China Derangement Syndrome – Opting Out


Like Donald Trump, China is a subject that can turn usually reliable voices of reason into hysterical harpies. The mere mention of the name “China” will incur an effective personality displacement where the person you thought you were talking to seems to be there no longer. I call this malady China Derangement Syndrome.

The first sign that someone is suffering from China Derangement Syndrome is the insistence on calling the country “Communist China” in every sentence. Yes, it is true that the country is governed by the Communist Party of China. It is clear, though, that if that is that person’s chosen shorthand for an entire country, they are ideologically possessed.

To prove it, consider the flip-side. You can tell you’re talking to an ideologically possessed leftist if they constantly refer to the US as the “Capitalist US” or “Imperialist West.” Now, those monikers may indeed be technically true in some sense. What they don’t do, however, is display a desire for calm, objective analysis.

Calm, objective analysis of China indicates that the country abandoned anything we could recognize as communism decades ago. China is now a nation of markets, albeit not as free as we might hope. Entrepreneurialism is encouraged, private ownership is strong, and pockets of the country are designated “Economic Development Zones,” where some modicum of free enterprise is permitted. The state still owns a large section of the economy, but it’s no longer comprehensive. We won’t be seeing planning-induced famines anytime soon.

Another thing those afflicted with China Derangement Syndrome do is make rhetorical links to Mao Zedong where none are present. Many have made discussion around the coronavirus a broad commentary on modern China and see the country’s handling (or mishandling) of the crisis as “predictable” because it is the country of Mao. Talk about wild inferences.

Some in the West might not actually be aware that Mao Zedong died in the 1970s, and since then the country has gone through a swathe of economic and legal reforms. These are what have made China the powerhouse it is today. The country has changed. Making everything that happens in China about Mao is unnecessary, if not ridiculous.

Most Westerners are shockingly uninformed about China, which makes the narrative ripe for manipulation. Careless associations to the Cultural Revolution and the horrors it caused makes the modern picture less clear, not more. In a time where belligerence between China and the US is increasing, surely it’s more appropriate to chill on the inflammatory rhetoric.

Now, this is the smoking gun: If someone says something to the effect of, “Well, [as they scoff] if you’re not skeptical of totalitarian Communist China, then you need some critical thinking skills,” then you can be sure that they’ve got a fatal case of China Derangement Syndrome.

This old chestnut will appear if you present evidence that contradicts speculation about China. For example, if you show that independent analysis of the coronavirus seems to indicate that it was not created by humans, therefore ruling out the theory that China created it as a bio-weapon to destabilize America. This will bounce off them, and talk in generalities about the trustworthiness about “Communist China.” It’s like the deus ex machina that protects all of their prejudices.

For the love of Confucius, don’t succumb to this. It’s nothing more than an excuse not to think.

Then there’s the stylistic choices of writing with these afflicted CDSers. They might usually be fairly sober writers that for some reason when talking about China turn into romantic flag-wavers. Yes, I’m naming names.

Matt Kilcoyne from the Adam Smith Institute, the British attempt at those “free-market think tanks” that will reliably let you down on the most important issues, usually writes and tweets with a dispassionate if not witty tone if it’s about economics. Here, as he does when anything about China comes up, he thinks he’s Winston Churchill.

Just as we need that sober analysis, the romance is brought in. We have to suffer hackneyed propaganda terms like “leaders of the free world.”

Finally I’ll get specific about the issues in China that cause well-meaning people to sharpen the knife – this “Uyghur Forced Labour” thing. If it is true that China is interning millions of Uyghurs, forcing them to work, and forcing them to be sterilized as sources claim, then that is a serious violation of rights and worth our attention. Being angry about that is not evidence of China Derangement Syndrome.

However, there are facts around this story that ought to encourage our skepticism. Why are there so many videos claimed by “Uyghur Activists” to be depicting abuse towards Uyghurs turning out to be fake? Many of them are not in Xinjiang, or even China. One video said to be showing Chinese torture of an Uyghur man turned out to be a video of a private BDSM club in Taiwan.

The claim is that there is upwards of a million Uyghurs detained, but citations in favor of this number almost always come from the same source: Adrian Zenz, who presided over two studies that extrapolated that colossal number from the interviews of 8 people. The number is pure speculation.

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James Smith

Writer and film-maker from the United Kingdom. Digital nomad. Author of 'The Shy Guy's Guide to Travelling'.


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