China loves capitalism, hates elections

Three separate readers emailed me this article from a few days ago, which can only be read if you’re registered. It’s definitely worthy of comments (and is exceptionally well written), so I’m reproducing the whole thing. It really all goes back to the same question raised by John Pomfret in this post: How can China be a true superpower and lead the world in the 21st century when most of its people are dirt-poor and the poitical system is mired in corruption? A very fair question. As impressed as I am with Hu’s diplomatic prowess, this same question is always there. I used to believe the answer was simple: No, China can never be a superpower and can never overcome its incredibly complex and difficult problems. Now I’m more inclined to say that it’s a very long shot, but slow, steady progress might put them in the running. Someday.

They love capitalism, but not elections
Boris Johnson

It was towards the end of my trip to China that the tall, beautiful communist-party girl turned and asked the killer question. ‘So, Mr Boris Johnson,’ she said, ‘have you changed your mind about anything?’ And I was forced to reply that, yes, I had. Darned right I had.

I had completely changed my mind about the chances of democracy in China. Before flying to Beijing I had naively presumed that the place was not just exhibiting hysterical economic growth, but was about to enter a ferment of political change. I had assumed that Tony Blair was right when, in 2005, he went there and announced that the 1.3 billion Chinese were on an ‘unstoppable march’ towards multi-party politics. I now know that he was talking twaddle, and, what is more, that his Foreign Office advisers knew it.

Like most reporters of my generation I spent a certain amount of the 1980s in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and we all remember that sense of suppressed mutiny, how easy it was to find people willing to prophesy over late-night vodka or slivovitz that one day the lid would blow off the cooker and Western-style democracy would be ushered in. Well, it’s not that way in China today.

I came away with an impression of a gloriously venal capitalist explosion being controlled by an unrepentant Bolshevik system, and — this is the key thing — with the patriotic support of almost all the intelligentsia. One night I had dinner with a charming group of young Chinese professionals, all of whom had studied in England, and who you might therefore expect to have drunk deep of our liberal political potion. I began by pointing out that I was that exotic British phenomenon, a ‘shadow’ minister. Of course, I said patronisingly, you don’t have an opposition, do you? ‘No,’ they smiled. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘wouldn’t it be a good thing?’ I waved my arms at the panorama of Shanghai behind us, where illuminated pleasure boats chugged along the river, and the fangs of 300 skyscrapers probed the night, soon to be joined by 300 more.

‘What if you get fed up with the people running this show? Wouldn’t you like to kick them out? Kick the bastards out, eh?’ I stabbed my chopsticks at a passing squid.

‘Actually, no,’ said Oswald, a nice guy with specs who had studied at Keble. He didn’t think the British system would work in China at all. ‘I think a one-party state is good for China right now,’ he said, and the squid, more elusive in death than in life, shot from my fumbling sticks and lay on the tablecloth in a metaphor of Western incomprehension.

‘But what about Chairman Mao?’ I asked. I had been stunned, in Beijing, to find his warty visage still looming over the entrance to the Forbidden City, and to see the crowds of reverential citizens still visiting the mausoleum of a man who, in his 27-year reign, was responsible for the deaths of 70 million people and who therefore, in the evil tyrant
stakes, knocks Hitler and Stalin into a cocked hat. Surely it was time to break with the legacy of Mao? This time it was a spiky-haired young lawyer called Harry who dealt gently with my misconceptions.

‘Different times produce different heroes,’ he said. ‘We cannot put ourselves in the position that Mao was in.’ ‘But what if you want to get involved in politics,’ I asked. ‘What do you do?’ ‘You must join the communist party, and work for the government,’ said Lucy, a girl on my left. ‘It is a great honour to join the communist party. You must be a very bright student.’

Before you accuse me of talking to the wrong people, let me assure you that I found the same story everywhere: not so much a defence of Chinese communism, or totalitarianism, but a patient refusal to accept my glib assumptions of the superiority of Western pluralism; because the more I harped on, the more resolute my nterlocutors became in their defence not so much of the system but of China itself.

In Shanghai we went to an enormous and lavishly equipped college of journalism, and after we had all swapped business cards (which must be exchanged sacramentally, with both hands and a small kung-fu bow) there was a slide-show of all the distinguished foreigners who had been there, ranging from Ronald Reagan to Margaret Hodge, and then it was my cue to make a small speech of thanks. I explained again that I was an opposition politician, and that I believed it was important to keep up my journalism as a way of getting my message across. This dual role I chose to describe by what I thought was a happy Mao-style aphorism. ‘You could say that I combine the functions of dog and lamp-post!’

As I spoke I could hear the British Council man on my left groan and whisper ‘no, no’, and around the table, on the faces of the tutors of Chinese journalism, there was frank mystification. Later on that evening, when I was trying to explain it to the communist-party girl, it was some time before she grasped what in Western liberal democracies constitutes the proper relationship between the journalist (dog) and the politician (lamp-post), and if you want to understand why my sally fell so thunkingly flat, there is a very simple reason.

In today’s China the dogs are still so respectful of the lamp-posts that the editor of one big paper recently admitted that he gave bonuses to reporters whose work was praised by the Ministry of Information. In many cities the journalists turn up at press conferences and are given little cash-stuffed envelopes to thank them for being there. When I asked the lecturers in journalism to name their professional heroes, they looked utterly bemused, eventually naming Edgar Snow, the American stooge and hagiographer of Mao. At the end of our session at the journalism
college a pale, intense academic came up privately and said of course I was right to say that journalism should root out corruption, ‘but we must also care about stability,’ he said, and there is the nub.

It is a cliché worth repeating that the Chinese have a colossal, 4,000-year-old respect for authority, and a deep unwillingness to be seen to do anything that is extrovert, embarrassing, satirical, flatulent, foolish, irreverent — in fact, they have been wholly bypassed by the European Enlightenment. They have a different concept of the relation between the individual and society, and a distrust of any kind of seditious argument, let alone satire. It’s not so much that they would be shocked by Voltaire. They would be shocked by Aristophanes. With every group of
students I tried, in a flat-footed way, to raise issues of academic and intellectual freedom, in particular the notorious restrictions on the internet.

Wasn’t it absurd that the state was blocking access to Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia, particularly since it seemed to have been written by Maoists anyway? And every time the students responded that it wasn’t such a problem, that there were ways round it, I was struck by their apathy, their acquiescence, their un-Tiananmen spirit, their willingness to accept the arguments for ‘stability’ and the public good: to the point where I suddenly felt it was pointless and boorish of me to keep levelling these implicit criticisms of my hosts.

The Chinese are gluttons for gilts and bonds and calls and puts and leveraged buyouts; but they aren’t very keen on the idea of elections, and instead of nipples on their billboards they would much rather have the luscious Technicolor full-frontal advertising for machine tools that greets the passenger arriving at Shanghai station. They want to do it the authoritarian way, the Chinese way, partly because the fear of disorder is so strong, and partly, frankly, because the rest of the world does not yet provide an overwhelming advert-isement for democracy.

If the Chinese want to prove to themselves that elections lead to chaos and kleptocracy, they need only look at Russia. If they want to reassure themselves that Blair and the neocons are wrong, and that democracy is not one of those sow-anywhere plants, they only have to look at the disaster of Iraq. In fact, the more people like me insist on rabbiting on about democracy, the more the Chinese must inwardly resolve to vindicate their own specialness and their own solution, complete with prison camps, mass capital punishment, and getting fired if you have more than one baby; not least since the present Chinese formula seems to be such a roaring success.

They have averaged growth of 9 per cent over the last 25 years; they are creating the fastest bullet train in the world as well as 30 nuclear reactors, and hundreds of millions of peasants are still moving to the cities to stand in plimsolls and suits on girders hundreds of feet up in the cause of the most enormous boom in construction and industrialisation the world has ever seen. Even in my own area of special interest, higher education, the Chinese story is astonishing: there are now 1,800 state universities (there are about 90 in the UK) as well as 1,300 technical colleges, and the Chinese don’t have any of the British addiction to state funding.

This may be technically a communist country, but in some universities 50 per cent of total funds are fees paid by the students, their families and even their neighbours (whereas top-up fees will contribute about 2 per cent of Cambridge’s budget). Oh, and just to freeze your marrow further, the Chinese turn out millions of highly qualified scientists and mathematicians, at a time when 30 per cent of British university physics departments have closed in the last eight years. You cannot hope to pass the gaokao, the fearsome Chinese university entrance exam which is
sat by eight million 18-year-olds a year (and failed by three million of them), unless you have the equivalent of a B or better at maths A-level.

The longer you spend in the new China, watching the oxyacetylene lamps on the building sites at 3 a.m., the clearer it is that Francis Fukuyama was wrong when, in 1989, he pronounced that the fall of Soviet communism meant the end of history. Systematically, methodically, and with the connivance of their entire political establishment and their growing bourgeoisie, the Chinese are making a mockery of the claim that free-market capitalism and democracy must go hand-in-hand. Which is why, finally, I do not altogether go along with those who have suggested that the
next century will belong to China, or that China will somehow rule the planet.

It is true that the new China is a wonderful place, and certainly a lot better than the old communist China, and with the growing international renown of their economic performance the Chinese are gaining in confidence and spiritual hope. It is also true that Chinese competition is a huge challenge for us in Western Europe, and certainly a useful
hobgoblin for those of us who think that Gordon Brown’s Labour party is eroding our competitive edge.

But with Chinese per capita GDP still only $1,000 per year, and with all the corruption and inefficiency still generated by a one-party state, I am not yet convinced that we need to force all our children to learn Mandarin. If China is really to rule the world, she will need two things that America now has in superabundance: hard power and soft power.

As a military power, China is still relatively insignificant (her defence spending is smaller than that of the UK); and as for soft power — cultural projection abroad — what can China boast, apart from the occasional arrival in London of the state ballet or the Beijing People’s Circus? It is a tragic fact that every year thousands of Chinese undergo surgery to make their features more Western. To see how remote is the day of Chinese cultural dominance, ask yourselves how many Westerners would have surgery to make themselves look more Chinese.

Soft power — cultural influence — is ultimately impossible without an appealing international brand, and for the foreseeable future China’s international brand will be vitiated by her domestic political arrangements. China will never rule the world as long as the Forbidden City is adorned with the face of the biggest mass murderer in history. In the words of John Lennon, ‘If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao/ You ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow.’

Boris Johnson’s report on China’s universities will be screened on BBC2’s Newsnight on 9 May.

The Discussion: 46 Comments

“If the Chinese want to prove to themselves that elections lead to chaos and kleptocracy, they need only look at Russia. If they want to reassure themselves that Blair and the neocons are wrong, and that democracy is not one of those sow-anywhere plants, they only have to look at the disaster of Iraq. ”

They don’t have to go so far. If they want to know how his system failed, they only need to look at MG Rover, Liverpool, and Manchester, then compare them with the shining showcase city of London. If they want to know how corrupt his system is, they only need to look at Tony’s secret dossier and BBC director’s resignment.

His metaphor is very vivid. He is just a dog, and the other side is a lamppost (or you can replace it with anything you can bark at but not bite on).

April 24, 2006 @ 3:44 am | Comment

It’s worth noting that Boris Johnson is something of an establishment figure in England – a man who conceals a biting intellect under the facade of a bumbling upper-class buffoon. So to read this from him is enlightening – he expresses what I’ve thought for wuite some time in a very succinct way.

April 24, 2006 @ 3:49 am | Comment

He’s definitely got style, and a great eye for metaphors and details. I have to agree with most of what he says.

April 24, 2006 @ 4:21 am | Comment

Gotta love Boris…

April 24, 2006 @ 4:46 am | Comment

He phrased the bit about Russia very carefully, “if the Chinese WANT to prove to themselves…”, ie, implying that there might be some desire for self-deception there.

And it really is self-deception for the CCP (or anyone) to prattle on and on about how liberalisation and free elections caused “chaos and kleptocracy” in Russia.

I repeat – and I’ll keep repeating it for as long as people go around reproducing the meme about Russian democracy “causing” some kind of “new” corruption: Russia was never as chaotic or as kleptocratic or as corrupt as it was under the Communist dictatorship.

The main thing which changed after 1991, which made Russia APPEAR to have become more corrupt, was an opening up of the press and consequently more public exposure of Russia’s pandemic corruption. But the corruption was nothing new, and it was far worse under the Communists, because it was even harder to expose or to challenge in those times.

April 24, 2006 @ 5:23 am | Comment

Ivan, prepare to be ignored by most. The myth of Russia’s plunge into chaos, anarchy and criminality after 1991 is a red herring, a gimmick to keep the Chinese people petrified of democracy. “If we have elections, we’ll be thrown into chaos, too!” And it’s a damned powerful meme, and people like hongxing and china hand et. al. thrive on it. The perfect defense to hold up anytime someone suggests democracy and freedom. Look what it did to Russia! Infuriating.

April 24, 2006 @ 7:33 am | Comment

Yeah, because corruption isn’t a problem in China now…


April 24, 2006 @ 9:49 am | Comment

Ivan, indeed. Russia was already corrupt and failing – which of the ex-leaders said that the USSR could send a man into space but not make a refrigerator/washing machine of any real quality?

Lisa, what corruption are you talking about? For Chinese its part of what they expect! 😀

April 24, 2006 @ 11:00 am | Comment

Doesn’t anyone notice any irony in this, coming from a Brit? During a hundred years of colonial rule, when did the British let the Chinese pick the Governor of Hong Kong?

Anyway, Hong Kong may be just the example to prove Johnson wrong. I believe the Chinese will eventually desire democracy, as many people in Hong Kong now do. Just because the majority of Mainlanders believe CCP rule now is better than what they fear is the alternative — Soviet-style economic collapse — doesn’t mean they won’t want democracy in the future.

One thing that seems to be forgotten by all the “Washington Consensus” people is that ALL of the Asian Tigers had autocratic rule during the Cold War — right-wing dictatorships or colonial rule. At the same time they also had their fastest period of economic growth. And yet one-party rule eventually ended, either because the people demanded it, or because the government decided itself to end it (as was the case in Taiwan). I happen to agree with a lot of economists that it had much to do with a critical mass reaching the middle class — and the same thing will eventually happen to China.

Johnson acts like China is trying to be some miraculous exception to the rule — that you MUST have democracy to have strong economic growth. Well , perhaps the situation is not that China is some exception to this rule — perhaps the case is simply that the rule doesn’t hold true for developing countries.

And as for Johnson’s final comment, who says China WANTS to rule the world? It seems to be mainly non-Chinese paranoics that insist on this threat. If anything, China’s engagement with foreign countries like Sudan or Iran shows it is non-ideological and — unfortunately — amoral. It has no current desire to push any form of government on anyone, and no desire to promote anything other than economic development.

April 24, 2006 @ 11:05 am | Comment

“During a hundred years of colonial rule, when did the British let the Chinese pick the Governor of Hong Kong?”

What would China have done if Britain had dared to introduce democracy to Hong Kong after WWII? There’s plenty to blame the UK for in terms of colonialism, but I don’t think that this particular criticism is reasonable.

And on whether democracy is needed for political and economic development – it’s still an open question whether China can pull it off. What happens when there is a growing middle class that starts to demand more rights? Will the CCP fade quietly into the sunset, or will it attack Taiwan? The CCP has shown no indications so far of being willing to put the good of the country ahead of themselves.

April 24, 2006 @ 11:19 am | Comment

Oh, and I want to make another thing clear. I’d agree the Soviet Union’s economic collapse wasn’t caused by the adoption of democracy. What I think it was caused by was listening to Western “experts” who thought the only way to transform from a communist to a capitalist society was to cold-turkey privatize all state enterprises as rapidly as possible.

And as for corruption, democracy alone is not enough to control it. If you look at Transparency International’s corruption rankings, some territories that don’t have democracy — like Hong Kong and Singapore — actually have lower corruption levels than some democracies, like India and — yes — Russia. As a matter of fact, India and Russia both rank WORSE than China!

April 24, 2006 @ 11:34 am | Comment

Boris made some great points. I think the rush of Americans to learn mandarin Chinese is silly because the most advanced science as well as the most advanced culture are all in English and not in Chinese. English is the world’s common language while Chinese can never be. Boris is right in that if China is ever going to be a dominant power in the world, its citizens must have political freedom and democracy. That said, I think China is following the projectory of Asian democracy model championed by South Korea and Taiwan. The reasons Chinese democracy is slow in coming are that its population is huge and one billion of them are still poor.

April 24, 2006 @ 11:56 am | Comment

Ann, I know the British actually suppressed democratic and labour union movements in HK during the 50’s and 60’s, arguing the movements were pro-Communist and pro-China. They deported thousands of activists at that time — to Communist China!

Am I somehow supposed to admire Britain for this? That they didn’t want democracy because then they might have lost the colony to Mainland China?

I don’t care about justifications made after the fact, that the British provided the “foundation” for later democracy. The fact is, the British _opposed_ democracy for Hong Kong until they knew that they would have to give up the colony anyway — and wanted to somehow mitigate the embarassment of handing it back to a now-communist country.

Now we’ve got to listen to guys like Johnson telling China they shouldn’t have capitalism without democracy — conveniently forgetting about how the British themselves ran Hong Kong with a capitalistic but nondemocratic system.

April 24, 2006 @ 12:26 pm | Comment

Danfried, whatever you may say about HK, I have never met a HKese that was sorry it was a British colony. Every single right those people have now is as a result of British rule. If the Communists had had their way, it would be ruled pretty much as the mainland is now. But due to the way things were run, and the HK people responded to the British ideals of democracy and free speech, they were able to hang on to a lot of those rights. This can be seen by the increase in feelings of nostalgia for the pre-1997 days there.

HK was not democratic, but its citizens enjoyed legal rights that were far in advance of anything the mainland ever enjoyed.

April 24, 2006 @ 1:07 pm | Comment

By the way, you seem rather bitter about the British rule of HK. Mind telling us why? You have some ties there, or what?

April 24, 2006 @ 1:15 pm | Comment

Raj: Russians could and can produce quality products. They had and still have terrible technology, which however doesn’t mean they could not or cannot produce quality things. Many refrigerators from the Soviet times still work!

Ivan: You’re too much indulged in “New Russians” and their life style. The most Russians, so long they had some experience under the Soviet regime, told me that they could witness a lot more chaos and corruption in their immediate environments in New Russia than in the old times. I often read your stories about the wonderful New Russia arising from the ruins of the evil Soviet Union. Sometimes I doubt you are living in a parallel world.

April 24, 2006 @ 1:59 pm | Comment

Raj, I agree with everything you say about HK. But while I have in-laws and friends from HK, my parents came from the Mainland to Taiwan after the fall. Johnson’s article annoyed me not because of HK ties but because it touched several raw spots that have bothered me in the last few years.

Once is the ex-post facto justification for colonialism. Britain is just one offender. Japan has recently been doing much of the same, claiming Taiwan and South Korea’s advanced development is due to their rule. Yeah, it may be true, these occupiers “laid a foundation.” But we all know the real reasons they had at the time for doing so, and they had nothing to do with promoting democracy. I don’t give moral credit to people for the unintended consequences of their actions.

The other thing that bothers me is the “we know better” attitude of countless China articles of the last two years or so. Considering how the West has fucked up repeatedly since the 90’s in advising both left-wing communist and right-wing crony capitalist countries how to make the transition to free-market capitalism — and Russia is just one example of many — it seems the height of ignorance and arrogance for these writers to now be telling the CCP how to do it.

In investment, when analyzing a company we say that the most reliable indicator of future earnings is past earnings. Well, since ’79 the Chinese have accumulated some damn good indicators.

April 24, 2006 @ 2:14 pm | Comment

And I’m sure other economists would say the various problems that China is building up for itself are a very bad indication of what can be expected in the future.

Also I disagree with your view of democracy in HK. Those rights and freedoms I mentioned were introduced a lot earlier and had nothing to do with China. As has been mentioned, democracy was not introduced to try to make the handover easier and also because Whitehall mandarins simply wanted an easier time of administering such colonies. However those like Patten wanted to leave the HK people a legacy. The only way they could do that was to make late changes that Beijing could not completely roll back.

People like Boris have a right to praise what went on in places like HK. It isn’t always about defending every aspect of colonialism. Last year Prime Minister Singh was able to indicate that British rule brought positive, not just negative, influence to his country. I take the same view.

April 24, 2006 @ 2:34 pm | Comment

if memory serves me correctly, the idea of election was introduced well after GB agreed that HK should return to MLC in 1997, and just a couple years before the actual handover… and then halted, “because CCP opposed the changes”. convenient timing, don’t you think?

April 24, 2006 @ 2:52 pm | Comment

While I agree with most of the points brought up by this article, as I have pointed it out myself in the past, the tone re. western supremacy is underwhelming.

So there you have it, there can only be two attitudes from the west — “China is a rising threat to freedom and democracy” hostile attitude, or “China is in no way competent to make it eventually” arrogent attitude. Wonder why that is?

April 24, 2006 @ 2:58 pm | Comment

Well Raj, we’re obviously going to disagree about China. Maybe in 25 years we can say who is right.

But when I say “democracy”, I don’t mean an independent court system, I don’t mean property rights, and I don’t mean a police force, all of which I think are more properly grouped under Rule of Law, which even nondemocratic states like the Asian Tigers had.

By democracy I mean EVERYBODY GETS TO VOTE FOR THEIR LEADERS. And the fact regardless of what their motivation was, the British waited almost a hundred years before graciously deciding to leave this one last legacy for the Mainland to deal with — and this wait was in spite of American efforts to get the colonial powers to give up their colonies after WWII.

Well of course British rule bought positive, not just negative influences. But I was arguing moral principles, not some net benefit achieved after tallying pluses and minuses. If, while picking someone’s wallet, I accidentally leave my more valuable diamond ring behind in their pocket, I have no right to go around later boasting “I made that man wealthier.” The British introduced rule of law entirely for commercial reasons.

And we haven’t even talked about those former colonies in the rest of the world (pretty much all of Africa, for instance) that not only are not better off, they are still royally fucked up…

April 24, 2006 @ 3:05 pm | Comment

As I said, some people felt it was necessary to make changes towards the end in order to give a legacy for the HK people. But they couldn’t do as they pleased, as the mainland could change the system. Thus they couldn’t push things too far.

April 24, 2006 @ 3:06 pm | Comment

Sorry, was talking to the guy before you.

April 24, 2006 @ 3:08 pm | Comment

“some people felt it was necessary to make changes towards the end in order to give a legacy for the HK people”. I like that thought.

unfortunately, it smells like hypocrisy to me.

democracy is something HK chinese deserved, and have deserved for more than half a century, BEFORE HK was to be surrendered to MLC. were they granted this precious gift? NO.

in fact, it was not granted until, and not one minute earlier than, the due date of passing this golden goose on to the MLC. knowing fully well exactly how CCP would react to the changes.

sadly, the democratic machinery wasn’t even fully operational, by the time HK changed hands. no independently elected governer of HK ever came to be under the Bristish rule.

Imagine how things would have been, had GB installed this system two decades earlier, or even a decade earlier.

“we tried,” says the British, “blame it all on the CCP.” what a load of cr@p!

April 24, 2006 @ 4:00 pm | Comment

Sure, it would have been better if changes had been made earlier. But that’s life. Opinion in the government was against greater home rule until Patten. But as I said before, HK had rights and freedoms long before any democracy.

If you want to talk about hypocricy, sadly it’s everywhere. But at least the British government grew to protect HK citizens’ rights, rather than undermine them like the Chinese government is trying to.

April 24, 2006 @ 4:28 pm | Comment

Final comment: just because CCP is evil doesn’t make the british government heck of a lot better. “This is life”, “hypocrisy is everywhere” just doesn’t cut it. I see no good intention to begin with, no good results to end, all I see is a game at playing politics, with HK citizens being used as weapon. Don’t expect me to be amused. If democracy one day descends on HK, it’s the honest citizens of HK, NOT the British, that brought it to them.

April 24, 2006 @ 4:45 pm | Comment

And the only way they could ever think they could have democracy is because for decades they were given freedom of the press and a fair legal system. In the 1960s Communist students had to try to fake Police brutality because they couldn’t provoke the HK Police into attacking them – that says something about the kind of environment HK people grew up in.

If we’d run things like the CCP, HKers would think a lot more like mainlanders do now. The fact so many of them continually campaign for greater democracy speaks volumes.

April 24, 2006 @ 4:56 pm | Comment

Agreed, mean. To say that self-rule, soveriegnty, or democracy has descended on HK or can descend anywhere else because of an “outside power” is not only farcical, but a toxic claim that justifies horrible wars (like Vietnam and Iraq).

April 24, 2006 @ 5:03 pm | Comment

Leo, don’t tell me about Russia. I used to live there
and I’ve seen both the best and the worst of it, and none of my friends were or are novorusskii (“New Russians”).

Learn more about the people you’re responding to before you make assumptions about what they know, asshole.

April 24, 2006 @ 8:13 pm | Comment

“In investment, when analyzing a company we say that the most reliable indicator of future earnings is past earnings – Well, since ’79 the Chinese have accumulated some damn good indicators.”

Danfried, you’re obviously not in finance or business. And if you are, you are BSing.

April 24, 2006 @ 8:39 pm | Comment

And more in response to Leo:

1. “Russians…had and still have terrible technology.”

Oh, you mean like sending the first man into space,
and developing a nuclear arsenal which rivals America’s?

2. “Most Russians….told me…”

Most Russians told you, eh? That kind of argument from anecdotal hearsay is absolutely worthless. And your style of writing shows me that you’re not Russian, so you’re obviously extrapolating from a handful of conversations you might have or overheard – perhaps in a bar or in a whorehouse staffed by Russians – or else (more likely) making up stories about how you’ve “heard things” from Russians based only on rumours and propaganda.

If you go to America you could perhaps meet some FLG sympathisers and then say “Most Chinese tell me…..”

April 24, 2006 @ 8:44 pm | Comment

AND, on “chaotic Russia versus stable China”, the origin of that meme from China’s Propaganda Department stemmed from the glaring contrast between the T-Square Massacre of 1989 and the peaceful resolution of the Russian Communists’ attempted coup in 1991.

Remember? In August 1991, Russia’s Communist hardliners sent tanks into Moscow, in an attempt to stave off the end of Communist dictatorship, very much like the Chinese did in 1989.

But in Moscow in 1991, it ended with almost no bloodshed. (Several accidents did happen, involving drunkards who fell beneath tanks. The fatalities were countable on two hands.) How embarassing for Beijing, to see another Communist regime end in a peaceful and orderly manner, in contrast to China which has continued to smash all protestors and dissidents with a bloody fist.

Oh but then, as Lisa noted above – dripping with as much volume of sarcasm as Niagra Falls – “…corruption isn’t a problem in China now….”

HAHAHA! Oh, oh thank GOD for the T-Square massacre! Thank GOD for the continuting dictatorship of the Communist Party, because otherwise, oh mercy, otherwise China might become full of corruption!”


April 24, 2006 @ 9:04 pm | Comment

“Danfried, you’re obviously not in finance or business. And if you are, you are BSing.”

Skystreaker, that’s Investment 101. I’m not even gonna argue or explain it.

April 24, 2006 @ 9:09 pm | Comment

I’ll have to agree with Ivan – I’ve spoken with russians first hand that say Russia was just as screwed up before, but you just couldn’t see it until the media was more free.

Ivan, you made strong points on what a the Russian Commies weren’t willing to do to retain power. But I think your message is lost to many Chinese, who are convinced that Tienamen was a good decision. They have “stable china or chaotic russia” etched into their brains from years of CCTV. And they’re likely to believe this until Russia starts having a GDP they respect, whatever that will be.

April 24, 2006 @ 9:15 pm | Comment

They would cater more to this:
“They should slaugher all those protesters in Nepal. That way the economic growth can finally begin.”

April 24, 2006 @ 9:20 pm | Comment

Danfried, feel free to invest in companies or equities based on historics. I won’t lose any sleep over it.

April 24, 2006 @ 9:21 pm | Comment

Skystreaker, you know exactly what I was doing — drawing an analogy. And have we forgotten what Johnson himself wrote in the article above that you’re all praising? He seems to think this growth is going to continue too. The difference is that he doesn’t believe it will lead to democracy, whereas I do.

April 24, 2006 @ 9:27 pm | Comment

Actually I only browsed the comments first and yours just screamed at me since I’m more of a expected earnings type of guy.

But now after I’ve read the article, I think it’s whack how the obedient Chinese he speaks to don’t realize how China’s economic growth would have occurred half a century earlier if it weren’t for the CCP holding them back. Even if you buy that the growth would have been slower without the CCP’s grip, the growth would have started much earlier.

While China’s influence is bound to grow quickly, I don’t see it becoming the dominant force unless it transitions to a free society and the Chinese learn to think for themselves. The CCP is also likely to do everything it can to retain control, including attacks on Taiwan, all in the name of stability. And I don’t imagine the subjects would make any waves.

April 24, 2006 @ 10:17 pm | Comment

“the squid, more elusive in death than in life, shot from my fumbling sticks and lay on the tablecloth in a metaphor of Western incomprehension”

Man, no active American politician writes things this funny. Not intentionally anyway. Bob Dole, we hardly knew ye.

April 24, 2006 @ 11:55 pm | Comment

I’m very sceptical about the thesis that economic developement allways will lead to democracy. This is a deterministic and materialistic worldview. Want a counter-example? Go to Singapore.

In the case of Taiwan one, from my point of view, shouldn’t underestimate the fact of the economic rise of the mainland in the 80’s and the political threat this posed to the de facto independance of Taiwan. If Taiwan would still be a one party state, it would be much harder to explain to the American public as well as to that of other Western democtarcies why it is nessesary to defend it in case the mainland would attack. This might have played a role in the quite smothe transition to a demoratic political system in Taiwan.

April 25, 2006 @ 12:24 am | Comment


The problem with Singapore as an example is that its “original” dictator, Lee Kuan Yew, is still alive and in control, even though he keeps changing his official title. I don’t think we’ll see his party lose power until he’s dead! After that, I eventually expect Singapore to become a democracy as well — but of course I can’t prove that.

Are you saying that Lee Teng-Hui decided to end martial law because he wanted to make Taiwan more “marketable” to Americans? It would have been a good reason, but I don’t think that was his real motive. Quite frankly I think Lee, as a native-born Taiwanese, secretly always despised the KMT as “foreigners” who took over Taiwan, and after getting his own benefits from the party he was glad to attempt to destroy the KMT from within as he was leaving office. Look at what he did after leaving the presidency!

I do agree that fear of communism helped keep the authoritarian governments in Asian in power. And I don’t think economic development is a necessary and sufficient condition for democracy. But I do think one of the main reason the citizens of Asian countries tolerated one party rule for so many decades was because their lives in general got better year after year, and I think that’s currently the situation in China.

When a majority of the people reach the middle class, and economic growth slows — as it inevitably must — I think people’s priorities will change.

April 25, 2006 @ 1:23 am | Comment


Basically you’re right about the Chinese waiting to see a Russian “GDP they respect”, but the essential problem with comparing China’s GDP “growth” with that of other countries, is twofold:

1. “GDP” is an entirely abstract figure, and even worse,

2. You can never trust any economic figures which are measured and disseminated by the CCP.

I’m constantly amazed by how many Westerners are so willing to be duped by the CCP’s publication of economic figures, when all Communist parties have always had a long, long history of lying about “production figures.” During the great Chinese Famine of circa 1959, the People’s Daily was bruiting how China was producing more food than it needed.

And in today’s Russia, there’s something of an opposite phemonenon going on. Most of Russia’s economy is more or less black – under the table and hidden from tax inspectors etc – and when you combine that with how today’s Russia has jettisoned the old Communist habit of broadcasting lies about economic figures, what you have is a very rich country with a vital economy whose strength and size is mostly hidden from view.

Oh and finally, I should have mentioned (above) that Russia is not experiencing tens of thousands of anti-government riots every year like the “stable” PRC is going through….

April 25, 2006 @ 3:51 am | Comment

Hi! I’ve been in Beijing for 2 months, and have decided that the ONLY way china is going to ever come close to all the happy predictions about it is by moving over to fuel cell technology and coal gassification/nuclear. The entire middle class wants a car and can buy it for only 2000 USD, and if they do, China won’t be worrying about their over-population problem for much longer. People are really going to start dying fast, and soon. Pollution is bad. I’m over simplifying things, yes, but there are two huge barriers to Chinese prosperity: The amount of pollution created in the move towards prosperity, and the number of people you have to bring into that prosperity in order to keep them from revolting. China has a big job on its hands, and I really feel sorry for the leadership, and sorrier for the people. Chinese culture has a feeling of doing things so earnestly, and it always seems to go to hell. Democracy is impossible when you are still basically on the brink of collapse. I think China probably will move more towards singapore than Taiwan, but then, I also think Taiwan is going to be a successful two-systems/one-country state soon.



April 25, 2006 @ 5:23 am | Comment

To Danfreid, Martial Law was lifted under Chiang Ching-kuo, Lee became president next year after his death;
But I do feel Lee did more for Taiwan democracy than any one before or after, in his twelve years as Pres he could have gotten by with much less and people would have accepted it.
Both Chiangs had made concessions to the USA, I don’t know if I would call it marketing or being forced into it to keep the aid coming.
But after the Kaohsiung Incident more western press started to put the regime more in the public eye and the pressure built.
I’ve talked to Lee and I don’t sense any of the sinister pan-blue accusations that he intentionally did them in. After all it was Sun Yat-sen who preached govt. by the people etc.

April 25, 2006 @ 8:46 am | Comment

Johnson presumed that Chinese want to rule the world. But why would they? As a matter of fact most Americans have no interest in running the world either.

April 25, 2006 @ 12:04 pm | Comment

Ivan: Sorry for the belated response. Do you know why I don’t believe your words? Because I spent some time in a place called Institute for Slavonic Studies to deal with the guys like you. Man, it was a pain!

April 27, 2006 @ 5:23 am | Comment

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