Chilling sight of audience at Rolling Stones' Shanghai concert

Friday, April 21 2006 @ 10:09 PM JST

Contributed by: Y.Yamamoto

Earlier this month, the British rock group's longtime dreams finally came true. Their plans for China tour had been aborted a couple of times in the last 25 years, most recently when the SARS epidemic thwarted their concerts in 2003. Apparently we are supposed to see here yet another sign that the once-reclusive country is further opening itself up, gradually but steadfastly. But I see no reason to be encouraged by the China's recent moves. We already knew that the opening up in a similar way of the feudal Japan in the mid-19th century has gotten us nowhere, perhaps but hell.

Neither did I feel betrayed by Mick Jagger and other stones who went ahead with their gig in China even though they had to comply with the demand by Chinese officials not to play several numbers blacklisted as too risque and offending. Fortunately enough, though, this did not mean anything to me because I hadn't particularly held the U.S.-based rock musicians in high esteem from the beginning.

Instead I couldn't but feel scared watching the big crowd of people, who are not allowed to choose their own leader, go wild over the live performance just like any other audience of a rock concert everywhere else in the world. I just wondered all a new how far these people will go on living like this, clinging to the sheer falsehood and self-deception, and perhaps more importantly, how far America and other Western nations keep dancing with them just because of their big appetite for the world's most populous consumer market. This also brought me back to Karl Marx's 1857 writing I read some 50 years ago.

Although you may think it's a too far-fetched argument to discuss the Rolling Stones' Shanghai tour in connection with the basics of Marxism, I believe today's problem with China has all stemmed from Mao's insistence that his tenets were a Chinese version of Marxism. The rest of the world has also believed in Mao's assertion. Perhaps Vladimir Ilich Lenin is in part to blame because the father of the communist China seemed to have learned of Marx secondhand via the Russian revolutionary. But unlike the dull-witted Mao who couldn't tell philosophy from politics, Lenin seemed to be well aware that he was just cashing in on the political aspects of the Marx's thoughts as opportunistically as any other politician would have. A level-headed politician often bases his political platform on a philosophical principle. But when it comes to freaks like Mao, it's always the other way around. That's basically why in China, the delusive ideology has outlasted the social system this long.

Karl Marx jotted down the following sentences 149 years ago when preparing himself to work on "The Capital: A Critique of Political Economy", the voluminous theoretical work which I must admit not to have read thus far:

"Production is, thus, at the same time consumption, and consumption is at the same time production. (snip) Production leads to consumption, for which it provides the material; consumption without production would have no object. But consumption also leads to production by providing for its products the subject for whom they are products. The product attains its final consummation in consumption. A railway on which no one travels (which is therefore not used up, not consumed) is potentially, but not actually, a railway. Without production, there is no consumption; but without consumption, there is no production, either."

In other paragraphs, Marx stressed that consumption gives the finishing touch to production. He didn't use the word "value" but obviously he intended to imply that the value is created only by a collaboration between the producer and the consumer. When I first read these eye-opening sentences in my teens, I was struck by the fact that the conventional interpretation of Marxism was miles apart from the very core of his thoughts. Ever since I've learned that the Jewish-German never argued that wearing an overall smeared with machine oil will automatically make you a proletarian entitled and empowered to ultimately overwhelm capitalists, just like Christians baptized with Chrism (Holy Oil) are cleansed of their sins. In other words, Marx didn't think, let alone write, that consumerism per se is a sinful thing at all.

If I am to update his sentences in my way, I won't have that much to add. My way of saying this would be something like this: "A cellular phone becomes a cellular phone only when its user uses it in a distinctive and more meaningful way than could be expected with the conventional fixed-line telephone." Likewise, Toyota Motor fails to make its high-end Lexus a real product if the world's second largest automaker targets the pricey cars primarily at wrongdoing Tokyo businessmen, or yakuza mobsters who make their living on corporate racketeering because in that case, the luxury cars are literally use-less for any productive purposes. The vehicles will only help expedite the process for the thieves to reap their fast bucks. The same holds true with products and services by Cisco and other Internet service companies who have proven record of extending a helping hand to China's censors. By the same token, Chinese people who attended the Shanghai concert were not really "consuming" the "product". They were just abusing, or even wasting, the Western culture, if the rock group can be considered to represent it.

The tickets to the Shanghai concert were priced at 300-3,000 yuan, which are a fortune for the average Chinese whose monthly take-home salary is 1,700 yuan. And yet the Rolling Stones could find thousands of rock fans who found these prices affordable in the wealthiest city of Shanghai. On the other hand, there must have been a host of Chinese in other areas of the country who wanted, but couldn't afford, to buy the tickets to the rock concert. I think it must have been real great if Mick Jagger had insisted to hold an admission-free open-air concert in one of those poverty-stricken towns in the rural area. Unfortunately, though, the Rolling Stones are not that charitable, and the Chinese authorities are too preoccupied with the concerns about maintaining domestic stability.

The fact that China has been so timid about accommodating (i.e., consuming) the Western culture not only indicates that the nation was not founded on the Marxist ideas in the first place, but also tells us that the Chinese are not yet ready, or perhaps won't be ready forever, to appreciate non-Chinese (i.e., non-"Marxist") culture. Another way of saying this is: they are still living in a pre-industrialist, and thus pre-Marxist, world, which is called the era of mercantilism. To them creating values doesn't mean a thing. Worst of all, they now think they are witnessing a historical moment where Marxism and capitalism are converging into one to give birth to something new and fabulous.

Mao Zedong imported what he thought was Marxism into China with a lot of Oriental twist. Then, three decades later, Deng Xiaoping thought he was renovating the Mao's version of Marxism and bringing about a prospering consumer society by marketizing the economy. And now Hu Jintao thinks he is furthering the Deng's pursuit. I have never been a Marxist myself in the sense normally associated with this label. But at least I can tell these gentlemen aren't intelligent enough to comprehend what the Marx's ideas are all about.

So, is it true that China is now poised to become a decent member of the international community? The answer is a flat no. The Chinese may increasingly try to meet the minimum international obligations after stalling for time as long as possible. But now it's obvious that they won't produce any values to add to the civilization of mankind. Worse, they are totally unable to give the "finishing touch" to the values other people have created. All they can do is undermine them in the way Mao abused and distorted Marxism. The Rolling Stones' dreams come true, therefore, look to have marked the start of a nightmare in which we are doomed to see the Chinese dominate Asia, or even the entire world, and the decline of human civilization accelerate at the same time. It's a shame that Americans recently talk a lot about engaging China, whereas it's China, in fact, that's successfully containing America, the nation which has championed the universal values of mankind in the last six decades.

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