostoevsky and Gogol; when in France, Molière and Maupassant. To better grasp the meaning of The Old Man and the Sea, Xi traveled to Ernest Hemingway’s favorite bar in Havana. Xi has a hankering for historical sites like these, especially those associated with famous scenes from the stories of Chinese antiquity. He cultivates a reputation for taking history seriously; his speeches are filled with allusions to obscure sages and statesmen from China’s past.
But Xi is also eager to present himself as a man of the future. He revels in touring laboratories and centers of scientific innovation. He dabbles in complexity science and has tried to integrate its findings into Chinese Communist Party policies. There is a certain flexibility to China’s leader: To financiers, he adopts the argot of debts and derivatives. To Davos revelers, he drifts easily into the trendy buzzwords of the global business class. To soldiers, he speaks in military idiom (on many occasions happily attired in army greens), and to party members, the jargon of Marxist theory. For the common people of China, he consciously models an ideal of patriotic service and loving family life.
But what of the person behind the persona? Unearthing that man is the goal of François Bougon’s book Inside the Mind of Xi Jinping, translated from the original French into English in 2018. A journalist and editor who covered China throughout the Hu Jintao and Xi eras, Bougon aims to untangle the web of literary, historical, and biographical influences that have shaped Xi’s ideology. Bougon’s conclusions may surprise: His Xi is not far removed from the propaganda caricature. Though he undoubtedly has a cohort of speech writers ready to supply him with learned literary allusions, Xi’s public image is grounded in fact. Xi is comfortable in the presence of both the princelings and the poor. Xi genuinely treasures literature. He has a sincere love for China’s historical heritage.
That is all real. But it is a reality used for larger purpose.
That is all real. But it is a reality used for larger purpose.
 Xi’s constant allusions to traditional Chinese thought, for example, are not mere flashy displays of personal erudition. Behind “this wide-ranging borrowing,” Bougon observes, is “a sign that [Xi] finds the Marxist-Leninist base solid enough to graft onto it the long history of ‘wonderful Chinese civilisation.’” Xi’s allusions signal to party members that one can be a proud Marxist and proud of China’s traditional culture at the same time. So-called “Xi Jinping Thought” promises to weave the strands of China’s history and heritage into one grand whole.
Xi generally divides this history into four historical acts. The first is China’s imperial and pre-imperial past, the so-called “5,000 years of history” that culminate in the splendor of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) at its height. This, in Chinese terms, is their country’s “ancient history.”
The remaining years are divided into three parts: “the century of humiliation,” in which China was ravished by imperial powers; “the New China era,” Xi’s favored term for China under Mao Zedong; and “the era of socialism with Chinese characteristics,” which began under the guiding hand of Deng Xiaoping and continues on to the present. Xi quite consciously draws inspiration from each of these eras when framing his policies. Most references to China’s pre-modern past are superficial, more important for their aesthetic effect than ideological power. Far more serious is Xi’s quest to reclaim the legacy of New China. Harmonizing the institutions of 21st-century China with the party’s Maoist ideological heritage is central to Xi’s political project. Bougon argues that it is the defining feature of Xi’s inner sense of purpose.
Xi’s driving need to rehabilitate Mao is partly born out of practical necessity. For Xi, venerating the old helmsman is the difference between death and survival. “If at the time of reform Comrade Mao had been completely repudiated, would our party still be standing? Would our country’s system of socialism still be standing?” he asked the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee several days after being elevated to the position of general secretary. Answering his own question, he quoted the words of Deng: “These things cannot be cut away from the entire history of our party and our country. To grasp this is to grasp everything. This is not just an intellectual issue—it is a political issue.”
But this political calculation is only half of the story. Added to it is a sincere emotional attachment to Mao and his era. This nostalgia for Maoism at first seems an incredible delusion. Why does Xi yearn for an era that saw his father, a prominent Communist Party leader, maligned, mother tortured, sister killed, and himself banished? Xi’s own answer to that question: Yanan. Xi’s associates New China not with the terrors his family experienced in Beijing but with the seven years he spent as a “sent-down youth” farming with the same peasants his father had governed 20 years earlier as a young revolutionary. More than a decade before Xi was elevated to dictatorship, he described his time farming the yellow loess of Yanan as “seven years of rural life [that] gave me something mysterious and sacred.”
Xi came to Yanan as a bitter teenager unafraid to flout party rules. (He ran away once during his first year there and spent some time doing forced labor because of it.) He would leave Yanan a man so deeply committed to life in party service that he would apply for party membership 10 times.
Bougon traces how these experiences with the peasants of Yanan formed the bedrock of later political positions: a withering distaste for conspicuous consumption, the belief that corruption among party cadres brings disaster, a idolization for the revolutionary heroes of his father’s generation, and the deep conviction that the party must present the Chinese people with larger ideals worth sacrificing for. “Even now,” Xi said in 2004, “many of the fundamental ideas and basic features that I have formed were formed in Yanan.” Two years earlier, he voiced a similar message: “Wherever I go, I will always be a son of that yellow earth.”
Xi is deeply troubled that the same spirit of self-denial and sacrifice that was instilled in him at Yanan is missing from later generation of party members. (His own belief in his sacrifice has not prevented his family from accumulatingimmense wealth, both inside China and off-shore in foreign accounts; as with other leaders, Xi has particularly targeted any institution that reports on this.) This is one of the reasons Xi resurrected what Bougon labels the “national imaginary” of Communist China.
Xi delights in the legendary heroes whom Maoist propagandists manufactured in Xi’s childhood: the selfless youth Lei Feng, the incorruptible cadres Jiao Yulu and Gu Wenchang, the martyred soldiers of Mount Langya, and so forth. He invokes their names and examples in speech after speech. The box office failure of three films about Lei Feng in 2013 seems to have been one of the spurs for a renewed insistence on patriotic movies. That their deeds are exaggerations or fabrications does not concern him much. Absent a personal history of sacrifice for the sake of revolutionary ideals, a spirit of consecration must be cultivated through myth. Xi believes he is the personnel caretaker of the national mythos that Chinese society needs to survive and thrive in an era of intense international competition.
This self-conception helps explain Xi’s other great obsession: defeating the so-called hostile forces inside and outside of China that would weaken the people’s faith in the political and ideological system that Xi helms. The view that China is locked in an ideological struggle for survival predates the Xi era—Bougon traces it to the later years of Hu’s administration, but scholars like John Garver and Matthew Johnson have traced the origin of these ideas all the way back to the late 1980s—but it is essential to understanding Xi’s policies. Bougon highlights a speech given in 2009 as especially important statement of Xi’s beliefs: “There are certain well-fed foreigners who have nothing better to do than point the finger. Yet, firstly, China is not the one exporting revolution.”
In numerous speeches, Xi has identified the Soviet Union as the most prominent victim of revolutionary export. The United States and allied hostile forces, he maintains, successfully destroyed the Soviet Communist Party through a strategy of cultural subversion. Xi is determined not to let the same fate befall the Chinese Communist Party. In Bougon’s words, Xi has becomes a “culture warrior.” This culture war is more deserving of that title than the political debates that are given that name in Western countries. It has led to the jailing of historians; crackdowns on internet personalities, human rights activists, feminists, and labor organizers; censorship in literary journals, newspapers, and Chinese social media; an all-out assault on Chinese Christianity; and the labyrinth of detention centers in Xinjiang. It is also, though Bougon does not mention them, the impulse behind the coercion and surveillance of activists, students, dissidents, former officials, and Chinese-language media outlets outside of China’s borders. Culture and ideology spill across borders. To fight his culture war, so must the iron hand of the Communist state.
Bougon conveys all of this with a wry touch. Most readers will find Bougon’s portrait of Xi and his era disturbing and dispiriting. It naturally leads to fundamental questions about the aim of U.S. policy toward China. How should the United States, Europe, and the democracies of the Pacific Rim deal with a regime whose leaders believe that Western ideals and culture pose an existential threat to their rule—even their lives? What enduring compromise is possible with a leader who treats cultural change the way most leaders treat insurrection or terrorism? How do we accommodate a superpower directed by men like Xi? Bougon does not provide answers to these questions. One can only hope that his sharply drawn picture of Xi inspires us to.
Tanner Greer is a writer and strategist based in Taiwan. Twitter: @Scholars_Stage

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