We hold these truths to be self-evident, that
“. . . the party in its multifarious forms has continued to create a particular version of social and political reality that subverts others. It has used (or, rather, enjoyed the political dividends of, since the party is not necessarily a conscious actor in this process) a seeming ‘democracy of images’ to reinforce its own primacy. It backs up its image as a responsible ruling government with a range of rhetorical and representational devices that prey on popular culture, language, and images – just as it did, for example, during the Yan’an period. Party adcult actively limits the spheres it attempts to appropriate, helps transform them into commercial or media clichés, and therefore desensitizes the public to their power” (252). Are there any examples to support these assertions?
Has the CCP used every trick in its (little red) book, including “party-ordained ideological conditioning” (238) and “party pedagogical advertising” (239) to subordinate “the sovereign rights of the individual” to “group economic rights” (238)? Has party censorship lead to widespread “cultural isolation” (239)? Are the party and state enterprises nefarious wolves disguised as sheep that cynically allowed “economic reforms” and “conspicuous consumption” to resuscitate the nation at the expense of “political reform”? Dr. Barmé obviously thinks so, but he provides scant evidence to support his sweeping assertions, especially with respect to “corporate communism” (251-254). He refers to “ideological practices” (251), “promotional positioning” (251), and “promotional tactics” (251), but fails to provide examples to support his claims.
As Dr. Barmé points out, “the imperative toward self-transformation has a venerable history in China” (240), and we are witnessing first-hand the “commercialization of [China’s] spirit” (241). But he could not have imagined, writing in 1999, the extraordinary impact of economic reforms on Chinese society. It would be interesting to learn his views today, when per capita GDP in China is 19% of per capita GDP in the United States, compared with only 4% when economic reform began just over 30 years ago. Never in the course of human history have a larger number of people gained more wealth in such a short time. Today, successful Chinese urbanites behind the wheel of their new BMWs, waiting in the drive-thru lane of McDonald’s, as well as lower income farmers and peasants hoping to build a new home and to see their children attend university, probably are more concerned with lifestyle issues rather than “the sovereign rights of the individual” (238).
China’s problems (corrupt officials, urban rich v. rural poor, environmental degradation, and increasing labor unrest, to name a few) should not be swept beneath a rug of consumer zeal, but we cannot deny that there is more choice in China now than there used to be. The Chinese economy is booming, and there are many more options available to people with some ambition to succeed. And where there is choice, there often is change for the better, and that includes the possibility of political change. We are witnessing China’s social transition from a communist country toward a consumer society, which may eventually lead to a transition from a consumer society to a more egalitarian and democratic country.