China and the Future

There was an article in The Economist called “China Chronicle of a death foretold”which was largely based upon a book “Why China must adapt or die China’s Future” by David Shambaugh.

Obviously because of its recent and incredible industrial growth, China is a very interesting topic in the West but at the same time, it seems to me, very little understood and although I claim no ‘authoritative’ insight I had an amusing exchange of comments with some other readers…

A Bob Newhart Perspective.

For those who don’t understand the Bob Newhart reference, he was an American comedian who was quite famous in my generation for a series of monologues or typically, one sided telephone conversations where you only heard his side of the call but you could fill out the whole conversation from just that. So below are my original post to the readers comments and subsequent responses, well not everybody is going to agree with you are they ?

I don’t know whether this will work for you the reader of this blog but I thought that I would give it a try because it would be interesting to see what impression is given. For me I was not so much extolling or otherwise the ‘virtues’ of China but rather questioning the too easy opinions and attitudes people on the outside have about other countries and cultures and I particularly question the idea that there is only one “Right Way” of doing things.


“Some years ago as an IT project manager I had to do a hardware/software refresh of the branch offices of a business that operated in the US. The branches stretched from the Canadian border to the Gulf of Mexico and West Coast to East Coast. As a Brit I had previously visted the US on many occasions but this was different so the first thing I did was obtain a massive wall map of the States.

I believe in democracy but it is far more than just the matter of one person one vote, it is also about a culture of trust in the institutions involved from the people who count the votes through to a free press and none of these things can happen overnight they need to evolve.

Whilst there are many things that as a Westerner I may dislike about the way China does things, I must admit to finding Western leaders criticising China over civil rights etc little short of embarrassing. Whatever you may think about China and the Communist Party that rules it, one should always remember that they are having to cloth, feed and meet the expectations of 20% of all humanity.

This is a challenge in practical governance that no one in Europe or the Americas could even start to imagine let alone do, time to buy a map, this ain’t Kansas Toto !”


“Sorry my little tale didn’t hit the spot for you but my point was simply that from the outside, we know nothing. I had travelled to the USA many times before I had to go and work there but you just get on a plane in the UK and arrive at another city but now in the US. Actually living there and having to deal with the logistics of a very large country, gave me a totally different perspective though I wouldn’t claim to be an expert on all things US.

I suspect that if I had to do a major project in China based on let us say, Local Government, that too would give me a very different perspective on how things run in China and I have the humility to say so.

Of course I bow to your superior and intimate knowledge on all things Chinese with all your opinions gathered by experience, I’m sure but I suspect that judging mainland China by experience of Hong Kong would be a major mistake. Always remember that politics is the art of the possible and Chinese history is a story of a constant cycle of destruction and rebirth but then, what do I know, reading books clearly doesn’t count much with you, just your opinion, based upon your intimate experiences, no doubt.”


“No I’m not being cynical it is just that your attitude smacks of a narrow Western view which in it’s own way is parallel to a Victorian view of “the native population”.

As to corruption, of course it is corrupt but then so too are many other countries including quite a few in the EU and I do not mean former Communist bloc member states. When were the EU “accounts” ever signed off as ‘True & Fair’ ?

Eradicating corruption is a very late stage in evolving a truly democratic State which is why corruption is a significant feature of Russia, post Soviet countries and China. Corruption only gets eradicated when full and impartial legal systems are well established and not before.

As to the way China interferes even at a personal level, it is hardly a surprise because there seems to be a correlation related to size/volumes to the way nations act. Russia has a legal system that is an instrument of the State, Russia is geographically huge. China will crush individuals “for the greater good” but it has a huge population. The USA has a massive prison population and just how “fair” is the widespread use of plea bargaining do you think ? “Plead guilty to a lesser charge and you get 5 years else we will go for a 45 year sentence”.

I do not think that “God is an Englishman” but I do believe that however wrong it can go from time to time, we do try to get it right in the UK and although not perfect, it is a good place to be. However as someone who was always interested in history, it took an awful long time to get where we are today with a lot of ‘miss steps’ along the way. It seems far easier to become fully democratic if you are a small country than a large one.

With this awareness, whilst I will condemn the wanton brutality of people like ISIS, I do not feel inclined to judge other nations that are on their own path in finding their Dao.”


“I am not sure that it is correct to compare India and China simply because they are not just politically different but that difference comes from their respective underlying cultures and history. Also the way in which you are writing is in the context of a “competitive” scenario where there is some acknowledged “Right/Better” way that all countries should follow and this just isn’t true.

To my mind each nation has its own unique path (Dao) to follow, there is not just one way of doing things. As an example, to say that democracy doesn’t work is incorrect UNLESS you place democracy in the wrong context as for example how it operates in the EU. Each EU country operates its internal democracy perfectly well because each nation state has its own Demos. When it comes to the Council of Ministers, each national leader has a ‘democratic mandate’ but the Council of Ministers does not because there is no pan European demos. Therefore the EU lacks a democratic mandate and all decisions are taken at the level of the lowest common denominator which is totally inefficient and not tenable.

Faced with that, the one party system of China which has commanded amazing internal changes over a very short period of time, seems amazingly efficient however, is it robust especially in times of major change ? The world is about to go through radical economic changes, the ‘digital economy’ has only just begun and the current “economic expectations” will be swept away. In such times it is the underlying culture that will determine which societies prosper and which don’t. In this sense, India with lower expectations may prove more durable than China. The problem as illustrated by “Angry Americans” and the “Trump World” is that people are happy to accept economic better but bitterly resist downward change.”


“That is a matter for the Chinese people. It is often said and indeed true that Policing can only happen by the active consent of society, China is the same. The current system operates only by the acceptance of the majority of the Chinese people, should the Communist Party fail the people, it will be swept away.

If you look at Chinese history, when these things have happened in the past, it has been a bloody mess but happen it does. As for what you call pogroms of the intelligentsia this has been a pretty constant pattern throughout Chinese history. Don’t be fooled by the Chinese Communist Party its just another dynasty but still uniquely Chinese.”

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