Understanding China Then and Now: A Personal Journey

Monday, April 11, 2022 - 1:00pm
Fred Pincus

The US Left has had an evolving relationship with the Peoples Republic of China. Up until 1979 we were enamored with Mao’s socialism. But then when Deng Xiaoping began to move the country toward market socialism, ambivalence set in. What did friendship with revolutionary China mean then?

Baltimore socialist Fred Pincus experienced this odyssey. As an activist in the US-China Peoples Friendship Association, Fred was an early visitor to China in 1972 and 1974 during the Mao years before most USians could go there legally. He was a member of the editorial committee of New China magazine in the 1970s. and also covered China for The Guardian: An Independent Radical Newsweekly in the late 70s and early 80s.

In his recently published memoir, Confessions of a Radical Academic, he reflects on the question “how do we know what we know about China?” The mainstream media is problematic. The Chinese media is also biased. For example, in the 1970s capitalist roaders like Deng Xiaoping were slammed. After Mao’s death the Cultural Revolution was slammed.

Today China isn’t much of a model to follow. It seems pretty clear to Pincus “that the capitalist roaders are in power and that the current situation of "socialism with Chinese characteristics" is some combination of state capitalism, bourgeois capitalism and extreme authoritarianism. The fact that capitalists can join Communist Party also gives one pause.” Although the CCP has raised the economic lifestyle of most Chinese, there is also growing economic inequality.

The situation in Xinjiang with the Uyghurs is extremely problematic, at best. This gets back to my question of how do we know what we know. The Biden administration and the mainstream press freely use "genocide" against the Uyghurs without ever mentioning the separatist movement that refers to Xinjiang as East Turkestan. Current China apologist groups say that the government is fighting separatist terrorism and trying to raise the cultural level of the Uyghurs. Others prefer using the term "forced assimilation" rather than genocide. It is complicated.

Another thing that is problematic is the Chinese response to Covid. China has remarkably low Covid. Nevertheless, the government has used draconian methods to achieve this.

All of this leads Pincus to the question “what should the Left do about China?” While U.S. imperialism is still the major threat to the world, nevertheless it is in decline. In addition, U.S. imperial power is on the decline. China's power is on the rise and poses a threat to U.S. hegemony. The Biden administration is trying to launch a new Cold War against China. Which side should we be on?

Such are the questions Pincus will ponder. Join in a dialogue with him on the 33rd anniversary of the Tiananmen protests. Cliff DuRand, also an early visitor to China, will comment on the presentation. Cliff was a member of the US-China Peoples Friendship association and covered China for The Guardian in the 1980s.