Tuesday, May 20, 2008

So What Do the Chinese PEOPLE Have to Say

Thanks to a reader for sending me this excellent article by the P.J. O'Rourke, detailing his impressions from a recent trip to China. It's nice to hear for a change what Chinese people think, as opposed to the government telling you what the Chinese People think.

Three take-home conclusions from the article with which I agree wholeheartedly:

1) There is a growing contingent of people in China who share Enlightenment values with the developed world - values of self-determination and rational material betterment.

2) (implied, and emphatically true) A war between the U.S. and China would be stupid and catastrophic for everyone.

3) The brains, pride and dedication of the Chinese people are to be admired.

He then implies a conclusion that's a little too rosy for me: that China is no longer a bad guy. P.J. O'Rourke's impressions might stem from the fact that a P.J. O'Rourke would hang out with entrepreneurs and well-educated, well-traveled Chinese citizens who may not be representative of the man in the street. Or, for that matter, The Man in Chinese Communist Party offices - at least not today. If we're lucky (and I include citizens of China in that "we"), the future of China will look a lot more like O'Rourke's friends than the frothing anti-Tibet nationalists that Beijing recently whipped into a frenzy and then had to calm back down. The growth of a commerce-dependent Chinese middle class with more access to information - which can only help China and everybody else - is both incredibly encouraging, and anything but inevitable. What can poison this process is a class of politicians who don't know how to make a living in any way other than reciting lines from Mao's Quotations, who are scared of their increasing irrelevance, and who will use the resurgent nationalism created by China's recent fortunes to keep themselves in power.

One problem I had with the article is the cutesy way he refers to the old-boys-network, which is something anyone who's had to do business in China can tell you about. It's not a sign of a healthy market economy, because in fact Old Boy Networks and Fixers are the antithesis of transparency and democracy and capitalism, and to some extent it's slowed down wealth creation in every country (that's why Transparency International's surveys are so critical). When the bright kid next door can't get an analyst gig at Morgan Stanley because the interviewee after him knows the hiring manager's uncle, that's directly contrary to meritocracy, and even in our own free market, it doesn't always come out in the wash. It bears pointing out that it's exactly that kind of class-based old-boy-network that Marx and Mao supposedly thought communism would squash. I should add that I also didn't care for O'Rourke's flippant comparison of Scientology and Falun Gong. Nutty though the Scio's might be, they're free to practice their religion here, and the U.S. government isn't hauling anyone off to torture them.

To finish this entry without addressing the earthquake would be callous. There are forty thousand people confirmed dead - compare that to 3,000 in San Francisco in 1906. There are five million people displaced. That's like Philadelphia collapsing. Let's hope that the effective response the Chinese people have seen and the openness that we're experiencing will convince the Chinese government that a strong China is an open China. If China asks for help, I hope we're right there to pitch in.


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