Jim Mann: “Everyone assumes that the Chinese political system is going to open up – but what if it doesn’t?”

Both Tim Johnson at China Rises and Michael Turton at The View from Taiwan have posts on the recent statements by Jim Mann to a government panel on US-China Relations. Before the panel, the veteran China watcher and journalist testified last Thursday:

The notion that China’s political system will inevitably move towards liberalization and democracy is what I call the Soothing Scenario for China’s future. It is the one that dominates our official discourse. But it is really only one of three possibilities for where China is headed. Let me sketch out the others.

The second possibility for China’s future is what can be called the Upheaval Scenario. The Upheaval Scenario predicts that China is headed for some sort of major disaster, such as an economic collapse or political disintegration, because it won’t be able to maintain political stability while continuing on its current course. On behalf of the Upheaval Scenario, one might point to the numerous reports of political unrest in China these days – the proliferation of labor strikes, farmers’ protests, riots over environmental degradation and ethnic strife. There are also broader developments, such as the ever-growing disparity between rich and poor or the continuing prevalence of corruption in China, and the fragility of China’s banking system.

The Upheaval Scenario for China gets a reasonable amount of attention in the United States. Lots of people spend quite a bit of time trying to figure out how much instability there is in China and what its impact will be, and there are lots of interesting arguments on all sides. My own belief is that the Chinese regime is ultimately strong enough to withstand these internal pressures – that there will be no “coming collapse of China,” to quote the title of one book on the subject. China is a huge country, and it is particularly hard to draw conclusions about the overall political situation from what is happening in any one place or region. Labor strikes may spread through all of Northeast China; or political demonstrations may sweep through many of its leading cities; still, in the end such events don’t determine the future direction of China.

The possibilities for China’s future are not confined to these two scenarios, the Soothing Scenario or Upheaval. There is still another possibility: a Third Scenario. It is one that few people talk about or think about these days, at least not in the United States. It is this: What if China manages to continue on its current economic path and yet its political system does not change in any fundamental way? What if, twenty-five or thirty years from now, a wealthier, more powerful China continues to be run by a one-party regime that continues to repress organized political dissent much as it does today; and yet at the same time China is also open to the outside world and, indeed, is deeply intertwined with the rest of the world through trade, investment and other economic ties? Everyone assumes that the Chinese political system is going to open up – but what if it doesn’t?

In one way or another, the essentials of the current political system would remain intact: there would be no significant political opposition. There would be an active security apparatus to forestall organized political dissent. In other words, China, while growing stronger and richer, wouldn’t change its political system in any fundamental way. It would continue along the same political course it is on today. Why do we Americans believe that, with advancing prosperity, China will automatically come to have a political system like ours? Is it simply because the Chinese now eat at McDonald’s and wear blue jeans?

Positions #1 & 2 have been debated back and forth on this blog and in other spaces in the China blogosphere for some time now. But what of #3? Is it really possible for China to maintain the current status-quo indefinitely? Can China solve the problems of environmental degradation, endemic corruption, and widespread social imbalances without ultimately changing the political system? Or are these problems not nearly as severe as the jeremiads of the Western media would have us believe?

I encourage everyone to read the full text of Mann’s testimony which can be found here (html) and here (pdf).

The Discussion: 67 Comments

“But what of #3? Is it really possible for China to maintain the current status-quo indefinitely? Can China solve the problems of environmental degradation, endemic corruption, and widespread social imbalances without ultimately changing the political system? Or are these problems not nearly as severe as the jeremiads of the Western media would have us believe? ”

The answers to these questions are yes, yes, and no, imo.

February 5, 2007 @ 1:31 pm | Comment

I’ve been wondering about that. Imagine that the Chinese see the way their government can manipulate our government and international corporations, and decide they don’t want to go that way?

February 5, 2007 @ 2:27 pm | Comment

The question is, what benefit does liberalization have for the Chinese government? As long as Western business keeps bending over backward to satisfy them, there really is no point in undertaking potentially harmful steps in that direction.

February 5, 2007 @ 3:55 pm | Comment

isn’t scenario 3 largely covered by the proponents of scenario 1? the idea being that china will collapse due to its inability to progress without significant changes….

isn’t this what hutton argued recently in that article and his book, as have minxin pei and gordon chang in theirs?

i think this is essentially covering old ground

February 5, 2007 @ 5:47 pm | Comment

sorry, i thought scenario 1 is the upheaval scenario. i mean scenario 2. apologies for the double post

February 5, 2007 @ 5:48 pm | Comment

“The question is, what benefit does liberalization have for the Chinese government?”

Pha, it should be about what benefits the country. If the government tries to cling to power rather than change it will be asking for trouble. Also the CCP itself will be wiped out if it is forced from power in favour of progressive politics – ex-Communists don’t tend to do very well in democracies.

I don’t think that scenario 3 is possible forever, because things will go wrong. China can’t make its officials less corrupt by just threatening them with punishment generally. Matters are not critical yet, but they could easily become so if there is trouble with the economy over the coming decades. And something always does go wrong with the economy eventually.

February 5, 2007 @ 6:59 pm | Comment

I tend to side with Raj. Right now it’s easy to get sucked into the idea of Scenario 3 because things here – at least in the big coastal cities – seem to be truly good. I stood in wonder at the supermarket line just a few minutes ago and watched as the yuppies paid for their bottles of cabernet and fresh vegetables with their American Express cards. And I wondered at just how radically things here have changed in so little time, and how good things look right now.

But economics is always cyclical. So far China has handled these cycles surprisingly well. A few years ago it looked like the economy was overheating and China managed to pull off a very soft landing, improving and strengthening its banking system along the way. But the question isn’t if a recession or inflation or deflation will come, but when. China’s done a good job controlling things over the past 30 years but history says it cannot continue forever. It’s only after that – when I see China calmly deal with the grief, which will include a lot of broken dreams, and get back on its feet – only then will I be won over to the possibility of Scenario 3. For now I find it unlikely, but not imposible.

February 5, 2007 @ 9:30 pm | Comment

It is also worth remembering that things DID go horribly wrong in the 1980s – not just talking about politics, but primarily about the economy. China was very lucky that things picked up. If they hadn’t, Tiananmen would have served as a catalyst for nationwide unrest.

So the CCP has had trouble with the economy in recent decades – I don’t see why they would be able to handle anything and everything the future can throw at them.

February 5, 2007 @ 10:27 pm | Comment

Raj said – “If the government tries to cling to power rather than change it will be asking for trouble. Also the CCP itself will be wiped out if it is forced from power in favour of progressive politics – ex-Communists don’t tend to do very well in democracies.”

The goverment is not trying to cling to power, they already have the power and nobody can challenge it, period. Saying something like “CCP itself will be wiped out if it is forced from power in favour of progressive politics” is just not registered with reality. My impression is that progress can be made (as we have seen so far), while the CCP power stays. In other words, China is making progress in its own term, in its own pace. They don’t need outsiders’ second guess.

How do you like that?


February 5, 2007 @ 10:33 pm | Comment

If they hadn’t, Tiananmen would have served as a catalyst for nationwide unrest.

Are you joking, Raj? If Tiananmen Square wasn’t a catalyst for nationwide unrest, what was it? So much unrest that nationwide martial law had to be imposed for a long time.

What ts says isn’t off the mark, by the way. No matter how much many of us in the west have a hard time (to put it mildly) with the Party, the people here tend to trust them with a blind faith. I wish I coud report otherwise, but reality is reality, whether it collides or agrees with our own personal worldview. The CCP is here to stay a long as things are good and perhaps even if they’re not. Even those I know who’ve had bitter personal axes to grind with them say as much.

February 5, 2007 @ 10:46 pm | Comment


The chinese people have the, as I call it, “emperor-complex” that I didn’t see subsiding from their collective psyche in all these decades after the communist rule. China essentially is an emperor’s country. Common people look up to goverment officials with awe – For thousands of years, that was the case, and probably will continue for another thousands of years. In this light, the CCP is perfectly filling into that role – as a father, as a teacher, as a husband, as an authority. Common joe-sixpack chinese loves it – order, stability, and welfare. The authority had made lots of mistakes in the past decades, resulting in death, dislocation, and starvation. But the huge population of China seemed to be able to recover from these deadly mistake and move on.

Because of the failure of recognizing this “Emperor complex” of chinese, the western scholars failed to understand China every time they open their mouth. I call it the chasm between the culture of the West and the East. It’s not their fault.


February 5, 2007 @ 11:13 pm | Comment

>>In this light, the CCP is perfectly filling into that role

Well, ts is half right. While I think the CCP and Mao are just the latest dynasty in a long imperial line in some sense, specific dynasties actually fell and were replaced by others. The CCP is hardly “perfectly filling” this role — or we could say they are perfectly filling the role of a dynasty on the brink of disaster, due largely to their own avarice, corruption, and contempt for the common people.

What is more likely is that the CCP won’t be able to manage to survive in the medium term; however, it certainly won’t be replaced by a liberal democracy, but probably by just another variation on the imperial theme. See Russia’s “liberal democracy” (state-controlled media, president with quasi-dictatorial powers, political repression, and crony capitalism). The CCP has assiduously avoided the fate of the CCCP, but China is probably headed there anyway.

February 6, 2007 @ 12:23 am | Comment

P.S. Japan in the counterexample. But this will surely prompt someone to say that Japan isn’t a “real” democracy.

February 6, 2007 @ 12:37 am | Comment

“Are you joking, Raj? If Tiananmen Square wasn’t a catalyst for nationwide unrest, what was it? So much unrest that nationwide martial law had to be imposed for a long time.”

I meant more like to the point where the CCP would have been forced to make serious political reforms or been thrown out of power – I know full well that it caused unrest elsewhere, but the CCP survived it.

February 6, 2007 @ 1:26 am | Comment

“My impression is that progress can be made (as we have seen so far), while the CCP power stays. In other words, China is making progress in its own term, in its own pace. They don’t need outsiders’ second guess.”

I would like to know what this “progress” is. There is still a hard-line refusal to even CONSIDER multi-party politics. That is not progressive, that is reactionary.

China is not making progress on its own terms, it is changing according to how the CCP wishes it to change. China could only make progress on its own terms if the CCP let people express their thoughts and desires openly and without fear of being arrested for them. With a one-party state, little or no freedom of speech and tough media controls, there is no way for China to do what it wants. It is all about the CCP keeping their interests ticking over, even if it means ignoring what Chinese people may really want.

February 6, 2007 @ 1:30 am | Comment

Today’s word from a very savvy Chinese native: “We are free already. 20 years ago, the company/group/government OWNED everybody. Today we can move, change jobs, marry whom we like. We’re only missing the vote and free press. For most Chinese, that’s small potatoes compared to the freedoms we gained already.” In other words (maybe) pressure from the bottom up for more democratic reforms isn’t urgent enough to force much change yet. Just thought I’d pass that on.

February 6, 2007 @ 1:49 am | Comment

Generally speaking, thinks are looking up in China right now, as they have been for quite some time. That means they have been doing something right. So why would they want risks and uncertainties by changing their ways for doing thing dramatically.

Except for their stubbornness on political reform, the leaders have been good at adaptive to external changing environment. Even when things go sour someday in the future, people may not put blame singularly on the leaders and the system.

February 6, 2007 @ 2:03 am | Comment


Exactly, most people find their life reasonably acceptable. And many so-called China scholars often miss or ignore this basic fact when they talk about China, as in, “coming collapse of China”, Big bang of Chinese political system”, …

February 6, 2007 @ 2:29 am | Comment

Sam, the problem is that the people who say they are “free” are those with the money – they can buy their way out of trouble, or ignore it because it affects someone else and they have their luxuries.

Those without the money are the ones that are more likely to get agitated in the future.

Z, my point above is also relevant to you. If anything, quite often China “scholars” focus on the cities and say “oh, well the people there are doing so well there’s no reason why they’d complain”. Only the ones that look at the cities and the countryside together can hope to have a balanced view.

February 6, 2007 @ 2:46 am | Comment

Raj, the people with more money are more likely to demand the things that you talked about (free press, election, …, it is also true in other countries, go and talk about these things to a hungry person living in ghetto) and that ‘s the convention wisdom that people apply everywhere, not true in China?

Outsiders can not impose what they want even if that may be good for them.

February 6, 2007 @ 3:34 am | Comment

“Raj, the people with more money are more likely to demand the things that you talked about”

Yes and no. Usually the middle classes have pressed for more freedoms, but at the same time the working classes have shown themselves to be a potent political force when they wanted to be.

It is worth noting that as the environment becomes an ever-greater problem, the middle/urban classes will find themselves affected more negatively by the current political system than they are now. There was an article a few weeks ago in the Sunday Times that said Chinese people in polluted areas now overwhelmingly rate dealing with the environment as being a priority above economic growth, completely contrary to the views of officials. If that continues (politicians refusing to allow growth to slow to stop pollution), it is possible demands for political reform will substantially increase.

Besides, I did not say that poor Chinese will argue for democracy – I say that they were more likely to get agitated (i.e. annoyed).

“Outsiders can not impose what they want even if that may be good for them.”

Err, I’m not sure anyone here is trying to impose anything on China.

February 6, 2007 @ 4:46 am | Comment


Welfare? Didn’t most welfare vanish 10 years ago?

February 6, 2007 @ 9:01 am | Comment

Raj said – “I would like to know what this “progress” is. There is still a hard-line refusal to even CONSIDER multi-party politics. That is not progressive, that is reactionary.”

You think this way because that’s how you were brought up with. It would be abnormal if you didn’t think this way.

Can you prove under the current china condition, multi-party politics is better than one party politics?


February 6, 2007 @ 9:36 am | Comment

I meant more like to the point where the CCP would have been forced to make serious political reforms or been thrown out of power – I know full well that it caused unrest elsewhere, but the CCP survived it.
Posted by: Raj at February 6, 2007 01:26 AM

Well it forced them to shoot on their own people. And it caused the martial law and crack down from the Center. This led a few years down the road to Deng decentralising power in an effort to avoid the conservative’s power base in Beijing. Now we see the pendulum swing back the other way as Hu-Wen try to recentralise power over the provinces.

Can China solve the problems of environmental degradation, endemic corruption, and widespread social imbalances without ultimately changing the political system?

No, but I’m not sure that will be a disaster either. But the political system is based upon “cadres make the numbers, numbers make the cadres.” The right numbers make you look good to your bosses and make your bosses look good to their bosses, which improves your ability to increase your/their power in the hierarchy. The horizontal competition between factions ensures that a uniform approach to stamp out such vertical organisational issues and fudging of numbers is nearly impossible, without a serious change in the political/bureaucratic structure.

I’d think of the 1870-1939 US, where the question was how many band-aids to the “laissez faire system” would it take to keep the country from slipping in to a populist authoritarianism. (anti-trust laws, food/drug safety laws, increased suffrage, legalised independent labour unions, social welfare, regulated banking and finance industries, etc.) How many band-aids are the CCP willing to apply to the system to keep the one-party authoritarian system viable. (Perhaps morphed, but still recognisable as the one-party authoritarian system).

As for democracy vs. the imperial mindset. Yeah, Taiwan couldn’t achieve democracy because Westerners misunderstood the true Imperial mindset of the Chinese. And the call for democracy and universal suffrage in Hong Kong is growing weaker as the years tick by and the taint of Western culture is washed away by the loving embrace of the motherland. Or, not….

February 6, 2007 @ 9:44 am | Comment

bert said – “Welfare? Didn’t most welfare vanish 10 years ago?”

Terrible, wasn’t it? But I hope they realize that as a big mistake and amend.


February 6, 2007 @ 9:47 am | Comment

Can you prove under the current china condition, multi-party politics is better than one party politics?


Posted by: ts

Yes, depending on your definitions of “prove” and “better”. Vague terms like this are often used by those prone to moving the goal posts.

February 6, 2007 @ 9:50 am | Comment


don’t argue with them, you’ll lose. You’re a minority, Raj et al are majority. Blogspace is a democracy. In democracy, majority rules. Therefore, CCP will collapse and the benefits of democracy will spread to every inch of PRC.


February 6, 2007 @ 10:29 am | Comment

Sam, the problem is that the people who say they are “free” are those with the money – they can buy their way out of trouble, or ignore it because it affects someone else and they have their luxuries.

Yes, and no. The poor can also move cities and change jobs, though they may go from bad to worse! The official campaigns to reduce corruption, while very difficult, are already having some effect. As the corrupt cadres stop stealing their land and poisoning their water, peasants will relax a little (not saying this is happening at a satisfactory pace yet). As the interior infrastructure and education improves (happening now, but slowly), they’ll have more chances to improve their lot, little by little.

Not saying all is well, by any means, but rather that the need to have “sufficient” economic means for a reasonably comfortable, and unmolested, life is a far greater driver than the desire for vast changes in the political system. Don’t forget that within living memory people were eating the bark of trees to prolong their miserable lives a few more days. And that 15 years later their parents were being scourged in the town square for owning anything.

The CPC may be old, cranky, and anal-retentive control freaks, but they are not, I think, stupid (not about everything, anyway.) They know that their role is gradually shrinking compared to the individual. They also know that the only way to keep folks from eventually revolting is to become more clean and fair. Long story short, my guess is that for the intermediate future (what, say 25 years?) the Big Party will remain in the position it’s in now, but smaller as a slice of the whole pie, with gradual policy changes that make it not a multi-party system, but one which is tolerable to those of us from those “multi-party places”.

By the way, this is just an observation which may change….I have no dog in this hunt, so I probably won’t debate about it.

February 6, 2007 @ 11:01 am | Comment

It’s kinda weird when I hear people say “As long as the government is doing what the people want, they don’t need democracy”. Um, that sentence seems really weird. As for the future, change will happen because change has happened in every country in the world, and will continue to happen. What that change is, I don’t know. But I’ll be keeping my money in foreign banks for now.

February 6, 2007 @ 11:15 am | Comment

@Tom-DTL, @Sam_s:

Is it fair to say that the main step between local Chinese politics now and multi-party elections one day is moving the direct election system up to municipal and provincial level? How long do you think it will take before the CCP feels comfortable allowing that?

China has eight or nine political parties, right? Are they allowed to run in village/township elections at present? One school I used to teach at was used as the village voting center back in 2003. I was too afraid to ask many questions, but I got the impression that there were more than one candidate for several positions. One teacher told me she belonged to the Democratic party, but then she wasn’t running for anything.

Everyone says that lack of education is the biggest obstacle to a healthy democratic system, but is that still a viable excuse, say, in Shanghai, Shenzhen, Hangzhou or Guangzhou?

February 6, 2007 @ 2:40 pm | Comment

I love the idea of a dramatic reform in China! I vote yes!

I love the idea of no change and a big FU to the West! I vote yes!

I don’t love the idea of internal upheaval. I vote NO!

I vote. I am China. I voice my vote for my country that I love. You that doubt me are so wrong. I vote against you heathen and vote for my China.


February 6, 2007 @ 2:59 pm | Comment

chicken feet,

Are you starting some Dadaist automatic sloganeering campaign?

Anyway, this one is my favorite:

>I love the idea of no change and a big FU to the West! I vote yes!

That is the “shoot yourself in the face to spite your enemy’s foot” routine. Mao made it famous.

February 6, 2007 @ 3:17 pm | Comment

No, big misunderstanding.
The idea of a liberal democracy is not about the rule of a majortity over a minority. It’s not about someone ruling over soemone else anyway.
It is about a garantee of the individuals rights and his or her freedom.
And about the protection from any arbitrary power, be it the state or any other group or individual.

February 6, 2007 @ 4:13 pm | Comment


>I love the idea of no change and a big FU to the West! I vote yes!

>That is the “shoot yourself in the face to spite your enemy’s foot” routine. Mao made it famous.

That is not what I mean. I mean that you will succeed without succumbing to the devil who thinks you must be like he to be civilized.

Be of China!
Be of the Glorious Middle Kingdom!
Be of the Righteous!

Vote Yes for China!

Let us vote yes together and then find our path and develop a truly Civilized Country of righteous men and women! Stand up! Unite!

>Are you starting some Dadaist automatic sloganeering campaign?

My messages are not of Dada or any other trendy vein: they are for China! Sloganeering or whatnot, let us move the mouths, minds and hearts of China — and world!

We can do it together.


February 6, 2007 @ 4:57 pm | Comment

88, I love this line: “That is the “shoot yourself in the face to spite your enemy’s foot” routine. Mao made it famous.”

February 6, 2007 @ 5:09 pm | Comment

Just voted for China. What’s next?

February 6, 2007 @ 5:09 pm | Comment

nothing shulan!

just stand back and watch the magic happen!!!

February 6, 2007 @ 7:15 pm | Comment


What you said is the IDEA of liberal democracy. Never been fully practiced, never will.

Say, I am a Muslim woman, I would like to wear burka in Netherlands at public place. Can I do that?

And if more large scale terrorists attack occur in Europe or US, you will see more ugly measures come out of those democratic elected governments. It’s just human nature.

What the West sells, democracy, the West acts if democracy, an institution can overcome all the nastiness of human nature. No, it won’t.

February 6, 2007 @ 7:35 pm | Comment

you could say that about every form of govt, xueleifun. frankly, if the best example you can come up with to beat down democracy is the banning of the burka, i am disappointed.

regardless of that, i don’t agree with shulan’s defintion of liberal democracy. i see liberal democracy as the implementation of the majority viewpoint as defined through a free and fair election, within a human rights based framework.

i don’t see how the west claims that democracy cures the problems in human nature, perhaps you can give an example. it just claims that it will make the prevention of it more likely, and when things go wrong, the prosecution of the guilty. i’d certainly agree with you that democracy in itself does not stop the evil in human nature.

i think it also unfair to say that raj has the majority voice, so don’t bother to reason with him. he is a reasonable guy and doesn’t hector – why not try to persuade him to your point of view?

February 6, 2007 @ 7:59 pm | Comment

Holding my breath

Yeah, but I never claimed that democracy can cure the “nastiness of human nature”. Just wanted to point out that your concept was wrong.
Demoracies are not perfect as humans are not. But they are the best way to deal with the unperfectness of humans.

February 6, 2007 @ 8:14 pm | Comment

Surely that the majority chooses the government is one important aspect of a democracy. But I would say the much more important aspect is that the power of the majority over the minotity is limited.

February 6, 2007 @ 8:29 pm | Comment

Or to say it with F. A. Hayek:
“There is no justification for the belief that, so long as power is conferred by democratic procedure, it can not be arbitrary; … it is not the source but the limitation of power which prevents it from beeing arbitrary.”

February 6, 2007 @ 8:35 pm | Comment

sure, but this should be guaranteed through a respect for human rights. i would agree that human rights are primary, but most democratic elections don’t throw up govts who would ignore human rights norms in their own country (the international field is sadly a lot more anarchic). what is needed is more democracy and justice at the world level, but that i think is a long way off.

February 6, 2007 @ 8:55 pm | Comment

I think everyone is missing one of his major points. He is saying that American corporations and government are essentially selling out to China in order to make money. They are using the excuse of a gradual liberalization to make this palatable for people. When Microsoft or the Rolling Stones censor themselves just to get in on the Chinese market they both say that’s an acceptable loss because it will lead to gradual liberalization. Now, they might actually believe this, (harder to believe in Microsoft’s case) but, what if it has the opposite effect? What if these kinds of actions lead to less liberalization because they are normalizing and feeding censorship?

(An interesting note. When I was fact checking to make sure I remembered correctly about Microsoft, I had a little trouble because the information about censorship was censored.)

February 6, 2007 @ 10:40 pm | Comment

Feng37 at February 6, 2007 02:40 PM

Here’s my post listing the 8 non-communist political parties in China I’m pretty sure these are remnants of the pre-Rightist Purges of the late 50s.

Should Mayor Ma claim leadership of the China Revolutionary Committee of the Kuomintang and President Chen the leadership of the Taiwan Democratic Self-Government League?

But actually I don’t see multi-party elections in the forseeable future, when the single party can’t even publicly admit the reality of factionalism in the party.

On the other hand I could see the expansion of suffrage in the sense that the Three Represents “expanded suffrage” to businessmen.

February 6, 2007 @ 11:07 pm | Comment

Assuming one-party, multiple candidates, if not regional expansion, then what sort?

February 7, 2007 @ 1:53 am | Comment

To make my points clearer I have to mention first that I am a chinese.
Whenever I see this kind discussion about China’s political future the first thing jumping into my mind is always “How well all these westerners know about our culture?”
It is not to look for any excuse for the suppression or whatever happned and happening in China.I’m more curious whether a foreigner can really get the same sense as we do.
Of course you can argue that we are all human beings and there must be some universal guildlines for everyone,such as no censorship,direct presidential election,blah blah. This is true but may not be the complete story.
After living in US for almost 10 yrs, I am still amazed that all the so-called chinese restaurants here are offering such ‘non-chinese’ cuisine.But americans like it.And when I invite some of my white friends for some home-made authentic chinese food,they just politely put it away.Yeah,you can for sure claim that we are all human beings and food is food for everyone.But you see here,we just have different tatses.
I really hold the belief that the same thing happens to the understanding of “democracy”,or more generally, “what is a good government’.It is much more a cultural thing than some theoretical words.
Our culture is largely based on Confuscism,or collectivism,if that is more familiar for you guys,but not the individualism that prospers in the western world.This is the fundamental difference between the western and eastern cultures.
According to that, we feel a good government is the one that can keep the entire national structure in shape and perform harmoniously.And individuals could sacrifice for this whole system.
Let me make it clear that everything comes with a price.Democracy is not an exception.So we are pursuing some compromise here.
I feel it is laughable there are so many cliches and hypocrisy from the western world.To say China’s prosperity is only for the coastal people.They probably dont know the coastal area holds about 400+ million people,larger than US’s whole population.Or they will claim China will collapse because of the anger from the poors.I am amused to think that maybe when they say these words,there r some pictures from a shabby revolution movie in their minds.No,China and its people are very very pragmatic.We can hardly become that dramatic.
I wanna mention that our culture has to be appreciated for its extremely strong assimilation force.Over the last 4000+ yrs,we almost completely digest buddism,the mongols,this and that. I just have no doubt that we will sooner or later digest ‘communism’ as well.It will become just in prefect line with our successive and successful culture root,that is,the pragmatic collectivism.

February 7, 2007 @ 10:04 am | Comment

I think you make the mistake of many Chinese people when you assume that no “outsider” can ever understand your culture. One of the things you learn in sociology is that in order to understand a culture you need both inside and outside viewpoints. For example, when a Chinese person looks at a bus that is meant to hold 100 people and it has 300 people on it, they may just think it’s normal. However, a westerner sees it as dangerously overcrowded and wonders why don’t they add another bus? Chinese people need to be gently reminded that there is a maximum for bus safety, just like American people need to be reminded that Chinese food is not simply fried rice and egg foo yung.

It’s pretty well documented that coastal Chinese are far better off than inland Chinese. Even by the Chinese government. This is no secret, it’s not a cliche or hypocrisy. It’s not the amount of people, but the distribution of wealth that is important. In America, we have a huge middle class compared to China. Even the average idiot like Homer Simpson has a house and two cars. It’s one of the things that scares us about having Bush as president, we see the middle class shrinking.

February 7, 2007 @ 10:56 am | Comment

Of course we appreciate all the comments from the outside world,and we will try to understand them properly:)
there is no need to argue about the income gap ,corruption or whatever.I am just trying to mention to you guys about the very different mentality we have.
actually as a very pragmatic country,in today’s china people,especially the young generation,really care very little about this kind of futile debate.They prefer to put more time on their jobs.
i just sometime get tired of this monotonous tone in the past 20 yrs.In 1976 when Mao died,they predicted China will collapse.In 1989 after the tiananmen square riot,they predicted china will collapse.In early 1990s when USSR was dissovled they predicted Chian will collapse. In mid-1990s when our nation-owned enterprises started reform they predicted China will collapse. In late 1990s during the asian financial crisis they predict China will collapse.In early 2000 when China was about to join WTO they predicted China will collapse.In 2003 when SARS hit they predicted China will collapse.In 2004 when our financial sector started the reform they predict China will collapse.And now again they are predicting that China will collapse,due to the miserable enviromental problems.

I am not saying we have many many big troubles ahead.But as I mentioned,this is a very strong and streneous culture.It will come back and is coming back.I can see those predictions can still come and go for another 15 yrs,which is not that long.After mid 2020s,maybe they will lose the attraction:)

For all those who are quite foreign to China,I strongly recommend you start reading one of our novels,named “the romance of three kindoms”.It is talking about one of the darkest period in our history,much worse than the last century.But interestingly,it is eventually transformed to one of our most colorful and memoriable dynasty.

February 7, 2007 @ 11:30 am | Comment

By the way,plz dont misunderstand.I am not anyway a spy or whatever sent by the communist party:)I am just a common young generation chinese.
Actually the main point i want to make is to say that China and its culture and its people are very pragmatic and practical,especially for my generation or the even younger ones.But this is often neglected by the outside onlookers.
To be honest,how many chinese people,especially the young ones,will sit down and talk about these politics in beijing,shanghai,chongqing,chengdu,lanzhou or even NYC,SF,LA.No,most of our chinese dont realy care too much about this topic.They care much more about how to be a good doctor,phamarcist,phd student,professor businessman and so on.

February 7, 2007 @ 12:04 pm | Comment


If you bothered to read the article here, the guy is saying that China won’t collapse and it won’t reform either. But I see what you’re saying about the collapse, because a lot of people think that America is going to collapse every few years. Same thing. It won’t. You say that most Chinese aren’t interested in politics because they want to be good at their job, but I think most Chinese want to make money, pure and simple. We do too. Unfortunately, sometimes the two collide. It’s funny though because I’ve actually never encountered people that were so bad at their jobs until I came to China. I guess it’s quantity over quality.

February 7, 2007 @ 5:51 pm | Comment

I am not challenging the obvious low productivity in China.I am just trying to remind all you guys that whenever you really want a serious talk about China’s political future,please do not imagine. People are complaining about the corruption,pollution,all of these.But seriously please dont translate those into some dramatic scenes.We,especially the young generation(i mean,under 40s),will not hold the weapons,execute the officials and shout the slogans “FREEDOM!”No,too drmatic,way too dramatic.We seriously think those are so childish and ridiculous.
And plus,even I myself am amazed by the pace of China’s development.As you have mentioned, the productivity is extremely low now,but they are picking up the speed so quickly,not in the scale of centuries or 20 yrs,but literally years.While average americans are still joking about the low-end products from china like toys or your car keys,they actually dont know how quickly China is developing its R&D sector.In fact,there are so many R&D centers are now moving from US to China.
And so,the world was dominated by the East for quite awhile,and the West for a while.But now it will be shared.

February 8, 2007 @ 12:11 am | Comment

I completely disagree with what you said in your last post. The reason Chinese people don’t talk about politics and try to change the system is because they are afraid of what might happen if they stand up for themselves. I’m not trying to demean Chinese people here, because I’ve never lived in a repressive system where I really had to take a chance, possibly with my life, to stand up for what I believe in, so I can’t really blame them for trying to protect themselves. When you say standing up for freedom is “childish and ridiculous”, you are just saying that Chinese aren’t ready to take that chance. They are afraid. Who thinks freedom is childish and ridiculous?

Yeah, you’re right about that. I know of one large pharmaceutical company that is setting up shop in Shanghai. I actually don’t know any that are moving to China though, usually they are just setting up a branch. Do you have any examples?

February 8, 2007 @ 10:11 am | Comment

I also completely disagree with what you said in your last post:).That is exactly what I mean in my previous posts:”how could a westerner really understand our culture?”
The way how you interpret our lives are very outdated.But that is not your fault.The whole media here is as biased as the one in China.They are trying to depict today’s China as it was in 60s or 70s.So you think we will be intimidated and interrogated and incriminalized and finally interned because we are complaining the rampant corruption?:)I do not wanna argue with you about that but please do not take a stereotyped impression of the life in today’s China.
Of course freedom,democracy or human rights are good.Why should I feel that they are ridiculous or childish?No,what I am trying to point out is that there are many many different pathways to interpret,realize and evaluate these wonderful goals.What I feel as childish and ridiculous is the mentality of many westerners,who have been so used to their life styles and felt that there is one way to Rome.Things just unfortunately donot happen that way.There are many ways leading to Rome and some of them are totallly different or even seemingly opposite.As I mentioned to you,our culture,which is based on Confuscism or the pragmatic collectivism,is fundamentally different from your culture.So plz dont take an over-simplified view of the world.
As of the outsourcing of the R&D centers,you can find plenty of those information online.Actually,almost all major biotech or pharmaceutical companies,such as Pfizer or Bayer,have long been present in China.But now their focus has dramtically shifted from the manufacturing to solid R&D work,with the help of low-cost and plenty chinese scientists.

China’s per capita GDP is only about 8000$ in 2006(PPP from CIA data),a fraction of that of US.That is why I know all these non-scientific comments from the West can still sell.As I mentioned earlier,we need another solid 15 years,which is not extraordinarily long,to reach the goal of around 18-20,000$/capita.And I know by then we can have a clearer and louder voice to the world,especially the West,saying “there are many ways to approach the truth(we call it Dao),and let’s make the world a more diverse and happy place.”

February 8, 2007 @ 1:21 pm | Comment

I am on vacation now so I could afford to spend some time here:)

I am often astonished by many comments from those so-called “china scholars” for their consistent mistakes and paranoid mentalities.In one way they are quite fortunate enough to be able to keep their jobs.Look,I am working in the medical field.And if I assertively informed my patient that they would die or “collapse” in 5 years.And after that period of time he not only survives but actually gains more muscles at an annual rate of about 10%.I will be only worrying about how to hire the best lawyers in town.And in the courtroom, it will be amusing if I speak to the judge as”Dear Sir,I know I may be wrong about my last prediction,but please be patient for another 5 years and this time I predict he will die of a heart attack instead of the previously mentioned colon cancer.”

They are fake scientists or quacks.And they should feel ashamed.

Another thing I feel entertaining is how similar the media here is compared to China’s.Before I came to US even I was thinking that CNN or BBC was such a detached and unbiased wonder.It is only after these many years that I have really known how they function.

Some examples here.The westerners paint a rosy and romantic picture for the old Tibet under Dalai Lama’s rule,and of course,nowadays that is just a hell.But how many of you actually know the real history of that “Utopian Tibet”?Do you know that it is largely a salvery society?Do you know that before 1950s 80% of the Tibetians are slaves and literally own nothing?Do you know that the now famously benign Dalai had ordered the intact human skin and skull(from live slaves) for religious rituals?Of course you dont have time or even the mood to look at those.All that CNN wants us to know about is how an always smiling and possibly knowledgable Dalai teaches us what is “love”.

And I felt totally amused by a report from BBC couple days back,which deals with our president’s trip to Africa.The beautiful article starts with something like this”In the 19th century,when all european countries scrambled to Africa,they set a meeting for mutual benefits(with the african nations).And now,people are concerned whether China’s economic deals with this continent will result in new colonism.”I know it is indecent and bad and unprofessional,but using our beloved vice president Dick Cheney’s words,this is just 100% pure “hogwash”.

February 8, 2007 @ 1:49 pm | Comment

“hello_china,” you aren’t our old friend who used to post as “hello,” are you? I see you are writing from Texas and sounding very similar to our dear friend. Let me know, okay?

I watch CNN every day – they tend to be quite positive about China. Of course, they can’t compare to China Daily in terms of objectivity and serious research, but then, who can?

February 8, 2007 @ 2:10 pm | Comment

Hello,Richard.Yah,I am new to here.

Of course US is a great nation and its people are as wonderful.

I am only trying to make the discussions here more meaningful by stating that:

1).Everything comes with its due price.Confuscism or Collectivism is,same to Individualism or Democracy;

2).There are multiple approaches for seeking the Truth,or Dao;

3).And let’s respect and greet each other on our jouneys:)

As I first mentioned,the westerners tend to misunderstand our culture.They should be reminded that there are different cuisines in the world.The one good for you guys may not be our favourites,vice versa.Also,it is important to note that the propaganda here about today’s china is often either outdated or distorted,if not both,just like the so-called chinese restaurants here in US offer such crappy and un-authentic chinese food.

A small but interesting example here about this miscommunication.I notice the webmaster has put down the picture of the chinese actress “Bai Ling” on the front page,possibly witha purpose to demonstrate the authenticity of this China-related forum.But unfortunately,bai ling is just no way representative of our culture and today’s young generation.It is a totally Western-made Chinese character for the western people.

Instead,if you really want to know more about the real China,please first take off that stereotyped glasses,and at the same time unload your generous compassion toward us for our possible sufferring from our government because we shout ‘freedom”:).Only after that,maybe you will understand us a little better,I mean,a little better than what is coming out of CNN.

February 8, 2007 @ 2:33 pm | Comment

>>Do you know that the now famously benign Dalai had ordered the intact human skin and skull(from live slaves) for religious rituals?

I heard he crushes the heads of puppies and clubs seals with a giant crucifix (which he sets on fire first, of course). I think he harvests their organs for the PLA, but that might just be a rumor.

February 9, 2007 @ 1:46 am | Comment

Well, let me pose a question to you. Why do you feel that you can understand Chinese culture? You’ve said yourself that you have been living abroad for many years. Don’t you think you are stereotyping all Chinese people based on your opinion? Most of the people who post on this blog have lived and worked in China for many years, but you’re saying that they know nothing about China simply based on the fact that they are “westerners”. I could make the same argument. You are constantly making generalizations about “westerners”. That includes all the countries in western Europe, Canada, Australia, and America and I assure you many of those people feel the same way about CNN as you do. My point is that your argument is a common hollow Chinese argument. You can never understand us because you are not Chinese. If that is true than it must be true both ways. You can never understand anything about America because you were born in China. See how ridiculous that mentality is now? Of course we can analyze and comment on Chinese culture, just like you are analyzing Western culture based on your observations and emotions about living in America.

Your media argument is also a very common one for many people not just Chinese. The problem with your argument is that you don’t understand the difference between what kind of media Americans can take in and what they actually do take in. You see, in America we are free to choose any media we want to read, listen to, or watch. Our first amendment rights entitle us to freedom of the press. If you don’t like CNN, then watch PBS, and if you don’t like that you can listen to Pacifica radio, or even Rush Limbaugh if you feel like it. (In case you’re not familiar, very liberal and very conservative examples of media.) You can even watch CCTV! If you absolutely cannot find anything acceptable media then you can create your own blog, tv station, radio station, or just stand on a soapbox and yell. This is simply not true in China. Censors control what you can and cannot see. So, your assertion that media in the US is the same as China is completely wrong.

February 9, 2007 @ 9:23 am | Comment

Hello, I just check the IP address again. Just like I thought. Right, you stumbled in here by accident. Come in and share your thoughts, but please don’t lie. Thanks for participating. Also, look around some more – you may be surprised at the diversity of opinions in here, and the willingnewss to consider alternative viewpoints. If they are expressed in a civil and intelligent way. Take care.

February 9, 2007 @ 11:04 am | Comment

Giving up already, and we were just getting started….

February 9, 2007 @ 11:12 am | Comment

Sorry Pha, “hello” has a long history here. He’s at the university of Texas (how come all the trolls use university servers?) and he likes to stir things up, then disappear, then come back and blanket the site in comments.

February 9, 2007 @ 11:25 am | Comment


What Hello China is representing is a point of view called “Chinese Exceptionalism,” a belief that used to be common among foreign scholars of China and sadly still lingers among Chinese academics that China is a “unique country and people” for whom outside theories or observations have no application. Conversely, theories derived from watching China have no application for other countries. It’s the sort of thing that makes otherwise serious Chinese biologists dimissive of the “Out of Africa” theory of evolution. Not many serious scholars take this theory seriously of course, but it still is a part of mainstream consciousness in China.

February 9, 2007 @ 7:27 pm | Comment

It’s a little off topic but I just want to ask Jeremiah a question. Is ‘American Exceptionalism’ also in the same boat?

February 9, 2007 @ 7:44 pm | Comment

Actually, China and America are both anomalous and entitled to some exceptionalism. Only China can boast 4,000 years of continuous cultural existence — the cultural disruptions of the 20th century were nothing compared to those endured or embraced by Egypt. America is the first large nation founded on an ideal.

My own guess is that the CCP has another 50-100 years of life within it. Opportunities for individual economic advancement, the existence of some avenues for dissent and disagreement and tangible improvements in living standards offer the CCP some room to adapt that the USSR did not make use of.

February 10, 2007 @ 5:52 am | Comment


I think American exceptionalism manifests itself more in policy and justifications for past and present actions. As Yamaneko said, “the first nation founded on an idea” is the core of this belief, it can be elaborated to suggest, as some do, that the USA is “chosen,” by God for some people, and so has a special place in the world to stand up for freedom and against tyranny. Unfortunately, this attitude has led us down some very thorny roads and has not endeared us to many in the international community recently.

Yamaneko, I must disagree with you a bit on China. All countries/peoples are ‘somewhat anomalous’ in their own way. Yes, China has a long history, this does not mean that it is some mystical land impenetrable to observation by outsiders, does it?

February 10, 2007 @ 7:00 am | Comment

Yeah, you summed it up with that last question. But, I wonder if I have an American perspective. I believe anyone can become American regardless of what they look like or what they believe in (well, unless they want to destroy America). They just need to understand some fundamental laws and guidelines about our country. This is a pretty common view for Americans, the great melting pot, or the great salad bowl idea. I’ve heard the French have a similar idea, that you can “become” French as an immigrant, although I’m not sure how you go about that. I’d like to hear from some other countries about this point. Do you believe someone can become German, Australian, Japanese, Iraqi?

This Chinese attitude doesn’t really annoy me as much as it used to. Now, I just think it impedes progress in China. I think being too insular retards growth in many ways. On one hand, you have the example Jeremiah brought up about the “out of Africa” theory. On the other hand, you severely limit your pool of talent when you only draw from one source. Remember Einstein was German but made great contributions to America. So if the Chinese want to insist on exceptionalism then that’s fine with me, less Einsteins for you. Hehe.

The thing that really pisses me off is that I see Bush taking some of the same steps in America. Under the cover of the GWOT, more and more scientists are being denied visas and funding. Oh, don’t get me started on Bush and science, it’s bad for my blood pressure…….

February 10, 2007 @ 9:52 am | Comment

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