Unfortunate Namesakes and Useful Idiots

I feel forced to put out the print version of You Don’t Know China under the name of “John Grant Ross” rather than the simpler “John Ross” I used for the e-book edition. Here’s why.

It was bad enough when I saw the Goodreads’ biography entry for Formosan Odyssey asserting that I was a dead, left-wing American activist; but things got much worse. Upon releasing You Don’t Know China, there was a puzzlingly negative online reaction from people who had not read the book, and I soon realized that I had a Beijing-based namesake: a leftist academic John Ross much despised as a CCP apologist.

There’s a long history of Westerners being “useful idiots” for the Chinese Communist Party. Among the earliest was American journalist Edgar Snow. His fawning (and CCP-edited/censored) Red Star over China (1937) was hugely influential in creating a more sympathetic view of the communists and Mao Zedong. Another standout was Sinologist Joseph Needham, duped by the Chinese into asserting that the Americans had used biological weapons in the Korean War. Pierre Trudeau, the former Canadian prime minister (and father of the current P.M.), is also among the ranks of useful idiots. He visited China in 1960 (i.e. at the height of the world’s greatest manmade famine – aka the Great Leap Forward) and co-authored an upbeat account of his trip entitled Two Innocents in Red China. More recent cheerleaders for the CCP include Martin Jacques, author of When China Rules the World, and Daniel Bell with his fantasy that the Party is a meritocracy worth emulating.

“Useful idiot” is a phrase that is often attributed to Lenin; there’s no proof for that, but the term may well have come from Russian (where it appears before its English counterpart). Origins aside, when it comes to my unfortunate namesake, the word “apologist” is much more accurate. He’s not especially “useful” and not an “idiot” in the sense of being duped. He benefits financially from his pro-CCP views (being employed by a Chinese think tank at the People’s University of China in Beijing and a regular contributor to the state-controlled media) and is an unabashed Marxist.

In October 2015, in relation to the upcoming meeting between PRC President Xi Jinping and British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, he wrote an entry on his blog entitled, “A Note for Jeremy Corbyn – How China made the world’s largest contribution to human rights.”

Yes, get a vomit bag ready.

He thinks, “China should be supported precisely because of its contribution to human rights. China has done more to improve the overall situation not only of its own people but of humanity than any other country in the world – as the facts show.”

After saying that China can learn from Britain’s National Health Service he goes on a deranged rant:

But what China has no need of at all, indeed what is grotesque given China has produced the greatest improvement in human conditions in human history, is to be delivered sanctimonious lectures by other countries – particularly those whose recent activities include invading other countries, such as Iraq, resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths spreading chaos throughout the Middle East, or whose historical relation to China was to force it to import opium, to burn its greatest architectural achievements, and for a century and a half to hold islands off its coast as a colonies.

I cannot put words in someone else’s mouth, but my summary of the basis for an honest discussion with China would be roughly the following: “President Xi, the world rightly greatly admires China’s progress in the improvement in the conditions of human beings, of human rights in the real sense – which are the greatest of any country in the history of the world. We should discuss how other countries can draw lessons from these achievements.”

While there’s value in playing devil’s advocate, virtue in being an iconoclast, this is just sycophancy. His selective historical memory is a typical roll call of Century of Humiliation talking points – wallowing in old slights by evil imperialists but never mentioning much worse recent damage done by the CCP.

Yes, it’s good that China is getting richer, but this has more to do with the government getting out of the way of the industrious populace, and it is no excuse for a brutish regime that imprisons people for merely suggesting a peaceful transition to democracy. Being a China stooge now is especially sickening because China under Xi Jinping is moving steadily from authoritarianism towards totalitarianism.

My namesake has an active presence on Weibo, China’s watered-down version of Facebook and Twitter merged, where he has his grovelling posts translated into Chinese. One recent post was a criticism of the Western coverage of pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong. In his post –which attracted over 72,000 likes, about 130,000 re-posts, and more than 20,000 comments – he wrote:

It’s inconvenient for me to comment on Hong Kong’s 2017 elections, because I, after all, am not Chinese. But the western media reports on Hong Kong was hypocritical. In the British 150 years’ colonial rule in Hong Kong, the British never allowed the election of Governor of Hong Kong; the United States had not protested Britain. Now China developed a political system much more democratic than the United Kingdom, but the United States had strongly protested the Chinese government.

This is beyond mere panda hugging. It is bending over for the panda while singing a heartfelt rendition of “The East is Red.”

So, from now on, I’ll be publishing books under the name John Grant Ross.

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