Speaking at the annual Boao Forum from the Middle Kingdom of Pollution, Poison and Propaganda, Jackie Chan (成龍) presented some unusual and apparently personal insights.
In reality they were statements in support of authoritarian rule in the People’s Republic of China.
Chan declared, “We Chinese need to be controlled.”
And, “If you’re too free, you’re like the way Hong Kong is now. It’s very chaotic. Taiwan is also chaotic.”
Chan’s remarks drew applause from the “fat cat” businesspeople attending, for obvious reasons. And although Chan has been raked over the coals by many for his words, if one reads deeper between the lines, what he did was inadvertently highlight the utter failure of Confucianism as a way of life in Chinese history.
At issue is the age-old argument between Confucianist and Legalist tradition. By attempting to argue that democracy would not work in China, Chan championed the Legalist tradition that justifies and supports strong control from a paternalistic, unaccountable central power — like Beijing and the Chinese Communist Party’s politburo.
The implication that Beijing would rather not reveal is that despite 5,000 years of culture, and nearly 3,000 years of Confucianism, Chinese need to be controlled because — though few will say it — they are too dumb, too stupid and too selfish to rule themselves democratically.
Too dumb, too stupid and too selfish to rule themselves. That is a bitter statement, indeed, but it is the unfortunate bottom line of what Chan is saying.
Despite 5,000 years of Chinese culture and despite nearly 3,000 years of harmony-seeking Confucianism, the end result remains that Chinese cannot be trusted with self-rule.
That does not say much for the old sage.
To understand the applause that Chan received from the businessmen and government officials in the audience, one must look at the Chinese psyche and Legalist justifications for the imposition of control.
When those on top in China say the people are too dumb, too stupid and too selfish to rule themselves, they do not include themselves among that number. They are referring to all “the other Chinese,” the common masses, or the “ugly Chinaman,” as Bo Yang (柏楊) liked to speak of them.
Most businesspeople and government officials see themselves in a different light; they are, after all, the “enlightened and magnanimous exceptions” to the rule.
They are the ones who must accept the heavy burden of governance.
These “enlightened despots” insist on a minimum of three requirements. First, there must never be transparency; such a thing would only confuse the masses.
Second, the rule of law must be forsaken; enlightened despots need freedom to operate without restraints.
Third, a critical free press must not be allowed: The dumb must not be allowed to question the enlightened.
Taiwan’s experience has been different, of course, but Taiwanese are different from Chinese: They live on the “chaotic” side of life.
Taiwanese have discovered that they are not too dumb, too stupid nor too selfish to rule themselves.
This doesn’t mean that they are perfect, but they have been freely electing their rulers since 1996 and operating with transparency, the rule of law and a free press.
So where does the world stand?
Does it agree with Chan, or does it see the Taiwanese experience as valid and the way of the future?