Sunday, January 10, 2021

China Wave, The: Rise Of A Civilizational State

China Wave analyzes the growth of China from the Chinese perspective. The book was popular in China, selling over half a million copies. The author introduces the concept of "Civilization State" to separate China from other "Nation States". China is far larger than any other developed economy. It has more people unified under a similar language and culture than any other country. (India is also large, but it is less developed, more fragmented and has only been unified in the last century.)

The China system is "different" than the western system. The author compares it to a company. CEOs are not elected popularly by a one-person, one-vote system. China is lead by a "CEO" that is accountable to the people, but not subject to short-term populist predilections. China has a long history of meritocracy and leadership. The upper leadership makes plans and focuses energy in long term efforts. The coastal cities were built up and industrialized first. Interior cities followed.

Chinese culture and values plays a key role in the success of China. People have strong ties to family as well as greater respect for the government. In the west, the government is more of a necessary evil and individual rights are paramount. In China, people have worked together for millennia. They are more willing to work for society than for individual short term gain. (At the same time, they are also very entrepreneurial and eager to innovate for their short term benefit.)

Since 1978, China has developed rapidly by following its own course. The government has picked parts of the western system that it sees as most valuable, while eschewing those that are not beneficial. That has resulted in the capitalistic communism that seems baffling to westerners, but makes sense in China. We continue to see the growth today. China doesn't seek just to take things it finds valuable. It seeks to understand and adapt. Today, the economy has moved beyond being a producer and copier to being an innovator in many areas.

China is large.  China has brought 400 million people out of poverty in the past few decades. That group alone would be one of the largest nations on earth. Many nations are smaller than second-tier Chinese cities. Switzerland is the size of Nanjing. Chinese municipalities have a lot of freedom to innovate and set policies. The national government coordinates and plans, propagating positive innovations. The high speed rail network is just one example of a coordinated system that rapidly went from nothing to the largest in the world. However, problems are also on a large scale. 

The author is very well traveled and has witnessed first hand the rapid pace of Chinese development compared to the rest of the world. China has managed to keep the pace with minimal bumps in the road. However, how will the country manage when the growth slows (or stops)? At present it is easy to say that their way is best. We said the same about Japan until their economy entered a long period of malaise. Will China be able to continue? What will we say about Chinese development in 50 years?

The west often dings China for failures in human rights. The author posits that this is often due to a variance in priorities. China views lack of poverty as a human right. The Chinese prefer to focus on that before focusing on other rights. Many examples are discussed of countries that have adopted western-style democracy, yet not helped bring about economic prosperity. Corruption and instability is also rampant in these "democratic" countries. India is a prime example of a large democratic country that is filled with factionalism and corruption. Large scale democracy and populism has also started to get uglier and more polarized throughout the world - and especially in the United States.

China can also be more flexible. If there is obvious malfeasance within the law, the perpetrators will still be punished. He brings up the concept of "second degree corruption" This includes things like the wall street crisis and political contributions. People do things that are legal, yet still corrupt. Just like wars are now fought with technology that isolates the participants from direct participation, corruption has moved away from direct actions to the indirect. Many eastern countries that have adopted western-style democracy have actually seen an increase in corrupt behavior and government distrust.

Through most of history, China has had the most advanced civilization in the world. China closed itself off and fell behind. China is now awakening and realizing that it can borrow aspects of other cultures while still remaining Chinese.  The book has positive spins on all of China. There are many questions that arise. (The final debate with Francis Fukuyama put many of these in the open.)  I doubt China will ever be fully "westernized". However, western society will be smart to learn some of the positive aspects of Chinese development.

No comments:

Post a Comment