Letter From the Editors

“Better to be a dog in times of tranquility than a human in times of chaos.” – Chinese saying

The editors of Republic.ru are inclined to view this axiom as emblematic of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s attitude at the 20th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, where he described the current era as a time of “big changes in the world not seen for a century.” China expert Sergei Tsyplakov of Higher School of Economics confirms that Xi downplayed the increasing instability in his country, as COVID continues to thwart economic growth, domestic demand is declining, population growth is slowing, and public attitudes are becoming less optimistic about the future.

In apparent recognition of Xi’s past accomplishments and confidence in his ability to handle tough times, the CCP’s Politburo Central Committee reelected him for an unprecedented third term as head of the party. But after reading the text of Xi’s summary report to the congress, John Delury, a Chinese studies professor at Yonsei University in Seoul, was quick to conclude that the longtime leader’s continuing popularity stems not so much from hope as from fear: “Mao Zedong promised to make people revolutionaries. Deng Xiaoping promised to make them rich. Xi promises to keep them safe.”

Indeed, among the points that Xi emphasized in his speech were the fight against domestic corruption and a pledge to build a world-class army to prevent “enemies” from attacking. Granted, he did not specify who those enemies are, but the US is surely at the top of the list. And this factor may further warm relations between Beijing and Moscow. As Vasily Kashin explains, “Overall, every wave of deterioration in US-China relations is pushing China toward Russia. We have seen a gradual evolution of Beijing’s position on the Ukrainian issue – from measured neutrality . . . to statements about the US actually being politically responsible for the crisis.” However, Kashin points out, this growing sympathy is not leading China to supply Russia with weapons.

Nor is China openly supporting Russia ideologically, even though here too they have a common enemy – namely, the West. The latest front in the Kremlin’s ideological war is gay, bisexual and transgender rights: The State Duma held hearings on two bills this week that expand the ban on so-called “LGBT propaganda” to people of all ages and introduce new administrative provisions banning the promotion of pedophilia and gender transition. The bills garnered overwhelming support from the deputies present.

As justification for the new legislation, Aleksandr Khinshtein, head of the State Duma committee on information policy, argued there is a veritable revolution afoot in the West, with LGBT people holding senior government positions and gay, bisexual and transgender characters and celebrities being promoted in fiction, entertainment and advertising. He concluded: “Today LGBT [issues] are a tool of hybrid warfare, and in this war we must protect our society.”

What about the members of society who feel oppressed, rather than protected? Lev Rubinshtein writes with evident weariness: “I have been hearing this kind of rhetoric my whole life, more or less. . . . Like an organ grinder, they keep playing the same old tune again and again. . . . The rhetoric remains the same, only the targets change. Over the years, these included Western fashion trends, tight pants, rock’n’roll, abstract art, jazz, human rights advocacy, experimental music, jeans and chewing gum.”

A similar tune is apparently being played by the ayatollahs’ regime in Iran – only the “target” here is women’s hair and the need to cover it. Protests against the controversial death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody continue to rock the nation – although, as Ruslan Suleimanov reports, police are dispersing these demonstrations with increasing violence.  

All of these regimes seem to be working hard to perpetuate the age-old social contract of keeping their citizens at peace in exchange for obedience. How would a Chinese sage rate the life of a dog in times of chaos?