Believe it or not, a Berkeley sociologist recently offered a surprisingly clear-eyed and coherent assessment of Communist China. Nevertheless, Berkeley sociology professor Thomas B. Gold did start off a March 2011 lecture at the University of Pennsylvania about the way that you would expect a tenured prof from that august institution to begin such a talk.
“How do the leaders of these societies think about and try to plan for, to quote a popular business book, Black Swans—highly improbable events?” he said. “So I thought I would start this presentation on ‘understanding Chinese society’ with an exercise of trying to put myself in the shoes of China’s leaders, who just completed two big political meetings—the National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference—where they defined how they see themselves and the tasks ahead.”
“They, too, were also observing and analyzing the turmoil in the Middle East, North Africa and Japan while keeping an eye on their own rapidly changing society.”
But then, the talk got really interesting. “There is no idea of an impersonal legal system or concept of everyone being equal before the law,” Gold claimed of China.
He went on to use the “c” word, which even American conservatives are increasingly reluctant to do. “This is not just a typical military strong-man dictatorship, but is a system led by the Chinese Communist Party, (in theory) a disciplined, centralized and enlightened (through the study of Marx, Lenin, and Mao) vanguard committed to leading the masses to socialism and then communism,” Gold asserted.
Moreover, unlike many putative conservatives who paint a picture of China as a transformed society, Gold sees the jackboot at work in China’s alleged reforms. “The Chinese government no longer tries to homogenize the population but to ‘harmonize’ what it acknowledges are differing and legitimate interests,” Gold claims. “However, ‘harmony’ has become code for old-fashioned suppression of perceived challenges, and, in popular cynical parlance, to ‘be harmonized’ means to be subject to coercion.”
“The leaders, especially with the events of early 2011, have become particularly concerned with order and not letting what outsiders see as minor protests spiral out of control.”
Similarly, Gold sees through some of the more transparent claims that China’s leaders make in order to justify their domination of Tibet. “Bizarrely, the atheistic communist government has declared that the new Dalai Lama must be identified through traditional reincarnation, which they hope to manage,” Gold stated. “There is a very active Tibetan diaspora, and the Dalai Lama, winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, is an internationally revered figure, which puts the Beijing leaders in a very difficult spot as they continue to condemn him.”
Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
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