In the last century, two iconic books, both now anachronistic in some ways albeit relevant in others, formed western concepts of Chinese communism in our part of the world though essentially different from the Russian or Soviet communism Europe then knew in their corner of the global neighborhood.
Chinese Studies was one of the popular electives in the old Ateneo de Manila in the late 1970s to the eighties not so much because the course focused on conflict-ridden history, culture, and politics, but because our professor then graded us on the basis of the number and quality of the questions we asked. It was not only relatively easy to get a high grade but because China had become then, and still is, a fairly exotic mystery to many accustomed to being educated by Hollywood’s caricatures, the number of questions and its quality that students had on China, and on Chinese Communism were numerous.
Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth had a Hollywood version and both book and movie influenced western understanding, if not sympathy for Chinese Communism. Red Star over China, a biographical account by Edgar Snow, was written in the early part of the last century when the Chinese Communist Party, now in control since 1947, was still a ragtag guerrilla group. Both were written by westerners. Even the movie starred Ukraine-born Paul Muni as Wang Lung. Both fueled the debate whether the Communist Chinese were simply agrarian reformers or that their ultimate goal was the total subjugation of China.
We now know what it was truly about. And now Xi Jin Ping has taken the same initiative much farther, well into our waters and beyond into the hollow expanses inside the minds of our political leaders.
Since its inception, Chinese communism has not evolved as much as it has expanded beyond China’s borders as a multiple-course Chinese lauriat of trade-with-strings attached such as the Belt and Road Initiative, packaged from ignorance, propaganda, fake news, fears and its resultant misconceptions – all from both passive evolution and aggressive expansion.
That said, our ignorance on communism prevails not only as profoundly as our questions were in the seventies but also as widely where cumulative ignorance had warped into fallacies enough to form fears of the unfamiliar. From fears come apprehensions that can easily translate to violent responses. Read today’s headlines. It is unfortunate that gun powder-laced minds incapable of analysis have transformed, nay distorted, those fears to suit a political if not utilitarian agenda.
Our prevalently autocratic environment where police powers rule under Rodrigo Duterte, and now with the resurrection of a scion from our darkest dictatorial past, provides a fertile sludge of dirt, garbage, and compost that fertilizes those fears and sprouts a poisoned fruit called “red-tagging”.
In time for our most sensitive and critical decision this May 2022, someone is forcibly raising a red star over the presidential elections, and it is not the Reds. Similar to our opening arguments on communism, the authors of this latent red bogey narrative are not simply outsiders to its cause but employ the rebel red-scare as a blunt instrument of disinformation, black propaganda, and fear-mongering.
All past is prologue. Ferdinand Marcos in 1972 is a dark albeit distant mirror. Reflecting 1972’s crony capitalism and debilitating external debt as a backdrop, the Duterte catalyst in the form of the Draconian 2020 Anti-Terrorism Act was spawned when we were most vulnerable. It is not a coincidence that the red-tagging alarm over the historically successful Cavite rally of Leonor “Leni” Robredo was sounded by a poorly performing presidential aspirant who drafted the law.
Evoking the law’s constant scourge note its threats on our electoral rights. Two products of political dynasties followed the red-tagging trend. To defile the record set by the exponentially larger Pasig rally, reflecting Duterte’s pronouncements, a mainstream and online broadsheet published that “paid attendees and radical elements sympathetic to the CPP-NPA-NDF troika formed a bulk of those present”. Note also where two iconic bookstores catering to the erudite were defaced and shamed as red sympathizers. Finally, a ranking official under the presidential communications staff red-tagged Robredo herself.
1972’s mirror images are coming into focus. Here we go again.
(Dean dela Paz is a former investment banker and a managing director of a New Jersey-based power company operating in the Philippines. He is the chairman of the board of a renewable energy company and is a retired Business Policy, Finance and Mathematics professor.)
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.