John and Doris Naisbitt: “China’s Megatrends”

On January 5 I started to write a post about an interview I heard on NPR’s always excellent Diane Rehm show with John Naisbitt, the author of the famous book Megatrends, and his wife Doris, who were there to plug their new book, China’s Megatrends: The 8 Pillars of a New Society. (You can listen to the entire interview here; scroll down a bit).

I never finished that post. I put it aside because John and Doris got me so incensed I decided it would be better to leave it alone than to write in the heat of passion and regret it later. (And I was not the only one to find this interview shocking for its unabashed brown-nosing and apologism.)

Then today I saw another interview with the two self-proclaimed China gurus and this time I decided to finish the post.

Let me preface my thoughts by saying this: I try to give China credit for its accomplishments. Several posts down you’ll find a piece about this being “China’s century.” But I also can’t ignore the bad, and thus below you’ll also find a post on the censorship of China’s Internet. I’m a big believer in trying to see beyond the box each of us has has created for himself, the one with all our assumptions and prejudices and beliefs, etc. I really do want to see the whole picture, and longtime readers know I’ve been willing to question my own POV in order to give China a fair chance. It’s absolutes about China (and the US) that make me cringe: “good,” “evil,” etc.

The Naisbitts’ creds sound good. They’ve lived in China for a decade. Doris Naisbitt is a professor at Yunnan University. Her husband was assistant secretary of education under JFK and is definitely a “futurist” of vast influence, Megatrends being one of the business bibles of the 1980s.

During the Diane Rehm interview, the first alarm sounded when Doris tried to argue that a key reason for China’s blocked web sites was pornography, the implication being the GFW is actually a good thing, supported by China’s citizens. John chimes in about how censorship is used to ensure “harmony,” something he seems to see as benign paternalism. Doris also argues that we hear negative things about China mainly because the Western media can’t resist “gossiping” about China because it is doing so well. Jealous neighbors.

This was just the start of a string of sugar-coated excuses for Chinese repression. Did you know Liu Xiaobo was arrested not for speaking out but for “organizing an alternative government”? I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

Okay, so on to their more recent interview in The Spiegel. It starts with a question about the Google controversy and whether Google’s doing the right thing by considering leaving China.

John Naisbitt: They’ve broken a contract. In order to get a license, they agreed not to allow searches on certain subjects. And now, four years later, they say ‘we won’t do this anymore because we’ve been hacked.’ In Russia, hackers are much more vigorous and plentiful, but Google has said nothing. The company has a big market share there whereas in China it doesn’t. Google is breaking the contract and it’s blaming it on something else.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: So you think it’s a PR stunt?

Doris Naisbitt: We cannot say that, but it’s a gift! Look what a wonderful marketing effect this has for Google — being the David fighting Goliath.

John Naisbitt: Say it’s a PR stunt — it couldn’t have succeeded any better. Because here you have US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton getting on Google’s side, not understanding the contractual situation, and making the Internet one of the foreign policy planks of the administration. That’s not a bad thing. But it went from a contractual disagreement to the secretary of state becoming a spokesperson for Google.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Does the Chinese government respond to external pressure, whether from a company like Google or the US government?

John Naisbitt: They are built to resist outside pressure. They really resent being jerked around. They resent Google putting them in a position where it looks like it’s their fault when Google is the one that initiated this challenge. I think they’re really pissed off. In China, when you make a deal, you never sign anything, you just shake hands. It’s all based on trust. But if you break that, you’re dead in the water. This breaking of trust is a really big deal for the Chinese.

This is thoroughly in line with the NPR interview. It is China that’s under assault from ungrateful multinationals, pesky activists and others who refuse to respect the status quo, despite its inherent repressive tendencies. Google’s motivations are self-aggrandizement and a desire to get out of a contract they didn’t like. Slimeballs, that Brin and Page! And “we can’t say it was a PR stunt, but…” Slick, very slick. I half-expected them to say Google launched the cyber-attacks on itself. Not a word about the hacked gmail accounts of human rights activists, whom the Naisbitts most likely see as ungrateful vermin.

Some of the points they go on to make are true. China’s system does allow its rulers to move ahead and get things done, and they have made enormous progress. Yes, we all know that. What bugged me, however, is their fawning, China-can-do-no-wrong attitude, wherein Google and Liu Xiaobo and the Western media are the only bad guys, while poor misunderstood China nobly moves forward, transcending the noise and the attempts to bring her down.

The earlier link I gave is a must-read to see what these two are up to and to see just how cozy they are with China’s top brass, especially in the State Council Information Office (i.e., propaganda department). And don’t miss the quote from the Guangzhou author who notes that nearly all of their sources are CCP reports and party-line-toeing Chinese newspaper articles, with next to no first-hand observations or original research.

Something about this simply doesn’t smell right. Either they are incredibly naive or incurious, or they’ve been bought and paid for. Just like our friend, they point to the exact same Pew Research poll he does to tell us how happy the Chinese are:

What does democracy mean? Rule of the people. In China, they respond to the people’s wishes. You may not believe that, but a study done by the Pew Research Center found that the Chinese government has an 89 percent approval rating. There is a lot of openness and freedom. The entrepreneurs and the artists, they love it. The energy it releases is palpable in China.

Yes, there’s a lot of energy in China, and some very, very happy artists. Most people in China support their central government. If an election were held today they’d elect the same leaders (though the one-party system has made any alternative an impossibility). China’s doing better, it’s richer, it’s powerful, it’s in many ways the greatest rags to riches story ever told. But looking at geniuses like Naisbitt and Rein you’d never know there was corruption and repression that not infrequently results in violence, and appalling abuse of the disenfranchised. You’d never know of the plight of the truly poor, and of a potential environmental catastrophe that could bring all that progress to its knees. It is so one-sided and so suck-uppish it’s nauseating.

If there is one book I am not going to lay down money for it’s China’s Megatrends. Luckily some customer reviewers over at Amazon are already onto them and call out their one-sidedness.

Keep a watchful eye on the Naisbitts, and take whatever they say in China’s Megatrends with a mega-grain of sea salt.


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: 75 Comments

“In Spain there was once Organic Democracy (nothing to do with ecology) and Vertical Unions.”

During the Franco era, right?

February 12, 2010 @ 3:46 pm | Comment

“Boot-licking Quislingism of the kind shown in this interview, on the other hand, is simply despicable.”

I’m a bit late joining this party, but FOARP sums it up nicely.

The Naisbitts are moving inexorably towards their ‘friend of China’ visa status.

February 12, 2010 @ 7:26 pm | Comment

Great post.

I too am a Diane Rehm fan (going beyond even her voice).

People are using the Google “thing” to advance their own agenda and it is highly susceptible to that because virtually nobody really has the inside story. This makes it easy to talk generally and then act as though the general are the facts with respect to Google. This is what the Naisbetts have done and it is highly questionable whether even “the general” they discuss has any connection with reality.

Was there really such a contract? What did it say? Was it written or oral? Who breached it? How was it breached? Is it really true that China doesn’t have written contracts? No, as FOARP nicely points out in his comment, actually ALL employees must sign a written contract in China. But why are we talking about a contract and contracts as if that has anything to do with anything anyway?

There have always been people like the Naisbetts for whom truth is just something to bend to justify an end. I will not be buying or reading their book.

February 14, 2010 @ 12:33 am | Comment

Thanks for a great comment, Dan.

February 14, 2010 @ 1:11 am | Comment

Yes there is a lot of Chinese people abroad, but they do not exert a transforming influence in more regions were they go. And they keep quite a bit for themselves.

South Chinese built the economy of Southeast Asia from the ground up.

February 14, 2010 @ 9:01 am | Comment

I have to agree with Merp on this one. Everywhere Chinese people go, they excel and make a significant impact on their communities.

February 14, 2010 @ 10:01 am | Comment


February 15, 2010 @ 10:28 am | Comment

Interesting review, thanks. Money quote:

The congratulatory tone of the book almost implies that China can do no wrong, while criticisms are depicted as archaic stereotypes. Furthermore, with Chinese news articles as the only source of reference, there could potentially be some black holes yet to be filled by the eight pillars. In a section on China-Taiwan relations, the authors state that the recent warming of economic exchanges have allowed the nations to go from “political posturing to amicable cuddling.” Critics will beg to differ, seeing as it is pretty hard to cuddle with over 1,000 missiles standing in the way.

February 15, 2010 @ 11:05 am | Comment


I met John and Doris recently and they certainly do not see the same issues many people do. At the risk of causing you further irritation, here’s a link to the video interview:

February 19, 2010 @ 3:09 pm | Comment

I haven’t yet read the transcipt or listened to the interview, but the comments on Liu Xiaobo are enough to make me furious. Right now I am visiting with a very good Chinese friend whose brother spent nine years in prison for nothing more than being a member of Fulan Gong. Some such trumped up charge was brought against him as well. IF you don’t think this is happening, you are just culpably ignoring a reality about China. And if you think such imprisonment is in some sense justified, you are simply deluded. I am not sure whether Naisbett is deluded or culpably ignorant but in either case, I have a hard time taking anything he says seriously.

February 20, 2010 @ 8:18 pm | Comment

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February 21, 2010 @ 12:58 am | Comment

hehe,lame duck happy new year. hope you like these mega treads from amerika.

February 21, 2010 @ 12:59 am | Comment

Glad to see that you’ve posted about this. I missed this post as I was traveling, but this entire China Megatrends thing and all of the odd comments that they have been making first struck me as a joke, like an odd piece of performance art?
However, it is becoming increasingly clear that these people are serious. As such, it’s important to keep pointing out their at once insane and comic worldview.

February 27, 2010 @ 3:14 am | Comment

what a bunch of twisted ppl all looking to redeem themselves by feeding their distorted life’s view points to others,at the hope of making themselves appear to have a higher grasp on what the world needs to be as so well adjusted as they hope we see them to be.Please, don’t flatter yourselves to even dream that this is such a revelation of some gifted minds that we have to just buy into all this crap.If you want to be a communist go for it,but don’t poison the minds of our youth to fit them into the same brown shirts you all wear so people need to stay out of the classrooms of education of American students,who should not be hearing this distortion of the truth.they need to be instructed as to how to stop people like you from making being a communist sound like a wonderful alternative to a free constitutional nation with real rights and no limits on it’s people by you or others touting your hog wash. nice try,but way out of your own field.You are what is wrong with this nation,not the people you want to recruit by your teachings of quilt for being what we are and will be for now and forever. proud of our nation and our god givin rights .so back off screwballs.,here’s an idea,insted of preaching the outlaw of porn on the internt,how about explaining to Doris nasbitt,that a women her age wearing a skirt so short at a high school so short she was struggling to keep it pulled down so we didnt see her plumming as she sat in a chair next to her husband. while all the boy’s were fidgeting in their own seats.I am quite sure they were not hearing a thing you said but saw so much more just by the leg on the internet? lol put your $ where your mouth is..

February 28, 2010 @ 1:23 pm | Comment

Tell us how you really fell.

March 1, 2010 @ 5:51 am | Comment

Hi everyone. I heard about the Naisbitts and their claims. I am one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and therefore politically neutral, though certainly not politically ignorant so i share my knowledge based not on a particular partisan stand, but on the facts I am familiar with.

I would like to point out to the Naisbitts and their followers that Jehovah’s Witnesses are not able to openly preach the Bible in China due their being an actively and openly proselytizing group,and that I PERSONALLY know it is very dangerous to do so.Moreover, Jehovah’s witnesses teach their followers that obeying God is ultimately more important than obey the government when a conflict between the two arises, and that personal allegiance goes to God first and his governing laws, therefore making a threat for a government. In China the Witnesses’ Christian work of teaching the Bible is conducted underground at great physical risk for the ministers, including torture, incarceration and death.

Please let me remind you, the issue here is NOT liking JWs or not, the issue at hand is that in China the people are not free to choose how to believe and/or act on their beliefs, even though the activity involved is in itself legal and peaceful, and does not involve mistreatment of children or adults nor pornography. They can only choose to openly believe in something if it is pre-approved by the government on the government self survival approved standards.

I am convinced that this same attitude in China applies to any individuals or group that might be perceived as posing a threat to the Government. True, even in the US Jehovah’s Witnesses in particular are seen by many as an annoyance and in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s many were arrested and beaten, but they fought in court to exercise their freedom of speech and were granted it. And so we can have this discussions on the internet today and google will not have to ‘break contracts’ in this issue 🙂
So next time we see Jehovah’s Witnesses or any other group we may find annoying sharing their beliefs with someone else, count your blessing because you live in a place where, when you have something to say, you can be heard.
Please excuse my English, it is my second language. Good day to everyone.

March 7, 2010 @ 10:34 am | Comment

How did the Jehovah’s Witnesses become part of this discussion? 🙂

March 7, 2010 @ 3:42 pm | Comment

Richard, you know they always come a-knocking on the doors… 😉

March 7, 2010 @ 4:16 pm | Comment

The Peking Duck: flypaper for the lunatic fringe.

March 7, 2010 @ 5:29 pm | Comment

For what it’s worth, since some of my in-laws are ex-Jehovah’s witnesses, and received the worst kind of abuse imaginable from members of that community, I have somewhat mixed feelings about them being allowed to proselytise anywhere, but from a strict view of religious freedom they should be allowed to do so. I have far more sympathy for members of organisations such as the Society of Friends, against which even the empty and vacuous excuses of ‘avoiding foreign influence’ and ‘combating cultism’ cannot be levelled, yet who are not allowed to openly practise in China.

March 7, 2010 @ 6:13 pm | Comment

Agreed, FOARP. And for the record, I have nothing against Jehovah’s Witneses, other than finding them a mite strange.

March 7, 2010 @ 6:42 pm | Comment

“Mad they are all mad and I am the blog administrator. Sigh!”

Just take it easy 😉

March 7, 2010 @ 9:51 pm | Comment

” I have nothing against Jehovah’s Witneses, other than finding them a mite strange.”

I just wondered what would happen to them if they had originated in China. Ever hear of the Falung Long?

March 7, 2010 @ 9:52 pm | Comment

[…] knew this already, of course. Baked by Richard @ 12:02 am, Filed under: Censorship, China, Human Rights in China […]

March 23, 2010 @ 12:02 am | Pingback

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