Sun, Mar 11, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Xi’s party puts power over society

By Eric C. Hendriks

Of course, the CCP argues the opposite: China would do well exactly because the party-state so greatly harmonizes society. The “father-mother officials” (fumuguan, 父母官) take care of their child-subjects by protecting them against “inharmonic” ideas and impulses. The CCP can be trusted to use its power responsibly, because the leaders are so wise and competent.

Philosopher Daniel A. Bell, who teaches in China, writes in his 2016 book The China Model of a “Chinese meritocracy” — although I think that I know him well enough to say that he does not qualify Xi’s latest power grab as such, and probably opposes it.

The idea of a Chinese meritocracy is that Western voters, distracted by wild nonsense, often vote for bad politicians, whereas the party selects the best leaders through backroom processes.

Before the latest episode, Bell and other China-model defenders always liked to compare the “serene,” “strong” Xi with clumsy US President Donald Trump, but that comparison was misleading even before Xi’s despotic turn.

Yes, Trump is incompetent — but what do we actually know about Xi? Xi is even more of a princeling than Trump and flourishes in a sheltered party realm. He does not face the test of criticism anywhere. Everywhere, slimy officials await him with notebooks to write down his wise words.

Even if we were to assume that the CCP appoints the best administrators, the party-state’s massive societal footprint still undermines meritocracy in the rest of society. As academics with party connections are favored, faculty selection is skewed. As entrepreneurs with party connections have advantages, economic competition is polluted. Innovation, product quality and efficiency are less strongly rewarded, and so on.

A true meritocracy is pluralistic. Meritocratic means to reward in a differentiated manner in different societal systems, putting the incentives fully on developing excellence in specific arts and virtues so that the true masters can flourish. Political control and interventionism overwrite those differentiated evaluative systems with a single political hierarchy.

The ultimate problem is that Chinese believe too much in “total humans” — great leaders who are supposedly good at everything and are therefore able to intervene anywhere. This totalitarian tendency hurts Chinese society, but it might also eventually become the West’s problem.

We share one globalized world with a hyper-authoritarian superpower, one that is politically hostile to the liberal world order from which it profits economically and led by a man with boundless ambitions.

Eric C. Hendriks is a Dutch sociologist based in Beijing.

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