My Take

The Jesuit priest who was a great China watcher

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 August, 2015, 12:54am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 August, 2015, 12:54am

During Mao Zedong's lifetime, there was an army of Western professional China experts who idealised Maoism and glorified the country under his rule.

Today, you have an army of Western professional China experts who demonise the country and vilify its leadership.

My position is that like stock tipsters, most China experts are useful taken as a contrarian indicator and that their predictions and pontifications, even if they pan out, are usually inconsequential. It is almost impossible to tell real insights from lucky guesses.

Still there have been a few who were the genuine article from the recent past and who had strong ties to Hong Kong. My Post colleague and historian Jason Wordie named two in a weekend article: John Blofeld and Peter Goullart.

To them, I would like to add a third: Father Laszlo Ladany.

The late Jesuit priest - who spent most of his life in colonial Hong Kong - published, between 1960s and 1980s, his influential China News Analysis. Being too young, I never read a live edition.

As a good substitute, there is his magnum opus: The Communist Party of China and Marxism 1921-1985.

I read it almost immediately after college graduation, old enough to have picked up some critical reading skills but young enough to be virtually ignorant about the country of my ethnic origin.

A great Chinese linguist in the fine Jesuit tradition, Ladany used only original sources, which in his case, meant mostly communist publications, newspapers and official pronouncements. Since it was virtually all propaganda under Mao, Ladany provides the analytical tools necessary to decode and interpret them.

He had many shocking conclusions. But the one that sticks to my mind to this day is this: the Communist Party in power is essentially a secret society or an underground mob that rules by terror and intimidation, and operates by deception and conspiracy.

But what of China today under the same party rule?

I have no idea what Ladany would think if he were alive today. But here is a logical conclusion from his previous conclusion. Most mobsters, once they have acquired power and wealth, will try to go legit.

Some even become philanthropists.