A Great Leap Forward

Richard McGregor’s book The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers, is yet another must-read book on contemporary China and probably the single best book on the CCP you can find.

I can’t say there was anything truly shocking to be found in its pages, but maybe that’s because there’s nothing the CCP can do that would shock me anymore. What McGregor does beautifully is demystify the CCP and its “relevant organs” through a masterful combination of anecdote and analysis that keeps the book taut, even exciting. His now-famous description of the “red phones” that sit atop the desks of 50 or so ueber-elite Chinese executives, and all that the phones represent – secrecy, privilege, control – is a great example of why this book is so entertaining, even when it’s scary.

I love the way McGregor writes.

China under Mao Zedong had much in common with other totalitarian systems. To borrow the oft-used phrase, terror was the system for extended periods of Mao’s rule. In the last three decades, the Communist Party has turned that formula around. Terror is just a side effect these days, used relatively sparingly and, in large part, reluctantly. In modern China, the system runs on seduction rather than suppression. It aims to co-opt, not coerce, the population. But even so, terror remains essential to the system’s survival and is deployed without embarrassment when required….[This resorting to terror] is evidence that behind the Party’s boisterous, boasting exterior lies a regime with a profound appreciation of its limited legitimacy and fragile mandate.

The book is rich in examples and clear-headed analysis of an array of (relatively) recent phenomena – the San Lu cover-up, the institutionalized corruption, SARS, the harassment of lawyers, the hyper-paranoia over public perception of the party. And it is remarkably balanced. McGregor never portrays the Party as evil, though it is certainly something to fear.

I’m not formally reviewing this book because there are many excellent reviews out there and I can’t add much to them. I did want to focus briefly, however, on one chapter that captivated me, titled Tombstone, about a book of that name written by a former Xinhua journalist, and one who was particularly high up, Yang Jisheng. For me, this was by far the most intense chapter in this whole intense book.

One of the most popular fenqing arguments, and one I’ve heard from Western friends as well, is that the estimated 30-40 million Chinese who died in the famine during the Great Leap Forward was a number pulled out of thin air by CCP-hating Westerners, and that the number bears little correlation to the facts. Sometimes I wondered myself; I had read that the estimate of 35 million dead was from Chinese sources, but it wasn’t until I read this chapter that I fully understood where the number came from and how it was arrived at.

This chapter tells a story of incredible bravery, and also one of hope. What Yang did would have been a capital offense under Mao, and probably under Deng. He performed more than a decade of research and meticulously chronicled the deaths from the famine, and he did something that in China can be dangerous in the extreme: he told the truth about history and challenged the Party narrative. McGregor spells out the risks:

On events such as the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, the suppression pf the Tibet uprising in 1959, the pro-democracy protests in 1989 and so on, the Party simply announced it verdict after intense deliberations. Party officials are bound by these pronouncements on history, whatever they think as individuals…You either support the decision wholeheartedly or you are out. The Party’s verdict then, in theory, becomes the collective opinion of the entire country and its 1.3 billion people. Chinese who wish to agitate publicly for an alternative view do so at their own risk.

And yet Yang wrote and published Tombstone (in Hong Kong – two volumes, more than 1,000 pages) and he was not punished. Needless to say you won’t find many copies of it for sale in the Mainland, but Yang was never arrested or even harassed. China simply doesn’t do that anymore, McGregor explains. If you aren’t directly threatening today’s CCP with threats,real or perceived, that might undermine its power, you can pretty much say what you want (and I know, there are some egregious exceptions).

The descriptions of what the peasants endured during the GLF, familiar as they are, are still heartbreaking. And forget about the line that it was simply another naturally occurring famine. No, not at all. It was a man-made event, and had it not been for Mao and his ego and his dogma it wouldn’t have happened.

I wrote in the margins of every page in this chapter. It was a scene of mayhem and death and cannibalism the likes of which we can never imagine. I had read about Tombstone last year, but never knew the full story behind it. Its publication highlights the Party’s increasing toleration. But always, of course, within limits.

I meant for this to be a very short post and seem to have wandered all over the place. Bottom line: Buy the book if you want to really understand how the Party manages to keep on going, and how its mind works, complex and secretive, yet almost always predictable.

One last quote:

China has long known something that many in developed countries are only now beginning to grasp, that the Chinese Communist Party and its leaders have never wanted to be the west when they grow up. For the foreseeable future, it looks as though their wish, to bestride the world as a colossus on their own implacable terms, will come true.

That should get each of us thinking. Like it or not, China continues more than ever to shake the world.


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: 30 Comments

….many in developed countries are only now beginning to grasp, that the Chinese Communist Party and its leaders have never wanted to be the west when they grow up.

Were the various politicians so naive that they kept believing that through to this century (and recently), or was it just a case of wishful thinking because it meant they didn’t have to deal with the issue/it served their business interests?

I wonder if China does replace/surpass the US as the world’s only/primary superpower, it will be in part because the developed world helped it do so out of greed and idiocy.

July 21, 2010 @ 8:34 pm | Comment

Raj, there’s some truth to what you say. Then again, we had all the evidence in front of us; China never really made it a secret they were going to do things on their terms and reject pressure to evolve the way the West wanted them to. This is why I always found the arguments to just give China a little space so they could become more like us amusing and naive. You have to give them credit for knowing where they wanted to go and getting there according to their own plan. We may not like their system’s injustices and controlled thinking, but they pulled off a huge coup, becoming in just a few short years a “colossus” that can determine to a large extent the fate of the earth.

July 21, 2010 @ 9:17 pm | Comment

I purchased a copy of McGregor’s book at a Page One bookshop at the HK airport a few weeks back. It’s a fun and quick read, but it offers nothing very new to those who’ve been paying attention – other than lots of nifty anecdotes of the sort that will make you shake your fist in anger or your head in despair. I also find the book a bit alarmist – McGregor fails, for example, to balance his talk of China as the future global “colossus” with a nuanced analysis of the enormous challenges that the Party faces, both domestically and abroad.

I repeat: David Shambaugh’s “China’s Communist Party: Atrophy and Adaptation” and David Lampton’s “The Three Faces of Chinese Power: Might, Money, and Minds” are two recent books that are better, in my opinion, than McGregor’s “The Party.” It’s not that “The Party” is a bad book, only that there are better ones out there. In the end, “The Party” contributed very little to my understanding of the CCP – the other two books did.

I’ve read a good part of “Tombstone” (墓碑) as well. I’d be very surprised if a partial English translation isn’t published sometime soon.

Richard: “Its publication highlights the Party’s increasing toleration.”

I suppose the fact that the author (one of the current editors of 炎黄春秋) wasn’t imprisoned is proof of progress of a sort, but isn’t that setting the bar a bit low? Why is it that the standard against which contemporary China is still often measured is the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution? Shouldn’t we expect more? After all, isn’t almost everything better than the Cultural Revolution?

July 22, 2010 @ 5:25 am | Comment

It’s an important theme of the book – how you can do things now and not get arrested, when not so long ago you’d have been killed for doing them. So I think it’s a fair thing to say there’s an increased level of toleration in China. Dramatically so. Which is of little solace to the exceptions languishing in prisons, but it sure isn’t the way it used to be.

About his tone being too dire, I didn’t find it so – China is a power to be reckoned with andan economic colossus. When China buys and sells, markets soar and collapse. Is it sustainable? I think it is, at least for the next couple of generations, but can’t say that definitively. I found the book also made it very clear just how tenuous China’s position is, the challenges it faces, and just how much the party needs to tighten its grip to keep things under control.

July 22, 2010 @ 6:19 am | Comment

Richard, can you post more on Tombstone? You’ve talked about it a couple of times, but not yet in detail.

There’s quite a tradition of people with inside access, writing books on topics that have long been suppressed. One example that springs to mind immediately is the Siege of Changchun in 1948. The most comprehensive documentation of the Siege was a book published in August 1989. Yes, that’s right — a mere two months after you-know-what. The book was written by a PLA Lieutenant Colonel, who had interviewed a number of other army officers and dug through the archives. And it was published by the PLA Publishing House!

July 22, 2010 @ 7:51 am | Comment

Tom, Tombstone is a big topic, and there are all sorts of good sources you can search. What made it such good reading in The Party is the story of how meticulous Yang was, how he went in person to look at local population data in Xinjiang and elsewhere, how determined he was to expose this as a man-made event, unnecessary and unforgivable. And he documents why it happened, how the leadership cult made it impossible even to question the ridiculous harvest reports. Right up the chain, everybody just wanted to stay alive, just like when there was bad news to tell Stalin, and no one would do it. Of course, those at the bottom died slow, miserable deaths, many eating their children along the way and often dying in the streets.

July 22, 2010 @ 12:15 pm | Comment

becoming in just a few short years a “colossus” that can determine to a large extent the fate of the earth

And indeed other countries’ foreign policy on some issues.

July 22, 2010 @ 8:55 pm | Comment

Sorry for the second post, but your comment made me think of something.

This is why I always found the arguments to just give China a little space so they could become more like us amusing and naive.

Do you remember the (not so great) Robin Williams film “Toys”? His uncle takes over the toy factory and, after initially failing to run it well, suggests that he will hand over control to Robin Williams in return for “a bit of space” to work on his own project. He proceeds to take over most of the factory, shrinking the size of the canteen as workers take their lunch there.

Not unlikely what China has done, always hinting that it just needs “a bit more space” or “a bit more leeway” over a foreign policy issue – and then it will be everyone’s best friend! But it never has “enough” space.

July 22, 2010 @ 9:00 pm | Comment

For those who haven’t purchased McGregor’s book and want to know more about Yang Jisheng’s “Tombstone,” here’s the link to a very nice article in FT.com by McGregor himself entitled “The Man Who Exposed Mao’s Secret Famine” (the article is an “edited extract” from his book) :


For those who read in Chinese, a pdf copy of “Tombstone” is available for download here (you must register first):


Richard: “Is it sustainable? I think it is, at least for the next couple of generations, but can’t say that definitively.”

A couple of generations is a very long time. For as long as the Chinese have been around, no one’s ever been able to forecast 50 years into the future with any accuracy. Not ever. The idea that any one of us can predict what China will be like 2 or 3 generations from now is nutty. My fingers are crossed, but I’m not very hopeful. In the end, I predict that the next 30 will be far far more difficult and contentious than the last 30.

July 22, 2010 @ 11:36 pm | Comment

Gan Lu, of course no one can predict the future. That’s why I wrote, “I think it is, at least for the next couple of generations, but can’t say that definitively.” Is that a shocking opinion? I also think the sun will rise tomorrow, but I can’t say so definitively. We all have our opinions. I respect your opinion that China’s growth is not sustainable (or whatever your opinion on that subject may be), even if that opinion is incorrect.

Thanks for the links.

July 22, 2010 @ 11:46 pm | Comment

[...] McGregor’s The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers.  Richard has a review on The Peking Duck and I agree with him that it’s a very good book, perhaps one of the best books produced for a [...]

July 23, 2010 @ 9:16 am | Pingback

30 Million Died During so-called “Great Leap Forward”? Total Rubbish.

As I try to deduce why it’s impossible 30 million died during the so called “great leap forward”, note that all the following deduction methods are parallel. Which means if you successfully prove only one of them wrong, but cannot prove the rest, you still have not successfully proved me wrong.

Method 1: Abstract Statistics.

That means, if 30 million people died out of 600 million total population at the time, then it means 1/20 in China died of hunger. Now, we know that an average person’s social circle hasapproximately 100 people (including relatives, friends, co-workers, other frequent acquaintances etc). Which means, to an average Chinese at the time, he would know about 5 people woulddied of hunger. But can any of you find Chinese who lived at that time who could name 5 of his either friend/family/co-worker/acquantance who died? I have not yet met a single Chinese fromthat era who can name 5 names in his social circle who died. Note, of course this does not count those who are paid to write “first hand accounts” and publish those books on the “horrors” of that time, those are paid commentators, they have zero credibility.

Method 2: Witnesses

Some people say, the reason we cannot find those who can name 5 people is because most villages’ population have been completely wiped out, so no one stayed alive to report it. If that’s true, then there must be some survivors, these survivors are witnesses, they will definitely publish articles and claim that “my whole village died of hunger, only I survived.”. He’ll use the first-person narrative when writing these articles. For example, in the Japanese massacre of Nanjing, there are countless first-person narrative written by survivors. Even the so-called Holocaust has some self-claimed survivors who try to prove it. But we have not yet seen any such survivor on this so-called famine. The problem with Chinese academics is that they write too much like novelists, they only know how to use fancy and literary language to fan up the readers’ emotions, but do not know how to use dry and engineering style language to document emotionless facts. We know that most villages at the time had some people who left the village to join the People’s Liberation Army. If that village’s population all died of hunger, that those soldiers, upon returning the village, would observe this, and document as follows: “When I returned home, I find no one is there to greet me at the village, I went into my house, and find some skeletons of my parents laying on the floor. I went to the neighbors’ house, and find rotten corpses everywhere. It’s like a ghost village.” And not just soldiers returning, but women who married into another village, upon returning, would also observe the same thing, and write similar stories. But we still have not found such witnesses. Not leftists did not find such witnesses, but even rightists and democracy-lovers could not find such witnesses.

Method 3: The Freedom of Press during the Cultural Revolution

It’s fortunately that China had a cultural revolution. If China never had the Cultural Revolution, but instead was like the USSR who had a “pro-Western revolution” at the very end, then all the rightists and democracy-lovers can simply say ” The reason we had no witnesses is because China had no freedom of press, everything is erased by the goverment!”. This would be the democracy-lovers’ favorite and most convenient weapon, everytime they cannot find some evidence, they can always lay back and yell “You erased evidence!”. This way they can never lose an argument. But unfortunately for them, China had a cultural revolution. And during that time, all the regional party bosses and bureaucrats were persecuted and toppled by the grassroots red guards. Sometimes the entire government body of a local city or province would be removed over night and taken over by local students. Everyone back then was free to walk into a government office and curse at the official, walk into a teacher’s office and curse at the teacher, walk into your factory’s manager’s office and curse at the manager. I once walked into the office of our local mayor, and said “you f**** idiot! you are an anti-revolutionary! you are a capitalist capitulator! You are a foreign comprador! You are a criminal of the people!” And the mayor had to listen to my curse for one hour, and dared not do anyting to me. He knows if he did something to me, 1000 locals would storm into his office and beat him to death. So if any government official or authority had any wrong doing or did anything that angered the population, he would be exposed immediately everywhere in the village – people would write down all the bad things, the corruption, the wrong policies on big posters and post it on the streets, in the bathrooms, on his office door. There was total freedom of expression and press at the time.

That’s why many critics of the Cultural Revolution called it an “excessively free and democratic period”. So if in any province, if people were dying of hunger, whoever in the govenrment was responsible would be immediately dragged onto the streets and spitted by the locals. But we never heard of such incidens during the cultural revolution, only when the cultural revolution was suppressed did “30 million people died of hunger” story suddenly emerge.

Method 4: Finding Mass Graves.

We know that in history, whenever a sizeable massacre happens, there’ll be mass graves. The Japanese massacred many Chinese, and left many mass graves. The Allies also massacred many Soviets and Germans and also left many mass graves. And mass grave is usually considered very strong evidence of a massacre, and many people who try to frame another group of massacre would first create such an evidence to boost their case. The Polish did it to the Soviets. The Americans did it to Saddam Hussein. If 30 million people died in China, where are the mass graves? In the past decade or so, as a result of construction boom in China, many ancient relics, Japanese bombs and mines, were discovered by accident. If such mass graves exist, they definitely would also be discovered, and if any construction team hits upon a group of skeletons, they’d immediateley notify the local police, and the police would call in the forensics, and they would carbon-date them, and verify the source, whether it’s from an unsolved murder case or an historical event. And there’s no restriction on reporting such discovery in the media by the government. Yet to this day, we never heard any discovery of any mass grave or even small groups of skeletons attributed to that event.

So, the conclusion is, yes there was wide-spread food shortages mainly due to the Western food embargo, and some people did die as isolated incidents. But to say 30 million people died is completely rubbish. And on this issue, I must scold many western media like Radio-Free Asia, Voice of America, BBC, CNN, they simply were not diligently enough in their work to create realistic evidence of such mass deaths. After all these decades, they could not even create any credible evidence to prove their case, I think the CIA should cut their budget as result.

July 23, 2010 @ 11:36 am | Comment

Hmmm, this comment by Math bears a striking resemblance to this one. Maybe it’s just my imagination.

We know that in history, whenever a sizeable massacre happens, there’ll be mass graves.

Math, your logic is so weak. Why would there be mass graves in the wake of a famine? Most of these people died at home. It wasn’t like the Cambodian killing fields or Treblinka where they were taken to a single location and killed. And there was no “massacre” – this was a long, slow, painful starvation. And it wasn’t necessary. Have you read Tombstone?

July 23, 2010 @ 11:43 am | Comment

@Gan Lu

That Tombstone download link doesn’t work anymore. It downloads 1.5 Mb of a damaged file and that’s about it.

July 23, 2010 @ 11:44 am | Comment


I find myself questioning your sanity every time you post something in reply to Math :)

What’s the point?

July 23, 2010 @ 11:48 am | Comment

China can be the most awesomest, powerful country that ever has been.
I’d rather live in Canada. The air is nicer.
Just my two cents.

July 23, 2010 @ 12:17 pm | Comment

Need a war soon, otherwise we will be all drowned in the China Tsunami.

July 23, 2010 @ 2:02 pm | Comment

I haven’t actually read a Math post for many many years.

July 23, 2010 @ 5:41 pm | Comment

So Math is a Holocaust denier as well? And just for the hell of it, he also went ahead and denied the Katyn Massacre? I’m not even smart enough to figure out why.

July 23, 2010 @ 10:32 pm | Comment

Copies (pdf & txt) of “Tombstone” are available all over the internet. If the link I provided above doesn’t work, look for one that does. Do a simple search for the terms 墓碑 and 下载. You’re sure to get a number of useful links.

Richard: “Is that a shocking opinion? I also think the sun will rise tomorrow.”

Shocking? Not so much. Plenty of people here in China and elsewhere in the world share your opinion. My feeling, as I’ve expressed before, is that attempting to predict the future is largely a waste of time. It almost never works. And even when it does, it often does so for reasons very different from those on which the original prediction was based. I study history, and if there’s one thing that studying history has taught me it’s that contingency is about the only thing we can really count on. Forget the everything else. And China is as subject to contingency as every other nation – CCP or no CCP. Just look at the last 100 years. Or the last 2,000.

Also – predicting that the sun will rise tomorrow is not quite the same thing as suggesting that China will become the global colossus that McGregor anticipates. The former is a virtual certainty, and the latter a shot in the dark.

Richard: “We all have our opinions.”

What’s that saying about opinions and assholes?

July 25, 2010 @ 12:12 am | Comment

China IS a global colossus. That is a fact, not opinion. Whether it will become a bigger colossus and sustain its growth is a matter of opinion.

July 25, 2010 @ 12:19 am | Comment

Richard: “China IS a global colossus. That is a fact, not opinion.”

Sorry, that too, Richard, is just an opinion.

China’s economy may be large, but it’s still just number two and years away from becoming number one. Americans have won nearly 300 Nobel Prizes, while China, depending on how you look at it, has won none. China specializes in producing films and novels defined by their mediocrity, while the U.S. and the West regularly redefine the highest limits of both. The best universities are in the U.S. and Western Europe – PKU and Tsinghua, China’s two best universities, shouldn’t even rank in the top 100 globally (I have an M.A. from PKU and have spent the last year there, so I’m qualified to offer an opinion). Western civil society is vibrant, innovative, and immensely influential, while Chinese civil society is still little more than an oxymoron. The Western media versus the Chinese media? You tell me, Richard – which one is better, more influential, more trustworthy, more global? Militarily, though massive in size, China is still very backward relative to the U.S. and the professional militaries of Western Europe and Japan. Culturally, the West is modern and forward looking, while China is still struggling to answer the question, “How can we be both modern and Chinese when modernity is defined by the West and all things Chinese are backward?” Even economically, too many people are climbing over each other to proclaim the Chinese model the next best thing. It isn’t.

Look around the next time you’re in Beijing. What’s Chinese about China? People wear Levis, Chuck Taylors, and Armani. They spend years struggling to learn English and other foreign languages. When they’re sick and visit the doctor, the doctor heals them using knowledge first discovered in the West. Sit in on a Physics lecture at Tsinghua – everything you’ll hear was discovered by non-Chinese scientists. The same is true in Chemistry, Biology, Computer Science, and many of the humanities and social sciences. Indeed, even the economic theories/arguments that you (or perhaps it’s just me) read about in such Chinese newspapers as 经济观察报 or 财经 were first debated in the West. Add to all of this the Chinese mad scramble to purchase cars (who invented those?), cellphones (who invented those?), televisions (who invented those?), airplanes (who invented those?), and homes with sitdown toilets (who invented those?). Wealthy Chinese also continue to scheme to acquire U.S. greencards and send their Children to foreign universities. As far as I can tell, their U.S. counterparts are not nearly so eager to send their children to China. In short, the Chinese become less Chinese with every passing day.

China’s closest allies – North Korea, Burma, Iran, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Uzbekistan. America’s closest allies – the U.K., Canada, Australia, Japan, the E.U. It’s often said that one’s quality can be determined by the friends he keeps. What’s that say about China?

The U.S. founded the UN, the World Bank, and NATO. China founded the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

Reporters Without Borders ranks China as the number one global enemy of the free press. Similarly, the same organization ranks China first among the major global threats to the internet.

I’m struggling to understand how I should understand this word “colossus.” Sure, China’s big. It’s got a lot of people. Its economy has grown by leaps and bounds these past 30 years. As a consequence, its global political stature has also grown. Nevertheless, by many alternative measures that aren’t nearly so dependent on GDP and population, China comes up way short. The U.S. is a true colossus. In addition to possessing the world’s largest economy by a long shot, the U.S. also possesses the world’s biggest baddest military and enormous global political influence. Signs of U.S. popular culture are everywhere, from Coca Cola to the NBA and Hollywood, and U.S. universities serve as the higher education system of much of the developing world – including China. It’s still true that the best and brightest at China’s Harvard (i.e., Peking University) still aspire to attend the real Harvard. The U.S. dollar is still the global currency, with no end in sight. Google is American. Can you even imagine Baidu achieving Google-like popularity outside of China? Of course not.

I could ramble on like this forever, I think, but I’m guessing you take my point, even if you don’t agree. China’s big, sure. But it takes a lot more, I believe, to be considered a true global colossus – particularly if you take the U.S. as the current standard. In any case, China’s got a long, long way to go. I’m hopeful, but not optimistic. Everything I see leads me to believe that the next few decades will be very difficult, and I’m not nearly so sanguine as you regarding China’s ability to weather the storm. In fact, I think that most of the positive changes we’ve seen in China these past years has been made possible by virutally constant economic growth and the willingness of the U.S. and Europe to play along. Increasing global economic competition is a big fat wrench poised to ruin all our good times.

July 26, 2010 @ 3:24 am | Comment

China IS a global colossus. That is a fact, not opinion. Whether it will become a bigger colossus and sustain its growth is a matter of opinion. I am not comparing China to any other country, or saying it is more of a colossus than the US or Japan.

Is it as big a colossus as the US? No. Can it hold a candle to the US for scientific innovation? No. Does it have oodles of poor people and problems that are beyond belief and perhaps unsolvable? Yes. And more.

But when the US bankers need to go to China hat in hand to, in effect, beg China to buy US debt, and when China’s thirst for a specific mineral drives global markets into a frenzy, and when a vast number of goods we buy in Houston are shipped from a factory in Dongugang, and when many of the world’s most resource-rich nations sign pacts with China that will have implications on price and availability for years to come if not forever – when all of these things are combined, it is beyond me how anyone can not say China is, right now, this instant, an economic colossus. It may be an economic colossus with impossible problems, one that will stumble and fall to pieces, one that has muscled and bullied its way to colossusdom, and one that some people don’t like. But none of those factors alter the fact of China’s current influence, the influence of a colossus. And that’s not my term, it’s McGregor’s, and I would say that there is no respected economist alive, anywhere, that would argue that China is not at this moment a huge economic force to be reckoned with, a colossus. That would be unprecedented and cause for that economist’s immediate disgrace. When manhole covers in Sao Paolo disappear because demand for steel in Guangzhou skyrockets, you know you are dealing with a colossus, an economic powerhouse that, when it breathes or rolls over, sends economic shock waves throughout the world. And that colossus is building a global network that will give it a lot more autonomy and clout in the years ahead and could keep it going very strong for at least the next few generations (and that’s my opinion, not fact). And I repeat, it may not be sustainable, but right now China is what it is – an economic colossus, less so than the US and in a tenuous position, but a colossus nonetheless. You are arguing as if I said China was the colossus. I did not. I am saying that China is a colossus. There is a world of difference.

Do we need to argue this more? I’m willing to agree to disagree.

July 26, 2010 @ 4:33 am | Comment

@ Gan Lu & Richard,

Please stop the squabbling. It’s crystal clear that each of you has different criteria for what constitutes a colossus and your discussion is never gonna get anywhere because of that very reason, you are pointing in different directions.

In a strictly economical sense, China’s clout is really scary, especially when you consider that it bows to no-one. And this translates to political power because China hasn’t pissed anybody strongly enough to make them want to ignore money. At the same time, China has taken careful steps not to go there. Lately, however, China seems to care less and less about those limits and might just end up crossing those boundaries (whether knowingly or not is another debate).

At the same time, culturally China’s weak by modern standards. All the influence it has now was achieved in ages past. In the modern days, they don’t seem very good at speaking any language other than money.

To the colossus topic, I add this: A friend of mine once said that China will never be small, and this is the only assertion I can 100% agree with. I don’t think it will ever be another US in all the senses of the word, nor do I think it cares. I don’t think there will ever be another country to hold the superpower status the US once did, though I think new powers are on the rise.

On the sustainability I don’t think the model is very sustainable even for the next 10 years, let alone a generation. But I believe the Party is perfectly capable of pushing the limits of nature to stay in power for just another day. I the end, the main question is if technology and science will allow for a more sustainable model before the system collapses.

But even if it does collapse, it won’t make China irrelevant, ever again.

July 26, 2010 @ 2:41 pm | Comment

Global Colossus of fakes, inlcuding the communist party.

Zictor summed up well:

“On the sustainability I don’t think the model is very sustainable even for the next 10 years, let alone a generation. But I believe the Party is perfectly capable of pushing the limits of nature to stay in power for just another day. In the end, the main question is if technology and science will allow for a more sustainable model before the system collapses.”

It is also doubtful that pirated technology and science could outlast CCP.

Comrades, hurry up to loot and rape before it collapses!

Good try, Richard! You have already quite a multiple of 50 cents per post to collect from the propaganda bureau.

July 26, 2010 @ 2:58 pm | Comment

Thanks guys, I am willing to leave it at that. I tend to side with McGregor, right or wrong. Only time will tell. But do understand, calling China a colossus doesn’t mean I am calling its system a good one, and doesn’t mean I think it’s comparable to the US. China is in a class all by itself, and there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors there, so it’s hard to predict what it will look like once it’s put ot the test (by inflation, deflation or other economic calamity). And I’m happy to leave it there, an open question.

And GUH, just two friendly words: be careful.

July 26, 2010 @ 9:27 pm | Comment

Hi, nice posting and interesting dialogue. I am less than sanguine about any future that involves turning 1.2 billion people into consumers. A consumption based economic model, as here in the US, is not sustainable. There is not enough land to graze enough cattle for the Chinese to eat beef in the quantities we do. There is not enough ore to build two cars for every Chinese household.

The US empire has only been able to sustain the model be taking resources from elsewhere, an example which China is following, but the shelves are getting bear as witnessed by the fact that OUR oil is someone else’s country. Why else the wars? Certainly they aren’t being fought to bring our opponents democracy.

Anyway, suspect a great deal of grief to come as everyone competes for scarcer resources.

July 27, 2010 @ 1:30 am | Comment

No disagreements about China soon becoming a nation of consumers. There’s no sign of that in sight aside from the middle class, which, while only a sliver of the population spends enough to keep several sectors of the economy – autos, apparel, high-end watches, computers – humming along nicely. About ore and beef and other resources – the CCP is painfully aware of what China lacks, and is ruthlessly cutting deals with some of the most unsavory dictators to make sure the beast is fed. There are many aspects of the CCP I despise, but I have always been impressed (and not necessarily in a good way) with Hu’s ability to forge partnerships, even with the scum of the earth, to ensure China gets the materiel it needs. Beef, by the way, is not the staple food there as it is in America, though that may have changed during the year I’ve been away. I think having enough steak and prime rib is the least of China’s worries.

July 27, 2010 @ 2:15 am | Comment

Just like the Great Leap Forward year of 1958, China has now become a gigantic global colossus of lies, sheer tall tale illussive fabrications.

[personal stuff deleted; I told you GUH, be careful]

July 27, 2010 @ 8:36 am | Comment

[...] its inferior food and women and government, and lavishes praise on everything China, including the Great Leap Forward and, needless to say, the TSM. He rejects the creativity of the West in favor of the [...]

September 2, 2010 @ 8:50 am | Pingback

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