Christina Patterson: Don't expect moral guidance from our leaders

Communist countries may do capitalism these days but they don’t do spirituality

Related Topics

"The superior man," according to Confucius, "understands what is right; the inferior man understands what will sell." Indeed. It might make a good motto for a country in which trade is despised, a country in which each is supplied according to his need and the messy business of the marketplace is blissfully absent. It might, in other words, make a good motto for a communist country. It might, however, make a slightly strange motto for a country with the third biggest economy in the world, a country which has become the new challenger for world leadership in manufacturing, a country in which everything – plastic dolls, milk powder, modern art, kidneys – has a price.

That country that feels, as you gaze at a Blade Runner skyline, and at people clutching bags which bear the names (Prada, Gucci, Chanel) of their gods, like the world capital of capitalism is also, of course, a communist country. Communist countries may do capitalism these days (you have to keep up, you know, you have to get with the programme) but they don't do spirituality; they don't do religion; they don't do the opium – and the Chinese know about opium – of the masses. Or they didn't. Now, it seems, they do. In an effort to combat a perceived lack of spiritual sustenance, the Chinese President, Hu Jintao, has dusted down the teachings of China's most famous philosopher, long regarded as the enemy of communism. He's even funding a film about his life.

If this all seems a little complicated, a little like twirling plates while throwing daggers and swallowing fire, we needn't worry. The Chinese are used to such acrobatic feats. They have a word for it. Not balancing, or juggling, à la Cherie Blair, but harmony. Beijing's Forbidden City has halls of complete harmony and great harmony and central harmony and preserving harmony. That's the one the President would like. He's constantly giving speeches about the need for a "harmonious society". You smash the barriers and watch the money grow; give 'em shops and watch 'em buy and then – bloody hell! – watch them worship Mammon. It wasn't meant to be like this. Time for a bit of remedial action. Time for a bit of yin to go with that yang.

If you want to impose ethical frameworks from on high, it probably helps to be the leader of an unelected government in the most populous country on the planet. Brown must be green. He'd love to get us all in keep-calm-and-carry-on mode – the words of a Second World War poster which, 70 years on, is achieving something like viral status. He'd no doubt love to foster some of those other wartime values too – thrift, make do and mend, respect for authority – as if we were all extras in a vast episode of Dad's Army, as if he could make us all swap Captain Mainwaring's "Don't panic!" for Private Frazer's "We're doomed".

The trouble is, those values are precisely the opposite of the ones that are needed to win this war. The government that's been splashing its cash (or, more accurately, ours) like a bored Victoria Beckham on a Sunday afternoon needs us to splash what's left of ours too. And if it wants us to unite against the enemy – well, who's the enemy? Sure, Fred the Shred and his ilk did what greedy, selfish people always do, but no one elected Fred the Shred. Fred the Shred and his ilk know that the "court of public opinion" (in Harriet Harman's memorably ludicrous phrase) is rather more relevant to the politicians who oversee and run the court that counts. Namely, the law.

The government we elected in 1997 – now, sadly, dribbling to its inglorious end, sadly because the alternative will be worse – has been sending what a pop psychologist would call "mixed messages". It vowed to fight poverty while prostrating itself before the "filthy rich". But now, having spent a reputed £1.5trn in bailouts and bankers' bonuses, it's planning to shelve campaigns for equal pay for men and women, and for waiters on the minimum wage to keep their tips.

In primary schools, it has been telling children – garlanded with praise for every little smile, garlanded with praise for showing up – that what matters is what they think about themselves; what matters is whether they are happy. It perhaps forgot to mention that employers look at skills, not confidence, and that happiness usually involves a job and a wage.

What will sustain us in these dreadful times? The religions in those state-funded faith schools (of which only Islam is really a potent force)? Cognitive therapy (paid for by the Government, to brainwash us into thinking that a shitty life isn't really shitty)? Anger? Resignation? Positive thinking? Mouthing on, à la Baroness Vadera and Vera Baird, about fictional "green shoots"? Or perhaps we too can expect Confucius on the curriculum, Confucius on posters, Confucius on giant billboards. "He who will not economise will have to agonise", for example. I think I prefer "keep calm and carry on".

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner

£15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you've got first class custo...

Recruitment Genius: Mobile Applications Developer / Architect - iOS and Android

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Account Executive - £40K OTE

£11830 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a friendly, sales ta...

Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

£15000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Pentagon has suggested that, since the campaign started, some 10,000 Isis fighters in Iraq and Syria have been killed  

War with Isis: If the US wants to destroy the group, it will need to train Syrians and Iraqis

David Usborne
David Cameron gives a speech at a Tory party dinner  

In a time of austerity, should Tories be bidding £210,000 for a signed photo of the new Cabinet?

Simon Kelner
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle