Academics who study China, which includes the author, habitually please the Chinese Communist Party, sometimes consciously, and often unconsciously. Our incentives are to conform, and we do so in numerous ways: through the research questions we ask or don’t ask, through the facts we report or ignore, through our use of language, and through what and how we teach.
Foreign academics must cooperate with academics in China to collect data and co-author research. Surveys are conducted in a manner that is acceptable to the Party, and their content is limited to politically acceptable questions. For academics in China, such choices come naturally. The Western side plays along.
China researchers are equally constrained in their solo research. Some Western China scholars have relatives in China. Others own apartments there. Those China scholars whose mother tongue is not Chinese have studied the language for years and have built their careers on this large and nontransferable investment. We benefit from our connections in China to obtain information and insights, and we protect these connections. Everybody is happy, Western readers for the up-to-date view from academia, we ourselves for prospering in our jobs, and the Party for getting us to do its advertising. China is fairly unique in that the incentives for academics all go one way: One does not upset the Party.
…… We speak of the Chinese “government” without further qualification when more than 95% of the “leadership cadres” are Party members, key decisions are reached by leadership cadres in their function as members of Party work committees, the staff of the government Personnel Ministry is virtually identical to the staff of the Party Organization Department, the staff of the Supervision Ministry is virtually identical to the staff of the Party Disciplinary Commission, and the staff of the PRC Central Military Commission is usually 100% identical to the staff of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Military Commission. Does China’s government actually govern China, or is it merely an organ that implements Party decisions? By using the word “government,” is it correct to grant the Chinese “government” this association with other, in particular Western, governments, or would it not be more accurate to call it the “government with Chinese characteristics” or the “mafia’s front man”? Who questions the legitimacy of the Party leadership to rule China, and to rule it the way it does?
The Party’s”or, the mafia’s”terminology pervades our writing and teaching. We do not ask if the Chinese Communist Party is communist, the People’s Congresses are congresses of the people, the People’s Liberation Army is liberating or suppressing the people, or if the judges are not all appointed by the Party and answer to the Party. We say “Tiananmen incident,” in conformance with Party terminology, but called it “Tiananmen massacre” right after the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, when “incident” would have made us look too submissive to the Party. [Full Text]
Mr. Holz is an economist and professor in the social science division of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.