Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Political science and history

My rule of thumb for students writing responses to FRQs has been, "Don't worry about anything more than 25 (30?) years old UNLESS you're specifically asked about it. This is political science, not history."(I had to say that because nearly all my students had taken AP history courses and loved writing responses explaining everything they could think of that led up to the topic of the FRQ.)

My rule of thumb for teachers is that you really have to understand a lot of history in order to explain what's going on today.

Geremie R. Barmé is a professor of history, so we should expect that he'd emphasize history more than I do.

Q. and A.: Geremie R. Barmé on Understanding Xi Jinping
Geremie R. Barmé is a professor of Chinese history and founding director of the Australian Center on China in the World at the Australian National University…

Q: As a longtime China watcher, what is special for your craft in the Xi era?

A: As an historian… the Xi era is something of a gift. The dark art of Chinese rule combines elements of dynastic statecraft, official Confucianism, the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist legacy and the mixed socialist-neoliberal reforms of the post-Mao era.

Under Xi Jinping, the man I like to call China’s C.O.E., or Chairman of Everything, these traditions are being drawn on to build a China for the 21st century… For the many students of China who haven’t bothered reading Mao… Xi’s version of China is positively discombobulating.

Q: Some people in China refer to Mr. Xi as “Emperor Xi.” Are there similarities?

A: Since the Mao era, it has been a commonplace for even rather levelheaded analysts and observers to speak of Chinese leaders as emperors or want-to-be emperors. This generates a comfortable metaphorical landscape, one that Chinese friends also often encourage. It puts Chinese political culture and behavior beyond the realm of the normal or knowable…

Of course, Xi aspires to something like that… The official adulation of Xi and the fact that he is omnipresent are reminiscent of the leader complex of other, older socialist states…

Q: How is the current crackdown on expression affecting creativity on the Internet?

A: There is no doubt that the threnody [a song or poem that expresses sorrow for someone who is dead] of the era of “Big Daddy Xi,” as the official media call the C.O.E., is boredom. The lugubrious propaganda chief, Liu Yunshan, the Internet killjoy Lu Wei and Xi himself have together cast a pall over Chinese cultural and intellectual life…

Q: Do you see nationalism getting out of hand?

A: In a way, nationalism in China has been out of hand for years: the intense and costly nationwide re-education campaign launched in the wake of June 4, 1989, emphasized China’s unique national situation, its undivided “nationhood” and grand history. The popular sense of exceptionalism is here to stay.

But this exceptionalism is threatened by Taiwan… It is threatened by Hong Kong… It is threatened by the very pluralism that market reforms engender in China itself.

Of course, China is achieving long-cherished goals of strength and power, but in the process it has forged a one-party nation-state that, apart from tireless police action, maintains unity through aggravated propaganda and public bellicosity. But there is also the “Other China” — one that is educated, informed, skeptical, well-read, often well-traveled and part of a modern global society. This Other China is often silenced, ignored or ill-understood, but it will flourish well beyond the tenure of Xi Jinping…

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