In a recent Hoover Institution webinar, China historian John Fitzgerald described his new book as an "unapologetic intervention in [the] ongoing information war" that China is waging against the West. That's one way of putting it.
Another way of putting it is this: Cadre Country is a no-holds-barred assessment of China's failures and triumphs under the often clumsy stewardship of the 40-million strong band of bureaucrats tasked with maintaining China's communist project. Having said that, Fitzgerald's book offers more than a report on the cadre's performance to date.
It is an exposé of sorts. One by one, Fitzgerald unpicks the myths that the Chinese Communist Party peddles to its largely muzzled citizenry - "There is no place for rational conversation... but people are free to express their feelings of love for the party and hatred for its enemies" - and its uncritical "friends" in the West.
There's the myth about China's 5000-year history, which apparently vindicates Party rule; the one about the Party lifting millions out of poverty; and, of course, the one about the Party being inseparable from the people.
Fitzgerald's systematic debunking of Party propaganda is arranged thematically over chapters focused on law and planning, Leninism and meritocracy, capitalism, humiliation and denigration, among other things. One of those things is language, and Fitzgerald's discussion of brand China makes for fascinating if somewhat familiar reading.
If the chapter titled "Who owns China?" doesn't leave you thinking "Politics and the English Language" then you should probably put Orwell's finest essay on your reading list.
In any case, Fitzgerald reveals a society where euphemism and nonsense Party-speak, which are used to maintain separation between the ruling class and everyone else, have run amok.
In fact, the Party has single-handedly created a market for inane phraseology. Today, Party officials supplement their incomes by teaching well-paying Outsiders what the latest gobbledygook coming out of Beijing actually means.
Granted, it has become incredibly cliché to refer to China in Orwellian terms, but there's no denying its applicability here. Under Party rule, and particularly under Xi Jinping's zealous leadership, China has become the very kind of illiberal state that Orwell warned of as he gazed upon the Soviet Union.
In Cadre Country, John Fitzgerald has produced a highly compelling portrait of that illiberal state, one seemingly bent on ruling over a world governed by liberal values.
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