Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Original Sin of Chinese Capitalism

In a 2007 post, I shared my own observation on the irony of capitalism. If anything, the 2008 global financial debacle would seem to testify to a grain of truth in the ironic and disastrous outcome of American capitalism. But capitalism with Chinese characteristics (not in the specific sense of Yasheng Huang’s book) – in reality just a Western economic concept that has been grafted onto Chinese soil - appears to be even more egregious, owing probably to its putrid fusion with a deeply implanted class-discriminating and serf mind-set in the Chinese culture.

Thousands of years of hereditary Chinese imperialism, with all its emperor-subject, master-servant, male-female and senior-junior class discrimination trappings, have endowed the Chinese race with an innate iniquitous mentality. Lu Xun (魯迅), the liberal thinker and writer, once quoted an ancient saying (“左傳”昭公七年) in one of his articles to illustrate this lasting social phenomenon, “There are ten suns in the sky, as there are ten classes in human society.” (“天有十日, 人有十等”).That is why, he said, it was natural for the royalty to discriminate against the plebeian (貴賤), the big to bully the small (大小), the upper class to tread on the lower (上下). Everyone was born into a certain class and had to submit to his/her fate with no room for resistance. The more powerful had the natural right to treat the less powerful like dirt, one class trampling on another, in descending order, ending with women and children as the lowest. He even likened the so-called Chinese civilization to a big feast of human flesh arranged for the exclusive enjoyment of the powerful and wealthy. Each serf, numbed by his own suffering, was callous to the pain of others. As well, being sustained by the hope of eventually having the chance to enslave and devour another in a lower class for self-benefit, he was prone to forget his own miserable destiny of servitude and being devoured.

Lu said in the article that he would feel heartily thankful if a foreigner visiting China would grimace in disgust of what was happening in the country rather than heap empty praises about the Chinese culture, as then he could be certain that the foreigner was at least not interested in eating Chinese human flesh.

Emperors in ancient times, starting with demagogue Liu Bang in the Han dynasty, were astute to utilize partial teachings of Confucius – the concepts of loyalty and filial piety in the officialdom and family hierarchy – to restrict social behavior so that the common people could be rendered submissive and incapable of independent critical thinking, while using cruel penalties to repress or threaten dissidents. Thus, Confucianism was distorted purposely by emperors (with the part about benevolent governance and people as the prior concern of rulers entirely wiped out) to suit authoritarian rule and further entrench class discrimination and servitude in the social code. It’s no coincidence that the current authoritarian regime is so eager to promote Confucianism as a means to controlling the thoughts of the nation, but I digress.

With servile attitude towards the strong and powerful being a given, along with the vengeful desire to bully the weaker to placate the bruised ego, many Chinese, especially Mainland Chinese who have not been sufficiently exposed to Western education, may instinctively find the universal values of equality, liberty and fraternity rather unnatural and even alien. Against such a background, Western Capitalism, which condones selfishness and wanton greed in the individual with no restraint, when coupled with the nation’s pervasive depravity and innate class-discriminating and serf mentality, can therefore easily be transformed into brutal, corrupt and predatory Cannibalism when practiced on Chinese soil, where, since the Cultural Revolution, money and power trumps human dignity, morality and compassion.

Even in relatively Western-educated Hong Kong society, capitalism with Chinese characteristics has been at play to create a cannibalistic property oligarchy to the detriment of the whole society. The recent labor-capital dispute at the container terminals yet provides a fresh sample.

Lu Xun made a lacerating remark in his article: that the Chinese people had never, even up to his times, attained the qualities of a human being, at best only those of a serf, and the vicious cycle of serfs begetting more serfs couldn’t seem to stop. But our Hong Kong container terminal laborers are obviously on the way to breaking this vicious cycle by daring to demand to be accorded a little bit of human dignity.

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