27 May, 2020

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May Day Special From Two Communist Countries: From Ha Long To Ha Noi

By Kumar David

After a quiet New Year in Colombo I emplaned for Hong Kong in the wee hours of the 15th morning and crossed into Guangdong (Canton) Province on a tour through two southern Chinese provinces into northern Vietnam for the next five days. I did it differently, not by air as tourists do, but by coach, train and rides on dilapidated buses. Travelling at the best of times is a stressful but on this occasion I was nursing a right-hand forefinger which an ungrateful horse I was feeding through a fence tried to chew off. Fortunately I found a foster mother (bastard that I am, I put on a show of distress), who took care to dress my wound and steady my geriatric stumbles.

From Ha Long . . .

From Ha Long . . .

Booming Guangdong Province I know well and have visited often; I still hold a time-unlimited professorship at the South China University of Technology. Guangdong is the richest province in China and where Deng’s opening-up made its break through because it is next to Hong Kong and is Cantonese speaking. The province’s capital city, Guangzhou called Canton in the old days is a bustling city of 10 million and the most advanced after Shanghai and Beijing. The province does not interest me much anymore though I marvel at the pace of conurbation and industrialisation every time I pass through. It was the next transit province Guangxi (Guangxi Autonomous Region) that I had my eye on. China has five autonomous regions; the others are Tibet, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia and Ningxia, where minorities are numerous and enjoy a degree of cultural and linguistic independence (but no ways political – if at all repression is starker in Tibet and Xinjiang).

I promised my readers long ago that I would visit Guangxi which has 30% Zhuang minority people with their own language but Han Chinese now predominate to the extent of 60%. I did not find the towns we passed of much interest from an ethnic perspective (Guangxi is nowhere near as vibrant or colourful Yunnan) but what is interesting is that the province’s former leader Cheng Kejie was executed in 2000 for corruption. Cheng was Provincial Governor, a CCP highflyer and a doer; his achievements in infrastructure development are everywhere to be seen; but he was also a ten percent man and when he fell out of favour when the leadership it was curtains. I need hardly rub in analogies – bigtime infrastructure expansion, getting things done, ten-percent and then the pitiless finale. There is much to learn from the Middle Kingdom, the four great inventions, paper, printing, gunpowder and the compass; but it seems much else as well, eh?

I need to say a few words this May Day about prospects for the ruling Communist Party. President Xi has consolidated power as no leader since paramount leader Deng and is continuing to do so ruthlessly. His anti-corruption drive has netted a hundred-thousand party and government officials, and though fear has frozen bureaucrats into avoiding decision making, it is popular with ordinary folk. Of course it is not an anti-corruption drive pure and simple; rivals in leadership are also being weeded out as with Cheng, though his execution preceded Xi Jinping’s rise to power. Of course below the surface knives are being sharpened and the revelation in the Panama Papers that Xi’s brother-in-law set up shelf-companies was a blow to the president’s image. News and Internet comment has been blacked out and those who defy the ban are hunted down; proof of damage to Xi’s image.

Still those who cannot distinguish between the fate of leading personalities and the stability of the system per se lack analytical discrimination. Xi may rise or Xi may fall, and that is a matter of importance, but this is not to be confused with fundamental durability of the state. The Chinese know how to find the side of their bread which is buttered and people don’t jettison a state that has brought material prosperity, housed and fed millions, pulled a quarter billion people out of abject poverty and made the country a potent player on the world stage. And the cardinal feature of this scenario is the undisputed hegemony of the Communist Party; I say this as palpable fact not implied justification and add that my natural instincts recoil from one-party rule as much as yours.

Hannah Arendt offered the thesis of “banality of evil”, meaning ordinary people are a herd that blindly follows a leader or an ideology, to explain the passivity of the German populace which could not have been unaware of Nazi genocide. The thesis has been contested by others who hold that the mass is not blind and itself becomes evil by identification with an evil ideology. The extrapolation is valid; a home grown example is the attitude of the Sinhalese people when Upcountry Tamils were rubbished in1948, during the in-effect No Tamil Act of 1956, and in 1958, 1977 and 1983. This is not reducible to some naïve thesis of good people misled by bad leaders Senanayake, Bandaranaike and Jayewardene.

Vietnam

The high speed train from Guangzhou terminated at Nanning, capital of Guangxi, and then a coach took me to the remote Dongxing (China)-Mong Cai (Vietnam) border crossing. This may be the first time border officials on either side had seen a Sri Lankan passport, but something else was more interesting – corruption! Graft is Vietnam, or at least low level graft such as passing bucks to immigration officials to expedite processing (what an age it took anyway). I grant this is what the tourist guide who took me through the border said; I did not pass bucks first-hand. Through the border and it was a rickety bus for the two hour ride to Ha Long (Halong) Bay, a world heritage site of 2000 breath-taking karst formations spread out over a large bay.

The hills on both sides on the ride to Ha Long were covered mile upon mile with eucalyptus plantations; the wood exported to Korea for paper making. Korea has also won the Vietnamese vehicle market; buses, trucks, cars and heavy equipment. I tried counting and at a guess Hyundai has 40% of the market, Kia 20% and Toyota and Ford have a presence too. The big investors in industry (all medium size enterprises) and power stations are Korea and China. The main export (import) partners are USA 21% (small), Japan 10% (11%), China 12% (30%) and Korea 7% (16%). The annual real GDP growth rate is about 7%, but has been above 8% in the recent past. Per capita GDP is two-thirds Sri Lanka’s but Vietnam’s population is much larger at 92 million.

. . . to Ha Noi

. . . to Ha Noi

I was glad to get to Ha Long now, before it is turned into a tourist megapolis. Signs of the looming excrescence were everywhere; hundreds of acres reclaimed from the sea, land levelling everywhere, theme parks rising, grotesque giant wheels and spaghetti rides that make your intestines bolt out through both ends of your alimentary system being hammered into place. In ten years Ha Long will be another (yak!) Disney Land and the pristine beauty of the lovely bay despoiled by the philistine urges of human hoi polloi. Soon doting parents will be fussing around prematurely obese offspring; but what to do; dollars and yuan will bulge from every pocket. On one side cultural globalisation means worldwide commemoration of the 400-th year after the death of Shakespeare and Cervantes (they died one day apart), Mozart mania that has gripped all East Asia, and the like. The other side is global consumerism and cultural banality. Or have I become a crotchety septuagenarian?

Stop lamenting the future and get on with the story! I had a great day on a boat weaving through karst island-domes and visiting a huge and wondrous cave of limestone stalagmites and stalactites carved out by the drip of water through millions of years. In the afternoon I sucked my pipe, sipped my cognac and lunched on the boat. The end of the day was a long bus ride to Ha Noi (Hanoi); like driving through China in the 1980s and 1990s, the bursting first decades of Deng Xiaoping’s opening up. Streets crowded with houses and shops like Slave Island or Kotahena; indeed most of Ha Noi is like this. One part however is laid out on a grand scale with a Great Hall of the People, esplanades, the Ho Chi Min mausoleum and museum, his sparse home on stilts and his modest office, all in the same garden as the former French Governor’s palatial residence.

New highways and expressways are four or six lane and superbly finished. Arterial roads that are still not highways are being dug up on both sides; a road improvement programme is in full swing. The system of US interstate highways was built from 1956 onwards, China started its drive late in the Twentieth Century and will match America and Canada nationwide within a generation, Vietnam is late starter whose intentions are clear. A modern nation must have a matching road and rail network. China’s railway system is superb. Short-sighted Americans, now much to their regret, erased their railways to make way for the Detroit automobile culture, but more intelligent Europe and Asia (unfortunately excluding short-sighted Lanka) are powering ahead with high-speed railway networks.

Notwithstanding rampant graft in Party and government, and despite the bureaucracy’s dread of going all the way on the road Comrade Deng trod, there is no gainsaying Vietnam is on the move to a success and prosperity. As a politically sensitive Lankan my reaction was sadness to see what we too can do but are not. I have no patience with those who denigrate everything Lankan and have not a good word for the country. In certain respects we have done well and more progress is sure, but it is also true that we have fallen short of our potential. It is more than blaming this government or that; a fatalist would see karma, but a truer view would lay the blame on narrow nationalist, linguistic and religious divides. “As rain seeps through a poorly thatched roof, passion seeps into the deluded mind” says the Dhammapada. Noting this contest of minds, it is appropriate that I sign off on this May Day with the comment that, for better for worse, in Communist societies a different ideology dominates and it crowds out these primordial impulses.

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Latest comments

  • 3
    1

    Prof,
    It is good to see your handsome and happy face. [Edited out]

    • 0
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      [Edited out]

    • 1
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      “” “As rain seeps through a poorly thatched roof, passion seeps into the deluded mind” says the Dhammapada.””

      Little wonder then that the script was written at Taxila.

      PhD:Pakistan `heeling` Dance- until one falls down in Ecstasy.- Thovilaya

      Passion has always ruled the world even before tree worshipers.

    • 2
      3

      Hi Guys, all the leftists should rally round and support to go against thugism and thakkadism of lanken Joint opposition led by MR/GR

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6XALy6KUkWE

      • 4
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        Simon Gunasekara,
        “”all the leftists should rally round and support”

        `protest and content` never would take you shape shape iguana culture anywhere.

        Utube video : Eggheads.Feeling gay!!. Land with several Warlords- 250 military personnel per clerk in dog collar clad in white.
        1.During the commonwealth heads of state you included was hiding in womans skirt.-
        2. You were given the opportunity to cast vote and voted One egghead to another. MR1 to MR2 await MR3

        Who is ultra nationalist?? Stupid you

        If you want development then the best available at the moment with no strings attached is BBS and Gota- you created them stupid Hegel Eggheads.

  • 2
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    “Or have I become a crotchety septuagenarian?”
    A little more than that Mr K.D. you have permanent Commie Horns that you cannot weigh and consider your sight with Sense. No one can change the old crocks brigade (70 and over) on CT newsroom.
    “New highways and expressways are four or six lane and superbly finished. Arterial roads that are still not highways are being dug up on both sides; a road improvement programme is in full swing. The system of US interstate highways was built from 1956 onwards, China started its drive late in the Twentieth Century and will match America and Canada nationwide within a generation, Vietnam is late starter whose intentions are clear. A modern nation must have a matching road and rail network. China’s railway system is superb. Short-sighted Americans, now much to their regret, erased their railways to make way for the Detroit automobile culture, but more intelligent Europe and Asia (unfortunately excluding short-sighted Lanka) are powering ahead with high-speed railway networks.”
    Like most Chinese I would not prefer to travel 2 days in train.(check Lonely planet if you don’t believe the common Chinese or I)
    The Japanese were the first to invent Aircraft Carrier so don’t be surprised why your ever loving Communist Russia was bombed badly during WW2 by the Japanese. It is the Roosevelt and public money that kept Stalin alive and assisted him to kill his own. The Japanese had the fastest train. They purchased patent rights from the Yankees from engines radio etc. One of the first Engineer Brahmin Tamils at Detroit (Kingsman) went there in 1920 he still owns a ranch and his kids are even greater achievers- generations that do not stagnate. It seems all you political Lankans know is porriki Vaiko.
    China is just a copy Like Japan buying the patent rights. India won the first war with Pakistan (American aided air force) by buying the throw away Gnat and redesigning it to fight in the valley.
    Spanish Rail, German Rail, Russian Rail have all teamed up to be running the Silk Route Train from China to Madrid.- cheaper faster no carbon foot print- 2 years on – Where have you been?? CEB or with Einstein looking for something at CERN the dancing iron sculpture.
    Remember you are travelling alone; I travel too, everyone one likes it alone therefore the private Auto is there to stay. If not for 9/11 we would be driving our cars in 3D space powered by water- its all there.- when the time is right it will be like those magnificent men in their jaunty jalopies. Neither the Russians Chinese Japanese underestimate the Yankees though Karl Marx did.
    Nice article very informative to the unaccustomed traveller at China. China’s Guangdong is finally going Robotic for the past 2 years and getting rid of staff (1robot for 140 workers- and production increase by 40% plus accuracy). It is an opportunity for India, Lanka to pick the crumbs.
    The question will be how the world nip is the stalk in the bud especially the Muslim that does not listen? Trump will do that so you and the rest better close your eyes mate. Remember Big Boy Small Boy – No hum in 70 years. It’s an animals world survival of the fittest – humans are civilised so lets have it.

  • 2
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    A superb presentation by Prof:Kumar David-so appropriate for May Day,with the Dhammapada also brought in to buttress the message.

    ….President Xis anti-corruption drive has netted a hundred-thousand party and government officials,and though fear has frozen bureaucrats into avoiding decision making,it is popular with ordinary folk…..

    How many have been netted in Srilanka-The Land like no other?!

    • 2
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      Plato.

      “President Xis anti-corruption drive has netted a hundred-thousand party and government officials,and though fear has frozen bureaucrats into avoiding decision making,it is popular with ordinary folk….. “

      Its true its popular with ordinary folks, the anti corruption drive has been going on since 1980s.

      Whats the point of such drive when media is being strictly controlled by the state. The undemocratic party seems to be tough on media freedom than on its own corrupt party officials.

  • 1
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    Although you have communist ideologies and a leftist advocate, [Edited out]

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    “May Day Special From Two Communist Countries: From Ha Long To Ha Noi”

    Communist countries! Professor David seems to have forgotten what communism means.
    He has correctly spotted the prevalence of corruption.
    Moving away from corruption and capitalism requires strong political mobilization of the working class.

    • 2
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      SJ the TamCom,

      “”Moving away from corruption and capitalism requires strong political mobilization of the working class. “

      Capitalism is the new ideal of China and the working class is not the necessity.

      Nine robots now do the job of 140 full-time workers. Robotic arms pick up sinks from a pile, buff them until they gleam and then deposit them on a self-driving trolley that takes them to a computer-linked camera for a final quality check.
      ….
      “”Every time we change something, we ask: is it more effective to do this using humans or robots?”

      commenter: My local chemist in an unfashionable part of Berlin has a robot arm in the stock room that you can see picking out prescriptions once the barcode has been read at the sales counter. If a small chemist can do it…..””

      highlight and read the page on china today.

      • 2
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        SJ the TamCom,
        I forgot to include; when the western financial occurred China was owed $1.2 Trillion by USA alone and had unemployment of 350 million. Children of factory workers who left the villages to cites that were 2 days journey by train caring for themselves (village 2 kids were always permitted) 3 and 4 years old. They when interviewed say we understand our parents need to work. Holidays throughout China are synchronised- 2 week, 1 week, 1 week. Moon festival 1 week New year 2 week etc.
        Chinese life in the fast lane flooding the western markets, destroy our western market and increasing the prices.

    • 1
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      Plato.

      “President Xis anti-corruption drive has netted a hundred-thousand party and government officials,and though fear has frozen bureaucrats into avoiding decision making,it is popular with ordinary folk….. “

      Its true its popular with ordinary folks, the anti corruption drive has been going on since 1980s.

      Whats the point of such drive when media is being strictly controlled by the state. The undemocratic party seems to be tough on media freedom than on its own corrupt party officials.

  • 0
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    Ten, ten percent man???????

    [ but what is interesting is that the province’s former leader Cheng Kejie was executed in 2000 for corruption.
    Cheng was Provincial Governor, a CCP highflyer and a doer; his achievements in infrastructure development are everywhere to be seen;
    but he was also a ten percent man and when he fell out of favour when the leadership it was curtains. I need hardly rub in analogies – bigtime infrastructure expansion, getting things done, ten-percent and then the less finale.

    What about ten, ten percent men in Sri Lanka?,
    Has the present president let them go scot free on people’s account????????.

  • 1
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    An intellectual fraud and a humbug in every respect. Masquerading as a red, living in Hong Kong, green card holder of the biggest capitalist country, open supporter of separatism. Professor you need to stop making moral pronouncements on Sri Lanka or try to educate us on Mao or Ho.

    • 2
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      there won’t be separation- plantation workers 70 year stay – a disaster.

      We need our colony back.

      Practical: because its meant to be the next Diego Garcia.-
      too many people on the planet and its easy to eliminate an insignificant culture.

  • 0
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    Kumar David has neither made any moral pronouncement on Sri Lanka in this write-up nor tried to educate any on Mao or Ho.

    In any event, we are still a free country.
    He has the right to say or not say anything and you have the right to not listen or listen.

    • 0
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      SJ/sekere

      “In any event, we are still a free country.”

      Do you regret the fact that this is still a free country and not part of peacefully rising middle kingdom?

  • 0
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    SJ.

    This is neither Fish,Flesh nor Fowl!

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      Plato
      If your reference is to my response to Angelo Perera, who appears to have not read Kumar David but objects to his writing, for his own reasons, I would stick with vegetables for the day.

  • 1
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    “China’s railway system is superb. Short-sighted Americans, now much to their regret, erased their railways to make way for the Detroit automobile culture, but more intelligent Europe and Asia (unfortunately excluding short-sighted Lanka) are powering ahead with high-speed railway networks.”

    Dr.KD,
    Economists have said that such high-speed rail systems are huge loss-making enterprises; what I have read is that China has built those high speed rail networks at huge expense to the state, but the fare is high and there are few people with the means to pay, so the trains are largely empty and commuters are still using buses. It might make sense if your horizon is 100 years from now, but not any time soon. That is the observation of American economists who have visited Shanghai and other cities in China. Can you comment on it?

    Americans with their emphasis on individual freedom have been using cars a lot, so public transportation systems are often loss-making, even in major cities like NY and DC.

  • 0
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    SJ.

    I would certainly NOT ask you to be a Vegetarian on trivial issues like this!
    Besides,Tuesday & Friday are also grass eating days!

    • 0
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      Thanks for being kind.
      I have no preferred days for eating dead bodies.

  • 0
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    [Edited out]

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