“The rise of a major power is made up of thousands of details; like dispatching troops, mining mountains, building trading ports and skyscrapers, and most importantly entering the hearts and minds of the people without anyone noticing.”
This is a book for me that will most definitely be contending for 2016’s best title (I snatched it only this February). In this extraordinary piece, intellectual/observer/moralist/dissident/ analyst/”bad element” Xu Zhiyuan delivers an unprecedented critique & perspicacious reflection on China’s “economic miracle” & the true cost of this disastrous achievement. With remarkable clarity, Xu serves an almost sublime invective, with a grace & composure that almost contradicts the strength of the criticism & quiet outrage that he enacts. It’s amazingly well written, without pretention or artifice & with a searing veracity & lucidity. Xu is a young author & journalist, a current columnist for the Financial Times (China) & former editor-in-chief for Bloomberg BusinessWeek China. That may sound repellent, but it has allowed him prolonged access & observational vantage to the belly of the beast, & what he has decided to do with the proliferated knowledge & core-account is outstanding & majorly informative. Essentially a large series of short essays from 2006 to February 2015, Xu addresses events & topics (famous & obscure) in China whilst also making many historical comparisons & references along with his own theorization & condemnation. His thinking & writing are not “dry” & institutionized, neither are they limited, or more aptly caponized, by the framed debate & ethics-void “pragmaticm” of a lot of todays piss-poor-polemic journalism lens-limp. Despite his serene stolidity this is trenchant, impassioned & intensely human/moral & indignant material without trepidation or tranquilization. It’s courageous & radical as anything in the intellectual circumference truly should be. Although Paper Tiger concentrates on China & Hong-Kong almost in it’s entirety, so much of this book denotes & reminds me of the global plague that is the extremist economic growth obsessed exploitation/hyper consumption/corporatocracy cult that is the prevailing globalized dogma of the era. Sharing some similarities with the Saudi situation (we don’t mind how brutal & totalitarian you are as long as it’s lucrative), the “Chinese Model” has recently found favour & authority even in the West (albeit often covertly). Presented as a “success” it is now replicated or part-calibrated as a business model or political policy to pacify populations as an export in diluted & regionally modified versions for control & profit. It is of course only recently that Xi Jinping received truckling red-carpet blandishments & whitewashing from Cameron on a state visit to London along with, in very close succession, two more modern textbook-tyrants Narendra Modi & Abdel Fatah al-Sisi (hot on the heels of a major commercial arms fair) who also attended for a global-PR legitimacy pageant in fraudulent international credibility. But despite the degradation & some very unpleasant transgressions & mass deregulations in the West, the difference in freedoms & the penalty for dissent/disagreement (& that’s telling the truth, disputing injustice/criminality & having a conscience these days) in China is a much’ much graver matter (as the horrific recent “crack-down”/purge on human rights lawyers & even kidnappings of book shop staff so clearly confirm). These exchanges of oppression & exploitation-strategies between states is not really covered here, but certain similarities (some of them acute) will occur to anyone abreast with current political phenomena in the UK, US & parts of Europe whilst reading Paper Tiger. The better known incidents covered in the book include the Beijing Olympics, Sichuan earthquake, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Umbrella Movement, Tiananmen Square, distemper in Urumqi, the incarceration of activist Lin Xiabo & the melamine-milk baby poisoning scandal. Some of his writing is directly damning & extremely critical, whilst others are more like ruminations & the mind openly coming to terms with the abuse witnessed, almost like a damage assessment. Xu also laments the decimation of free-thinking & morality & the terminal solipsistic rapacity, consumerism & business based fanaticism that has generally been the replacement feature for these hounded, precious human principles. He pulls no punches in his disdain & disgust which is constantly articulated in the face of the presiding economicide, idiocy & immorality. This again is where his work is so relevant, almost just as much in an international bracket, & can be extrapolated to many other countries & regimes world-wide. As an attack on capitalism, or rather the modern grotesquely-disfigured & deformed hyper-capitalism, Xu’s writing excels in it’s righteous castigation & staunch indignation. He speaks of “extreme utilitarians”, a rampant solipsistic avarice & an extremist money fixated mania that infects the majority & is encouraged by the state & now society itself as a whole. “Meaningful thought and values have crumbled; morals are bankrupt” – “When dignity and freedoms are not dependable, the only thing that can be firmly grasped is material wealth” – ““industrialization of educations” schools are not just schools now, they are corporations”. Crucially he also confronts China’s unique historical experience & conditioning, & how it’s intellectual demographic was substantially obliterated, persecuted & terrorized during Mao’s absurdly destructive scourge. The extermination, impairment & reduction of this precious civilization-apex has excluded & prevented successive generations from an incredible source of intellectual & cultural enrichment with acutely grave ramifications for subsequent posterity. “if you observe carefully the depth and breadth of public opinion and investigation in China, and compare it with the China of the 1980’s, you will discover that this country has not only failed to progress, but is actually going backwards.” To be fair, it is not just China that is experiencing this kind of regressive or indeed transgressive degradation or retardation, it’s a globalized agenda/template that is playing out in the majority & first world. Again, this is why Xu’s account is so valid & universal, whether you are in Australia, Turkey, The Divided Kingdom, Egypt, The USA, Hungary, India, Japan & so on, unfortunately with few exceptions to this poisonous doctrine of debilitation & degeneracy. Once again, we end up confronting extreme capitalism/plutocracy/usury/nihilism & it’s perverse, abusive & harmful exploitational anti-life model manifesting in a compulsory/monomatum business-mad economic growth cathexis that takes priority & centralization over everything else. All that really changes is the gear, the methods of administration & regional conditions.
Paper Tiger is an incredibly strong counter-narrative, enriched by a principle/logic of deep humanity, morality, outrage, focus & courage that is fired through a cogent & pertinently-potent articulation. I can’t recommend the book enough & munched through it in three days without any ardour what so ever. Amazing stuff!
Author: Xu Zhiyuan
Publisher: Head Of Zeus (2015)