Theorising Accelerated Sino Social Friction…ie Revolution

As some of my trollish tendencies have been getting a bit over-active on a number of forums lately, it is time to get serious.

(All of my non-Chinese posts have been long in their gestation and I have only been able to get them out of my system by opening this {and its precursor} site. During my stay in China I was blissfully unaware of the Enlish-China blogosphere, and spent my time gorging on cinema. And here I was incredibly fortunate in having access to the best of China’s bootleg dvd market, namely in Fujian Province. High quality stuff from every nationality, sometimes going back to the 1920s and quite often with commentary.

It was bliss and, among other thing, gave me access to one on my major interests, namely Japanese cinema which I have written about on this and the previous site. Finally, after throwing out a metre of dross, I still had about a 1,000 flics which I walked thru Oz customs with only a minor incident. The over-active beagle detected the cashews in my backpack. As they were confiscated (but not the dvds), I went into payback mode and trod on the little bastards foot when its handler was distracted. It was a joyous moment.)

Deleted. Para on lazy blogging and the same viral piece turning up on numerous sites within hours of each other.

Now, to the main course.

As Loawai Times is my blogroll of choice, I did a bit of a flick round yesterday and came across this piece by Sinostand titled Parallels between now and the prelude to Tiananmen which Eric begins thus.

“When haphazard attempts to start a Jasmine Revolution failed comically in Beijing early this year, discussion over whether or not China is ripe for revolution was popular. The conclusion by most was that it’s not. But it seems that in just a few short months the situation has changed somewhat. While an uprising doesn’t look to be imminent, there seems to be many similarities between circumstances unfolding today and those that preceded the Tiananmen Square rebellion of 1989. So I want to look at some key parallels between then and now:”

Read the article on a number of pretty uncontroversial parallels presented in a seamless manner.

My purpose here is to focus on the Concept of Revolution mentioned by Eric, and it is a concept which comes with a lot of historical baggage and interpretation. Lenin, Stalin and Mao with the Party advance elite-guard manhandling the levers of history – representing and speaking for their classes of choice – to effect radical socio-economic and political change across the length and breadth of the social formation. In brief its a holistic concept in both form and content. Nobody escapes; all are involved be they victors or class categories vanquished into the dustbin on history/gulag/loagai.

If social friction reaches a breaking point in China 2011 forward, the traditional notion of class however envisaged – rural versus urban, vox populi versus the Party elite (who are a small percentage of about 80 million paid up members), etc – does not appear to be all that useful. While the Bo Xilai – Wang Yang models bandied around by the media, might have a bit of currency as a way forward within the Politburo, the latter clearly lives within its own echo chamber of empty rhetoric and mish mash of outdated concepts and/or plain silly discourse.

Back to Sinostand, Eric concludes that:

“Given the vast similarities between now and 1989, another go at a revolution seems possible. If history is any indicator, an iron fist can’t succeed by itself if grievances are too great and you have the right catalyst to bring the disenfranchised together quickly“.

I agree that the right catalyst could challenge the iron fist, but would not want to timeline it. The vox populi might be very clear in their collective mind what they are against. However, it is far from clear what they are for, ie being able to articulate a policy platform to replace the existing social order. Such a platform simply does not exist.

More than likely this challenge will be accompanied this a babel of voices and concentric circles of self-interest, beginning with the family the bedrock of Chinese society. This will in turn feed into networks of guanzi and the desire to maintain paid employment. God, the calculations facing bread winners will be endless.

SOEs will rush to shore up their self-defences. Small businesses will go bust. Unemployed graduates will be subject to nationalist rhetoric as noted by Eric. Migrant workers will indulge in non-harmonious behaviour to the all-round condemnation of the urban classes. The State will ramp up its already massive surveillance apparatus and further exacerbate the situation. Foreigners will bolt in droves.

The wealthy will attempt to relocate. The China Daily will publish CCP mea culpas and promise wealth-divide redress, but that won’t wash anymore. Rumour will run riot on social media. Maybe some of the southern/coastal provinces will fall prey to bouts of exceptionalism, and plan to free themselves from Beijing.

Isolated peasant villages will cut down hated cadres, torch their SUVs and seek a local universe free of all government interference, but this will be sporadic and centred around local grievances. Notably, there will be conflicts over the use of water resources…the really big one. Expect the rise of one or two millenarian movements.

In short, this revolution will be shapeless and formless, and lack any unifying themes beyond family self-interest/survival And it won’t replicate past social upheavals, since China is an infinitely more complex society in the 21st century.

And the visual.

The Babel of Self-Interest

Dear Reader. If you have an alternative scenario, lack you own blog and yet wish to see your interpretation in print, please get in touch.

3 Responses to “Theorising Accelerated Sino Social Friction…ie Revolution”

  1. justrecently Says:

    I read Eric’s piece, but as any comment from yours truly there would point into a similar direction than my previous ones, I decided to hold my breath this time.

    But while I agree that some time, there will be a revolution (except if there will be none, because other ways of conflict solution are found), I don’t think that current conflicts in China will lead to a successful revolution.

    In 1989, many Chinese nationals – or so it appears to me from overseas Chinese I knew personally then – had been led to believe that their government was clearly different from the days of Maoism. They weren’t completely wrong – after all, the politbureau had agreed to appoint Zhao Ziyang as secretary general for some reasons -, but their conclusions from the changes for the better were going too far. To some extent, their hopes were led by the belief that China can’t do wrong. The beliefs of some of the same people today – that there was no wrong in the Tian An Men massacres, and that the crackdown was necessary – is led by the same belief that China can’t do wrong. No fundamental wrong, that is.

    Many foreigners’ hope that the CCP either softens and smartens its position vis-a-vis the Chinese people, or that it will go under, stems from wishful thinking, too. When you are involved in China, you may want a – more or less happy – ending.

    But many Chinese people are too afraid of challenging the CCP – be it because they fear arrest or other sanctions, be it because they fear chaos if their challenges get anywhere near success. But above all, I believe, Chinese people assess the CCP’s criminal energy more realistically than most foreigners do. No matter if they basically oppose or support the CCP, they understand that the CCP would kill as many people as it may take to stay in power – and as long as the CCP maintains command over the army, there will be nothing in their way.

    Online challenges? Switching off Weibo, and even the short-messaging mobile networks, would be a piece of cake, compared with the prospect of losing power, and the likely aftermaths of that.

    That’s the party’s approach – no matter if “counter-revolution” would be a unified, or a diverse affair. They will try to maintain modernization – but above all, and first of all, they will do everything to stay in power.

    One more thing, re revolution. If there was a chance of one with a unified approach and platform, it would build abroad. To build a platform requires public debate. But a public that would be comparatively free from CCP control only exists outside China. That, basically, is why China considers things happening outside China as “interference in China’s internal affairs”, and reacts vociferously to counter-publics abroad. A Chinese public outside CCP control is what the CCP fears most. But while Chinese abroad do have better opportunities than Chinese at home to discuss alternatives to CCP rule (and are in a position to actually start thinking outside the agenda set by the CCP), the building of such a platform outside China doesn’t look very likely to me either.

    The CCP is there to stay, no matter if China, in the long run, gets materially richer or poorer.

  2. King Tubby Says:

    JR I Italicised *this revolution* because I am arguing that the whole concept simply lacks explanatory capacity, if social friction evolves into conflicts I noted.

    As that was scribbled in a hurry, I should also add that some locations/regions would remain conflict free and attempt to maintain the status quo.

    In brief, the whole idea of revolution (which I didn’t even bother to timeline) should be retired.

    I would particularly like to emphasise the struggle over water resources which I thought you would have picked up on. And I didn’t even mention exacberated ethnic unrest in the periphery eg Tibet, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia.

    Moreover, don’t underestimate the potentail of key provincial and county level cadres to effect a populist makeover to make themselves more palatable to the locals.

    As I said, economic calculation (and opportunism) will rule at the family, enterprise and among the decision making elites.

    And your points that the internet could simply be turned off, and that the CCP would mobilise all of its domestic and external security resources are certainly not ruled out of court in my scenario.

    The really dangerous card is nationalism as a reunifying (for many) discourse, and given the suspicion among the neighbours that is a truly adventurist throw of the dice which China will not win.

    And despite the Shi Yangs (sic) second voyage for ‘relevant scientific and research purposes’, whatever that is supposed to mean.

    Finally, I was parodying Dirty Harry on LL, which brings us the full circle and back to my cinematic education. Not that Dirty Harry was high art, but it was certainly iconic.


  3. justrecently Says:

    Well… the best card the CCP has is the (potential) victims-are-us card. That refers to the people, of course, who are victimized every day, but not usually by foreigners.

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