Why political reform in China is inevitable

Tom Friedman, one of my least favorite columnists, has a worthy enough (if typically simplistic) column today about the need for China to embrace political change. It all boils down to economics. The country simply can’t prosper until it’s instituted meaningful political reform.

Can China continue to prosper, while censoring the Internet, controlling its news media and insisting on a monopoly of political power by the Chinese Communist Party?

I don’t think so. To be sure, China has thrived up to now — impressively — by permitting its people only economic liberty. This may have been the sole way to quickly take a vast country of 1.3 billion people from massive poverty to much-improved standards of living, basic education for all, modernized infrastructure and even riches for some urbanites.

But the Nobel committee did China a favor in sending the tacit message with its peace prize: Don’t get too cocky and think that you have rewritten the laws of gravity. The “Beijing Consensus,” of economic liberty without political liberty, may have been a great strategy for takeoff, but it won’t get you to the next level. So this might actually be a good time for Beijing to engage peaceful democracy advocates like Liu [Xiaobo], who is now serving an 11-year sentence, or the 23 retired Chinese Communist Party officials who last week published an open letter challenging the government to improve speech and press freedoms.

As China ages, Friedman contends, it has to move from low-wage manufacturing jobs to more “knowledge- and service-based jobs.” Has to. So you have the usual conflict: a government that wants to control everything and shape its people’s thinking, countered by market forces – China’s growth can only go so far without a problem-solving, innovative workforce.

Dovetailing with this column today is this new piece by my friend and fellow blogger Paul Denlinger on why Wen Jiaobao is thinking along the same lines, and why he will push for more political reform. Denlinger argues that you can’t balance so much social change with so little political change. I’ll just snip two of his seven reasons as to why this is so.

4. China’s president, Hu Jintao, is obsessed with social harmony and stability as his legacy, but Wen thinks that this is a pipe dream. Wen thinks that social change is happening faster than the party, government leadership understand.

5. Wen feels that the current leadership continues to think that economic growth is the answer to China’s problems when past growth rates are no longer possible.

This topic seems to be taking on a life of its own. I think that Liu Xiaobo’s winning the Nobel Peace Prize will continue to fan the flames, and that those who said Oslo’s choice would have no ramifications in China are dead wrong. China’s fate depends on more liberty. Wen knows it, Liu knows it, I know it. Manufacturing can’t and won’t soar forever. What’s next? China has to prepare for the inevitable.

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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: 59 Comments

Did you read Shaun Rein’s tweet yesterday explaining why he blogs for Forbes?

“That said, the writing helps an increasingly lucrative paid speaking gig (here at one with Guy Kawasaki).”

The man has no shame and is always dropping names, and probably his pants, too.

October 18, 2010 @ 7:59 am | Comment

I’m not sure exactly how to say this, so I’ll just come out and say it.

While I understand that there are many well-intentioned westerners who hope that China becomes a democracy, by openly showing their support for Liu Xiaobo and other Chinese dissidents, they may actually delay China from developing into a more open society. This is because those in the Chinese leadership and party who are more conservative, and want to maintain the status quo, can oppose the reformers, claiming that they are in open cahoots with the westerners, who only wish ill upon China and its development. The nationalism card is perhaps the most powerful card in the Chinese deck, and can have terrible consequences, as we have seen in the 19th and 20th centuries.

For this reason, Liu Xiaobo’s winning the Nobel Peace Prize is a knife which cuts both ways. While the western media depicts Liu’s winning of the prize as an unmitigated win for human rights activists, Chinese government conservatives can just as easily spin it the other way by playing the nationalism card.

Some westerners may say that this plays into the hands of the Chinese government and party, since everyone should have a right to say whatever they like about any government. I cannot argue with this. But one can also argue that words have consequences, and that this has nothing to do with the right to speak one’s mind.

October 18, 2010 @ 8:02 am | Comment

Paul, I’ve heard the same argument – look three posts down and you’ll see how I responded to pretty much the same position. And read the link to Gady Epstein’s article at the end. He address your exact concerns about the prize. Keeping in mind all the minuses, I find Liu’s winning the NPP a net plus, but we’ll have to watch the way it pans out over the weeks ahead. As to the nationalism card, yes, I’ve seen it in my recent comment threads reach a fever pitch. But it doesn’t take much to hurt the feelings of the Chinese masses and I don’t believe in tiptoeing around them, especially when their objections to Liu are so lame (a quote from nearly a quarter century ago, the bogus charge that he’s as asset or agent of the US government, that he’s too far to the left or too far from the right, etc.).

Thomas, I don’t read Shaun Rein’s tweets because he’s blocked me. Thanks for sharing.

October 18, 2010 @ 8:15 am | Comment

The CCP will not reform itself or China into anything remotely resembles democracy voluntarily. Keeping the regime in power is the primary, probably the only, goal of the party. And if they can improve the livelihood of Chinese, so be it.

In order to keep CCP in power forever, economic growth is essential. Therefore slowing down economic growth due to lack of democracy or human rights and freedom when the Chinese economy advanced to a stage when knowledge workers and creativity become essential will impact negatively their harmony/stability/staying in power. And so does granting more freedom and rights (freedom of speech, rights to information, etc), reducing corruption (those on the top need to allow corruption of those in the bottom in government to stay in power), and elections. So there are risks at both sides for the CCP. CCP will pick a very narrow band in the middle so that they will stay in power. Whether there will still be a band in the middle later on in the future so that they can stay in power forever is anybody’s guess. And whether the Chinese people will stay satisfied with only economic growth is another unknown.

October 18, 2010 @ 8:39 am | Comment

Bill, I tend to agree about how far the CCP will go to implement reforms.

About your last sentence: Friedman’s point is they can’t keep having the economic growth without the reform. You can’t go to the next level (service vs. low-wage work) without considerable reform.

October 18, 2010 @ 8:44 am | Comment

The Winning of Nobel Prize by Liu Xiaobo Indicates that Hostile Forces’ Attempts to Destabilize and Disunite China Have Not Changed.

But, how are the hostile forces trying to Westernize and disunite China? One common technique is to use the banner of “Reform” to change the color of China’s Socialist System.

Let me first comment on Deng Xiaoping to illustrate the importance of sometimes not “reforming”. Deng Xiaoping, in 1989, resisted great pressure from Rightists to “reform”, and we all know what he did that year. I believe what he did in 1989 takes a lot more courage and determination than any type of “reform”.

We know that in the early days of China’s economic opening up, Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang were the right and left hands of Deng Xiaoping. Looking back today, those two hands were not very effective, and Deng Xiaoping were dissatisfied with them. But those two were supported by many overseas rightists and domestic intellectuals. But Deng Xiaoping still fired those two people despite so much popular support they receive. This again takes extreme courage.

Then Li Peng and Jiang Zemin took over. I believe those two did a great job in implementing Deng Xiaoping’s policy, which was basically: “Both hands have to be hard, and cannot be even a little soft”. I was a rightist back then, and did not like those two people. I thought those two people were too conservative, and not “reformist” enough.

(Note how I put quotes around the word reform. Some reforms are necessary, such as tighter supervision among party cadres and tighter media controls. But to rightists, they have a different view on reform. They believe that a “reform” is anyh activity that goes against China’s Constitution. For example, China’s Constitution clearly says that government officials are elected indirectly through representatives. But rightists insist on promoting “direct elections”, trying to break the Constitution. Also, the Constitution cleary says that the Chinese Communist Party is the core leadership of the Chinese people, but the rightists insist that this is a dictatorship and not democracy. Rightists often sing praises of the importance of Constitutions, so why do they not respect China’s Constitution?)

Anyway, then came the collapse of the USSR. I was very naive back then, and I thought that: “This is such good news for the people of USSR. They captured that opportunity. China unfortunately missed that opportunity, USSR people will start to enjoy happier and better lives”.

What happened afterwards to the USSR completely changed my viewpoints.

In the early days of the economic reform, many of China’s reforms were modelled exactly after certain aspects of West’s system. But today, we can see that the West’s capitalist system is already almost collapsing, and so now China’s future reform direction is totally unclear. Can China continue to model itself after the West’s system? I do not believe so. The West is burning Chinese stores, adding tariffs for Chinese steel and shoe imports, subsidizing agricultures. Even for HK, can HK still be an example for the mainland? I do not think so. Can Taiwan be an example for the Mainland? I do not think so.

In other words, there’s no much left that’s valuable to learn from the West’s system.

Therefore, a lot of times resisting reforms is more important than carrying out reforms and takes more courage. I was in Shenzhen a few months ago, and I saw a Deng Xiaoping quote displayed as a slogan on the street: “We will not change our fundamental path for 100 years”. Therefore, anyone who wants to challenge the Chinese Constitution, to change the leadership position of the Chinese Communist Party, to change the dominance of state-owned enterprises, I think they should wait for another 100 years.

Rightists always yell “If China does not reform this and that, it’ll……”. Well, they’ve been yelling for decades, and China is still doing pretty well, but many of those Rightists have died out.

October 18, 2010 @ 9:41 am | Comment

Some reforms are necessary, such as tighter supervision among party cadres and tighter media controls.

Leave it to Math to view censorship as a type of “reform.”

October 18, 2010 @ 10:24 am | Comment

I’m damn sure I don’t agree with Denlinger’s position on the Prize. But I do not agree with Friedman on the “need” for reform. In places like Taiwan and South Korea, the middle class comprised probably the majority of the population. The System could slough off its authoritarian trappings but keep its political economy in place — in Taiwan, for example, we got democracy but the System still keeps sending government money down the patronage networks to the local factions, so political change that could lead to real economic system change never occurred. We were already moving into a service economy even before the political changes of the Lee Teng-hui period. The middle class consisted of small and medium firm owners.

In China the situation is quite different. The bulk of the nation is poor and the hinterland is endless. The middle class in the cities is deeply involved in the state’s infrastructure programs. I wrote the other day about China:

“The State also connects to the educated urban middle classes in another way — many of these hip, educated types are in service businesses that are dependent on the state flows of credit to local construction and land development — real estate, law, accounting, engineering, consulting, interior design, architecture, and similar, or on foreign firms which are there on the sufferance of the State and buy and sell to and from its firms and projects. Westerners, especially Americans, have weird dramatized ideas that Leninist states like China or the KMT state on Taiwan succeed by a kind of coarse and obvious repression, but the reality is that they succeed by getting buy-in into the System from constituencies whose support they need. If you see past the surface, the KMT and CCP govern in the same manner: both Chinese Leninist parties co-opt their needed constituencies using flows of money and credit out of the central government to the construction-industrial state and those it feeds.”

This suggests that (1) the middle class is already largely organized around supply services the construction-industrial state needs — meaning that the switch to services is already superfluous — and (2) they are strongly committed to the preservation of the current system because their livelihoods depend on it. This implies that political reform is unnecessary because the middle is “positively” connected to the state through funding flows from the center, and “negatively” because it needs the authoritarian state to defend it from the poorer classes in the hinterland who want in on the China miracle.

Thus the “reform” will only occur when the credit taps run dry, which may be a while (or never?) since China’s banks are in essence state banks. I don’t think China needs political reform to keep its economic system going. It needs political reform because that is the morally correct thing to do and because it will result in a more stable political system. I suspect CCP leaders have been closely studying the KMT’s ability to maintain its grip on Taiwan’s politics through money flows as well as avoid punishment for crimes against humanity, and Singapore too — hoping to create a vibrant 21st century one-party state with some trappings of freedom but the core of CCP elites retaining power and handing it on to their children — just like the KMT is doing right now….

Michael
PS sorry about comment length..

October 18, 2010 @ 11:15 am | Comment

Interestingly enough, Wen’s son’s PE firm (Xin Yuanjing, roughly translated as New Horizon) has been instrumental in forging ahead with a new model for Chinese media ownership that does not require heavy state intervention. They’re using Rupert Murdoch’s old strategy of getting operating scale to have cheaper financing and pursue inorganic expansion. If (or when) China does loosen its media sector in line with these political reforms, the value of those equity holdings would skyrocket, and Wen’s son would also indirectly control much of China’s media.

In the end, I think that eventually, the people who run China will find the current Party/propaganda/censorship-nexus a cumbersome operating structure, and that’s what will cause China to have true political reform. It might take time, but slowly they’ll shift to a more humane, mundane (aka boring), and flexible method of administration, possibly involving the directorships in China’s biggest SOEs, technocratic ministerial seats, and a largely rubber-stamp parliament with weak national “parties”.

Ironically enough, this will make China very close to a “Western-style democracy” like the United States–a pliant legislature, a propensity for global expansion, a powerful managerial class that is neither capitalist (as they do not own the companies they manage) nor communist, and a close relationship between all the centers of power without any center losing its independence.

One thing I want to ask you, Richard, is what role do you think dissidents like Liu Xiaobo will play in this process. You’ve spent more time in China than me, and you should know more China experts than I do–feel free to ask them for help on this question as well.

October 18, 2010 @ 11:17 am | Comment

Dunno – been reading stuff like that for years now and I don’t see anything changing.
At present everything suggests that how China is run is the way to go (odd, really, seeing as the Chinese model is less than 40 years old and China is now only just getting to western levels of comfortable living. The so called western model that is in “terminal decline” has been declining for centuries and yet westerners enjoy a rather comfy standard of life). Chinese officials see their model working and would be loathe to change it. The people also seem rather keen on the current program – even those living abroad, like Math, are keen on the Chinese model. Comments in news media also show many cheerleaders for the Chinese model (though they do have passports that allow them to leave China quickly) – many saying how much money it makes them.
If things are going to change, all I can see as the catalyst is some form of slump. Trouble with that scenario is that what one gets after upheavals like that doesn’t always conform to what we’d like to think of as “progress”.

October 18, 2010 @ 11:27 am | Comment

“In the end, I think that eventually, the people who run China will find the current Party/propaganda/censorship-nexus a cumbersome operating structure, and that’s what will cause China to have true political reform. It might take time, but slowly they’ll shift to a more humane, mundane (aka boring), and flexible method of administration, possibly involving the directorships in China’s biggest SOEs, technocratic ministerial seats, and a largely rubber-stamp parliament with weak national “parties”.”

I largely agree with this, t_co. It seems that the natural course that Beijing is on isn’t towards a western, multiparty democracy, but towards a liberal technocracy with “weak but sufficient” democratic elements- Japan being the clear model of such a system in action. The Japanese diet is a notoriously weak body; real power is largely in unelected ministries; yet they’ve been welcomed to the club of liberal democracies because they largely uphold free speech and rule of law.

I predict that the coming decade will see a gradual dismantlement of the censorship apparatus (which is already weaker than that of countries where officials take their jobs seriously, like Singapore- it sometimes seems half the hackers that maintain the firewall in China are selling ways around it on the side), an increase in the strength of rule of law as the legal system matures, and more and more experiments in “consultative” rule (which Xi Jinping not only talks a good game about, but has actually done some experiments with). I doubt we’ll see national elections any time soon though, journalists who go “too far” will continue to be harassed, and we’ll get more and more reports of local corruption.

But here’s a simple rule to remember about news in China- with a country of it’s size and opacity, more bad news is good news. The more we hear, the more strength that journalists and academics are gaining, and the more corruption is brought low. It doesn’t mean things are getting worse- it means they’re getting better. Things which wouldn’t have been reported at all in the past are coming out now.

October 18, 2010 @ 3:29 pm | Comment

I can’t say that I genuinely believe Friedman’s premise. People like him spent the 80′s and 90′s telling us that economic success required political liberalisation, that theory having been proved wrong in China at least, he’s now telling us that further economic growth will require political liberalisation. To my mind, so long as the flow of migrant labour into the cities, the construction of factories all over the country, and the flow of resources and investment from overseas continues, China’s economic growth, and its creation of a middle class, will continue. Political liberalisation doesn’t factor into this.

The idea that lawyers, accountants, PR executives, design engineers, systems analysts, etc. will all somehow naturally oppose the CCP dictatorship is wrong. It is true that such people, left outside the party structure and without influence, will be unhappy, but at the moment the CCP has done a pretty good job of co-opting them. This co-option starts in school with political indoctrination, continues on the entrance into university, and culminates in the competition for communist party membership.

Obviously China’s growth model cannot continue forever, at some point migrant labourers will not be as available, resources ill become to expensive, and the market for manufactured goods will be saturated – but none of this will happen for some time. As a sign of how far things still have to run, when I joined Foxconn back in 2006, their mainland China workforce was in excess of 500,000 people, and this was already being called too large. It is now in excess of 900,000, and is set to rise to 1.3 million in the next 12 months. This trend can continue both in Shenzhen and elsewhere, in both small factories and large ones.

October 18, 2010 @ 7:41 pm | Comment

To my mind, so long as the flow of migrant labour into the cities, the construction of factories all over the country, and the flow of resources and investment from overseas continues, China’s economic growth, and its creation of a middle class, will continue. Political liberalisation doesn’t factor into this.

The idea that lawyers, accountants, PR executives, design engineers, systems analysts, etc. will all somehow naturally oppose the CCP dictatorship is wrong. It is true that such people, left outside the party structure and without influence, will be unhappy, but at the moment the CCP has done a pretty good job of co-opting them. This co-option starts in school with political indoctrination, continues on the entrance into university, and culminates in the competition for communist party membership.

Yes, that’s pretty much how I see it. There’s nothing you can put your finger on and say “Oh yes, that requires political liberalization.” Essentially the CCP is running China as a gigantic corporation with itself as the management, and we know how little political liberalization is necessary for those to operate.

October 18, 2010 @ 11:02 pm | Comment

@Michael:

Perhaps. While it probably doesn’t require total political liberalization, in order to keep such an organization functional it has to transform into something more liberal. The system can’t keep operating as it is without developing checks on corruption (via an improved legal system) and a much wider scope for speech and civil liberties. Both of which have come along considerably from where they were a few decades ago.

The country that was previously looked upon as a giant corporation- Japan- is a good case in point. Their political system isn’t particularly liberal, but they manage to squeeze under the door of the liberal democracies because the rest of their public institutions, for the most part, are.

October 19, 2010 @ 10:25 am | Comment

@Michael
” Essentially the CCP is running China as a gigantic corporation with itself as the management, and we know how little political liberalization is necessary for those to operate.”

Do not agree. Just think of the Catholic Church. The oldest running corporation on earth…

October 19, 2010 @ 2:06 pm | Comment

@Ecodelta – The Catholic church has been very successful with very little in the way of reform. Vatican II was perhaps the greatest act of reform that the Catholic church saw in the last millennium, and that is best remembered for the change over from Latin to the vernacular. I suppose you can also view acts like the apologies for the persecution of Galileo and the Inquisition as the Church’s way of saying that previous popes were 70% right, 30% wrong.

@Nicholas M – Japan is, of course, the biggest and best example of the problem of mistaking what is in the interests of national business for what is in the interests of the people. Many people speak of the high prices in Japan, having lived there it is hard not to see these as the result of wide-spread unfair and anti-competitive trade practices. To take one example, the mobile phone industry seems to form a large-scale oligopoly, wherein the Japanese mobile phone companies (AU, DoCoMo, Softbank – all of which are practically unheard of outside Japan) divide the market between themselves at all levels, from hand-set to service-provider, in a way which prevents outside competition from corporations like Vodaphone. Whilst things like this might seem like a win for national businesses, in reality the Japanese people lose out due to much higher charges, and the lack of competition encourages lax corporate practices.

October 19, 2010 @ 4:38 pm | Comment

@FOARP
“he apologies for the persecution of Galileo and the Inquisition as the Church’s way of saying that previous popes were 70% right, 30% wrong.”

300 years later!

Apologize for the inquisition? Why? Just imagine what they could do with the trolls here. :-)

October 19, 2010 @ 8:12 pm | Comment

Thinking in Latin

Quousque tandem abutere, CCP, patientia nostra?
Quamdiu etiam furor iste tuus nos eludet? Quem ad finem sese effrenata iactabit audacia?

October 19, 2010 @ 8:17 pm | Comment

By the way the Inquisition still exist, that department has been renamed

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congregation_for_the_Doctrine_of_the_Faith

About Galileo…

A revision of Galileo case was requested in 1979. A commission was created in 1981. Work was finished in 1992, reaching the same conclusions.

According to the commission Galileo then had not enough scientific arguments to justify the heliocentric theory, and it supports the innocence of the Church as institution and the obligation of Galileo to show respect to it and recognize its
magistracy; justifying the sentence and preventing Galileo’s complete rehabilitation.

In 1990, the then cardinal Ratzinger, prefect of the “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith” said.

“In Galileo’s time, the Church was more faithful to the Reason than Galileo, therefore the process against him was reasonable and just”

October 19, 2010 @ 8:45 pm | Comment

i think it can be boiled down to this: when there is a working class big enough to be of importance for keeping the economy running plus a steadily increasing import market (and i think both is the case presently in china) there is bound to be economical dissatisfaction with the imbalance between groups who can afford and those who cannot. in other words, there will be (and there presently is) industrial action. the latter will inevitably bring about more privileges for the poor, and probably also be the only way to maintain further economic growth, as it will shift the impact on the home economy from export to import markets – simply because with higher wages the produce will become more expensive and export sales will decrease.

this is one “natural law” of the capitalist market, and i’m afraid it’s quite independent of who has won the nobel prize and why. however, throughout the process, it is true that the ecomomy in question “has to move from low-wage manufacturing jobs to more knowledge- and service-based jobs” – as there are no other ways of keeping the growth rate.

October 20, 2010 @ 4:08 am | Comment

@eco

That bit about the Pope was true? Man. He really is a bad, bad motherfucker.

Did he say anything about Giordano Bruno?

I have no patience with the Catholics since I found out something like 10% or more of all Irish kids were sexually abused by Priests. (And another 10-15% by their relatives.)

http://www.oneinfour.org/about/irishstatistics/

In Belgium:

http://www.edgeboston.com/index.php?ch=news&sc=&sc2=news&sc3=&id=111713
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1289283/Police-raid-home-Belgian-archbishop-sex-abuse-probe.html
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/13/world/europe/13belgium.html

Sick, sick motherfuckers. I’d like to think the recent scandals put a stop to these practices, but in all likelihood a good number of them will keep ramming small children up the ass for centuries more to come. Like the Holy Mighty Archbishop of Bruges, doing it with his own nephew.

Yay Catholics.

(P.S. I was a Catholic myself, and an altar boy too. The whole shebang.)

October 20, 2010 @ 7:28 am | Comment

@FOARP: I didn’t say that Japan was a perfect model- but no country is. I’m saying it’s where China is headed, and I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.

October 20, 2010 @ 9:55 am | Comment

On a separate topic: can you please please write a post on this developing “milk wars” scandal in China? This is absolutely bizarre.
http://china.globaltimes.cn/society/2010-10/584181.html

October 21, 2010 @ 8:48 am | Comment

Good, nobody seems to notice Math, a guy who often posts comments on a forum under the Chinese-lnaguage People’s Daily website. Some Chinese netizens believe the mysterious man is a math teacher at Shenzhen University. His strange arguments have been applauded by “fenqing”.

October 21, 2010 @ 11:43 am | Comment

I’d be more inclined to believe he was a Shenzhen math teacher if his comments – every single one of them for the past four years – didn’t have a Manhattan IP address.

Jenny, I’m in semi-retirement and can’t cover every China scandal. But thanks for the link – it’s a good one.

October 21, 2010 @ 11:46 am | Comment

@Richard: With VPNs, proxies and spoofs, is that indicative of anything? I don’t know where my IP appears to be coming from, but I’m in Shanghai, going through a server in Los Angeles. Math easily could have a private proxy set up that he uses through a server in New York…

October 21, 2010 @ 1:35 pm | Comment

It’s possible, but Math fits the model of all my trolls – they berate the US endlessly, talk about it as though it’s hell on earth in contrast to the glories of living in China, and they all post from the US. This is not a secret, most of them, like Merp, Hong Xing and pug all admit they live here. Math’s first post came from Columbia University’s server in NYC, and I don’t think it’s via a proxy.

October 22, 2010 @ 12:08 am | Comment

@Richard – Yeah, Math’s (as oppose to ‘maths’ which is what we UK-ians call what you Americans refer to as ‘math’) clearly US based. He’s been posting his bizarre rants on this website since before the blocking really started (remember those days? Blogs like TalkTalkChina and Sinocidal would get blocked in a second now, but went unblocked for months at a time then). It’s not likely that he would have used a proxy then, since it would not have been necessary.

If you will forgive me for going OT for a second, amongst the many things the Great Firewall has ruined, the loss of the rough-and-tumble of the English-language China blogs as they were in there prime (2005-6) cuts deepest. Yes, I understand Fauna’s reasoning behind not doing a piece on Liu Xiaobo. No, I’m not saying she should put herself at risk by publishing anything on the subject. But if you want to see what government censorship has made of the Sino-blogosphere, the fact that a person living in China won the Nobel Prize and ChinaSMACK, the spiritual successor of the rant-infested expat blogs of yore, will not do a piece on it, speaks volumes.

October 22, 2010 @ 12:38 am | Comment

Math has been basically saying similar things at both People’s Daily Strong Nation forum and this blog. He might think that the English version of his articles on the Chinese website would stir debates among China bloggers and scholars.

October 22, 2010 @ 9:47 am | Comment

I have been a lurker on this blog for some time and i find math’s comments brings me back to when i was in school and not bald reading the soviet version of WWII full of comments about hyneas and running dogs a great laugh. Long may he continue to make me think I am younger.

Back to your post richard. I would have thought this true about reform in China, but I have been talking to my wifes 93 year old german grandmother, whose parents would talk about how good it was under the kaiser pre WWI, lots of money and improvements in living standards (from farm worker to factory worker…great).

I wonder how much of our (usa uk etal) economic growth is due to democratic reform? Germany was able to grow at the same time, and the kaiser was able to tell the tax collectors to still collect taxes even when the parliament had voted against it, start wars when ever he wanted. Except he started one to many and look where it got him exiled to denmark, this could be the CCP plan to get exiled there as well.

Is it that economic growth occurs due to various reasons and then as S Korea, Japan Taiwan etc were in the US sphere of influence, democracy developed. Just as in ancient times those alled with athens become democracies and those under the influence of sparta became oligarcies?

Is democracy necessary for continued economic growth? I was once sure it was but now I am not to certain…keep posting math it is working.

October 22, 2010 @ 6:15 pm | Comment

I’m not sure democracy is necessary for growth. But some degree of free-thinking is necessary, some degree of problem-solving – and for these to exist, you have to have less indoctrination and rote learning, and you will only have less of these things when you have some political reform. I don’t think anyone’s saying democracy per se is inevitable, but some degree of political reform is. And I want to stress that I don’t believe it’s immanent. Inevitable at some point, but not immanent.

FOARP, good points about China SMACK.

October 23, 2010 @ 12:07 am | Comment

Rather depressing quote from an email at James Fallows’ blog today:

“>> Our NGO works extensively in China, with an office there for training and consulting for foreign brands as well as Chinese suppliers. I was in [one of China's fastest-growing and most cosmpolitan cities] last week for our annual conference, and spent some time with our 15 local staff there. With the exception of our 40-something directors, the staff are for the most part in their late 20s and early 30s, educated, worldly, cosmopolitan, savvy, bi-lingual. They work to improve human rights in China.

Most of them hadn’t even heard of Liu Xiaobo. One of our senior staff had heard of him but didn’t know he was in jail.

I consider myself pretty sensible about China, having been involved extensively there since first living in [a big regional capital] from 1985-88, and then in Hong Kong and Beijing in the 90s (with an international NGO). In my work and among friends I’ve advocated for realism about the limits to Chinese interest in ‘democracy,’ and recognized how far off we Americans are from mainstream Chinese opinion about Tibet and the Dalai Lama.

But I was still surprised and a bit depressed to learn how effective Chinese silencing of Mr Liu’s voice has been among people who should be more exposed to alternative China news. [emphasis added]<<”

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2010/10/reality-check-on-liu-xiaobo/65049/

Is the future really that bleak? I myself am not so pessimistic. However…

October 24, 2010 @ 7:11 am | Comment

For anyone interested about the issue political reform in China, an interesting interview and five good books to boot

http://fivebooks.com/interviews/richard-baum-on-obstacles-political-reform-china

October 24, 2010 @ 1:12 pm | Comment

@canru

There is a difference between to know, not know and dont want to know.
There is also a diference between want to speak, be able to speak and consider convenient to speak.

Follow the link in my lasy post and you may find some answers

October 24, 2010 @ 1:20 pm | Comment

@skippy

Democracy is not and end in itself, but s mean to reach it.

It does not provide magically economic development and progress by itself.

It is just a system that enforces better than others a degree of transparency, accountability and eligibility.

Like in any complex engineering system you want to know what is going on, who or what is responsible of a malfunction or degraded performance, and be able to fix it.

Of course you can make it work without one or all of those premises, but you may get a Chernobyl effect down the road.

Democracy will not feed you, you still has to tile the fields

October 24, 2010 @ 1:35 pm | Comment

A preliminary beforehand.

Math herbivores and carnivores post. He must be the sino version of Timothy Leary. Look forward to meeting his Charlie Mansion offspring.

Lots of great points made about the structure of the economy, benefitting interest groups, the future needs of a knowledge economy, etc. All rational arguments.

Deterministic necessity for political reform or maintenance of status quo.

Another possibility. Plain ennui, contempt, disinterest and boredom with both sides of the equation. The task is just too big for proponents of either side.

How would this scenario pan out? A further expansion of evangelical christianity, millenial movements in rural areas, the growth of lifestyle youth tribes in the cities, and expansion of net and personal freedoms, but freedoms to do what – total immersion in celebrity/trash culture? (Still working on this Third Outcome theory, and welcome contributions.)

October 28, 2010 @ 6:25 am | Comment

The only thing that is guaranteed is that no matter what China does, nothing will ever be seen as reform and no Chinese government will ever receive praise for anything done well as its not in the American interest to do so.

The old refrain… “I look at China today and it’s really no different than it was 30, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000 years ago”

November 3, 2010 @ 6:32 am | Comment

Now how is that so? China has made incredible reforms in her economic system in the last 30 years. I would imagine one would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t think so. She has made some political reforms as well, although these lag far behind the economic ones in terms of scope (and probably of relevance). So i think a statement replete with “only thing”s and “guarantee(s)” and “nothing”s is needlessly over-generalized, don’t you?

As for praise, well, surely “American” praise is not the only kind that is important, sought after, or desirable? And I imagine China would only want praise where praise is due, as opposed to the hollow “there there” kind. Besides, I thought China does what the CCP thinks is right, and cares little for what America thinks.

November 3, 2010 @ 7:35 am | Comment

Who said anyone cares? It’s a comment on Western punditry, not the Chinese state of affairs.

I think the big question is which illustrious blogger will break his arm patting himself on the back, should China ever democratize.

November 3, 2010 @ 7:38 am | Comment

An unrelated question, Michael- since you never answer it-

Assuming Taiwan goes to war with China, we can count on you to be on the front lines, right?

November 3, 2010 @ 8:12 am | Comment

@FOARP
Japanese people lose out due to much higher charges, and the lack of competition encourages lax corporate practices.

The individual Japanese person may lose out on higher charges, but the Japanese *people* do not lose out because their businesses are not being steamrolled by foreign monopolies.

Presumably the people who work at Japanese telecom companies are Japanese wage earners who would not benefit, just as Japanese, South Korean and Hong Kong film makers have no benefited from Hollywood’s intrusion.

November 3, 2010 @ 8:44 am | Comment

To Helicopter Merp,

when China ever democratizes, I imagine the happiest people will be Chinese people. Unfortunately, no such joy for you, since you’re not Chinese.

What the heck is a “Hollywood intrusion” anyhow? Some people have a very skewed outlook on life.

November 3, 2010 @ 12:43 pm | Comment

Richard, you say Tom Friedman is one of your least favorite columnists. How come?

November 4, 2010 @ 10:30 am | Comment

Tom Friedman is a veritable fountain of cliches, totally smitten by China’s shiny airports and glittering mega-cities, a driving force behind public acceptance of the benefits of invading Iraq and is in general wrong about nearly everything. I quote him as rarely as possible.

November 4, 2010 @ 10:36 am | Comment

He’s pretty gung ho about India this week :-)

November 4, 2010 @ 11:10 am | Comment

Tom FriedmanTom Friedman is generally wrong about everything? My problem with him is just the opposite- while he’s usually right, he usually tends to try to make his position sound unique and clever by making up some silly analogy or story to go along with it. When he’s been wrong, it’s generally been by something that had most of the establishment media bamboozled- like Iraq and Enron. I’d much rather read Fareed Zakaria, who generally has a similar take, but with much more insight.

And I can hardly fault him for being smitten by China’s airports and megacities- I am too. And I’ve been living in one of them for three years now…

(I also think the people attacking him for saying anything favorable about China’s government are generally being unfair as well, since the places where I’ve seen him do it, he’s generally lauded South Korea and Hong Kong as well. Not to mention his bullishness on India, mainly a product of too much time spent with Nandan Nilekani…)

November 4, 2010 @ 1:35 pm | Comment

We’ll just have to agree to disagree. Friedman is a pompous bore, and he got onto my permanent shit list with the advent of his “Friedman Units’ or FUs. Go here for background.

November 5, 2010 @ 2:13 am | Comment

He is a pompous bore, there’s no doubt about that. I only ever read him because my father keeps giving me his books…

November 5, 2010 @ 11:54 am | Comment

http://www.rnw.nl/english/print/182236

The world is becoming less free, as after years of democratic expansion, there is now a contraction.

The backsliding is particularly evident in central Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. Various countries have experienced setbacks in press freedom and political participation, not to mention free and fair elections.

This year, for the fourth year running, the number of countries considered democratic has declined (down to 116, from 119 last year). Until four years ago, the number of democracies had been steadily rising.

Measuring democracy involves many variables. In some countries, promised reforms were not carried out. But in many authoritarian regimes, the trend has been toward cracking down on dissidents and pro-democracy activists. This is most notably the case in Iran, but it is also happening in Pakistan, Mexico, the Philippines and other countries.

But even mature democracies can exhibit undemocratic tendencies. In many western democracies, public participation in the political process is cause for concern. People are participating less. This is called the democratic deficit.

November 5, 2010 @ 4:32 pm | Comment

@Roflcopter –

“The individual Japanese person may lose out on higher charges, but the Japanese *people* do not lose out because their businesses are not being steamrolled by foreign monopolies.”

Okay, so I tried to take this comment seriously, but it simply isn’t possible. Just how is it that you managed to totally miss these facts:

1) Any *people* (as you put it) is made up of individuals. If individual Japanese generally lose out due to a lack of competition, then the Japanese *people* also lose out. Grouping losers together only gives you a group of losers.

2) The only way in which Japanese companies could get “steamrolled” by the introduction of foreign competitors due to the removal of barriers to competition using competition law is if they are not competitive in comparison to foreign companies. Are you saying that? If you are saying that, surely you realise that the companies are not competitive because they do no have to be, and that the removal of barriers to competition enables Japanese companies to compete with the cartels as much as it does foreign ones.

3) Why do you assume that introducing stronger competition law (what Americans call ‘anti-trust law’) would result in a “foreign monopoly”, surely if such laws can destroy domestic monopolies and oligopolies they can also destroy foreign ones? And just why is a domestic oligopoly desirable as compared to a foreign one?

4) Just why do you think that a lack of strong competition law in Japan is a victory for Japanese business? It is undoubtedly a good situation for the Japan-based companies that make up the oligopolies and cartels that it enables, but this is not conclusive of it being good for Japanese business in general.

@Richard – I used to like Friedman until his relentlessly pro-US/Israel writing became too much for me. I think it was about the time he went before a group of French academics and basically told them that he thought that America was the most awesome country in the world. It’s not that I think that American shouldn’t hold this opinion, the problem is that he just seemed unable to see that his audience might not share this opinion, and seemed incredulous when they showed that they didn’t and mocked him for his jingoism.

@Hooya – Remember how things were before 2001? Up until then, it seemed to me like the world was steadily getting richer, freer, and more democratic. I mark 9/11 as the inflection point, the point at which democratic nations went into retreat, betraying their own principles in the name of non-existent security. It’s going to take a lot to turn this around.

November 6, 2010 @ 8:41 am | Comment

FOARP
1) Any *people* (as you put it) is made up of individuals. If individual Japanese generally lose out due to a lack of competition, then the Japanese *people* also lose out. Grouping losers together only gives you a group of losers.

Nonsense. Are you implying that Japanese people are a hive mind? Short-term individual interests (oh wow, a few bucks on the phone bill) do not supersede national interests (destruction of domestic companies), and they often conflict with each other.

2) The only way in which Japanese companies could get “steamrolled” by the introduction of foreign competitors due to the removal of barriers to competition using competition law is if they are not competitive in comparison to foreign companies.

Are you seriously implying that Japanese businesses have just as much access to markets and natural resources as American uber monopolies? Why hasn’t a giant MNC emerged from Luxembourg to destroy my beloved Wal-Mart then?

Smaller markets need to be insulated unless they want to be hollowed out and eaten alive; Japan is successful precisely because of all the barriers it has created against Anglo-American monopolies. There would be no Toyota, Nintendo or Sony otherwise.

And just why is a domestic oligopoly desirable as compared to a foreign one?

Because foreign businesses are controlled by foreigners, who care even less about Japan than Japanese companies.

November 6, 2010 @ 9:01 am | Comment

Why can’t westerner have a more imaginative mind?

Why can’t they see that a society can also prosper without adopting the western liberal mindset? It is not inevitable that everyone will eventually realize the same ideology and think in the same liberal way as most of the westerners.

It is extremely arrogant to think that the only reason Chinese have not adopt the same liberal democracy is because CCP is putting their minds under total control, and also once Chinese people becomes smart, they will finally think in the “right” way. Please realize this kind of mindset is extremely arrogant/annoying.

Whatever. It is almost impossible to convince someone out of their fanatical belief in the liberal ideology. We will just wait and see who is “dead wrong”.

PS. most Chinese people don’t know who Liu XiaoBo is. Nobel peace prize could have a bigger effect if it’s given to somebody like AiWeiWei. But this kind of thing is typical for the western liberals crowd. The people who contributed the most to “good”, are the ones who are the loudest in THEIR OWN western media, not the ones more people from other societies would recognize.

November 7, 2010 @ 11:01 am | Comment

I don’t think anyone here believes China should adopt “the Western liberal mindset.” Literally no one.

There is certainly a fear among the Chinese leadership of the people learning too much and asking too many questions. Thus we see the heavily censored media with its deification of Lei Feng and the constant allegations of colonialism and “anti-Chinese” thinking from the West (a total fallacy, but hey, it keeps people in power). Opening people’s minds and teaching them the benefits of asking questions and to solve problems and think critically is not the same as asking them to adopt liberal attitudes. But China is afraid of too much critical thinking because it eventually will lead to questions such as, Why do I live with censorship when other nations don’t, and why do we have a one-party system that remains accountable to no one? This sort of freeing of the mind poses a direct threat to the CCP. If it didn’t, there would be no censorship or heavy-handed propagandized education that gives birth to fenqing like yourself.

November 7, 2010 @ 11:24 am | Comment

To WI:
what “westerners” may or may not think is best for the continued prosperity of Chinese society is hardly the point. The point is what Chinese people in China think about the topic. The problem in China is that her people aren’t allowed to nurture such thoughts. Or if they are, they aren’t allowed to express them. Or if they are, they aren’t permitted to act upon them.

Chinese people are already “smart” enough to think for themselves. They simply require the CCP to allow them to do so. “westerners” have nothing to do with it.

November 7, 2010 @ 1:31 pm | Comment

@Roflcopter – Thank you for totally missing the point -

“Are you implying that Japanese people are a hive mind? “

No. Show me where I said anything even close to this. What I was saying is that a victory for a cartel of Japanese businesses is not a victory for the Japanese people – it was you who said the opposite.

“Are you seriously implying that Japanese businesses have just as much access to markets and natural resources as American uber monopolies?”

Yes. Yes, I am. This is the reason why everyone I know drives a Honda, Nissan, or Suzuki. Look, you don’t even seem to have worked out that I wasn’t saying anything about foreign/domestic companies, or about barriers designed specifically to keep foreign competitors out, only about the lack of a strong competition law regime in Japan preventing competition in general.

“Anglo-American monopolies”

With the possible exception of British-American Tobacco, with a market share of ~15%, I cannot think of any explicitly Anglo-American companies, let alone ‘monopolies’. If you want to talk about American firms, then Intel and Microsoft would be the most well-known examples – but both have been the subject of long running competition-law actions in both the US and the EU.

“Because foreign businesses are controlled by foreigners, who care even less about Japan than Japanese companies.”

The entire point of business is profit. Companies like Sony, BAT, Lenovo, Innolux, Arriva, IBM etc. don’t care where they make their money, they only care that it is made. Talking about which business ‘cares’ more is pointless.

“Japan is successful precisely because of all the barriers it has created”

And has flopped in recent years because, at least in part, of the anti-competitive practices of businesses there which favours groups of companies there but not the economy as a whole. At any rate, once again, I was not discussing barriers against foreign competition, but against competition in general.

November 7, 2010 @ 5:09 pm | Comment

WI
“Nobel peace prize could have a bigger effect if it’s given to somebody like AiWeiWei.”

This being the same AiWeiWEi that is under arrest?

And may I ask what western liberal mindset you are referring to? Why do you think China is better under the western communist mindset (as written about by a German in a library in London…)? Why can’t China prosper under an eastern liberal mindset? How is a liberal mindset western or eastern? Surely it is just….a universal human mindset?

November 8, 2010 @ 7:52 am | Comment

“PS. most Chinese people don’t know who Liu XiaoBo is. Nobel peace prize could have a bigger effect if it’s given to somebody like AiWeiWei. But this kind of thing is typical for the western liberals crowd. The people who contributed the most to “good”, are the ones who are the loudest in THEIR OWN western media, not the ones more people from other societies would recognize.”

I think Ai WeiWei will soon be harmonised….
“Cameron should ask the Chinese government not to make people ‘disappear’ or to jail them merely because they have different opinions … Cameron should say that the civilised world cannot see China as a civilised country if it doesn’t change its own behaviour,”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/nov/07/china-beijing-ai-weiwei-human-rights

November 8, 2010 @ 9:38 am | Comment

Richard raises an important point–the importance of critical thinking. The CCP’s “patriotic education” drive has been the exact opposite of encouraging critical thinking; this sort of xenophobic indoctrination has misled countless fènqing into believing that China’s problems stem mainly from foreign imperialist bullying not from something like an unaccountable one-party authoritarian government founded by military conquest).

November 10, 2010 @ 2:11 pm | Comment

There is another aspect of PRCs education system, this one coming from its own media. Bossism starts at kindergarten.

http://news.xinhuanet.com/english2010/china/2010-11/14/c_13606123.htm

November 15, 2010 @ 7:46 am | Comment

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