In his biography of Mao Zedong, Philip Short attempts to find some ideological light between the three most brutal dictators of the twentieth century. “Stalin”, he writes, “cared about what his subjects did; Hitler about who they were. Mao cared about what they thought.”
The emphasis on thought, whilst a detail, given the direct link between thought, action and being, is interesting. Indeed, a recent report tells us of an official Chinese “professional ethics and law” textbook in which Jesus throws the first stone.
Initially, and in line with the gospel, Chinese Jesus says: “‘Let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone.’ Hearing this, they slipped away one by one.” However, the hapless adulteress thinking she had been spared, is in fact cruelly murdered seconds later by Jesus.
With the crowds gone and standing by a corpse, he seeks to self-justify his actions: “‘I, too, am a sinner. But if the law could only be executed by men without blemish, the law would be dead.’”
The true story is, of course, rather different. In John’s gospel, an adulteress is presented to Jesus. “The crowd wanted to stone the woman to death as per their law. He says, ‘Let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone.’ Hearing this, they slipped away one by one.”
“As the crowd disappears, he asks ‘Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee?’ She said, ‘No man, Lord.’ And Jesus said unto her, ‘Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.’”
The Chinese textbook version reveals something about the Chinese Communist party leadership’s state of mind. But, I would suggest, also that system’s growing influence on the western world.
Chinese Jesus acts like a pliant party apparatchik
Chinese Jesus acts like a pliant party apparatchik. By explicitly defending double standards, he becomes recognisable to us all. He becomes the archetypal climate expert who parades on our TV screens to preach empty pieties to the multitudes only to fly in a private jet to an exclusive resort. His pronouncements and actions stand in direct contradiction to one another, but he submits to the emperor’s whimsical law.
Chinese students reading this must be left scratching their heads, wondering why they should know about this unremarkable and duplicitous small-time enforcer.
The textbook is an official document and as such presumably reflects the generally agreed position of the Chinese Communist Party.
Choosing to re-write a well-known passage in the most read book in the history of mankind tells us that something is up. And not just that in China it all starts and ends with officialdom; that there is no higher power; and that Truth is what officials say it is, even when it is a lie.
In 2006, Communist party religious affairs mandarins discussed the Chinese Protestant population. They reckoned it then had 110 million adherents. With the Chinese Christian population growing at an estimated annual rate of between 6 per cent and 8 per cent, it could mean a Christian population of 245 million by 2030.
China could be the largest majority Christian country in the world by mid-century
Ron Boyd-Macmillan, a professor of practical theology in Pakistan, is more bullish, suggesting that if Chinese Christianity “grows at the rate that it has done since the 1980s, and that’s about between 7 and 8 per cent a year, then you’re looking at a group of people that will be 300 million strong, nearly, by 2030” – closing in on the current size of the USA’s population.
This is in the context of a total Chinese population that – thanks to the Communist Party’s thirty year anti-family crusade – could, were current trends to continue, fall from 1.4 billion to 560 million by the end of the century. If so, China could be the largest majority Christian country in the world by mid-century. Looked at it through the lens of Communist theorists, that spells trouble.
The battle for thought control, it seems, has unintended consequences. When officials lie and try to impose the lie, people know. In time, they peel away from the authorised line. Consequently, the main options for the Communist party are to persecute as before, be replaced or assimilate.
The assimilation option would require reading and understanding the texts they found a need to rewrite. “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” is a call for freedom of conscience, not revolution. In other words, no earthly powers should try to control the thoughts of their subjects. Such attempts engender the beginnings of coercive processes that rob man of his own free will and society of peace.
However, another route is to export the Chinese Communist party’s methods, which we have been witnessing since China’s assent to the WTO two decades ago. It coincides with attempts by both the private and public sector across much of the western world to increasingly control thoughts.
Gone are Tibet and Hong Kong’s Hollywood supporters
The path of externalisation of Maoist thought leads down two paths, which may, through their meanderings, cross over time: firstly, nationalism and the directing of popular resentments away from the CCP towards neighbours near and far; and secondly, the global normalisation of China’s governance methodology. The agencies of multinationals, supranational agencies and Western politicians suffering from Beijing envy, help in the latter.
With large internal markets, China can, and does, demand of large multinationals that they be polite. Many, though, have chosen obsequiousness. Starbucks, Apple and Nike, among others, earn between a fifth and a quarter of all their revenues from China.
As The Economist reported from Davos in 2017, “the fawning reception given to China’s leader, Xi Jinping … was extraordinary… Mr Xi said little that was new, but the audience lapped it up anyway”.
Gone are Tibet’s Hollywood supporters. In fact, just showing support for Hong Kong citizens during a pro-democracy demonstration “could harm our company in some form” and “would be a big mistake,” said Bob Iger, Disney’s chairman in 2019.
Likewise, erstwhile American Democratic presidential hopeful, Michael Bloomberg, allowed himself to assure US television audiences that President “Xi is not a dictator”, adding “he serves a constituency.”
Maybe he remembered how his Beijing offices were raided in 2012 and his news websites blocked for days after publishing a story about the finances of the family of the then vice president, Xi Jinping.
Many of the West’s leaders, be they in big tech, supranational agencies or elected politicians, believe that all that glitters is gold. To them, the Beijing model of enlightened autocracy is seductive. It promises power and no accountability.
And with the speed of technological advance, they feel that Mao’s focus on thought and speech control is tantalisingly within their grasp. Like Chinese Jesus, they believe that there is no higher truth than officialdom – even when the official version is a lie.
In the epilogue of his biography of Mao, Philip Short writes that he “never entirely lost his belief in the efficacy of thought reform”. Mao was wrong on that and much else besides. The real danger to our world is not the virus from Wuhan; it is Maoist thought exported by a failing Communist party across the world and applied rigorously through institutions, without heed to our cultural inheritance, to rob our next generation of their right to make their own minds up.
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