December 9, 2021

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Enter the Serpent – Notes on the Ascendency of China

The many recent books and commentary extolling China’s lightening fast economic climb are right about the nature of China’s spectacular rise and how the outside world is making it happen. A mere 25 years ago China was a backward, poverty-stricken totalitarian waste, and for many just the mention of its name would conjure up images of an iron-fisted police state hiding behind a bamboo curtain concealing an esoteric dominion of tyranny and human desperation. Now, thousands of leading American, Japanese, European, Korean, Taiwanese and Australian companies have and are racing to transfer plant, technology and modern manufacturing expertise to China, and in doing so they are quickly hallowing out the manufacturing bases of their home countries. They are being seduced and drawn into China by the appeal of extremely low labor rates, non-existent labor and environmental regulations, the desire to position themselves within the enormous future potential of China’s consumer markets as well as the oftentimes necessity of just being there in order to be included on the supply chain of one of the many global manufacturing and technology giants that have already made the move to China in a big way.

The Chinese will say about themselves and it’s true, that for every person in China there are actually two people; the outer personality reflecting tailored conformity, and the inner person that is not easily, if ever, exposed. China itself is like that too. Like anything else here, the ‘boom’ cities one sees are to a large extent illusory, with 70% unoccupancy rates in quickly constructed slip-shod buildings meant to impress with architectural flamboyance, but that will typically last for only about 20 years before falling apart. Glitzy government shopping malls and highly visible, neon-illuminated designer boutiques abound and dazzle newcomers, but as I’ve carefully noticed, other than tourists no one ever buys anything. More illusion-it’s mostly for show. China’s big façade of garish modernization serves the purposes of bloating citizens with nationalistic pride and providing them with visible assurance that things are moving forward, while impressing potential foreign investors and naïve journalists who rarely bother to dig beneath the surface. The streets of China’s cities are now clogged with traffic and the number of cars is growing fast, but most of those cars are not necessarily a reflection of the rising living standards their presence might seem to convey, and were not purchased privately. They were actually procured through government purchasing schemes financed by loans from a corrupt national banking system that is known to be insolvent, with new cars being channeled to those with connections. Note: Using deception based on creating illusion is adapted from the ancient, classic text on Chinese military strategy ” Art of War” by Sun Tsu, and is now being applied by China to great advantage in waging economic warfare.

A walk down any street in any of the ‘miracle’ cities of China and many of the people seen can be counted among the burgeoning hordes of the unemployed that have been laid off from thousands of shuttered, inefficient and non-competitive S.O.E.’s, with many more thousands yet to be closed. For the masses of ordinary people who do have jobs, it’s most probably in one of the huge new factory complexes housing labor-intensive industries financed with foreign capital. The massive ‘city within a city’ complexes that are oftentimes surrounded by high walls ringed with razor wire have a severe though functionally modern appearance when viewed from without, but from within are more reminiscent of 19th Century Europe industrial sweatshops. They serve as homes to untold millions of workers toiling through twelve-hour, six or even seven day a week shifts, and who have no rights, no protections, no guarantees, no safety review boards, no benefits in the event of layoff or injury, no dispute resolution panels, no bargaining power, no pensions for those retiring and no mechanism for venting complaints, because no one who needs a job ever dares. The death penalty can be and is doled out for practically any reason deemed deserving, it’s a matter of judicial discretion, and by official admission there are more executions carried out in China every year than in all other nations of the world combined (Amnesty International estimates the actual number of executions to be much higher than the official rate). The existence of huge, sprawling, unmapped and unacknowledged prison camps in China’s interior interning millions that are forced to work in harsh, slave-labor conditions has been well documented. Among their unfortunate numbers are many (a majority?) who simply held a disapproved religious conviction, or who spoke or criticized out of turn. Almost all government support for housing, food, medical care, education, unemployment compensation and other assistance associated with China’s previous, now mostly dismantled communist welfare system has been eliminated, and reports of starvation are now being heard from poor, rural areas. Note: In the past, executions were carried out by single gunshot administered to the back of the head, with a bill for the bullet then presented to the next of kin. Following a trend set in other countries, today things are more humane with a ‘modified’ form of lethal injection being used. It’s actually only semi-lethal to start with, and works by rendering the condemned merely unconscious enabling a waiting medical team to extract generously donated organs for use in transplants while in the ideal state of viability.