ROGER CHENN discusses the past 3 weeks in China after a midterm break.
- What is going on at Evergrande?
Xu Jiayin, the Chairman and founder of the embattled Evergrande Group, is under arrest. His second son was arrested alongside him, while his ex-wife and first son were located in Canada and avoided arrest. He joins a growing list of top management and founders of huge Chinese companies that are being detained and interrogated. Along with Xu, the former CEO and CFO, as well as staff of the Wealth management arm of the company, have been placed under arrest. This marks a new chapter in the saga of China’s sinking property sector, as Evergrande still sees soaring debts with reports in July, and subsequently filed for bankruptcy protection in the US in August. Now, Evergrande has received a new deadline of December 4th to come up with a debt restructuring plan or face liquidation, following its failed previous plan to restructure offshore debt in March.
Throughout 2021 and 2022, China’s solution to the spiraling housing market has been to delegate to local governments. During those times, local governments have scraped together a slathering of small-scale bailouts to finish building houses (since property developers in China sell their houses out before even building any part of the building), and cities have rolled back on policies restricting multi-home purchases. The housing market saw a brief respite but was quickly snuffed out by news from Country Garden and Evergrande.
Country Garden, the second largest property developer behind Evergrand, faces the deadline to make up payments for its USD bonds today. In 2022, Country Garden was heralded by the party as the shining example of proper debt management. They similarly battle accusations that the founder and his daughter left the country. We will update on whether or not that has happened at a later date.
However, with cash running out, the central government stepped in to make high-profile arrests, reinforcing the image that the central government will always save the day. Will the arrests signal a change in more active handling of the sector?
- Why do Chinese people hate Israel?/ Why are Chinese people increasingly antisemitic?
Jewish people enjoyed a good reputation in China in the past, originating from the sense of shared suffering at the hands of Fascism in the Second World War. Despite the Nazis’ complicated reputation in China due to this one man, more than 20,000 Jewish people escaped to Shanghai as they faced turmoil in Europe. In my childhood, I heard various stories praising the intelligence, family values, and business savviness of Jewish people from children’s books (now I know this is actually Philosemitism).
So it seems very out of place that as the 2023 conflict began, most Chinese people were on the side of the Palestinians, and the government-censored internet is rife with antisemitic rhetoric, at times actually more extreme than most US far-right views. I won’t show the specific comments, but fair to say I have seen a lot of arguments advocating for Hitler, among others calling for the destruction of Israel. Where did this sudden surge of antisemitism come from?
This is a hugely complicated issue, but like many rhetoric in China this likely stems from official stances on the Israel-Palestinian Conflict. China has long maintained a careful balance between good relations with Israel and the Arabic World, but in 2022, this changed as China headed and brokered significant peace deals between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The other reasoning for this antisemitism is of course that because the US supports Israel, supporting the destruction of Isreal means causing troubles for the US, which is good for China. Ultranationalist Opinion Leaders, such as Hu Xijin, Si Manan, Lu Kewen, and Wuhe Qilin, have been steadily inserting antisemitic rumors into their audiences of young and middle-aged men, and without any counterbalance, it is inevitable that public opinion slips in the direction of xenophobia and antisemitism.
This is a complex and developing issue, so expect to see updates and potentially a full article covering this cultural shift.
- What if Marx meets Confucius?
Confucius and Marx are an unlikely pair to say the least. While both are accomplished thinkers and had been influential on the world stage, the social system they championed couldn’t be farther apart, one championing a caste state of clearly defined classes and another the complete eradication of class and inequality.
Yet a recent documentary series sponsored by the state seeks brings the two together for a great debate to settle the differences between the two great thinkers. The TV show was based on a 1925 short by Guo Moruo, a Chinese author and poet who supported a gradual phasing out of Confucianism versus the consensus of radical reform. But the show was really to propagandize a Xi Jinping talk on “第二个结合(The second combination)” in June 2023. This term essentially means that the Party has a complete grasp of Chinese history and combined it with Marxism to develop Socialism with Chinese Characteristics. Propaganda pieces like documentaries and movies are common, yet one is rarely pumped out so fast and put on the air of a TV channel that is usually known for fun reality shows.
You can watch the masterpiece here, but if you don’t like sitting through the 5 excruciatingly long episodes, I will set the scene for you. Featuring actors playing Confucius and AI deep fake Marx, the pair sat down with three professors to debate each other over prompts like “Is the Europe-based Marxism destined to fit China’s unique culture?”, accompanied by students in completely white uniforms who clap in complete unison. Throughout the debate, historical figures enhanced by similarly terrible deep fakes like Hu Shi, a Chinese thinker, and even Mao Zedong interject and voice their complete agreements with everybody on stage. The funniest part is whenever AI Marx or Confucius might potentially disagree, the opposing party stops the conversation any further by saying, “We have some differences, but we all want the best for the people.”
All jokes aside, the show highlights the state’s deeper thrust to control the populace further and dominate the conversation on where China is headed. Critics point out that in the past, rebellions or revolutions usually started by criticizing or shunning Confucianism. Yet, once the new regime loses appeal to the populace, they start championing Confucianism again to maintain legitimacy. This could very well be that next stage of waning influence, but who knows? Maybe this show will rocket to #1 in the charts as everyone in the party or state companies is organized to watch them, just like how it happened for many patriotic movies. But alas, it will never beat the true masterpiece in my heart, The Story of Leifeng.