Monday, 30 September 2013

Hong Kong, as Seen from the Island Tram

The Hong Kong tram is one of the symbols of Hong Kong. It covers a large part of Hong Kong island, stretching from Kennedy Town in the west to Shau Kei Wan in the east. One line branches off to Happy Valley. 

The tram started operation in 1904. At that time, it followed the waterfront, before land reclamation transformed it. Judging from old pictures from the pre-World War II period, the trams' design is basically the same, both outside and inside. However, today all trams are double-deckers. 

The tram is one of the cheapest means of public transport in Hong Kong, with a fare of only 2 HK dollars. Compared with the underground system (MTR), the tram is very slow, given both the age of most trams and the traffic. If you're in a hurry, you'd better take the metro. But if you want to enjoy a nice view of the city, then the tram is a great choice.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Perpetuating Humiliation - The Reemergence of Chinese Nationalism After 1989

The political and moral collapse of Communist regimes throughout the world in 1989 marked the beginning of a new era in global geopolitics. At that time, it seemed as if the capitalist-democratic Western system had triumphed and all countries in the world were destined sooner or later to accept the allegedly irrefutable verdict of history. Very few people would have bet on the survival of the CCP in China, or on the success of Deng Xiaoping's reform programme. The PRC appeared like a dying relic of a past age.

The true meaning of the year 1989 remained inscrutable to those who didn't want to see. Western bias was too strong. In 1989 a new China was born; a China that combined East Asian-style developmentalist economic policies, autocratic statehood, and nationalist ideology. 

The CCP regime survived the collapse of the Soviet bloc because the path it chose was different from that of its Communist 'brothers'. The PRC had already in the late 1970s embarked on a period of reforms, of internal renewal, and of gradual but thorough change. Economically, the PRC shifted from a planned economy to a mixed economy that combines market forces and state intervention; politically, it shifted from a totalitarian dictatorship based on personality cult to an authoritarian semi-liberal regime; ideologically, it shifted from Communism to nationalism. 

Post-Tiananmen China and the Resurgence of Nationalism

'Patriotism' has always played a major role within the Communist Party of China. In 1938, Mao Zedong had explained that patriotism was an important element in the fight against Japan:

Can a Communist, who is an internationalist, at the same time be a patriot? We hold that he not only can be but must be. The specific content of patriotism is determined by historical conditions. There is the "patriotism" of the Japanese aggressors and of Hitler, and there is our patriotism. [T]he wars launched by the Japanese aggressors and Hitler are harming their own people as well as the people of the world. China's case is different, because she is the victim of aggression. Chinese Communists must therefore combine patriotism with internationalism. We are at once internationalists and patriots, and our slogan is, "Fight to defend the motherland against the aggressors" (note).

Nevertheless, nationalism and patriotism were not the main forces behind Mao Zedong's political agenda. Under his leadership, the Chinese people were ideologically aligned with the Communist worldview. As a matter of fact, Mao Zedong recommended the study of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin to Communist party cadres (ibid.). On the other hand, Chinese pre-Communist history and society were regarded as 'feudal', 'reactionary', or 'bourgeois'. Old Chinese customs and ways of life had to be eliminated, Chinese classical literature and philosophy as well as religious beliefs were rejected. Therefore, Mao's PRC strove to mobilise and educate the people through Communism and revolutionary class struggle rather than through nationalism. 

When Deng Xiaoping came to power after Mao Zedong's death, he - more or less consciously - set about the task of de facto dismantling the existing Communist system in China. He introduced market reforms and loosened totalitarian control of the people. By doing so, he admitted the failure of the Maoist system and created an ideological vacuum. 

Deng Xiaoping never really gave a coherent definition of 'socialism'. After 1989 he was even criticised for having placed too much emphasis on material wealth and for having underestimated the importance of ideology. Deng's statement that it is difficult to distinguish socialism from capitalism was regarded as a betrayal of Marxist doctrine (Chinese Nationalism in the Global Era, Christopher R. Hughes 2006, p. 56). Deng said that Singapore (a capitalist country) was a model for China to follow in the pursuit of the right path to economic development. Deng therefore de facto repudiated the theories of Karl Marx and replaced them with the pragmatism of Lee Kuan Yew (see ibid., p. 65).

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Westernisation and Socialism with 'Chinese Characteristics' - What the CCP can learn from Hong Kong

'Westernisation' is a commonplace, but a dreaded and hatred one. In recent decades most people have come to accept this notion as something natural, obvious, and somewhat inevitable. At the same time, however, Western influence has been often deemed dangerous, humiliating, and polluting.

Asian societies have shown both a desire to 'learn from the West', and a great degree of mistrust towards Westernisation. For example, in 1994 former Singaporean Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong warned his fellow countrymen not to imitate too much the West. In order to make his warning effective, he cited some of the issues that according to him plague Western societies: "broken families, teenage mothers, illegitimate children, juvenile delinquency, vandalism and violent crime" (Asian Values, Western Dreams: Understanding the New Asia. Sheridan 1999, p. 72). This vision of a chaotic, unstable, individualistic West is often referred to by advocates of East Asian values. 

China is another example of an East Asian country that is very careful not to learn too much from the West for fear of spiritual pollution.