HNN: Dictatorship a Phase in Democratic Development?

Thinking of Mao and also of a discussion last month on this site, I came across this article from the History News Network on dictatorships and democracies. The article argues that dictatorship is a phase–a rather common one really–that societies pass through on the path from monarchical rule to democracy.

Evidently great cultural changes occur from monarchy to democracy which create dictatorships. Most of the historical monarchs imposed great restrictions upon freedom of speech and action. This was customary and largely accepted so the subjects of such regimens felt that to raise questions outside of the permitted topics was improper if not disloyal.

Loyalty to the king was ingrained in folk feeling. Above all, a monarchial people often had considerable confidence in the king and his family with the prestige of generations of royalty behind it. The solemn ceremonies of coronation, public anniversaries and burial, place royalty before the people as the symbol of folk unity. He is human like the peasant but his acts of state approach divinity.

Even when a wretched king was replaced by revolution, the creation of a republic was a shock to a large portion of the people. The republic brought numbers of ideas which had previously been suppressed. The political horizon was unfamiliar and difficult to understand. No king was present as the single and certain source of authority to reassure the people.

The people had no republican traditions to fall back upon and the early problems of the new radicals caused many people to question the validity of the democratic process. Thus, after the first enthusiasm of the new era had passed, the people often became disappointed in the republic.

It was easy for them to flee from their new liberties. Their flight was not back to the king, however, since they still remembered his particular failings and the people had enjoyed the exhilaration of republican unity. The more confident spirits had experienced the joy of self-government as well as the freedom of speech and press.

Thus the citizen was caught between the older pattern of thought instilled into him by generations of rulers and intellectual convictions that had as yet little root in the experience of the masses. This conflict of states of mind tended to produce a restlessness in the body politic. The political atmosphere is surcharged with tension, much like the heavy atmosphere before a violent electrical storm.

The author is basing his arguments on observations of modern Europe and I question whether we can say that there are any ‘inevitable’ stages of history, but I do think his description could be used as a useful jumping off point for how this process has played out/will play out in China in the 20th and 21st centuries.


Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 28 Comments

I think the more interesting thing to watch in China is whether or not the people really WANT a democracy. I know that sounds a little silly, but during my time here, I always get the feeling that at some level they like a strong central figure in their government (business, home, etc.). Sure, there may be pockets of people who want Western democracy now, but will the mass truly push for it?

Interesting post nonetheless.

January 29, 2007 @ 7:15 pm | Comment

That’s a valid point, LM. Many argue that given a choice, the people of China would vote for the Communist Party en masse, and that’s probably true. Who, after all, could possibly replace them? The party successfully emasculated any conceivable competition and thus ensured its place of power, at least for the foreseeable future. Still, wouldn’t it be nice if they confirmed this with an election, just for fun? Hey, I’m allowed to dream, no?

Jeremiah, perhaps this phenomenon of dictatorship to democracy depends on the culture in question, I believe. Look at Germany. With its strong historical emphasis on the father and its reverence for strong, masculine leaders who would do what was right for the people, laws be damned, Germany went the other route, from monarchy to forced democracy (the Weimar Republic) to the most evil dictatorship in history, and back to democracy, this time for real. Most Germans had deep contempt for democracy – until they found themselves plunged into a nightmare no one ever could have imagined. After that, the Germans have been obsessive about their democracy.

January 29, 2007 @ 10:33 pm | Comment

This bit about Germany so very wrong and displays the authors lack of historical knowledge (1848) more than anything else. In fact this kind of generalising about “culture” and totally, factually wrong beliefs about countries, in Germany itself are typical of extreme rightwingers who indeed hate democracy.

It’s probably no wonder then that most Germans do not believe the USA is a democracy, as it has only one and a half political parties and a very anti-democratic voting and financing system. Add an abysmal human rights record with millions massacred in wars, millions of its own citizens locked up in gigantic prison camps and there’s not much beyond certain economically achieved freedoms.

The only thing that is really democratic about the USA are the lower levels of administration in cities and counties, everything else is in fact anti-democratic and about a century behind real, developed democracies like Germany and France.

January 30, 2007 @ 5:12 am | Comment

>>This bit about [Germany | the US | China] [is] so very wrong and displays the authors lack of historical knowledge

>>>behind real, developed democracies like Germany and France.

Cue the Marseillaise! (or ‘Deutschland ├╝ber Alles’)

January 30, 2007 @ 6:48 am | Comment

I second jens regarding Germany. Nothing arouses my passions more than the myopic self-serving mewling of Anglo-American running dog lackeys.

It’s a sad fact that on a given bookstore shelf about Germany, 90% of the books will be about Hitler or the 2nd World War. Barely anything prior to Wilhemine Germany.

January 30, 2007 @ 8:06 am | Comment

As a proud Anglo-American running dog lackey, I think both Jing and jens misunderstand American democracy. I think it’s big mistake to criticize the U.S. as undemocratic because “it has only one and a half political parties and a very anti-democratic voting and financing system.” This demonstrates a lack of sophistication about the political system.

First, the American political system is not a parliamentary system. In a parliamentary system, parties are important as members of a part gain power according which party they belong to. Party members are promoted according to how well they support the faction in power or how much support they can give the faction in power. This encourages two things, parties tend to be monolithic and express a narrow point of view. Also, if there are many political parties, coalitions are necessary to order to form a government. Many times the party with the plurality must look to extremist political groups in order to form their government. This gives radical groups much more influence over government policy. For example, look at Israel. While the majority of Israelis support an end to West Bank expansion, political parties, whose sole issue is West Bank expansion, hold the balance of power and use that power to force governments to support West Bank expansion. For another example, look at British policy towards Ireland in the late 19th century- 20th century. Ulster Unionist controlled the balance of power in Westminster and were able to block attempts at home rule for Ireland. As a result, politics in Ireland became more radical and lead to the violence that continues today.

In the United States, individuals are more important than parties. A member of congress gains his authority from people he represents not the political party he belongs to. Parties are looser and contain many points of views. For example look at the Democratic party. In contains people who support free trade, people who oppose free trade, people who support abortion rights, people who oppose abortion rights, people who want stricter environmental laws and people who want looser environmental laws to encourage job growth.

Seniority rules give Congressmen power based on how long they’ve been in Congress, which means the members of the minority still have power if they have seniority. This gives minorities some say about laws and policy, which the minority in a parliamentary system lacks.

Also, in the United States, elections are much more complicated that in Europe. In California, ballots may be six or seven pages long, while voter guides maybe thirty or forty pages long. Americans vote on many more issues the most Europeans and can be considered more “democratic.” It is naive and foolish to simply consider the US as undemocratic and Europe more democratic. Such points of view, I believe, reflect more what someone emotionally believes than reality. Reality is much more complex; such simple talking points are blind to and blind people to the truth.

Furthermore, I don’t believe democracy is an inherent virtue. DeTocqueville points out in Democracy in America that there is no tyranny worse the tyranny than the majority because it strip the minority of any refuge. In American, we have a democracy in order to provide a protection of the minority. The American government is set up to protect civil rights and I think successfully does so. I’m not arguing that the US government hasn’t or doesn’t trample people’s rights but I do believe that the Constitution provides us tools to protect those rights.

Which brings me around to China. In China, no one has any rights and I think as a result stops people from really working on any meaningful political progress. The Chinese people don’t feel secure in criticizing the government or pointing out abuses because they know if they do so, they can be imprisoned. Also, China doesn’t have the rule of law and people have no idea of what the law will be next year or tomorrow. When people or even the government does violate people’s right under the Chinese constitution, people don’t believe that they can receive redress. People with power aren’t deterred from abuse and people without power don’t feel that can deter people from abusing their rights. I think this alienates the poor and weak from society and encourages violence. I can’t see how in twenty years, the Chinese can keep up this system as the abuses increase. Look how acts of public disturbances there were last year. This indicates to me that there is an undercurrent of violence and unrest in Chinese society and that violence is much more likely that democracy in the next twenty years.

Finally, I want to talk about the freedom of press. I believe that this might be the most inherent freedom we have. When there is censorship, public discourse is controlled by a political elite which forces the discourse to support their own interests. It retards the discussion and dialog which are necessary to address problems in society. Public discourse in China simply supports the rotten system; there is no real debate about how to address the serious problems China faces. I’d go even further and say that the Chinese government and to some extent Chinese people have no right to criticize any other government or people in the world until they free up the the discussion about their own country. Of course, I would not ban the Chinese from criticizing my country as that would strip of their rights but I would encourage people to turn a deaf ear to such criticisms.

Sorry for the length of the post but I do hope this does light some fires.

January 30, 2007 @ 11:32 am | Comment


“It’s probably no wonder then that most Germans do not believe the USA is a democracy”

Source? Link?

“millions of its own citizens locked up in gigantic prison camps ”

You’re trying to draw a false comparison between US prisons and the sorts of prison camps set up by China and North Korea for political prisoners.

Does the US have the world’s largest prison population? Yes. Faulty judicial system? Also yes. But it is a functioning judicial system where the accused have real rights that are respected, not just paper rights that the government can ignore. Problems? Yes, but mostly problems of ignorance and poor judgement. The US legal and political system a far cry from the kind of directed evil of the Chinese system for political prisoners.

I’m not even going to address your assessment of American history. My advice is read something other than China Daily if you want to actually learn something.

January 30, 2007 @ 5:01 pm | Comment

Let me join the fun.
Kenzhu’s quite right. Jens’ rant has more an emotional basis than a rational one. Unfortunately Germany is Europe’s leader in Anti-American sentiment. Jens is an example for this (if I am right in my assumption that he is a German).
Sure there are a lot of flaws in the American system. But from were I sit it looks as if it’s still working quite well.

As what concerns the original post. I have to say that I am not a big fan of development theories like this. From a birds eye view they look convincing but the more you go into detail the more you realize that they don’t help you much in understanding the world.

And Jing, I am delighted to read that you are so interested in pre-Nazi German history. What is your favorite topic?

Sincerely yours
Fritz the shulan (part-time Anglo-American running dog lackey)

January 30, 2007 @ 6:39 pm | Comment


“It’s probably no wonder then that most Germans do not believe the USA is a democracy”

Source? Link?

“millions of its own citizens locked up in gigantic prison camps ”

You’re trying to draw a false comparison between US prisons and the sorts of prison camps set up by China and North Korea for political prisoners.

Does the US have the world’s largest prison population? Yes. Faulty judicial system? Also yes. But it is a functioning judicial system where the accused have real rights that are respected, not just paper rights that the government can ignore. Problems? Yes, but mostly problems of ignorance and poor judgement. The US legal and political system a far cry from the kind of directed evil of the Chinese system for political prisoners.

I’m not even going to address your assessment of American history. My advice is read something other than China Daily if you want to actually learn something.

January 30, 2007 @ 6:57 pm | Comment

I started to post yestrday but couldn’t be bothered covering everything.

I’ll try again…

Any link between absolute leaders ie monarch/dictator I’d suggest arises from the state apparatus that doesn’t change. Ie When the monarch fall/is desposed, the Military, lackeys and big business don’t like this as it upsets their position in society. They’ll happy swap dictator as it doesn’t affect them much. The masses? usually killed/supressed with same police/army/press as before. It’s not inherent in people’s mindset I’d suggest. These periods of turmoil normally do create tensions – ie vast swathes of countries are destroyed, people killed. In this anarchy, the strongest normally prevails – and too bad if you don’t like it.

China? I think so long as the standard living rises from relatively recent extreme low then most people won’t care.

It should be pointed out that any democratic freedoms in West have been won through struggle some degree of violence. It’s good to read that there have been union/village led struggle so there is hope. Democracy and it’s benefits aren’t handed down. Any scraps thrown from the table are normally just to keep the masses from rebelling further.

Off topic but on thread…American democracy vs European democracy? As a European who gets to vote in 2 countries (NL and UK) I’d suggest that we probably do think we are more democratic than the US. (whether this makes any difference to respective lands, who knows)

Only based on a) the % of people who vote for president seems very low vs european elections. b) the financial implications of voting system there make us think it is favouring the rich which seems antidemocratic c) the last 2 elections with associated irregularities (vote rigging more like) weren’t a good advert really d) europeans see the lack of governmental control of health care and education, maybe ‘lack’ is wrong word? I mean the fact that there are haves and have-nots as undemocratic as most europeans see these roles as being up to the State to provide basic care in interest of less able. e) whilst most europeans would complain at their own media, most of us look at US media with disbelief that it is in main, docile. I could add in antiunionism, communist witch trials, fairly recent civil rights movement, guantanamo

These are all indirect functions of democracy – it ain’t about House of Representatives, Parliaments, Tweede Kamers, European Parliament, Presidents whatever and voting.

ps If Bush thinks he’s unpopular at home, he shouldn’t read european opinion polls eg we think USA is bigger risk to world peace than Iran.

Please don’t get aggressively defensive. It’s just how most europeans see things. I’m not singing praises of Europe really. I just felt I had to help put meat on jens’ post since it was asked (he got a little excited didn’t he)

January 30, 2007 @ 7:10 pm | Comment

I take it back. Jens, you’re probably not a China daily reader.

I still disagree with you though, especially about local government in the US. As someone who’s seen the federal and local levels up close, I can tell you that the federal level is a lot more democratic, responsive and *GASP* yes, less corrupt than the local level in many ways. The federal government still attracts the best, brightest and most committed people. There are bright and capable people at lower levels but the lower levels have more than their fair share of the dregs.

I’m not well informed about the electoral systems in European countries so I can’t speak to “who’s more democratic” but I think Colin hit the nail on the head with a), b),c) and e) in terms of problems the US is having.

January 30, 2007 @ 8:42 pm | Comment

Colin, I really think the differences between European and US democracies are more about style. True we have low turnout rates but many political scientist argue that one reason we have low turnout rates is that most people are satisfied with the state of things and don’t think it’s worth the bother. In America, people vote when things are going wrong. Also, I don’t have any concrete evidence of this but I think in the US, Americans vote on more issues than people in Europe. There can be more than forty things to vote on and many people believe that if they don’t know anything about the local judge who is running, it isn’t worth their time voting. Colin, when you vote, how many things do you vote for?

As for the media, well newspapers play a different role in America than in Europe. American newspapers try and report what they see as “the truth”. They try remove any opinions from their reporting. In Europe, newspapers identify with an ideological point of view and when they report, they push the party line. Another way of looking at this is saying that American papers are more objective and less exciting while European newspapers are more subjective and more sensational.

I think all citizens tend to overlook the actions of their government. While you talk “antiunionism, communist witch trials, fairly recent civil rights movement, guantanamo”, I could talk about Catholic repression, internment camps in Northern Ireland, the treatment of gypsies, antisemitism, anti-Islam, racism against Africans, the relatively recent Holocaust and so on. We all overlook the dirty parts of our society and I think in fact the US does a better job of talking about our problems than most countries. I think non-Americans seize on our conversations to prove that we are undemocratic or we repress human rights. I think Europe and the US are about the same in the level of human and political rights. I think the differences come from the differences in culture not one place being more civilized than the other. I also think China has light years to go before it’s up to the level of the West.

January 30, 2007 @ 8:44 pm | Comment

Well Shulan, my particular area of interest in German history happens to be around the 30 years war. An altogether seminal event in European history but sadly neglected by popular historians. It’s as if in a timeline stretching from Roman Germany to the years prior to the Great War, there is a big grey shroud that reads “Here there be dragons” covering it all in English language literature.

Also I wanted to disagree with the Richard’s notions of “zee German menace!” which I feel, as I mentioned earlier, the self-serving mewling of the Anglos (and the French!). What dissappoints me most is that this should not be the case. I have resigned myself to accepting that English language books on China are at present going to be either too broad or too myopic (witness the entire publishing cottage industry of the China rises/collapse) and that they will be either a) superficial, b) out-of-date, c) really really dumb. The problem is, is that German is a much more accessible language than Chinese for most Americans and Britishers with a much more closer historical overlap. Yet despite this, the quality of writing on Germany (sans digging up academic journals or PhD dissertations maybe 5 people have read) is even more myopic, seemingly entirely devoted to WW2. It just gets my goat thats all.

January 31, 2007 @ 2:48 am | Comment

Well, I read some outstanding English language books about Chinese history. One of my favorite authors is Jonathan D. Spence. Great work he does.
And if you are looking for books about the 30 years war in English try Amazon. They sell some here:
Very interesting topic indeed.

January 31, 2007 @ 3:39 am | Comment


You really need to leave the Chinese library some more. There are many books about Germans history in English. I just did a simple search on Amazon and found 1784 books that talk about The Treaty of Westphalia. You know, the treaty that ended the war you specialize in. The reason you’re not finding books is because you’re not looking for them. Of course, popular history focuses on World War 2 because that’s what most people are interested in because we (Americans) fought a pretty freaking big war and found some really nasty things when we were over there. So yes, we’re really interested in World War 2. But we do have access to many other books that talk about other periods of German history.

Anyway, I’d like to bring this back to China. One thing I’d like to point out is that China is not a dictatorship, it’s an oligarchy. Policy is made by a group of people, not just one. Also, I think a lot of government decisions are made on a local ad-hoc basis. I think this very different from a pure dictatorship. I see the Chinese political structure evolving like this: Dictator (Mao) – Oligarchy – Oligarchy/ Monarchy – Chaos.

January 31, 2007 @ 8:39 am | Comment

If you had actually bothered to read beyond the number of search results, you’d only have found really one book really dealing with 17th century Germany and that primarily about military topics during the later stages of the 30 years war, an interesting topic nonetheless. Too bad is 82 dollars for a 300 page hardcover :( .

The next 100 listings either tangentially mention Westphalia when discussing political sovereignty or are completely unrelated but have the words somewhere in the text, such as #47, the Oxford Companion to Wine.

January 31, 2007 @ 9:50 am | Comment

Jing, I think I need to step back for a moment. The first point is that the Thirty Year War is considered to have established the modern of idea of sovereignty. That’s why is mentioned so much. What is your point? There aren’t enough books specializing on the first half of the Thirty Year Wars focusing on soldier’s uniforms when off-duty? I guarantee you, if you look for books you’ll find them. I just don’t understand how you argue there aren’t enough books on the subject. You seem to arguing a insignificant trivial point and I think your argument is derived from failure as a researcher than an reality.

I think western historians are much better than Chinese historians. When I pick up books written by Chinese historians, they seem to manly echo the material determinism of Marxist thought and simply toss terms around. I don’t seem Chinese academics rigorously categorize and explaining events in Chinese history. Instead they say something like, “During the Tang dynasty, China was the most advanced country in the world because we’ve been saying that for 1500 years.” I mean the Chinese still argue that they have 5000 years of history. It seems to me that Chinese people are content to throw words at problems and then ignore them. This is why I think the future will be grim for China. The Chinese will continue to simply say that they have some new guidelines, they have created a committee or that the president has given a speech. China needs to face its problems or it will break apart. What comes together must fall apart.

January 31, 2007 @ 1:03 pm | Comment

Good posts by kenzhu. Regarding the basic premise, it appears that many of the countries who transitioned from either a dictatorship or authoritarian rule to democracy in the 20th Century had a multi-party system in their past that, in many cases, required lip service even during the years of dictatorship. In Germany and Japan’s case, the seeds of reviving multi-party government was imposed by the victors. But in the case of Spain, Chile, Taiwan, and Singapore, it appears that a combination of external and internal pressure forced the dictators and strong men to at least recognize the principal of democracy by allowing multiple parties. That small step, i believe, facilitated those nation’s eventual transition to a more open and democratic form of government. The problem I see with Communist countries is that the symbiotic relation between the Party and the government is so incestuous that the chances of any competing party assuming other than a token rubber stamp role in the political process is virtually nil. As more than one commenter implied: How do you go from dictatorship (or oligarchy) to democracy in a single step? So far, history’s answer is that you don’t. Indeed, if there has been one lesson of the two 20th Century “isms”, it is that no matter how hard the reformers try, if it is a single party system, it will soon evolve into the essence of that government with which they were most familiar.

Jens mentions the 30 years war. The seeds of Western democracy lie in the Reformation, and in the case of the English speaking countries, the later English civil war. Our transformation was hardly done in a single century. We should expect no more from the mainland Chinese. (And, yes, I view both Taiwan and Singapore as Chinese states, though the latter is certainly more ethnically diverse).

January 31, 2007 @ 4:59 pm | Comment

The seeds of “western democracy” lie in antique Athens, who had a kind of lottery to fill their parlament. Only their military had voting, and it was their military who brought the whole antique world down in the Sparta wars.

So I won’t accept that the USA have somehow found a democracy without parlaments. Not just for me, the USA system is corrupt, undemocratic and a century behind Europe.

Since someone mentioned “anti-americanism”, actually Germany is the least affected place. You people should (or better not) go to France or Spain and learn something. But actually, if I would critisize e.g. Italy nobody in his right mind would call me “anti-italian”, ever. In Germany at least most people take the accusation of “anti-americanism” a bit like coming from a Nazi saying “you hate Germany”, just because you don’t want to kill and hate Muslims, racist Americans get nasty this way.

As to China, yes the present mainland system is rotten, democracy is natural, but how they are going to do it and how they are going to arrive at it, is anybody’s guess at this point in history. In my case, actually learning Chinese history and seeing how immensly bloody it was, made me see the European catastrophes of the 30 years war and the two WWs in a different light.

February 1, 2007 @ 2:39 am | Comment

Richard, I’m done being polite.

Kenzhu you stupid git, I’m going to say this once and only once, long winded asshattery is asshattery nonetheless. Your inability to read and proclivity for stupid tangents has impressed even one long used to the semi-literate drooling multitudes one finds on the internet.

First off, I was mostly buttressing Jen’s argument about the failings of the cultural determinist school in explaining the German question. Second, I wanted to expand on this by pointing out the general dearth of historical knowledge regarding Germany not related to WW2 (see Fawlty Towers Syndrome). I don’t care about American democracy.

Second, I’m disappointed at myself for actually wasting 5 valuable minutes of my time searching for the Treaty of Westphalia on Amazon books.

Third, the search results yielded only one book on first several pages regarding German history. The rest were dealing with Westphalia in relation to sovereignty or else irrelevant. Note, smacktard, my point is that German history in America to the non-specialist is severely lacking outside of WW2. That the search results are not principally about German history but instead political science supports my initial argument.

That passive aggressive sniping at the end about my “insignificant point” and my “failure as a researcher than reality” is simply what I expect from a sophmore douche that takes himself far too seriously.

In conclusion, please die, m’kay? Thanks

February 1, 2007 @ 8:05 am | Comment


I’m really worried about China if you’re the example of the typical Chinese scholar. As I’ve said before the reason political science write about the Treaty of Westphalia is because the Treaty of Westphalia is the basis of the modern political state. Of course, as an expert of the politics of the Holy Roman Empire, I’m sure you already did. Now, I’ decided to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume for some reason a political scientist in some point of your life severely traumatized you and you are unable to read anything that concerns political science because when you do, you end up curled on the floor, rocking back and forth and crying for your mom, so I conducted another search on Amazon this time using the phrase “Thirty Years War” and I found 10134 books. Agreeing with that the Oxford of Compendium of Wine, while it might provide interesting insights about the Thirty Year’s War, does cover other issues, I looked at the first 12 books listed. 10 of them were about the Thirty Years War. Well, now I know that there are at least 10 books about the Thirty Years War. I’d go even further and assume there may be even one thousand books about the Thirty Years War.

On your more general point. Yes, most Americans when they think about Germany, think about World War II. But I don’t think there is anything unique about that. In most countries people know very little about other countries’ history and probably don’t even know that much about their own history. I don’t think there is anything unique about the Americans. As any Chinese person about World War II and they always talk about how the communist won the war, ignoring America. Ask Americans about World War II in the Pacific and they’ll talk about how America won the world. Humans are short sided when it comes to history.

Now, I’d like to ask the Chinese reading this some questions. 1) How are decisions made in China? Are there conflicts between different groups and how are those conflicts resolved? 2) How do different groups promote their interests? What are the mechanisms for influencing policy?
3) What is the relationship between rhetoric and actually policy? It’s my impression that there is very little relationship between the two.

I hope this can help steer this conversation towards a more civil path. Jing, if you have anything interesting to say, I’d like to hear it but I’m afraid that if you keep talking the way you do, someone will defenestrate you.

February 1, 2007 @ 12:40 pm | Comment

*giggles* Defenestrate! Believe me, people have tried. But thanks for keeping your temper.

As for your questions (I’m assuming we’re talking at the federal level):

1) Nominally by the National People’s Congress, but in actuality by the Politburo, sometimes in coordination with leading small groups

2) Good question. I’m not really sure how advocacy/lobbying works in China.

3) Yes, very little. Though a few social constructivists would argue otherwise.

As for your other points, I disagreed with most of them (especially the mind-boggling assertion that the American press is nonpartisan, and that American and European democracies differ in mere style and not actual substance), and I could go on about the death of labour unions and the ever-widening income gap in America…but this thread really isn’t about that, so…no.

As for your comment that humans are short-sighted when it comes to history…I forgot who it was that said this (likely a French or German historian) but he said that “a nation is made up of collective memories and collective amnesia”. However, one has to bear in mind that some nations are better at facing the truths of their past than others. China is absolutely shitty at it. American is a good deal better. And arguably no country has been as conscientious as Germany about owning up to the less savoury aspects of its history (moreso than France, for example, which still cultivates the myth of The Resistance.) Furthermore, while Europeans tend to be quite well-informed about events going on in America, the same cannot be said the other way around. Maybe this is the typical myopia you mentioned, but maybe (and this is my view) it’s because Europeans, due to circumstances of geography and of history, are more cosmopolitan than Americans.

As for the article Jeremiah posted…first, I’m discomfited by how it faintly echoes the Marxist belief in the inevitability of the laws of history (which have proven to be illusory, to say the least), and second I’m dubious of how such ancient historical precedents can be salient in predicting China’s political trajectory.

February 1, 2007 @ 1:48 pm | Comment

Whoops. Now there’s a prime example of long-winded asshattery for you. ;-)

February 1, 2007 @ 1:50 pm | Comment

Oh, and I apologize to the Europeans for lumping y’all into one group. I realize there is Europa ‘proper’ and “the Other Europe”. ;-)

(Seriously this is my last post. Goodnight, y’all. )

February 1, 2007 @ 2:01 pm | Comment

I would agree with you nausicaa on your first point and as for the second, I am interested in how China has made similar transitions, and not necessarily because such transitions would follow the model suggested above.

February 1, 2007 @ 2:11 pm | Comment

if you would have bothered to check out the Amazon-link I pointed to in the first place, instead of waiting for an excuse to insult people here, you would have seen how ridiculous your claim about the non-existence of English books about the 30 years war are.

Sincerely yours
Fritz the Shulan (part-time Anglo-American running dog lackey)

February 1, 2007 @ 3:32 pm | Comment

Traditional, I think what has happened is that there is time of chaos and a new dynasty comes in and manges to gain control over part or all of china. Usually, the first few emperors carry out reforms but as time goes by, the government becomes more corrupt and the emperors more ineffectual. More rebellions spring up, which are usually crushed by the government. Over time, finally one rebellion succeeds and becomes the next dynasty. I’m sure I’m leaving out a lot but this is Chinese history in one paragraph.

I’ve heard that the real power in China is a committee of 8 people. Has anyone else heard that?

February 1, 2007 @ 7:19 pm | Comment


What you are describing is the “dynastic cycle” and it certainly was a major part of traditional Chinese historiography (like what you would find in the 二十四史 or “24 (Official) Dynastic Histories.” But contemporary historians, even in China, have moved away from that formulation as it becomes apparent that each dynasty, even though they do share some common themes and long term trends, had their own characteristics and problems.

February 1, 2007 @ 8:12 pm | Comment

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