In his column today in the Wasington Post, George Will reviews Jim Mann’s new book The China Fantasy: How Our Leaders Explain Away Chinese Repression. Will’s views on China are about what you would expect them to be. He is a believer that capitalism requires the kind of free access to information and personal choice that leads to democratic changes. Mann’s book is less optimistic.
From Will’s review:
Mann warns against “McDonald’s triumphalism,” the belief that because the Chinese increasingly eat like us, they are becoming like us. That is related to “the Starbucks fallacy” — the hope that as the Chinese become accustomed to many choices of coffee, they will demand more political choices.
His most disturbing thesis is that “the newly enriched, Starbucks-sipping, apartment-buying, car-driving denizens” of the large cities that American visitors to China see will be not the vanguard of democracy but the opposition to it. There may be 300 million such denizens, but there are 1 billion mostly rural and very poor Chinese. Will the minority prospering economically under a Leninist regime think majority rule is in their interest?
There is certainly a great–and growing–gap in wealth between the urban few and the rural many. Is China really in danger of becoming two countries? What interests does the urban elite share with their country cousins? What happens when you reintroduce a stratified class system into a socialist society? Or is all of this just another stage in development with society becoming more harmonious with time?
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.