Chinese business magnate Jack Ma's AntFinancial topped auditing firm KPMG's 2019 list of the world's best fintech companies. Photo: Handout

Amid the current trade war, let’s dip into the past first. The West had exploited China long before the 19th-century Opium Wars. In recent decades Western corporations have preyed on China to manufacture products cheaply for high-priced world markets. Unlike “the world’s largest democracy” India, China led by a non-democratic regime has played the long game highly efficiently, outbidding the West. Thereby China has risen from the world’s workbench to the world’s second-largest economy, with 850 million lifted from poverty. But geopolitical systemic backlashes for labor and nature were played down for profit-focus.

Whoever thinks “communism is dead” (as per Harvard politologist Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History, 1992) obviously underestimates China’s domestic market of 1.3 billion people (about 20% of the world population). China’s big leverage on world markets pushes the world into times before labor unions, of reckless companies’ inhumane working conditions. “Chinese communism” blends with capitalism’s most cruel form.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is killing well-paid jobs galore, while for the jobs remaining China’s richest businessman, Alibaba founder Jack Ma, calls the “996 work culture” – working from 9am to 9pm, 6 days a week – a “huge blessing.” How cynical, given 996’s psychological repercussions: “996” is a formula to develop burnout before turning 30, evermore the Chinese experience. These 996 working conditions shouldn’t be called “culture.” Jack Ma has disclosed his exploiter’s mentality endangering accomplished Western labor and living standards. The “996” society isn’t about civilization but survival. Personal freedom, family life, individuality, sacrificed for group pressure and “996.”

Who regularly works from 9am to 9pm, 6 days a week doesn’t ask for more than rest. The Japanese/Korean “work culture” expecting employees by group pressure to socialize with colleagues after work isn’t desirable either. A 72-hour workweek reserves neither capacity nor time to think of anything but recuperation. Giving people no time to reflect serves Jack Ma and friends, displaying “antisocial personality” as their business empire’s foundation.

The “996” concept going viral degrades labor standards also in the West, stealing time from parenting, transporting morals/ethics, and family life. Cultivating and transporting values needs culture and a sense for history. Modern-day China has eradicated culture and history thoroughly. Values take time to adopt, cultivate, internalize by thousands of hours of reflection, but aren’t learned by rote (as China’s rigorous gaokao, “The high exam,” Chinese state media portray as harmless).

The Asian 72-hour workweek faces the Western 40-hour workweek. Who will win? Many Western employees still enjoy several weeks of vacation. Many Westerners work from 9am to 5pm, five days a week under comparatively humane working conditions, but many already feel their working conditions deteriorating, the number of low-paid jobs with wages people cannot live on skyrocketing. The increasing working-poor rate reminds of the 18th-19th-century Industrial Revolution (“Manchester Liberalism“), wherein Europeans worked under terrible conditions, up to 18 hours per day, from 7am to 7pm, six days a week, estranged from themselves.

By riots, labor unions and emancipation the people improved their working conditions. Finally Western societies evolved from slavery/feudalism to civilization. Now the West downgrades standards to compete with China.

Western accomplishments of labor standards increasingly belong to the past while China’s central government keeps people running, overworked, deprived from information, human rights, without time to reflect about their fate.

The Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) severed China from its history, which used to be wiser than copying Western mistakes, amplified by a factor of 1.3 billion toward global overkill. Chairman Mao Zedong laid the groundwork for communism by eradicating thousands of years of Taoism and Confucianism in opposition to Taoism founder Lao Tzu’s “When cleverness emerges, there is great hypocrisy” (see Professor of Philosophy Robert Allinson, Morals and Society in Asian Philosophy, 1996) and “Hence when the Way was lost there arose Virtue; When Virtue was lost there arose benevolence; When benevolence was lost there arose righteousness; When righteousness arose there arose the [Confucian] rites. The rites are the wearing thin of dutifulness and trustworthiness. And the beginning of disorder” (Professor for Asian Studies Edward Slingerland, Effortless Action: Wu-wei as Conceptual Metaphor and Spiritual Ideal in Early China, 2003).

After Chairman Mao’s death, a legacy of more than 4 million dead, and decades of communism, China’s central government endorsed capitalism, using people as cannon fodder, benefiting the privileged while neglecting the many.

The Loss of Virtue in China entailed the Loss of Virtue in the West (philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, 1981). The West is forced to downgrade its standards to compete with 1.3 billion Chinese. Talking of Western colonialism, don’t forget “Chinese colonialism” of the world, making the West a colony of China successively, large-scale environmental destruction inclusive. The Chinese work ethic isn’t ethical but nationalist. What to expect from China’s central government disregarding aforementioned legendary Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu’s essentials: “I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.” (Professor Patrick Kim Cheng Low, Leading Successfully in Asia, 2017).

Capitalism needs balance … eco-social market economy (Global Marshal Initiative – Josef Riegler, former Austrian vice-president) as unregulated capitalism makes the super-rich uber-rich while ruining nature’s and people’s health, pushing the world into a suicide mission to global burnout, leaving our kids nothing but wasteland.

The loss of virtue entails the loss of leisure worldwide. Multinational corporations – making exorbitant profits, outbidding each other to compete with China’s 1.3 billion – ruin the planet with seven-league boots while we work ourselves to death without culture … history … virtue … leisure …

Expansionist China is pushing the world into a race to the bottom. Inside China, the central government clings to power via a network of informers while 1.3 billion Chinese are busy running, left in the dark about information: Internet censors cutting out the June Fourth Incident (Tiananmen), China’s treatment of minorities (“Re-education” camps for 1.5 million Uighurs in Xinjiang), selectively covering Hong Kong protests over Western values, housing….

Facing a weakened West, Orwellian China – a globalization-fed giant threatening its neighbors – is taking the world hostage with market distortion, directed tourism, 996 and AI policy. Hong Kong – the West’s outpost dying a slow death since the 1997 handover – experiences “one country, two systems” eroding, evermore Beijing-alignment – the mainland’s legal system is executed at Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Station connected by bullet train to Beijing. Chinese forces at Hong Kong’s border remind of former West Berlin surrounded by communism. The world watches: Systems clashing…. What’s next: Airlift, China’s takeover?

Immanuel Fruhmann

Dr. Dr. phil. Immanuel Fruhmann is an Austrian philosopher and educationist specialized in philosophy of science and language, cultural and social philosophy, as well as adult education, with years of experience in analysis of geopolitics and giving philosophical and educational insights to the public. He is psychotherapist in training and works as coach and consultant as well as writer. Fruhmann is a Knight of the Order of St George, a European Order of the Imperial House of Habsburg-Lorraine,...

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