April 11, 2007

The Shichang Price of Facts

I asked a recent visitor to Shenzhen, an Indian, how she would compare China and India. She was quick to acknowledge that the economic boom evident in the city center was unmatched by that of any Indian city. As one moved into the outskirts, however, there were few differences, if any, between the two countries. A striking feature throughout was how China projected its image to China. The billboards, the CCTV's, the neon signs, everything conveyed the message in no uncertain terms — the Chinese culture, economy, and political system are unparalleled and unsurpassed by any other in the world. Forget Tiananmen, thanks to Mao and Marx you are now living in the communist utopia! Compared to the propagandists of the Chinese Communist Party, their Nazi and Soviet brethren were imbeciles!

The skeletons are only beginning to tumble out of the Chinese cupboard. For starters, read this recent article in the Far Eastern Economic Review by Carsten A. Holz, an economist and professor in the social science division of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. I have briefly visited there once at the invitation of its economics faculty, but that was before the unification. In 1996, the Chinese dragon was already breathing down the island state. In anticipation of the communist takeover, many Hong Kong residents were packing to move to Seattle, Toronto, and elsewhere around the world. The faculty at HUST were understandably apprehensive, even though the administration had been trying to reassure them. The seminars were not unlike those that I had attended at the U.S universities — reflecting the confidence in the free market that the economists were well known to have. Underneath that facade, however, the question in everyone's mind was, "how long could they last in Hong Kong?".

The title of the article, "Have China Scholars All Been Bought?", says it all, but here are a few nuggets:

Li Shaomin, associate professor in the marketing department of City University in Hong Kong and a U.S. citizen, spent five months in a Chinese jail on charges of “endangering state security.” In his own words, his crimes were his critical views of China’s political system, his visits to Taiwan, his use of Taiwanese funds to conduct research on politically sensitive issues, and his collecting research data in China... To academics in Hong Kong, the signal was not lost.
“Price administration” regulations, central and local, abound, giving officials far-reaching powers to interfere in the price-setting process. Yet we accept official statistics that show 90% of all prices, by trading value, to be market-determined. We do not question the meaning of the Chinese word shichang, translated as “market,” but presume it to be the same as in the West.
Statistics on specific current issues are collected by the National Bureau of Statistics on special request of the Party Central Committee and the State Council... Outside the realm of official statistics, government departments at all levels collect and control internal information. What is published tends to be propaganda...
In a Shanghai institution of tertiary education, typing “Jiang Zemin” into a search engine from a computer located on campus, three times in a row, leads to the automatic shutdown of access to that search engine for the whole campus.

That the economists visiting China have been bought is news to me, but the sell-out of the rest of the social scientists is not. On the contrary, I would contend that a majority of them have been selling themselves to the workers' paradise-lost, since the Nixon-Zhou Enlai love affair, brokered by Henry Kissinger and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, began. Has anybody been counting the blunders committed by the men and women at the Foggy Bottom, in the mistaken belief that the Bolsheviks and their ghosts were the only enemies of freedom?

Why does it matter that the facts have gone abegging in the scholarly reports on China? We know only too well what happened when a hundred million people were befuddled into thinking that Saddam Hussein was actually the long lost twin of Osama bin Laden. Imagine what would happen if a billion and more people believed that the only way out of poverty was to trade it for dystopia. The signs are everywhere. It's not just the Communist Party of India that is eying China longingly. A commenter on one of my recent posts asserted:

... better systems which are already producing awesome 'tangible' results and would very soon become models and benchmarked for the entire earth. After all everything ends in economic well-being. All others are only abstract and carry no 'real' value. People and countries are respected and recognized by their wealth/economic status respectively, and only very rarely by other factors such as expression, 'freedom' etc.

You get one attempt to guess which "better system" he is referring to. Yup, add another billion to the Chinese Gulag. Andreas Lorenz and Wieland Wagner, writing in Spiegel Online International, agree in part — "Does learning from China mean learning how to win? In some respects, the country could certainly serve as a role model for developing countries." Did they get their facts from the Chinese National Bureau of Lies or the Faculty of Misinformation at the Sieging University?

Closer to home, in a recent debate on global warming in the House, the Republicans questioned the tax-payer funded NASA scientists' right to free speech. Chastising the scientists who testified, Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah) contended, "Free speech is not a simple thing and is subject to and directed by policy". Really? Does it apply to the tax-payer funded Fed Chairman, Ben Bernanke, too, when he says that the U.S. inflation is under control?

Would you like to trade, my fellow travellers?

This: for this:

And, would you like to trade in the market or in the shichang?

Update: Thanks to a call from a reader, I have edited out the reference to faith-based Grand Canyon in an earlier version of this post, as it had been retracted in a later issue of eSkeptic.

  1. The "message" billboards were rather creepy! Every European & American who was with my on my trip to Shenzhen commented on them. I was tempted to take pictures, but it seemed rude to the Chinese person who was accompanying me at the time!

  2. The predominantly left-leaning academia(& media) in India is all praise for the Chinese model(Is it a model?).

    That makes me scary!


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