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China Analysis Digest #74

A weekly curated list of new China-related analyses.

Date range: September 19-26, 2022

Sources scanned: 122

Publications: 179 (English), 33 (Chinese)

China Watching

China Heritage

"The tension between Sinology and the disciplines emerged again recently...Each time these issues erupt into the public arena they are expressed in a slightly different manner, but in essence the issues remain the same. The argument revolves around what should be prioritized: China, its languages and literature, or the modes of analysis and inquiry that are cultivated by particular disciplines. The case for Sinology is somewhat different outside of China, but the origins of these debates lie within China, in the Republican-era discussions over what place indigenous knowledge should have in the modern university. Despite an initial vote for Sinology, in the end it was the disciplines that won out. As a result, indigenous knowledge lost its distinct institutional presence and was subsumed into an increasingly Westernized academic culture."

Comment: Who is Sinology for? What is its role in today's academies run on neoliberal principles? And how should it contribute to how we think about China?

China Media Project

"The fatal crash of a quarantine transport bus in Guizhou province over the weekend has galvanized anger over China’s Covid policies. One private post from a well-known journalist yesterday was shared widely on social media before being deleted. It spoke of 1.3 billion Chinese held “in bondage” over irrational fears of contagion."

"[To quote this Chinese journalist:] So far in Guizhou, not a single person has died of Omicron. But the fear of the possible spread of Omicron has put six million people under lockdown and has resulted in the forced removal of 30,000 people to quarantine facilities, of which some 10,000 have been distributed to other cities.

And now, 27 people who were possibly infected have been killed in an accident that happened during transport [to a quarantine facility outside the city]! Just look at this doomed driver who doesn’t know what’s even happening, and he wearing a hazmat suit and two layers of masks, and senselessly he’s wearing goggles too, and probably two layers of protective gloves. And for the entire journey, he was prohibited from using the air conditioning. And it was 2:30 AM. This is the foggy trance in which this bus was driven toward death.

We must wake up! We must return to normalcy!"

Comment: for some Chinese, the accident was not only a tragedy for those onboard the bus but a symbol of China's trajectory: the Chinese people are on a bus driven by a drowsy driver, heading for the cliff. Whatever one may think about the future prospects of the nation, what is clear is that local officials are under immense pressure to conform to the central government's zero-COVID strategy. The measures that this pressure forces local officials to adopt have great human consequences.

China Brief

"All in all, there will be strong incentives for President Xi, after receiving a mandate for a third term at the Party Congress, to keep expansionary fiscal and monetary policies in place in order to show a better growth picture. However, the room for maneuver is much more limited than in the past. The fall in fiscal revenue will continue to constrain the government’s ability to invest in infrastructure, even as the return on assets of such projects has declined. The PBOC will also find it hard to push interest rates too low given the concerns about financial health and the rising yield differential between China and the U.S. Because of these policy constraints, in addition to the likely continuation of zero-COVID policies in one form or another, as well as the swallowing of the excess related to the demise of the real estate sector, growth prospects for China under President Xi s new term should be underwhelming and possibly not go above three percent in 2023 and beyond."

Comment: the Party is increasingly willing to sacrifice growth to reinforce control. Rapid economic growth is no longer possible given the limits of China's current economic model. Some economic trends, such as the rise of tech giants, can actually challenge Party prerogatives. Moreover, many Party thinkers believe that neoliberal economics leads to political pluralisation, division, and eventually polarisation.
"Despite the immense issues it creates, the CCP cannot simply eradicate corruption as it is an integral part of the PRC’s political system. The absolute power of the CCP can also be considered as a key reason for the continued endemic corruption in China as criticism is stifled, which prevents official transparency that would expose corruption. This situation can only be changed by a fundamental shift towards liberalism in China that would allow civil society to provide much needed checks and balances on those in power, in both government and big business. In the continued era of Xi Jinping, this is not likely to happen."

Comment: the paradox is that on the one hand Xi wants to fight corruption and on the other, the Party is cracking down on civil society. These aims run counter to each other. For the Party, corruption and cadre privileges are baked into the system. Even during the Yan'an period, living standards (food, clothing, dwelling etc) are determined by the person's rank in the Party hierarchy. Xi's campaign to fight corruption is not about doing the right thing per se, it is about ensuring that the Party can continue to rule and maintain the privileges of its elite.


China Story

"Gendered violence may be unavoidable in patriarchal societies. For such a ‘moral awakening’ to result in positive changes, however, the state must take a firmer stance on gender inequality and a more inclusive or transparent approach to discussions that question how best to build the genuinely ‘harmonious society’ that is supposed to integral to the China dream.

In a nutshell, violence against women in present-day China points to numerous issues: systemic inequality between men and women, rising misogyny, loopholes in the criminal justice system, gang violence connected to official corruption, and general deterioration in the moral sphere. In order for China to build a genuinely harmonious, violence-free and gender-equal society, profound reforms in education, law, policing and social ethics will need to be put in place."

Comment: under Xi, China is backsliding on gender equality. Beijing is promoting heteronormativity and traditional feminine virtues. It is doing this to address the ageing demography, construct a national identity based on masculinity, and reinforce the patriarchal foundations on which Chinese society and state are based. This conservative agenda creates obstacles to gender equality even as recent cases (eg., chained mother, Tangshan Incident) highlight the urgent need for reflection and action. But the state is now part of the problem... 

War on the Rocks

China-US Focus

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