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China’s exceptionalism rewrites the Western political playbook

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Of course democratic institutions are not necessary for a vibrant economy. Look at England in the Victorian era or Germany under Bismarck. As much as large companies like Apple or Google are run by dictators efficiently, no reason to assume it can't happen at a national level. In fact, since these companies each approach some 3-5% of the economy, it is already happening. So why this intense interest in China? The interest comes from competition for control. When China's per capita GDP reaches $25K, its total economy will be the size of Europe and the United States combined. At that point, regardless of political system the world starts to move in China's orbit. The rules will be made in China and that's when the political economic and academic elites in other countries find themselves marginalized.

In the world today, the United States writes these rules which is why Mr. Trump can say and do what he wants. His behavior would not be tolerated were he the President of China or Russia.


Let's say China is a hybrid society-50% Soviet Union style government and 50% free economy. The economic miracle is not due to the residue Soviet government...but probably mostly from the 50% free economy sector of the society.

Also remember, China has a very distinct history path. The mature political institutions that effectively rule a large country came into existence almost 2000 years ago. Those political institutions were unheard of in Europe until the 1800s. Strong central government is essential as a symbolism of a unified Chinese nation. There are few societal organizations like churches, charitable organizations, professional associations and special interest groups that are powerful enough in the Chinese society.

What China wants from the world is respect and empathy, instead of a know-it-all attitude from the West.


The Soviet Union was able to fake the illusion of a successfully industrialized totalitarian Marxist state for about 70 years. China was thrown back into the equivalent of the dark ages during the Great Leap Forward (actually "backward"), so it only started from square one in the mid-1970s. As a consequence, their publicly stated (and government controlled) economic statistics have really only been covering a growing economy for about 40 years. We have yet to know whether it is true growth or an illusion -- there is an incredibly wealthy oligarchy in China, but that wealth has not been distributed, nor has the economic growth been predicated on consumption by Chinese, but instead on massive (unoccupied) building projects, massive industrial output based on government fiat rather than market forces, and other "growth" that may not be sustainable. I think we will have a better idea about what China has actually achieved in about 30 years, by which point the economic situation may be very different, if not the political situation.

Swiss Reader in reply to LexHumana

Lex, may I suggest you visit China when you have the opportunity? You will see with your own eyes some that some wealth has actually been distributed; and there is even a quite wide spread consumer society, by no means limited to the oligarchy. My Chinese clients are constantly complaining about rising labour cost; from what I hear, even in provincial small towns an industrial worker costs now over 600 USD monthly - an increase of over 1000% in the last twenty years. I don't deny the Chinese government has a very dark side, but their achievement in economic development is real.

LexHumana in reply to Swiss Reader

I suppose this begs the question of what you mean by "distributed". That could mean one extreme of sharing-a-few-scraps, versus equal-shares-for-all. I believe China is at the "scraps" end of the spectrum. A tenfold increase in earnings in 20 years sounds impressive, until you see the figure 600 USD.
This is not to say that China is not rolling in money - it certainly is. However, its equitable distribution of this wealth is probably worse than the U.S. Moreover, it is wealth generated through a lot of government sponsored projects. I am struck by a city like Shanghai, which has an impressive skyline to look at, until you realize that a significant chunk of the space is unoccupied. The vacancy rates have spiked and the areas that are under lease are not generating the expected ROI. The same goes for industrial output -- China went on a binge of state-sponsored overcapacity in manufacturing things like steel, which is good for their domestic workers who are being paid to produce steel that nobody wants, but would not have otherwise occurred if left strictly to the pressures of supply and demand.
Moreover, a significant portion of Chinese domestic retail consumption is being financed with debt, not accumulated wealth -- workers are leveraging themselves and buying things on credit. This is also not perpetually sustainable; eventually, the debts must be paid with accumulated wealth, so the fact that China is not very good at distributing the result of its economic growth to its general population is going to harm its future interests.
Unless China is willing to stop growing on the fertilizer of massive government sponsorship, and unless China is willing to allow the earnings to be distributed among its populace more extensively, then it is not on a sustainable path. Moreover, making such changes would require the Chinese government to willingly relinquish a lot of centralized control over its people, which I don't think they are willing to do. Authoritarianism and accumulation of personal wealth of the hoi polloi tend to be mutually incompatible forces.

ashbird in reply to Swiss Reader

Swiss Reader, I am so glad, so very glad you wrote a reply in response to Lex's post, yours @June19, 09:30.
Lex stated an excellent point in his first post.
The rest, in conjunction with what he wrote there, is what the FACTS are.
I was going to write a reply on my own, saying pretty much the same as what you said.
I refrained for 2 reasons:(1) I am sick and tired of reading the anti-anything-China and Chinese rhetoric spewed by the shockingly uninformed and vicious sinophobes on TE, found both in commenters and a couple of TE writers alike. The fake, or skewed, or distorted information they spread on China makes me want to throw up; (2) I do not want to deal with the usual "5-cents" chasers who likewise make me sick. Gracing them with any response is beneath me. Lately, the new terminology to replace 5-cents is "Chinese commenters who 'infiltrate' TE community board". The inventor of this quaint label comes from exactly the same folks who talk all day about freedom of speech in a democracy. Ergo, apparently, when they comment on TE, they are exercising their First Amendment right, no matter what nonsense they spew. However, when a yellow-skin commenter comments, he/she is "infiltrating" the white media. Go figure. If there is anything more ugly than the shameless double-standard they display, with great pride to wit, and brazen Anti-Sino racism, I don't know it.
Just one FACT among many: Steinway and Sons, the German (Hamburg) piano maker, finds the largest in the world consumer market for its pianos in China, with dealerships in all major cities. Google for the latest sales figures. Where do all the buyers come from if there is not substantial distribution of wealth? 20, or even 100 oligarchs cannot buy a few thousands of Steinways in a year, can they? And look at how many Steinways sell in US and how many dealerships have closed. What happened in US? US is by far a richer, much richer country, AND, presumably have more equal distribution of wealth, No? For those folks in TE readership unfamiliar with the prices of Steinway pianos, a 5' 2 " grand (aka babygrand) costs USD $40,000+, a 6' 4" USD $62,000+, etc.
I have not the time to cite other facts that pertain to the point of the progress that has been made in wealth distribution. I also do not care to, nor deem it necessary. Folks in the "West" do not have to believe there is anything good about China and Chinese. They can believe anything they want to; they can advocate anything they want to, including everything is so awful about Chinese that they all should be shot.
I maintain what is is, what is not is not. This truism is ultimately what is real since time immemorial. That is all that needs to be said from my position as a yellow-skin commenting on a white forum that is TE.
Thank you for writing your post. From the bottom of my heart.

ashbird in reply to Swiss Reader

Oh I know about Lex. Not only is he a serious commenter, he is well-educated and a sophisticated thinker. I have enjoyed reading his posts for a long long time (years). He and I actually share quite a few views on quite a few issues that would be considered "Illiberal or "Conservative" or "un-PC", (and holders of those views ought to be shot according to the "let it all hang out" Americans). :) I think the case with China is things are simply happening too fast for even me, a person born there, to catch up. I visited Beijing 10 years ago, and a second time not 5 years ago. I could not recognize it was the same town. I am sure it is yet unrecognizable again if I were to visit tomorrow. Likewise Shanghai. Likewise Kunming, Likewise Szichuan. Likewise Guandung, etc. etc. The modernization and the ever-growing middle-class truly is hard to catch up. And to think in my grandparents' generation, women still had bound feet (my grandma did) simply boggles my own mind.

Swiss Reader in reply to LexHumana

Lex, you are quite right with your hunch regarding inequality. China's Gini coefficient is similar to Mexico's, a bit better than Brazil but worse than the US. See here:
The imbalances you mention are discussed quite openly in local mainstream media such as Caixin, and a matter of official concern - like the other huge problem here which is pollution. And of course, as far as the median income goes, China is still far below the OECD average. The glass is half full, or half empty, depending on perspective. But there is certainly a large consuming middle class; just think of the highly visible Chinese tourist groups!

LexHumana in reply to Swiss Reader

I readily acknowledge that there is a growing Chinese middle class, and that China is certainly growing economically. But my comments were more focused on the topic of the article, which was whether economic growth and authoritarianism can not only co-exist, but flourish together. I am still convinced that this is an unproven hypothesis, in large part because: (1) while China has grown overall, the development of its domestic consumption market is still quite small relative to the rest of the developed world, (2) the middle class is still relatively small compared to the rest of the developed world, (3) the distribution of income is relatively unequal compared to the rest of the developed world, and (4) it has not fully transitioned from a central command-style economy (with state owned corporations) to a fully market driven economy, meaning that its growth is still largely due to government support.
China is on the cusp of becoming something extraordinary, but in order to achieve this it must be willing to let market forces determine growth, and let income flow more liberally to the hands of the general populace. The first factor would require the government to relinquish controls that I suspect it is not willing to do, and the second factor is potentially even more insidious -- giving a lot of people more wealth and disposable income gives them two things (1) more individual influence over their lives, and (2) a greater vested interest in protecting their accumulated wealth. This means that nurturing a growing middle class will result in that same middle class making demands on their government for greater individual autonomy. We saw this particular phenomenon throughout human history -- for example, it was the rise of the merchant class that presaged the end of the feudal era, as more and more non-noble classes had greater and greater personal wealth and corresponding influence.
China is faced with an institutional dilemma. If it pursues economic growth to rival the western economies, then it is effectively sowing the seeds of demand for more domestic personal autonomy (in fact, we have seen more and more glimmers of this throughout recent Chinese history even as Xi Jinping consolidates more and more personal power). As I said before, authoritarianism and highly-distributed personal wealth are generally mutually incompatible concepts.


But so far, we have to tolerate an excruciating ambiguity. The game is not over yet—not by a long way.

China is still the second largest economy. It has a long way to go.

the problems is what TE has said before . China needs go get rich before it gets older. and demographics are not exactly favourable to China
Plus it must also be said that the Internal debt levels in China are a big risk factor.. I would go with the prediction that growth rate will drop with the turnround in demographics starting in 2020 and concluding in 2050

BAZEE in reply to BAZEE

A statement made by the party in China was that growth rate falling below 7% would give rise to unrest.
Most people will notice that growth rate has fallen below 7% . The figures coming out of China are not necessarily accurate.
But with autocracy such data can be kept hidden.
My belief is that it is not the growth rate - but what comes with growth which is important ---- employment.
This is evidenced by the fact that the one belt initiative is using Chinese workers mostly

And there is evidence to show that they have problems. The concern has been expressed that the internal Chinese debt is far too high and very uncomfortable for the entire world.
Another bit of evidence is the fact that Chinese foreign policy has got very aggressive. Aggressive on all the borders.
This is an initiative from China itself. The only logical reason for this aggression has to be to unite people against ' the enemy' - a strategy to subdue unrest

\This is not a good strategy for the long term


If China's development is evidence for anything, it's not for the superiority of authoritarian rule when it comes to economic growth. If it's evidence for anything, it's that Keynesian policy does, what it does.
It's not authoritarian rule that created the Chinese "miracle", the driving force are massive capital injections into the system (land sales, free loans to state owened companies).
The test will be what happens in the next phase. My personal guess would be, that an authoritarian government hinders the further evolution of the economic system, by failing in education and suppressing everyone dissenting. It's the "Ben and Jerry's" of the world who invent new markets and whole new economies. Brin and Page were educated in anti-authortiarian, self-actualisation Montessori schools.
The Chinese kids in contrast get intimidated, learn to obey and get indoctrinated with dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.


I did not understand the last paragraph. Is something wrong with the grammar or am I missing something there?


China's stance in the information wars does appear to be more defensive than offensive simply because it can allow its example to speak for it in most cases. But there is the risk of contagion from bad ideas and faulty information which China to date felt it could not risk. That may change as technical means for sorting true from false improve. Bad ideas truly do seem to wither when confronted with complete and accurate information.

Sense Seeker

"The game is not over yet—not by a long way."
Indeed. I can remember when, in the late eighties, the world was anxious about the 'yellow danger'. Japan, to be sure. The Japanese were beating their Western competitors in their own markets and were buying up the world.
And then... nothing. Growth stagnated, and Japan is now a very well-to-do country; peaceful and with the highest life expectancy in the world.
Why? Well, you can achieve a lot with catch-up growth, but when you're at the top of innovation, it's hard to make much progress rapidly. Furthermore, when your population ages and few children are born, you first have a demographic benefit of many workers and both few old people and few children - but then demography turns against you and you get a very unfavourable dependency ratio.
So I'm not too worried about China. Sure, with that size population it will have a big influence in the world. But they are now at their demographic turning point and although their industry may still have some way to go in terms of efficiency gains and innovative edge, that has limits. And importantly, I am not convinced that it is possible to have a truly innovative economy without democracy. The Soviet Union did very well for a long time, but then collapsed. China, to me, seems not that different.
Of course there is a culture of meritocracy mixed in with the demand of loyalty towards the Party, and there is a Politburo in which decisions are taken collectively. But that can easily degenerate into a one-man dictatorship, for example if a Secretary General succeeds in appointing enough friends in high places to enable him to occupy the top offices of the party, the state, and the military at the same time, abolishing limits on his terms in office, and uses anti-corruption charges to lock up political competitors. Over time, that could lead to a system that values loyalty to the leader above competence and dedication to the interests of the people. And economic stagnation.

BAZEE in reply to Sense Seeker

So much that I could agree with
It has to be remembered that Science was born of thinking without constraints. Surely in society we need constraints but in the faculties of the sciences restrictions on thought caps the ability to conduct innovations.
Ans this is evidenced by the fact that Chinese outside China perform so much better then the ones in China
The need of the day is democracy and China has just started on the more authoritarian rule


Wow and wow. He who thinks clearly, writes clearly. Best contribution in the debate so far.
Congratulations to Kerry Brown.


The author writes: "the dystopian visions of people like George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Sinclair Lewis or Yevgeny Zamyatin, in which authoritarianism claims the human future, are starting to come true". Exctly. That's the path China communist elite has already taken and there is no indication it will deviate.We might hope it will "just" impose it on its "own people" . Unfortunately it is clear China leadership objective is different. Han China is already ruthlessly imposing its totalitarian system on Tibet and Xinjiang non han people . It still claims sovereignty on Taiwan. it is extending its sphere of influence on all Asia, e.g. the "china sea" , using both its growing military and naval power and economic strengh. Neighbouring countries are worried, and justly so. China does not limit itself to Asia,the world is its limit. It is helping compatible friendly dictatorships in Africa and far way Latin america. It has been instrumental in maintaining the chavist and Nicaragua dictatorships for years through a variety of ways, mainly through diplomatic and economic means.I do not believe in totalitarian system not trying to extend their ways to the rest of the world. China is showing us its intend everyday. Contrary to Russia, a much diminished power, China is strong and has met economic success. Ignoring this threat would be a deadly mistake for all those who like liberty ,independance and real democracy (not china erzats "people democracy").

Angus Cunningham in reply to Larslarson

Your argument is persuasive, Larslarson. However, I think you might be less worried about China's threat were you to read "The Geography of Thought", a book I very briefly summarize elsewhere in these comments, and also the comments thereon by Forlana and Xiphactinus. Indeed, if you were to read that book, you might even become influential in building bridges across the thoughtless, and potentially dangerous competition now occurring between Western and East Asian powers.

Larslarson in reply to Angus Cunningham

Thank you for your comment. I should really read " The geography of thought ".Meanwhile, reading your summary I am even more worrried. You write: "China, where the single party idea is leavened by advanced processes oriented toward developing leadership meritocracies, may be capable of much further socioeconomic development and why the future of 2-party Western political systems systems may already have reached their limits". My- simplistic- interpretation is that the " holistic" , but totalitarian chinese model, where citizens get good scores for behaving well under the scrutinty of millions of cameras, is probably more eficient than the old multi party western democratic system.In my opinion, If a 1984 brave new Wold is the more "efficient"alternative,we should fight very hard-now- in order to avoid it the future. Luckilly, the chinese communist party might encounter some demographic dificulty on its path to totalitarianism.

Peace Love and Understanding

You want to know what really went wrong with Western democracy?

Our elites were not accountable to our democratic institutions after the Financial Crisis. Our banking systems privatized their gains and nationalized their losses onto the taxpayers. And you are surprised by a populist revolt against this?

That isn't a problem with democracy, it's a problem with a lack of democracy and it's a problem with our elite being incredibly short-sighted. When did even our elites become so terrible?

The whole point is that changes will happen .
The financial crisis was the result of unforeseen changes. I would call it the pressure of investment. Investors expect high returns . The bankers decided to bundle debt together - one bad debt with four goods ones. For example - General motors and other ( supposedly) good debt was bundled with debt for money lent to people who could not afford it ( sub-prime lending ).
In theory - such bundles were safe. The bundle would only fail if 2 of the safe companies went belly up. And thye safe companies carried the sub-prime loans.
Except that companies like General Motors and American life went almost belly up and had to be rescued by the US government. The Bank of Scotland probably lent too much money to Iceland ( who would not give it back because those loans were to private banks and many failed ) The result was that Iceland was not allowed membership of the EU.
As for the elites - the Banks were rescued because without that rescue ( eg Bank of Scotland ) there would have been a catatosphree - a deep depression.
Hence came in the new terminology ' Too big to fail ' - referring to banks/ and companies that were very big

People like Obama/ Brown had to make the decisions about rescuing the banks and big companies. and he did. That is why he was elected to make sensible decisions.

I'm afraid you are forgetting some things about the financial crisis, so allow me to remind you, I know it has been a few years.

You are forgetting that the financial crisis was not the result of unforeseen changes at all. It was the result of intentional fraud with the knowledge that risky behavior could be engaged in without consequence because the government would foot the bill for any catastrophic failures that may occur among "systemic institutions" such as the largest banks in the country.

You are forgetting the part where criminal fraud was committed in bribing credit rating agencies to attach AAA ratings to securities that in reality were of junk bond status. You are forgetting the part where nobody went to jail for this.

You are forgetting that there are alternatives to bailing out criminals for their misdeeds and any system that depends on propping up people like that probably isn't worth saving because they are just going to do it again anyways.

Godfree Roberts

"If we want to think about how a China that is economically so successful while making no changes to its one-party model challenges the democratic world". The democratic world or the capitalistic world? Kerry Brown is being disingenuous.

Democracies constrain their leaders’ power, obey their citizens’ demands and protect their citizens’ civil rights. China does all three but, because it permits only one political party, we think of it as undemocratic. The distinction is semantic: China permits a symbolic Capitalist Party and America tolerates a vestigial Communist Party but each country is organized around a single economic ideology, so anti-Capitalism bills are as rare in the the US Senate as anti-Communism bills in the People’s Congress. Both are one-party states and both forbid direct leadership elections yet both are democracies, each shaped by its unique culture and history.

The USA is not and has never been a democracy. Its founding fathers hated democracy and mentioned the term nowhere in the constitutional documents. The USA is a republic, as every school child can tell you, since it is to the republic and the flag for which it stands that they pledge their allegiance each day. In China, at least, their elected representatives get to vote on presidential appointments. In America, voting on presidential appointments is done by non-elected people–as we saw with President Trump.

It's lazy to deny that China is a democracy just because her application of democracy is different from ours and we can't be bothered looking into it. China is far more democratic than, say, the USA, in both form and substance. Not only do more Chinese vote but voter turnout is 20% higher than America's and voter trust and satisfaction with their government is many times higher.

No matter how you slice it–constitutionally, electively, popularly, procedurally, operationally, substantively or financially–China comes out ahead. In survey after survey, it's the most trusted government in the world and its policies enjoy the highest support. Don't believe me? Read 'Selling Democracy to the Chinese'

Larslarson in reply to Godfree Roberts

China might be more efficient, but it not a democracy . As you say, "Democracies constrain their leaders’ power, obey their citizens’ demands and protect their citizens’ civil rights". Although capitalist democratic Europe USA are less than perfect in that regards, they do it infinitely better than China and other countries under one party rule and no real separation of power.Just ask people in the chinese goulag. If you trust surveys that shows "support" for Chinese leadership as an indicator, you might as well believe in Kim's, Stalin's, Hitler, Castro, Mao's ,Pol Pot, and Chavez stats. With the right level of propaganda or "ideological struggle", people will show support for anything.

Godfree Roberts in reply to Larslarson

American 'democracy' belongs in the tradition Cassius Dio’s Rome where amoral amateurs made unfulfillable promises and, when elected, voted for endless wars that profited the anonymous oligarchs who funded their election campaigns. Like their Roman counterparts, American political factions still fight for power despite George Washington’s[1] warning, “Party serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasional riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another”. Seventy years later, Congressional party infighting precipitated the Civil War.

There are no Chinese 'gulags'. China has the lowest prison population and the lowest recidivism rates on earth (and unarmed police). China's government is the most trusted on earth and its policies have the widest support of any. According to a recent World Values Survey, 96% of Chinese expressed confidence in their government (compared to 37% of Americans). Likewise, 83% of Chinese thought their country is run for everyone’s benefit rather than for a few big interest groups (36% of Americans thought the same).

[1] George Washington’s farewell to the nation


From my point of view, it is always dangerous to mix the nation, the ruling party and the people. And this is yet a mistake that we still see everywhere even on media like Economist which I liked a lot.

The so called exceptionalism actually does not exist from the very beginning because the first 3 decades of P.R. China's history has proven that Marxism is merely an empty dream instead of a solid roadmap. Not to mention all the other state that has tried and failed or denying the failure. The exceptionalism is simply the same rules working as how the developed countries have taken. From the labor intensive industries towards the intellect intensive industries, growth of productivity and more and more open society. The development came from opening and will stop if it starts to close the doors and it's very obvious that if it does not take a fundamental reform on its political system, the music will stop. We shall see that in the next 10 years.

If you still doubt that, the recent ZTE case is perfect as a case study. Couple of points:
1, lack of IP assets
2, too much government intervention
3, lack of independent judicial system

This has and will increase the number of company that do not play by the books (of course it's everywhere around the world, but the extent is different) and not flushing the ones that fail to create value and stand on its own feet in the market. How to keep it going? The printing machine that runs at top speed. But as we all know there's a cap on how much credit and currency you can manipulate within a time frame and sooner or later , the train will hit a wall.

If the "West" (though I am not a big fan of this kind of categorization) does not come up a strategy to force the country to change and play along , bury the heads in the sands, the consequences will be bored by all. When it comes to the too big to fail stage, you will have no choice. So , it maybe painful, but it is necessary.

I don't know how the future will look like , but I hope that human kind is smart enough and brave enough to find a bright future all together.

Godfree Roberts in reply to EinSoftStone

Lack of IP assets? Hardly! ZTE (Chinese National Communication Rejuvenation) derives only six percent of its profits from handset sales but leads the world in international 5G patents.
Responding to the network function virtualization (NFV) trend, ZTE has become a forerunner in the cloud network era. In February 2016, ZTE cooperated with VimpelCom, a multinational operator group, to build the industry’s largest commercial vEPC network across five countries that supports the convergence of 2G, 3G, and LTE networks. ZTE and Telefonica are jointly building a large scale vIMS network in Latin America, which covers seven countries and the control layer is centralized deployment of Multi Country. ZTE and Velcom (the Belarussian subsidiary of Telekom Austria Group) are building together the first worldwide commercial fully virtualized Core Network, including vEPC/vSDM/vCS. In October 2016, the RCS network built exclusively by ZTE for China Mobile was put into commercial service. Serving 100 million users, this network has become the world’s largest commercial vIMS/RCS. In June 2016, ZTE’s virtualized core network (vCN) was awarded the Best Core Network Product at the 5G World Summit held in London. It’s the first to verify key technologies in 5G millimeter frequencies and has 5G agreements with China Mobile, China Unicom, China Telecom, Deutsche Telecom, SoftBank, Korean Telecom, Telefonica, UMobile and eight others.

too much government intervention? Scarcely! The inventions that ZTE buys from the US were commissioned by the US Government

lack of independent judicial system? Seriously, do you know of a judicial system that is not staffed and funded by a government?

Angus Cunningham in reply to EinSoftStone

"I hope that human kind is smart enough and brave enough to find a bright future all together."

I think we all fervently agree with you, EinSoftStone, and now we are faced with searching for a vision, one rooted hopefully in reality, by which we can find parts to play in the 'together' future you mention.

In this context, I'd like to make two comments:

(1) The idea of China's emphasis on leadership meritocracy is a hopeful one and, when we compare it to the practices now observable in Washington's Congress and London's Westminster, it's one I feel we should keep in mind, albeit with a bit of skepticism

(2) The root idea of Marxist thought is 'From each according to one's capacity and to each according to one's need". Who can argue with the validity of that ideal?

In light of these two comments, are we not foolish in the West to pour contempt on all attempts to put the Marxian idea into practice, as we do when we contemptuously label all such attempts as socialism? Instead, I feel sure we would do better to explore the great, but not unbridgeable, divide in the predominant modes of perception to be found between Western individualist cultures and East Asian holistic ones. You can find an introduction to this rarely understood divide by reading my post here on the book "The Geography of Thought" and also the comments on that post by Forlana and Xiphactinus.


China's exceptional political situation is that it has a very homogenous population that can very easily unify around ethnic nationalism, and coupled with amazing economic growth from their own industriousness, this creates political stability that allows for the one party dictatorship to flourish. However, this will not go on forever. Even if China does reach first world living standards, growth will slow. Ethnic nationalism loses its appeal invariably as education spreads, especially if that education hammers home that message constantly. The political stability created by ethnic nationalism is also a kind of weakness as it prevents the kind of independent, critical thinking necessary to make society better.

WT Economist in reply to oca250

China is a big place. It isn't the equivalent of England, it is the equivalent of Europe, with multiple different languages, cuisines, cultures. If you believe the economist it may be pursing racist nationalism as a unifying theme, but it won't work because it is so big and people are different.
The Chinese, moreover, have become an international people. And that is a fact the Chinese regime hasn't had to face before.
The contrast was between the U.S. -led global order and the Chinese idea of non-interventionism. But imagine the Chinese community within some other nation begins to face severe violations of their human rights and physical security. What would China say? It's their country or none of our business? Or would they demand, like everyone else, that the U.S. send in the marines?


China's state-funded capitalism is a threat to global companies. Massive amount of government money is poured into businesses in violation of WTO principles. America should punish those state-funded Chinese companies severely and save capitalism.

WT Economist

A great deal of the torment of "the West" during the Cold War was based on insecurity -- once the totalitarians get control, that's it -- 1,000 years of perpetual darkness spreading across the world.
In retrospect, shouldn't "the West" have been a little more optimistic? Over the past 50 years every communist country other than Cuba and North Korea has either ceased to be communist or evolved. Moreover, many of the authoritarian regimes the U.S. felt it had to support because the alternative was communism have become more democratic and responsive. No wars were required. Vietnam has evolved even though we lost -- we did lots of harm and no good.
No one would have predicted China would get this far. Who says it won't get farther? Who knows how it will evolve? How successful is their control of information, given that thousands of Chinese travel abroad? And don't forget that 1989 uprising, because I'll bet a few hundred million Chinese people haven't. The lesson was revolution might be a bad idea, but eventually evolution will happen.
As for the hegemony of Google and Facebook, I'm concerned -- but also aware that it wasn't too long ago that Microsoft was going to rule the world.
The 18th and 19th centuries were European centuries. The 20th century was "the American Century." Maybe the 21st will be the "Chinese century." It too will end.

Larslarson in reply to WT Economist

yes, it seems the 21st century will the chinese century. it will end of course. But a century still looks like a long time for non Han chinese people. Let's make it shorter or -not at all. we certainly want to co-exist with china. But not with its one party totalitarian system .


From my perspective, a substantial of articles argue that the Chinese government has been violating its citizens’ privacy by adopting various and effective tools to monitor to its citizens, the Western governments have no moral ground to disprove the argument that they adopt similar techniques to monitor its own citizen in the name of national security. Technology companies have countless and proper reasons to gather users’ information as it is the trendy and effective way to boost valuation and earnings. The western entrepreneurs have greater influence over politics than the Chinese counterparts, given the different political system they respectively endorse. It means that the western entrepreneurs have the access to block legislation or action taken by government that violates their economic interests. Luckily, we see the EU at last implement the GDPR to protect its citizens’ privacy.

In regard to Taiwan and South China Sea. Given the fact they are part of China in history, and were later separated from China in the 20th century. Such action becomes reasonable when you think of a country needs to maintain its national integrity China has no intention to neither exert influence nor violate other countries’ sovereign nor their politics, unlike the US.

Political reform is seriously needed in China to ensure its people’s various demand, from entertainment to identity, are satisfied. The Chinese government has been taking aggressive actions in suppressing entertainments that disseminate value that are not aligned with the ones promoted by the state.

After all, the world has changed. Both the West and China needs to take a deep to its respective problems, rather than accusing the other countries have violated the universally liberalism principles promoted by the West. The world has never been easy. The ‘history’ has not ended yet.

Angus Cunningham

In “The Geography of Thought” (2003, Free Press div. of Simon and Schuster) University of Michigan psychology professor and social science author Richard Nisbett describes some remarkable distinctions between the ways of perceiving that predominate in Greek-originated (Western) civilizations and those that predominate in East Asian civilizations. The former, often called analytic thinking, tend to focus on a single nameable object, creature, or idea and to attempt to explain causal processes relating other objects, creatures and ideas to that singular focus. The latter, often called holistic thinking, tend to discern a pattern among salient features of a less focused perception and to notice disharmonies in the relationships making up the pattern perceived.
Nisbett’s book shows how these distinctions explain many socioeconomic differences between ‘the West’ and East Asia. For example, his book describes how these differences explain why, at the time of his writing, lawyers in US society outnumbered engineers by a factor 42 times that of their equivalent numbers in Japan.
Nisbett’s observations seem to me to be ones that can shed much light in the context of TE’s Open Future debate. They might even explain why China, where the single party idea is leavened by advanced processes oriented toward developing leadership meritocracies, may be capable of much further socioeconomic development and why the future of 2-party Western political systems systems may already have reached their limits in socioeconomic development.

Xiphactinus in reply to Angus Cunningham

While I haven't read the book, I wonder, did it consider that the Japanese constitution was written by US General Douglas MacArthur, not by Japanese lawyers, in the aftermath of WWII at a time when the ratio of engineers to lawyers in the US was probably not quite as skewed as it is now by the subsequent decades of growth in consumer law, divorce law, real estate law, and personal injury law, and that maybe all the comparisons don't hold so true when adjusting for these facts?
Also, though it is from 1991, I just found this letter to the New York Times which might possibly explain more of that apparent discrepancy-- in the numbers of lawyers at least:
And, while the Russians are attempting to subvert our political process via their spying, the Chinese are happy to instead engage in industrial spying and theft on a massive scale with theirs such that organizations and corporations advise if not actually require that any electronic devices taken into that country be throw away ones. My Chinese-made computer is probably spying on me now.
Finally, see the BBC documentary 'The Century of the Self' (BBC; 2002-- ) to see the kind of mind control and social engineering that has been engaged in and continues to be engaged in in the US and Britain such that our populations bear little behavioral or productive similarity to the generation which built Spitfires and Mustangs but instead consist of entitled, aspiring consumers now for whom the last idea they would be willing to entertain would be considering not what they could do for their country but rather only what their country-- or better yet the global consumer economy-- can do for them.
Time will tell whether the rest of the world, which is well along the path in following our consumer lifestyles, will also follow us in the development of this kind of selfish, aspirational, individualistic, and mostly mindless consumerist approach to living. Rising obesity and diabetes rates in most places seem to indicate they probably are.

Forlana in reply to Angus Cunningham

Richard Nisbett book is one of the most persuasive works which document that racism is ungrounded. Ie. mental/cultural differences between people are not due to their "hardware" but solely due to their "software".
It is also a must-read for everyone interested in wordwide matters of today, when the world has to somehow deal a rising weight of East Asia.
However, in my understanding, the book translates poorly into political parlance and interim political arguments. It is much deeper than that. It facilitates the vision how the word could look, were a method and platform found to merge the Western and East Asian "way of thinking". In this respect, mentioning of Japan seems very apt. Now -
to place the whole issue in The Economist's debate subject - let's for a while fantasize how the prospects of the people of China would look, and taking into account their quantity, how the prospects of humankind, its well-being, economical, cultural/spiritual development would look if China was to leave behind at least part of its "exceptionalism" as Japan did in the second half of 20th century.... Ah, sweet dreams...
To come back to the real world :) Nisbett's observations by no means justifie a suspicion that 2-party Western political systems have reached their limits. Most of all because such statement is a pars-pro-toto synecdoche (in classical rhetoric par-pro-toto is also described as technique of deliberately misleadin the listeners by conveying only some part of information /truth, while suggesting by the way of expression, context, and so on, that this is the whole truth).
Further, the "Western way of thinking", especially when explained by the fundamental (though its not the only fundment) Ancient Greek influence, cannot be described as analytical with a full stop. Such stance is equal to taking into account only one part of Ancient Greek input, while totally disregarding the other bricks, wihout which the analytical approach does not make much sense, and of course disregarding all the later achievements of Western meta-thought.
Finally, and less importantly as this will address the subjective percpetions of the book. In contrast to you, Angus Cunningham, my general impression is that Nisbett justifies cautious assumption that the humans who grew in the West tend to focus on salient objects, categorize them, and by rules of FORMAL logic exclusively (not JUST analysis, again, pleasse) attempt to understand their internal and external realtionships. While East Asian "way of thinking" is less oriented on the salient objects of reality and its attributes, while first noticing the greater structure and its attributes. In other words - my metathought would be that a Westerner to understand what is, say, a universe, or, say, a lawn - first looks what is the most salient and easy to recognize single object on the lawn. Spending lots of time on the knees, investigating single straws may not look very protreptic. Especially to the Easterner who will get the idea what its all about by first observing a lawn it in toto.
Both attitudes have their limits, especially if misapplied. Westerner may know perfectly how a plant called grass works, how the grass in order to form a lawn has to compete with other plants, how it can be helped while growing, but miss other aspects of the lawn. Easterner may perfectly understand that "a lawn" has a sense only if there are people/children playing on it, buy may not quite notice some other aspects.
Both ways of thinking, though kind of automatic, are fully accessible to any observer of the universe, no matter where she or he grew up. In my personal opinion - the better they are somehow merged, the smoother the world, including such mundane, though unfortunately so important matters as economy, will develop. Again - lets look at Japan, Southern Korea.
But, for heavens sake :) let's not use all that politically, and, Angus Cunningham, thank you for an interesting comment.

Angus Cunningham in reply to Forlana

"Both ways of thinking, though kind of automatic, are fully accessible to any observer of the universe, no matter where she or he grew up. In my personal opinion - the better they are somehow merged, the smoother the world, including such mundane, though unfortunately so important matters as economy, will develop. Again - lets look at Japan, Southern Korea."

I think Nisbett would agree with your opinion, Forlana, and certainly I do, although I feel your judgment of "fully accessible" understates the degree of effort required to recognize the difference to which Nisbett's book draws attention. When I read the book near the end of my career, which had included a year of management consulting for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in the early 70s, I was quite unaware of the profound distinction between the dominant ways of perception occurring in the West and the East. Had I been aware of it, I feel my usefulness to my clients and also my sense of ease at the time would have been significantly greater.

IF the US and N Korea are able to maintain and deepen the thawing in the political attitudes now prevalent in each country's political elite towards the other's, then the benefits to be had in studying Nisbett's book will become apparent at hierarchically higher levels.

Angus Cunningham in reply to Xiphactinus

Thank you, Xiphactinus, for your thoughtful comment. Nisbett's book doesn't consider the constitutional factor you mention. While the constitutional factor might explain a little of the disparity in the ratio of lawyers to engineeers, I feel sure it wouldn't explain the other remarkable differences found in the research it included.

I think the point made in the BBC's documentary "The Century of the Self" is one we in the West ought all to pay very close attention to. English-speaking cultures have swung alarmingly toward valuing individuality at the expense of losing faith in the value of collectivity, and I think British and North American societies are now paying for it in the anger endemic in the Brexit and Trumpian populism. Hopefully, the pending economic rise of China will stimulate us to look carefully at the implications of Nisbett's book (to which my summary above does scant justice I must admit), in fields such as education, and not only at early levels, but all the way up to subjects such as business and political science.

Forlana in reply to Angus Cunningham

You are probably right, however - once the difference is recognized, and there's quite a lot of reasearch papers documenting the differences by now, the obstacles inhibiting the merging/using to the full the benefits resuting from these two intellectual approaches are few.
I have been encouraging against the political usage of Nisbett... and now my final remark after reading your feedback and the closing remark especially will be slightly political:) I don't quite get the criticism Mr. Trump gets for his meeting with Mr. Kim. Instead of pointing rockets against each other they have pointed opened palms and shook hands. Good start.
Thank you once again, also for personal disclosure. The times are changing. I read Nisbett while preparing for a consultation I was asked by one of Japanese firms investing in one of central European countries.

Angus Cunningham in reply to Forlana

" I don't quite get the criticism Mr. Trump gets for his meeting with Mr. Kim. Instead of pointing rockets against each other they have pointed opened palms and shook hands. Good start."

I think a justifiable criticism is that the document they signed before leaving their Singapore meeting didn't commit either to any, albeit small, action by some specific time. Trump has since announced cessation of joint military 'games' with S Korea, which will be positive IF Pompeo can pass that off with S Korea and Japan; and apparently Kim left feeling able to announce to his people that the US would be relaxing sanctions without mentioning that any such relaxation would be contingent on denuclearization progress in follow-up negotiations with Pompeo. I would have thought a few extra hours of the Singapore meeting could have rectified that.


Good and fair article. Hope China can become more socially and politically open to the world. Not an expert but to provide my humble and naive opinion on this, politics should evolve like other systems, also need more science (psychology, technology for example) to help politics to evolve. To the east and west, the key is to keep an open mind on the study on political systems and improve it. The goal is simple, to manage humans live harmonious on our planet Earth.


"In that sense, China is a threat to an intellectual consensus." If you refer to the Washington Consensus, that destroyed Russia's economy, and opened the way to their enmity towards the US, more power to them.