The Chinese economy is feeling the heat. Blaming Xi’s political lyssenkism, his vaccination policy

NOTa century ago, the idea that ideology could triumph over nature was formulated by the Soviet biologist Trofim Lyssenko. Lyssenko claimed he could modify the seeds to make them immune to the vagaries of nature, growing fruit in the sub-zero terrain of Siberia. Wishing to revolutionize agriculture in the USSR, Joseph Stalin put Lyssenko at the helm. Lyssenko’s radical ideas along with a policy of forcing millions into state-run farms led to disastrous harvests and starvation. When Lyssenko’s ideas went against the principles of genetics, which was a nascent field of research in the 1930s, he dismissed the science. Despite Lyssenko’s failures, Stalin supported Russia’s star scientist because the latter had promised to increase crop yields nationwide and turn Russia’s arid hinterland into giant farms. The People’s Republic under Mao Zedong then adopted his methods in the late 1950s and endured even greater famines. Over time, Lyssenkism entered the lexicon symbolizing the calculated distortion of facts or theories to further a political narrative.

While Lyssenko’s hometown doesn’t need his ideas today, Lysenkoism seems to live on at least in the minds of the People’s Republic. This can be demonstrated by how China is struggling to fight the recent COVID-19 outbreak. On May 10, Shanghai and Beijing, its financial and political capitals, tightened restrictions. Shanghai, China’s most populous city, which has been in lockdown mode since late March, is in the global spotlight. This has led to increasing pressure on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from many quarters to rethink its policies for dealing with COVID-19. CPC General Secretary Xi Jinping indicated in early May that there would be no watering down of China’s approach to containment of COVID-19. He said any relaxation of control and prevention measures would overwhelm the health care system due to the large number of elderly people in China and unbalanced regional development.

The People’s Republic under Mao Zedong then adopted his methods in the late 1950s and endured even greater famines. Over time, Lyssenkism entered the lexicon symbolizing the calculated distortion of facts or theories to further a political narrative.

A medical study published on May 10 by researchers from Fudan University in Shanghai and Indiana University in the United States has largely reinforced Xi’s apprehensions. The research warns that removing COVIDi restrictions could lead to the infection of more than 112 million people, causing 1.5 million deaths. He estimates that unvaccinated people in China over the age of 60 could account for almost 75% of deaths since up to 52 million people in this segment had not been fully vaccinated by mid-March.

Read also : China’s draconian containment measures are mobilizing popular discontent

Political lyssenkism colors the vaccination plan

For starters, China opted to vaccinate its youth, perhaps thinking that a vaccinated working-age segment would jump-start the economy. Also, following the one-child policy for years left China with a large aging population, which in economic terms was not very productive and therefore excluded from the calculations. For example, while almost 90% of Shanghai’s 25 million people were covered by vaccines, the corresponding figure in the over 60 age group was 62%. Thus, the political Lyssenkism at the heart of China’s vaccination strategy has left many older people unvaccinated, circumscribing moves to ease restrictions. In its eagerness to reap the demographic dividend, China’s approach to vaccination appears to have created a self-perpetuating loop, which is hurting youth.

The fallout from the lockdowns imposed on Shanghai and other cities has affected Chinese trade. Current export growth has slowed to levels seen at the height of the pandemic in 2020, according to the General Administration of China Customs (see chart).

Source: General Administration of Customs of China

Domestic demand has also been hit, with the China Automobile Association revealing sales in April fell 48% year-on-year as restrictions shuttered factories. Beijing’s zero COVID policy has tightened the screws on China’s labor market, and the country’s most educated seem to be paying the price. The civil service exam has been postponed following the renewed spread of COVID-19 and has not yet been rescheduled. With more than 10 million students set to graduate this year, competition for jobs could become intense. This raises the outlook for high unemployment, which could depress China’s long-term growth. The unemployment rate in the 16-24 age group was 16% in March. According to recruiting firm Zhaopin, the number of openings targeting new graduates also fell 4.5% in the January-March quarter. Some take advantage of the instability of the labor market to bide their time and pursue their professional advancement. This year, nearly 11% of graduating Masters students plan to continue their studies through doctoral and other programs; in 2021, the proportion of students entering these degrees was 4%.

Rising unemployment was one of the triggers for the Tiananmen Square Incident in 1989, and it still makes the CCP anxious. The CCP elite has reached out to the Gen Next. China marks May 4 as its “Youth Day,” and CPC General Secretary Xi Jinping takes the opportunity to visit Renmin University in Beijing and pledges to boost university education in the country. Uncertain times require stronger subscriber loyalty. Ditching his Western suit for a “revolutionary” Mao tunic, Xi also called on Renmin University to expand “ideological and political” courses across the country.

The Communist Youth League centenary event was also an opportunity for Xi to speak out and stir up nationalism. Xi delivered a speech to young people urging them to “face difficulties” and “overcome difficulties”. In his speech, he even referenced a slogan – “My pure love is only for China” – written by an 18-year-old People’s Liberation Army soldier who died in clashes with the Indian army. in the Galwan Valley in 2020.

Read also : Chinese social media is buzzing with rumors that Xi Jinping is stepping down over COVID-19 mishandling

To conclude, the reference to the 2020 confrontation on the Indo-Chinese border resurfaces. During the Beijing Winter Olympics, a soldier involved in the Galwan clashes was given the honor of carrying the torch. In the past, Xi has referred to a strong army that can win wars. General Manoj Naravane, who resigned as army chief of staff in April, speculated that “internal or external dynamics” related to the COVID pandemic may have led China to adopt an aggressive stance along the border in 2020. Let us remember political lyssenkism is also about quick fixes. Stirred by the failures of his Great Leap Forward campaign, which left the economy in a precarious state, Mao launched the 1962 war with India to rally the nation behind him. George Orwell wrote “war is peace” because a common enemy always keeps people together. In a politically sensitive year when Xi seeks to cement his grip on power with a third term, he might be tempted to do the same.

Kalpit A. Mankikar is a member of the Strategic Studies program and is based at the ORF center in Mumbai. His research focuses on China, particularly its rise – its domestic politics, diplomacy and techno-nationalism. Views are personal.

The article was originally published on the Observer Research Foundation website.

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