Review

Far-Right Delusions About China Miss the Real Problems

“You Will Be Assimilated” represents a worrying strand in analysis.

By , a researcher based in Washington.
The Chinese flag flies in San Francisco.
The Chinese flag flies in the wind above the Chinese Consulate General in San Francisco, on July 23, 2020. Philip Pacheco/AFP via Getty Images

The cover of U.S. economist David P. Goldman’s latest work, You Will Be Assimilated: China’s Plan to Sino-Form the World, depicts a golden dragon statue wearing earbuds against a menacing Commie-red background. It’s at least a modernized twist on the motif; most books about the threat of China just tend to slap a dragon on and be done with it. The visual cliché notwithstanding, no one can accuse Goldman of being uncreative: At one point, he tells us the “Chinese have few friends”—thanks to the absence of “political friendship in Aristotle’s sense.”

The book is riddled with factual and analytical errors, is poorly sourced, and is not well written. For all its flaws though, You Will Be Assimilated does provide insight into what the upcoming wave of far-right takes on China will look like—and how they may leak into the mainstream.

Goldman, an influential columnist for PJ Media who has given talks at the Heritage Foundation and shared a podium with former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, represents a major strain of free market conservative China hawks. They were uneasy with former U.S. President Donald Trump’s trade war at a strategic level but otherwise very much on board with combating the dragon of the East. This unrelenting hawkishness cheapens the real and pressing issues the United States must face as China continues to ascend, flattening relations into a battle of civilizations where there is no possible outcome but the domination of one side. Ideological clashes and human rights concerns are set aside in favor of racist rhetoric.

The cover of U.S. economist David P. Goldman’s latest work, You Will Be Assimilated: China’s Plan to Sino-Form the World, depicts a golden dragon statue wearing earbuds against a menacing Commie-red background. It’s at least a modernized twist on the motif; most books about the threat of China just tend to slap a dragon on and be done with it. The visual cliché notwithstanding, no one can accuse Goldman of being uncreative: At one point, he tells us the “Chinese have few friends”—thanks to the absence of “political friendship in Aristotle’s sense.”

The book is riddled with factual and analytical errors, is poorly sourced, and is not well written. For all its flaws though, You Will Be Assimilated does provide insight into what the upcoming wave of far-right takes on China will look like—and how they may leak into the mainstream.

You Will Be Assimilated: China’s Plan to Sino-Form the World, David P. Goldman, Bombardier Books, 274 pp., , July 2020

You Will Be Assimilated: China’s Plan to Sino-Form the World, David P. Goldman, Bombardier Books, 274 pp., $17, July 2020

Goldman, an influential columnist for PJ Media who has given talks at the Heritage Foundation and shared a podium with former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, represents a major strain of free market conservative China hawks. They were uneasy with former U.S. President Donald Trump’s trade war at a strategic level but otherwise very much on board with combating the dragon of the East. This unrelenting hawkishness cheapens the real and pressing issues the United States must face as China continues to ascend, flattening relations into a battle of civilizations where there is no possible outcome but the domination of one side. Ideological clashes and human rights concerns are set aside in favor of racist rhetoric.

Goldman’s assertions about China are bemusing. Some of them are just comically wrong like the idea that Chinese schoolchildren practice characters “for hours at home with a brush and inkpot.” Others are bafflingly misleading like the casual and nonsensical assertion that “since 800 A.D., the Chinese borders have stayed the same.” Half the citations are bare URLs, and I could find no Chinese-language sources in the 214 endnotes, save for one text in English translation. Published scholarly work is relegated to backing up bizarre—and usually outright wrong—assertions about Chinese culture or history.

His cluelessness is genuinely encyclopedic, extending into the fields of pedagogy (“The Asian work ethic explains why 28 percent of students at America’s Ivy League colleges are Asians,” despite the immense variance in academic achievement across various Asian American ethnic groups), comparative politics (“Unlike the lethargic southern Italians, the Chinese derive irreplaceable benefits from their state”), and geopolitics (“China’s military buildup threatens America’s ability to project power in the Western Pacific, but presents little threat to … the territory of America’s allies,” seemingly forgetting about Taiwan).

The book is obsessed with the notion of coherent, inevitably stereotyped civilizations that imbue constituents with consistent psychosocial attributes. Culture influences the self, of course, but Goldman treats the world like a grand strategy computer game or a Samuel Huntington fanfiction: Every worthy civilization needs a unique trait or two to stretch across history. It is around these neatly divided and largely spurious civilizational categories that he organizes his book—and evidently, his entire worldview.

Accordingly, Goldman argues the Chinese are historically ruthless and ambitious, willing to accept “hardship and even cruelty on behalf of the collective need,” as if peasants forced into corvée labor to build the Great Wall really had that much of a choice—or were they that different from French peasants drafted into roadbuilding? Goldman states the “cruelty of Chinese governance astonishes and disgusts Westerners.” He goes on to describe the Chinese as patient and strategic, planning “over a horizon of several generations” like some sort of enlightened tortoise. The United States, he contrasts, is “playing checkers and China is playing Go—an ancient boardgame of slow and inexorable encirclement.”

This fetish for a clear historic-cultural-political mythos can produce comically amateurish proclamations of modern China’s politics as well as bigoted views of the nation as a whole. But it’s not just a joke; it’s a prominent characteristic of the Trump-era conservative movement. Sometimes, this manifests as blatant racism, such as Sen. Marsha Blackburn’s tweet that “China has a 5,000 year history of cheating and stealing. Some things will never change.” The specter of communist China also melds with the right’s efforts to denigrate progressive positions on race, such as when the Federalist clumsily drew parallels between the Chinese Communist Party and critical race theory or a Heritage Foundation scholar baselessly proclaimed Black Lives Matter protests were driven in part by the Chinese state.

Goldman boldly reprints an interview of himself in the book that contains some of his most bigoted musings. Among other absurdities, he believes “the idea of public trust and subsidiarity that’s fundamental to democracy is unknown to the Chinese” and most tellingly repeats his idea that “the Chinese, as individuals, have no friends.” Perhaps it is just that no Chinese person wants to befriend him.

Noticeably absent from the book is any criticism of mass internment and reeducation of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. A campaign that seeks to literally “Sinicize” Uyghur religion and coerce them into abandoning cultural-religious practices deemed unacceptable by Beijing seems to match the book’s theme perfectly. But instead, Goldman functionally recites the Chinese state’s justifications for its actions, always sure to note the terrorist attacks committed by Uyghur separatists on the few occasions he does bring up repression in Xinjiang.

This tracks with his general disdain for Muslims. In his 2019 review of The History of Jihad: From Muhammad to ISIS, Goldman lets us know he considers Islam permanently backward, saying Muslims “nowhere have created a functioning modern state, with the partial (and fading) exception of Turkey” and subscribe to a religion based on bloodshed. Hamstrung by his own resentment of Muslims, Goldman is incapable of articulating a meaningful critique of the Chinese state and its deployment of technology and power against them.

That is a critical flaw because erroneous lecturing on the nuances of Chinese culture notwithstanding, You Will Be Assimilated is at its core just an extended rant about Chinese telecommunications and electronics conglomerate Huawei, whose name appears nearly 400 times in the book’s 272 pages. For Goldman, Huawei is “an imperial company, a sort of technologically driven horde.” There are plenty of security concerns the company presents to governments outside China, but we do not really get a concrete explanation of the specifics in the book. Instead, there’s a flurry of buzzwords about hardware backdoors, quantum cryptography, artificial intelligence, big data, and 5G cellular technology. According to Goldman, Chinese advances in all of these realms, driven by Huawei in particular, ultimately deny U.S. access to intelligence, thus destroying its ability to be a superpower while also creating a hive mind out of people willingly giving up their data to an evil corporation (something that never happens in the West, of course).

The book also offers no real solutions. Diplomacy with China or with other nations to engage with China is out of the question. This is a techno-horde we are dealing with, after all. So readers are left with massive federal research and development investments, the main character of the final chapter, “How America Can Remain the World’s Leading Superpower.” Not research and development into medicine or renewable energy or anything frilly like that though. This is about giving money to the U.S. Defense Department and whatever high-tech manufacturers can boost U.S. military power.

Goldman yearns for monumental research efforts like those we saw in the Cold War, when we landed on the moon and began to build the foundations of the internet. That’s fair enough. But he also praises things like the Strategic Defense Initiative, into which tens of billions of dollars were funneled by then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan as he simultaneously eviscerated funding for food stamps and public health programs. This suggests the primary interest is money for military technology over all else, as long as it’s used to counter the nefarious China.

Despite his many observations that U.S. infrastructure is lacking and its public education system is mediocre, Goldman’s vague proposals simply revolve around putting more federal dollars into what will likely just be defense contractors and Big Tech. The United States “will never match China in absolute numbers of scientists in engineers,” he admitted, and its “economy will be larger than ours.” But at least we have our silver bullet: “America’s genius for innovation.” Whereas the Chinese have ruthless ambition, the United States’ special trait is innovation. As long as we stick to that, everything will be fine. The important details can be figured out later.

Jake Eberts is a researcher based in Washington.

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