China’s White Paper Protests Are A Preview Of The ‘Soft Despotism’ Coming For America

The West may be tempted to think the recent angry and seemingly fearless protests across dozens of China’s major cities over the prolonged, brutal lockdowns might pose a real threat to dictator Xi Jinping’s tyrannical rule.

Chinese political commentators living overseas who harbor a deep hatred of the murderous party and its dictatorship share the same, irresistible temptation. For the Chinese who desire freedom, how could they not hate the evil CCP and hope for its demise?

But I do not share the temptation.

One must understand the nature of the protests, unclouded by wishful thinking, to make a reasonable judgment of what has happened in China and what will happen in the future.

For the first time, slogans like “Down with the CCP!” and “Down with Xi Jinping!” were chanted. The protests, however, were not political movements but venting anger. They lacked specific political objectives and demands that can only be answered by changes of a political nature.

Perhaps the biggest deficiency was and is the lack of support from ‘the masses.’ Historically, the masses have been the only force that stood a chance of making a political impact. Sadly, the Chinese masses of today are no longer up to the job, having been tamed for decades by the CCP.

The Chinese masses refer to themselves as: 老百姓 (lao bai xing). The concept of lao bai xing denotes a unique political being. They are a ruled class in a caste society who voluntarily submit to the ruling class, i.e., the CCP. 

Who are those people?

They are the 950 million Chinese who live on a monthly income of 2,000 yuan ($300), according to the National Statistical Bureau’s 2020 yearbook. They are also the 200 million migrant workers, largely a rural populace, whose life goal is to return to the countryside to build a nice house after they have earned enough money from working in cities.

They are poorly educated and financially limited. They are not technically savvy and therefore bereft of the capability of climbing over the Great Firewall, accessing information that will help them resist state propaganda. They certainly have no knowledge of Twitter and the other apps used outside of China.

These people, whom I know very well because I lived among them, know very little about the real world. Nor do they care to know. People from my hometown cooperatively locked themselves at home simply because the government asked them to do so.

Do not assume that middle-class Chinese desire freedom or democracy.

Freedom is too costly — it requires tremendous sacrifice to pursue, as evidenced in Hong Kongers’ defiance against the CCP tyranny and brutality in 2019.

Democracy is also costly — it demands no small amount of time and effort to participate in common affairs or deliberation in the public sphere. On most occasions, the middle class is unconcerned with political deprivation so long as their purchasing power is guaranteed and increased.

What they have grown accustomed to is despotism — or as Tocqueville writes, a “soft despotism” that provides them with stability and security.

Modern American liberals are no different.

True, it seems that some college students are awakening from their apathy toward politics. They do cry out for “freedom” and “democracy” this time, but those slogans carry very little substance, if any. The freedom they seek is essentially a license to do what they want, similar to how American millennials and Gen Zs understand the word.

The freedom the American founding fathers fought so hard for, on the other hand, is a completely different species: it is self-rule and self-reliance.

Freedom of that nature has never been in the Chinese nation’s DNA.

White Paper ‘Revolution’? 

At the peak of the protests, a resident living in Chengdu, China, asked me if China should anticipate an upheaval in the near future. “No,” I said.

The white paper protests were by nature different from the Tiananmen Square protests. 

Students of the 1980s had been very political proceeding the protests. The 1980s were the only period of time through the CCP’s reign when China was relatively free. Professors — mostly American educated — were allowed to teach separation of power, rule of law, and freedom of speech. Students enthusiastically read Western political philosophies and debated with each other on campus. They were idealists who wanted to bring liberty to China. 

Today’s Chinese college students, born at the dawn of the 21st century and growing up in a world of comfort, entertainment and various consumptions, are materialistic and would love to migrate to Western countries if they can. They are not rebels, let alone revolutionaries. 

Since the Tiananmen massacre, there have been dispersed protests throughout the past three decades. Chinese individuals or certain groups such as Falun Gong practitioners took their oppositions to the streets. 

Their actions were received with imprisonment and torture. Their voices echoed into a void — the other Chinese, whose self-interests were not affected, stood aloof.

This time is different, though. All Chinese were in grave peril of their lives and livelihoods. It’s predictable some urban residents were emboldened to challenge state power at a magnitude not seen since 1989. But one must ask if the repression is imposed only upon certain groups, would there still be nationwide protests?

That question was in fact answered a long time ago.

When millions of Uyghurs were corralled within labor camps for years, the Han Chinese were either apathetic toward the suffering of a people whom many of them regarded as inferior or they supported the government for taking necessary action on the alleged Uyghur ‘separatists’ and ‘terrorists.’

In 2019, when the police brutally attacked Hong Kong protestors, the mainland Chinese — including many of the white paper protestors — believed the subjugation was justified. Hong Kongers’ alleged secessionist attempt must be stamped down. 

When circumstances change, the mainland Chinese can swiftly switch into jingoistic nationalists. 

I wonder how many Chinese Gen Zs or millennials have knowledge of the dark history of CCP’s heinous crimes committed against its people?

Here is one example, perhaps lesser known to the West than the Culture Revolution and the Tiananmen Massacre. 

During the period of the first Land Reform (1947-1953), i.e., the nationalization of the land, an estimated eight million ‘landlords’ and their families were killed. Those so-called ‘landlords,’ in fact, were free peasants who owned small pieces of land.

There never was a peasant-landlord class system in China similar to the one that existed in feudal Europe. Rural China consisted of a vast number of farming villages where free peasants farmed their own land, occasionally with the help of hired laborers.

Taking away the land was not enough. The “oppressed” class must be taught to hate the “oppressing” class. The communists turned the masses into an enraged mob who shot, strangled, dismembered, and buried alive the other Chinese.

Each killing was designed to be a spectacle: A rally was gathered, adults and children were asked to witness the condemnation, torture, and final execution.

The sheer savagery and wickedness exhibited in those rallies are what make it difficult for me to finish researching the subject.

Within three years of the founding of the PRC, a cohesive social class, viewed as the gentry of villages, which united and regulated rural society since the Han dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD), had simply ceased to exist.

Gone with the demise of the gentry class, were morals developed through thousands of years.

I do not think Gen Zs and millennials have adequate knowledge of the long list of CCP’s crimes. If they had, we wouldn’t see the last line printed on some white papers that reads, “we love freedom, and we also love the Party and the country.”

It seems they want to appeal to the party’s tender feelings that, unfortunately, only exist in their imaginations.

A party that was able to kill the youth with tanks and machine guns is a butcher who has no feelings.

The Myth of Freedom

White paper protestors invoked free speech as a “human right” in support of their cause. I do not think free speech is a human right. Human rights are what we are entitled to merely by virtue of being human. All liberties are political rights.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution takes roots in a charter named Magna Carta that was signed in 1215 by England’s King John and rebellious land barons. Future legislation would extend those rights, the Petition of Right (1628) and Habeas Corpus Act (1679).

In 1776, American colonists invoked the Magna Carta to justify their rebellion against the English crown who usurped the (political) rights they inherited as Englishmen.

I do not regard the American founding fathers as revolutionaries in the sense of the French Revolution overthrowing the ancien régime. They were conservatives who valued their distinctive English way of living so much that they were willing to sacrifice their lives to preserve it.

Due to this strong commitment to freedom (not license), America was founded on one principle: to protect individuals from the tyranny of government.

Today’s America, however, is coming very close to the end of self-rule and self-reliance.

Freedom has never existed in China throughout its four-millenia history. There were rebellions, but no rebels signed a covenant with the ruler in exchange for rights. They simply became the successors. The cycle goes on.

Will there be rebels in the future fighting the CCP tyrant at all costs, in spite of all terror, in exchange for political rights? My answer is no.

The generation of idealists will never return in an age of consumerism. Humans have become soft, wanting to be taken care of and provided for, regardless what type of regimes in which they live.

American liberals are no different.

Tocqueville’s foresight has now become reality. How can one deny the fact that Americans are living in what Tocqueville calls “tutelary despotism?”

“…I see an innumerable crowd of similar and equal men who spin around restlessly, in order to gain small and vulgar pleasures with which they fill their souls … Above those men arises an immense and tutelary power that alone takes charge of assuring their enjoyment and of looking after their fate … After having thus taken each individual one by one into its powerful hands, and having molded him as it pleases, the sovereign power extends its arms over the entire society … and finally it reduces each nation to being nothing more than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”

Freedom is precarious. I hope Americans bear in mind the words of President Reagan:

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”

If there is one thing American college students can learn from what is happening to their Chinese counterparts, it is this: Do not take America for granted.

Habi Zhang is a doctoral student in political science. Her work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Law & Liberty, The American Mind, The Imaginative Conservative, and more.

The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire. 

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