The Chinese announced this week that they will not tolerate “hostile outside forces” using religion to stir up trouble in China. Well, I’ve announced several times that I will not tolerate hostile outside forces dumping all those Szechuan King take-out menus on my doorstep, but that hasn’t stopped anything. I should be careful, my problem is not with Chinese people — I’m a more-the-merrier kind of guy when it comes to immigration. And I think Taiwan — a.k.a. Free China — is just peachy. But recent events do remind us that the Red Chinese — ah, what a nostalgic phrase — are the last serious bad guys on the block, and their days are numbered.
Chinese President Jiang Zemin announced this year that smashing religious sects — particularly the Falun Gong — is one of the state’s three top priorities. This was the first time since the 1949 Communist revolution that the Chinese declared that crushing a non-political religious organization was at the top of its to-do list. More recently, the Chinese promoted five Roman Catholic Bishops without first consulting with this organization commonly referred to as “The Catholic Church.” The Pope wants to hold on to his franchise on that sort of thing, so he’s a bit miffed. The Chinese have arrested more than a hundred Christian leaders and designated ten Christian denominations as “illegal sects.” It’s not just Christians, of course. The third-highest ranking Buddhist Lama recently defected to India — hence the “outside forces” rhetoric. The Buddhists remaining, especially in Tibet, are paying a heavy price.
And to be honest, the Chinese are smart to be doing all this. Oh, don’t get me wrong, they’re evil smart. But the Chinese know that the only way to preserve tyranny is to be more tyrannical. They’re doomed to fail eventually, but that doesn’t mean that until then the Chinese leadership can’t live very well. China’s leaders see how Mikhail Gorbachev is the fry-guy at the Moscow McDonalds now. They see how in Germany, ex-Communists, ex-East Germans, are being treated like convicted ex-prison guards released into the Riker’s cafeteria. So, the Chinese leadership figures, “Who needs the grief?” They’re going to hold on for dear life.
The Chinese Politburo is the last place outside American universities, certain corners of the White House, and my girlfriend’s mind where anyone honestly believes they can plan a society by force. But that is what totalitarians do. Many of us forget that in the broad scheme of things totalitarianism is like the occasional rat in a can of Coca Cola, which is to say it is an extremely rare, new and ugly thing in the history of humanity. Totalitarians believe that life should work according to an idea. When people’s behavior starts contradicting the idea they are left with the choice of either scrapping the idea or killing the “defective” people who are making the idea look bad. Totalitarians choose the latter. In the meantime they purge the society of anything that might be a competitor for the party’s affections.
The problem is that nature abhors a vacuum, and so does society. People want to believe in something larger than themselves. They want to belong to something that gives them meaning. In normal countries, people have limitless opportunities to explore spiritually satisfying lifestyles. But in China, anything that commands that sort of devotion is a threat to the Communist Party.
Take the Falun Gong. This is a semi-weird, totally apolitical sect which, in Western society, would be completely unknown except for the occasional flyers you might see on the bulletin board at the local health-food store. They believe in heavy breathing, stretching, and all that yoga type stuff (they also believe that you can fly if you learn how to breathe right, which I think is really cool). The Chinese are trying to crush the Falun Gong because it’s hold-your-breath-and touch-your-toes philosophy is more fulfilling than cheering the latest bulletin that the Hunan province exceeded its quota on manufacturing rubber shower shoes.
This is why the Red Chinese are doomed. If they manage to eradicate the Falun Gong (a huge “if,” considering the ease of communication these days), there will be another group or fad that will take its place. Perhaps it will be bowling. Or maybe it will be martial arts. But it will be something, because people need more than politics.
The danger is that in the meantime the Chinese leadership will kill or brutalize millions in an effort to stave off the inevitable. I can’t stop the delivery men from dropping off menus at my doorstep, and the Communists can’t stop people from wanting something better for themselves. People do what they have to do.
Anyway, as I promised, this will mean more good stuff for the rest of the site. See for example, Scott McLucas’s piece [Link defunct] on Patrick O’Brian, Nick Schulz [Link defunct] on Rocker Vs. Brazile, and I will have a very G-Filey piece in “Magazine Arguments” on Friday, so stay tuned, same bat-channel, same bat-URL.