Discussing the semi-mythical catalogue of Maoist atrocities, Tombstone, compiled by a communist party apparatchik, Yang Jisheng. Commenting on the changing face of the regime, Applebaum opines that:
Because China is no longer a totalitarian country, merely an authoritarian one, a journalist like Yang could spend 10 years working on the history of the famine, openly soliciting interviews and documents" (2).This is remarkable. First of all, because it ignores what Yang himself saids in the book - and what applebaum quoted herself a few lines earlier:
It is a tombstone for my father who died of hunger in 1959, for the 36 million Chinese who also died of hunger, for the system that caused their death, and perhaps for myself for writing this book (3).It requires considerable prowess in doublethink to quote a writer declaring his work may be his death warrant, and then announce that the regime that may kill him is "merely authoritarian," or merely anything. The correct term for such a regime is utterly reprehensible.
More interesting, however, is the rehabilitation of the diningenuous totalitarian/authoritarian distinction. This was a very popular dichotomy in the Reagan years, promoted by Jeanne Kirkpatrick. It was used to justify giving aid to all sorts of savage and despicable regimes, from Pinochet's Chile, to Galtieri's Argentina (Kirkpatrick even wanted the Whitehouse to side with the Argentinian junta against Britain in the Falklands conflict) and, of course, Saddam Hussein.
The basic principle was that any regime that the US government wished to do business with ('doing business' usually entailed selling them guns to supress democratic movements that had reddish tinge) was, by some mysterious diplomatic process, deemed authoritarian. This no matter how cruel, repressive, anti-democratic and evil it was. They might drop the odd person out of a helicopter over the ocean, or fill football stadia with corpses of their political foes, but they were "authoritarian.' Sorry, make that "merely authoritarian."
It was, naturally, a false distinction, a cynical manouver designed to allow the USA to further its own foreign policy objectives, which at the time consisted largely of thwarting the hobgoblin of communism, which was imagined to be everywhere. In the process, the USA made a lot of enemies, encouraged and strengthened a lot of evil people (some of whom we have been busy deposing, using equally false and dishonest pretexts). It is interesting to speculate what the Ragan adminsistration, transplanted to the 1930s, would have made of Nazi Germany (4).
Dusting off the authoritarian/totalitarian distinction indicates that the Telegraph - and the British strain of conservativism for which it speaks - has decided to embrace Beijing - human rights violations, anti-democratic tendency, genocide in Tibet and angaist the Uighurs in Xinjiang, environmental-catastrophe-in-the-making, deisre to invade Taiwan and all.
This, I suppose, is not surprising. The Bastards of Beijing are not strange bedfellows to the oligarchs in the west. They have, after all, exported most of our manufacturing to their hellhole industrial cities precisely so they can enjoy the advantages of manufacturing without having to worry about worker's right, environmental standards, trade unions or those other pesky considerations that made the west so damn ... unprofitable.
(And we, of course, the consumers in the west, have to own up that we have been happy to enjoy the benefits of this transfer of iindustry to China and other places, blithely swapping our own livelihoods for the chimera of cheaper goods).
So it isn't surpising that the PRC is now "merely authoritarian." The Captains of Industry in the West must be looking towards the orient, seeing the free hand that capitalist robber barons there have, and be thinking, "you lucky, lucky bastards."
Because, in the final analysis, it isn't about human rights or democracy or any of that stuff, but money. Money is to be made in Cina, so China must be made to appear acceptable to our refined Western sensibilities. Applebaum remarks that the current Chinese regime can't face up to its bloody, incompetent past, because to do so would raise too many questions about the current Communist Party, and as "there are no good answers to those questions, it's in the Chinese leadership's interest to ensure they are not asked" (5).
She neglects to mention that it is very much in our interests not to ask too many questions of the current regime in Beijing.
1 - "A Tombstone on China's History," by ANna APplebaum, published in The Telegraph, 17th of August, 2008. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2008/08/17/do1705.xml)
2 - ibid.
3 - ibid.
4 - I am aware of Godwin's Law and do not make the reference lightly. Given the Raegan regime's tendency to cosy up to dictators with a fondness for shooting communists and crushing democracy, I can see the Nazis being very popular with the Whitehouse, until the invasion of Poland, at any rate. Consider the adminsitration's attitude towards Iraq.
5 - Applebaum, op. cit.