Monday, April 30, 2007

FEER article: Have China Scholars All Been Bought?

apr 30th, 2007

sorry, no url. the chinese buy all these people, and also bully the ones that don't get with their program. so do the mohammedans, the yanks, and the vatican. hindus need to spend good money in buying 'scholars' and 'journalists'. they wlll all sing for their supper.

some years ago, i publicly offered to sing for the kaangress and wrote a sample piece on how i'd make a good sycophant for rajiv gandhi. alas, they did not offer me any money. sigh. that makes me feel like pond scum. not even the kaangress wants me. maybe i should make the same offer to the mohammedans. or maybe it's like woody allen/groucho marx said, he didn't want to join any club that would have him. so i guess i have to wait to be invited to sing like a canary, it's not good to offer to be one.

regarding this article, i am amazed at how much like the massively multi-player game Second Life china is. it is a make-believe kind of place. it's not real, but lots of people convince themselves that it is real life.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Brahma

Have China Scholars All Been Bought?
April 2007 Far Eastern Economic Review
by Carsten A. Holz

Academics who study China, which includes the author, habitually please the
Chinese Communist Party, sometimes consciously, and often unconsciously. Our
incentives are to conform, and we do so in numerous ways: through the
research questions we ask or don't ask, through the facts we report or
ignore, through our use of language, and through what and how we teach.

Foreign academics must cooperate with academics in China to collect data and
co-author research. Surveys are conducted in a manner that is acceptable to
the Party, and their content is limited to politically acceptable questions.
For academics in China, such choices come naturally. The Western side plays
along.

China researchers are equally constrained in their solo research. Some
Western China scholars have relatives in China. Others own apartments there.
Those China scholars whose mother tongue is not Chinese have studied the
language for years and have built their careers on this large and
nontransferable investment. We benefit from our connections in China to
obtain information and insights, and we protect these connections. Everybody
is happy, Western readers for the up-to-date view from academia, we
ourselves for prospering in our jobs, and the Party for getting us to do its
advertising. China is fairly unique in that the incentives for academics all
go one way: One does not upset the Party.

What happens when we don't play along is all too obvious. We can't attract
Chinese collaborators. When we poke around in China to do research we run
into trouble. Li Shaomin, associate professor in the marketing department of
City University in Hong Kong and a U.S. citizen, spent five months in a
Chinese jail on charges of "endangering state security." In his own words,
his crimes were his critical views of China's political system, his visits
to Taiwan, his use of Taiwanese funds to conduct research on politically
sensitive issues, and his collecting research data in China. City University
offered no support, and once he was released he went to teach at Old
Dominion University in Virginia. One may wonder what five months in the
hands of Chinese secret police does to one's psyche, and what means the
Party used to silence Mr. Li. To academics in Hong Kong, the signal was not
lost.

China researchers across different disciplines may not all be equally
affected. Economists and political scientists are likely to come up against
the Party constraint frequently, and perhaps severely. But even sociologists
or ethnographers can reach the forbidden zone when doing network studies or
examining ethnic minority cultures.

Our self-censorship takes many forms. We ask Western instead of
China-relevant questions. We try to explain the profitability of state-owned
enterprises (SOEs) by basic economic factors, when it may make more sense to
explain it by the quality of enterprise management (hand-picked by the
Party's "Organization Department"), or by the political constraints an
enterprise faces, or by the political and bureaucratic channels through
which an enterprise interacts with its owners, employees, suppliers and
buyers. But how to collect systematic information about the influence of the
Party on the operation of a state-owned or state-controlled enterprise, when
these are typically matters that nobody in the enterprise will speak about?

We talk about economic institutions and their development over time as if
they were institutions in the West. "Price administration" regulations,
central and local, abound, giving officials far-reaching powers to interfere
in the price-setting process. Yet we accept official statistics that show
90% of all prices, by trading value, to be market-determined. We do not
question the meaning of the Chinese word shichang, translated as "market,"
but presume it to be the same as in the West.

Similarly, we take at face value China's Company Law, which makes no mention
of the Party, even though the Party is likely to still call the shots in the
companies organized under the Company Law. Only if one digs deeper will one
find unambiguous evidence: The Shaanxi Provincial Party Committee and the
Shaanxi government in a joint circular of 2006 explicitly require the Party
cell in state-owned enterprises (including "companies") to participate in
all major enterprise decisions; the circular also requests that in all
provincial state-owned enterprises the chairman of the board of directors
and the Party secretary, in principle, are one and the same person. At the
national level, the leadership of the 50 largest central state-owned
enterprises—enterprises that invest around the world—is directly appointed
by the Politburo. Economists do not ask what it means if the Party center
increasingly runs enterprises in the U.S. and Europe.

The governor and Party secretary of China's central bank, Zhou Xiaochuan,
writes extensively in Chinese about "comprehensively accelerating central
bank work" based on the "three represents" (the Party represents the
"advanced productive forces, the advanced Chinese culture and the basic
interests of the Chinese people"). He describes the three represents as
"guiding macroeconomic policy" in ways that defy any Western concept of
logic. And yet we take this person as seriously as if we were dealing with
the governor of a Western central bank, as if China's central bank were
truly setting monetary policy, and as if the channels through which monetary
policy operates in China and the impact monetary policy has on the economy
are the same as in the West.

Are we naïve? Or are we justified in ignoring the central bank governor's
second—or rather, first—life as Party secretary? Are we subconsciously
shutting out something that we do not comprehend, or something we do not
want to see because it doesn't fit into our neat, Western economic concepts?
Article after article pores over the potential economic reasons for the
increase in income inequality in China. We ignore the fact that of the 3,220
Chinese citizens with a personal wealth of 100 million yuan ($13 million) or
more, 2, 932 are children of high-level cadres. Of the key positions in the
five industrial sectors—finance, foreign trade, land development,
large-scale engineering and securities—85% to 90% are held by children of
high-level cadres.

With the introduction of each new element of reform and transition, cadres
enrich themselves: the dual track price system, the nonperforming loans, the
asset-stripping of SOEs, the misuse of funds in investment companies and in
private pension accounts. The overwhelmingly irregular transformation of
rural into urban land may well qualify as "systematic looting" by local
"leaders." Local cadres are heavily invested in the small, unsafe coal mines
they are supposed to close, and nobody knows how they obtained their stakes
in these operations.

A general dearth of economic information shapes our research. Statistics on
specific current issues are collected by the National Bureau of Statistics
on special request of the Party Central Committee and the State Council.
None of this information is likely to be available to the public. The
quality of the statistics that are published comes with a large question
mark. Outside the realm of official statistics, government departments at
all levels collect and control internal information. What is published tends
to be propaganda—pieces of information released with an ulterior objective
in mind. One solution for China economists then is to resign themselves to
conducting sterilized surveys and to building abstract models on the basis
of convenient assumptions—of perfect competition, profit maximization given
a production technology, household utility maximization with respect to
consumption and subject to financial constraints, etc. How much this can
tell us about China is unclear.

Other China economists openly accept favors from the Party. We can use our
connections to link up with government cadres. We may be hosted in field
research by local governments and local Party committees. A local Party
committee, at one point, helped me out by providing a car, a Party cadre and
a local government official. They directed me to enterprise managers who,
presumably, gave all the right answers. The hosts were invariably highly
supportive, but I ended up working in exactly the box in which they were
thinking and operating. (This seems to be the only research project that I
never completed.) Furthermore, those who go to the field and interview
cadres may not only unwillingly become a tool of the Party, but also a tool
in departmental infighting.

Our use of language to conform to the image the Party wishes to project is
pervasive. Would the description "a secret society characterized by an
attitude of popular hostility to law and government" not properly describe
the secrecy of the Party's operations, its supremacy above the law and its
total control of government? In Webster's New World College Dictionary, this
is the definition of "mafia."

We speak of the Chinese "government" without further qualification when more
than 95% of the "leadership cadres" are Party members, key decisions are
reached by leadership cadres in their function as members of Party work
committees, the staff of the government Personnel Ministry is virtually
identical to the staff of the Party Organization Department, the staff of
the Supervision Ministry is virtually identical to the staff of the Party
Disciplinary Commission, and the staff of the PRC Central Military
Commission is usually 100% identical to the staff of the Chinese Communist
Party's Central Military Commission. Does China's government actually govern
China, or is it merely an organ that implements Party decisions? By using
the word "government," is it correct to grant the Chinese "government" this
association with other, in particular Western, governments, or would it not
be more accurate to call it the "government with Chinese characteristics" or
the "mafia's front man"? Who questions the legitimacy of the Party
leadership to rule China, and to rule it the way it does?

The Party's—or, the mafia's—terminology pervades our writing and teaching.
We do not ask if the Chinese Communist Party is communist, the People's
Congresses are congresses of the people, the People's Liberation Army is
liberating or suppressing the people, or if the judges are not all appointed
by the Party and answer to the Party. We say "Tiananmen incident," in
conformance with Party terminology, but called it "Tiananmen massacre" right
after the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, when "incident" would have made us look
too submissive to the Party.

Which Western textbook on China's political system elaborates on the Party's
selection and de facto appointment of government officials and parliamentary
delegates, and, furthermore, points out these procedures as different from
how we view political parties, government and parliament in the West? By
following the Party's lead in giving the names of Western institutions to
fake Chinese imitations, we sanctify the Party's pretenses. We are not even
willing to call China what its own constitution calls it: a dictatorship (a
"people's democratic dictatorship led by the working class and based on the
alliance of workers and peasants, which is in essence the dictatorship of
the proletariat").

Who lays out the systematic sale of leadership positions across Chinese
governments and Party committees? The Heilongjiang scandal provides the
going price list from the province down to the county level, a list not to
be found in any textbook. The publicly known scope of the sale of positions
does not leave much room for interpretation. For these salesmen and
saleswomen of government positions to have nothing to fear, the rule of the
mafia and its code of silence must be powerful beyond imagination.

What is not normal is accepted as normal for China. Hackers were collecting
the incoming emails of a faculty member of the University of Hong Kong from
the university's server until they were found out in June 2005, when they
accidentally deleted emails. The hackers came from three mainland Internet
provider addresses, and all three IP addresses are state telecommunications
firms. Within China, the staff of the foreign students' dormitories includes
public security officials who keep tabs on foreign students and compile each
student's file. In a Shanghai institution of tertiary education, typing
"Jiang Zemin" into a search engine from a computer located on campus, three
times in a row, leads to the automatic shutdown of access to that search
engine for the whole campus. The Party is rumored to employ tens of
thousands of Internet "police." Phone calls are listened to, if not
systematically recorded. Emails are filtered and sometimes not delivered.
Who will not learn to instinctively avoid what the Party does not want them
to think or do?

Party propaganda has found its way deeply into our thinking. The importance
of "social stability" and nowadays a "harmonious society" are accepted
unconditionally as important for China. But is a country with more than 200
incidents of social unrest every day really socially stable, and its society
harmonious? Or does "socially stable" mean no more than acceptance of the
rule of the mafia?

"Local government bad, central government good" is another propaganda truism
that is accepted unquestioningly in the foreign research community,
informing and shaping research questions. Yet, viewing the Party as a mafia,
there is no room for such niceties, and reporting outside academia indeed
suggests that the center hides a rather hideous second face, and inevitably
does so for a purpose.

We see the "ends"—successful reform—and don't question the "means." The
Party's growth mantra is faithfully accepted as the overarching objective
for the country and the one measure of successful reform. Nobody lingers on
the political mechanisms through which growth is achieved. The mafia runs
China rather efficiently, so why worry about how it is done, and what the
"side effects" are? We obviously know of the labor camps into which people
disappear without judiciary review, of torture inflicted by the personnel of
state "security" organs, and of the treatment of Falun Gong, but choose to
move on with our sterilized research and teaching. We ignore that China's
political system is responsible for 30 million dead from starvation in the
Great Leap Forward, and 750,000 to 1.5 million murders during the Cultural
Revolution. What can make Western academics stop and think twice about who
they have bedded down with?

If academics don't, who will? The World Bank and other international
organizations won't because they profit from dealing with China. Their
banking relationship depends on amicable cooperation with the Party, and a
de facto requirement of their research collaboration is that the final
report and the public statements are acceptable to Party censors. The
research departments of Western investment banks won't because the banks'
other arms likely depend on business with China.

Does this all matter? Does it matter if China researchers ignore the
political context in which they operate and the political constraints that
shape their work? Does it matter if we present China to the West the way the
Party leadership must like us to present China, providing narrow answers to
our self-censored research questions and offering a sanitized picture of
China's political system?

The size of China's economy will exceed that of the U.S., in purchasing
power terms, by 2008 or 2009. China is a country with which Western
economies are increasingly intertwined: A quarter of Chinese industry is
foreign-owned and we depend on Chinese industry for cheap consumer goods.
Ultimately, our pensions, invested in multinationals that increasingly
produce in China, depend on the continued economic rise of China. But does
the West understand that country and its rulers? At what point, and through
what channels, will the Party leadership with its different views of human
rights and the citizens' rights affect our choices of political organization
and political freedoms in the West (as it has affected academic research and
teaching)? And to what extent are China researchers guilty of putting their
own rice bowl before honest thinking and teaching?

Mr. Holz is an economist and professor in the social science division of the
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.


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