Government Elimination of Perceived Vices

My post yesterday was about video games, prompted by the CCP legal restriction on video games for children. To enforce this rule, the government is making a list. Any adult playing these online video games will have to register with their real name. Is this a regulation of an addictive substance for minors, like we have for cigarettes, or is it progress toward managing the leisure time of males?

Before the Communists came to power (and before video games existed), previous Chinese government administrations had tried to ban another addictive form of recreation: smoking opium. The British famously did not help with this endeavor, but the British imports of opium ended years before the CCP crackdown. Where others had failed, the CCP practically eliminated opium from China in about 3 years. For my information, I’m drawing partly from a honors thesis on this topic.

The CCP started the relentless march toward eliminating opium in a clever way. They gathered information before announcing how ambitious the program would be. It started with making a list.

There had been previous attempts to send soldiers to destroy poppy fields (hello, 21st century?) but never in a coordinated enough way to stamp out supply. Police had raided opium dens in the cities, but nothing ever worked. Addicts were going to buy the stuff as long as it was being produced, and producers were going to grow the stuff as long as it was profitable. The CCP pulled off a coordinated attack on both producers and consumers in the entire country at the same time.

After a period of record-keeping, the CCP started forcefully addressing opium both in the rural areas where it was both produced and in the cities. There were different strategies for all the unique regions of China.

Those who did not cooperate knew that prison or immediate execution could result. The CCP, along with civilian volunteers, provided rehabilitation for some addicts who were willing to register themselves as offenders. It was acknowledged that kicking an opium addiction is hard. When possible, the government manipulated taxes and subsidies in such as way that farmers would choose to switch away from cultivating opium. The use of force was a reason for the success of the campaign, but people who were willing to cooperate often could find a way to transition away from their old habits.

The Communists did not just write laws and send soldiers. They held rallies that sound to me a lot like religious revival meetings. They galvanized millions of people to not just distain addictive drugs but to become volunteers for the cause. I would assume that many Chinese parents didn’t like opium in 1949 but were not yet so fervent as to become police informants. That changed in 1950. Everyone wants to have a moral cause. For some people today, it’s global warming. For millions in 1950’s China, it was eliminating opium distribution and addiction.

In one of my posts on Afghanistan I speculated that it is self-defeating for Americans to purchase illicit opium as consumers and also task our military with stamping out its production by force. This week when I read about the opium campaign, I found that a related message was used in 1950. The CCP presented opium abstinence as a way to defeat America in the Korean War.

I will be curious to watch developments concerning screen time and China. There is much to be determined. As Vice reported this week, ‘It’s unclear how the government will define “sissy pants”…’

Dan Wang’s 2020 letter on China

Dan Wang is a writer who currently lives in Beijing. He’s released another long letter about what is going on in China. I’ll share the part that caught my attention.

Waiting politely in line is a pretty strong norm in America. I had heard from several sources that Chinese norms for waiting in an orderly line were weak. Here’s an update on that:

And for years, Xi has emphasized following clear rules of written procedure, under the rubric of “law-based governance.”  Since then, the state has improved regulatory systems, for example in setting clear standards for license approvals and in securities and antitrust regulation. The state has removed some of the arbitrary aspects of governance, thus bringing serious enforcement actions following the passage of relatively clear regulations. That has improved facts on the ground. Companies and lawyers tell me that a decade-long effort by the State Council to ease doing business has yielded real results. Obtaining business licenses no longer requires a relentless pace of wining and dining, and has instead become close to a matter of routine. I haven’t been able to verify this fact for myself, but one of my friends told me that the office of the National Development and Reform Commission used to be ringed by some of the fanciest restaurants in Beijing, offering mostly private rooms; many of these restaurants have now closed, following the professionalization of business approvals.

The lived experience of being in Beijing has improved in parallel. I remember what a nightmare it was to buy a high-speed rail ticket for the first time years ago, which involved lots of yelling and multiple people cutting in line. Today, I purchase one on my phone, with no need to obtain a paper ticket, and the lines to board are more or less orderly.

China is changing.

Incidentally, I tried to start a company when I was about 19 in New Jersey. Applying for a tax ID number for my sole proprietorship was quick and easy. All I had to do was fill out a form and pay a small fixed fee to some government office.