The unbearable weight of ideas

The international community applauds some of Xi Jin Ping’s initiatives, but is fearful of others. Benevolence doesn’t compensate for criticisms, because the latter prevail. The fight against corruption and bureaucracy’s excessive power are perceived as a liberation from injustice, but it’s still not clear if they’ll lead to the affirmation of laws, or if they represent a showdown—long, bloody, uncertain—within the CPC. Criticisms are applied to certain and worrying facts. Antidemocratic censures are the most obvious examples, which have been heavily criticized. The repression of internal dissent continues, but the ax has fallen more heavily on foreign relationships. At this point, the curtain has fallen definitively on Google, Facebook, and the New York Times. A few weeks ago, Virtual Private Networks were prohibited in China, eliminating the last possibility of uncontrolled access to the Internet. Now, a campaign against the diffusion of “Western Values” was launched. It was a move orchestrated at the highest levels, effected with a crescendo of initiatives. Editorials opened the way, then internal CPC circulations, and finally declarations from the Ministry of Education. In front of deans from the most important Chinese universities, Yuan Guiren imposed the reduction of texts that diffuse Western values. To erase any doubts, the documents cite ideological enemies: constitutionalism, universal values, civil societies, neo-liberal economics, and freedom of press, historic nihilism, and criticisms of Chinese socialism.

Who knows what the 500,000 Chinese youth studying at the best American universities are looking for? What values are they striving for? It’s not clear from Beijing’s documents if Western values are absolutely negative or only inapplicable in China. Even in the second case—less severe than the first—is it reasonable to send talent abroad without exposing them to contagion? Can they study marketing, engineering, and IT without being exposed to debate, the circulation of ideas, or the freedom of press? And can advanced studies and innovative research be precluded in China just because they occurred in other countries? What would happen if the West—bearer of antagonistic values—offered the same reciprocity? What would happen to the numerous Confucian institutes that dot Western cities? Desired and financed by China, aren’t they promoters of “Chinese values,” and therefore subject to censure in Europe, North America, and Australia?

It’s not necessary to draft a classification of the different values that societies propagate. No system is perfect and historical contingencies impose frequently painful passages. In any case, Western characteristics emerge cleanly with respect to China: the ability to accept diversity, and to coexist in complex situations in a globalized world. China flexes its muscles, but it’s probably showing a weakness; it grips the scissors of censure but it’s not winning any sympathy. Economically, Beijing can’t be disregarded, but it’s difficult to accept its model. At this point, the grasslands also transport ideas, especially foreign ones. At best, they can try to hinder them, but they can’t prohibit them, especially if they were created in rich, civilized, and democratic countries. The GDP may increase for many years, but China is still laboring to understand that not everyone that uses Gmail intends to subvert the People’s Republic of China; not everyone that access VPNs intend to undermine socialism.