I have just finished reading “Autumn In Shanghai”1 by Gilad Atzmon here on Dissident Voice which was of special interest to me as a long term Shanghai resident. His article has two sections. The first talks about Shanghai and China, the second about China and Israel. I feel the need to respond to the first part and the first part only.
Gilad was recently here for the JZ Festival in Shanghai’s Pudong district and he also taught; I’m assuming, at the JZ school. I can imagine the experience. The JZ Festival went off without a hitch in a beautiful park in the Pudong New Zone. The JZ school is situated in the former French concession among old houses and tree lined lanes. Between the lanes, the Jazz and the skyscrapers of Pudong, it must have been an intoxicating week. But we are supposed to be dissidents and radicals and some parts of Gilad’s article are lazy and dangerous. We need perspective.
Gilad writes, “China is a financial miracle.”
I have lived in Shanghai for eight years and a large part of my life is given to the underground music scene. But before we get to the reality of that we have to address the big problem. The myth of the “economic miracle”. This is not specific to China. This is a global myth. Let us start with a reminder of the state of the global system. According to the World Bank development indicators for 2008, 80% of the world, or 5.15 billion people, live on less than ten dollars a day with 3.14 billion of those, or half the world’s population, living on less than two dollars fifty.2 The top 20%, as we are all aware, is divided into the so called middle classes and the super rich.
China is a fair reflection of this global trend. The most recently touted indicator has been the internet usage stats.3 China recently approached the 300 million mark for internet users. Economic commentators foamed at the mouth and noted that was equal to the entire population of the USA. Of course, what it actually represents is the creation of a 20% middle class to go with it’s remaining billion people who are on or below the subsistence mark. Gilad also states, “It is a miracle because it somehow manages to restrain hard capitalism with a unique socially orientated system.” That is simply not true. It is purely hard capitalism. Period. There is no restraint, there is a free for all that is destroying the countryside and resulting in monthly riots across the land.4
In any region of the world, a system which enriches a minority of the people while plunging the rest downwards — while destroying their land rights and environment — should never be called a miracle. It should be called a disaster.
It is also dangerous to freely mix ideas of state or government with people or culture. I love to live here and my experiences on the underground rock scene and with local artists have been amazing. However, a little reading or asking around the subject will reveal that writing, music and art has a glass ceiling that is directly imposed by state censorship. For every Jazz Festival that goes on there are a slew of cancelled events.5 During the Olympics, the entire music scene was forcibly shut down for a month by the police.6 The underground is allowed to exist, as long as it doesn’t try to go public. I might also mention that no word gets published in print media without being first read by the Xinhua Agency.
I love living in China and Shanghai. The people are great and the issues I bring up are not only relevant to China. I myself don’t like ‘China Bashing’ and the countless lazy stereotypes that appear in journalism about this complex country. However, Shanghai is the glossy facade for the rest of the country and it’s our job as radicals to always keep our perspective.
- “Autumn in Shanghai” by Gilad Atzmon [↩]
- “Global Issues Poverty Facts.” [↩]
- “China has close to 300 million internet users AFP.” [↩]
- “58,000 mass incidents in China in first quarter as unrest grows to largest ever recorded.” [↩]
- “Modern Sky Festival 2009” from China Music Radar. [↩]
- “The Clampdown” from China Music Radar. [↩]