Life is full of surprises and a big one came at us just the other day – from a Chinese guy.
Not just any Chinese guy, but an ardent Chinese nationalist who is First Secretary of the Central Secretariat of the Communist Party of China. Now wait a minute — how can a Chinese nationalist be atop a Chinese communist party? Well, in today’s topsy-turvy world, China, with the ruling Communist party, has a robustly capitalist economy on an unabashedly China-first mission. That is nationalism on steroids. From an economic perspective, it is winning the day. Long gone is the crippling Communist Manifesto claptrap about abolition of private property that defined the old Communist bloc.
But back to the Chinese guy. Who is he? Wang Huning. Never heard of him? You have now. Thanks to a brilliant analytical essay by N.S. Lyons, “The Triumph and Terror of Wang Huning,” we can learn much from Dr Wang’s insight.
Born in 1955, at university he proved himself an intellectual heavyweight. He was writing books in academia until recruited by the government, where he rocketed through the ranks to hold various government positions, including Director of the Central Guidance Commission on Building Spiritual Civilization. Yes, there is such a commission.
Wang is one of the most influential people in China, though very much behind the scenes. The ideas man behind the “China Dream,” the Belt and Road Initiative and anti-corruption campaigns, he is also credited with “Xi Jinping Thought,” which is now the impetus for a campaign to increase Chinese fertility.
Wang is not just pro-China. He is pro-Chinese. He doesn’t want his people to wither away. He’s a fan of Confucian Civic Virtue, which stresses conscientious citizenship, a major part of which is marriage and family. As Confucius actually did say: “It is most unfilial to have no offspring.” Wang is behind the current surge of interest in Confucius, which serves the dual purposes of highlighting Chinese heritage while providing a homegrown philosophical alternative to Western-style commercialism.
There is no doubt that Wang cares very much for hispeople. But he is also an astute observer of others. In 1988 he was a visiting scholar in the United States. While traversing the erstwhile land of the free and home of the brave, he visited 20 universities and was alarmed by what he observed.
He was so distressed by America’s nascent nihilism that he wrote a book about it, America Against America, published in 1991. He realized that the moral and cultural relativism prevalent in American universities was leading to a wholesale abandonment of traditional Western-centric ideals in favor of PC post-modernism.
Wang believed that such a pernicious process was bringing on a collapse of moral values in America, where “There is no value system in society that can be used as a value system to guide individual decisions, and university education does not provide such a system.”
Now step back for a minute and consider: In 1988 a young scholar from China, a poor country at the time, finds himself in a strange (and quite wealthy) land for a few months and figures out in short order that the US higher-education industry is essentially a fraud, severely undermining the social fabric of American society. Wow. Many Americans, even those not indoctrinated by Marxist professors, never figure that out.
Wang also saw the fallacy of believing that all can be fixed if almighty government throws money at it. The American political class has long believed that with enough money we can stop crime, make everyone equal (equal opportunity is passé), and get everyone “educated.” It doesn’t work. So the remedy is to throw even more money at it. Recall Albert Einstein’s words: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Mr Wang:
In the face of intricate social and cultural problems, Americans tend to think of them as scientific and technological problems. Or is it a matter of money (which is a result of the spirit of commercialism) rather than a matter of people or subjectivity.
A matter of people. Hmm… the good Wang Huning may be on to something!
And something else he observed about America (translation):
The average family must let their children become independent early and cannot afford to provide for them, so they are unable to love [provide]. In turn, children love their parents, but parents cannot depend on their children for their old age, and children cannot afford it, so children cannot love [provide] either. This relationship has far-reaching consequences for society. Parents have to rely on the social security or welfare system in their old age, but not on their children.
Aristotle said more than 2,000 years ago that the family is the cell of society. In the years since the war, the cell, the family, has disintegrated in the United States.
Spot on! Mr Wang doesn’t want to see family breakdown transition China to a woke, thoroughly materialistic, nihilist society – as he views America.
Many young Chinese have an outlook on life that is troublesome to Wang. He believes that the get-rich-quick mentality, all-or-nothing careerism and obsessive consumerism have done great social harm and that Western commercialism and its attendant popular culture are responsible. Look no further than China’s 2020 fertility rate, one of the world’s lowest at 1.3 (by official estimate), 38 percent below the 2.1 replacement level.
He knows that nagging Chinese youth to get married and have children is useless. From the N.S. Lyons essay:
Ending family size limits and government attempts to persuade families to have more children have been met with incredulity and ridicule by Chinese young people as being “totally out of touch” with economic and social reality. “Do they not yet know that most young people are exhausted just supporting themselves?” asked one typically viral post on social media. It’s true that, given China’s cut-throat education system, raising even one child costs a huge sum: estimates range between US$30,000 (about seven times the annual salary of the average citizen) and $115,000, depending on location.
But even those Chinese youth who could afford to have kids have found they enjoy a new lifestyle: the coveted DINK (“Double Income, No Kids”) life, in which well-educated young couples (married or not) spend all that extra cash on themselves.
In 2013 there were 23.86 million marriages in China. There were 13.99 million in 2019. In 2019, 14.65 million births were registered. There were 10.03 million in 2020, a 15 percent decline.
China’s working-age population has decreased by well over three million each year for the last decade. Last year there were 4.9 Chinese workers supporting each senior citizen. Given current fertility, by 2050 there will be 1.6 workers to do so. China’s population is projected to shrink by almost 50 percent by 2100. China’s day in the sun may not last long.
So Wang Huning has a daunting challenge ahead. He is behind the unfolding campaign to change the culture – promoting Confucianism, the three-child policy, the masculinization campaign, capping rent increases, limiting access to video games, tightening abortion restriction, and curtailing online exposure of “alternative” lifestyles.
China’s pro-natalist campaign is just getting started. There is much more to come. With any luck, getting married and having children will become the “in” thing for young Chinese. It will be interesting to see where all this leads.
Where is America’s Wang Huning?