Here I am, back in my motherland, having been forcibly expelled from China due to visa complications. Thus ends a little jaunt to a genuine police state.
For all those people who hate socialism, who may have a Mao dart board in their den, who may have a photo of Donald Trump pointing at the camera, congratulations – you won. Shanghai is without question the most capitalist/consumerist city that I have ever set foot in, and I’ve been to Hong Kong, LA and New York.
It could be said that China forms a unique sociopolitical structure, a police state without any ideology, just an intention to maintain the status quo. This is only half true. This is in fact exactly what Althusser was addressing when he wrote about the superstructure/infrastructure of capitalist states: China is a machine that aims to replicate itself and keep the mechanics of production/consumption running. In other words, this is pure oppressive capitalism, where one has the freedom to make money and not much else.
Also, for all of those who think that history is strictly objective, one need only visit a bookstore in Shanghai and another bookstore in Hong Kong. History has been written and sold under certain ideological conditions – the depiction of revolutionary China is one such example.
In the PRC, Deng Xiao Ping seized control in the late seventies following Mao’s death and subsequent power struggle. Deng was a brutal authoritarian who did not have a single socialist bone in his body – in fact, he was a target during the Cultural Revolution and was lucky to escape alive. Consequently, he declared that the Cultural Revolution was all a big mistake and everyone should forget about it – that means you, universities. That means you, Shanghai. As a result, there is little to no information available on what actually happened during that tumultuous period; there is also little mention of the Long March, the liberation of China, the Great Leap Forward, etc. It’s like sixty years disappeared. Winners write, or erase, history.
There are many exemplars of my feelings towards Shanghai – the continued privileged foreign district of the French Concession, Pudong and its endless valleys of supermalls, the utterly non-socialist health-care system – but the best I can think of is Jing’An Temple. It is a Buddhist “retreat” located in the center of the richest part of town, with Dior, DKNY, and Tom Ford designer shops surrounding it. Within the gates of the temple, the first thing one sees is a giant, solid gold statue of Buddha. The observer may wonder “Did you really need to make that statue out of solid gold? A statue of big, fat Buddha glittering in the sun?” Given the neighborhood, the temple seems like nothing more than a tribute to greed and wealth;; and even though I’m not Chinese, I can fully understand why the Red Guards wanted to smash insulting, opulent, hypocritical symbols like that.
Enough. I’m done. I’m still teaching English lessons to Chinese people, that’s about as close to the weird hybrid model of state capitalism as I want to get.