Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Thursday, October 01, 2009

National Day 

Couldn't get down to the Square today. The place is sealed off so that they can put on a performance for foreign dignitaries. If they get this worked up about the 60th anniversary, I shudder to think of what it's going to be like at the 75th.

Kai Kai invited me to have lunch with her and her friend. I took the subway to Liufang and met them. They asked me where I would like to eat. I suggested we head down to Dongzhimen, because there is a street there that is famous for its restaurants. Her friend had a Honda minivan, so we all got in and found a restaurant built according the pattern of a classic Siheyuan.

After we ate, they were going to take me back, but I noticed a subway station, so I told them to just drop me off. It happened to be one of the stops on Line 5. Not that it matters. Anytime you see a subway station in Beijing, you just head down under and it's pretty easy to figure out where you are. I was just ready to do that, but I decided to stop at a coffee bar and do some reading first. I started asking around for a coffee bar, and ended walking right by the old Confucian temple. I was interested in this, becuase Chinese people are fond of saying that Confucianism is not a religion, but a philosophy. But this temple was very religious. And it was built in the early 14th Century. Yuan Dynasty. That's going back a ways. When they built the temple, they planted a Cyprus tree. It's still there. Ever seen a 700 year old Cyprus tree? Pretty impressive.

After going through the temple, I walked around and finally found a little sidewalk cafe. I decided that this was a better way to spend the afternoon that standing in the crowds down at Tienanmen. I was ready to forget about National Day and get lost in a good book. But it was not to be. Right up on the wall was a flat screen playing the events of the day, and Hu Jintao was just getting ready to speak. I listened for awhile to him repeating the old line about how there is no hope for China except the pathway of Socialism. Rubbish, of course, and nobody believes it. Well, I guess somebody must, because there has to be some reason he feels compelled to put on a Mao Jacket and recite Marxist pablum. This is the dilemma of Modern China. It is no longer politically correct to take a Marxist position. But it is also not politically correct to publicly acknowledge that we no longer follow what Marx teaches. So whatever political system China employs, we must call it socialism. This is why the young people are so confused. They say, "Professor Eric, what's the difference between capitalism and socialism?" These are the brightest kids in China. They have taken all the required Marxism classes to get to where they are at a National Key University. But they don't know the difference between capitalism and socialism. And the reason is plain. They look around them, and think, "If this is socialism, what is capitalism." And I have to tell them, "This is not socialism. Your grandparents had socialism."

I was debating this issue at the English corner at Renmin University once, and one guy told me that the reason for the confusion is that this is a very complex issue. Not true. Socialism has the simplest definition in the dictionary: "Public ownership of the means of production." In today's China, most of the businesses that an average citizen encounters are not publicly owned. There are exceptions, of course. Raymond is a Beijinger, and he takes me to the traditional Beijing eateries. One time he took me to a little place in Old Beijing that was kinda little dark and dingy (although the food was good). It was about 7:30 or so, and Raymond told me that we had to hurry, because they were getting ready to close. I was surprised. So early? Then Raymond told me that this was a State owned cafeteria.

I have been in Beijing for almost six years, and in all that time, I have been in one state owned restaurant. Most of them are private businesses. I guess I should mention that I have eaten in campus cafeterias, so perhaps that would put a few more marks in the socialism column. But my point is that today's China is not really socialist. China actually has a very Republican economy. Low taxes, and lots of emphasis on business development and market economy. Anything but socialism. But the ancient tendency for leaders to "point to a deer and call it a horse" prevails. So we cannot say "capitalism." We must call it, "socialism with Chinese characteristics."

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