In the ranks of experts on China, Frank Dikotter is in the premier league thanks to the insightful books he has published on Chinese politics and society over the past four decades. Mr Dikotter is the author of the “People’s Trilogy” about China under Mao Zedong and has been chair professor of humanities at the University of Hong Kong since 2006. His recent blockbuster is ‘China After Mao: The Rise of a Superpower’ (2022) in which, based on previously unseen archival material and secret minutes of top Communist Party meetings, he explains how modern day China was built. In this sparkling interview he explains his thesis on how the West completely and utterly misread China and continues to misunderstand China inspite of the fractures of the previous five years. Mr Dikotter’s interview points to how the West misunderstands China at three different levels.

First, the Chinese leaders never wanted capitalism and still don’t want China to be a capitalistic economy: “So, what have [Chinese leaders] been telling us? A very simple story: China is in the process of “reform and opening up.” So, there will be economic progress, and with economic change there will be political progress. China will become first a capitalist country and then a democracy.

Of course, what has happened is the exact opposite. If you read the documentation carefully, you find out that never at any one point did Deng Xiaoping, Hu Yaobang, Zhao Ziyang, Jiang Zemin, all the way up to today, never did a single leader ever say, “We want a capitalist system.” They all said the exact opposite, that they would uphold the socialist road. It is in the Constitution.

All along, they were very clear about what they wanted. They wanted to reinforce the socialist economy. So what is a socialist economy? [It’s] not necessarily something that you have under Mao. A socialist economy is one where the state has or controls the means of production.

Money, labor, fertilizer, energy, transportation, all these are the means of production. They all belonged to the state. Today the money belongs to state banks. The land belongs to the state. Energy is controlled by the state. Large enterprises are controlled by the state. That was their goal, and they achieved it.”

Secondly, the Chinese leaders never wanted democracy and never suggested that they will become a democracy: “The second point is democratization. At no point did anyone say they wanted to have a separation of powers. On the contrary, Zhao Ziyang said very clearly back in 1987 that China would never have the separation of powers. Xi Jinping also made that very clear. But nobody in the West heard them, because they didn’t want to hear it…

In the People’s Republic, you have a dictatorship, but they call themselves a democracy. They have no elections, but they say they have free elections. So what is an election in the People’s Republic? If you vote for the person they tell you to vote for. They give you a list one, two, three names. You can pick one of these three. That’s it. That’s an election.”

Thirdly, at no stage has the Chinese leadership viewed the United States as anything other than an enemy: “The United States has always been perceived as the enemy from 1949 onwards because the U.S. is the heart of the capitalist system — the capitalist imperialist system — and the capitalist system is opposed to the socialist system…

…the biggest fear of the leaders in Beijing — that they will follow the example of Poland, not that of the former Soviet Union — and collapse. They afraid of what will happen with all these investments from capitalist countries, all these foreign ideas, Mickey Mouse T-shirts, Winnie the Pooh — that it will change the whole system….

In the 1970s, Deng Xiaoping sent missions to Japan and the United States. When they came back, the conclusion was that the U.S. economy was terrible with lots of unemployment and big debt. “They need us. They are about to collapse. This is a great opportunity for us.” — this was what [Chinese leaders] said when they were pretty much unable to feed their own people in the 1970s.

The same story has repeated itself. The biggest moment was in 2008 with the global financial crisis. At that moment in Beijing thought, “This is it. This is the collapse of the capitalist system. Our social system is superior.” So, they went around the world in 2009 and 2010, talking about “the China way,” that “our socialist system is superior to the capitalist system.””

All of this begs the question as to who in the West brainwashed the West into believing that one day the Chinese would be just like a Western society? Just as importantly, how did China fool the Western media and the ruling elite in America and Europe into believing a fantasy narrative regarding China’s future political & economic identity? Whoever it is who did this deserves a lot of credit for pulling off the greatest con since World War II.

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