The rise of China is the largest geopolitical gamechange of the epoch. Never in history has a country so rapidly shifted its status, from one of the poorest countries on earth to the planet’s second largest economy. The impact of this dramatic shift cannot be under-estimated. The energy markets are changing, international relations are changing, but the ultimate results could be much deeper. A new political concept is developing.
Western Politics Rejects Progress
Observing the prevalant political atmosphere in the US, Harvard Psychology Professor Steven Pinker observed “For all their disagreements, the left and right concurs on one thing: the world is getting worse.” Pinker isn’t the only one to observe that the western world seems to have universally embraced pessimism.
The roots of the term left and right during the opening stages of the French Revolution were tied in with the concept of historical progress. The “left” were progressive and revolutionary forces that sought to march forward, while the right-wing were the “reactionaries” and “conservatives” who sought to preserve or restore the existing power.
However, beginning with the 1960s ‘New Left,’ both wings of western politics took on a completely different character. The 1960s radicals emphasized individuality and cultural hedonism. They replaced the Marxist goal of constructing a rationally planned socialist society with a call to “do your own thing.”
In the aftermath of the cold-war leftism continued to deviate into complete absurdity. With the absence of Marxism, an atmosphere where discourse is facilitated by well-funded NGOs and foundations has overseen the degeneration of leftism into a kind of “victimology.” The post-modern leftist sees the world as lacking fairness, and cultivates a kind of group therapy atmosphere. The talk of “class struggle” “revolution” and “dictatorship of the proletariat” that once defined Leftism is now far “to male,” to white,” and “to serious.” In an atmosphere obsessed with personal identity, sexual and gender issues become primary, while economics is deemed to be almost irrelevant. Activists learn to feel ashamed for their own privilege and wrangle on a journey of “self-discovery” about their own “internalized oppression.”
The right-wing of western politics took a similar turn in the later part of the 20th Century. Mccarthyism and the Cold War defined opposition to any notion of “socialism” or “communism” as central for rightist politics. While the right-wing has historically positioned itself as defenders of authority, family, tradition, and social obligation, this has changed with the rise of neoliberalism. Writers like Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman inserted a new ideological formation. The flags, crosses, and emblems once upheld by conservatives have been replaced by mammon. For most right-wingers in the 21st century, being a conservative simply means to be an ardent believer in the free market. The right-wing favors a society in which the poor are completely left to their own devices. In modern conservative politics, notions of solidarity or community are all trumped by “the virtue of selfishness” and the sacredness of profits.
The political spectrum in the United States and western Europe has been completely swallowed by the ideology of liberalism, placing individuals above all else and seeking to destroy any collectivist notion. Naturally, they see calls for social progress, and advancing into the future as a threat. Moving history forward means a mobilzation of the population. Pushing the people into motion to build a better world represents a threat to “freedom.”
To the Council on Foreign Relations and the New York Times, the top enemy is now “populism.” To the western right “populism” is a mob of inferrior rabble seeking to redistribute their hard earned wealth. To the western left “populism” is a mob of ignorant racists, sexists, and homophobes who will tear down their enlightened, multicultural, non-gender binary, politically correct social order.
With populism as the central enemy, social progress becomes nearly impossible. Instead of presenting a practical vision to move forward, western politics seems to be defined by competing nightmares, with each candidate promising to stave off the apocolyptic scenario associated with his opponent.
China’s Future vs. Fossil Fuels
While western politics has nearly abandoned it, belief in historical progress has been ideologically essential to the forces that have transformed China in the last 100 years. One of the first political acts of Dr. Sun Yat Sen, the founder of the Chinese Nationalist KMT Party was to smash idols in a temple. Dr. Sun considered them to be a symbol of backwardness and ignorance. Belief in social progress is also essential for the Chinese Communists, who overtook the KMT, becoming the ruling party in 1949. Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought put forward a clear trajectory of human history from hunter-gather tribalism, to slavery and feudalism, to capitalism, and eventually socialism and Communism.
In 2018, human progress, specifically in the field of technology, is an urgent economic need for China, not merely an ideological fixation. In order for China to keep rising, technology must advance and new energy must replace fossil fuels. While China is a center of industrial production, with 700 million people already lifted out of poverty and a constantly expanding middle class, the centrally planned economy is still vulnerable due to energy dependence.
As the GDP rises, China expects its oil imports to increase by 7.7% in 2018, with natural gas imports increasing by 13.4%. The Chinese National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) has signed its first long term contract with the United States to import Liquified Natural Gas. Meanwhile, CNPC is set to begin extracting natural gas from Indonesia. China is a central player in the Arctic natural gas projects in Russia.
China’s thirst for oil has vastly transformed the African country of Angola, led by the revolutionary socialist political party known as MPLA. After peace was established in 2002, China began investing in Angola and its oil-centered economy boomed. From 2001 to 2010, the GDP of Angola increased by an average of 11.1% per year. The world is now anticipating the announcement of Angola’s new laws regarding natural gas extraction.
While a number of western oil companies have recently cut back their activities in Angola, China has announced that their strategic partnership with the country will flourish. The Chinese Foreign Minister was quoted as saying: “In these last few years of bilateral cooperation, China has helped Angola rebuild or build more than 20,000 kilometres of roads, built more than 2,800 kilometres of railway line, built more than 100 schools and more than 50 hospitals and thousands of homes.” China has already granted Angola over $60 billion for infrastructure.
The reason that China is determined to protect its maritime sea routes, is because the majority of its petroleum comes via oil tankers. Security in the South China Sea is essential for China’s energy supply, and China’s military forces are dedicated to securing it in order to keep the state-controlled engine of production on the Chinese mainland rolling ahead.
China Needs New Energy
As China rises on the global stage, it is working to shift the energy markets away from fossil fuels, a field dominated by old money and entrenched western power.
If you want to know who rules the world, just think of two words: “Oil Bankers.” The western financial institutions that dominate the world economy can all be traced back to fossil fuels. The House of Rockefeller, tied in with Exxon-Mobil, sucessor of Standard Oil, along with the House of Morgan now exercise their titanic power via an entity called Chase Bank. HSBC Bank is closely tied to British Petroleum. The British banking dynasty known as the Rothschilds is closely tied in with Royal Dutch Shell.
The Chinese Communist Party has worked to make the country a global center of production for cars that do not utilize fossil fuels. In 2011, China listed “New Energy Vehicles” i.e. electric cars, as one of its seven “strategic emerging industries.” The new regulations for 2018 regarding car production in China shocked global financial analysts, with the Wall Street Journal proclaiming: “China has created the world’s largest electric car market by sheer force of will.”
The metal known as Cobalt, which is essential in the production of car batteries is in high demand as a result of China’s moves. The price has increased by 230% since 2015. The African nation of the Congo is booming, as the state-run mining company cooperates with the Chinese Nonferrous Metal Mining Group to extract and refine huge amounts of cobalt in order to feed the growing electric car battery market.
In addition to New Energy Vehicles, China now produces 65% of the world’s solar panels.
The central planners in China have declared research and development to be a top priority. If China wants to keep rising, in a global order centered around old energy monopolies, it must embrace new energy, artificial intelligence, data technology, and every other cutting edge field in human progress.
China’s international allies share its technological enthusiasm. The World Festival of Youth and Students held in Sochi, Russia focused on technological research, railway, air transportation, and computers. Though Russia’s economy is centered around oil and natural gas exports, this has not stopped the other Eurasian Superpower from embracing China’s push for new energy and a new world beyond oil-banker domination.
The richest woman in Africa, Isabel Dos Santos, now echoes China’s enthusiasm for technological progress. She writes on twitter: “In the future cars will have no steering wheel,no fuel tanks,no driver.Its a new world and the future starts today”.
The Rise of Chinese Science Fiction
The drive for new technology now seems to be impacting Chinese popular culture. Amid a new China filled with prosperous urban centers, high speed trains, computer start-ups, and rural villages lifted up from poverty, the population is now embracing science fiction.
An article in China Daily describes a ‘new golden age’ of science fiction emerging on the Chinese mainland, where the genre was previously unheard of. Chinese novelist Han Song, six time winner of the Galaxy Award for fiction, directly linked the rise of Chinese sci-fi to ascension on the global stage saying: “The popularity of science fiction accompanies the rise of a country. If the country continues to rise, this genre will become more popular…When the United States became a world power, science fiction became popular. Before that, the United Kingdom dominated the whole world. That was a golden time for British science fiction. When the Soviets became a power confronting the US, that was a golden time for Soviet science fiction….Even Japan in the 1970s had a lot of very good science fiction at that time. China is now at that junction, maybe.”
Many cultural critics have written about the political implications of the science fiction genre, and how it seems to look forward. It has almost cliche to point to fantasy, with magical superstition and positive re-imagining of fuedalism, as being reactionary and right-wing, with science fiction as a progressive, and leftist alternative. The fact that right-wing Nazi Germany often used gothic and feudal imagery, while science fiction flourished under the rule of Communists in the Soviet Union, is seen as further reinforcing the point.
This analysis is a bit shallow, because Sci-Fi books, movies, and TV programs are far from merely a positive daydream of tomorrow. From its inception, Science Fiction writing has been a place for cutting edge social criticism. In the 1950s, US science fiction marched lockstep with the Cold War, and seemed to fixate on dystopias, obsessing about the danger of authoritarian regimes with high-tech abilities.
According to literary analysts, the first work of science fiction ever published was Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein. The piece told of a scientist who created his own human being in a laboratory, and then saw his creature become a monsterous killer. The scientist discovers that his creation is wreaking terror on the world because he did not provide it with the love and affection human beings naturally long for.
The classic proto-novel of the sci-fi genre seemed to be an analogy for the industrial revolution, and how amid the leaps in production, the new Europe of factories, electric lights, and assembly lines created misery and poverty for the new working class. Civilization was advancing in Europe, but key elements of humanity were being lost amid a drive for profits.
Not Vulgar Futurism, China Favors Rational Progress
One obvious inconsistency with the belief that science fiction is inherently “left-wing” is the way it was embraced by the Fascisti, a right-wing populist movement in Italy. The Italian school of poets and painters known as “The Futurists” which glorified technology and social progress, attached themselves to the Blackshirts and Benito Mussolini even before he seized power.
The poet Filippo Tommaso Martinetti penned “The Futurist Manifesto” describing the ideals of the artistic movement. He wrote “Except in struggle, there is no more beauty. No work without an aggressive character can be a masterpiece. Poetry must be conceived as a violent attack on unknown forces, to reduce and prostrate them before man…We will glorify war—the world’s only hygiene—militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn for woman…. We will destroy the museums, libraries, academies of every kind, will fight moralism, feminism, every opportunistic or utilitarian cowardice.”
The manifesto of Futurism illustrates that the push for modernity and progress among Italian fascists had a particularly bloodthirsty edge to it. The forces of Italian fascism seemed to associate progress with total erasure of the past, violence, and destruction.
Martinetti proclaimed: “The oldest of us is thirty: so we have at least a decade for finishing our work. When we are forty, other younger and stronger men will probably throw us in the wastebasket like useless manuscripts—we want it to happen!”
This artistic and political tendency that could be called “vulgar futurism” most certainly led to destruction and suffering, done in the name of progress. However, the tone of Chinese science fiction is nothing like this, and neither is the careful, human-oriented optimism espoused by the Chinese Communist Party.
In China, museums are not being destroyed, but rather being constructed. The Chinese Communist Party is now working to revive and promote traditional Chinese culture, while at the same time rejecting aspects of it rooted in feudalism. In the autonomous regions of Tibet and Xianjing, the previouisly suppressed traditional religions of Buddhism and Islam are being actively cultivated by the Central Government. Traditional Tibetan monastaries are being funded, and study of China’s long history of civilization is being widely promoted. In 21st Century China, understanding both Confucius and Mao Zedong is considered essential to enacting Xi Jinping’s vision, and building a moderately prosperous socialist country free of poverty.
During the Cultural Revolution, the Gang of Four smashed archeological sites and worked to purge China of its past. After the rise of Deng Xiaoping, the policies and ideology of this period were viewed as a detrimental to the construction of Socialism. The Deng Xiaoping years were full of a new kind of optimism, with talk of reform and openness replacing the bloodthirsty ultra-leftist rhetoric of Lin Biao and Jiang Qing, who accepted poverty as a price for supposed ideological purity.
In the era of Xi Jinping, Communist ideology and talk of socialism is most certainly on the rise. Some of the “red songs” popular during the Cultural Revolution are once again being sung. However, traditional Chinese culture is also being promoted alongside it. Communism and traditional culture are not seen as contradictory, but rather as different aspects of China’s unique identity.
In his remarks at the 95th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party’s founding, Chinese President Xi Jinping remarked: “Prosperity for the people is the primary goal of the Communist Party of China, and it is this goal that distinguishes Marxist parties from other political forces.”
As history marches onward, the Chinese Communist Party seems determined to continue raising people out of poverty, developing technology, and working to build a more peaceful and interconnected global community. Optimism is rising in the eastern world, but it is a rational optimism. As they move forward, the Chinese people will not be forgetting or trying to erase where they came from. They intend to keep advancing in a calculated and scientific way.
Caleb Maupin is a political analyst and activist based in New York. He studied political science at Baldwin-Wallace College and was inspired and involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.