I noticed something curious recently, nestled away in one of the newspapers: that the Chinese government has apparently banned the classic book 1984 by George Orwell.
There’s something that kind of speaks for itself when an oppressive government bans not just any old book, but something as specific as 1984. Orwell’s Animal Farm has also been banned, for that matter.
But it seems fairly obvious that a state that functions entirely along 1984 lines would eventually need to make sure its citizens don’t get to read 1984 and notice the similarities.
This is apparently part of a massive online censorship campaign. Clearly, either Orwell’s books have been getting too much attention in China or the authorities want to make sure they don’t get any attention – or both. Makes sense, of course – if you’ve built 1984 in real terms, you have to make sure your citizens don’t realise it or at least don’t have such a glaring frame of reference.
This all coincides with President Xi Jinping’s efforts to establish himself more or less as a leader with an indefinite term of office: something that has provoked deep suspicion and dispproval across China, where some people online have called him a dictator.
The corporate/military oligarchy (or, as it prefers to call itself, Communist Party ‘People’s Republic of China’) is amending the constitution to allow Xi Jinping the mandate to stay in power indefinitely. He could now, in theory, be the dictator for life.
The Chinese leader and govermnent has been engaged in a sweeping crackdown on critics, civil society, activists and dissent, going back to 2015: but it’s not as if the Chinese state was known for its freedoms of thought or expression before this either.
The Evening Standard piece also notes that the crackdowns were more or less codified in the rebooted constitution, with a line that “There will be even less tolerance of criticism.”
In 1984, Orwell imagined a society where people were entirely controlled by the state (a despotic new world order). Through screens and technology, citizens are fed an endless stream of propaganda, taught to conform to the system, and permanently spied on by Big Brother so that everything they see, say, do, even think, is monitored.
How Orwellian is China?
Well, try this. The ‘Social Credit’ system, formulated in 2014 and recently implemented in China, is an archetypal NWO enslavement system operating in plain sight. In this system, people can be barred from travel (on planes or even on trains) if their ‘social credit score’ is deemed unsatisfactory. Basically, the social credit system merges everything – credit records and financial activity, legal records, school records, social media accounts, online shopping activity, etc – and is monitored by the state to determine whether a citizen is satisfactorily conforming to the state’s idea of a good citizen.
The problem is what happens when your ‘citizen ranking’ if found unsatisfactory – you’re barred from travel, barred from buying property, apparently even barred from dining at the best restauraunts, etc.
And what’s extraordinary is that your ‘citizen ranking’ is determined by the broad surveillance that the state is keeping you under: so, for example, your ‘score’ can be lowered by the kind of stuff you say, post, share or like on your social media accounts or buy purchasing certain products online.
Needless to say, any form of ‘dissent’ or criticism of the government is going to diminish your rating substantially.
Chinese authorities have also been found to be ‘systematically building and deploying a “predictive policing program” based on big data analysis’: a system that ‘aggregates data about people, often without their knowledge, flagging those it deems potentially threatening to officials’. Human Rights Watch alleges that those people targeted in this program are ‘detained and sent to extralegal “political education centers” where they are held indefinitely without charge or trial, and can be subject to abuse.’
I genuinely worry that we might all be heading in this approximate direction, even if to varying degrees and at different rates.
It seems like almost every country in the world – and certainly the ‘powers’ like China, Russia and the United States – has been moving, as if in unison, towards less freedom, more surveillence and censorship, as if various governments (or powers behind various governments) have a specific end-game model in mind and different countries – despite being politically or idealogically very different – are walking almost in lock-step in key respects.
Take the state in Pakistan, which is openly engaged in a war against free speech. In fact, a Pakistani man was even sentenced to death on account of a Facebook post that was deemed ‘blasphemous’: yet what’s most extraordinary about this is not the backwards barbarism of religious extremism in Pakistan, but the fact that Facebook cooperated fully with the authorities – which, given the recent scandal involving Facebook in the West, is worrying in terms of its implications for all of us in the future.
Interestingly, the Pakistani authorities’ disgusting treatment of this individual (and many other individuals) was officially justified as an act of ‘counter-terrorism’ (when in fact it was nothing of the sort). The counter-terrorism argument as a justification for crackdowns on Internet freedoms or civil liberties spans nations: you hear it everywhere from Russia and China to Turkey and France and the United States.
Indeed, you even hear it now from British politicians and Conservative governments officials, who periodically test the waters in terms of proposed thought-policing ideas (having already, last year, established the Snooper’s Charter to function in accordance with America’s NSA).
I’m making a more broad point here about creeping totalitarianism with the frog-pot being heated carefully and incrementally, year after year, so that we don’t panic and jump out: I’m not suggesting we’d get to the point where 1984 was banned in the UK – you couldn’t really ban something as culturally pervasive as 1984 or Animal Farm now are in Britain; whereas in China, I presume, the book hasn’t penetrated the cultural mindset as much.
In terms of a possible decline of democracy and civil liberties across the board, let’s look at what the Leader of the Free World had to say about Xi Jinping making himself permanent dictator in China. Here is what US President Donald Trump said, a month ago, during a speech to Republican donors at Mar-a-Lago: “He’s now president for life. President for life. No, he’s great. And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot some day.”
But I’ve had the argument put to me before that China is something like the working ‘model’ for a future worldwide government: and even that the present global dynamic is being carefully dismantled or re-aligned in that direction.
I’m not sure I subscribe to that theory, but it is nevertheless one reason I watch China carefully.
And the thing about China is that, although it is not a free country and although it has an oppressive state, it has played a blinder for a very long time, establishing its presence and influence all over the world – almost entirely by financial and peaceful means – while the United States has been blundering into failed enterprises and military conflicts and making itself loathed by half the planet.
Yet, regardless of its restraint in military engagements thus far, China is a military superpower (it has the biggest army on earth) – but, unlike the US, it is a military superpower that hasn’t overstretched itself or gotten bogged down in fruitless conflicts. And has also avoided the kind of widespread resistance or hatred that the United States has come to engender in different countries – no one is seen burning Chinese flags or attacking Chinese embassies.
China’s ‘soft imperialism’ strategy (such as the new ‘Silk Road’) has seen it making all kinds of inroads all over the place and embedding itself into numerous countries, often overlooked by international media coverage, while the United States finds itself mired in places like Syria.
It’s extraordinary to see, for example, how many people in Pakistan speak so positively about China’s involvement in that country – whereas the amount of anti-American hatred and resentment in the same country has been extraordinary, even though Pakistan has (technically) been a supposed close ally of the United States for decades.
The fact is that the US and China are both imperialist powers seeking geopolitical domination – the difference is in their present strategies and approaches.
While the Pilger predictions of the ‘coming war’ between the United States and China are worrying, what also worries me is a perception that the United States is in the process of a kind of controlled demolition (of which the Trump presidency and the divide it is causing are merely the most visible aspects) and will be replaced firmly and inevitably by China as the world power and prevailing global influence.
I’ve spoken to people who actually think a China-centered world order would be a good thing and would be better than US hegemony.
But – other than as a result of the pervading trend of general anti-Americanism – I can’t understand why anyone would really think that.
The Chinese state has all the same flaws as the United States – but minus any of the good things about the United States. It is basically an ultra-capitalist society, with power in the hands of mega-rich elites, except – unlike the US – it has no interest in political freedoms, human rights or democracy.
In the long-run (assuming for a moment that the ‘China World Order’ argument has merit), that’s going to be a trade-down and not a trade-up.
As for the aforementioned idea that China is the working ‘model’ for the future world order, in that context it would make perfect sense to ban Orwell’s 1984 in that country.
There are lots of different books that have been banned in various countries at various times: but the vast majority of these were either for being perceived as sexually obscene or for defaming the religion of the country in question. It seems rarer that a book is banned simply because its prophetic nature hits too close to the political reality of the country that’s banning it.
In fact, 1984 was also banned in the Soviet Union for decades. It was only published in Russia in the 1990s and only after careful editing.
After looking a bit more into it, I discovered there was also a significant push to ban 1984 in both Britain and the United States during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Animal Farm was also banned for a long time in the Soviet Union and is still banned in North Korea.
Meanwhile, the closest anyone’s going to get to Chinese Democracy any time soon is to purchase or download the Guns N’ Roses album of that name.
Read more: ‘Turkey: Erdogan, the Gulenists & an Age of Universal Deceit‘, ‘North Korea: A Dystopia With the Right to Defend Itself‘, ‘The Undiscovered Country: Why Only Trump Could Go to North Korea‘…