America’s discredited ‘expert’ class has long claimed that economic growth and Western-style democratization go hand-in-hand. China’s ascent to industrial superpower decisively refutes that self-serving narrative.
Over the last few weeks, China has shown that it isn’t just charting an alternative course on economics and governance. China is also attempting an entirely new approach to modernization itself. Even if this approach fails, the choices China makes say important things about the decay of American liberal democracy.
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The People’s Republic is launching what, at least superficially, looks like one of the most ambitious social-engineering efforts ever undertaken in a developed country.
The decrees have come in a vast wave over the past couple weeks. In the last days of August, China announced that, from now on, schoolchildren are banned from playing video games, except for three hours on the weekend.
The restrictions, which apply to any devices including phones, are a body blow to a global gaming industry that caters to tens of millions of young players in the world’s most lucrative market.
They limit under-18s to playing for one hour a day – 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. – on only Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, according to the Xinhua state news agency. They can also play for an hour, at the same time, on public holidays.
“Teenagers are the future of our motherland,” Xinhua quoted an unnamed NPPA spokesperson as saying. “Protecting the physical and mental health of minors is related to the people’s vital interests, and relates to the cultivation of the younger generation in the era of national rejuvenation.”
Gaming companies will be barred from providing services to minors in any form outside the stipulated hours and must ensure they have put real-name verification systems in place, said the regulator, which oversees the country’s video games market. [Reuters]
Then on Thursday came a decree which earned even more attention — a ban on television programs featuring niang pao (literally “girlie guns”) celebrities.
China’s top media regulator has announced a boycott of what it called “sissy idols”, among other new guidelines, during an ongoing “clean up” of the entertainment industry.
The authorities have been increasingly critical of the trend some refer to as “sissy men”, which include pop idols that wear make-up or who do not conform to “macho” male stereotypes prevalent in traditional Chinese culture. Some in China also see the popularity of such idols, often referred to as “little fresh meat”, as a threat to traditional social values. [SCMP]
The ban on “sissy boys” got the most attention, but China’s new rules are substantially more ambitious than a declaration of war on girly men. Notably, China’s new regulations also prohibit featuring the children of celebrities in reality TV programs:
Other specific boycotts the guidelines listed include people who have broken laws or whose behavior and speech have gone against “public order and morals”, as well as “idol audition shows” and the encouragement of malicious “fandom culture”; including inducements for extravagant spending, and boycotting overly high pay for acting jobs, fake contracts and tax evasion. The children of stars will also not be allowed to participate in television shows, according to the document. [SCMP]
This last ban, though perhaps the least-noticed component of the new decrees, may be the most interesting and far-sighted. This isn’t some mundane crackdown on dissidents (of which there are many in totalitarian China). If China’s only concern were to suppress dissent against the government, it might be content to distract and dumb down its populace with limp-wristed pretty boys and spoiled rich kids. After all, that approach works like a charm here in America.
But instead, China wants to separate its youth from the nation’s TV screens. In essence, China is trying to stamp out the idea of a celebrity who is “famous for being famous.”
The word “celebrity,” derived from Latin via Middle French, originally referred to a solemn right or ceremony. The corresponding idea of a celebrity was itself more serious in its early usage, as it required that the celebrity be celebrated for his deeds.
But today in America, the concept of celebrity has decayed along with society itself. A celebrity need not have deeds worthy of celebration. Three hundred years ago, celebrities were made (or made themselves). Today, they just are.
In America and many other Asian countries, coverage of “famous for being famous” celebrities has long stood out as one of the most garish and decadent aspects of modern popular culture. Think about Keeping Up with the Kardashians or the child tranny biopic I am Jazz, or before that, Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie on The Simple Life.
In America’s liberal democracy, those elevated to celebrity status have become totems, sacred objects and leading indicators of what sickens American society. Consider the famous Kardashian clan. Kim Kardashian, the daughter of a famous participant in the O.J. Simpson murder trial, became “famous” in her own right after the release of one of the first viral sex tapes, featuring her and rapper Ray J.
In a revelation that should shock nobody in America, a 2016 book claimed that the sex tape was not “leaked,” but deliberately released by the Kardashians in order to help Kim climb the ladder (pole?) of fame.
Kim Kardashian and her momager Kris Jenner deliberately leaked her now-infamous sex tape to make her famous, a new book allegedly confirms.
Kim signed a contract with Vivid Entertainment in 2007 to leak the sex tape she made with Ray J in 2003, a new book, “Kardashian Dynasty” by Ian Halperin, claims.
He quotes a source in the “adult film industry” who said, “A mutual friend of Kim and Paris [Hilton] had advised her that if she wanted to achieve fame, a sex tape would be the way to go . . . Kim had discussed the idea of producing a tape with her family beforehand.” [NY Post]
Of course, one of the most famous members of the extended Kardashian clan is Bruce Jenner, who in 2015 became the “first wave on D-Day” shocktrooper of transgenderism.
Today’s reality television “stars,” of course, can jump straight to the propaganda phase, no buildup necessary. For seven seasons, TLC has bombarded Americans with the, ahem, adventures of tranny-teen-turned-Harvard-admit Jazz Jennings.
And thus, a vicious cycle has emerged. America’s reality TV stars are not only symbols of the decay and degeneracy plaguing America’s soul, they are also direct participants in this decay, driving it forward relentlessly, trampling everything sane and healthy before them.
Chinese authorities seem to have spotted the trend, and they’ve decided to excise the cancer before it grows too powerful.
In the words of Twitter user Manju Baturu, at a glance, it seems China has taken a look at what has happened in Western societies over the past thirty years, and is backing away, quickly.
At this point China is basically just watching the USA and doing the opposite of what America does. No brainer policy. https://t.co/JjIjoNXwVY
— Governor General (@GGofCA) September 2, 2021
China has another test case country it can look at, however. South Korea is geographically closer by and more culturally and ethnically similar. Like China, it has also rapidly grown from poverty to become an advanced industrial and technological power.
While America has plenty of “sissy boys” of all stripes in its popular culture, that type of male is even more prominent in South Korea thanks to the enormous popularity of K-pop music. Bands like BTS have popularized a manufactured, commercialized, and deeply effeminate male aesthetic, which is overtly exploited by those trying to tear down conventional sex differences and gender roles.
Consider this article from The Daily Vox, a South African publication:
Asian musicians are changing the game. The remarkable thing about them is not only do they embrace Asian masculinity, they also subvert Western notions of toxic masculinity. Asian musicians switch seamlessly between what is considered feminine and what is considered masculine in a way that is thrilling – and liberating. Their tremendous global platform provides them with a means of creating a new norm for masculinity, one that more organic and experimental.
The group always presents themselves with a full face of makeup in a doll-like perfection – be it flawless skin, a sweeping highlight or kohl-lined eyes. BTS has skin care regimes which would put most of us to shame. The members also change up their hair often have had every hair colour from slate gray to bright red and bubblegum blue. This is revolutionary to Western society which largely deems taking care of one’s appearance as feminine. [Daily Vox]
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Is this flood of effeminate men in popular culture truly as damaging as China fears? It’s absolutely clear that in South Korea, where this style emanates from, things are not well.
In 1960, South Korea’s fertility rate was above 6, similar to China’s. Over the next twenty years, it fell rapidly, as the government embraced aggressively anti-natalist policies to drive down the birth rate. In 1983, the fertility rate dropped below the 2.1 replacement level for the first time. It has never recovered. In 1998, it feel below 1.5. And in 2018, it fell below 1. Absent immigration, South Korea’s population will more than halve every generation. Since the new millennium, the government has ramped up spending efforts to encourage couples to have more children. It hasn’t worked.
As South Korea’s cradles lie empty and the population plunges into an abyss, the basic relation between the sexes in South Korea has become deeply toxic. In an Ipsos poll of 28 nations, a staggering 87 percent of South Koreans said there was a large amount of tension between progressive and traditional values in their country, the highest of any nation surveyed (even above the United States).
That clash between progressive and traditional values is heavily split along sex lines. In the same survey, South Koreans were by far the most likely to say relations between men and women in their country were strained.
South Korea is rich. It is economically, culturally, and militarily powerful. Yet its society is quietly failing so dramatically that its very basic survival as a civilization is in doubt. And instead of responding to this crisis with solidarity, Koreans are diverging massively along sex lines. Seventy-five percent of young Korean men voted for the right-wing candidate in Seoul’s most recent mayoral election. The country’s gender gap in politics may very well be the largest on Earth.
Unlike Korea, China doesn’t have multiparty elections. But it’s hardly surprising that its leaders are spooked by developments in this nearby nation. Like South Korea, China’s birthrate crashed dramatically from the 60s to today and has remained below replacement rate for several decades. The full repeal of the one-child policy five years ago has had minimal impact on the overall birthrate. A major collapse in birthrates in China could have serious implications for China’s economic, social, and geopolitical strength.
And so they’ve decided to take proactive action.
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This isn’t simply an effort to impose a more “serious” or “masculine” ideal on the population, and it’s not an attempt to crack down on fun. In fact, there appears to be a serious intention on the part of Chinese authorities to create a more balanced, healthy, and happier nation. In other words, a stark contrast to the dying, decrepit, neurotic malaise they see spreading in Westernized countries.
In July, for instance, China cracked down on the tutoring and cram schools that have spread thanks to the nation’s high-stakes college examinations.
In China, the competitive pursuit of education — and the better life it promises — is relentless. So are the financial pressures it adds to families already dealing with climbing house prices, caring for aging parents and costly health care.
The burden of this pursuit has caught the attention of officials who want couples to have more children. China’s ruling Communist Party has tried to slow the education treadmill. It has banned homework, curbed livestreaming hours of online tutors and created more coveted slots at top universities.
Last week, it tried something bigger: barring private companies that offer after-school tutoring and targeting China’s $100 billion for-profit test-prep industry. The first limits are set to take place during the coming year, to be carried out by local governments.
The move, which will require companies that offer curriculum tutoring to register as nonprofits, is aimed at making life easier for parents who are overwhelmed by the financial pressures of educating their children. [NY Times]
Development theorists sometimes note that countries playing “catch-up” on the world stage enjoy an advantage in terms of infrastructure. China can jump straight to high speed rail without worrying about updates to 150 years of normal railroads. It can build the most modern airports and highways possible.
But this standard applies to social practices as well. China can look ahead to how society has evolved in countries that are richer than it. And right now, China looks at American culture, and the culture of its Korean satellite, and sees compelling examples of what to avoid.
This revulsion on the part of Chinese elites is a powerful indication of America’s decline.
In the decades after World War 2, almost every country wanted to imitate the United States. The country’s wealth and innovation made it the global example of what to do right. Liberal democracy became equated with economic success and scientific accomplishment in large part because of how dramatically America outperformed the rest of the world in the early and mid-20th century.
But today, that magic, and the desire to imitate it, has evaporated. As an interested observer and rising power, China has intensely studied America’s history to glean lessons for itself. China seems to have concluded that American society is deeply sick, and it must act decisively to prevent the sickness from spreading to its own population.
In America and in Korea, addictive video games are distracting young people from cultivating meaningful and useful skills and hobbies. In America, children who once wanted to be astronauts and inventors now want to be rappers or YouTube personalities. The blurring of gender norms and the emasculation of men are sabotaging the normal pairing-off functions on which families are built. The enormous costs and stresses of raising successful children are causing parents to have fewer children than they’d like, or even forego having children at all.
And so, China is taking action. While its methods are dictatorial, its intentions are hardly alien. In certain respects, the CCP’s critique of modern society would sound eerily similar to what your World War II veteran grandfather might have said.
American conservatives often argue that China deliberately stokes wokeness to undermine the United States. The country has certainly used woke tropes to deflect blame for the coronavirus outbreak, or to counter complaints about its actions in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
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Still, the honest truth is that whatever China does to promote wokeness in the US is a drop in the ocean compared to America’s own political and cultural leaders. China may find “wokeness” geopolitically useful, but its leaders clearly regard it as absolute poison that must be kept out of China itself at all costs.
This, by itself, is enough to conclude that Chinese leaders in crucial respects care more about their nation and their people than American leaders do about this country and its people. When China’s leaders see poison coursing through society, they act to stop it. In America, our leaders promote, subsidize, or even mandate it. The poisonous woke agenda has become a defining feature of American identity. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that the woke agenda is as crucial to America’s dominant institutions as the CCP agenda is to the dominant institutions in China.
None of this is to say that China’s system is desirable, or something the West could (our should) emulate. But one of the greatest contemporary political challenges is finding a way to reconcile advanced technological progress with a content, stable, flourishing society. China’s system, though brutish, is at least attempting to do this. America’s woke totalitarian system is surrendering without a fight. If America wants to outcompete China in the 21st century — if it wants to even deserve to outcompete China — it must first extirpate the woke poison from every pore of its body politic. This is no easy task, but it is an essential one, and the American people are up to the challenge so long as they recognize that the greatest threat to America’s prosperity and wellbeing does not emanate from any foreign power — it emanates instead from the suicidal wretches who currently control America.