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Film Review: 'The Last Emperor'

Splendid anachronism

'The Last Emperor' is a film about contradictions: the apparent omnipotence of Pu Yi, crowned emperor of China at the age of three and proclaimed "son of heaven" and Lord of Ten Thousand Years", who by the age of six had been forced to abdicate without knowing it and has become a prisoner in his own palace. The contradictory arrogance of a child ruler who is, at the same time, a pathetic anachronism, overtaken by history. And the contradiction of a film that is rich in form but poor in substance.

Rewriting Marx

We are used to various Leninist regimes distorting the views of Karl Marx to try to bring some kind of spurious legitimacy to their vile social systems. A recent, almost breathtaking, example occurred in the Beijing Review (no. 34, 23-29 August). An article by one Ed Rothberg, who is apparently a professor from New York, defends the changes in the Chinese economy over the last twelve years or so as being in line with Marx's views. From a centrally-planned economy, China has changed to one where prices and wages are controlled by the market; this is allegedly all within a Socialist system, whereas in fact it is a change from state capitalism to a mix of state and private capitalism.

The Passing of Mao

The death of Mao Tse-Tung has been anticipated for many years in speculations over who would be his successor. Now it has happened and drawn world-wide attention to China. Ostensibly the interest is in the passing of a celebrated national leader; practically, it is in whether there will be changes of policy and how they will affect China's relationship with the rest of the world.

The history of China since 1949 closely resembles that of Russia thirty years before. The Communist revolutions in both countries were the taking of political power so that capitalism could develop and the entry to the modern world be made. Like Lenin, Mao provided a figurehead, and as with Lenin a version of Marxism was put out in his name to create a social vision to gain mass support for modernization. The projection of Mao's personality has been carried much further than Lenin's; but behind this cultivated charisma has stood a ruling class strongly conscious of its economic aims.

Pathfinders: Under the Ground and Over the Moon

ONE WAY for the capitalist class to prevent any future repetition of miners’ strikes, in any country, is the thrilling idea of not digging coal out of the ground but setting fire to it in situ and sucking the choking but exploitable gasses out through frackstyle L-shaped tubes (New Scientist, 15 February). Anti-frackers will probably be aghast at the idea of lighting the fires of hell under our collective feet, and there are all sorts of predictable questions about 1100 degrees of heat fracturing erstwhile impermeable layers and subsequent leaching of benzene and toluene into water boreholes, as happened at one UGC site in Queensland, Australia. But it’s worse than that.

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