George Will reviews Jim Mann

In his column today in the Wasington Post, George Will reviews Jim Mann’s new book The China Fantasy: How Our Leaders Explain Away Chinese Repression. Will’s views on China are about what you would expect them to be. He is a believer that capitalism requires the kind of free access to information and personal choice that leads to democratic changes. Mann’s book is less optimistic.

From Will’s review:

Mann warns against “McDonald’s triumphalism,” the belief that because the Chinese increasingly eat like us, they are becoming like us. That is related to “the Starbucks fallacy” — the hope that as the Chinese become accustomed to many choices of coffee, they will demand more political choices.

His most disturbing thesis is that “the newly enriched, Starbucks-sipping, apartment-buying, car-driving denizens” of the large cities that American visitors to China see will be not the vanguard of democracy but the opposition to it. There may be 300 million such denizens, but there are 1 billion mostly rural and very poor Chinese. Will the minority prospering economically under a Leninist regime think majority rule is in their interest?

There is certainly a great–and growing–gap in wealth between the urban few and the rural many. Is China really in danger of becoming two countries? What interests does the urban elite share with their country cousins? What happens when you reintroduce a stratified class system into a socialist society? Or is all of this just another stage in development with society becoming more harmonious with time?

The Discussion: 5 Comments

The idea that because McDonalds are proliferating in China the Chinese are somehow becoming more amenable to Western ideals like democracy is nonsense. As long as can remember, there have been Chinese takeaways in every small town where I live, but nobody has ever suggested that this meant we would become more sympathetic to China as a result.

April 27, 2007 @ 2:56 pm | Comment

These are certainly the questions to ask. Reminds me of a few years ago when I was sitting at a high end Seattle seafood restaurant with a hugely successful Moscow lawyer whose English is every bit as good as mine. I said that Russia’s massive corruption was holding it back and that I personally was aware of countless companies that had chosen not to go to Russia because of it. Naive me, I was expecting him to respond by agreeing with me but he basically just looked at me and took another bite of his halibut.

Right then I (somewhat embarrasedly) realized how wrong I had been for assuming he would agree with me just because he was so smart, so well educated, and so worldly. He obviously disagreed with me because as head of one of Moscow’s most successful law firms the situation there was suiting him just fine and he saw no reason to change it.

This is my long-handed way of saying that I do see the point of the 300 million perhaps not wanting to change things.

April 29, 2007 @ 6:10 am | Comment

CLB, it’s something I’ve said myself. Why risk new-found wealth when:

a) the State isn’t giving you any trouble
b) democracy would mean lots of people much poorer than you demand you pay a lot more in taxes

It’s the poor people that suffer from State corruption the most, and it’s the poor people that get left behind the easiest. So why would the Chinese middle and upper classes do anything for them? The answer is they won’t – until what they have is threatened. The closest to that is what the Economist wrote about (and I re-posted here), concerning the irritation at having to pay taxes without any say where the money goes. We shall have to see whether they learn to live with that or push for change.

April 29, 2007 @ 6:31 am | Comment

A reason to be hopeful might be that because the middle class in China is so new, it hasn’t formed much of an identity yet. It hasn’t got to the stage where it can reject poor urban Chinese because “they’re not like us” (though poor rural Chinese are already beyond the pale).
There’s still a sense of inclusiveness, if only insofar as, all you have to do is make money.
While the economy’s growing at this pace, the masses of the comfortably off keep expanding, and they aren’t getting entrenched. When things settle down a bit, there might end up being another big stand-off between town and country – but town will win this time, absent a new Mao!

April 30, 2007 @ 9:53 am | Comment

First China’s urbanization rate stood at 43.9% in 2006, so you are really talking about 577 mil vs 737 mil.

What that piece of news tells more about the reducing role of agriculture in the overall economy than anything else, considered:

* Increasing portion of the rural residents are making their primary livings in urban areas.

* Each year the urbanized rural areas are among the richest rural areas.

All you need to do is to travel/stay in backward rural areas in different times in China, to realize that nobody is left behind.

April 30, 2007 @ 2:35 pm | Comment

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