They Order These Things Better

A colleague at a conference gave a curiously incomplete description of the career of Lao She, and I wrote a friendly (at least, intended as friendly) email mentioning his suicide after persecution by the Red Guards, and alluding as well to the current push toward one-man rule, which I would have thought to be a matter of record. The reply read in part:

I’ve never met, on the PRC mainland, a Chinese who didn’t love Chairman Mao. And party members typically tell me that the censorship is not so much about politics as about resisting US consumer culture on the internet, that the CP want to maintain standards on education etc. that I personally find more sympathetic that American mass media.  Hong Kong resistance, for example, seems to me a combination of highly idealistic youth who are naïve about western “freedom and democracy” and disaffected businessmen who resent that Hong Kong is no longer the gateway to China’s markets. But all of us are struggling and all of us are concerned about the world we are leaving for our children.

Do you know, one of the best things we could do for our children would be to resist one-party rule of all kinds, especially those that depend on censorship for their appearance of legitimacy. The “US consumer culture” that my colleague deplores brings me, every day or week, The Nation, The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, and Scientific American, not to mention permitting the delivery of The Guardian, Le Monde, and similar items consultable per Internet. My friends in China aren’t able to tap into such a range of information, and it seems patronizing to suggest that they are better off that way, under the paternalistic eye of the Party. I don’t know what makes my colleague so ready to accept this line of thought. Perhaps a traumatic interaction with a Disney character early in life is responsible. At my house, we keep “US consumer culture” at a distance– most obviously by not having a TV.

I should add that my colleague doesn’t speak Chinese but has a lot of professional contact with China. So perhaps this is a case of adapting one’s opinions to the source of one’s cornpone. In that case I would have appreciated a dose more cynicism.