Xi and Me

It turns out that Xi Jinping and I have something in common: we are both fans of Goethe’s Faust. Indeed, Xi is said to even know the work by heart.

I wonder what aspects of Faust have been particularly meaningful to Xi, both personally and as relates to his current job as Dictator.  Here’s the passage that immediately came to my mind on learning of Xi’s Faust-affinity…

As a reward for services rendered, the Emperor grants Faust a narrow strip of land on the edge of the sea, which Faust intends to turn into a new and enlightened society by reclaiming land from the sea…along the lines of the way that Holland was created, but in a much more intensive manner. Faust’s land-reclamation project goes forward on a very large scale, and is strictly organized on what we would now call Taylorist principles:

Up, workmen, man for man, arise anew!
Let blithely savor what I boldly drew
Seize spade and shovel, each take up his tool!
Fulfill at once what was marked off by rule
Attendance prompt to orders wise
Achieves the most alluring prize
To bring to fruit the most exalted plans
One mind is ample for a thousand hands

Faust’s great plan, though, is spoiled (as he sees it) by an old couple, Philemon and Baucis, who have lived there from time out of mind. “They have a little cottage on the dunes, a chapel with a little bell, a garden full of linden trees. They offer aid and hospitality to shipwrecked sailors and wanderers. Over the years they have become beloved as the one source of life and joy in this wretched land.”

And they will not sell their property, no matter what they are offered. This infuriates Faust…maybe there are practical reasons why he needs this tiny piece of land, but more likely, he simply cannot stand having the development take shape in any form other than precisely the one he has envisaged. Critic Marshall Berman suggests that there is another reason why Faust so badly wants Philemon and Baucis gone: “a collective, impersonal drive that seems to be endemic to modernization: the drive to create a homogeneous environment, a totally modernized space, in which the look and feel of the old world have disappeared without a trace…”

Faust directs Mephisto to solve the problem of the old couple, which task Mephisto assigns to the Three Mighty Men… who resolve the issue by the simple expedient of murdering the pair and burning down their house.

Faust is horrified, or at least says that he is:

So you have turned deaf ears to me
I meant exchange, not robbery
This thoughtless, violent affair
My curse on it, for you to share!

To which the Chorus replies:

That ancient truth we will recite
Give way to force, for might is right
And would you boldly offer strife?
The risk your house, estate–and life.

Xi seems resolved to ensure that the ancient pattern recited by the Chorus will be the one that rules in China.  And there are plenty of influential people in America who reject progress we made in evolving beyond this ancient and brutal pattern..by building a wall consisting of free speech, due process of law, separation of powers, and a written constitution, and fighting to defend that wall.  Such people evidently want to demolish the wall and let the ancient pattern be firmly emplaced here as well…apparently under the assumption that they will be the ones who ultimately direct the Mighty Men.

See Claudia Rosett’s related post: Xi Jinping’s Tianamen Vision is Coming for Us All.

My review of Faust is here.

16 thoughts on “Xi and Me”

  1. Ms Rosette: Thus do we see China’s transformation of Hong Kong’s Victoria Park, on June 4, 2021, from a place for people to honor freedom and those who died for it, to an empty reflection of the nihilist core of Xi’s grand China dream: a vacant park, walled off by police, overlooked by state security, off limits to the humanity all that massive “national security” is officially supposed to serve.”

    This would sound more credible if the US House & Senate were not similarly walled off — surrounded by razor wire, patrolled by thousands of troops, with intensive surveillance everywhere. American citizens excluded from the supposed heart of our democratic Republic!

    Not to mention Biden*’s political prisoners, held for months in solitary confinement for the offence of entering the People’s House.

    If the United States were still the United States of old, we would not see China as a problem. Today, our real problem lies in the DC Swamp — which offers most of the bad features of China’s political system without the compensations of the competence of China’s leadership in advancing the interests of its people.

    Ms. Rosett is living in a dream world. She needs to open her eyes.

  2. Brian Williams of MSNBC introduced approvingly a Lincoln Project ad which analogized Antifa with the American soldiers who stormed the Normandy beaches.

    There is an attempted counterrevollution in progress, attempting to return America not only to pre-American-revolution status but to a much older pattern, without the legal protections of the individual which had evolved in England and some other places.


    MSNBC is owned by Comcast.

  3. Five years ago, Claudia Rosett commenting in 2016 on President Trump’s election: :I don’t think this American spirit is racist, or xenophobic, or misogynist, or any of the other -ists and -ics and -isms that have been tossed around during the recent election campaign, and hurled at Trump in particular. I think we are seeing America shaking off the shadow of Julia, and seeking to recover its strength, and its wits.”

    Well, we all make bad predictions from time to time. Ms. Rosett was seeing what she wanted to see. To be fair, so were a lot of the rest of us.

    We all underestimated the extent to which the Far Lefties who dominate the bureaucracy & what used to be called the Justice system would thwart the President’s plans at every turn. And we underestimated the extent to which the Institutional Republican Party would ignore the people who voted for them because of President Trump. And we underestimated the extent to which the Far Lefties who control the media (aka Pravda) would work every day to drive American down. Ms. Rosett got it wildly wrong, but she was not the only one.

    Which brings us back to today. Ms. Rosett is criticizing China’s current leadership for actions which have some broad similarities to the actions of the US Political Class. Let China fix its own problems — (1) it is a big country with a huge intelligent well-educated population; (2) it is the workshop of the world; and (3) it has massive financial strength. Instead, let’s focus on fixing our own problems, so that someday in the future the US can match those 3 great capabilities which China’s rulers (unpleasant as they are) have already given their countrymen. The same 3 capabilities which used to characterize the US, before the Far Lefties seized control.

  4. Countries in demographic decline are always dangerous when they realize there is not as much time to accomplish the regime goals as is needed,. China started its decline with the one child policy. Much like Mao’s war on sparrows, it has taken years to see the result. Xi is hurrying, much as the Democrat Party is trying to pass legislation before the 2022 election that will keep it in power. Iran is in a similar decline for the same reasons. The fecklessness of the Democrats and the bought and paid for Republicans has given Xi more time but it is a race between tie and demographics. Japan lost that race years ago. Europe is also losing. The Texas elections should scare the crap out of Democrats. They opened borders because they think Hispanics will vote Democrat. Now Harris is heckled by Trump supporters in Guatemala.

  5. This quote seems appropriate, “A Man For All Seasons” rather than genuine More as far as I can tell.

    “This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast—man’s laws, not God’s—and if you cut them down—and you’re just the man to do it—d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?”

    We see this where the innuendos and vague charges of “wrong think” seem to dispose of many more wokesters than conservatives.

    Certainly, “the competence of China’s leadership in advancing the interests of its people” has to be an assertion not supported by evidence on both fronts.

  6. The *interests of China’s people* were advanced by moving *away* from strict Communist central management of the economy, that is, away from the principle established by Faust for the organizational architecture of his land-reclamation project:

    “One mind is ample for a thousand hands”

  7. MDS: “Certainly, “the competence of China’s leadership in advancing the interests of its people” has to be an assertion not supported by evidence on both fronts.”

    Don’t make the classic mistake of underestimating the other party.

    Visit China! You will be astonished with the modern infrastructure — spacious modern airports, astonishing high speed trains, metro systems that make Londoners & Parisians green with envy, super-highways, amazing shopping malls, state-of-the-art amusement parks. on & on. And you will be astonished by the well-dressed people, the clean streets, the paucity of armed police — to say nothing of the fleets of privately owned (Chinese-made) Buicks and Volkswagens. The evidence tells any objective observer that the Chinese people have benefitted immensely over the last few decades.

    It is painful for us to accept, but we all know that the last few decades for the US people have been mostly stagnation or decline — in stark contrast to the improvements the Chinese people have seen.

    Andrew Batson quotes Barry Naughton proffering the observation that — consistent with David Foster’s comment above — the key to China’s success was that in the approximately three decades between the death of Mao and the rise of Xi, China really did not pursue any kind of organized central planning. Consequently, the economy flourished. It remains to be seen if Xi’s re-imposition of industrial policy will mess things up for China. Just as it remains to be seen if the US Political Class can reduce their meddling in the economy which is costing us all so dearly.

  8. It’s not an original thought, but here goes– the Chinese have been so successful with their one-child policy that most males less than 60 years old or so–certainly most draftable males–are only sons (“Little Emperor Syndrome”) and going soft anyway.

    The elderly in China are the only group forecasted to grow–both working-age and children demos will shrink.

    Not the most promising food for powder, the Youth of China–which isn’t to say that some ambitious leader can’t screw it all up for them and us.

    Cousin Eddie

  9. It remains to be seen if Xi’s re-imposition of industrial policy will mess things up for China. Just as it remains to be seen if the US Political Class can reduce their meddling in the economy which is costing us all so dearly.

    I have not visited either place but have family that have and were sympathetic BUT my lefty daughter went out to breakfast in Shanghi with her friends about ten years ago and they warned her not to eat the fluffy muffins as the baker used detergent to make them fluffy, Chinese quality control.

    Japan has the same wonderful infrastructure but it is in irreversible demographic decline. China began with a much larger population but Mao and then Xi have given a seminar on bad government.

    We, of course, have nothing to brag about in government since Eisenhower.

  10. American media, politics, and academia include many admirers of the centralized, top-down aspects of the Chinese system…Tom Friedman comes to mind. Of course, there were also many American admirers of Mussolini back in the day.

    The point that China’s economic growth was enabled largely by the *relaxation* of central control seems totally lost on these people.

  11. }}} we are both fans of Goethe’s Faust. Indeed, Xi is said to even know the work by heart.

    Does this mean Eeyore is Mephistopheles, or would it be Tigger?


  12. Gavin,
    I have never been to China but I have rather specialized, exact knowledge of some indigenous Chinese products that they would dearly like to be competitive with their Western counterparts. As of now, they aren’t even close. This can change, America had a steep learning curve on things like steel and chemical production to name just two and came out in the end.

    There are persistent, unconfirmable reports that some of the showy development looks considerably less impressive close up. My experience with Chinese products not made under close Western supervision makes this believable.

    The many millions of dead Chinese since 1949 do not make a testament to either the competence or benevolence of the CCP. To an outsider, the last 30 years of progress seems entirely due to lack of government attention. We may be in the way of learning this lesson for ourselves.

  13. China’s been here before, as a potential “world power”. They’re not going to stick the landing, this time around, either. Neither will the Brazilians, mostly because they’re heir to the Portuguese failure culture that has an awful lot of similarities. Who will? Singapore; maybe.

    The last time ’round, the Spanish and Portuguese were the trading partners. Likewise, the Chinese dazzled them with their production capacity and mercantile prowess–Look up the stories about the whole story surrounding the Columbian Exchange, and how the Chinese merchants would show up in Manila to trade Chinese merchandise for gold and silver from the Americas.

    The real problem with China is not their people or their intelligence; it’s their fondness for hierarchy and structure, with everything being top-down. The inevitable fall of the Chinese imperial dynasties didn’t come because of a bad harvest or anything else, it came because nobody could tell the mandarins the truth about what was going on, or move the Emperor to respond to reality in any timely manner. They lied to each other and to themselves, and eventually, that led to the destruction of the Chinese Imperial system. Communist China has that same flaw, that same vice–Nobody has the balls to tell the guy at the top the truth about anything. It’s all lies, all the time–Face. And, couple that with a mania for control, thinking that you can “manage” everything from the top? LOL… China is going to crash, and crash hard.

    Lots and lots of similarities between China, Spain, Portugal, and the Hapsburgs. They’re “permission-based” cultures; gotta have that dude at the top’s permission to do anything, and if you do something he doesn’t like, or that your peers think he won’t…? Yeah; you’re going down, baby.

    I’ll lay you long odds that China’s beloved “social credit” scheme is already corrupted, and already being “gamed” by the average Chinese. It’ll wind up like everything else like that in China–Pro forma, and a totally dysfunctional contributor to the whole thing collapsing, just like the “one-child policy” that only held true for the average Chinese citizen, and none of the elite.

    I don’t worry about China taking over the world, at all. That won’t last–They can’t deal with chaos and confusion, at all. A culture that is so insecure about uncertainty that it can’t abide fiction about either ghosts or time-travel…? LOL; yeah, they’re gonna be real good at coping with the unexpected and unexplainable… Universe ain’t certain about anything, and the more certainty you try to impose, the bigger the bang when it snaps back on you.

    They’ll try, perhaps, but the longest they’re going to last is maybe a generation before the whole thing goes out of control. Man proposes; God disposes. You can’t run an economy from your capital city–Every time that’s been tried, it causes the collapse of the civilization. Look at what actually went on in China before the Imperial system collapsed. They tried to run it all with good Confucian scholarship, but they could not, because no mandarin in his palace can know when the sparrow’s wing flaps, or what it’s going to do once it does. Same with Japan–Ever actually look at the deal with how effective, overall, their little “planned economy ministry” worked out? If those guys had been able to really enforce anything, we’d be without Honda and a bunch of other powerhouse Japanese companies, because MITI thought that Mr. Honda should stick to small motors and only build scooters.

    Look at what actually killed Rome. Same idiocy, different set of control-freak idiots. You cannot command order, over the span of a civilization or even a small economy.

    You can’t plan shit past the start-line, and the more you try to, the less your plan will work. Ever look at the difference between what a British or French Army official set of orders looked like during the Battle of France, compared to the German ones? It. Is. To. Laugh. The French and British Operations Orders were these huge multi-volume affairs detailing every last little thing. The Germans ones? They’d be hashed out on the move, as the situation changed, and would often consist of single pages. We really don’t even know WTF the Germans were planning in a lot of cases, simply because they wrote their orders on single sheets of paper that got discarded as overcome by events in the course of the campaign. British orders? If we have ’em, they detailed everything that didn’t happen, ‘cos the Germans got there first. Plan’s the first casualty of the battle, folks… Germans knew that. Everyone else thought they could specify everything down to the exact moment that each company on a march route was gonna pass a certain intersection, and that’d happen. Which it won’t.

    The one thing I took away from a military career was that a plan is mostly a list of things that ain’t gonna happen when you want them to, and you’d best be comfortable with that. Plan to have your plan fail, and plan so your plan doesn’t matter.

    You. Cannot. Control. Shit.

    Life’s a dance with chaos, along an ever-moving knife-edge of uncertainty. You try to plan your steps and force the moves on it? You’re gonna fall right on that razor’s edge and get cut to ribbons.

    Europe conquered the world not because they were better at conquering, it’s because they were better at dealing with chaos because Europe after Rome was the inner-circle of chaos hell, and everyone knew how to deal with that. Europe and European culture only began to falter once they listened to the control-freak impulse to “manage” everything, which is a null concept in this universe of ours. You don’t “manage” life; you dance with chaos in the moment. To forget this is to begin to die. For individuals as for civilizations.

  14. MCS: “I have never been to China but I have rather specialized, exact knowledge of some indigenous Chinese products that they would dearly like to be competitive with their Western counterparts. As of now, they aren’t even close.”

    Fair enough. Just as there are some indigenous Western products (like computer chips and flat screens) that are not at all competitive with Taiwanese or Korean products. Everything changes over time, and what we need to recognize is that the direction of change over the last quarter of a century or so has generally been improvement for the Chinese and deterioration for Westerners. The issue is not the Chinese; the issue is us. We need to wake up!

    Take the broad view. The US is heavily dependent on China for all kinds of goods we find necessary — cell phones, tools, medications, a surprising range of food stuffs, nut & bolts, etc. And in effect China is supplying those goods with seller financing, since all they get in exchange for their real goods is our IOUs. This is not sustainable! We need to get serious, roll up our sleeves, deal with our internal problems which have crippled us, and stop behaving like a “kept woman”. Because the day comes when every “kept woman” — no matter how pretty — finds herself out in the cold.

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