By Boštjan Videmšek, Shanghai, Xian, Beijing
We were standing in the memorial room of the elite University for political studies. For the past few decades, this illustrious institution served as a breeding ground for top party bigwigs. A small frail student with jerky motions, a waxy complexion and a Hitleresque parting in his hair was telling us a lot about the university’s glorious past and even more about China’s invincible future. The student was nineteen. Even though he looked completely lost – in time and space as well as in translation – he was positively smouldering with conviction.
The student’s terrifying earnestness, along with the image of his exhausted colleagues staring into their computer screens at the university’s library, offered a fascinating contrast to what one could see in the streets of downtown Beijing. In the past decade, these streets have been turned into a battlefield for the sort of architects who specialise in skyscrapers, classy shopping centres and other such palaces of robotised communication. In China, shopping has been transformed into a very basic human need. Both for the locals and for the visitors, it has been rendered all but obligatory.
But what happened to communism?
Perhaps we should simply call it something else – global-commo-capitalism, for example. Whatever it is, we at the very least need to name it correctly: after all, it seems it is what the future holds in store for all of us. Here and now. Or, if I may borrow the official slogan of Shanghai, the trade capital of the Universe: The Future Is Now.
The Dictatorship of Choice
I asked Li Jiahua, the university’s deputy dean, how his school, the nursery for the hardliner’s hardliner, managed to adapt to the radical socio-economical change of the last twenty years. »Oh,« he replied: »We simply went with the flow. We have indeed been facing countless challenges. The ever-increasing progress of our country posed many questions. So we opened courses in economics and financial management, though the brunt of our curriculum still consists of social and political studies. We discovered much of our technology was outdated. We had to answer many questions as we went along. Yet I would like to stress that moral education still represents the very core of our institution.«
In the last twenty years, the basic profile of the students at this ideological nest underwent a rapid change, too. What used to be the submissive party-liner with a fetishistic bent for military uniforms is now the digital consumer type entirely subservient to the dictatorship of choice. The army shirts have been exchanged for designer clothes, or at least the ‘original fakes’ of the world’s most prestigious brands. The bitter redguard face has been replaced by the cosmetic smile. Love more! is one of the jingles being peddled in Beijing by one of Europe’s most respected automobile makers. The behemoth called China may have been dormant for centuries, but now it is turning into every free-market guru’s wet dream.
The mood in Beijing is best described by evoking some classic futuristic movie. Think Blade Runner spliced with The Minority Report. Swarms of young people are chaotically racing in the streets, always on the go, always in a hurry. This is only to be expected. While they are growing up, time here in China is ticking by faster than anywhere else in the world. As you negotiate your way through the swarms, you quickly find out about the only remaining rule of the pedestrian flows in Beijing: ‘ME FIRST!’ Yet even with all this perilous commotion, the young always find the time to glance at their cameras, their laptops and post-modern mobile phones – a formidable army of gizmos dispassionately recording every moment, every face and every act in this consumerist hell. With an intelligence corps of this magnitude, why would the State even need security services? In their hectic surgings, the streets of China’s richest cities are now more uniform than they had ever been. There are also many more slogans – only this time around they are phrased in the aggressive lingo of the advertising agencies, designed to plow straight through your frontal lobe and start whispering about unmet needs.
Love more! indeed.
The Chinese economy has been growing for the past thirty years. The obstacles fell by the roadside one by one. The period of growth has been so turbo-charged that, as it stands, only the United States are still in front of the rising kraken – and even the US can’t last that much longer. For thirty years, the genie of economic growth uprooted everything in its path, deftly taking advantage of all the perks of totalitarian communism. The party bosses have gotten used to posing as enlightened absolutists, but they have long become merely corporate executives in that sun-eclipsing mother of all corporations called The People’s Republic of China. Leer más