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The Betrayal of the Left

There is a common thread that unites many sitting and aspiring political leaders around the world, from Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping to Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans. All want to secure power and exercise it in arbitrary, unaccountable ways – precisely the threat that used to unite the international left.

LJUBLJANA – At the end of David Fincher’s 1999 film, Fight Club, the unnamed narrator (played by Edward Norton) dispatches his alter ego, Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), and then watches as the buildings around him burst into flames, fulfilling his and his alter ego’s desire to destroy modern civilization. But in the Chinese version released earlier this year, the ending was replaced with an English-language title card explaining that, “The police rapidly figured out the whole plan and arrested all criminals, successfully preventing the bomb from exploding. After the trial, Tyler was sent to a lunatic asylum to receive psychological treatment. He was discharged from the hospital in 2012.”

Why would Chinese authorities change the ending of a film that is highly critical of Western liberal society, disqualifying its critical political stance as an expression of madness? The reason is simple: For China’s leaders, defending established power is more important than advancing a particular ideological agenda.

Recall that in mid-October 2019, Chinese media launched a propaganda campaign claiming that, as CNN puts it, “demonstrations in Europe and South America are the direct result of Western tolerance of Hong Kong unrest,” the implication being that protesters in Chile and Spain were taking their cues from those in Hong Kong. As is often the case, the Communist Party of China was discreetly promoting a sense of solidarity among all who hold power and face a rebellious or unhappy populace. Western and Chinese leaders, the CPC seemed to be saying, ultimately have the same basic interest – transcending ideological and geopolitical tensions – in maintaining political quiescence.