Time flies, and so will I in about six weeks, back to San Francisco, even as the U.S.A. becomes always more repulsive as a nation — one good reason among several for returning. Not that any one of us can do much about it; but that every one of us can do something. And we'd better.
It would be pleasant to report that being here in Italy has been a big relief from the rightward drift of the U.S.A. — except that it hasn't been. Berlusconi's Italy is being made over in the image of Bush's U.S.A. just as fast as Berlusconi can push — with little more resistance from the politicians called "left of center" here than from the "liberal" Democrats in the U.S.A.
Here, as there, all too many are more concerned with what they're going to buy next (and how to pay for it) than they are with how to make peace, how to make the air clean again, how to see to it that education and health and old age will be taken care of decently. Indeed, here these all were, relatively speaking, serious issues and were dealt with here in the past — but they won't be in the future.
I have been happily busy reading and writing and teaching and giving some talks; as usual. But unusually, this year, I have been involved in a couple of conferences (where I was a panelist) concerning China, where the principal was a man named Wang Hui. He has been a visiting prof at the University of Bologna for the past few months, and will return to China soon. He has written a remarkable book (published, remarkably, by Harvard University Press) and is himself remarkable and a very nice guy, in all ways. I have just finished writing a review of his book. (It is now on the web site.)
IWhat Wang Hui has to say about the recent past, the present, and the future of China is not only interesting, but important for all of us to know. Why? Because, within two or three decades it is likely that China's economy will be the most important in the world — whether or not it has by then become the largest. Its economy already produces more than Britain or Italy, and is expanding at more than 9 percent annually — while, after the U.S.A., Japan (#2) and Germany (#3) are running just about flat or worse. As recently as 10 years ago, nobody thought that would be so. And, as I discuss in the essay, that it is a capitalist economy run by a Communist Party has all kinds of meanings — good and bad.
What is most important about Wang Hui's analysis is its starting point, the Tiananmen Square upheaval of 1989. It was called a student protest. But Wang Hui, who was 30 at the time, shows that it was much more than a "student" movement, and that its crushing (hundreds or maybe thousands killed, and thousands still in prison) was not merely the defeat of some students, but a turning point in Chinese history.
China is now the most rapidly developing capitalist economy in the world and its government the most powerful and stable. It entered on that seemingly bizarre path in 1984. Already 5 years later, its harmful consequences provoked the Tiananmen uprising — not only by students (as noted above), but by those representing all those harmed by or opposed to the "reform" of the 80s. Those reforms, guided, encouraged, and controlled by the Communist State, for all but a small portion of highly-skilled workers, led to a redistribution upward of wealth and income, facilitated by the transfer and privatization of resources previously held by the State. The results included a predictable and great increase in corruption, a sharpening and deepening of economic and social inequalities, and a decline and a precipitous decline in once substantial social benefits.
Now China is a prime player in the U.S.- instituted globalization process, with all of its positive and negative consequences being played out there in China in quantitative and qualitative ways considerably more than elsewhere.
All that could be seen as a kind of comedy, given that the presumed ideological differences between the U.S.A. and China. But there has been nothing funny about it, nor will there be in the future. China is, after all, a nation of 1.3 billion people; a nation whose economy, uniquely in terms of both speed and strength, has evolved from being dominated by outsiders to one that will itself be dominant of those outsiders. Item: In a very few years, China has changed from being noted as the place to get the cheapest labor for outsourcers from the "Group of Seven" to being one whose production — whether of computers, shoes, whatever — is now done in Chinese-owned facilities. And it is becoming so at an always more rapid rate. China still has and will continue to have the cheapest labor ($1 a day), as the cities fill up with internal immigrants from the increasingly impoverished peasantry (which numbers more than 600 million). And much more remains to be said (see the review).
Wang Hui is one of those who will very much have his say in that process, as long as he can. As I note in the review, he strikes me as one who nicely fits the apt distinction made long ago by Paul Baran, that between the "radical intellectual" and the "intellectual radical." Wang Hui is very much an intellectual radical now. He is the editor of the leading "intellectual and cultural journal" of China (with an estimated 200,000 readers). But in 1989 he was a "radical intellectual." Then, for his part in Tiananmen Square, he was exiled to one of the poorest villages in China, for a year. His first act upon release was to write a book about the life of the people in that village. That did it. His writings relentlessly center in upon the eternal aims of socialism, the need for equality and freedom as the main goals of society.
In the conferences noted earlier, he and I moved toward becoming friends. Last evening he came to dinner, where he and Anna and his friend could come to know each other. After taking into consideration all the differences between the two men, I have come to see Wang Hui as the Noam Chomsky of China. China needs him and he is on his way back there, for he needs China.
I'll be on my way back to San Francisco in about six weeks. I look forward to our classes, which begin on the first Monday in April.
Meanwhile, hang in there.
(Ed. Note: Classes begin April 4 in San Francisco. The 2005 class schedule is available at http://www.dougdowd.org/2005/sked2005.html .)