“Contemporary China – Six Interpretations” could not have had a better objective: to bring together Brazilians from various disciplines, from economics to literature, to write about a country which, it must be admitted, has the project of reinventing the world . There is little Brazilian intellectual production on China, much less than would be necessary. That’s why I went to the book curated by sociologist Ricardo Musse with great interest, even though the imprint was academic. But I left frustrated.
I start with what works. The best of the six articles is “Ecological Civilization or Environmental Collapse?” », By sociologist Luiz Henrique Vieira de Souza. It tests the consistency of the discourse on “ecological civilization” adopted by the Chinese Communist Party. The conclusion is that this is still a “glamorous rhetorical instrument”, rather than an effective package of measures to stop the destruction of natural resources and global warming. In China, says Souza, conservation goals are set with authority by the central government and selectively implemented by regional governments, depending on the rewards involved. Moreover, the Chinese are said to be encouraging environmental degradation in other countries, by investing in energy and food production, turning a blind eye to how it happens.
Another good article is that of economist Bruno Hendler, on the rivalry between China and the United States. Hendler looks at the numbers to see if the rise of China at the turn of the century compares with that of Americans after World War II (1939-1945). His answer is no: for various reasons, including the marginality of the yuan against the dollar, he sees no conditions for China to play a hegemonic role. At most, the country can aspire to match the United States. It would be interesting to hear what Hendler has to say on the thesis of the existence of a new cold war.
The essay by economist Alexandre de Freitas Barbosa, which opens the book, is hard reading. In a perspective of centuries, and not decades, it confronts in a few pages the theories of many economic historians, in search of “the perfect explanation” of the rise of China. The intention is to describe Chinese evolution in its own terms, and not as a departure from Western norm. But the effort of abstraction is so great that in the end, countries cease to be countries and become “structural positions in the realm of capitalism”. In this scheme, the choice of more open or repressive political models suddenly becomes irrelevant. The reader wonders if reaching this “neutral” point of view was not the goal from the start.
This ambiguity does not exist in the four-handed text by Elias Jabbour and Alexis Dantas and in the text by Wladimir Pomar. From the first lines, it is clear that they have an ideological commitment. Jabbour and Dantas affirm that China presents to the world a “modern popular, anti-colonialist and national liberation geopolitics”. Hong Kong people certainly don’t see it that way. Pomar is presented as a Marxist political activist and lives up to his title.
Of the six essays, the most disconcerting is that of cultural critic Francisco Foot Hardman. He seems to have something to say about how Chinese artists – novelist Mo Yan and filmmaker Jia Zhangke – talk about the ravages of progress. He still seems to see points of contact between Brazilian and Chinese culture. But it is impossible to be sure. Hardman says his text is a “provisional synthesis”. Let’s wait for the final one.