Conspiracy theories and China

by Chris Zappone

This article about an interesting investigation into conspiracy theories and democracy brings to mind an element to China rise story that I often think about. How an authoritarian state that limits access to information contributes to a sense of conspiracy among its people. 

But first, about the BBC article. As Brian Wheeler notes

We live in a golden age for conspiracy theories. There is a growing assumption that everything we are told by the authorities is wrong, or not quite as it seems. That the truth is being manipulated or obscured by powerful vested interests.

Increasingly, in democracy growing parts of the public disbelieve facts that don’t suit a view of a grand sinister design for the
world. There is less faith in mainstream media, which itself is diminished. Just glance at Wikileaks, for example, which is founded on the principle that government power is a form of conspiracy and which, through the Cablegate leaks, showed that, well, the State Department, while keeping private discussions private, basically has the same policies behind closed doors as the ones it espouses to the public. Ironically, even as MSM shrinks, it’s held up as part of a sinister plan by outsider groups.

In any case, the air of conspiracy abounds. 

Given that this is the situation in the free West, imagine what it must be like in China, where the machinations of the
Chinese Communist Party really are in manipulating people’s lives. The CPC has a strong hand in who profits, who loses, and who can walk free. In fact, for a lot of smart Chinese people, it must be difficult not to see a setback as a result of an unseen force conspiring against them. Leadership and decision-making is famously opaque. The legal system bows to patronage. Freedom of the press bows to the wishes of the state. The princelings (children of the revolution) confer legitimacy on politicians, business leaders and businesses.

It’s no wonder there is a sense in China that the US is somehow trying to trap it at its most exposed point of expansion, where it can be again exploited by Westerners. If the government is comparatively opaque, and the real power struggles occur behind closed
doors, why wouldn’t people in China view global affairs as a matter of conspiracy, designed to hold their country back?

Of course, the West has to contend with the impact of an overflow of information, of a convergence of facts that too much
like a pattern. But in China, until real, painful reforms in governance are made, it seems like the air of conspiracy will only grow thicker – and having a population incredulous that their fate really is in their own hand only adds to the geopolitical risk. Because the tendency will be to look elsewhere for the great malefactor causing the nation’s ills.