No Exit for China

 

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In the 18th century after a passing breeze caused him to lose his place in a book, a Chinese scholar named Xu Jun wrote this short poem: “The clear breeze is illiterate, so why does it insist on rummaging through the pages of a book?” Though this couplet was seemingly harmless, the Manchu-ruled Qing Dynasty (1645-1911) executed Xu in 1730 for seditious thought. The Qing, invaders from the Manchurian steppe whose dynastic name meant “clear” or “pure,” were acutely sensitive to the insinuation that they were illiterate barbarians despite adopting the trappings of Chinese civilization. Countless other poets shared Xu’s fate during the dynasty’s infamous literary inquisitions. While this paranoia appears excessive, it was a reflection of a very real problem for the Manchus.

The Qing, like all other Chinese central governments, struggled to contain dissent across a continent-sized empire. This proved doubly difficult because a small number of ethnic Manchus ruled over a far larger population of resentful Han Chinese. Han rebellion, which often coalesced around the purported superiority of Han culture, was a constant threat, shaking the foundations of the empire from the mid-19th century. Eventually, Han-led revolution swept away the Qing — and the entire imperial Chinese system — in 1911, leading to the formation of the Republic of China. This, in turn, quickly split along factional lines into warlord cliques. Truly effective central rule did not return until the Communists seized power in 1949.

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Missing Communism

When the Berlin Wall came down we told by those who should have known better that the age of ideology was at an end. On the contrary, ideologies proliferated, driven by a quasi-religious compulsion to believe in the all-encompassing cause

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It is shameful to admit it, perhaps, but now that it is gone I rather miss communism, or perhaps I should say Really Existing Socialism as it was sometimes known to its defenders, apologists and sympathisers. It was in some respects an invigorating, comforting, purifying experience to cross the Iron Curtain; it was to the soul what I suppose going to a health farm is to the body, or at least to the body of the pampered prosperous who pay a fortune to eat half a grapefruit a day in the utmost luxury.

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Is Trump the new Constantine?

Christians are unable to speak freely. Religious freedom is under attack. Society is materialistic and immoral. Western civilisation is facing huge threats, from within and without. And apparently the one powerful emerging leader is no saint.

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You’re thinking America 2016? No. Rome 312.

The leader is Constantine, who is vying to become the Roman Emperor. Constantine had many defects: he had multiple wives and even put one of them to death, was extremely ambitious, and was a ruthless general and politician. But the legend remains that he had a “Road to Damascus” moment, saw a vision, converted to Christianity, triumphed over his opponents, and became a great emperor of Rome.

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