Young, Urban, Middle-Class Chinese Are Less Satisfied With Xi’s “New Maoism” Repression

(p. C2) Under Mr. Xi, the administration of justice has become increasingly harsh and arbitrary, relying on practices such as extralegal detention, torture during investigation and in prison, and violations of the right to a fair trial. Within the CCP itself, members are exposed to ever higher disciplinary demands and requirements of conformity to central authority, on pain of being purged for corruption.

This “new Maoism,” as some have called it, reflects a surprising sense of siege on the part of a government that has been so successful in sustaining public support. The party appears to believe that the loyalty of the country’s dominant Han population—not just Tibetans, Uyghurs and Hong Kong residents—is fragile. As long as the authoritarian system delivers prosperity and national pride, the middle class, including students, intellectuals and party members themselves, support it. But few, if any, citizens believe in the party’s sterile ideology and anachronistic cult of personality.

A majority of Chinese people today still hold traditional attitudes of deference to authority and evaluate their government more for its ability to deliver economic growth and social services than for how it treats the liberty to think and speak. But surveys show that young, urban, educated Chinese increasingly want more freedom and a more responsive government.

In the most recent Asian Barometer Survey for which data are available, carried out in China in 2014-16, 21% of respondents identified themselves as city dwellers with at least some secondary education and enough household income to cover their needs and put away some savings. Compared with non-middle-class respondents, these Chinese citizens are almost twice as likely to express dissatisfaction with the way the political system works (32.5% versus 17.2%) and more than twice as likely to endorse liberal-democratic values such as independence of the judiciary and separation of powers (47.4% versus 20.4%). And these attitudes are even more pronounced among the younger members of the middle class.

. . .

When and how the system will change is impossible to predict. The only certainty is that repression alone cannot keep the Chinese people silent forever.

For the full commentary, see:

Andrew Nathan. “An Anxious 100th Birthday for China’s Communist Party.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, June 26, 2021): C1-C2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated June 25, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

Chinese Proletariat Yells: “Evergrande, Give Back My Money I Earned With Blood and Sweat!”

(p. B1) When the troubled Chinese property giant Evergrande was starved for cash earlier this year, it turned to its own employees with a strong-arm pitch: Those who wanted to keep their bonuses would have to give Evergrande a short-term loan.

Some workers tapped their friends and family for money to lend to the company. Others borrowed from the bank. Then, this month, Evergrande suddenly stopped paying back the loans, which had been packaged as high-interest investments.

Now, hundreds of employees have joined panicked home buyers in demanding their money back from Evergrande, gathering outside the company’s offices across China to protest last week.

Once China’s most prolific property developer, Evergrande has become the country’s most in-(p. B7)debted company. It owes money to lenders, suppliers and foreign investors. It owes unfinished apartments to home buyers and has racked up more than $300 billion in unpaid bills. Evergrande faces lawsuits from creditors and has seen its shares lose more than 80 percent of their value this year.

Regulators fear that the collapse of a company Evergrande’s size would send tremors through the entire Chinese financial system. Yet so far, Beijing has not stepped in with a bailout, having promised to teach debt-saddled corporate giants a lesson.

. . .

As rumors rippled through the Chinese internet that Evergrande might go bankrupt this month, Mr. Jin and some of his colleagues gathered in front of provincial government offices to pressure the authorities to step in.

In the southern city of Shenzhen, home buyers and employees crowded into the lobby of Evergrande’s headquarters last week and shouted for their money back. “Evergrande, give back my money I earned with blood and sweat!” some could be heard yelling in video footage.

For the full story, see:

Alexandra Stevenson and Cao Li. “Workers Had To Lend Cash To China Firm.” The New York Times (Saturday, September 20, 2021): B1 & B7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Sept. 22, 2021, and has the title “Evergrande Gave Workers a Choice: Lend Us Cash or Lose Your Bonus.”)

Cuban Podcasts Thrive Because Cheap to Produce and Hard for Communists to Censure

(p. 4) There has been little to laugh about in Cuba lately. But on a recent episode of El Enjambre, a weekly podcast produced on the island, the three hosts were howling at the latest form of censorship by the state-run telecommunications company.

“If you send a text message with the word freedom, the message doesn’t reach the recipient,” Lucía March told her incredulous co-hosts, referring to the Spanish language word libertad. “It evaporates, vanishes! I’m serious.”

The exchange was funny, informative and lighthearted, traits that have made El Enjambre one of the biggest hits among the scores of new Cuban-made podcasts that are now competing for residents’ attention and limited internet bandwidth.

Cubans began having access to the internet on smartphones only in 2018. Since then, podcasts about politics, current events, history, entrepreneurship and language have upended how Cubans get their information, expanding the middle ground between the hyperpartisan content generated by government-run media outlets and American government funded newsrooms that are highly critical of the island’s authoritarian leaders.

. . .

“It’s very difficult for a government to censor a podcast because there are many ways of distributing it,” said Mr. Lugones, who believes the new audio initiatives are stirring nuanced conversations on the island. “Podcasts spark debates in society all the time. They cause people to reflect.”

A desire to do just that prompted Camilo Condis, an industrial engineer who has opened a few restaurants in Havana, to launch El Enjambre — Spanish for swarm of bees — in late 2019. The heart of the show is a spirited, spontaneous conversation among Mr. Condis and his co-hosts, Ms. March and Yunior García Aguilera.

No subject is off limits.

El Enjambre provided detailed coverage of the remarkable July 11 anti-government protests in Cuba and searing criticism of the ruthless crackdown that followed.

The hosts also dissected the dismal state of the health care system as Covid-19 cases surged on the island, mocked the sputtering initiatives by the government to allow some private sector activities, such as garage sales, and attempted to read the tea leaves on the future of Washington’s relationship with Havana.

Each episode includes a short, humorous, scripted drama, a segment called History without Hysteria and a lengthy conversation that tends to focus on the issues Cubans have been arguing about on social media over the past few days.

“The objective was to create a conversation like you’d have on any street corner in Cuba,” Mr. Condis said. “But we provide only verified facts, because it matters greatly to us to never provide false information.”

. . .

But the format is the rare media venture that requires little training or capital, said Elaine Díaz, the founder of Periodismo de Barrio, a watchdog news site that covers environmental and human rights issues in Cuba.

. . .

Podcasts in Cuba are labors of love at this point, said Mr. Condis. But he hopes that one day they can become profitable.

“In the future, I want to have advertisers,” he said.

For the full story, see:

Ernesto Londoño. “New Podcasts Add to the Conversation in Cuba.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, September 19, 2021): 4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 18, 2021, and has the title “Despite Censorship and Poor Internet, Cuban Podcasts Are Booming.”)

Chinese Communist Party Has “Instinct” for “Repression and Control”

(p. B1) To build a logistics hub next to Beijing’s main airport, Desmond Shum spent three years collecting 150 official seals from the many-layered Chinese bureaucracy.

To get these seals of approval, he curried favors with government officials. The airport customs chief, for example, demanded that he build the agency a new office building with indoor basketball and badminton courts, a 200-seat theater and a karaoke bar.

“If you don’t give this to us,” the chief told Mr. Shum with a big grin over dinner, “we’re not going to let you build.”

Mr. Shum recounts the conversation in a memoir that shows how the Communist Party keeps business in line — and what happens when businesspeople overstep. Released this month, “Red Roulette: An Insider’s Story of Wealth, Power, Corruption and Vengeance in Today’s China” shows how government officials keep the rules fuzzy and the threat of a crackdown ever-present, . . .

. . .

(p. B4) . . . Mr. Shum’s book has come out just as the future of China’s entrepreneurs is in doubt. The government has cracked down on the most successful private enterprises, including Alibaba Group, the e-commerce giant, and Didi, the ride-hailing company. It has sentenced business leaders who dared to criticize the government to lengthy prison terms.

. . .

“The party has an almost animal instinct toward repression and control,” Mr. Shum wrote in the book. “It’s one of the foundational tenets of a Leninist system. Anytime the party can afford to swing toward repression, it will.”

. . .

“Only in times of crisis does the party loosen its grip, allowing more free enterprise and more freedom,” Mr. Shum wrote. “China’s growing economy presented the party with an opportunity to reassert its dominance.”

. . .

Many businesspeople have managed to move at least part of their assets abroad, he said. Few make long-term investments because they are too risky and difficult. “Only idiots plan for the long term,” he said.

. . .

To win a green light for the airport logistics hub, Mr. Shum dined with officials nearly every day for a few years, downing one bottle of Moutai, the famed Chinese liquor, at each meal. His employees brought officials fine teas, ran their errands and looked after the needs of their wives and children.

One employee accompanied so many people to so many sauna trips that his skin started peeling off, he wrote.

The top airport and local district officials changed three times during the project’s span. Each time, Mr. Shum’s team had to restart the ingratiating process.

For the full commentary, see:

Li Yuan. “An Insider To Money And Power In China Tells All.” The New York Times (Friday, Sept. 24, 2021): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the same date as the print version, and has the title “An Insider Details the ‘Black Box’ of Money and Power in China.”)

The book discussed in the commentary quoted above is:

Shum, Desmond. Red Roulette: An Insider’s Story of Wealth, Power, Corruption, and Vengeance in Today’s China. New York: Scribner, 2021.

Essay Reprinted on Five Major Chinese Communist Web Sites Calls for Intensified Crackdown on Private Firms

(p. A10) For years, Li Guangman, a retired Chinese newspaper editor, wrote in obscurity, firing off attack after attack at chic celebrities and celebrated tycoons whom he accused of betraying the sturdy socialist values of Mao. Few outside of China’s fervent but narrow world of Maoist leftists read them.

Until now.

Mr. Li leapt to prominence recently after an essay he wrote railing at celebrity culture and misbehaving corporations ricocheted across China’s internet, spreading on far-left-wing websites and then on at least five major Communist Party-run news websites, including the People’s Daily, suggesting support from at least some officials.

The official boost for Mr. Li’s polemic startled Chinese political and business circles when doubt had already been rising about the growing role of the Communist Party in the economy. Among some, the essay left the impression that the party could intensify its crackdown on private corporations, tighten its grip on culture and hound the rich. Some critics pointed ominously to echoes of Mao’s Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, which had also emerged from attacks on the cultural elite by polemicists who were previously little known.

For the full story, see:

Chris Buckley. “Incendiary Essay Starts Guessing Frenzy Over Xi’s Plans for China.” The New York Times (Saturday, September 11, 2021): A10.

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Sept. 11, 2021, and has the title “Incendiary Essay Ignites Guessing Over Xi’s Plans for China.”)

“The Russian State’s Ever-Wider Crackdown on Dissent”

(p. A4) VYAZY, Russia — When the spooks started following him again, Ivan Pavlov felt at ease.

“That’s our profession,” the lawyer famed for taking on Russian spies wrote on Facebook.

Two days later came an early morning knock on his Moscow hotel room door, and Mr. Pavlov realized he should have been more worried.

For a quarter-century, Mr. Pavlov defended scientists, journalists and others swept into the maw of what he calls Russia’s “leviathan” — the security state descended from the Soviet K.G.B. Crusading against state secrecy, Mr. Pavlov turned his legal battles into spectacles. Appealing to public opinion, he sometimes helped his clients avert the worst.

Now the leviathan threatens to swallow Mr. Pavlov. In April [2021] he took on one of his most explosive cases yet: the accusation of extremism against the organizations led by the jailed opposition leader, Aleksei A. Navalny. Within days, Mr. Pavlov was arrested. Now, he himself has become a symbol of the Russian state’s ever-wider crackdown on dissent.

It was one thing to defend clients from the arbitrary power of the state; it has been quite another, Mr. Pavlov has discovered, to feel it deployed against himself. The story of Mr. Pavlov — one of Russia’s best-known lawyers and freedom of information activists — is a story of how quickly modern Russia has changed.

For the full story, see:

Anton Troianovski. “Shielding Others, and Now Defending Himself, From the Russian State.” The New York Times (Saturday, June 5, 2021): A4.

(Note: bracketed year added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 4, 2021, and has the title “‘My Conscience Is Clean. And Yet They Came for Me’.”)

China Charges Montenegro $1 Billion to Build Road “From Nowhere to Nowhere”

(p. 4) MATESEVO, Montenegro — One of the world’s most expensive roads slices through the mountains of Montenegro, soaring over deep gorges on towering bridges, before reaching its destination: a muddy field outside a hamlet with a few dozen houses, many of them empty.

Mirka Adzic, a resident of the hamlet, Matesevo (population: around 15), said she was delighted there would soon be a modern expressway so close to home as it would save her from having to take a treacherous mountain track, previously the only access to the outside world.

But, much as she likes the new Chinese-built expressway — which is supposed to open in November [2021] at a cost of nearly $1 billion after six years of hazardous work, two years behind schedule — she doesn’t really understand it.

Struggling to support a family on her husband’s meager salary as a driver for the Chinese construction company that built the road, she is baffled that her country, one of Europe’s poorest, has committed so much money to a gargantuan, state-of-the-art engineering project. Montenegro is now saddled with debts to China that total more than a third of the government’s annual budget.

Ms. Adzic is not alone. Montenegro’s new prime minister, Zdravko Krivokapic, who took over late last year from the government that signed the road and loan contracts with China in 2014, described the highway as a “megalomaniac project” that “goes from nowhere to nowhere” and badly strained his country’s finances.

. . .

A 2012 study led by a British company for Montenegro’s Ministry of Transport warned that construction costs would be unusually high because of the mountainous terrain. Even so, its cost estimates were considerably lower than the more than $900 million charged by the China Road and Bridge Corporation to build the 25-mile, but particularly difficult, stretch of the highway.

An earlier feasibility study, in 2007, by Louis Berger, an engineering company in Paris, warned that traffic along the proposed highway would not be “high enough to justify” investment “from a purely financial basis.”

. . .

Nearly $280 million, more than half of the total amount of money paid to local subcontractors, has gone to a single Montenegro company, Bemax, formally owned by a onetime cafe owner who, before he moved into road building, had no previous experience in engineering work, according to MANS, the research group.

Nebojsa Medojevic, a member of Parliament, claimed that Bemax was in reality owned by a close adviser of Mr. Djukanovic, Milan Rocen, a former ambassador to Moscow. Mr. Djukanovic denied this, saying he had “of course” asked his adviser and been assured the claims were false. Mr. Rocen has himself categorically denied owning Bemax.

For the full story, see:

Andrew Higgins. “Montenegro, a Nearly $1 Billion Road to ‘Nowhere’.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, August 15, 2021): 4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 14, 2021, and has the title “A Pricey Drive Down Montenegro’s Highway ‘From Nowhere to Nowhere’.”)

As Chinese Marxists Limit Liberty, the Young Show “Silent Resistance” by “Lying Down”

(p. 4) Five years ago, Luo Huazhong discovered that he enjoyed doing nothing. He quit his job as a factory worker in China, biked 1,300 miles from Sichuan Province to Tibet and decided he could get by on odd jobs and $60 a month from his savings. He called his new lifestyle “lying flat.”

“I have been chilling,” Mr. Luo, 31, wrote in a blog post in April [2021], describing his way of life. “I don’t feel like there’s anything wrong.”

He titled his post “Lying Flat Is Justice,” attaching a photo of himself lying on his bed in a dark room with the curtains drawn. Before long, the post was being celebrated by Chinese millennials as an anti-consumerist manifesto. “Lying flat” went viral and has since become a broader statement about Chinese society.

. . .

Mr. Ding, 22, has been lying flat for almost three months and thinks of the act as “silent resistance.”

. . .

The ruling Communist Party, wary of any form of social instability, has targeted the “lying flat” idea as a threat to stability in China.

. . .

Mr. Luo was born in rural Jiande County, in eastern Zhejiang Province. In 2007, he dropped out of a vocational high school and started working in factories. One job involved working 12-hour shifts at a tire factory. By the end of the day, he had blisters all over his feet, he said.

In 2014, he found a job as a product inspector in a factory but didn’t like it. He quit after two years and took on the occasional acting gig to make ends meet. (In 2018, he played a corpse in a Chinese movie by, of course, lying flat.)

Today, he lives with his family and spends his days reading philosophy and news and working out. He said it was an ideal lifestyle, allowing him to live minimally and “think and express freely.” He encourages his followers, who call him “the Master of Lying Down,” to do the same.

After hearing about Mr. Luo’s tangping post on a Chinese podcast, Zhang Xinmin, 36, was inspired to write a song about it.

. . .

Mr. Zhang uploaded the song to his social media platforms on June 3, and within a day censors had deleted it from three websites. He was furious.

. . .

Lying down is really good
Lying down is wonderful
Lying down is the right thing to do
Lie down so you won’t fall anymore
Lying down means never falling down.

For the full story, see:

Elsie Chen. “For Young People in China, ‘Lying Flat’ Beats Working.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, July 4, 2021): 4.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 3, 2021, and has the title “These Chinese Millennials Are ‘Chilling,’ and Beijing Isn’t Happy.”)

China Removed Gene Sequences from NIH Data Base Related to Covid-19 Origin

(p. A3) Chinese researchers directed the U.S. National Institutes of Health to delete gene sequences of early Covid-19 cases from a key scientific database, raising concerns that scientists studying the origin of the pandemic may lack access to key pieces of information.

. . .

The removal of the sequencing data is described in a new paper posted online Tuesday by Jesse Bloom, a virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. The paper, which hasn’t been peer reviewed, says the missing data include sequences from virus samples collected in the Chinese city of Wuhan in January and February of 2020 from patients hospitalized with or suspected of having Covid-19.

. . .

. . . Dr. Bloom said their removal sows doubts about China’s transparency in the continuing investigation into the origin of the pandemic.

Some other scientists agreed.

“It makes us wonder if there are other sequences like these that have been purged,” said Vaughn S. Cooper, a University of Pittsburgh evolutionary biologist who wasn’t involved in the new paper and said he hasn’t studied the deleted sequences himself.

For the full story see:

Amy Dockser Marcus, Betsy McKay and Drew Hinshaw. “Covid-19 Gene Data Removed at NIH.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, June 24, 2021): A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated June 23, 2021, and has the title “Chinese Covid-19 Gene Data That Could Have Aided Pandemic Research Removed From NIH Database.”)

George Soros Tells Why Xi Will Fail

(p. A11) I consider Mr. Xi the most dangerous enemy of open societies in the world. The Chinese people as a whole are among his victims, but domestic political opponents and religious and ethnic minorities suffer from his persecution much more. I find it particularly disturbing that so many Chinese people seem to find his social-credit surveillance system not only tolerable but attractive. It provides them social services free of charge and tells them how to stay out of trouble by not saying anything critical of Mr. Xi or his regime. If he could perfect the social-credit system and assure a steadily rising standard of living, his regime would become much more secure. But he is bound to run into difficulties on both counts.

. . .

Mr. Xi is engaged in a systematic campaign to remove or neutralize people who have amassed a fortune. His latest victim is Sun Dawu, a billionaire pig farmer. Mr. Sun has been sentenced to 18 years in prison and persuaded to “donate” the bulk of his wealth to charity.

This campaign threatens to destroy the geese that lay the golden eggs. Mr. Xi is determined to bring the creators of wealth under the control of the one-party state. He has reintroduced a dual-management structure into large privately owned companies that had largely lapsed during the reform era of Deng. Now private and state-owned companies are being run not only by their management but also a party representative who ranks higher than the company president. This creates a perverse incentive not to innovate but to await instructions from higher authorities.

China’s largest, highly leveraged real-estate company, Evergrande, has recently run into difficulties servicing its debt. The real-estate market, which has been a driver of the economic recovery, is in disarray. The authorities have always been flexible enough to deal with any crisis, but they are losing their flexibility. To illustrate, a state-owned company produced a Covid-19 vaccine, Sinopharm, which has been widely exported all over the world, but its performance is inferior to all other widely marketed vaccines. Sinopharm won’t win any friends for China.

To prevail in 2022, Mr. Xi has turned himself into a dictator. Instead of allowing the party to tell him what policies to adopt, he dictates the policies he wants it to follow. State media is now broadcasting a stunning scene in which Mr. Xi leads the Standing Committee of the Politburo in slavishly repeating after him an oath of loyalty to the party and to him personally. This must be a humiliating experience, and it is liable to turn against Mr. Xi even those who had previously accepted him.

In other words, he has turned them into his own yes-men, abolishing the legacy of Deng’s consensual rule. With Mr. Xi there is little room for checks and balances. He will find it difficult to adjust his policies to a changing reality, because he rules by intimidation. His underlings are afraid to tell him how reality has changed for fear of triggering his anger. This dynamic endangers the future of China’s one-party state.

For the full commentary, see:

George Soros. “Xi’s Dictatorship Threatens the Chinese State.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date August 13, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

Milton Friedman Will Be Vindicated on China

I was lucky to be able to take Milton Friedman’s Price Theory graduate course the last time he taught a full version of it. (I think he taught an abbreviated version a year or two later.) He was, and remains, one of my heroes. He predicted that China’s move to the market would also lead it to more political freedom. I suspect that he will still turn out to be correct, but with a longer delay than he or I thought likely. A dynamic economy depends on innovative entrepreneurship and innovative entrepreneurship depends on freedom of thought and speech. Xi is systematically destroying freedom of thought and speech in China; the house of cards will fall and Milton will be vindicated in the end.

(p. A15) “I predict that China will move increasingly toward political freedom if it continues its successful move to economic freedom.”

So spoke Milton Friedman in 2003. It seemed a good idea at the time, especially after the transformations of the dictatorships in Taiwan and South Korea into messy but functioning democracies.

. . .

Under Mr. Xi, Beijing has carried out genocide against China’s Uyghur minority, threatened Taiwan with invasion, shut down a pro-democracy newspaper in Hong Kong, covered up the origins of Covid-19, and so on. Even so, China’s economy continues to boom—it grew more than 18% in the first quarter from a year earlier—and Friedman now looks to have gotten it colossally wrong about capitalism and freedom.

For the full commentary, see:

William McGurn. “Milton Friedman Wrong About China?” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, June 29, 2021): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 28, 2021, and has the title “Was Milton Friedman Wrong About China?”)