After Thousands Of Years Of Civilization…

Hospital lines in China.

…it comes to this:

Where waste ends and theft begins almost doesn’t matter; the one masks and thus enables the other. It’s simply assumed, for instance, that anyone who is working for the government is meant to be bribed. People who go to public health clinics assume they will need to bribe doctors to actually take care of them. Government ministers who have spent their lives in public service emerge from office able to afford multi-million-dollar mansions and two or three country homes.

Sounds familiar.

No success of any kind is regarded without suspicion. Everyone is pretty sure everyone is cheating on his taxes, or bribing politicians, or taking bribes, or lying about the value of his real estate. And this total absence of faith in one another is self-reinforcing. The epidemic of lying and cheating and stealing makes any sort of civic life impossible; the collapse of civic life only encourages more lying, cheating, and stealing. Lacking faith in one another, they fall back on themselves and their families.

This too.

The “divide” is in all the arguments we could make about similarities and differences. Anyone want to take a stab at it?


Stay in touch with the conversation, subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this post.

  • Some HTML can be used to format your comment.
  • Add a picture to your comments with Gravatar.
  • Please be civil. Comments may be moderated.
  1. wow i got sofa!

    way to describe your homeland, it’s spot on.

  2. A government is merely a reflection of the people that allow it to run the affairs of the nation/state. The amount of power wielded by the government is sign of how much the people view their own self worth.

  3. Bin Wang

    Really? I too thought about this when the story first broke a few months ago. But my thought was, this wouldn’t happen in China. Sure, there is corruption of officials and bribery, but the main thrust here is really, is what is happening in Greece an inevitable con of democracy? It reminds me of the often discussed “why democracies fail” quote, which no one is really sure who first said it:

    This especially hits home because politics has gotten so partisan here in the U.S. Sure, we’re not pulling tax collectors off the streets during election years … yet … but isn’t congressional pork, for example, emblematic of the quote from the end of the Vanity Fair article: “collection of atomized particles, each of which has grown accustomed to pursuing its own interest at the expense of the common good?”

    The chant often heard from the streets is, we’re Greeks, we invented democracy, we don’t owe anyone anything. Screw your austerity measures.

    So, like I said, superficially, and on the surface, similar to issues in China. Lack of deterrence urging people to get away with wrong-doing. But the broader implication is an issue of democracy, and whether the Greeks have enough sense to vote for those politicans who take obligations seriously, accept austerity measures, and refuse to allow the populace to treat the treasury as a Wal-Mart during a hurricane that’s open for looting.

    • Inevitable consequence of democracy? Let’s get this one straight, this history of corrupt officials stretches back to the days when Greece was a poor backwater satrap of the Ottoman Empire.

      Even the borrowing made sense whilst Greece’s economy grew at such a fast rate up until the recent financial crisis, and the problem was not that the people wanted to borrow and voted for a government that would borrow, but that the government was purposefully misreporting just how much they were borrowing.

      Could this happen in China? Let’s do a run down:

      – Faked economic statistics

      – Large scale spending in an effort to placate the public

      – All economic planning being done on the basis of continued high-speed economic growth

      – Corruption

      I don’t think something like the Greek debt crisis would have been prevented by a Chinese-style dictatorship. Moreover, the Greek political system has now finally delivered a corrective – the austerity plan which you see people protesting against.

      • In fact, it’s also worth noting that the faked statistics were only exposed following the election of a new government to replace the people who had been faking the statistics, who then set about cutting spending. That is, whilst the crisis would not have been prevented by a dictatorship, the exposure of the crisis and the introduction of austerity measures may well have been.

      • Bin Wang

        I disagree FOARP. The government had to misreport in order to keep what appeared to be good books while giving out these pensions and being so lax with tax collection (i.e., practicing economically unsustainable policies). It was because they thought the people wouldn’t stand for belt tightening and didn’t want to get voted out. And the protests we see are exactly that, Greek people not standing for belt-tightening.

        I doubt the Chinese would have a choice in the matter, belt-tightening would be forced upon them, for better or for worse. It remains to be seen whether the Greeks will accept austerity. Wall Street waits with baited breath.

        • “belt-tightening would be forced upon them”

          Assuming, of course, that the government could admit, even to itself, that such measures were necessary. The CCP hasn’t shown much evidence of being able to do this, particularly in light of the continued rigging of GDP stats.

        • Bin Wang

          FOARP–Beijing has never been shy about force-feeding necessary measures. I have to echo KT’s comments below, Beijing would never allow metrics to run so deep into the red like this.

          Sure, there is local corruption. But Beijing will make examples off the most egregious offenders. The problem with Greece is that there is no respect for (or fear of) authority at all. Don’t pay your taxes, riot in the streets, so what, thumb your nose at government, what can they do? Piss the public off too much, and we’ll vote them out. That’s the issue in Greece.

          Just because 2 different diseases have similar symptoms doesn’t mean they’re the same disease.

          • “Beijing has never been shy about force-feeding nec­es­sary mea­sures”

            Only once it recognises that such measures are necessary. Like I said, when it’s own policies have caused problems, and it has deceived itself as to the nature of those problems, it has been incredibly loath to act. SARS remains the text-book example.

            And like I said, the Greek government has implemented quite severe austerity measures. So have the UK and many other democratic countries. The idea that democracy necessarily leads to people voting themselves more money, and that dictatorships are somehow immune to this, appears to be unsupported. This is particularly so in light of the large welfare state structures introduced in dictatorships of all shades as a way of buying off the people.

          • Bin Wang

            Difficult to say, I doubt the Greeks, or the rest of Europe for that matter, are out of the woods yet.

            I never said totalitarian governments are immune to such things. I just said this wouldn’t happen in China. Beijing is capable of seeing a problem, and implementing policies to fix it. This is not to say that sometimes the way they go about it isn’t questionable, or that local implementation isn’t sullied by local corruption, but a problem of elected democracies, esp. here in the U.S. with a 2-party system, is that for 4 years the Dems pull the nation 10 metres one way, and then for the next 4 years, the Republicans pull the nation 10 metres back the other way.

            This is metaphor, of course, but at the end of 8 years, the nation is back to where it started. Beijing will have gone somewhere, somewhere better, or maybe even somewhere worse, but it’ll have gone somewhere.

            My text-book example of such policy is the one-child policy. Whenever a party in India tries to talk about doing it India, it gets voted out. This is why India is going to have a bigger population problem than China. Like it, hate it, and I promise you most Chinese people would prefer not to have it, but also most Chinese people have accepted and understood it for what it is, a necessary measure for the betterment of the nation.

            If you think the Greeks HAVE implemented such great austerity measures, you go buy Greek bonds with your money (i.e., putting your money where your mouth is). I, for one, will be staying away from them, thank you very much.

            And your example of SARS I think is weak. Beijing was intransparent about SARS, sure, but it learned from that mistake. The transparent approach when the SiChuan earthquake hit had even foreign media buzzing about Beijing’s improved transparency with regard to such crises.

          • Bin, interesting takeaway from you. I didn’t look at this from a “why democracies fail” angle.

            FOARP, disagree on the “this isn’t democracy’s fault, it’s the ottoman’s fault!” reaction, but perhaps you were influenced by Bin.

            Both, I find myself in disagreement with various things both of you have said.

          • Kai – my point is that Greek politics has been pretty corrupt for a long time, and has remained so both during the dictatorships of Metaxas and the Colonels, and during its more democratic phases. If the Ottomans are the earliest point at which there is a reliable record of corruption, then this can be used as a start point.

            Bin – You just seem to be saying that Beijing “would” recognise the problem and “would” take action. Where is the evidence to support this? In fact, when we look to see what has happened in the past, particularly during the SARS epidemic, this is far from certain. SARS was prevented from metastasising into a truly disastrous plague only by the advent of summer and what appears to have been a mutation of the strain into something totally harmless.

            In terms of economic policy, in answer to the 2008 financial crisis the Chinese government introduced a stimulus package somewhat similar to that found in the rest of the world at around the same time as other governments did – no evidence of any special problem-solving ability here.

            And, of course, if we go back further to examine the response of the CCP to earlier emergencies (Tangshan, the Great Leap Forward etc.), the evidence hardly gets more reassuring.

            And really, just why do you have to trot out the old line about corruption merely being ‘local’. This shows a somewhat naive view of Chinese politics – no evidence shows that there is some kind of barrier preventing corrupt local politicians rising to become corrupt national politicians. It is telling that, eight years after Jiang Zemin stepped down from power, his government now has such a bad reputation for corruption. It seems that national politicians are just as corrupt as local ones, it just takes longer for the news to come out.

            Moving on –

            “for 4 years the Dems pull the nation 10 metres one way, and then for the next 4 years, the Repub­li­cans pull the nation 10 metres back the other way.”

            That is right, nothing has changed in American politics since 1960. I mean, nothing has changed except for the end of the draft, female liberation, the introduction of welfare programs like Medicaid and Obamacare, desegregation and the end of Jim Crow, leaving the gold standard, lowering the voting age to 18, the introduction of Reaganomics (still pretty much subscribed to by both sides, just as both main political parties in the UK are essentially Thatcherite), the legalisation of abortion and various other political reforms too numerous to mention. Yes, except for these things, nothing has changed in American politics.

            “Bei­jing will have gone some­where, some­where bet­ter, or maybe even some­where worse, but it’ll have gone somewhere.”

            Please, name one meaningful political reform which the man in the street in China will have been aware of that has actually occurred in the last 8 years. As far as I am aware, none has occurred. If by “going somewhere”, you mean essentially allowing the industrial revolution to finally and properly take root in China, more than two hundred years after it started in the coal fields and cotton mills of my home county of Lancashire, then this is still owed to the policies of Deng Xiao Ping.

            “When­ever a party in India tries to talk about doing it India, it gets voted out.”

            Yes, whenever a politician in India talks about inflicting a grave infringement of people’s human rights in return for dubious benefit, they are laughed out of office, and rightly so. China’s birth rate decreased far more in the years before 1978 than they did afterwards, India’s current total fertility rate – 2.72 children per woman – is equal to the Chinese average for 1978-1982. There is no evidence that the current low Chinese birth rate as compared to the high birth rate of the 60’s and 70’s is owed entirely or in large part to the one-child policy. It is also worth noting that Chinese total fertility rate is currently increasing, from a low of 1.69 children per woman in 2004 to 1.8 in 2009.

            In the meantime, India’s birth rate has been steadily decreased through the introduction of birth control and broadening of women’s horizons. It is also worth noting that none of the dictatorships which have in other areas closely followed the Chinese model (Laos, Vietnam etc.) have copied this policy.

            Seriously, quite why people tout the one-child policy as an example of the advantages of the current Chinese political system, rather than a clear example of the failings of that system is a total mystery to me.

            “If you think the Greeks HAVE imple­mented such great aus­ter­ity mea­sures, you go buy Greek bonds with your money”

            There would not be protests if they had not. The austerity package was passed back in April, the major protests took place in May, a default has so far been avoided. Oh, and as for the purchasing of bonds, going by this measure the confidence the PRC government places in western governments must be unbounded.

          • Bin Wang

            Seems to me you’re a little biased here FOARP. You talk about Tangshan when I clearly raised the issue of the much improved response to SiChuan. You talk about the U.S. in terms of the past 50 years, then invite me to talk about China in term of the past 8. I think it’s also disingenuous to say what’s happened in China in the past 20 years is solely a result of “finally letting the Industrial Revolution occur.” It’s also dubious for you to talk about Indian and Chinese birthrates without discussing the one point that is clear–by 2030, India will have surpassed China in terms of population. You’re right, the one-child policy has absolutely nothing to do with that …

            No one ever said it wasn’t a grave solution. But as far as I am concerned, and this is the entire point which you seem to have missed, the fact is Beijing isn’t afraid to implement grave solutions, for better or for worse. This is something the Greeks are not capable of. And although most of it has been, in the past, for worse (now use your Great Leap Forward, Cult. Rev. examples HERE), I would argue the one-child policy, grave as it may be, is in fact one that has been for the better. And FYI, the reason birthrates have been rising recently (again you distort timeframes to make your dubious points) is that the policy has begun to be relaxed for certain areas/situations, for example, Shanghai residents are now permitted to have 2 children.

            And my last point still holds. You go buy Greek bonds. The entire point of the Vanity Fair article cited here is beware of Greeks bearing bonds. You think the rest of the world isn’t fearful that Athens will collapse financially any moment? China’s buying bonds, yes, but NOT Greek ones! They actually prosecute criminals and tax evaders in the U.S., and they actually see working hard as a positive in Japan …

            Again, I think you’re approaching this from a condemn China angle here, so I hope this doesn’t turn into another discussion with the likes that fellow stuart or something …

          • FOARP, I understand your point (especially as a reaction to Bin) but I still think that reaction was amusing.

            Next, while I don’t agree with Bin’s rather audacious suggestion that such a thing wouldn’t (or hasn’t) happened in China (and some of his other comments), I think your double standards and prejudices are uncomfortably obvious.

          • Bin Wang

            I love being audacious with Kai … :-)

          • “I think dou­ble stan­dards and prej­u­dices are uncom­fort­ably obvious”

            This is quite a serious allegation, would you care to cite examples?

  4. Kai? In my extremely limited understanding of China and the “Chinese,” I sense what you wrote is a secret worldview harbored by many, if not most Chinese; yet, if interviewed, many, if not most, would report a far more optimistic belief. Am I wrong?

    Are you perhaps noticing that there is a growing split in what was always a mainstay in the Chinese psyche, caused by the unprecedented democratizing of the use of money since maybe the Southern Sung Dynasty? That is, cynicism–maybe a Chinese attitude long held disguised as Daoism’s disbelief in materialism–is being provoked, goosed, and fueled by TV and billboards. Wealth–historically hid behind high walls–is now flaunted, more by accident than by design creating classes in a classless society.

    Oh, happy Moon Festival! May your lunacy reign supreme!

  5. Man, it’s kind of pointless to approach the corruption you find in China from the point of view of the similarities/differences to corruption in other countries – why is this relevant? But okay, I’ll bite:

    If there are similarities, they are not surprising as, similarly to China, Greece is a country born out of a revolt against colonial rule in the 19th century, ruled over by a dictatorship until the 70’s, and which suffered a long-running civil war in the middle of the 20th century followed by economic liberalisation over the last few decades. In both cases the “thousands of years of civilisation” are not nearly so relevant as the recent past. A long history does not necessarily make corruption, but turbulence, dictatorship, and poverty may do.

    • FOARP,

      You don’t know what I’m approaching with the similarities and differences proposition to other countries, but I am curious as to what similarities and differences people jump to when presented with the excerpts from and link to this article.

      I agree that a long history does not necessarily make corruption and that turbulence, dictatorship, and poverty may. For me, this little topic for discussion has little to do with Greece or China but everything to do with people’s reactions to different characters in seemingly similar stories.

      The “thousands of years of civilization/history” is a jab at those who are quick to invoke it for cheap shots. Most people who think rationally know how silly and irrelevant it is, but people don’t usually think rationally.

  6. King Tubby

    Im definitely not biting, but do appreciate the interesting if supercilious read. What is it with American feature writers and Brooks Bros shirts?

    The EU is getting more and more like the Eurovision Song contest: more and more tinpot countries being allowed to enter the tent. (Merkel’s govt should have told then to sod off and blow the consequences.)

    For all its many faults, Beijing would never wittingly allow it real national accounts to be run into the red like that. Look how they ruthlessly downsized the old SOE’s and turned them into profitable, if unfairly advantaged, entities now capable of expanding offshore.

    As to the question of atomised, self interested civil society posed by Kai. Simply good CD provocation based on two cherry picked excerpts.

    Apples and oranges, since the types of civil society found in Greece and China don’t lend themselves to any simple comparative analysis. And I’m willing to expand that point. History is a clue.

    • Aw, KT, its provocation for good, not evil! I did write the post in a way to get people to read the article. If there is anything of interest, it will be in examining our own reactions to it, what context we read it in, etc.

      • King Tubby

        Kai. sure I know/provocation for good. I read the article very carefully, and am considering a small struggle session, but before:

        I can’t recall exactly, but the Greeks voted themselves retirement at 50 or 55 , and heard on the radio last night that the German govt just had to extend their retirement age to 67. So much for Greeks accepting gifts.

        I like Bin’s point that:

        Bei­jing will have gone some­where, some­where bet­ter, or maybe even some­where worse, but it’ll have gone somewhere.

        I would like to see the discussion focus on the tags: civil society and the Machiavelli love/fear continium of state mentioned by kedafu. So I suppose I’m revising some of my views about the CP, since it is loved by few, but not exactly feared by the majority either.
        The marketting narratives it so successfully uses.

        Why focus these tags on China. Most folk I know have written off the US. It reads like a cartoon to me. Speaking of context, I was just reminded of the precursor moments to its rampage thru IraqX2 and Afganistan. The post-Vietnam re-emergence of the US warrior spirit was the invasion of Grenada 1984.

        Net result was the capture of 14 Cuban aid workers armed with shovels, plus really good news footage of marines rocketting the bejesus out of palm trees at the behest of US television crews.

        I know I deliberately failed to respond to your point that “If there is any­thing of inter­est, it will be in exam­in­ing our own reac­tions to it, what con­text we read it in, etc.”

  7. King Tubby

    Look, going off topic here, since Bin has the issue pretty well sorted. Dont spend much time investigating Palin el al, since rightwing libertarian wingnuts have been a perrenial feature of the US landscape since at least the 1930s. (Recall my three Great Fears post).

    To the point. Everytime I see a photo of Glenn Beck, I can’t help but think of that movie Falling Down (1993)featuring the odious Michael Douglas.

    Put this in your radar.
    You have got to give it to Hitchens….the Waterworld of white self pity, which, if I recall contains the immortal line by Dennis Hopper: “Don’t just stand there, kill someone”. (My value added here.) which doesn’t do a bad job highlighting the racial dimensions.

    • Jones

      Speaking of being off topic, Sarah Palin, and Glenn Beck: I often wonder if I am correct in being ashamed of living in the most retarded of times of American politics…or is this a phase that happens every so many decades (comparitively speaking)? I’ve only been around for a little under three decades and concious of politics for one…so someone enlighten me and hopefully put me at ease.

      • King Tubby

        Jones, its a periodic thing. Google the history of Nativist whitey movements in the US. Unfortunately, this particular irruption of retardedness also coincides with the falling down of the whole US financial and economic infrastructure. Myself, if I was a US citizen, I would be heading for the hills and joining a hippie commune, but would leave the Grateful Dead soundtrack at home. Dont invest your life in whats left of the existing system. You will only be disappointed. Cheers. Anne Landers.

        At ease. Sorry.

        And Australia’s turn will come when mineral exports to China die in the bum. Our major parties, equivalent to the big two in the US, are starting to hollow out. Fortunately the big beneficiaries are the Greens which are quite the opposite to the T Baggers.

        • Hippies? {sad laugh} Sorry, but that generation is the main reason is why the U.S. is in the current mess. Between Hippies turn Yuppies (Wall Street degregulation, offshoring, the World is merely one vast market for the taking), and Hippies still singing the progressive/liberal/commie Kumbaya mantra, o’ Lady Liberty has been bent over and used like a Dutch Whore for too long.

          {smile} But with the passage of time, this twits are fading from existance, and positions of power to keep their fiefdoms. Can’t help it if Hippies couldn’t raise their children any better than any other self centered egoist group from History.

          • King Tubby

            Matthew. Why diss hippies like this. Unhappy childhood cause your dad wouldn’t let you grow your hair. Okay, that whole movement ended up in a pile of exrement, but it was fun getting there. And your characterisation is rotten. Some good music (not a lot), excellent drugs and healthy interaction with the opposite gender. Underneath this blanket condemnation/your cold realism, you sound really bitter. A christian schooling does that to a guy.
            Don’t worry man, still love, peace and happiness to you, and I’m sure your children won’t end up as greedheads.

      • Like KT, I’d say its cyclical, if not persistent. A major reason why we often think things are getting worse is because we tend to selectively chronicle or even whitewash history. Of course, not so much for major things (Hitler), but definitely for the smaller things that are less important in the grand scale of things (Palin, Beck characters).

  8. When I consider the question,

    two books come to my mind,

    First, Machiavelli, The Prince. Is it better to be feared or loved? he asked. I swear this book must taught in the CPC party school.

    Next, Dickens, Oliver Twist. Not on the CPC reading list. But I find quite alot of similarities here in China

  9. lolz

    If you think about it, corruption is just another method for those who are rich and powerful to influence other people’s behavior so that the former group can retain their wealth and powerful. It’s one of the best perks for the established crowd.

    The rich and powerful first set up these rules for the society, and this is done to appease the common people. But at the same time the rich and powerful have also set up backdoors and ways to skirt these rules accessible by themselves only. This way the society can be stable AND the powerful gets to remain in power.

    Since corruption has negative connotation, people don’t want to admit that they want to part of these schemes. But in reality I think most people would love to be in the position where they can easily corrupt others. What’s the point of being rich and powerful if you can’t have a better chance of paying less taxes, having less chances of going to jail, having better chances of getting things done, or even something as simple as not having to wait in lines?