Oct 21, 2011
Kevin Libin, The National Post
Capitalism is everyone’s favourite whipping boy these days. And it isn’t just the tent-dwellers in New York’s Zuccotti Park or Toronto’s Saint James Park. Even in China where they still barely know the meaning of the word—despite the country’s widely misunderstood economic reforms, state controlled enterprises still manage about half the assets of the national economy—they’re eager to point the finger at the legacy of Adam Smith for their moral failings. When horrifying closed-circuit video footage went public this week of a Chinese toddler being run down by a truck and left to bleed to death on a Foshan City street, as 18 passersby simply ignore her, capitalism, of all things, got the blame.
As the Post’s Adrian Humphreys reported, Xinhua, the Chinese state’s news agency, laid responsibility at the feet of economic change. “High moral standards were once triumphed as national pride in China, where individuals known for selflessly helping others were adored by the public. But in recent years, the perception of a decline of morals has become a hot topic as profit and materialism are perceived to be affecting society’s values,” it reported. Tweeted one Chinese national: “Now people ignore everything other than money. This society is lacking people with a conscience.” One Chinese blogger waxed nostalgic for the better old days. “I miss Mao’s era, although it was poor there was social justice and fairness and people lived with dignity and moral integrity.”
Ah, yes. The social justice, fairness and moral integrity advanced by history’s most accomplished mass murderer. There’s no official number for the vast swaths of humanity extinguished by Mao’s revolutionary jags The Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. The opacity of the closed communist state, particularly during that period, and the state’s secrecy even to this day, means we probably never will have an entirely accurate tally. But scholars putting together whatever pieces they can find have come up with death toll estimates in the neighbourhood of anywhere from 20 to 45 million “worked, starved or beaten to death” during just four years of the Great Leap Forward and another 1 to 7 million wiped out in the “mass killings” of the Cultural Revolution. So, where exactly are we to find dignity and moral integrity in that era? A time when, as Chinese historian Song Yongyi has written, Mao and his millions of supporters turned the country into a savage slaughterhouse:
“Victims [were] humiliated and then killed by mobs or forced to commit suicide on streets or other public places”; “direct killing of unarmed civilians by armed forces”; “pogroms against traditional ‘class enemies’ by government-led perpetrators such as local security officers, militias and mass killings as part of political witch-hunts (a huge number of suspects of alleged conspiratorial groups were tortured to death during investigations)”; and “summary execution of captives.”
Any examination of the moral standards of communist China, meanwhile, would be incomplete if it didn’t also touch on the state’s history of officially encouraging children to denounce their own parents to communist authorities, condemning them to inhumane “re-education” camps. China executes more prisoners than any country on earth, and there’s solid evidence of Chinese doctors forcibly harvesting organs from people accused of following the illegal spiritual practice of Falun Gong, to resell them to international patients. And, of course, the strict one-child policy that has seen Chinese authorities murder newborn babies from family’s exceeding the limit, or forcing abortions on mothers.
Then there are the stories of the families themselves abandoning or murdering little girls in order to save their quota for a baby boy. Indeed, these little girls reportedly being abandoned as trash is one possible reason why the people of Foshan City were so apparently unperturbed at the sight of a half-dead and bleeding little Wang Yue the other day. Such things perhaps aren’t entirely novel in China: here’s a 2001 magazine article describing (and showing a photo of) the “twisted body of a dead baby girl” “lying in the gutter of a bustling main road” with blood coming out of her. Sounds chillingly familiar, doesn’t it?
Say what you will about capitalism and its economic disparities, but the worst genocides in modern history weren’t committed by free-market democracies. Mao, Cambodia’s Pol Pot, Russia’s Stalin, North Korea’s Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il and Ethiopia’s Mengistu Haile Mariam all had one thing in common: their belief in a merciless Marxist philosophy that placed the ideological goals of the nation ahead of individual human rights. China has spent the last 62 years stewing in that immoral doctrine.
There are, obviously, millions of Chinese who retained their humaneness throughout: that would include the garbage-picker who ultimately came to Wang Yue’s aid and the many Chinese now aghast and ashamed that others didn’t—and of course there are huge number of Chinese who have come to Canada, and other Western capitalist democracies, specifically seeking something better than the situation in their homeland.
But if there are prevailing moral attitudes in China that led to a little bleeding toddler to be run over and left to die on a bustling street, surely the blame more likely belongs not to a few recent experiments with private, for-profit enterprise, but a cold-blooded communist regime that for decades has worked hard to deliberately debase the very value of human life.