China and the New Cold War

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This classic was written in June 1999.

The burst of good old-fashioned "isolationism" on the Right that followed the implosion of Communism and the end of the Cold War is in danger of sputtering to an abrupt halt. From Pat Buchanan to Gary Bauer to the congressional Republican leadership, just about every political leader and ideologue of a conservative hue has been snookered by a concerted campaign to demonize China as the new Evil Empire. A grand coalition that spans the spectrum, from the AFL-CIO to the American Conservative Union, is beating the drums for war with China.

The labor unions want a trade war, as does Buchanan; the neoconservatives are naturally in favor of any war, so long as it serves their vision of a foreign policy that frankly aims at "world hegemony," as Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol likes to put it. Some Religious Right leaders, notably Bauer, having despaired of ever abolishing the National Endowment for the Arts, and, otherwise largely ignored by the Republican congressional leadership, have signed on to the holy war against "Red" China, alleging anti-Christian persecution. The Hollywood crowd, steeped in New Age mysticism and enamored of Tibetan Buddhism, is waging a war of images, with Sinophobic movies such as Kundun. Bootlegged videos have flooded the Chinese market, and the movie moguls are miffed; this, combined with Tinselstown’s penchant for stagy self-righteousness, has propelled the glitzy and the glamorous into the front ranks of the China-haters.

The Sinophobes almost never refer to China as simply ‘China," but instead raise the specter of "Red" China, or "Communist China." Of course, it was never called this during the halcyon days of the Cold War, during the era of Mao Zedong, when China was in the throes of the "Cultural Revolution" — a mass ideological exorcism in which "bourgeois capitalist-roaders" within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) were sent to reeducation camps, and peasants were forced to live in agricultural "communes," in which they worked, ate, and slept together like a vast hive of worker bees. For Mao had not only broken with the Kremlin, but deemed the Soviet "social imperialists" far more dangerous than the United States. Nixon’s trip to China signaled the beginning of a wide-ranging strategic and military alliance between the two nations. While a very few conservatives rallied around their old ally, Taiwan, most proclaimed Nixonian diplomacy a stroke of genius and from that moment on no more was heard about human rights violations in China until well after the end of the Cold War.


After Richard Nixon raised his glass in salute to the People’s Republic, "Red" China dropped entirely out of the conservative lexicon. The great problem in reviving it is that a wave of reform has washed the redness out of China so thoroughly that it is, today, not even a barely discernible pink. Since the death of Mao, in 1979, and the ascension of Deng Xiaoping as China’s new "great helmsman," China has shed Marxist orthodoxy in all but the formal sense. Far from promoting Marxist ideology, or serving as the center of a revived worldwide Commie Conspiracy, the Chinese Communist Party is presiding over the largest-scale destatization process ever attempted: in "constructing socialism with Chinese characteristics," as they put it, the heirs of Mao and the Long March are systematically dismantling the economic foundations of socialism. Selling off state industries, not only allowing but actively soliciting foreign investment, privatizing land, cutting back on the military, setting up Special Economic Zones in which the deadening hand of the Party and the bureaucracy is stayed and the market allowed to flourish virtually unhampered — these and a host of other radical measures have effectively abolished the economic dictatorship of the Party and the State. The dour spirit of Maoist egalitarianism, which exhorted China to "put politics in command," has given way to a new form of "socialism" summed up by Deng in a famous maxim: "To get rich is glorious!"

While Chinese Marxist theoreticians insist on referring to their system as "market socialism," it is no more socialist than the economies of Europe and the United States — and no less. In many respects, the burgeoning Chinese private sector is far less regulated than in the West. China has no "civil rights" laws, no Chinese With Disabilities Act, no affirmative action. Western commentators of the liberal persuasion bemoan the lack of "social welfare’ measures, such as workman’s compensation, and demand that Chinese be given the alleged "right" to organize unions.


At the end of Deng Xiaoping’s life, in the final throes of his struggle against the remaining orthodox Maoists in the CCP leadership, the aging leader took to the stump and made his case to the Chinese people. Traveling throughout South China, and touring the special economic zones, he argued forcefully for more rapid privatization and the unleashing of market forces. As Orville Schell puts it in his book, The Mandate of Heaven, "Deng’s nanxun [Southern tour] had rammed Chinese society into reverse gear, stampeding the country into a form of unregulated capitalism that made the U.S. and Europe seem almost socialist by comparison."

With the standard of living and growth rates rapidly rising, ordinary Chinese have never been better off. But that does not satisfy the ‘human rights" crowd: far from it. China may be taking the capitalist road, they carp, but it is still a long way from achieving "democracy." This obsession with capital-d Democracy overshadowed Clinton’s trip to China, and so skewed the focus of the American media, and, ultimately, the President himself, that the main subject of public discussion was not the dramatic achievements of the post-Mao destatization, in which a billion people lifted themselves up out of serfdom. Instead, the President engaged in an hour-long colloquoy with Chinese premier Jiang Zemin on the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident, in which a few hundred rioters bent on self-immolation achieved their stated ends.


The Tiananmen Square "massacre" is an incident so wrapped up in mythology, most of it generated by Western journalists and their professional dissident friends, that it is nearly impossible for any "revisionist" analysis to be given a hearing. The world saw the Goddess of Democracy, the bright banners and youthful idealism of the protesters, a giant rock-concert held under the gaze of the seemingly incongruous Chairman Mao, whose gargantuan portrait dominates the Square.

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Indelibly etched on the popular mind is the image of a lone man standing in the path of an oncoming tank. The tank moves to the left, and then to the right, in a fruitless effort to avoid flattening him. This sequence of events could serve as a kind of shorthand for the events leading up to the infamous incident.

Ensconced in the Square for weeks on end, the students were at first hailed by the radical reform wing of the CCP, and even some of the more orthodox, as the harbingers of a new spirit of "socialist democracy." Hu Qili, the party chieftain in charge of press and propaganda at the time, was in sympathy with the students’ democratic demands, and gave the go-ahead to the media to open up and begin to report what was happening in the Square. The students were duly rewarded with a front-page photo and adulatory news story in the May 5 issue of the official Peoples Daily.

That is why those discount the recent student-led protests against the bombing of China’s Belgrade embassy as government-staged and therefore of limited significance miss the point completely. These analysts are forgetting that the most significant rebellion against the authority of the CCP was praised and to a large extent engineered by a wing of the party bureaucracy.

On May 18, the Daily pushed Gorbachev’s visit to a small item below the fold and ran six front-page stories on the student protest. Headlines blared: "One million from All Walks of life Demonstrate in Support of Hunger-Striking Students"; "Save the Students! Save the Children!" Other newspapers in different areas of the country joined the chorus. The Guangming Daily came out with seven front-page stories on the tumultuous events in Beijing, and proclaimed: "The conditions of the students and the future of the country touch the heart of every Chinese who has a conscience."

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Justin Raimondo [send him mail] is editorial director of and is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard and Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement.

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