David Brooks: The Dictatorship of Talent

I have to travel to Shanghai today and there may be yet another dry spell over here. In the meantime, please read today’s column by David Brooks on a topic of endless interest to China watchers, namely the extent to which China’s educational and rewards systems stymie innovation. No answers, just a big, difficult question.

By DAVID BROOKS
Published: December 4, 2007
Shanghai

Let’s say you were born in China. You’re an only child. You have two parents and four grandparents doting on you. Sometimes they even call you a spoiled little emperor.

They instill in you the legacy of Confucianism, especially the values of hierarchy and hard work. They send you off to school. You learn that it takes phenomenal feats of memorization to learn the Chinese characters. You become shaped by China’s intense human capital policies.


You quickly understand what a visitor understands after dozens of conversations: that today’s China is a society obsessed with talent, and that the Chinese ruling elite recruits talent the way the N.B.A. does — rigorously, ruthless, in a completely elitist manner.

As you rise in school, you see that to get into an elite university, you need to ace the exams given at the end of your senior year. Chinese students have been taking exams like this for more than 1,000 years.

The exams don’t reward all mental skills. They reward the ability to work hard and memorize things. Your adolescence is oriented around those exams– the cram seminars, the hours of preparation.

Roughly nine million students take the tests each year. The top 1 percent will go to the elite universities. Some of the others will go to second-tier schools, at best. These unfortunates will find that, while their career prospects aren’t permanently foreclosed, the odds of great success are diminished. Suicide rates at these schools are high, as students come to feel they have failed their parents.

But you succeed. You ace the exams and get into Peking University. You treat your professors like gods and know that if you earn good grades you can join the Communist Party. Westerners think the Communist Party still has something to do with political ideology. You know there is no political philosophy in China except prosperity. The Communist Party is basically a gigantic Skull and Bones. It is one of the social networks its members use to build wealth together.

You are truly a golden child, because you succeed in university as well. You have a number of opportunities. You could get a job at an American multinational, learn capitalist skills and then come back and become an entrepreneur. But you decide to enter government service, which is less risky and gives you chances to get rich (under the table) and serve the nation.

In one sense, your choice doesn’t matter. Whether you are in business or government, you will be members of the same corpocracy. In the West, there are tensions between government and business elites. In China, these elites are part of the same social web, cooperating for mutual enrichment.

Your life is governed by the rules of the corpocracy. Teamwork is highly valued. There are no real ideological rivalries, but different social networks compete for power and wealth. And the system does reward talent. The wonderfully named Organization Department selects people who have proven their administrative competence. You work hard. You help administer provinces. You serve as an executive at state-owned enterprises in steel and communications. You rise quickly.

When you talk to Americans, you find that they have all these weird notions about Chinese communism. You try to tell them that China isn’t a communist country anymore. It’s got a different system: meritocratic paternalism. You joke: Imagine the Ivy League taking over the shell of the Communist Party and deciding not to change the name. Imagine the Harvard Alumni Association with an army.

This is a government of talents, you tell your American friends. It rules society the way a wise father rules the family. There is some consultation with citizens, but mostly members of the guardian class decide for themselves what will serve the greater good.

The meritocratic corpocracy absorbs rival power bases. Once it seemed that economic growth would create an independent middle class, but now it is clear that the affluent parts of society have been assimilated into the state/enterprise establishment. Once there were students lobbying for democracy, but now they are content with economic freedom and opportunity.

The corpocracy doesn’t stand still. Its members are quick to admit Chinaรขโ‚ฌโ„ขs weaknesses and quick to embrace modernizing reforms (so long as the reforms never challenge the political order).

Most of all, you believe, educated paternalism has delivered the goods. China is booming. Hundreds of millions rise out of poverty. There are malls in Shanghai richer than any American counterpart. Office towers shoot up, and the Audis clog the roads.

You feel pride in what the corpocracy has achieved and now expect it to lead China’s next stage of modernization — the transition from a manufacturing economy to a service economy. But in the back of your mind you wonder: Perhaps it’s simply impossible for a top-down memorization-based elite to organize a flexible, innovative information economy, no matter how brilliant its members are.

That’s a thought you don’t like to dwell on in the middle of the night.

The Discussion: 73 Comments

Same thing can be said to Japan. Nothing new. But China is culturally more vibrant.

For innovation, three things are crucial:

scientific curiosity and honesty
(One should not be pessimistic if he takes a look at the achievements of oversea Chinese scientists. However, academic honesty is lacking, which I think is a serious problem.)

protection of intellectual property
(Rule of law, which is not always coincidental with Western culture and its derivative political system.)

a commercial economy.
(China has one now.)

Russia has created many brilliant minds, but their society is not known to be open and free.

December 5, 2007 @ 9:21 am | Comment

Actually the CCP begins recruiting in high school, not college. And what about all those reports of tensions between businessmen and govt. officials? About how the officials feel left on the sidelines while the businessmen are getting rich, and are trying to keep them in check, or at least get a piece of the pie?

December 5, 2007 @ 10:17 am | Comment

Brg, I’m not sure it’s a given that freedom per se is necessary for innovation. (The Nazi scientists were pioneers of modern weapons and created an entirely new and darkly innovative system to make extermination fast and easy.) I don’t think Brooks is talking so much about freedom as he is being taught to think vs. memorize. This is a problem in Japan, as you said, and in Singapore, both relatively free countries, thanks to how they educate their children, with little emphasis on problem solving, debate and free thinking. Growing up in a free society certainly helps, but I’m not sure that that alone makes all the difference. Culture plays a big part as well.

There are contradictions here that I see as a giant puzzle. Japan and China have always been leaders in innovation (even if China took a big nap for a while). And yet if you ask foreign business owners their greatest business challenge, they will most likely say finding native workers who can seize responsibility, make decisions, think outside the box and get their job done without being micro-managed. They certainly exist but are hard to find. Even the most brilliant Chinese employees (or at least the majority of them) have a hard time doing this because they were wired at an early age to read off of the blackboard, repeating what they’d been told and, as Brooks says, to memorizing tons of stuff as opposed to thinking about any of it in an inquisitive way. Most of the Chinese workers I know who have overcome this hardwiring studied abroad, and even then they retained some vestiges of their chalk-and-talk childhood. (There are, by the way, some notable and dramatic exceptions.)

Jeff, I have no idea what you were referring to. “All those reports” – what reports? Who is generating these reports and where can we find them?

December 5, 2007 @ 11:09 am | Comment

Sorry Richard, I can’t recall where I read them… Let’s just say that maybe the picture isn’t as simple as Brooks says it is.

December 5, 2007 @ 11:26 am | Comment

I Believe Discipline Is Much More Important Than Innovation

Of course to many Rightists and democracy-lovers, discipline is a another word for dictatorship. But I don’t care about such cosmetic things. I care about how to make China strong, and to make China strong, it’s necessary to learn from America. And I believe: it seems as if America promotes creativity and innovation, but in reality America’s technological achievements all originate from discipline.

We know that America can build large scale integrated circuits and China cannot. America can develop large computer operating systems and China cannot. America can land on the moon and China cannot. America can build Boeing planes and China cannot. The reason for that is not because Americans are more creative than Chinese, it’s not because Chinese engineers know less than American ones. It’s because America has a massive team of disciplined engineers and China does not. In order to illustrate this point, I want to give an example. And this example will give those who know nothing about high technological production some knowledge on how a high tech product is built.

Let’s say there’s an artist called Mr. A, who wants to paint the world’s largest and most complex painting. This painting contains hundreds of figures, mountains, rivers, grass, houses, etc. etc. He himself alone cannot complete this painting in his lifetime. So he hires 10,000 artists to work together. But the basic theme and structure of the painting is determined by Mr. A. So all these 10,000 artists must paint according to Mr. A’s wishes, and they also have to keep their styles identical, so the painting would look like it’s done by one person, namely, Mr. A.

So what should Mr. A look for in hiring these artists. Well first they must possess high skills in painting. But more importantly, they must not possess any creativity, and definitely should not have their own distinct styles. They must strictly obey Mr. A’s styles. So these artists will definitely feel very oppressed and unhappy when they start their work, and it’s guaranteed that none of them will become famous for this work. They will each contribute their own and die without a reputation. The only person who will become famous is Mr. A himself.

My example ends here. Now, I can say that most of America’s high tech products are born like in that in example. Like the design of a CPU in a computer. Today’s CPU is made up of millions of transistors. And putting those transistors together needs circuit drawing, which means thousands of engineers must work together to draw out a massive circuit. As soon as that drawing is done, the production is as easy as copying a disk onto a computer. China’s Tsinghua University has the entire production equipment ready, but alas, they do not have 1000 disciplined engineers willing to draw the massive circuit, with each one removing his/her creativity. The same reason applies to why China does not have its own computer operating system, it’s not that there’s insurmountable technical barriers . It’s very eash to find advanced programmers in China, but none of them is willing to kill his/her creativity to work for some boss, no one is willing to work without a reputation for some massive project.

Therefore I think education should promote the spirit of “willing to sacrifice one’s chance to become famous and willing to work silently for someone.” Of course a society still needs some creative people, like Mr. A, but definitely not a lot. In any country, including America, most of the citizens lead a disciplined life working for a boss. And it’s this kind of lack of personal style and lack of creativity that drives the society forward.

December 5, 2007 @ 11:27 am | Comment

Jeff, there is no question Brooks is over-simplifying, but some of his observations seem pretty sound to me based solely on my own experience with workers here, some of whom are my closest friends. It has nothing to do with smarts.

December 5, 2007 @ 11:48 am | Comment

While the education systems in the Confucian countries are quite horrible, I’d say they are still terrible in America as well and yet America is still innovative.

I think it’s not so much that it kills creativity, it just drives the creative people crazy long before they’re done with high school.

December 5, 2007 @ 11:56 am | Comment

Ferins, it depends on what public school you go to in America, which depends on what kind of property taxes you pay.

December 5, 2007 @ 12:07 pm | Comment

I wrote a full critique of Brooks’ take last night in my post David Brooks Knows China (Circa 1997)

December 5, 2007 @ 12:25 pm | Comment

Even the ones around the DC metropolitan area, that are ranked fairly well, don’t really serve gifted students well.

Many of them tend to just drop off of the system midway because it works so poorly; but social structure and the nature of schools in Japan or China wouldn’t allow this; they’re stuck.

December 5, 2007 @ 12:27 pm | Comment

“all those reports” of tensions between officialdom and business? i have to break out a jerry springer response on this one: oh no you didnt!

i have heard a lot of reports, and seen many examples, of intimate ties between officials and business, and have never heard of any tensions as you have described. haven’t you heard that businessmen now represent one of the advanced forces of culture and thus fit into the three represents or whatever steaming hot ideological turd the editors at people’s daily happen to be dropping on the presses today?

massive bribes are needed to get things done in china with licenses and that sort of thing. sure, there are counterexamples, but you’re not gonna get much done without government approval and probably “guidance.” business and officialdom have more of a symbiotic relationship than a tense one. there’s even a chinese word for it! guanshang goujie, i think?

December 5, 2007 @ 2:47 pm | Comment

Math,

Although I agree with some of the things you are saying, but your analogy doesn’t really generalize IMHO.

A counter point to your massive alienating engineering machine is the Open Source movement. One can argue China does indeed has an Operating System, namely, Red Flag Linux-a flavor of the Linux operating system. I don’t think the reason China doesn’t have an operating system of your ilk is because they don’t have a Microsoft. But that does not mean that China is not capable of building an operating system (note, I’m not saying China built Red Flag Linux from scratch, heck, I can probably build myself a linux distro similar to Red Flag). But an innovative operating system? Maybe not. But maybe, I don’t know. Building an 777 is a lot different than building an O.S. Sure, they’re both complex operations, but still apples and oranges.

I want to make some counter argument against your points on large complex systems and the lack of real creatively on them. But, I’m starting to get really buzzed and can’t think of any. Since for some really complex systems you do need the discipline that you speak of. But then I’m thinking about Opensource, the web… Maybe emergent behaviors? Simple rules produces complex systems, but that only supports your points. What about the Apollo program? It’s a complex system.

I remember reading somewhere that China does indeed have chip manufacturing capabilities (it is a derivative of a Western design, a super computer or something like that), but not up to world class standards. It’s cheaper to import after all, since they are already built. Don’t forget China is still a developing country. China is at least capable of doing some high tech stuff, e.g Chinese fighter aircraft iprogram. Well, parts of the program are derivatives of Western and Russian tech, but we’re back to China is a developing country again.

So, I’m not too convinced that China’s lacking innovation is due to a lacking of discipline. Rather, I think the problem lay else where. One problem is that China’s entire research and development industry is sub-par, compared to the West. U.S has all the top universities, brain drain, etc. Also, I’m not too sure that this the right explanation, because this argument is equivalent to your argument of engineering discipline. My bet is on still developing, plus not enough free thinkers, too much rote mem guys…
s

December 5, 2007 @ 3:08 pm | Comment

richard ,

According to your experience, you think the new employees lack of necessary knowledge, or motivation?

December 5, 2007 @ 10:30 pm | Comment

Damn! He just described Singapore, NOT China!

Besides, why is it that everyone has to go and talk about how difficult it is to memorize the Chinese writing system? It’s not that it’s hard to memorize, it’s that you guys are too stupid to know what underlies them…

December 6, 2007 @ 1:00 am | Comment

China does not have a good environment for innovation today. Academic people waste lots of time and energy on things like playing politics and personal relationship that have nothing to do with research and innovation. The environment can change as China develops.

With the same environment, Chinese can be as good as anyone. For example, look at the Chinese and Indians at top graduate schools in the US. Also, the number of ethic Chinese Americans in top US universities are many times more than its population percentage, is it because of hard work, memorization, …??

Anyway, in today’s world, a country doesn’t have to be very innovative in order to be very competitive and successful. Even in Silicon Valley of California, 95% of the engineers are doing regular works with no innovation involved. As long as the 80% in the middle are well educated (China is not there yet, but it will), China will be very competitive and successful. The US educational system is good for those brightest and Asian educational system is good for those in the middle and the number in the middle is much bigger.

December 6, 2007 @ 1:13 am | Comment

@2.718281828;

China has a poor R&D base because the CCP and PLA have no patience, that and an education system not only based on rote learning but also steeped heavily in political education. Can’t have people thinking outside of the box too much…

December 6, 2007 @ 1:15 am | Comment

richard,

You obviously were talking about initiativeness on the part of the employees. The frustration many Western companies have in China is that the Chinese employees always look to their supervisors for guidance. You and the author of the article mixed up this problem and innovation in science and technology. I agree that the lack of initiativeness is cultural, but it has little to do with hard science or intellectual power.

I will never buy that Chinese students are only good at rote memorization. This is simply not true. Let’s talk about maths in secondary schools. Let’s talk about contemporary Chinese arts and films.

Many American students complain that maths is “boring”. This is beyond me. Maths is hard, but boring? What an excuse is that? I remember during the 1980’s, a period when Japophobia (I am not sure if this is a word) was in fashion, you could find an article almost every week in mainstream newspapers that called for learning from Asia to improve maths and science education. Has anything really been done? None. Is this problem solved? No. But why are we not hearing this kind of cries any more? Let me tell you, this problem has been transformed into debates about outsourcing and immigration.

z,

I cannot agree more. China’s real problem is that people do not show respect to law, whether it is scripted law such as traffic regulations or natural law dealt with by scientists.

December 6, 2007 @ 4:45 am | Comment

Your life is governed by the rules of the corpocracy. Teamwork is highly valued…

One thing I noticed soon after I started my studies in an American university is that students like to do group studies. They like to prepare exams together and ask each other questions. This seems to me a big waste of time. Most of time, it goes like this: O, you don’t understand this either? Good. Maybe this is too hard for anybody. Let’s just go to the next question. I attended this sort of studies once or twice before I decided this was a stupid thing to do.

We don’t do this in China. Everybody studies by himself. So at least Chinese students are not trained to be good at teamwork.

December 6, 2007 @ 5:11 am | Comment

You learn that it takes phenomenal feats of memorization to learn the Chinese characters. You become shaped by China’s intense human capital policies

He might be right in the other points he makes, but I think he’s wrong about the mental skills involved in learning written Chinese. You certainly could approach it as one huge memorization task (just as you could conclude that English spelling is mostly arbitrary so you may as well learn everything by rote) but I don’t think it’s an efficient way to learn in either case. Successful students probably rely more on pattern recognition and breaking words/characters down into common elements, so there ought to be plenty of scope for creative thinking. Anyway, I don’t think a character-based writing system necessarily means the whole education system needs to stress memorization at the expense of creativity.

December 6, 2007 @ 8:34 am | Comment

I dunno Math it sounds like you don’t know much about large scale chip design or innovation.

There is plenty of creativity and individual input in the circuit design so you need a new analogy.

December 6, 2007 @ 8:59 am | Comment

I had a friend, Chinese, say it like this:

你们美国人中,笨的人非常笨,聪明的人非常聪明。

You Americans, the dumb among you are INCREDIBLY dumb, the smart among you are INCREDIBLY smart.

December 6, 2007 @ 9:58 am | Comment

Innovation has nothing to do with political or education systems, it has everything to do with funds.

When people are hungry, innovation is the last thing on their minds, even if they want to innovate, where do they find the money to do it? That’s why you never see technological innovations coming out of poor countries. People innovate because they want to use the money they have to make more money. People innovate because they want to make their lives more comfortable.

America is the leading innovator today because it’s the richest nation on earth. It can attract bright minds from all over the world to work here and it can afford the budgets for great innovations. To put things in perspective, the budget of the ENTIRE Shenzhou program is only a fraction of the ANNUAL space shuttle budget. There are 5 or 6 Chinese Nobel Price winners so far, but they are all Chinese Americans and did their research in America. Is there anything special in America’s water? I don’t think so. And lets not forget, for thousands of years (before the industrial revolution in Europe), it was the Chinese who were the great innovators, they used to lead the world in science and technology despite the memorization-based education system. So you see the Chinese are just as capable of innovating as anybody else. It’s going to take some time for the Chinese government to build a social security system before they can invest more money in R&D.

December 6, 2007 @ 11:09 am | Comment

^ correct.

people who criticize japan for its supposed lack of innovation are complete morons too. it’s quite a bit harder when you have no natural resources, space, or arable land. not to mention the 100 or 200 year head start, etc.

December 6, 2007 @ 12:09 pm | Comment

“. There are 5 or 6 Chinese Nobel Price winners so far, but they are all Chinese Americans and did their research in America.”

In other words, those 5 or 6 people are AMERICANS.

December 6, 2007 @ 1:29 pm | Comment

Don’t forget Gao Xingjian, the name that must not be mentioned in China!

December 6, 2007 @ 1:40 pm | Comment

In other words, those 5 or 6 people are AMERICANS.

They’re first gen immigrants.

December 6, 2007 @ 2:13 pm | Comment

It seems to me that if culture is to be blamed for lack of innovation in Japan, the problem is not how the society is structured but rather how the country is unwelcoming for infusions of new immigrants. The US obviously enjoys an advantage here.

December 6, 2007 @ 2:42 pm | Comment

The US obviously enjoys an advantage here.

The US gets more immigrants because it’s richer. Japan would just get sloppy seconds, and they’re smart enough to be picky.

December 6, 2007 @ 5:50 pm | Comment

AC: America is the leading innovator today because it’s the richest nation on earth.

Wrong. Wealth does not equal innovation. Switzerland has far greater per capita wealth, and as the old saying goes, the only thing they ever invented was the cuckoo clock. Many other examples of richer countries that have not been centers of innovation. Lots.

December 6, 2007 @ 7:35 pm | Comment

Switzerland is too small to count. But then again the country does run on blood money from dictators and Nazis in their banks.

December 6, 2007 @ 9:55 pm | Comment

“They’re first gen immigrants.”

They traded in their commie blood card for a US passport. They made a conscious choice.

“Japan would just get sloppy seconds, and they’re smart enough to be picky.”

No, Japan doesn’t accept immigrants, everyone is a temporary worker.

December 7, 2007 @ 12:19 am | Comment

They traded in their commie blood card for a US passport. They made a conscious choice.

Meaning they weren’t brought up in American schools, dumbass.

December 7, 2007 @ 3:16 am | Comment

@Richard

You raised a valid point, but you have not destroyed my position at all. I never intended to say money was the ONLY factor, I meant to say money was the DECISIVE factor. Of course there are other factors, such as culture, tradition, intelligence, talent, ambitions etc. etc. But without money, the other factors are pointless. You can’t deny the fact that technological innovations never came from poor countries, can you?

I have a friend who lives in NYC. She and her husband are both professors of Ivy League universities. A couple of years ago, they were thinking about moving back to China, so they went back and toured Tsinghua and Fudan. They were very disappointed. The pay was low, the universities lack required equipments which cost tens of millions of dollars, it was very difficult to find sponsors for their researches, the Chinese companies simply don’t have that kind of money to sponsor Nobel Price worthy projects. So they eventually gave up on the idea. Now you know why China hasn’t produced a single indigenous Noble Price winner till this day.

You are right that wealth does not equal innovation. However, it would be WRONG to conclude that the Swiss (or the Japanese for that mater) will not innovate in the future just because they have done much in the past. We don’t know that, do we?

December 7, 2007 @ 4:45 am | Comment

It would be superhuman for Japan to take a leading spot in innovation unless they can magically pull the needed resources out from their asses to support that kind of economy.

December 7, 2007 @ 5:06 am | Comment

AC,

Wealth is probably the most important factor in innovation. It does not mean that more money you have, more innovations you will have. It depends on how much you SPEND on R & D.

December 7, 2007 @ 6:17 am | Comment

It’s true that we Chinese are copying and memorizing things right now, but why would we want to reinvent the wheels? The West stole (OK, how about “shamelessly borrowed”?) Chinese technologies too, remember? Look at the technologies that the barbarians used when they invaded China: gunboats with divided compartments and rudders, gun powder weapons (cannons, guns), navigation charts (paper, printing press), magnetic compasses – all Chinese inventions! Those were the technologies we developed but let stand still. We used to be centuries ahead, but we got complacent. Thanks to our technologies, the barbarians became more civilized (though they are still not civilized enough to stop invading other countries and imposing their ideology upon others), while we became poor and backward (now we are the ones who spit and vomit in upscale Peking duck restaurants). Ironic, isn’t it?

167 years have gone by, China is a different country now. It will still take a while for China to accumulate wealth. Will we be the great innovators again? Let’s wait another 20~30 years, we will see.

December 7, 2007 @ 6:37 am | Comment

The so-called four big innovations in ancient China? How many more can you name? China has a great culture; I am not particularly impressed with its innovation, at present or in the past; when compared with advanced Western countries.

If the innovation index of the US is X, and for China, it is Y, (X – Y) is going to be smaller and smaller. The reason is simple, the US is at or near its peak while China is going up; and there is lots of room to grow in that area. But I think it is unlikely Y will ever become bigger than X. The Chinese and American look at research and innovation with very different attitude.

The article author asked an important question at the end, that is, whether or not China is able to develop to the next level. Yes, it can, as long as 80% of its population is well educated and reasonably innovative, it will be very successful and competitive. With the same culture root as countries like Japan, South Korea and Singapore, there is no reason China is not able to achieve what these countries have archived. Think about a China that is equivalent to a few Japan or 200 Singapore, may be 20 or 30 years from now.

December 7, 2007 @ 7:24 am | Comment

“The West stole (OK, how about “shamelessly borrowed”?) Chinese technologies too, remember? Look at the technologies that the barbarians used when they invaded China:”

Actually, China lost that technology to the Persians when they failed to successfully conqure central Asia.

@me:

Japan is the shining star of Asia, with Korea becoming a close second. China simply holds back the rest of Asia.

December 7, 2007 @ 8:20 am | Comment

@Z

I am sorry you are not impressed. There are much more than just the “so-called four big innovations.” Sorry I can’t list them all here, it will take a life time to do that. Joseph Needham couldn’t do it. I suggest you to read his books “SCIENCE AND CIVILISATION IN CHINA SERIES.” There are 7 volumes, to bad he couldn’t finish it.

http://www.nri.org.uk/science.html

If you don’t want to read books, here are some videos:

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-137617417179659290

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7244237943899423218

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wAvRPqMQRK0

If the West can make up hundreds of years, so can the Chinese. It’s going to take some time, of course.

December 7, 2007 @ 9:41 am | Comment

AC, I heard of this person a number of times (a British). No, I didn’t read his volumes.

I read a book by Billy Graham, in which he said he heard from somewhere that more half of the things in the world were invented by the Chinese. I don’t know it is a joke or not. Billy’s wife was born and raised in rural China.

December 7, 2007 @ 12:07 pm | Comment

Yeah, the Chinese invented everything and they have lots of fake ancient scrolls to prove it.

December 7, 2007 @ 5:32 pm | Comment

China is a rising power, but regardless of any economic improvements (which are completely offset by environmental damage and harmful products), China has a laundry list of an agenda about what it will do with its power.

December 8, 2007 @ 1:14 am | Comment

“From East Asia Intel:

An official of the Chinese government last week confirmed that Beijing is supporting U.S. enemies around the world.

Yuan Peng, director of the Institute of American Studies, part of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said that “in the world, almost all enemies of the United States are China’s friends.”

The rare admission confirms the view of some critics who say China’s arms sales to rogue states like Iran, Syria and North Korea are based on a deliberate strategy of indirectly confronting the United States.

Peng’s institute, the CICIR, is an entity of the Ministry of State Security, China’s main intelligence service. His remarks were included in a state-run media report.

Peng said long-term strategic stability between the U.S. and China “still remain[s] doubtful.””

December 8, 2007 @ 5:21 am | Comment

nanheyangrouchuan,

I only have one comment. Regardless how bad Chinese are, Westerners are by far the biggest hypocrites and bigots. Yes, even today it happens, if you don’t believe me just go look at graduating classes of all medical schools today (except UCal system), Asians are capped exactly at 10% (usually Asian females > Asian males) while having the largest applicant pools. It is not an equal opportunity system. It is a quota system. Even just 30 years ago, National Academy of Sciences was having a debate on should they or shouldn’t they allow one of the greatest scienctists into the Academy because he is an African American. Chinese also didn’t go on trying to colonize and enslave the world after figuring out modern weaponries. Of course, you can say that Chinese will do the same thing if Chinese were the first. I guess we will see because I think we are closer to another tiers’ technology than most people think. Although, I still think Americans will probably get there first as things currently stand.

December 8, 2007 @ 5:34 am | Comment

“. Chinese also didn’t go on trying to colonize and enslave the world after figuring out modern weaponries. Of course, you can say that Chinese will do the same thing if Chinese were the first.”

@ Arty,

More “white devil” arguments? It doesn’t suit you.
Don’t forget that it was African and Asian warlords who sold slaves to white traders. Guns were sold to the non-white slave holders long before any soldiers showed up and slavery is not exactly a western invention despite popular belief.

And who ruled Asia for thousands of years through its land armies? Who invaded Vietnam 13 times and colonized Korea for 300 years?

China didn’t go beyond Asia because it was a weak naval power for most of its history.

“Even just 30 years ago, National Academy of Sciences was having a debate on should they or shouldn’t they allow one of the greatest scienctists into the Academy because he is an African American.”

And now? We’ve made progress and China still hasn’t.

December 8, 2007 @ 7:41 am | Comment

“Blocked warships had paid first visit to Vietnam since ties with U.S. restored
in 1995

East-Asia-Intel.com, December 5, 2007

Lt. Col. Steve DeMoss, left, commanding officer of the U.S. Navy
ship USS Guardian, and Lt. Col. Thomas Shultz, commanding officer of the
U.S.Navy ship USS Patriot, walk in Haiphong, on Nov. 14. Reuters/Kham

Two U.S. Navy warships at the center of a U.S.-China dispute over port
visits to Hong Kong had been in Vietnam days before Beijing turned them away.
The minesweepers, USS Guardian and USS Patriot, made a port call in Hai
Phong City on Nov. 14 and stayed four days.

The visit was covered by local communist-run media. It was the first time
U.S. Navy ships traveled to northern Vietnam since normalization of relations
in 1995.

Officials speculate that China’s denial of a request for safe harbor in
Hong Kong was turned down as a way of showing displeasure at Vietnam for
allowing the ships to visit.

Vietnam and China traded diplomatic protests over Chinese naval exercises
at the Paracels Islands, which is claimed by both Vietnam and China.

GertzFile.com GeoStrategy-Direct.com WorldTribune.Com
Copyright ยฉ 2007 East West Services, Inc. All rights reserved.

December 8, 2007 @ 7:46 am | Comment

“Perhaps it’s simply impossible for a top-down memorization-based elite to organize a flexible, innovative information economy, no matter how brilliant its members are.”

Richard,

I think perhaps you have underestimated your enemy. The up & coming generations of the same rote education system, having suffered the influence of a purely romantic ideology, as we speak, is instilling in its future elites the time tested indigenous philosophy of Kong 孔子& Lao老子who will also be graduates of Harvard, Yale, MIT, OxBridge etc; that’d be more immune to Americanism and the delusiveness that plagues many ex-colonies with a class of conceited Anglophiliacs and white wannabes like we have in Singapore, HK etc.

“in the world, almost all enemies of the United States are China’s friends.”

Haha, no sh*t….that’s easy considering that the present US administration is global enemy # 1. Despite condemnations by the UN and the World Court, it chooses to continue on the path of the annihilation of the human species.

More “white devil” arguments? nanheyangrouchuan

Sure, why not? As opposed to “Red scare” arguments. Both are ridiculous, both are somewhat true too.

December 8, 2007 @ 9:02 am | Comment

“Even just 30 years ago, National Academy of Sciences was having a debate on should they or shouldn’t they allow one of the greatest scienctists into the Academy because he is an African American.”

As a foreigner in China who has occasion to stay in hotels from time to time, I know exactly how he feels.

December 8, 2007 @ 11:04 am | Comment

Sure, why not? As opposed to “Red scare” arguments. Both are ridiculous, both are somewhat true too.

Yes, this is exactly what I want to say.

As a foreigner in China who has occasion to stay in hotels from time to time, I know exactly how he feels.

Do you mean that the hotel call you right after you checked in to see if you need some company. Okay okya that’s several years ago, now is much better. Btw, Chinese usually treating foreigners a lot better than their own. Of course, there will be exceptions. No one ever like an old bold ugly fat person regardless what race is he or she is ;).

December 8, 2007 @ 1:15 pm | Comment

It is the first article I have seen from David Brooks on China. I think he is much better than most so-called China experts and foreign journalists in China. Many articles on China often repeat the same view points on China and touch the surface only.

December 8, 2007 @ 2:04 pm | Comment

“Do you mean that the hotel call you right after you checked in to see if you need some company.”

No

“Okay okya that’s several years ago, now is much better.”

Since you mention it; no it isn’t.

“Btw, Chinese usually treating foreigners a lot better than their own.”

It can work both ways for sure, but the growing swagger of the Chinese is manifesting itself partly as hostility and contempt towards foreigners.

“Of course, there will be exceptions. No one ever like an old bold ugly fat person regardless what race is he or she is.”

Your prejudices and stereotypes, not to mention your undying allegiance to the party, speak for themselves.

I was referring in my previous response, as I’m sure you know, to the complications, regulations, and general panic that ensue when a receptionist is confronted with foreign documentation. Six phone calls, two emergency meetings, and a stress-induced epitaxis later a junior member of staff is shoved into the front line to inform you that there’s a ‘problem’ and he’s ‘sorry’, but your residence permit and passport are insufficient to validate your stay in their hotel.

Hence the analogy with the African American scientist you mentioned. Do you see? I thought not; but I figured I’d give it a shot anyway.

December 8, 2007 @ 3:36 pm | Comment

Overall, an excellent and insightful piece — with one major flaw: It is grooved in a Western-centric analytical framework. In contemporary Western society, particularly in the United States, soft and false skills are favored over hard and market-driven skill sets. For example, instead of studying the hard (and difficult) sciences such as mathematics and physics, the majority of American University students are choosing to major in basket-weaving, gay and lesbian studies and ethnic studies.

No doubt, Mr Brooks and other Western-centric analysts would praise such touchy-feely “skills” as essential to a post-industrial economy. In reality, the apostasy of the hard sciences (and the high standards these disciplines uphold) in the United States has led and will lead to the country’s economic demise.

On the other hand, rote memorization — which is only ONE of the stables of the Chinese educational system — leads to a strong understanding of facts. A strong understanding of facts, in turn, enables critical thinking on a higher baseline than a flimsy knowledge of basic facts. Critical thinking thence often results in creativity…

See our creative writing and incisive analysis of issues at http://www.fairbankreport.blogspot.com

December 8, 2007 @ 4:07 pm | Comment

“On the other hand, rote memorization … leads to a strong understanding of facts…”

No. It leads to a regurgitation of input, often with little or no understanding of the principles underlying the facts.

December 8, 2007 @ 6:15 pm | Comment

Wow…OMG! How so very true!
“A man must be both stupid and uncharitable who believes there is no virtue or truth but on his own side.”
–Joseph Addison

December 8, 2007 @ 11:14 pm | Comment

‘A strong understanding of facts, in turn, enables critical thinking on a higher baseline than a flimsy knowledge of basic facts. Critical thinking thence often results in creativity…” Ditto, Fairbank report.

After having taught psychology at the college level for the past 39 years, I have seen our standards go straight to hell! [Back] in 1966…And can you believe it, I actually required my students to read an entire textbook during the semester. And nobody got upset. However, today, if I were to do such a thing, I would have an extremely difficult time getting enough students to enroll in my classes in order to keep my job. …The fact that leniency (a lowering of academic standards in our country) has won out at the expense of quality education in that of our high schools as well as that of our colleges.
Consequently, in my opinion, our country is slowly but surely becoming “a nation of near retards,” a collective group of individuals who have become so absurdly self-absorbed and disinterested in acquiring knowledge that we, as a nation, are slowly but surely losing touch with the reality of what is actually going on in the world! The best example is our population’s general sense of ignorance in relation to world history, and especially that of our inability (or perhaps even unwillingness) to understand our own country’s complicity in relation to the 9/11 attacks upon our nation.
Excerpt from “The Dumbing Down Of The American Mind” by Doug Soderstrom, Ph.D.

December 9, 2007 @ 12:27 am | Comment

Hence the analogy with the African American scientist you mentioned. Do you see? I thought not; but I figured I’d give it a shot anyway.

No, you can choose not to work in China since you are an expat, and how about coming back home (btw, I am not telling you to get out of China, I am asking you to come home). The African American scienctist was an American and should be treated like an American. You see China don’t call themself land of free, liberty, and justice for all people. China don’t necessarily think they are the “good guy.”

Also, I don’t know what kind of hotel you are staying in. No one called me last time I was in China’s hotel compare to several years ago.

Your prejudices and stereotypes, not to mention your undying allegiance to the party, speak for themselves.

You mean Democratic party? I am a register democrat :). Also, since I am not personally invovled in China (other than having relatives who I met only one or twice in my life), I think I am far more un-biased than you are.

No. It leads to a regurgitation of input, often with little or no understanding of the principles underlying the facts.

Partially true, however, I do believe that a Chinese scienctist will make less mistake on calculation they need to do for a particular experiment then for example an American trained scientist. However, American trained scientist will probably be better at all other things involving difficult laboratory techiques. Of course, it varies from case to case. Recently for the first time in my life, I met a Chinese educated scientist (master degree) but got her Ph.D. in the U.S. who does not know how to use a pipetman (see you can’t never catch these kind of stuff in an interview). ๐Ÿ™ Of couse, I also have a French scientist recently tell me she had grown a cell culture to 6 million/mL. She got mad at me when I told her “IT IS IMPOSSIBLE (no one can grow to 6 million per mL; 3 million is the limit for some very specific cells.” It turned out she is off my x10 fold. She is from Paris 6.

For example, instead of studying the hard (and difficult) sciences such as mathematics and physics, the majority of American University students are choosing to major in basket-weaving, gay and lesbian studies and ethnic studies.

Ture, but as long as our education system is the only education system that can produce like of “David R. Liu,” “Phil S. Baron,” and many more like them. We are still the best.

December 9, 2007 @ 2:36 am | Comment

>Ture, but as long as our education system is the only education system that can produce like of “David R. Liu,” “Phil S. Baron,” and many more like them. We are still the best.

Yes, it is the best if you look at the 10% or so on the top. Competition is not all about innovation. How about the bigger number of people in the middle? Research and innovation in the US have been driven in a large degree by adance in basic science. But basic reserch has been in decline in the US. I read an article by Marvin Minsky, a top computer scientist. He said there are no more than 5 people doing basic research today in artificial intelligence, the field of his focus. People don’t have the money and incentives to do basic research. Bell Lab is almost gone.

Sure, US will still be the number country in research and innovation. But whether the US is able to maintain th competitive country in the long term will depend more on the quality of people in the middle.

December 9, 2007 @ 4:00 am | Comment

“Yes, it is the best if you look at the 10% or so on the top. Competition is not all about innovation. How about the bigger number of people in the middle? Research and innovation in the US have been driven in a large degree by adance in basic science. But basic reserch has been in decline in the US. I read an article by Marvin Minsky, a top computer scientist. He said there are no more than 5 people doing basic research today in artificial intelligence, the field of his focus. People don’t have the money and incentives to do basic research. Bell Lab is almost gone.”

I don’t get it. You want in the middle to do advance research? The research should leave to the brightest regardless which way you see it. My only complaint is that a lot of scientists are getting paid way too little, and government should put even more money into it. It has nothing to do with our education system. As far as basic research goes, majority of academics are consider themselves basic researchers. Bell lab is almost gone because it didn’t produce. There are many new research institutes are getting bigger each day. For example, HHMI is getting bigger and bigger (consider it was used as a tax shelter decades ago), City of Hope, Fred Hutchison Cancer Research, The Scripps Research Institute, Microsoft has their own research arm (this one actually don’t produce much either) and many more.

December 9, 2007 @ 4:45 am | Comment

China is a developing country. But let’s assume most Chinese have the same educational level as the Japanese or Singaporean (it is probably already true for people in big cities such as Bejing and Shanghai); and then compare China and the US and see which country is more competitive. Then, in the US, 5% of the people on the top would be much better and innovative than the counterpart in China, but people in the middle would not be as educated as those in China. The result is that the US would probably win in research and innovation (determined by people in the top %5) while China would probably win in overall development (determined by people by much bigger number of people in the middle).

In the old days, when China and India were closed and every body was there stupid and uneducated, things were just too easy for Americans and people in other advanced countries, no matter what mistakes they made and how they spent their time, they were awlays on the top.

“Bell lab is almost gone because it didn’t produce”

That’s the problem. Albert Einstein certainly didn’t produce directly. Many advances in computer science and tele-communication were not possible without the basic research in Bell lab. I think the reason that Bell lab is gone is because of market competition. In the old day, AT&T was a king (same as for the country as a whole, it had lots of money and everything was just easy, almost no competition). But now, Lucent needs to compete with many good companies around the world, even with some companies in China. When the company survivial is in question, it can not afford to do basic research. Today, no company is willing to spend money to do basic research because it doesn’t produce directly. I don’t know whether Microsoft labs are doing basic research or not, but I have not seen any major contributions from Microsoft to theory and pratice of computer sicence; its software sucks.

December 9, 2007 @ 8:12 am | Comment

@z:

Spot on. But I think the proper word is “commercialize” not “produce”. And Einstein, Fermi, Bohr and the rest of them, who used to take frequent naps and breaks while creating the math formulas that run today’s world would have been tossed out on their cans by worthless HR and middle management efficiency types for not having enough “billable hours” or even worse, and ethereal “productivity quotient”.

Innovation cannot be managed, rapidly commercialized or easily quantified by those with mere degrees from some management or business school.

Heard the story about Blue-Ray DVDs? The blue laser that is the functional item was developed by an unknown Japanese chemist at a no-name company and the design sat unused for years.

December 9, 2007 @ 9:33 am | Comment

“No, you can choose not to work in China since you are an expat, and how about coming back home (btw, I am not telling you to get out of China, I am asking you to come home).”

How little you know. China IS my home.

“I think I am far more un-biased than you are.”

That statement shows a distinct lack of objectivity on your part.

December 9, 2007 @ 10:20 pm | Comment

How do you quantify innovation? By the number of papers cited? Perhaps. Like someone mentioned research and innovation do not come out of a vacuum, they are built upon by years of basic research.

Now that I think about it, do China really lack innovation in this respect? In the field that I have some training in, namely, the computer graphics field, you see that China does indeed have innovative ideas. Look at some of the stuff Microsoft Research Asia lab are doing, definitely some cutting edge stuff. Innovative in the sense that it is current and up to date. Then again, doing graphic research is relatively simple, all you need is a good foundation in math, ability to communicate with others around the world, and a computer! LOL.

China is still a developing country. They need to work to improve their universities, to work to stop some of the brain drain. They need to work on basic research and development. Then, it is just a matter of building up momentum. But can they do this?

Also, Americans are very very smart. I’m not talking about recent immigrants, I’m talking about “native” Americans. Sure, 95% of the people are clueless, but the top 5% are the BEST IN THE WORLD. So don’t count America out yet. The problem, however, is that the 95% may f*** themselves. Also, most American now days just aren’t interested in research, even the smart kid. Who wants to go to engineering grad school when you can get an MBA instead? Combined with your engineering B.S degree, you can manage these other dumb engineering kids (I laugh because the super smart kid gets a Ph.d and become tenure)? I digress.

I belong in the clueless kid camp. I’m too stoned to give a fuck.

December 9, 2007 @ 11:57 pm | Comment

How little you know. China IS my home.

Then what you said here just BS?

I was referring in my previous response, as I’m sure you know, to the complications, regulations, and general panic that ensue when a receptionist is confronted with foreign documentation. Six phone calls, two emergency meetings, and a stress-induced epitaxis later a junior member of staff is shoved into the front line to inform you that there’s a ‘problem’ and he’s ‘sorry’, but your residence permit and passport are insufficient to validate your stay in their hotel.

I only have US passport. Fyi, I have no problem.

That statement shows a distinct lack of objectivity on your part.

I am an outsider. Regardless which statements above are true you are far more involved than I am, and you are saying I am less objective than you are. We simply have different believes. You see, I didn’t call you a “red scare” mouth piece.

That’s the problem. Albert Einstein certainly didn’t produce directly. Many advances in computer science and tele-communication were not possible without the basic research in Bell lab…Microsoft labs are doing basic research or not, but I have not seen any major contributions from Microsoft to theory and pratice of computer sicence; its software sucks.

You do know publications or random discoveries are called producing results, too. Bell lab isn’t doing so hot these days even in basic research. It is called “creative destruction,” Bell Lab is just been replaced with better ones. I told you that Microsoft’s research arm isn’t doing so hot either. I still remember during the boom 90s, the only thing came out of is the spell/grammar checker. In the US, universities and private non-profit research identities do way better job today than the old Bell Lab alikes.

December 10, 2007 @ 4:46 am | Comment

me: How little you know. China IS my home.

Arty: Then what you said here just BS?

I think you need to reassess your definition of ‘home’.

“I only have US passport. Fyi, I have no problem.”

You would certainly have no problem getting ejected from the hotel in question. Unless, perhaps, you LOOK Chinese.

December 10, 2007 @ 6:32 pm | Comment

me: How little you know. China IS my home.

Arty: Then what you said here just BS?

I think you need to reassess your definition of ‘home’.

“I only have US passport. Fyi, I have no problem.”

You would certainly have no problem getting ejected from the hotel in question. Unless, perhaps, you LOOK Chinese.

Blah blah blah, excuses after excuses. I am sorry you don’t look like Chinese but I personally think that will be an advantage in most cases. And I can bet although you call China home, you are not nature born Chinese. So I am asking you to come home.

December 11, 2007 @ 2:25 am | Comment

“And I can bet although you call China home, you are not nature born Chinese. So I am asking you to come home.”

You are certainly beginning to display your true colours. You make the mistake of confusing (or associating) the concepts ‘home’, ‘citizenship’, and ‘race’.

December 11, 2007 @ 12:53 pm | Comment

tsk tsk tsk… always blaming Confucius…

December 11, 2007 @ 10:39 pm | Comment

You are certainly beginning to display your true colours. You make the mistake of confusing (or associating) the concepts ‘home’, ‘citizenship’, and ‘race’.

What’s my true color? Stop trying to classify people. I know exactly what you are trying to say but I am pretty sure you are not one of the minority races in China that doesn’t look like Chinese (I could be wrong of course; why not telling me about it). You are more likely to be a foreigner who for some unknown reason can’t go back to his/her own country (maybe a criminal history for example). Everyone can call home where their heart is. However, other than the US and some selective countries, race and citizenship are linked closely. Btw, you are the one saying that and I quote “As a foreigner in China who has occasion to stay in hotels from time to time, I know exactly how he feels. ” I am only suggesting that if you felt been discriminated against and as a foreinger in China, you should come back home. The African American scientist is an American and his opitions are some what limited. Btw, his name is Percy Julian, he went to Euro to get his Ph.D. because Harvard would not allow him to complete his Ph.D….because you guess it.

Take this test and let’s see how do you do

https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/

I am racial neutral. However, I think I could be a sexist.

December 12, 2007 @ 2:33 am | Comment

(sorry to butt in again…)

but as the Great Stephen Colbert has said “I don’t see color.”

But seriously though, how realistic is it to “go home” any time you face adversity? Some laowai are in China because their company or their spouse moved them here, others are here by choice. For those who are here by choice (like me) it has begun to feel like home here, despite the discrimination. China is not a homogenous mono-culture, and certainly most people who live (and were born) in Beijing are not actually laobeijingers, which makes us all wai di ren to a certain extent. Its just that some are more obvious than others…

Also, it should be noted that honkey laowais are often at the receiving end of positive discrimination as well, so we shouldn’t complain *too* much.

December 12, 2007 @ 11:31 am | Comment

juhuacha, “Also, it should be noted that honkey lao wais are often at the receiving end of positive discrimination as well, so we shouldn’t complain *too* much.”

I remember a time when westerners used to be mostly nice people. Maybe I was younger & plain naive at the time. I used to hear friends & relatives say something like, “The Lao Wais are so polite. They are even willing to befriend us poor people. They have no sense of class unlike our present society.” My Mom actually told me that the reason my Aunt married my Uncle whom she met during WWII partly because he spoke English and was a westernized Chinese — Indeed, an officer and a gentleman, he was.
For years I thought I was “color blind,” until one day in the subway here in southern China, I saw a Caucasian screaming in English at a Chinese person who screamed back in Chinese. Then his Chinese woman friend or whatever as they left the train shouted in Chinese back at the man saying something like, “He is a Lao Wai, if you touch/hurt him you are going to jail!”
It was at that point that something furious well up in me. What she said still borders me now as I recall the incident.

December 12, 2007 @ 12:26 pm | Comment

@youguys:

“”He is a Lao Wai, if you touch/hurt him you are going to jail!”
It was at that point that something furious well up in me. What she said still borders me now as I recall the incident.”

And some other fool foreign blogger said any comparisons between South African apartheid and China’s apartheid are superficial. Beijing gives special consideration to foreigners so that they will invest and set up companies, which is slightly different than the situation between 1850 and the 1920s but also somewhat similar.

You should be mad, foreign companies and investors did indeed come to China to take advantage of cheap, abusable labor, no environmental regulations, a great exchange rate, easy women and the Asian tendency to internalize which is often interpreted as weakness.

Now, what will you do about it?

December 12, 2007 @ 2:07 pm | Comment

What I meant to convey above was that by adopting the “color blindness” view which I think is good, however, one must be careful that it does not lead to mental blindness, that’s all.

BTW, what is Naneyangrouchuan? Is it 男儿羊肉串?

December 13, 2007 @ 9:45 am | Comment

Some interpret it as 南河羊肉串 but what actually happened is on one of the earliest blogs I created this screen name for only allowed enough space for one “a” so I had “nan” and not “naan” as in the central Asian/Indian unleavened bread.

December 13, 2007 @ 10:30 am | Comment

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