Charles Moore

What is it about Chinese totalitarianism that makes clever people so silly?

What is it about Chinese totalitarianism that makes clever people so silly?
(Photo: Getty)
Text settings
Comments

There is something about Chinese totalitarianism which brings out the silliness of many clever people. I suspect it is to do with the fact that Chinese civilisation, being old and arcane, makes a certain type of person prize uncritically whatever privileged access he gains to the country. 

A fortnight ago, I mentioned the fellow-travelling influence of Joseph Needham, Cambridge’s indisputably scholarly historian of Chinese science. Here he is writing to the Cambridge Review in 1976, the last year of Chairman Mao’s reign. He rebukes a lecturer in Chinese, Michael Loewe, who had criticised the regime: 

‘On the question of the number of executions which took place during the Revolution and since then, I much regret that Dr Loewe… is evidently unaware that the expression translated by “liquidation” carries the meaning of solving a problem, and by no means necessarily implies the disappearance of the offender.’ 

And perhaps ‘final solution’ in German meant completing the crossword.

This article is an extract from Charles Moore's Spectator Notes, available in this week's magazine.