Honesty, diligence, obedience: Why I support China’s Great Firewall

"Honesty" - one of five themed posters. The others are devoted to "Benevolence," "Righteousness," "Industriousness" and "Obedience." Photographed by Isham Cook at the Institute of Light Industry in Zhengzhou, China, Jan. 2015 (thanks to Wang Yue for her translation help).
“Honesty” – one of five themed posters. The others are devoted to “Benevolence,” “Righteousness,” “Industriousness” and “Obedience.” Photographed by Isham Cook at the Institute of Light Industry in Zhengzhou, China, Jan. 2015 (thanks to Wang Yue for her translation help).

Many negative reports have been coming out of China lately. A litany of scandals involving greed, fakery, adulterated food, callous drivers sideswiping pedestrians, and so on, have appeared in the Western media. Now there is much concern that the country wishes to close off Internet access to the rest of the world. As a long-time foreign resident in China, I wish to lay out the reasons for this laudatory development and set the record straight.

China is a Confucian country with a strong tradition of morality. The five traditional virtues of the ideal Confucian gentleman are ren, yi, li, zhi, and xin (仁义礼智信), which translate as benevolence, righteousness, etiquette (the filial rites), wisdom, and faith. Since Chinese communist morality is the logical outgrowth of Confucian morality, in 2013 the Party launched the “China Radiates Virtue” campaign (德耀中华). It updated the latter three of the five virtues to accord better with modern times. The Party’s new five virtues represent those of the ideal communist: ren, yi, cheng, jing, and xiao (仁义诚敬孝), or benevolence, righteousness, honesty, diligence, and obedience (filial piety).

A series of five posters celebrating this campaign have sprung up in many cities. Each poster presents one of the five virtues and twenty-four illustrative role models, drawn from both the widely known and the ordinary among the populace. Let’s take a look at one of these posters, that of cheng or “honesty,” which you see above.

Zhen Rendong: Not succumbing to greed and returning a large amount of lost money to its owner.
Zhen Rendong: Not succumbing to greed and returning a large amount of lost money to its owner.

Among other fellow role models, there is Zhen Rendong, a lowly janitor who discovered a bag containing RMB 200,000 (about USD $35,000) in a rubbish bin. Although he lives a hard life, he reported it to the police. The owner expressed his gratitude by awarding him RMB 2,000. However, instead of keeping the reward, Mr. Zhen donated it to the local government.

There is Liu Hong’an, a college undergraduate who runs his own breakfast stand selling Chinese crullers (deep-fried dough twists). Some unscrupulous sellers add alum or detergent to the oil to lend crispness to the dough, and may even use recycled “gutter oil” as well. But not Liu Hong’an, who would never compromise his loyal customers’ health.

There is Liu Guohua, chairman of a dairy company in Shanxi Province, who vows never to succumb to profiteering by selling adulterated milk. Whenever the price of milk goes down, he still purchases it at inflated rates to protect the livelihood of the farmers from whom he sources the milk.

And there is Liu Chencai, general manager of a pharmacy chain in Hainan Province. He is famous for treating his employees with kindness and respect, laying off not a single one during the Chinese financial crisis of 2009. He is highly conscientious and would never sell anything but reputable, quality-assured medicine.

So we see that the reality of China is quite different from the negative accounts regularly featured in the Western media. Most Chinese are moral and examples can be found from all walks of life. The original role model is of course Lei Feng, the humble PLA soldier who spent his short life helping others until his untimely death in 1962 at the age of twenty, when he was accidentally killed while directing traffic. So widely revered is this model of virtue that the Chinese Government can’t print enough posters of him to display around every Chinese city. There is even rumored to be a Lei Feng University where the cream of China’s students recite quotations from his diary and learn how to be altruistic citizens.

For instance, if you come upon a roadside accident, don’t just stand in the crowd staring at the victim but help him, even if he or she accuses you of causing the accident and demands a huge amount of money in medical compensation. Or if you happen to hit someone with your vehicle, don’t speed away and certainly don’t run over the victim a second time to kill him and make him go away, but take responsibility for your actions and call for help. Observe Lei Feng’s example and be a good Samaritan.

Liu Hong'an: Benefitting both customers and himself by selling healthful crullers.
Liu Hong’an: Benefitting both customers and himself by selling healthful crullers.

Following a barrage of popular complaints, there has been an upswell of support in the past few years to curtail bad information from the outside world via the Internet. Such destructive influences take the form, for example, of separatists agitating for Tibetan or Taiwanese independence, corrosive social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, slanted Western news organizations, and most of all the scourge of pornography. The overly lenient policies of Presidents Jiang and Hu experimented with blocking a few of these sites. But with the advent of devious means of accessing them illegally, it is clear that more needs to be done. Chinese citizens are increasingly demanding “cyber-sovereignty”—a closed, autonomous and native Chinese Internet, free of outside influence. This will be achieved by the neutralization of the virtual private networks or VPN’s, which enable unlawful access to the World Wide Web. I applaud this development and wholeheartedly support the blocking, most recently, of Google and Gmail as well.

I have lived many years both in China and my home country of the United States, and I am thus in a position to understand both sides. I acknowledge the appeal Western newspapers like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal has for many Americans. But after extensive contact with alternative viewpoints and much critical reassessment, I have come to realize how biased they are.

This is not the space to analyze the problem in depth. I suggest a good book on the topic, such as Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. Chomsky details the ways the major US news organizations shape—brainwash is the word—Americans to identify their own interests with those of the moneyed class, more euphemistically known as the Establishment. And what is remarkable about this Western indoctrination is that the more educated you are, the more likely you are to believe it. To take an example from recent times, American news media, being de facto instruments of the US Government, put up very little protest against the brutal and disastrous invasion of Iraq in 2003.

I also understand the appeal of Facebook and Twitter. They are fine for Westerners, but not for the Chinese. Twitter is deluged with pornography and all sorts of unbalanced ideas that cause rumors and mislead people to think and act irrationally and dangerously. Real-time networking apps are used by American teenagers to form “flash mobs” to harass and beat up innocent crowds. Facebook displays Americans’ unhealthy obsession with pets—a diarrheic stream of cat videos (the Chinese are more practical and use domestic animals for food instead of entertainment). China’s web, by contrast, has come up with closely monitored, more hygienic equivalents to Facebook and Twitter, namely Renren and Weibo. Yahoo and MSN likewise have little to offer the Chinese, who possess adequate email and instant messaging sites of their own (e.g. WeChat) to choose from and use responsibly.

Liu Huaguo: Not cheating clients when manufacturing dairy products.
Liu Huaguo: Not cheating clients when manufacturing dairy products.

A single Chinese company, Taobao (whose parent corporation Alibaba made an impressive debut on Wall Street) is China’s answer to Amazon and eBay rolled into one and is bigger than both. Amazon is still accessible in China, but I expect it too will soon be blocked. This will keep unhealthy books, music and videos out of Chinese eyesight—though Amazon China may be a workable compromise if they can demonstrate their understanding of Chinese consumer trends. I see that Amazon has quickly put out the Kindle version of President Xi Jinping’s The Governance of China, a bestseller in this country particularly among cadres and civil servants, with its slick minimalist cover.

Millions of Chinese use these domestic networking sites in the way they are supposed to be used—to share travel photos, hot new restaurants, and the latest fashion trends. In the short -run, these are patriotic pursuits that boost consumer spending and help the nation’s economy. In the long run, the attraction for such goods and the materialistic mindset they foster will eventually wither away, as socialism requires.

If you could conduct a poll among Chinese Internet users, you would find that only a negligible minority even know what a VPN is, much less would ever want to use one. The last thing the Chinese need a VPN for is news. Nobody here much bothers with politics; they let their Government worry about that. The only Chinese who rely on VPNs are young females with their inexplicable attachment to Korean TV dramas and soap operas.

This Chinese fixation with South Korea is unfortunate. It has fostered an obsession with plastic surgery, which often results in permanent disfigurement. Koreans’ own money worship has led to extreme social and economic distortions in that country—the corrupt ferry company that sacrificed safety for profit and led to the deaths of hundreds of high school students in the recent ferry disaster; the “nut-rage” case of the Korean Air executive who threw a tantrum and assaulted her flight attendants. This is not a country for the Chinese to emulate.

One obstacle to the closing off of China is the huge number of Chinese tourists who travel to New York, London and Paris to buy luxury goods or even real estate. This dissipation of Chinese wealth abroad causes unbalances in the Chinese economy. But with the high crime rates, gun violence, and outrageous medical expenses in the US, more and more Chinese will think twice about moving abroad. I personally know Chinese who have established themselves in America and then secured immigrant visas for their parents to live there as well. In almost every case, the parents soon want to return to China, finding life in America incredibly isolating and boring.

Liu Chengcai: Conscientiously doing business by not selling fake medicine.
Liu Chengcai: Conscientiously doing business by not selling fake medicine.

The notion that Chinese students don’t want to return to the motherland is a myth. If any of them ever tells you that, you should assume suspicious intentions. The truth of the matter is their beneficent Government has only ever allowed large numbers of students to go abroad for the sake of achieving scientific and technological parity with, and eventual superiority to, the West. But China is now approaching the apex of this upswing and she will soon no longer have need of the West. Chinese students are highly intelligent. No other students have as many ingenious methods of ferreting out the latest scientific, technological and military advances in international universities and businesses, and in a blink of the eye replicating the same at home. You don’t have to repeat anything to Chinese students twice. They’ve got everything figured out before you realize it. By that time, of course, they’re already back home.

One of the main reasons why the Chinese don’t assimilate well in Western countries and quickly grow homesick is their great native cuisine. They miss their cooking and their restaurants too much. In their eyes, Western food barely qualifies as food. I’m embarrassed to admit I happen to agree. How could anyone put up with the simple Western diet, based on nothing but hamburgers and sandwiches?

You may point out that KFC and McDonald’s have secured quite a foothold in China. This is truly a sorry affair but will resolve itself finally. Western fast food is highly addictive—it’s designed that way—and like the opium forced on the Chinese by England in the nineteenth century, is an evil. Worse, KFC actually allowed old chicken past its expiry date to be sold to unsuspecting consumers in China, as a recent scandal brought to light. This truly hurt the feelings of the Chinese people, who could never imagine a food business would thus compromise its integrity. They were even more loyal to KFC than to McDonald’s. Yet maybe it was a blessing in disguise. It may hasten the departure of these nefarious fast food chains from the country altogether, which never really belonged here to begin with.

True, fast food can’t wholly be avoided in our modern times. The Chinese are often kept at work fourteen hours a day and rely on fast food out of necessity. Thankfully, the country has its own homegrown varieties such as Dicos and does a much better job at it in fact—deep-fried chicken that is more wholesome, healthful and delicious.

China is not only relying on itself but is rapidly catching up to the developed world. It is sending unmanned spacecraft to the moon. It has some of the tallest skyscrapers and most magnificent skylines. It is in the final stages of launching a civilian aircraft business, freeing itself from reliance on Boeing and Airbus. It is building aircraft carriers. It is even surpassing the developed world in some areas. The opening ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympics was unanimously regarded as the greatest ever. She has the greatest dam technology and biggest dams in the world. Her high-speed train system is the largest and most advanced of any country. China is in talks with the US Government to sell it bullet trains, because America lacks the know-how to build them itself.

And of course China’s computer prowess is the most sophisticated in the world. This is demonstrated by its effective containment of the Chinese Web by the Great Firewall, which the Western media used to brag would never come to pass. The next Great Digital Leap Forward, I predict, will be China’s control of the entire World Wide Web, a Sinicized Internet. A cleansed and purified Internet. A socialist Internet with Chinese characteristics, from which the whole world will benefit.

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There is still much work to do in the building of socialism. Much progress has been made, as we have seen, with regard to cheng—honesty. The last of the five virtues, xiao—obedience, specifically filial piety—deserves brief mention. Westerners, who can never truly understand the Chinese, may not be familiar with the problem. Due to people’s great devotion to work and productivity, too many neglect their parents. It’s not so bad if the parents live at home, who can take care of the household and help bring up the baby. But many couples must find work in the big city and are separated from their parents. The filial piety campaign reminds young couples to look after their parents, retired on meager pensions, to whom they owe everything for their kindness and generosity of spirit in raising them. After all, they might have gotten rid of them but went through great sacrifice and expense to bring them up with a good education.

I mean, a Chinese woman told me how her parents once abandoned her at a train station. She didn’t quite gather the reason at the time (she was only five) but guessed she somehow disappointed them in not displaying proper filial piety. They sought to teach her a lesson by leaving her to fend for herself. Fortunately, pangs of guilt brought them back to the station a few hours later to rescue her and take her back. They were good parents, and the lesson had a salutary effect. She now pays them back for their unwavering devotion in bringing her up by handing over to them all her earnings from her monthly salary, as everyone should. But now with legislation in the works to compel sons and daughters to visit their parents on a regular basis, filial piety will be encouraged across the board.

But it is with regard to the fourth of the five virtues, jing—diligence—that the greatest strides are being made. In fact the entire country sighed in collective relief at the recent Government directive to ban female cleavage from TV. You see, the sight of breasts is extremely disturbing and severely hampers worker concentration and productivity. It is to be hoped that the ban will soon be extended to film, both domestic and imported. Hollywood already puts out two versions of its movies: the US version and a cleaned-up version for export to China. It should be easy enough to remove redundant cleavage from future releases of American blockbusters. No need to edit out the breasts with special effects; just delete the distracting scenes altogether, make the films shorter, and tighten up the dramatic action in the process.

The next step in the advancement of worker productivity will be the proscription of all cleavage from daily dress. This could be accomplished by the replacement of the lascivious Western brassiere, which pushes the bosom out, with the traditional Chinese bra called the dudou, worn like a little apron around the chest and flattening the breasts. If combined with the unisex zhongshanzhuang jacket, otherwise known as a Mao suit, it effectively makes the breasts disappear, rendering women better suited to the workplace.

Unlike Western women who are forced to grow up too quickly at an early age, Chinese girls are by nature shy, tender and pure. The longer they are kept in this state, the better. Eventually, for the sake of safeguarding the sanctity of its female population, China will have to close off its borders to foreign tourism altogether, even at the huge loss of revenue this would entail. The evil of prostitution has yet to gain a foothold in this country; the concept is unknown to women here. But the corrupting influence of foreign males could eventually put the idea into their heads. This must be prevented at all costs.

I would feel sad if this came to pass, however necessary for the building of socialism. For international tourists would have much to learn by visiting a mighty and confident China. I have to admit my own partiality here. My enthusiastic embrace of the New China arises from the immense charm it will have for the rest of us. Once self-sufficient and cut off from the world but for a trickle of privileged tourists, she will emerge in purified splendor to bathe in the East’s rays. No longer will we see a copycat society of faceless cookie-cutter cities and monotonous lineup of the usual international brands—Apple, Starbucks, BMW, Pizza Hut, Subway, etc. China will present an autonomous consumer world unto herself, with her own unique brands. I nostalgically recall my trips to communist East Germany, Cuba and North Korea and their array of quaint unrecognizable products lining the shelves of their state department stores and supermarkets. The difference is China will have the number one economy in the world. Her brand-name goods will become collectors’ items and the envy of the world.

The Chinese as a people will become equally charming; a happier people living simple and uncomplicated but more fulfilling lives. The closing off of the country and with it knowledge of the world will greatly reduce for them the baggage of useless information the rest of us are burdened with. This might be seen by some as a loss for the Chinese. You will no longer be able to chat with them about Kanye West, Beyonce, or Katy Perry. But they have their own stars—Faye Wong and Jay Chou—whom they prefer anyway (from Hong Kong and Taiwan, to be sure, soon to be under the protective fold of the Fatherland). But by that point, the tables will have turned and it won’t matter. An emergent China will command the world’s respect and the rest of us will aspire to China rather than the other way around.

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2015 Lei Feng poster: “The volunteering spirit: Dedication, Fraternity, Charity, Progress.”

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