Two Kinds of Communists

While on vacation this past week, I finally had a chance to dig into Orhan Pamuk’s novel Snow. This passage jumped out at me:

> There are two kinds of Communists: the arrogant ones, who enter the fray hoping to make men out of the people and bring progress to the nation; and the innocent ones, who get involved because they believe in equality and justice. The arrogant ones are obsessed with power; they presume to think for everyone; only bad can come of them. But the innocents? The only harm they do it to themselves. But that’s all the ever wanted in the first place. They feel so guilty about the suffering of the poor, and are so keen to share it, that they make their lives miserable on purpose.

Hmmm, I wonder what the Chinese would think about that.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Great quote. My take is that many Chinese believe communism was simply a means to an end. They’re often ambivilant toward the specific tennants of communist philosophy, and simply happy that there’s no big social turmoil or instability. Managing their day to day life is their first concern and not much energy is left to examine things that aren’t pressing priorities.

    I guess it’s the same in the US. To many Americans high minded debates about democracy and capitalism are better left to those who have the luxury of free time. For them the nature of the National political system is a fact of life that wouldn’t be any different were they to dissagree with it.

  2. Erick Garcia Says: May 15, 2009 at 10:50 pm

    I agree with the above post. The 老百姓 are just gonna accept what’s given to them.

  3. kastner Says: May 16, 2009 at 1:02 am

    I don’t completely agree on the innocent ones, but it tells the truth though.
    For some reason, human beings are likely to be impelled. As a adherent (me was), it’s too complicated to explain the deep down emotions, trust me, that wasn’t as superficial as someone thinks it to be. All things have two sides, i guess the good side of Communism was it made the people feeling involved, they acted like the master of this country this society, they cracked down on criminals spontaneously (not like people nowdays stand there doing nothing, selfish and cold), they wanted to be volunteer, they cared others life (sort of national), they treated people nicely. Come on, what could be more elated you would have free/almost free social service everywhere?
    Then it sucked, didn’t work at all. It’s more like a joke now. But the feeling really existed, not even long before. What can i say? “Hey I was fooled but somehow I liked it.”

  4. kastner Says: May 16, 2009 at 1:12 am

    Hey John, I’m glad you post this since I’m always thinking to make some comments on the topic, damn, i should pull myself together on this, didn’t express all what I wanted to say. hehe.
    Anyway it’s nice, thank you.

  5. meiguo ben dan Says: May 16, 2009 at 1:24 am

    Seems a little suspect to me.

    “That’s all [personal harm] they ever wanted in the first place”? Maybe there’s a few ascetic communists out there who want to atone for their sins of comparative prosperity; but in my estimation, the “innocent” believers are more idealistic than masochistic.

  6. Nice quote. The innocents side makes me think of the Motorcycle Diaries, but with more self-loathing. I’m not sure I think most people join up because they want to spread the feelings of poverty. I think at least in the case of China and Albania, the only two communist countries with which I’ve dealt, it’s more out of a desire to have that stability in life. If you’re a member vs not a member, your life is a tiny bit easier.

  7. Let’s face it, the Chinese Government are “pretend communists”. They are neither the “arrogant” type nor the “innocent” type portrayed by the novel. They were smart enough to turn a blind eye to the free enterprise system that gradually overtook the country.

  8. The Chinese are not even Communists.

  9. Let me just point out that China is already well post-Communist. If you wanted to try to apply this quote to China, you would have to look at the China of the 1940’s and 1950’s.

  10. Chinese people joined the Communists in the 30s and 40s because they were far less corrupt than the Nationalists. In the PRC era, Chinese people have joined the party due to its utility in career advancement, inoculation from official suspicion, or other highly pragmatic reasons.

    I’ve known more principled communists in San Francisco than in China. 🙂

  11. Today China has a third type of Communist. Those who are fine people and not terribly political but who join the party as a prerequisite to achieve success in their chosen career path. This includes almost all Party members that I know in today’s China.

  12. “Let me just point out that China is already well post-Communist. If you wanted to try to apply this quote to China, you would have to look at the China of the 1940’s and 1950’s.”

    Not sure about that. The quote could be equally applied to 6/4 or the post-Tiananmen pursuit of power and money by fair means or foul either through or outside the party apparatus.

    For an apolitical blog, you’re threading a fine needle here, John. 😉

  13. Mike Hassel Shearer Says: May 19, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    Hi agree almost completely with Jonathan. During my time in China the people I met who were communist were proud of it because it was a means to get ahead. Also someone can correct me if I am wrong : One doesn’t join the party one is invited to join. That’s a big difference.

  14. stuart,

    Ha, yeah, I know… Every now and then I like to break my own rules, though. 🙂

  15. “Every now and then I like to break my own rules, though. “

    LOL, quite right, too. Perhaps I should do the same and write an apolitical post about the nutritional content of steamed buns.

  16. “One doesn’t join the party one is invited to join. That’s a big difference.”

    I’m pretty sure you’re right, although nobody seeks membership for ideaological reasons – it’s all about economics and opportunity. I would hazard a guess that ‘invitations’ cost a few thousand RMB in backhanders for all but the smartest hopefuls. And thus begins the cycle of graft from the ground up.

  17. ideological 😮

  18. Yeah, true communism in China was hijacked by Deng Xiaoping and the Capitalist-roaders back in the 80s. A pity that a wonderful revolution had to be sacrificed to the almighty dollar. Mao’s China (much like Castro’s Cuba) was a place where people were truly equal.

  19. yeah everybody was equaly suffering from poverty, I love americans they are so blinded to reality, or so they where until the latest crash of capitalism………….. now we all get to be equal to the chinese

  20. Mao’s China (much like Castro’s Cuba) was a place where people were truly equal.

    Equally poor, and/or equally fubar’ed, depending on when in history you look. Oh, except for Mao and his buddies.

    Whatever happened to the-dmz, aka kaminari1?

  21. capitalism rules. in america you can be anything you want and do anything you want if your willing to pay the price of hard work,great desire and unfaultering faith in our Maker. the skie’s the limit. Jesus may have walked on water but he didn’t walk on the moon. He was right when he said”greater things than these ye shall do.” U.S.A

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