Theater of Cruelty

The dictatorship of virtue

The reinvention of the dictatorship. How China builds the digital surveillance state and thereby challenges us.
Forfatter: Kai Strittmatter
Forlag: Piper Verlag, (München 2018. (tysk). 288 sider.)
CHINA / China's Communist Party boasts today that it is able to recognize any of the country's 1.4 billion citizens within seconds. Europe must find alternatives to the growing polarization between China and the United States.


The 55-year-old German China correspondent for the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Kai Strittmatter's book The reinvention of the dictatorship ("The reinvention of the dictatorship. How China builds the digital surveillance state and thus challenges us") is a must for anyone interested in the development of China. In October 2018, he chose to leave the country. Something had happened to the country he had known for over 30 years.

The author shows in his book how China's growth to its current position in the world has taken place through three stages. First, Mao exterminated the country's internal enemies. This happened, among other things, through the historical events known as "The Great Leap Forward" from 1958 to 1961 and the so-called Cultural Revolution, which lasted for ten years from 1966 to 1976. Historians agree that the great famine during the Great Jumping Forward may have cost between 30 and 40 million people their lives.

Following Deng Xiaopeng's reform – friendly course, which in the 1980s and 90s had opened the country to the rest of the world, followed some crisis years for China's Communist Party, in which it seriously focused on market economy. But under Xi Jinping, who in 2018 lifted the restriction on his reign as general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and thus effectively made himself the lifelong leader of China, the country is heading in two directions, Strittmatter says. Back to the totalitarian guardian state of the 50s or with the speed of a supersonic aircraft into a technological future that has long since overtaken the developments taking place in the West.

The honest man

The China that the Chinese Communist Party under Xi Jinping is trying to create is, paradoxically, the realization of the old Confucian ideal of the honest man, for whom moral perfection in relation to the whole of society constitutes the goal.

This dictatorship of virtue must be created by means of a mixture of digital surveillance, which the citizens themselves must, as far as possible, sanction and apply to each other – and a commercial market-based entertainment culture in the style of the Western – multiplied by 10. The Chinese upper class consists of a group of extremely wealthy families, and the gap between rich and poor is greater than in the United States. Beijing has long since overtaken the number of billionaires in New York.

Tjeerd Royaards. Macbook China. See Libex.Eu

Internet i China has been heavily censored since 2013, and face recognition systems have been introduced in many public places, while cash payments have largely disappeared. China's Communist Party today boasts that it is able to recognize any of the country's 1.4 billion citizens within seconds. Cameras have been placed everywhere, and in the country's apartment blocks, lists have been placed in the stairwells, where the residents are ranked according to a points system. It is a social reward system comparable to creditworthiness surveys in the West, but extensive to include all citizens' social activities. And the points system involves cash settlement here and now. A "social error" – such as emptying a bucket of water in the wrong place or turning red at a pedestrian crossing – results in a deduction of a certain number of points.

You start with 1000 points and then it can go up or down.

A society without memory

One of the strategies used by the Chinese Communist Party against the people of China is the systematic eradication of the past, which has taken place since Mao and the Cultural Revolution in the decade between 1966 and 1976.

China today has 120 cities that are larger than Chicago. Within the last 10 years, many of them have grown to tenfold size and have during this process completely changed character, as their history has been erased. In the last two decades, China's entire housing stock has been torn down and rebuilt. Everything the people were familiar with has disappeared in a short time. China's most famous architect, Wang Shu, says it is as if someone has dropped 120 atomic bombs on China.

Europe must create an alternative, a third way, between a state dictatorship maintained by the willing self-censorship of the obedient citizen through technological surveillance – and then the ruthless self-expression of liberal individualism in economic processes. Maybe some kind of anarchist social order?

The goal then as now is to create a society without remembrance, for remembrance is considered by the Communist Party to be a dangerous and subversive force. If one removes the shelters of the people in the past and exposes them to the outlaws of non-tradition, then they seek naked and freezing protection in the motherly embrace of the party. That's the idea.

Film director Jia Zhangkes A Touch of Sin, who received the golden palms at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013, shows the result of the incapacitation that the Chinese people have been subjected to during communism. A society that has lost all cohesion and compassion, and whose nihilism and loss of traditional cultural values ​​are causing corruption, abuse of power and destruction of nature to escalate. China is the only country in the world that in studies indicates that loss of trust between people is the biggest problem in society. The film shows that people in China resort to violence, not because the violence leads to any kind of solutions, but because the violence is an expression of one last form of self-determined human action.

Kai Strittmatter tells the shocking story of the disaster that Mao's reign brought to China. Upon his death in 1976, Mao left behind a land where both nature and society were destroyed. In the Swiss film More than honey one can hear about how, under Mao, an extinction of China's song and sparrow population was ordered because the birds ate the grain of the people. Billions of sparrows were killed. The result was huge insect pests, which in turn were controlled with pesticides. The bees succumbed to this pesticide. Today, the Chinese have to pick up pollen from the flowers in southern China that they sell in the north. Humans have to pollinate the flowers themselves because there are no bees left to do so.

The University of Beijing is researching the question: who is best to pollinate – humans or bees? The answer of science is unequivocal: not humans.

The One Belt One Road (OBOR) vision is China's modern "Silk Road" – a geostrategic contribution to a new world order – under Chinese leadership. The project intends to connect China, Central Asia, Europe, South America and Africa with ever new trade corridors in the form of infrastructure.

Africa is a continent that desperately needs this infrastructure, China has the money, and the country is today Africa's most important trading partner with an exchange of goods amounting to $ 200 billion annually.

The worrying thing is that today China is not just standing "at the gates of Europe", it is already long inside and sitting at the negotiating table in the EU, for example.

Strittmatter tells how China has helped save the state-bankrupt Greek economy. With investments of more than $ 4 billion, the Chinese have made the port city of Piraeus in Athens the fastest growing container port in the world. In Hungary, China will build high-speed trains. In the Czech Republic, the Chinese promise of investment of more than 8 billion euros by 2020 led the Czech president, Milos Zeman, to say that the Czech Republic's submission to the United States and the EU was over.

Ramses. Donnies Obsession Copy. See Libex.Eu

Polarization in relation to the United States

While reading Strittmatter's book, I came across something that is not mentioned directly in the book, written by a correspondent for a newspaper in Germany that is traditionally considered US-friendly. Namely, how dangerous it will be if this development leads to a polarization in relation to the United States. In particular, so-called "American exceptionalists" – a type of political thinker who believes that the United States has a special position in the world – such as journalist Robert D. Kaplan. Since around the end of the 1980s, the United States has been talking about an inevitable military confrontation with China – and preferably by 2025, when China would otherwise have grown too strong militarily.

Equally disturbing is the fact that the American magazine Foreign Affairs in its time mentioned John Mearsheimer's bog The Tragedy of Great Power Politics  (2001) as one of the three most influential books in the post-Cold War world (the others are Huntington's The civilizations collision (1996) and Fukuyamas The end of the story (1992)). For the book is nothing more than a – reluctant – concession to the containment policy of the Truman Doctrine that was applicable to the former Soviet Union. In other words, a Cold War policy that can degenerate into a hot war.

In 2021, it will be crucial that the answer to China's challenge to the world does not just come from the United States. At the end of September, French President Emmanuel Macron said in a speech at the UN that Europe must find alternatives to the "two-step" dance that the growing polarization between China and the United States is creating. However, he did get into what such alternatives could consist of. The speech was given after Donald Trump in the same forum had called on the world to hold China accountable for coronapandemic.

In his book, Strittmatter discusses how the weakness of the West / Europe can become China's strength. It is primarily about our own dwindling awareness of democracy as an effective form of society. What should we choose in the coming year? In Germany, I even have miracles corona-the crisis on its own body could experience how dependent the EU has become on imports from China, not least on the digital technology we want in our societies. And in a survey, 20 percent of Germans agreed to live in a society where the political leadership did not deal with parliaments and free elections. In Spain the figure was 40 per cent, and in Denmark every 9th answered yes to being willing to some totalitarian leadership of the country.

Europe must create an alternative, a third way, between a state dictatorship maintained by the willing self-censorship of the obedient citizen through technological surveillance – and then the ruthless self-expression of liberal individualism in economic processes. Perhaps a form of anarchist social order in which the individual has discovered that his or her self-realization is an essential part of a larger social whole?

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