Something big just happened in China. Last week, the ruling communist party’s (CCP) five yearly congress opened with a hell of a bang. In his opening address, President Xi Jinping declared the CCP’s ambition to complete the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” by 2049.
What the fuck does that mean? I hear you ask.
The basic idea is to return China to its former state of glory, before the country was torn apart by the wave Western imperialism and internal strife that began back in the 19th Century. To get an idea of what Xi is talking about, remember what China was like before the Opium Wars: an empire that basically ran Asia, and arguably the world’s most powerful nation of the era.
The speech itself had the succinct title, ‘Secure a decisive victory in building a moderately prosperous society in all respects and strive for the great success of socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era’ (Damn, I wish I could write headlines as sexy as that). During the three hour speech, Xi outlined everything from plans to modernise the military to even fighting climate change.
“Only by observing the laws of nature can mankind avoid costly blunders in its exploitation. Any harm we inflict on nature will eventually return to haunt us. This is a reality we have to face,” he said.
You might shrug this all off as empty rhetoric – and that would make you a moron. The CCP congress is usually a pretty sober affair, and is the world’s best window into how exactly the party is thinking. Right now, it seems they’re thinking big.
That’s good because, quite frankly, China will be a better world leader than anything we’ve seen for centuries, and I can’t wait for them to own us all.
Seriously, hear me out here.
Now before I go on, I’ll concede China is kinda fucked up. I personally know people whose family members have been unjustly persecuted by Chinese authorities in ways the average westerner probably can’t quite comprehend. I know first hand that despite the limits of freedom of speech in China, it’s still easy to see how many ordinary Chinese harbour a casual distaste for their regime. The corruption, the brutality and the mechanical cruelty of the state apparatus is easy to see, both from within China and outside the Great Firewall.
Now here comes a drop that’d melt Sonny Moore’s brain: I also know the CCP is doing more to alleviate poverty than the rest of the world combined.
I’ll let the Maoists over at The Economist explain.
“Between 1981 and 2010 [China] lifted a stunning 680m people out poverty—more than the entire current population of Latin America. This cut its poverty rate from 84% in 1980 to about 10% now. China alone accounts for around three quarters of the world’s total decline in extreme poverty over the past 30 years.”
Just to be perfectly clear, that means three out of four people being freed from poverty are Chinese.
That was written back in 2013, and notably didn’t take into account the reality that China is also a big-as-fuck driver of economic development outside its own borders. Plus, it’s a massive donor of aid, not to mention a major investor in developing nations. In Africa alone, China invested $3.17 billion in 2011, with much of that going towards major infrastructure projects.
Bridges and roads might sound boring, but they kinda matter when you’re trying to drag entire nations out of poverty. So odds are, China has probably saved far more people from poverty than the raw data suggests. There’s even an argument that claims that without China, global poverty numbers would probably be increasing.
Commenting on UN poverty data back in the ancient times of 2010, Roberto Bissio of Social Watch noted, “What we have is that world poverty (including China) decreased by 500 million (1.9 billion minus 1.4 billion).”
However, he argued the same UN data showed the poverty headcount in China dropped by 627 million in the same period. At first glance, this makes no sense: how could the global poverty headcount drop by 500 million, while that of China decreased by 627 million? The discrepancy is simple, according to Bissio.
“Poverty is increasing around the world, with the exception of China,” he concluded.
Of course, this depends somewhat on how you define poverty. In terms of a raw headcount, Bissio is totally correct, despite the fact that the overall percentage of the world’s population living in poverty has indeed been reduced. If you’re scratching your head again, I’ll let the World Bank explain:
“In the developing world outside China, the $1.25 poverty rate has fallen from 40 percent to 29 percent over 1981-2005. However, given population growth, this progress was not enough to bring down the total number of poor outside China, which has stayed at about 1.2 billion.” (emphasis mine)
Either way, I can’t help but feel Bissio has a point: no matter how you cut the matter, the reality is that China is leading the world in terms of poverty reduction by a mile. Comparing them to the rest of the world is like comparing Usain Bolt to a half drunk journalist who lives on a steady diet of chips and tacos. Moreover it’s worth noting that since then, we’ve seen a major uptick in poverty-creating global instability, including fresh waves of famine and war that are exacerbating poverty all over the world. If you think I’m exaggerating when I say “the whole world,” well the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has a big middle finger standing erect just you.
According to the ILO, poverty rates are even increasing in developed nations, particularly in Europe.
So what does all this mean?
For one, it means we all really suck at dealing with poverty – except the Chinese, who are basically Captain Planet for poor people (and, I guess the environment too). China is like Batman – that is, if you replace all of Batman’s cool gadgets with sound economic and foreign policies. For example, imagine if the Batmobile was less of a Batmobile, and more of a giant fucking boat that just floats around Africa giving out free medical care.
Of course, no amount of boats giving out free shit changes the fact that (as previously mentioned) China is kinda fucked up. As we’re all constantly reminded, China is an authoritarian regime that allows the ruthless exploitation of its own people. So for argument’s sake, I’m going to go ahead and agree that sure, whatever, China is a screwed up country run by a terrible regime. Why not?
Let’s even just assume China is the absolute worst country ever. Perhaps we could agree with Bo Yang and his merciless depiction of the dark side of Chinese culture and society, or we could go full Hollywood and decide we’re all living in some unwanted TBA Die Hard retry where the Chinese are trying to take over the world, and they can only be stopped by the white man with his burden and two hours to kill with machine gun fire. Because after all, China really is trying to take over the world, and they’re doing it with a diabolical mix of humanitarian aid, industrial cooperation and generous, low interest loans to developing nations.
Huh … why can’t we try that?
If we’re the good guys in this metaphorical action movie, then why can’t we try sending the world doctors and civil engineers instead of cluster bombs and diabetes? Because for all China’s excesses, when was the last time they carpet bombed a Pakistani wedding?
So all this leaves us with one poignant question unresolved: if China is basically just a James Bond villain, why are they the ones saving the world from poverty? Isn’t the hero of the story supposed to do that part?
And aren’t we white people the heroes?
What if, hypothetically, we’ve got it all backwards? What if the Chinese are the good guys, and we’re the baddies?
That’s a disorienting thought, isn’t it? It’s like that heaving feeling you get when you realise you’re the only one at the dinner party on drugs, or when you finally discover that you aren’t supposed to sit on the rim of the toilet bowl.
Of course, in reality there’s nothing altruistic about China’s foreign policy. It’s all just calculated, self-interested exertion of soft power. They’re just acting reasonably and rationally in their pursuit of world domination. Unforgivable repression at home, generosity abroad. The west is trying to maintain its dominance too; the only difference is we bomb countries we don’t like, while the Chinese rebuild them. Now that’s what I call hearts and minds.
So even if we assume the country is terrible (which in some ways, it totally is), I think this says more about us westerners than it does about China. After all, somehow the combined power of all the extraordinarily wealthy nations of the developed world — especially western nations with their supposedly free, conscientious and democratic governments – have done virtually nothing to address global poverty when compared to the menial efforts of one godless east Asian factory nation. Those atheist pseudo-communists (with Chinese characteristics, of course) are doing more for the poor than all the churches combined. They’re helping the hungry more than any redneck loser from the Bible Belt. They’re sheltering the homeless more than any do-gooder libtard ever has. That’s why no matter how much kale you eat or shade-grown and grain-fed avocado you smash, you’ll never be as ethical as the average, mediocre and semi-corrupt Chinese functionary. They’re basically saving the world, while we’re doing almost nothing. I’m not complementing Chinese oficialistas here, I’m just pointing out how sickeningly low we’ve set the bar for ourselves. We should be ashamed.
I could go on, and talk about how the current rulers of the world, the US empire, built their hegemony on genocide, imperialism, war and oppression. We could compare the pair, and point out that China itself has flirted with imperialism – a fact that any Tibetan will attest to. However, try to compile a list of countries China has invaded, and you’ll struggle to get much further than Tibet and East Turkestan. As for the US … well let’s just say this handy map speaks for itself.
Now, I know many people in the west fear China. In some ways, there’s good reason to be wary; there’s so much to criticise about China, from its horrific human rights record, to the inequality and corruption. It’s critical, in fact, that the government in Beijing be subjected to intense scrutiny from both abroad and domestically. So I’m not saying don’t criticise China; you should because it’s a messed up country (though I’d much rather hear from Chinese themselves). What I’m saying is that the shared, presumed moral high ground of the white man is less of a high ground and more like the bottom of the Kola Superdeep Borehole (that’s pretty low). Moreover, intelligent, nuanced critique and the current, really-existing anti-intellectual discussion that plays out on cable news are two very different things. I mean, just look at the bullshit that gets spread about the middle kingdom. You know, that evil country that invented climate change to make US manufacturing non-competitive? It’s the country that Trump voters think is plotting to use secret alien technology to wipe out anyone who isn’t “Mongolian”. Heck, China is even supposedly planning on nuking everyone and blaming North Korea.
Obviously, these are extreme examples that illustrate my point: when it comes to China, the west has a somewhat irrational paranoia that dates back to the days of the “yellow peril”. Sadly, it seems that not even time can wash out the stains of racism and barbarity that permeate western civilisation. It makes serious discussion of China close to non-existent for the general public, and leaves our leaders peddling bogus and ever-so-slightly racist conspiracy theories on Twitter.
Like it or not though, the west and the rest will have to come to terms with the reality that China will not only be the next superpower, but in some ways it always has been. The past two centuries of western hegemony have been a historic abnormality – an abnormality that is quickly being corrected. Given this inevitability, I for one welcome our new overlords. At the very least, they can’t possibly fuck things up any worse than we have.
First published at dissentsansfrontieres.com.