If I were writing a book to make money, I’d be writing a book about all the things wrong about China. I’d make predictions about the fall of government; it would be picked up by the “think tanks” promoted in all the western media and possibly nominated for prizes. What’s really surprising is that when we consider all the prizes, the awards and the funds that have been directed towards making China look like it’s on the verge of collapse, people keep writing and people keep buying these books but China keeps defying them by refusing to collapse at all, in fact, it just keeps on growing and improving.
Perhaps think tanks promote these books and people buy them out of a sense of hope it will come true, perhaps it’s out of a sense of “schadenfreude” which is a great German word meaning to take pleasure in the misfortune of others.
Taking pleasure in the misfortune of China is something only possible through books. A new book, “China’s Coup” hit the shelves recently. Written by a man considered by some to be an expert on China because he had some experience as a diplomat in the British Embassy in the 1970s. What critics need to realise is that the writer left the Diplomatic Corps a generation ago and has spent much of the time since then working as an economist in Africa, South America and a few European countries. His experience of China is of a China that would be recognised by Deng Xiao Ping but it is a completely different China to the one we live in under Xi Jin Ping. The Amazon blurb quite positively points out that: “His gripping, persuasive account of how Chinese leaders plot and plan away from the public eye is unique in published literature”. Indeed, it’s uniqueness rests in the fact that it’s a work of fiction from the imagination of the author, there are absolutely no insights or connections to people who do have insights into the machinations of the current Communist Party of China apparent in any of the interviews or reviews of the book.
The Writer, Roger Garside, served in Hong Kong during the 1960s. He was a junior office in the Gurkha Regiment whose job it was to help protect Britain’s colonial interests. He never entered China during this era, simply looked through binoculars from the New Territories at what we now know as Shenzhen.
Written as a work of fiction, this has been taken up by the “anti-China” crowd as a work of political prediction. I’ve watched several interviews with the author since his book was launched and he seems to be rather jocular in enjoying this new found moment of fame. He seems, in fact, quite confused by it all, not sure what all the fuss is about. Despite this being a fictional account, in which the current leadership of China is used to present the narrative that a coup in China is imminent, the book now seems to be gaining traction as a political prediction.
What Garside probably didn’t realise was that his work of fiction would be seized upon by many in the West as a beacon of hope. In the last few weeks, he’s been invited to appear on talk shows and even guested for university video conferences. Now it seems, he’s been identified as a very useful tool by the anti-China lobby and has himself, spotted an opportunity to make a decent killing on his 26-page book. From composing a work of fiction based around historically accurate characters, he’s now actively calling upon the US and her allies to act in a tougher way to help those inside China who “want to free China” to do so, presumably in order that he can be seen as the prophet who finally got the “collapse of China” right.
Garside is considered an “expert” because he has written on China before, his book “Coming Alive: China after Mao” was published in 1981, this book is not available on Amazon and has one only review on Goodreads.com. It’s not possible to find how many copies this book sold but it’s quite telling that there is not a single reference found anywhere online where this book, supposedly written by an expert on China and listed as political science book by the British Library, has been cited in any published article on China.
Garside doesn’t feature at all on any search in Google, or any of the other main search engines, with exception of recent appearances due to this publication, he has a twitter account but no Wikipedia page, unusual for a published author.
Without contacts and connections in the political elite of China, it’s impossible for any of us to predict what goes on behind the scenes. What we can see though is that when we walk the streets and talk to ordinary Chinese people, a constant shifting of satisfaction levels, always in an upward direction and this has been borne out by academic studies. Remembering when President Xi came to power, there were definitely rumblings about him being a strongman and there would be changes. Some wealthy people were in fear but generally, people in China are pragmatic and would wait and see. Well, it wasn’t long before we saw what was really happening.
Corruption has been all but stamped out. Excessive spending by government officials has been eliminated. Places where minor officials had carved out power bases were dismantled and proper administration was installed. China’s GDP’s growth had slowed for sure but when we consider the starting point that was an inevitability. Notwithstanding the slow-down in growth, China is still growing faster than the rest of the economically developed world (OECD) and is poised to become the world’s largest economy in just a few years. Furthermore, when Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) is taken into account, China is already there — this means that the people have more of their money to spend on things.
The most important indicator though is not statistical, it’s not economic theory. It’s what we notice when we talk a walk through the streets in China. It’s what we see when we visit remote regions of China and compare them with the last time, when we were there a few years before — it’s the improvements. Those of us living in China don’t see signs of negativity, we see increases in the size of hospitals, we see universities opened where there weren’t universities before, education has become less profitable but more widely available with 54% of students entering universities. People living in poverty have been lifted out and given opportunities to build their own futures. Villages in remote regions suddenly have access with bridges and sealed roads going in to them. The military budget wasn’t increased but spending was trimmed and better directed, where the military owned property that wasn’t related to their real job of protecting the people, the property was sold and the income used to improve military capacity. And in very recent times we’ve seen how the Covid crisis was handled. After the initial outbreak was discovered in China, China was the first to identify and share the gene sequence with the world. China came up with a working vaccine and as well as vaccinating almost 80% of its massive population (at the time of writing it is over 78% fully vaccinated), China shared vaccines with developing nations as well as exported them to many countries throughout the world. And, most recently under President Xi’s leadership, Chinese space exploration has landed on the dark side of the moon and returned with samples, landed a working rover on Mars and is sending back information including video and sound bites and has sent three men to its own space station and returned them after three months.
These actions are hardly the actions of a weak government under weak leadership. They demonstrate a strength of governance that most countries in the world would kill for — in fact, some of them actually do!
More than 20 years ago, an American Chinese in the United States wrote a book called the coming collapse of China. That man, Gordon Chang, is still appearing on far-right news media outlets and predicting the coming collapse of the Chinese government. Maybe Garside will admit that his book was a work of fiction and a few people got carried away or perhaps, just like Chang, he will spend the next few months, if not years, justifying why it was that he got it so wrong and how his predicted collapse is just around the corner. Wait for it, wait for it… Any day now!