Do People Really Believe What They Write About China?

Eye-catching tweet by @niubi

Sina has now shut weibo accounts of Bloomberg, new York times & us government. And yet they enjoy all the benefits of the us capital markets

This comes hot on the heels of two interesting pieces for those interested in what’s going on in the world’s second largest economy: a Times op-ed on China’s “Humane Authority” under a “Confucian Constitution” and a investment analyst’s note on China’s economy and its implications for the Australian economy (h/t FT Alphaville, see also Noah Smith).

China-model bashing has become something of a hobby here at Indolaysia. See here. And here. And here. Oh and here. What can we say, every self-respecting Southeast Asianist has a chip on his/her shoulder about China! It’s part of the job description, and it goes back to the Trưng sisters and Kertanegara. So it’s hard to let what passes for the cutting edge in popular China commentary pass us by.

Let me just pull out some zingers from these two pieces. I’m not going to go into context, but suffice it to say that context will not make any of these things seem any more reasonable than they seem here. (Check it out for yourself if you don’t believe me.) On Humane Authority:

  1. In modern China, Humane Authority should be exercised by a tricameral legislature: a House of Exemplary Persons that represents sacred legitimacy; a House of the Nation that represents historical and cultural legitimacy; and a House of the People that represents popular legitimacy.
  2. The leader of the House of Exemplary Persons should be a great scholar….The leader of the House of the Nation should be a direct descendant of Confucius; other members would be selected from descendants of great sages and rulers….members of the House of the People should be elected either by popular vote or as heads of occupational groups.
  3. To protect the primacy of sacred legitimacy in Confucian tradition the House of Exemplary Persons would have a final, exclusive veto.

On China’s economy:

  1. The Chinese don’t play chess. They play wei qi. Wei qi is a game of strategy played on a larger board with black and white pieces each of equal value. The Chinese government views the economy as though it’s wei qi. Each piece has its own role in the economy, but each is no more important than another.
  2. In China, capital is just one piece on the board where the aim is to raise living standards of all households.
  3. China views competition as an important means of raising living standards by lowering the cost of goods and services. This encouragement of a hyper-competitive industry structure drives innovation through the threat of failure; there is no carrot for innovation. Investors understand that achieving scale and productivity growth is the only way to sustain a profitable business model.
  4. China manages urbanisation. It does not allow the ad hoc urbanisation prevalent other emerging economies.

Yes, all of this about China, the same regime that has banned Western press coverage of the Chinese economy and political system from Weibo. That is the regime that can be trusted to govern humanely, that treats capital just like any other part of the economy.

Do people really, honestly, believe these things about China?

Comments 5

  1. Luther July 13, 2012

    Daniel Bell certainly believes them. He has been saying them for years, despite all the ridicule…

  2. Marc July 13, 2012


    Great post. I thought I was the lone fool who’d thought the NYT op-ed was terrible.

    On whether (and how well) “China manages urbanization,” see my recent post titled “Chen Guangcheng on Cities and Development in China,” which you can find here:

    It definitely sounds like someone hasn’t read neither Jane Jacobs nor James Scott over at the Financial Times…

  3. Charley Sullivan July 14, 2012

    Most of the people who say this shit are either 1. PRC government hacks who are either paid or otherwise incentivized to say say such, or 2. Westerners who work on places such as China, Japan (or the Middle East, sometimes India) because they have enough material in the West, so they think, that they don’t actually have to go to said place and handle it up front. Or if they do, they dip in for a short stay and go home before they actually come up against the system at work. There is, I think, a similar trail of Singapore-loving pieces (and a similar process of banning/attacking those who write otherwise).

    That said, the process isn’t any different than the local press coverage of most American university athletics departments, another place where true belief so easily masks either seeing or writing about what’s really going on.

    Or for that matter, it isn’t much different than the local press coverage of universities in general, where official lines are largely swallowed and reported hook, line and sinker. (When’t the last time you saw any coverage of the massive HR problems that every US university has, where people who stand up against the system are routinely gotten rid of through a quiet, but powerful system of HR write-ups, followed by “discipline,” followed by firing, (or if you have a good lawyer, a settlement?)

    So what creates the blind spots to power, and the mythification of the systems that create it?

    (Sorry, just read the Penn State report . . . )

  4. Tom July 14, 2012

    Thanks, all, for reading and commenting. Charley, just a quick followup: the crass interpretation that I would advance is that people who have a vested interest in having people believe that their system (country, university, firm, whatever) is somehow good (just, fair, efficient, innovative, whatever) are the ones who sell this stuff, and it’s ignorance on the rest of our parts when we don’t know better. Imagine how many people are going to now invest in Colonial First State.

  5. Pingback: Authoritarianism in the New York Times? « Marc F. Bellemare

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