Friday, 7 July 2017

Hong Kong & Shenzhen Again

I spent last week on a whistle-stop business visit to Hong Kong and Shenzhen, my first real visit to the mainland since 2014 and to Hong Kong since 2015.

Brief notes:
  • Not a single person I spoke to in Hong Kong expressed any excitement or interest in the celebration ceremonies for the 20th anniversary of the hand-over of Hong Kong to the PRC. At most they expressed weariness about the likely shut-down of the city centre and expected a repeat of the inconvenience they suffered during the visit of Zhang Dejiang last year, which included being locked in their office buildings for hours either side of his passing through.
  • As much as I deprecate people moaning about "gentrification", the wave of change sweeping through Kowloon has undeniably removed something special from the area, though Mong Kok is still itself.
  • The banners displayed everywhere I went on the mainland touting "socialism" and (amongst Xi Jinping's 12 virtues) "democracy" were, for me, stunning. Having lived in the China of Hu Jintao, where communism was wisely down-played, and "Western" democracy was something to be denounced (whilst at the same time subtly claiming, typically with some hand-waving about Confucianism, that China under the CCP is a democracy), it was a shock to see both communism and democracy being touted in official propaganda. I can't help but think that this is only likely to drive people against the CCP regime by rubbing the fact that neither democracy nor socialism currently exist in mainland China in their faces, but then what do I know?
Obviously it was a short visit, but I think the last point here is probably the most significant. The CCP under Xi Jinping is abandoning the subtle style of previous years and instead heightening the contradictions of their rule.

[Picture: the "24-characters of core values of socialism", including (roughly translated) prosperity, democracy, civilisation, harmony, freedom, peace, equality, justice, rule of law, patriotism, dedication, honesty, and fraternity]


justrecently said...

Foreigners get used to a lot of things in China - the same is probably true for Chinese people. They affirm the power that be, because it keeps them out of conflict, and facilitates their careers.

I've seen some reports about the "social credit system" in our press, but not too many yet. In all likelihood, the CCP is absolutely serious about it. They may not be able to make it work at their top echelons, but the system will be good enough to scare common people into (anticipatory) obedience.

justrecently said...

Might be interesting in this context:
Death of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, Taiwan Sentinel

Gilman Grundy said...

@JR - Yeah, there's been a lot of talk on Twitter about the comments regarding the Sino-British declaration and I was hoping to write something about it but had trouble finding time. As far as I am aware the content of this comment was nothing new since the 2014 White Paper said pretty much the same thing (i.e., HK Autonomy comes only from the central government's authorisation and can be revoked any time the central government wants). What it does mark is a change in tone since even in 2014 the CCP would have been circumspect about saying this too loudly - I guess Brexit has changed this since the CCP need no longer worry about offending the UK.

justrecently said...

I'm not sure about the role Brexit plays here - China's position concerning autonomy has been consistent since ancient times (to rephrase the foreign ministry in Beijing), and it has always meant that a region's autonomy would be history within years.

Cole (Sentinel) makes it clear what this means, in the HK context, for the Chinese claim that they were always true to international treaties and conventions.

If China is willing to offend the UN - i. e. basically every nation in this world -, I don't think they'd have shied away from offending the EU.

I think it will be important to keep pointing this out, whenever Chinese people are banging about on how innocent and decent their country is, compared to others.

Ji Xiang said...

I was also surprised to see the both democracy and freedom included among the "core values of socialism" when the campaign started in 2014. I actually wrote a blog post about it at the time:

Honestly if you think that such campaigns will turn people against the CCP's rule, you're mistaken. I disagree that this is such a big break with the past. The word "socialism" (not communism) could be found in government propaganda during the Hu-Wen period too, and the word "democracy" has long been appropriated by the government (perhaps in recognition of the fact that it can't simply be brushed aside). Seeing these two words in a government campaign isn't going to surprise or enrage anyone.

In any case, I've never heard any Chinese people discuss the content of these slogans, and this is in Beijing, the Chinese city where people are most into discussing politics. Quite simply, people take them for granted and get on with their lives. I don't think anyone looks at the posters and feels serious anger about the contradictions of CCP rule. People in China have a way of judging the government based entirely on what they perceive as their own interest, or perhaps on China's national interests, but not on the gap between the government's words and slogans and the reality. I also partly disagree with Justrecently's analysis. Except for a small minority, most Chinese aren't scared into obedience - they simply don't realize they are being obedient.

Gilman Grundy said...

"The word "socialism" (not communism) could be found in government propaganda during the Hu-Wen period too"

True, but not hanging from every lamp-post in Shenzhen. I remember a girlfriend of mine in 2004 laughing at the idea that she (a senior CP member at the hospital she worked at) might have to teach lessons about Lei Feng - I understand it is now a common subject.

"I don't think anyone looks at the posters and feels serious anger about the contradictions of CCP rule."

But this campaign practically dares them to do so in a way that previous propaganda did not. If they do not now do so, one day they might.

Ji Xiang said...

It's true that under Xi government propaganda has become more conspicuous, and sometimes old-fashioned. But I wouldn't overstate the differences. In the previous period, government propaganda about the "harmonious society" and "scientific development" was all over the place. I remember a major government campaign about Lei Feng taking place in 2012, before Xi came to power. I haven't noticed Lei Feng becoming more of a common subject, although it's true that I don't work in a government department.

Certainly the slogans have become more aggressive and nationalistic, but I don't think that most Chinese people have the right mindset to realize or care that slogans about democracy and socialism are out of place in their country. Then again, some people do care, and are unhappy with the direction the country is taking. It's just not the majority.

Gilman Grundy said...

" In the previous period, government propaganda about the "harmonious society" and "scientific development" was all over the place."

Not in Nanjing, not at NUAA (which was/is a military-run university) or NUFE in 2003-2005, not in Shenzhen from 2006-2007. Have a few photos showing street scenes from that time and don't see any in them either.

You'd certainly see those red banners on the odd street corner, and maybe a wall-poster on the street. Often these were more along the lines of PSAs (i.e., stuff about birth control, girl children being just as good as boys, advertising the "Go West" policy and so-forth) - not the signs hanging from every lamppost on the main streets and on all the hoardings in Shenzhen.

Ji Xiang said...

Well, it may be that in Beijing there were always more such posters. But it may also be, and this is scarier, that living in China I just gradually got used to the higher and higher number of political posters, and didn't consciously realize that their number had increased. You, on the other hand, came back to China after some years, so the difference was more obvious. Now that I think about it, I suppose that the posters about the 12 core values of socialism and the Chinese dream are much more in number than the posters about the harmonious society used to be. I just hadn't really thought about it. And if I didn't notice, you can be assured most ordinary Chinese didn't either.