China’s On-Going Experiment In Government

Vote For Me

The Chinese are willing to experiment with government.

Americans are convinced that ours is the best government in the world. Yet, today, there’s plenty of indication that many things are, in fact, not working in the District of Columbia. Bipartisanship has become a unicorn—often spoken of, but rarely ever seen. Ideological issues such as abortion, gun control and religion have polarized the politics of the nation, poisoning the well of cooperation from which we must draw for the tackling of key issues such as health care reform, climate change and the national debt. The problem with making unpopular decisions? No party wants to be the one responsible for making them! And so it goes—the toughest decisions get put off until later, and democracy marches on.

How long can the "Chinese Model" last? How long can these fighters last?

Say what you will about China, when Beijing sets its mind to something, for better or worse, it usually gets done. Take, for example, this CNN article discussing how China has just recently cleaned our collective clocks in clean energy investing. Along similar lines, Beijing is also intent on going for Detroit’s jugular in hybrid and electric vehicles. And what is Washington doing? Playing ostrich with the spiraling national debt, or vowing to quit playing altogether because the other kid won a round.

Look out Mo-Town!

Look, I am a Chinese-American. And before you start with the “if you like China so much, why don’t you go back there” bit, let’s just get off our high-horses for one second and objectively look at this situation. As a relatively privileged nation, we’ve always had the luxury of debate and discourse, personal freedoms and respect for the rights of the minority. All these are wonderful things! But, they cease to be so wonderful when “what I want” becomes the sole objective, and “what anyone else wants” becomes entirely irrelevant. With everyone pulling in different directions, each trying to simply overpower the other, the nation goes nowhere fast. At the same time, we see our cushion of privilege growing thinner, and a resurgent China looming in the rear-view mirror, gaining fast.

Of course, Chinese government isn’t perfect either, I’ll be the first to admit that. But is there something to be said for the utilitarian nature of efficient centralized governance which gets things done? In the vein of Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping, I think this generation of CPC leadership is, in fact, relatively enlightened. Who can forget the images of Wen Jiabao in Sichuan just after the earthquake? And with a leadership that has the power to make life better and better for the vast majority of Chinese people day after day, China has truly become a land of opportunity. No doubt, the gap between rich and poor is growing and the rights of the few are often brushed aside. But the question remains, in a lifeboat full of squabbling people who can’t decide which direction to row in and a dwindling food and water supply, doesn’t someone need to take charge and simply get the boat going in some direction, any direction, even if some folks in the boat disagree?1

Grandpa Wen at the helm. (Third cousin Dubyah did a fly-over.)

Hence the great trade off of government. To paint in broad strokes and risk some coloring outside the lines, or to paint in fine strokes, which results in cleaner work, but at a bigger price? To let each pull in a different direction, or to have leadership and one decided direction, even if it may be an incorrect one at times? To afford the inefficiencies of debate, consensus and minority interests, or to address the greater good in a utilitarian manner, even if at the risk of alienating the minority? Finding the correct balance is a pivotal issue for every form of government. And frankly, in many respects, the costs and inefficiencies inherent in true elective democracy are expenditures and luxuries that many non-first world nations can ill-afford.

I’m not saying China’s choice is right for everyone. All I am saying is, why do we assume that our American choice must be right for China, and everyone else in the world? Shouldn’t it be possible for each nation to select the balance between the greater good versus individual freedoms for themselves? Beijing, with far more mouths to feed, and being decades behind on development, has opted for a form of governance which more clearly emphasizes the well-being of the whole over the freedoms of the individual. Perhaps it’s a cultural issue,2 but the vast majority of the Chinese people are generally happy with the direction of the nation in the past 10 to 20 years. Why, then, do Americans insist on seeing the Chinese government as being so evil?

Peking Duck

China's contribution to the burger-eatin' world.

China feeds 20% of the world’s population without aid from the WFP, oh, and is the world’s third largest food donor. And the notion that Beijing’s entirely totalitarian and not open to new ideas? Not true! It’s just that when the ideas have a distinctly Chinese flair, some folks don’t care for them. Even the good news of increased living standards for the Chinese people is a threat—the Chinese are eating all the meat!3

Let’s stop the nonsense and admit that China’s simply following a different model of governance. So far, I wouldn’t say that things are going too badly on the whole. Of course, Chinese government is FAR from perfect, especially at the lower, regional, levels of government, but there’s something to be said for all that China’s recently achieved while Washington has simply become more and more partisan with each passing day, emphasizing rhetoric over consensus as the nation continues to recoil from the recent depression. And, if you don’t believe me, did you ever think you’d ever see a New York Times article like this, showing what increasing numbers of America’s best and brightest are doing?

Laowai in China.

Laowai at work.

America was once the greatest experiment in government in the world–the shining “city on a hill.” Today, Beijing’s running the next great experiment in government, a gradual evolution from classic communism to a social democracy with Chinese characteristics. Have recent events made Americans so nervous about our “city on a hill” status as to wish failure upon China, and fault-find its every step?


  1. Recall that, even in our system of checks-and-balances, SCOTUS is given life tenure so that it may make unpopular decisions without fear of retribution. That even SCOTUS has become too partisan is a whole other can of worms. []
  2. The very foundation of America’s existence is based on anti-big government. []
  3. Meant for Americans of course! []


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  1. xian

    Democracy is like the too-many-cooks situation. American partisanship makes it so the government can’t effect any major change without being shut down by the other side. Today it does not matter how great the American president is, America has been incapable of drastic change since Eisenhower. China would rather have the one cook who might make mistakes but gets things done. In a country of 1.4 billion, you cannot do anything important without stepping on some innocent people. Gotta break a few eggs to make an omelette.

    However, I believe westerners are starting to realize that China is simply different. Not backwards, not unenlightened, just plain different. This article in the Baltimore sun reflects a growing realization of this fact.

    http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2010-03-24/news/bal-op.google24mar24_1_china-markets-work-foreign-companies

    • lolz

      I would say the too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen analogy would apply to a large democracy like India, where you get over 40 political parties with no one over 1/3 majority. Kinda hard to claim any type of mandate and implement anything when there are always more people who disagrees with you.

      The problem with the US is that people are brought up to believe that the government is the problem and individuals must solve problems by themselves (government is the last resort). Under this political climate it’s natural that politicians won’t do much; they can’t.

    • Bin Wang

      His is another trade-based agenda, drooling for economic sanctions.

      • xian

        I don’t agree with his underlying tone on trade, but his admission of China’s different values is a first step towards acceptance of China’s ways.

        • Bin Wang

          Well, it is the first step, to acknowledge the fundamental differences, but he then goes complete off the reservation and basically says, they’re different, we’ll never understand them, they’ll never understand us, so there’s no point in talking, we gotta play hard ball. He’s not advocating acceptance at all I’m afraid.

    • friendo

      That article is idiotic claptrap written by a third rate moron

  2. B-real

    America’s form of democracy has been tainted for quite a while. We stress too much on giving the people a voice, but not everyone expresses the same views. The checks and balances is really screwing us over. President is really powerfully but not in his country. What a fucking joke system. Since most of our taxes are going to defense because we have made so many enemies along the way, the GOV puts allot of homeland issues on the back burner. Same shit that USSR in trouble in the Cold War.

    This is my opinion on the Chinese GOV. The only reason why china is looking real good right now is because they can afford it. Chinese GOV are more efficient managers then they ever have because of the bottom line. The better China is doing the more prospect business china may attract from outside of its borders. Beside China can’t keep playing the cheap labor game for long. China has to move forward. But with its limits. China doesn’t really need America’s democracy or Democracy at all, but they should un-clinch the fist a little. In my eyes GOV will be GOV no matter what system it is.

    Some areas China needs to work on is quality. From your TV sets at home China looks like paradise. But fly in and take any direction out side the airport and you get a real sense of the face system. China pays attention to details only where it counts for the outside world. Another thing is that the people have pride for their country but none for the land. That is the direct result of lack real tangible personal property. Here in China you don’t really buy a house you just rent them. Up keep is a huge prob even for the high priced apartment. You have to pay for the service and its shitty and the people accept it because its temporary. The Chinese has this mentality that its way better than being a squatter so why complain.

    China has everything going for them, its up to them not to fuck it up. Change the attitude, loosen the ass cheeks, forget to wear a tie sometimes. Admit faults from time to time. Stop telling other nations to “fuck off” or reciting facts out of history books to make what ever scandal China is perplexed with look minor when it was and always will be wrong.

    • Gov will be Gov. I like that.

      The US government is corrupt, and the influence of money continues apace. The PRC government is becoming more corrupt as companies get larger/richer and the income gape widens.

      Comes down to money, which is more important than structure or political philosophy.

  3. Hank

    @Bin Wang

    “Have recent events made Americans so nervous about our ‘city on a hill’ status as to wish failure upon China, and fault-find its every step?”

    I’m afraid the answer to your question is yes!

    You will not win an argument with an American by quoting statistics on how many people China has raised out of poverty in the last 30 years – (500 million people have been lifted out of poverty in a generation).

    When China sent ships to Africa in the 14th century, they were not for transporting slaves. They brought back spices, ivory, giraffes, and lions. China has close and friendly ties to Africa. Yet, the Western media constantly portrays China’s interest in Africa as being suspicious and exploitive. China will win no argument here.

    When China embarked on a world “show-the-flag” cruise in 1405, China sent 62 ships manned by more than 27, 800 men, including sailors, clerks, interpreters, officers and soldiers , artisans, medical men and meteorologists. No colonies were taken; no wars were started. The mission was for establishing trade and diplomatic ties. China never acquired one colony, yet, the Western media constantly portray China as an expansionist nation. China wins no argument here.

    Historically, all overseas Chinese, in whatever country, including the US, have experienced attacks, racism, and oppression. Their simple crime was to enter a country poor and, through hard work, great effort, and extreme thrift, manage to acquire wealth. This produces venomous envy and larceny in the hearts of the non-Chinese locals.

    Chinese and Jews are treated unfairly simply because the work harder, study longer, and save more than others.

    China’s leaders may not win an award for most congeniality but they definitely deserve credit for keeping united a country the size and complexity of China (remember 1 China = Russia, Japan, USA, France, Germany, Mexico, Egypt, UK, and probably a few Australias combined).

    Nevertheless, China must accept the fact that the US will not give it the respect it deserves no matter how successful it becomes. Because deep in the American psyche, at the foundation of the American spirit, is a pathological fear of the successful non-white.

    China can only follow the Arab saying: “The dogs howl but the caravan moves on.”

  4. Where you really lost me was the “As a relatively privileged nation, we’ve always had the luxury of debate and discourse, personal freedoms and respect for the rights of the minority” bit. Are you really that ignorant of American history? If so, count yourself lucky to have grown up in an age when that was more or less true. The American system and nation have changed drastically over the life of the Union, and continue to do so.

    Now, I’ll agree that the last decade or so have not been America’s best. China’s government is a bunch of Fu Manchus twirling their mustaches and plotting evil, either. But I wouldn’t count the US yet, nor declare China’s great experiment in materialist autocracy the way forward.

    • Bin Wang

      @John B

      Personal jabs aside (I’ll have you know I took a 5 on the AP U.S. History Exam, albeit that was some 15 years ago :-)), the U.S. is a relatively privileged nation, esp. when considered on a per capita basis. Our reputation for consumption, waste and consumerism, esp. in the post-WWII era, preceeds us. Perhaps I was too generous to say that we’ve always respected the rights of minorities or granted personal freedoms, my point was, the inefficiencies of U.S. democracy, at the end of the day, is a luxury that we can afford, but it’s not fair to think others can implement the same (which many Americans believe).

      That said, of course U.S. government is constantly changing, so is China’s. I am certainly not counting the U.S. “out” by any means or trying to imply that China’s way is “the way forward.” I am simply saying, don’t count China out, and let China find its own way before jumping to condemnation, which many Americans tend to do. If anything, this current climate should be a call to Americans for renewed bipartisanship and consensus building. But just as our government is evolving, so too let China’s evolve. The Chinese place great value on stability and prefer evolution’s stability instead of revolution’s turmoil (look at China’s past 100 years, the Chinese are trying to avoid all that). Therefore, for those that do demand the downfall of the CPC in a flaming ball of fire, I would ask them to really reflect on whether that’d be best for the Chinese people.

  5. AndyR

    Good article!

    A few comments:

    1. “Americans are convinced that ours is the best government in the world.” I’m sorry, but this is simply wrong. Please go tell this to all the people protesting in front of the White House or Capital Building or their local government offices everyday. Or all the Americans I meet at home and abroad who constantly bitch about our government. Talk about “broad” brushstrokes…

    2. I think you make a mistake in assuming that those of us who do not like China’s government want it to become “just like” the American system. Is Taiwan’s democracy “just like” the American system? What about Korea’s? Japan’s? What about Britain’s? All these nations are considered democracies, but I would not goes far as to say that they are following the “American model”. I think most of us who are actually educated opponents of China’s current governing system are often mistaken for proponents of the “American model” which is unfair.

    I personally believe that the Chinese people deserve to be more directly involved in the governing of their nation and I think that the current government belittles their intelligence by promoting the idea that China is “a lifeboat full of squabbling people who can’t decide which direction to row in and a dwindling food and water supply as you have said above and seem to agree with. Democracy to me means more participation, more weight given to the voices of the citizenry, more respect for the rights of citizens as outlined in law. As it stands now, in my opinion (which I realize counts for very little) China does not have enough of these things and the CCP is apparently either too scared or too arrogant to take steps to improve things on these fronts. I do not care if they follow the American model or not, but when Wen Jiabao says that people’s basic dignity should be respected and upheld, I expect the government to follow-up, and as it stands now I see a lot of empty words and little strides towards making them a reality let alone a goal (which is something I KNOW a great many people living in China today would agree is a fact and a shame).

    2. You write: “Today, Beijing’s running the next great experiment in government, a gradual evolution from classic communism to a social democracy with Chinese characteristics”

    Pleased to have your explanation on what this “social democracy” that China is evolving towards entails? Can you define this? The Party uses this word constantly but when asked to define most would simply say that what China has now is a “social democracy”. In which case I take social democracy to mean a non-participatory system governed mainly by a single political party that has many members in name but only a couple million “officials” that actually have varying degrees of political power out of a population of a billion-plus. What is social or democratic about this system? Nothing. It is word play. I think if China could actually provide an intelligible definition of “social democracy” you would have more understanding, but the reason you do not get a working definition is because if the CCP defined what the government is, then it would be accountable to actually perform according to that definition. This to me is a shame and also insulting towards the public’s intelligence.

    (I throw out “with Chinese characteristics” because it is a term worth throwing away as it is essentially a meaningless add-on created by the Party to make their policies appear more “Chinese” versus the intangible “Other”. If you could define what “Chinese characterisics” are then I would be glad to listen, but I suspect most people cannot give a definitive answer, thus the uselessness of this term to the conversation unless we are talking about “identity politics” which you are not.)

    3. I agree with many of your observations on the American system, but I find your conclusions a but shortsighted. Yes, we are in a period when getting things accomplished is very difficult, but the American system has gone through periods of governance stalled by bi-partisanship before and gotten through them and actually accomplished some very great things. I think people who are now lamenting the “failures” of democracy are too mired in the politics of the day and tend to take for granted all the achievements America has made under its system. Before claiming that democracy is “ineffective” and Chinese (in my opinion) “authoritarianism” is so great, perhaps we need to think back and appreciate how far the US has come. Is it not a world leader today IN PART because of the way it is governed? (I’m not saying that because of this everyone else should follow suit, but I do not think that we should make the mistake of taking a short view on the merits of American style of government because of the current political environment. The Chinese leadership does not send hundreds of its members to the United States for study for no reason.)

    4. In its own opinion (and many others though most loudly its own), China’s government has been great at developing the nation’s economy. I think it is more fair to say that an equal if not greater part of the congratulations for this development deserve to go to the Chinese people (similar to the above,where the US governing system is increasingly and unfairly given less and less credit for America’s successes, the Chinese people continuously get left out of the running when recognition is given out for China’s success). But, America has had periods of intense economic growth compared to the rest of the world as well. Was this due to governance, the people’s hard work, or good timing? It’s a fair question to which the best answer is probably a little of everything. I think that it is harder to link economic success DIRECTLY to governance than most people care to think about therefore to say that China’s government is a “successful” system because of economic growth is a bit simplistic, no?

    Further, is economic development the only metric by which a government is measured? By other metrics China’s governing body is complete failure, so we cannot just choose one standard and say “that government is overall better than this one”, can we? I think you are trying to make this point, but you end up just painting the American system with the same broad brush you seem to be railing against. Just as it is unfair to take the American standard of democracy and say China is bad because it does not match this standard, isn’t it also unfair to take the Chinese standard of economic growth and ask the American system and economy to do the same thing?

    5. I take issue with the idea that China’s governing style is something “new” or “experimental”. Both Korea and Taiwan underwent periods of great economic success under essentially authoritarian states very similar to China’s current system (again I would not be so quick to claim that their economic success was due to solely to governance necessarily, but just making a point). To say that the Chinese system represents a “new” form of governing is again an oversimplification and more of a buzzword used to promote this growing theme of “Chinese exceptionalism” (which is as stupid as any “exceptionalism” including American).

    • Bin Wang

      @ AndyR

      Let me address briefly.

      (1) I mean to say Americans feel that our form of govt. is the best. The protests today are actually by people who think the current government is trying to make us more socialist. In essence, they believe they’re protecting our American form of government.

      (2(a)) Honestly, I think many Americans do believe a U.S. style democracy could and should be implemented in other nations. Kudos to you if you recognize the impracticalities, but there’s many do will do the yay, rah, wave-the-flag bit and use that belief to justify our, let’s just say, “heavy-handed” approach to international diplomacy.

      (2(b)) Ideally, I find Scandinavian socialism to the as close to the ideal mix as one can find currently existing today. Of course, we’re talking about a relatively wealthy land, few people, homogenous citizenry, etc. Perhaps nearly impossible to implement in China (or the U.S. for that matter).

      (3) Of course U.S. governance is adaptable and resilient too. Refer to my reply to John B above. As I said, the current environment should be a wake up call to Americans today with regard to remembering what made the U.S. great to begin with. (I think we’ve rested on the laurels won by the blood sweat and tears of Brokaw’s Greatest Generation for too long.)

      (4)/(5) I think China emphasizes economic development and increasing the standard of living of the people because that is a foundation for progress. There is a reason why first-world nations tend to have successful functional democracies which developing nations either can’t have them, or implement them in ways which have substantial short-comings. The Chinese experience I think is experiment because of the emphasis on stable evolution, and simply because of the massive scale of the undertaking. I mean the Cultural Revolution only ended about some 30 years ago. I certain don’t ask that the Chinese standard for growth be required of the U.S., I simply ask that the American standard for government not be required of China. And I know you agree, but many folks don’t. In a difficult time such as today, those types of folks will be looking for scapegoats, and that’s what I take issue with.

    • friendo

      Japan was essentially a 1 party state until 2008. Taiwan’s democracy is the biggest joke in the world. Not sure about Korea, too distracted by the self-immolation, riots and finger cutting.

    • lolz

      “Further, is economic development the only metric by which a government is measured? By other metrics China’s governing body is complete failure, ”

      So what other metrics do you have in mind? Can you elaborate on the other types of metrics which makes you think that the Chinese government is a complete failure?

    • @AndyR

      I’m not going to take on everything above. Yet a comment on one point:

      (2a) I’m not entirely convinced that a two party system is ideal in any country, much less the US or China, given their diversity. If we’re being picky on democratic models, then the following seems like a better one than America’s: a democratic system in which the majority in a multi-party system can push threw agendas without being held up at every breath by the minority. Some parliamentary systems in our world allow for this, but America’s — most of the time — does not.

      It’s perhaps a legacy of the US’s unique historical evolution, but in its big, messy country, it some how ended up with two real parties, only.

      Anyway, so I agree that the American model isn’t the only democratic model from which the Chinese could choose in future reform to give its people relatively more say in their future development. However, given history, how does one introduce such a system into the CCP? And during this transition, how does one prevent the economic engine — which benefits so many — from screeching to a halt?

      • Bin Wang

        I think that’s exactly why it’s such a big “experiment.” These things, with a little help of course, tend to happen suddenly like the fall of the USSR and the Berlin Wall. If former “East Germany” is better off today than Russia, it’s because it was more “ready” for it. But I believe the Chinese value stability extremely highly and have no interest in another sudden regime change. Vacuums are always formed, power struggles ensue, and people suffer. That said, I’m pretty sure the first step is to get the nation into a stage of “readiness,” which means developing the nation and improving people’s living standards. Regardless of whether you believe the CPC ultimately means to morph with regard to more than just economics, the first step has to be the economics.

      • “How­ever, given his­tory, how does one intro­duce such a sys­tem into the CCP?”

        One possible answer of many: (1) formalize the factionalism that already exists within the CCP, (2) institute internal democratic process/enfranchisement within the CCP (supposedly a goal, but thus far the experiments have been reined in, right?), 3) expand enfranchisement to an ever-widening portion of regular citizenry until all Chinese have the right to vote. That or some version could be accomplished in a slow, cautious manner.

        If the Chinese can be ambitious enough to accomplish such laudable economic goals in such a short span of time (as mentioned by the original poster), why should even the mildest of political reforms be viewed as impossibility? And should Chinese expect to launch an argument of exceptionalism and expect a response from the rest of the world any warmer than that given to proponents of American exceptionalism and the misadventures it has led to?

        Whatever form of government China ends up with will indeed exhibit uniquely Chinese characteristics (without needing the government to spell them out as such), but that doesn’t obviate massive mis-governance in areas such as property rights, uniform application of law, upholding of the citizen’s rights spelled out in the Chinese constitution, minority relations, the Great Firewall (a harbinger of isolationism), et alius. I look forward to seeing Chinese solutions to these problems (as well as others we all face, such as environmental degradation), but thus far there’s been just as much–if not more–paranoia and stasis on display with regards to these questions as in the aforementioned struggle of the US partisans.

    • Simon_Ningbo

      Great comment, agree wholeheartedly.

  6. lolz

    First, if the argument is that each nation has it’s own unique environment and thus there is not perfect system for everyone, then there is no point to even mention America. Just because Democracy isn’t working out well for America at the moment doesn’t mean that it won’t work well for China.

    Having said that I think it is important to stress differences in basic ideologies. There is one popular school of thought where political freedom is the end. This ideology is built on the notion that people cannot live happy without freedom. I think most people in western democracies have a firm stance in this because they were trained to think this way since they were young.

    I can’t speak for most Chinese, but having lived actually as an ordinary Chinese without something as basic as access to hot water, I personally do not believe that personal freedom is essential to make many people happy. Basics such as food, shelter, and health, and family are to me much more important in 3rd world nations like China. I would guess that most Chinese think this way today as well, otherwise there would be another TAM already.

    On forums like this what I see are people going back and forth trying to reaffirm their own belief of what makes citizens happy. China defenders typically point out what the Chinese government has done to improve the living standards of most Chinese, because their fundamental belief that such things do matter the most. China bashers on the other hand stress that Chinese cannot be happy until they are granted personal freedom. They tend to project their own sense of views onto the Chinese people assuming the average Chinese have the same value system as they do.

    Unfortunately, since much of Chinese news is censored so there is no way to verify what the Chinese people actually think. However, my guess is that if you asked Chinese people which is more important, political freedom or more income I bet most people will chose the later.

  7. Radu

    Well, nice, BUT:
    When China gets criticized it gets frustrated and… then puts up the “is our business” attitude.

    You are probably to young to remember, but Beijing has the same discourse like USSR under Brejniev rule.

    I am from Eastern Europe (Romania) and we have a 70sh social-democrat ex communist dude who tried the same stunt. He called “original democracy”. Failed.. and we are only 20 million. We are still working to repaire the bad things from the ’90s done by the original guy.

    China could succeed if the country will become a good place to live for anybody. The signal fort that is when illegal immigrants will start to appear massively in mainland China. Until then…

    And any official statistics regarding China must be taken with a ton of salt.

  8. Jones

    They can invest in clean energy and electric cars all they want, but until they enforce quality controls a little, then it’s not going to amount to much. China may not be affected by this economic recession much right now, but personally I find quality of life in the US to, still, be quite a bit better.

    • Bin Wang

      Of course Jones, but China’s made massive leaps in improving people’s standard of living, just acknowledging that.

    • friendo

      They can invest in clean energy and electric cars all they want, but until they enforce quality controls a little

      High profile smear by Western propaganda machines aside, what is the failure rate of Chinese products, exactly?

      I’d expect you to know since you seem to think you’re an expert.

    • friendo

      but personally I find quality of life in the US to, still, be quite a bit better.

      You’re probably right on average- but note “personally”. I’m guessing you don’t live in Detroit’s inner city.

      • B-real

        Still better than China. It’s a no contest even when you speak of the ghettos of New Orleans after Katrina. China can’t win the quality of life battle.

    • hm

      Quality of life in the US depends on where you live.

      I’m sure living in the ‘ghetto’ areas of the US are perfectly safe, with decent housing, good schools and drug free streets.

  9. What you’ve done here is compare negative aspects of the American system with positive aspects of the Chinese one. If you juxtapose the inverse you will find youre argument at a disadvantage.

    • To be fair, he through in some healthy qualifiers about America’s social and political human rights. Also, the author made some notable nods to China’s problem in the inverse. I think you might have to be more specific to really draw out a more useful dialogue.

      Moreover, if this article came off relatively positive on China, then that’s because *it was meant to be*. Indeed, the main point is that some people seem to have made up their mind on China’s predisposition — i.e., evil — without having really thought about the merits of the system.

      • To be fair, its hypocritical to assume that Americans assume China is evil.

        Moreover, the article is a shallow examination of reality, and understandably so when one attempts to discern just what is happening when the broad stokes paint outside of the lines, and the “utilitarian” governance alienates the minority.

        When “expenditures and luxuries” such as human rights and dignity take a back seat to the whims of a totalitarian government how can anyone from a free country not speak out against it. I would argue it is even their duty to do so on behalf of those that cannot.

        I feel the overall flaw is the author’s postulation that it is the Chinese “nation” and not the party that is deciding the course of its direction. I can only assume that, being an American, he presumes people in every country have it as good as he does.

        • Bin Wang

          @lossofmind

          I’m not assuming anything. I live here, as you’ve alluded to. I know for a fact a lot of people have written the Chinese off as “evil” without thinking about the merits of anything.

          It’s such a Western ideal, this “duty” to speak on behalf of those who are painted over outside the lines. But it’s not absolute, even if it is correct in most instances. I think you’d have better luck doing so on behalf of oppressed people in your own nations, first of all. Secondly, there’s massive counter-considerations when Westerners purport to do it to China, not the least of which is the centuries of lack of trust, past wrongs, lack of mutual understanding and communications, and China’s understanding of the motives for this self-imposed “duty” to speak out.

          At best, it lacks consideration of the sovereignty of other nations. At worst, it’s goal is to simply mess with and break up other nations. And China’s had a lot of experience with being belittled as a nation. Given these off-setting considerations, I think you’ve got to take another more diplomatic approach. You’re not going to get anywhere making threats.

          The CPC is deciding the course of the nation. But I guarantee you the mass majority of the people support the party as things stand right now, because pragmatic concerns are being addressed and stability in people’s lives is being carried out. You’d be sorely dissapointed if you think the people are ripe for some sort of bloody revolution.

          I don’t for a moment presume the Chinese people have it as good as your average American. That’s exactly why the people support the party. Because, as some commentary has pointed out above, people do want functional improvements such as food to eat, clothes to wear, shelter to live in far more than ideological, intangible, freedoms which Westerners seem to value.

          By analogy, it’s never made any sense to me why certain Americans can be so vehemently pro-life and anti-abortion, and yet at the same time, take a stand on economic policy which deprives those children born a chance at success. You can be born, but you can’t have health insurance, or financial assistance to get into college, etc. for example. They make the abortion issue the moral absolute, and I think, regardless of whether one is pro-life or pro-abortion, that is short-sighted.

          In the same vein, it’s short-sighted to think people can live on intanglible freedoms. The Chinese people have always been very pragmatic and I think are mostly fine with a government that, sure may be some what controlling, but is not too bad at improving the important tangible things in their daily lives. And that’s what matters most to the Chinese right now.

      • Bin Wang

        You got exactly what I was trying to communicate Kevin.

  10. Inst

    I’m not going to read through the rest of the comments, so someone might have brought this up before, but the Chinese people have not selected their governance model. They’ve chosen not to select against their governance model, but that’s another thing altogether.

    • Bin Wang

      Well … in a way … the Chinese people did select it … in 1949. :-)

      • That’s a pretty creative interpretation of the outcome of civil war. Besides, what became of all those promises of equality and democrat process they made at the time?

        Which leads me to:

        “Shouldn’t it be possible for each nation to select the balance between the greater good versus individual freedoms for themselves?”

        Sure, but who is involved in that selection process in China?

        “Beijing … has opted for a form of governance which more clearly emphasizes the well-being of the whole over the freedoms of the individual.”

        Two things. First, self-preservation is the CCP’s primary concern, and second, their form of governance is imposed upon the populace and has nothing to do with choice.

        I really don’y buy into this idea that other countries are trying (as if that could ever work) to impose their forms of governance on China. Prodding them on human rights violations and freedom of speech is another matter however, and entirely appropriate.

        Great comment by AndyR above.

        • Bin Wang

          Frankly, I don’t think “prodding” works at all and, in fact, only exacerbates the situation. You’re helping to mint Chinese nationalists and driving them into the arms of the CPC, I think the Chinese students’ counter-demonstrations during the torch relays is fair evidence of that. Those torch-grabbers accomplished nothing except to unify foreign-Chinese in solidarity.

          There was a civil war after all. You’d assume there wouldn’t have been one if folks were just peachy keen with returning to Nationalist rule after WWII. Chiang’s bunch weren’t exactly stellar models of good governance either.

          We all know how you feel about the CPC stuart. I, and most Chinese people I think, happen to have a little more faith in Beijing than you do. It’s only 30 some years since the end of the Cult. Rev., which every admits was a terrible time of, frankly, terrible judgment. You don’t, but most folks believe lessons have been learned and CPC stewardship is pretty good right now. That that isn’t re-affirmed every 4 years at a ballot box doesn’t necessarily mean such feeling does not exist. As between the status quo and the unknown phantom “other choice,” I’m pretty sure the Chinese people aren’t going to switch horses mid-stream right now.

          • Bin Wang,

            “You’re helping to mint Chinese nationalists and driving them into the arms of the CPC…”

            I’m doing nothing of the kind.

            But what does it say about an individual’s capacity to reason with an open mind if they’re ‘driven’ to nationalism in the face of justified criticism? When Britain is condemned for the way it handles its immigrants-in-waiting it never occurs to me to run into the warm embrace of the BNP.

            “I think the Chinese students’ counter-demonstrations during the torch relays is fair evidence of that.”

            Exactly – very aggressive and ‘in-your-face’ they were, too. Not at all a positive use of their rights to freely express themselves in their host countries.

            “Chiang’s bunch weren’t exactly stellar models of good governance either.”

            Indeed not, but look how far Taiwan has matured politically and socially by comparison.

            “We all know how you feel about the CPC stuart.”

            Some, not all. The majority of people who take exception to my concerns are more interested in labelling than debating the point.

            “…most Chinese people I think, happen to have a little more faith in Beijing than you do.”

            That’s for sure.

            “You don’t, but most folks believe lessons have been learned and CPC stewardship is pretty good right now.”

            I don’t?

            “That that isn’t re-affirmed every 4 years at a ballot box doesn’t necessarily mean such feeling does not exist.”

            No, but … The Republic of China?

            “I’m pretty sure the Chinese people aren’t going to switch horses mid-stream right now.”

            There’s another horse?

          • Bin Wang

            Nothing substantive to address here stuart.

          • “Nothing substantive to address here ”

            Qin Gang would be proud.

          • stuart,

            Exactly – very aggressive and ‘in-your-face’ they were, too. Not at all a positive use of their rights to freely express themselves in their host countries.

            Some, not all. The majority of people who take exception to my concerns are more interested in labelling than debating the point.

            Much irony, stuart, much irony.

          • “Much irony, stuart, much irony”

            That’s why they locked up Stern Hu – China can’t get enough of the stuff.

  11. zball

    “Addressing the greater good for the majority at the risk of alienating the minority” looks OK, only if I am pretty damn sure that myself is not part of the minority. However, no one can guarantee he/she will always sit on the right side. In a “harmonious society”, voice from the minority need to be heard and should be heard. In this regard, I can see the legitimacy of certain criticism made by either western governments or media. However, the question is how those criticisms were brought up, namely, in a sincere or arrogant way. At least, I cannot sense any sincerity on Chinese coverage across North America.

  12. Pete

    “Of course, Chinese government isn’t perfect either, I’ll be the first to admit that.”

    That’s big of you.

    “Shouldn’t it be possible for each nation to select the balance between the greater good versus individual freedoms for themselves?”

    Two problems here. Who does the choosing in China? Not the people. Why not give them a vote every 10 (20?, 30?) or so years? The question could be: Do you a) want to continue with a totalitarian dictatorship or b) engage in meaningful democratic reform? If the majority vote a) then your argument might make a bit more sense. Maybe they would?

    Second, this phrase demonstrates a total ignorance of the history of Fascism in Europe. Lots of non-democratic governments have claimed to be acting for the greater good, usually with catastrophic results.

    Is there any chance you could explain how China is “experimenting with democracy” or what the phrase “social democracy with Chinese characteristics” even means?

    • Bin Wang

      @Pete

      I think most of your comments have been addressed in the other commentary. The Chinese don’t have a tradition of voting a la ballot box. To superimpose such a premise, which admittedly is very fundamental and basic from a Westerner’s point of view, is in itself difficult for a number of reasons. The relationship between citizenry and government in China is much more paternalistic, and has always been so. People don’t mind such a relationship so long as pragmatic needs are being met, which they are these days.

      With regard to your allusion to facism in Europe, I would invite you to Google/Baidu “Godwin’s Law” and rest my case.

      I think your viewpoint is a typically impatient approach to demand that China toes a mark drawn pursuant to Western mandated values and ideals. The Chinese characteristics are exactly what’s be described, a paternalistic, gradual approach (no violence or any instability), to meeting the needs of a people who value tangible pragmatism above outside-imposed ideological “freedom.” I think the Chinese people would rather be lifted from proverty via economic development and the accompanying opportunities than be able to cast a ballot once every X number of years. Furthermore, foreign pressure when applied without tact in a demanding manner, only serves to promote resistance to the goals and ideals you want to achieve for/in China.

      And there is the great catch that Westerner’s miss. To berate Beijing is to essentially drive the people into the arms of the CPC, for they’ll always trust Beijing more than foreign influence, from which China’s suffered for centuries. When left alone, the Chinese do have ways of criticizing the party amongst themselves, and that’s always been troubling for the party. Change in China can only happen via the people themselves, and it will happen, but right now, I think the people are generally content with the direction of things, knowing that lifting the nation up is the first step to any political change.

  13. Pete

    Final sentence should ask you to explain how China is “experimenting with government”, not democracy. Apologies.

  14. whichone

    Great article, though I think you gloss over influence of the media while comparing the apparent effectiveness of both forms of governments.

    The American media with its skew towards infotainment love report congressional failures when it comes to big ticket items like healthcare reform, where feelings are strong (and intractable) on both sides, makes for good theater. Plenty of bills have passed the Senate floors while everyone’s attention is focused on healthcare, but C-SPAN doesn’t get attention because nobody can stay awake long enough to report it.

    It’s just the opposite in China, the policies are made behind closed doors so only the ones that pass makes it to the press while no one knows how many legislations failed.

    CCP might just be the bitter medicine China needs to modernize and catch up to the rest of the world, but that doesn’t mean the current prescription can’t be changed for the better. Though China is often subjected to the holier-than-thou finger pointing from the world’s remaining superpower, that doesn’t mean the message behind the finger isn’t worth considering. I think it’s a mistake to think China has stumbled unto some miraculous alternative to western style democracy, only that it’s citizens aren’t quite ready for it.

    • Bin Wang

      I certainly don’t mean to imply China’s found perfect governance. I simply mean that Westerners should think critically before doing the holier-than-thou finger-pointing. My point has always been that change is necessary, but in an evolutionary manner, and internally. Western sabre-rattling will only serve to entrench the people against thinking critically against their own government, because as between some tree-hugger with a Free Tibet flag and Beijing, Grandpa Wen wins every time.

      • Are they really “finger-pointing” and “sabre-rattling”,
        or are you just convinced they are because Beijing puts this spin on it?

        “some tree-hugger with a Free Tibet flag”

        You’re American, right? You took the pledge?

        Then surely you must defend the right of the tree hugger to freely express his/her opinion.

        • Bin Wang

          Oh, they really are.

          Of course they have the right to freely express their opinion. I’m just saying it’s not doing anyone any good and, in fact, undermines their cause.

          I also yawn in the general direction of your Qin Gang comment above. ::yawn::

          • Qin Gang’s comments tend to have that effect.

          • Bin Wang,

            “It’s just a little gesture of good faith and respect, and it makes all the difference in the world with regard to how they treat you …”

            Couldn’t agree more. This is the reason I always found it so easy to make friends in China.

        • stuart, for someone who repeatedly argues that other people are making a straw man out of you, where did Bin not defend the right of the tree hugger to express his/her opinion?

          Also, please stop using the disingenuous argument that anyone who arrives at a different conclusion from you is because they’ve bought into “Beijing’s spin”. Have the decency to at least assume that other people are genuinely and sincerely capable of thinking on their own.

          You’re not going to have a civil discussion with anyone if your standard catch-all response amounts to “oh, well, you’re just brainwashed.”

          • Kai,

            I’m pretty sure I get hit with more straw than I throw back. The above example was a tiny blade of dried grass that got caught up in the maelstrom.

            “Have the decency to at least assume that other people are genuinely and sincerely capable of thinking on their own.”

            Everybody has this capacity, kai, but very few demonstrate the intellectual honesty or inclination to think completely independent of the social, cultural, educational, economic, or psychological frameworks that brought them to their present viewpoint.

            And no, I’m not one of those select few either.

            I did however spend many years teaching at universities in China, and to say that discourse on issues such as those raised here lack quality and breadth is putting it mildly.

            If you hold a debate on a campus in America on “the relative merits of US v Chinese governance” I think you’ll hear a balanced encounter that has no problems with an open critique of either system.

            Even assuming that this debate is allowed on a Chinese campus in the first place, the thoughts expressed are, in my experience, unlikely to demonstrate such variation or independence of thought.

          • stuart,

            Sorry, I can’t honestly say you get hit with more straw than you throw back. It’s because I personally don’t think you’re getting hit with straw most of the time.

            Everybody has this capacity, kai, but very few demonstrate the intellectual honesty or inclination to think completely independent of the social, cultural, educational, economic, or psychological frameworks that brought them to their present viewpoint.

            And no, I’m not one of those select few either.

            You anticipated it, that’s good but, unfortunately, I happen to think you are indeed one of those select few and you should anticipate that your mere denial isn’t likely to change my opinion.

            I happen to feel that many of your detractors here actually consider your social, cultural, educational, economic, or psychological frameworks far more than you consider their’s. I’m sorry, that’s just how I see it, and I think a person like Bin is also criticizing you precisely for that, that you come across as judging without consideration of the Chinese perspective. You know what you value and you demand it for those you believe should value the same, but you don’t come across as ever really considering (or even caring to entertain) what those people value and how those things affect the primacy of what you demand for them. A lot of people see this as inherently disrespectful to their independence, to their ability to judge what is important for themselves, and as a human being, I can totally empathize with how they’d deliberately go against you on grounds of that self-dignity alone. They don’t like you dictating what they should value or demand.

            Having an open mind and being reasonable should include an understanding and sensitivity towards this. It is my opinion that your comments rarely, if ever, reflect such an understanding or sensitivity.

            Your detractors have already and fully acknowledged that the things you demand are likewise seen as desirable by many Chinese, and are trying to explain why many Chinese insist on seemingly going against you when you’re involved. Instead of considering why, you press forth insisting that “well, they shouldn’t do that and if they do, what does it say about their intellectual capacity?”

            Good job, stuart, you’re coming across as first insensitive, and then insulting.

            I did however spend many years teaching at universities in China, and to say that discourse on issues such as those raised here lack quality and breadth is putting it mildly.

            This is an empty insult. The same can be alleged of your part of the discourse.

            If you hold a debate on a campus in America on “the relative merits of US v Chinese governance” I think you’ll hear a balanced encounter that has no problems with an open critique of either system.

            Even assuming that this debate is allowed on a Chinese campus in the first place, the thoughts expressed are, in my experience, unlikely to demonstrate such variation or independence of thought.

            Having been in such debates on a campus in America, I can attest to otherwise. This comment of your’s says nothing except your predisposition to believe and assert that Americans are inherently more open-minded, independent-thinking, and reasonable than Chinese. Great job, stuart, you’re really elevating this discourse by compounding your insults against the Chinese and their capacity for balance, independent thought, and critique.

            How do you expect others to take you seriously and respect you when you do this, when you effectively presuppose (and worse, throw at them) their inferiority or incapacity in one way or another?

            How do you expect to have a civil discussion when you don’t respect the other person’s position as one they genuinely hold and have the mental capabilities to explain, defend, and argue?

            I’ve asked this of you before and I recall your response being that it is them who have to earn your respect first. stuart, to have a civil discussion, a measure of respect must be first given whereby it can then subsequently be lost or added to. In a civil discussion, stuart. Feel free to reserve your respect as something to be earned when you’re not part of the discussion. But when you are, you have to give some to get some.

            The comments you typically enter a discussion with rarely, in my opinion, demonstrate enough respect by way of sensitivity or consideration. You’re a “tough love” kind of “critic”, which in my opinion makes you a “basher”, so you get “tough love” in return. You accuse it as straw but really, I see them treating you as they feel you’re treating them.

          • “They don’t like you dictating what they should value or demand.”

            Then they are seeing apples where there are none.

            I do, however, understand the ongoing misperceptions that your reply alludes to. My fault – if it could be so described – is that I don’t readily tolerate them.

            “It is my opinion that your comments rarely, if ever, reflect such an understanding or sensitivity.”

            I’m genuinely sorry that you don’t get my humanism.

            “Good job, stuart, you’re coming across as first insensitive, and then insulting.”

            I’m neither. And, again, I’m sorry if I ‘come across’ that way to you.

            I did however spend many years teaching at universities in China, and to say that discourse on issues such as those raised here lack quality and breadth is putting it mildly.

            “This is an empty insult.”

            Of course it isn’t. Open discourse is not encouraged to anything like the same degree within China’s education system. Not unless there’s been a radical overhaul in the last 12 months. I’ll take that on advisement.

            “Having been in such debates on a campus in America, I can attest to otherwise.”

            Then I take you at your word, for I have not.

            “This comment of your’s says nothing except your predisposition to believe and assert that Americans are inherently more open-minded, independent-thinking, and reasonable than Chinese.”

            No. The comment was drawn from my experiences on campus in China. Two points relating to the above quote. First, your use of ‘inherently’ effectively reverses my position. I’m going to assume it’s a typo. Second, your use of ‘reasonable’ provides the comment with an infusion of straw.

            “…compounding your insults …”

            But they’re not really apples, are they?

            “… you effectively presuppose (and worse, throw at them) their inferiority or incapacity in one way or another?”

            You’re wrong about this. End of.

            “…you don’t respect the other person’s position as one they genuinely hold and have the mental capabilities to explain, defend, and argue?”

            Appalling attempt at character assassination, Kai. I thought you were better than this.

            “I’ve asked this of you before and I recall your response being that it is them who have to earn your respect first.”

            Them? You’d have to remind me of the context and who ‘they’ are.

            ” stuart, to have a civil discussion, a measure of respect must be first given … you have to give some to get some.”

            For reasonable comments, sure, I agree absolutely. But not for those few that use insulting, racist remarks or make personal attacks. No respect for them, I’m afraid.

            “The comments you typically enter a discussion with rarely, in my opinion, demonstrate enough respect …which in my opinion makes you a “basher””

            Your opinion is unjustified and erroneous. Why is it so difficult for you to get this?

            You’ve spent a lot of time here trying to portray me as something I’m not. That’s disappointing.

          • Bin Wang

            Stuart, your problem is that what say entirely lacks credibility. Your comments are so one-sided, you certainly come across as a basher of the first order. ::insert stuart snarky retort HERE about how it’s my perception issue and not his presentation issue::

            The CPC is not 100% wrong about everything and people who point out the positives are not brainwashed. I’d challenge you, for once, to say a few positive things about how things are going in China today and the CPC’s governance, I mean genuine, not back-handed, positive observations. If you take a balanced approach, people will take your negative commentary more seriously. If you’re unable to do so, it just backs up our assessment of you. This is an allegory for China-bashers as a whole as well.

            If you’re just spewing forth vilification and condemnation all day long, I’m sorry, you’re right, I don’t want to hear it. I happen to be more positive about China’s future and nothing you say is going to change that.

            And FYI — Open discourse in terms of postive assessments of China and the CPC in the U.S. is incredibly rare. You might be allowed to do it, but you’ll be lambasted for being everything from a communist to a genocide-loving Nazi. It’s a taboo subject here, even if it’s not legally off limits.

          • “The CPC is not 100% wrong about everything and people who point out the positives are not brainwashed.”

            And you know very well I’ve never said any such thing. You’re projecting.

            “I’d challenge you, for once, to say a few positive things about how things are going in China today and the CPC’s governance…”

            Apart from the fact that most of my concerns are related to the behaviour of the Chinese government in international affairs, to suggest that I never have anything positive to say is to further underline your selective reading habits.

            That said, the real issues of the day are rarely feel-good in nature. In a world full of dishonesty, self-interest, and human suffering I’m prepared to let others take the lead on the ‘fireman saves cat from tree’ stories.

            “If you take a balanced approach, people will take your negative commentary more seriously.”

            I think you mean: If one takes a balanced approach, negative commentary will be taken more seriously

            I agree. But just because you fail to see a balance doesn’t invalidate a comment perceived by you to be negative.

            “If you’re unable to do so, it just backs up our assessment of you.”

            C’mon, Bin Wang. Jeez.

            “I happen to be more positive about China’s future and nothing you say is going to change that.”

            So much for an open mind.

            But here’s the thing: not only am I not trying to change your mind about that, environmental issues aside, I happen to agree that the future is looking bright for China domestically (and more especially the CCP). Unfortunately – and I repeat – I suspect that the net toll on the human condition outside China could be devastating. Could be.

            “Open discourse in terms of postive assessments of China and the CPC in the U.S. is incredibly rare.”

            Then you should set to work on rectifying that because, as I understand it, you are fully entitled to do so.

            I’m not sure whether Easter is a public holiday in the States, but have a good one either way.

          • stuart,

            You’ve spent a lot of time here trying to portray me as something I’m not. That’s disappointing.

            First, how is this different from people being disappointed with you portraying China, the Chinese, or the Chinese government as something they say they aren’t?

            Are you getting it yet?

            Second, I didn’t spend a lot of time trying to portray you as something you are or aren’t, I spent a lot of time portraying you as I see you.

            I understand it is disappointing to you. It is disappointing to me as well. We can agree to be disappointed.

            I understand you fully believe you are not as I see you but you fully fail to understand that I have no cause to think otherwise. I necessarily judge you by the actions I see from you. Whereas I can easily point to numerous examples of, say, the Chinese government doing good things and bad things, I can’t help but scratch my head when I try to think of things you’ve actually said, that I know about, that would make you come across substantially differently from how I’ve described you above. Instead, the vast majority of what I’ve seen from you, of your actions, have built and reinforced my above perception of you. You repeatedly deny these perceptions of you, but they are invariably just denials. How am I likely to buy your denials when I feel your actions (what I know you to say the vast majority of the time) suggest otherwise?

            China has a PR problem. So do you. At least with me, and apparently others. You may chafe at the suggestion, but you and the Chinese government share some amusing similarities. Both of you seem to believe staunch denials should be enough to convince others that you are not guilty of what others accuse you of. Both of you invoke hurt feelings (“disappointing”, “I expected better of you”) and claims of smear campaigning (“character assassination”) in defense.

            I stand by the observations and points I brought up in my previous comment.

          • Bin,

            And FYI — Open discourse in terms of postive assessments of China and the CPC in the U.S. is incredibly rare. You might be allowed to do it, but you’ll be lambasted for being everything from a communist to a genocide-loving Nazi. It’s a taboo subject here, even if it’s not legally off limits.

            I disagree and I wouldn’t characterize it as you have. As with China, certain opinions or subjects are taboo with certain groups of people. Frankly, I think pointing out aspects where another country is doing better is generally quite well tolerated and common in both China and the United States when it comes to both the mainstream media and the general populace. Those who think otherwise, I feel, are putting too much weight on understandably notable exceptions.

          • Kai,

            First, how is this different from people being disappointed with you portraying … the Chinese government as something they say they aren’t?

            In every imaginable way.

            If I express the opinion that CCP control of the world’s resources will lead to devastating inequality there’s an implicit understanding that I might be wrong. Of the present, when I say that the CCP actively seek to stifle open discourse, the only debate is to what degree.

            But when you start labelling because you don’t like what I have to say you’ve crossed the line of unfounded mud-slinging.

            “Second, I didn’t spend a lot of time trying to portray you as something you are or aren’t, I spent a lot of time portraying you as I see you.”

            Which, on recent evidence, amount to one and the same thing.

            “I can’t help but scratch my head when I try to think of things you’ve actually said, that I know about, that would make you come across substantially differently”

            Therein lies part of the problem.

            “You repeatedly deny these perceptions of you…”

            It would be wrong of me not to deny that which I know to be false, but I will always acknowledge accurate perceptions.

            “How am I likely to buy your denials when I feel your actions suggest otherwise?”

            Embrace the truth; it’s the only way.

            “China has a PR problem. So do you.”

            I disagree on both counts.

            The CCP retains an iron grip on media output, thereby controlling the only public perception that matters to it.

            Among the hundreds of students, friends, and acquaintances I’ve made through my China work, travels, and connections, I certainly don’t have a PR problem either.

            Clearly, it is you (and, yes, others also) that has a problem with me.

            Given that none of the proprietors at Chinadivide strike me as either unreasonable or unintelligent, I will endeavour to self-monitor responses for content likely to inflame. If I think I can make the same point by softening the tone, I’ll do it.

            “I stand by the observations and points I brought up in my previous comment.”

            I’d have been disappointed if you didn’t.

            Now, if you’ll excuse me I’d like to share a chocolate chip cookie with my wife, who also happens to disagree with some of my take on China.

          • Bin Wang

            Kai — I don’t think most mainstream Americans take criticism of the U.S. all that well at all, frankly. And when the media does a story about China out-doing us in area “X,” the purpose of the story isn’t “oh, that’s quite nice for China;” it’s “oh no, we better re-double our efforts lest we let them beat us.” The only really positive stuff I’ve seen lately about China has been on the Food Network and the Travel Channel; certainly NOT the news!

            stuart — Westerners with only negative things to say about China are a dime a dozen, unfortunately. I’m not saying that de facto means that the substance of what you have to say is invalid or that you have to cheerlead “fireman saves cat” assessments of China. All I am saying is, to a people who inherently find Foreigners with nothing but negative things to say about their country suspect, a little tact goes a long ways.

            Parisian waiters in tourist trap restaurants ought to probably speak English, that’s an objectively fair statement. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to use your high school French anyways … you’re in their country after all, even if the place was obviously meant for tourists. It’s just a little gesture of good faith and respect, and it makes all the difference in the world with regard to how they treat you and attaining the objective … decent service.

          • stuart,

            I’ve made my point. Enjoy your chocolate chip cookie.

            Bin,

            One of America’s historical strengths was its eagerness to compete so I have no problems with and even encourage America not resting on its laurels.

          • Bin Wang

            You’re absolutely right there Kai–I think we’ve rested on our laurels a bit too long and need to roll up our sleeves again as a nation. Let’s hope we find consensus and bipartisanship again soon.

  15. Pete

    Bin – thanks a lot for your response @11.48. Reading my initial post back, it seems a bit aggressive – sorry.

    I think you touch on a very interesting point in saying that voting via the ballot box is a Western way of looking at things. I respectfully disagree.

    To me, democracy is a universal human right. Citizens should have the choice to elect their leaders through the ballot box. I’m not saying this has to take the form it has in the US (in fact, better not) or the UK (where I’m from, which has a farcical general election coming up). But a fair system of voting has to be there.

    Maybe it’s a patronising imperialist viewpoint to argue that this right is universal, but I believe it all the same!

    Your final paragraph @11.48 is bang on the money – it’s up the Chinese people to make the choice. The problem comes when people on the outside looking in (ill informed or well informed) decide that China’s current government isn’t allowing its citizens to make an informed choice on this. That may be patronising finger wagging, but…people are going to keep doing it.

    One more question. What are foreign governments to do when it comes to China and its system of government? Criticise and you call them patronising finger waggers who are helping China’s nationalists. Don’t criticise, and they are betraying their belief in the democratic system of government and implicitly condoning a regime that abuses human rights and does not allow freedom of speech.

    BTW – I tried to avoid Godwin’s law by using Fascism rather than the N word. There were other fascist regimes around at the time (Spain, Italy) all ruling on behalf of the people!

    • Bin Wang

      I understand your disagreement. But it’s imply not how the Chinese view things. Universal human rights include food, clothing, shelter, and then perhaps better social services, access to education, etc. If a government can provide all that, I doubt the Chinese care if it is otherwise authoritarian. Of course, the other side of the coin is, authoritarian governments tend to become oppressive to the people. But in China, that oppression to the citizenry usually has to manifest itself in terms of tangible harms such as lack of some of the things I point out above, before serious repercussions occur at the grassroots level. That’s how it’s always been. This is why a serious issue today in China is the growing gap between the rich and poor. This is actually a tangible manifestation of a problem of the rush to development that the government must address lest it’ll have millions of disgruntled peasant citizenry on its hands.

      But voting is not the only possible manifestation of the power of the people. This leads to your second question. The Chinese people have much sway over the government, you just don’t see it because you don’t see the vote, but Beijing is constantly worried about how to maintain stability amongst the masses who are prone to populist movements due to various issues and greivances. That it’s no so orderly as elections, sure, I understand that, but it is there all the same. 1989 was a serious wake up call for Beijing, and lest it wants a repeat of that tragedy on its hands, which I assure you it does not, it has to remain attuned to the needs of the people. As for Tibet, the main issue there was that there were other motivations there which we can discuss later, which I think makes it slightly different to populist movements within China that impact governance.

      I think Foreigners do best by coming off as less arrogant and demanding, recognize that there is inherent distrust there put to historical greivances, and use a little tact in discourse. Many folks do very well going to China, learn about Chinese history, culture, language, and view of the world, and then being able to give a balanced assessment of how far China’s come, and areas which require continued improvement. Tactfully presented in such a more diplomatic manner, you’re going to get a lot further than public berating, flag waving, threatening and posturing in a public, political, or diplomatic arena, etc.

      In short, Western governments are much better off picking up the phone and calling Zhongnanhai and saying, look, lets work this out (whatever this is) behind closed doors, give us something that’s going to satisfy our constituents, and we’ll not put you in a position where it’ll publicly look like you’re kow-towing to our demands (frankly, because that’s not going to be acceptable to Beijing’s “constituents”). It’ll be slow, it won’t be easy, but it’ll get you there with any luck and over time. What’s definitely going to not get you there is the current approach of showdowns in the public sphere. There’s too much history there, and the public on both sides aren’t going to let their respective governments back down, it’s a recipe for disaster.

  16. 1) America does not equal democracy, despite the way in which so many Americans seem to want to believe that it does.

    2) China does not have an on-going experiment in government, in fact the government makes quite a lot of play on how tried-and-tested it is. China’s government is, in fact, the exact opposite of an experiment – that’s the point.

    3) Once again, a piece by a Chinese American, ostensibly about China, which actually says far more about America and the position of Chinese-Americans in that society than it does about China. Let’s give it a run-down:

    – Basically written as if the world contained only two countries.

    – Never addresses popular opinion in China, only popular mis-impressions in the United States, although some of these appear to be caricatures of American opinion.

    – Seemingly hasn’t ever worked/lived in China, yet presumes he’s an expert on the place and how people there should live.

    – Pays lip-service to democracy (a “luxury”?) whilst in fact being an out-and-out apologia for dictatorship on a somewhat rickety basis.

    4) Anyone who knows anything about the expat scene in China knows that the gravy train for young expat workers fresh out of university in China which is touted in the occasional newspaper article like the New York Times piece linked to here essentially does not exist.

    What you have instead are a majority of expats who will either study Chinese for a term or two and go home, or will work as English teachers for a year or so and then likewise make their way back to their country of origin. The earners are those who come to China with some kind of useful experience/qualifications – usually engineers, legal experts or the like, these people are usually at least in their late 30s, and will usually stay for 3-4 years before leaving, since they can earn pretty much the same money in a lot of other places in the world.

    Most of the rest are people who came to China as teachers/students and ended up landing one of the vanishingly few jobs which fresh grads can earn reasonable (for China) money in. Remember that I’m talking at most about 15-30,000 RMB a month.

    These people, however, usually end up leaving as well, since they will usually be doing a job with a view to gaining experience which can be parleyed into a job earning more money, and with greater chances of gaining promotion and qualifications back home.

    The essential problem is that in 90 percent of these jobs there is no real chance of advancement or promotion. Since the expat is recruited for a specific position and for specific skills that cannot be sourced locally few employers are willing to promote expats into higher positions when they can promote locals into senior positions and pay them much less.

    • Bin Wang

      Whoa, easy tiger!

      (1) The point was that America’s “democracy” has a few problems.

      (2) The current somewhat “laissez-faire” approach to economic development I would argue is experimental for China.

      (3) The point was to compare and contrast the U.S. and China. I’ve certainly lived in China. The point wasn’t to wax poetic about democracy.

      (4) I never said it was a “gravy train.” That young Americans would even contemplate going to China is, in itself, pretty amazing. I am sure few would have thought about such an option just 10 years ago.

      I’m not really sure what your point is. I don’t feel that this bit says anything about “Chinese Americans and their position in American society.” My point was, just as many have said China can be an insular society which does not pay enough attention to the positives outside China, America can also be, at times, an insular society which does not pay enough attention to the positives outside the U.S. Maybe we all need to stop drinking our own kool-aid for a bit and play devil’s advocate for positions which we instinctively oppose.

      • 1) In which case, this is an article about America. But then why mention China?

        2) Economic and political development are two different things. No real experiment in governance itself is actually taking place.

        At the top – Hu and Wen will step down soon, and their successors (probably not Xi Jinping, but who?) will come to power in exactly the same fashion that Hu and Wen/Jiang and Zhu came to power – with the decision made in secret behind closed doors.

        At the bottom – despite various small-scale experimentation that has taken place since the new constitution was brought in back in 1982 (yes, ‘village democracy’ has been going on that long), the party retains control.

        As for the current model of economic development, this is simply that used by Taiwan and South Korea during their high-growth periods, and has been in place now since the early 90’s at least. In fact what has and is taking place in China is the hot-housing of the same industrial revolution which brought the nations of Western Europe, North America, and the Antipodes to their current position of relative prosperity.

        3) See point 1)

        4) In the context of China itself this is pretty amazing, given China’s previous isolation, imposed as it was by the insane policies of the Mao era.

        However, young Americans, just like young people everywhere, will always wish to travel to distant countries to experience something they cannot get at home.

        Similarly, people will always follow economic opportunity. The burgeoning expat compounds of Saudi Arabia, for example, are hardly a sign that there is something admirable about the governance of that country.

        As for “paying attention to the positives outside the US”, this is fine, but then why China in particular? Isn’t your point that certain models should not be blindly applied regardless of prevailing circumstances? Doesn’t America have more to gain from the examples of other developed countries, and shouldn’t these therefore be the main subject of any outward attention?

        It would seem that your premiss here is somewhat incoherently formed.

        • Bin Wang

          (1)/(3)/(4) It is because this is a blog about China. The thoughts of this entry is, essentially, requesting a de-Americanized view of China, to note some short-comings of U.S. goverance and note some positives of Chinese governance. These “notes” are not things which many Americans typically think about. Frankly Americans can be very much “on their high horse” when discussing China. This was simply a request to get off that high-horse for a moment. I don’t see why such an approach is so improper.

          (2) For a nation which for so long had complete governmental control of economics, such loosening up is, again I argue, experimental for China. Taiwan and S. Korea were not communist, and did not have Great Leaps Forward for Cultural Revolutions. It is the progression, and the fact that such change is happening now in China which, in my opinion, renders the whole thing very much new ground for the Chinese nation.

          Again I am not quite sure what you’re point is and I feel like you don’t entirely grasp my premise, which isn’t very complicated. The idea, by drawing this comparison, is to simply render people aware that things which we’ve always been taught to be “the best” may not necessarily be so, and that thinks which we’ve always been taught to be “the worst” may not necessarily be so, but it’s simply different strokes for different folks, and to each their own. It’s not that American should learn anything from China, perhaps there isn’t anything to learn, but for the idea that hey, maybe what the Chinese are doing isn’t so absolutely wrong or what we’re doing isn’t so absolutely right … maybe they’re trying to figure out what works for them and so are we and who knows what’s right or wrong, so let’s think twice before judging. That’s all I’m saying bro!

          • “The thoughts of this entry is, essentially, requesting a de-Americanized view of China, to note some short-comings of U.S. goverance . . .”

            Surely you see the contradiction here? Surely a de-Americanised view of China examines China without referencing America, one way or the other. A view of China which necessarily compares everything about it to America, favourably so or not, is most definitely an Americanised one. If China is to be judged on its own merits, then why even mention America?

            “For a nation which for so long had complete governmental control of economics, such loosening up is, again I argue, experimental for China.”

            In 1979, 1992, yes, perhaps. Now? Now it is the strictest orthodoxy.

            “things which we’ve always been taught to be “the best” may not necessarily be so”

            Is this ‘we’ in China or the US? In most but not all ways, I’m sure we agree, life in the US is better than life in China. If we adjust this for the relative improvement in living standards over how they were 30 years ago, it can be seen that although life in the United States has improved considerable, China has improved by a greater amount over its initial extremely low base.

            Americans may believe they are the best, but this does not relate to China specifically, but in fact to all other countries in the world outside America – why raise this on a China blog?

            “maybe what the Chinese are doing isn’t so absolutely wrong or what we’re doing isn’t so absolutely right … maybe they’re trying to figure out what works for them and so are we and who knows what’s right or wrong, so let’s think twice before judging. ”

            This is good as far as it goes, but what then do you say to those who say “Okay, thought about it, still critical”? There is an assumption here that criticism comes from a sense of superiority or an ignorance of the real state of affairs in your home country, and that an appreciation of these things would silence criticism. This is not the case.

          • Bin Wang

            Not sure if we’re making a mountain out of a mole-hill here FOARP.

            I mention China because this is a blog about China! It’s really that simple. To draw comparisons in a different way than is typical of the rhetoric we hear so often nowadays, I think, is not per se an incorrect way to both give a frame of reference, and also encourage a different perspective on traditional thinking.

            To gain an appreciation for things is not meant to silent criticism, but to inform it. And there’s far too much uninformed criticism going around in the US of China, which is exactly the reason for this modest op-ed post. It’s not a be all and end all, but an example, relevant to China because this is a blog about China, which hopefully will encourage Americans to consider and, yes, also still criticize, China on an informed level, noting both areas of improvement, and also areas of already much accomplishment meriting of some accolades, which perhaps if I may be so broad, also be so far-reaching as to question the entire “my way or the highway” approach to international issues that America sometimes takes, as characterized by not just China, but also Europe and various other nations in the world.

            Sure, the perverbial “ugly American” manifests itself with regard to many nations, but surely it’s relevant on a blog about a particular nation, to illustrate as an example of that manifestation, in order to invite some thought into the American overall approach with regard to that nation?