A Question from Donald Clarke

In this post, I answer a question I received from  Donald Clarke (George Washington University) on a translation of a Chinese article I published on the website of FLIA and the CPE research project on Social Credit in China. 

For the convenience of my two readers, I am posting Professor Clarke's question below.

Flora, you haven’t included a link to the paper that explains your view that official policy interpretations should prevail over any others. Not sure what you mean by “prevail.” If you mean, “should be considered more truthful as an account of the real reasons behind a policy,” I don’t see why we should automatically believe everything a government says. For example, Trump just announced a policy of barring transgender people from the military. His official explanation: it hurts military readiness. But an administration official revealed a more plausible reason: it will force the Democrats to oppose the policy in the next election, thus helping him with cultural conservatives. Why should we always believe the official explanation, no matter how dubious? We know that governments lie all the time.

Dear Don,

there is really no need to bother reading that 20-pages article, here's an explanation of what I meant in the introductory note to my translation

What do I mean when I use the word ‘prevail’? 

I may have used that word inappropriately, perhaps. Coming from a lower working class family, and from one of the poorest regions of Italy, I had to work my way through college by working as a seller of fireworks, librarian, bartender, shelf stacker, and secretary. I never had as much time to devote to study as some of my classmates did. So I chose to focus my energies on Chinese and China Studies, and to skip my English classes. As a result, my English is entirely self-taught, and because of this reason I might not be fully aware of the full universe of meanings the verb ‘prevail’ has.

I will try to explain what I mean by an example. But, I will have to talk about Cuba.

I know of many Italian academics, intellectuals,  and professionals, who somehow ended up believing the Chinese government always lies, so they never took Chinese policy and/or legal documents at face value. I have seen them miss innumerable opportunities for intellectual, personal, and professional growth, and there are so many stories I could tell but...hey! The Damoclean sword of a potential defamation lawsuit hangs on my head…so let’s talk about Cuba instead. 

The Cuban government recently enacted a “Conceptualization of the Cuban socio-economic socialist development model” (Conceptualizaci√≥n del modelo econ√≥mico y social Cubano de desarrollo socialista), [see here]. This document states the Cuban government’s intention to gradually move towards a form of market economy.

Based on the content of this document, and on commonsense (please see the picture above) I think that, when it states it intention to allow for a greater role of a form of market economy, the Cuban government makes a plausible statement. Therefore, if a Cuban commentator publishes an article on the official organ of the PCC, in which he says the Cuban government wants to promote economic growth, the words of that individual commentator are plausible too.

The “Conceptualization” means what the Cuban government says it means. Likewise, an individual commentator’s words mean what the commentator says they mean.

I might have my own individual opinion about the respective effectiveness of various mechanisms of economic coordination. However, I believe that my individual opinion should not color the way in which I explain the significance of those documents to my students and to my readers.

I hope this answers your question.

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