More thought on China and Hutton

Reader Jeff writes:

I’ve yet to read the book but the summary is promising — which is somewhat surprising given the lack of time the author has spent in China. It’s a fact that growth is vital in China’s “bicycle economy” (doesn’t do slow), and that the institutional underpinnings of growth are strained, where they exist at all.

The native Chinese entrepreneurial spirit (aided by transplants from Hong Kong and Taiwan) has carried things far, but constraints on the legal, political, environmental, social, educational, you name it sides, are painfully obvious. Obvious to the leadership as well as to many of the more enlightened subjects of this regime. This brings life in China a certain tension that most of us over here feel. A kind of “something’s got to give” feeling. Yes, they’re subjects, not citizens, and many are painfully aware of the one-way nature of the leadership as a shortcoming in their system. But most of us (anywhere) are more afraid of chaos here today, than oppression, and crave stability more than individual freedom. That goes double for a country like China undergoing such radical change.

And as for the nationalistic hubris that one finds so repellent in any big, powerful country, privately, away from the crowds, this animus can easily be tempered by an appeal to what’s in China’s best interest, rather than taking the preachy route. Many Chinese friends of mine can only bitterly agree that governments of all major powers are only concerned with maintaining the interests of those who own them. Having lived abroad for most of my adult life, I can only say that political leaders’ hypocrisy, worldwide, varies only as to constituency and tactics. The enlightened principle of a constitutionally limited republic is a treasure that expressly requires constant vigilance on the part of citizens. Americans regularly display their disinterest in that sort of work, if they even are aware of it. Begin with this attitude rather than trying to say that GWB is Thomas Jefferson incarnate and see what kind of reaction you’ll get from the average Chinese young person.

Don’t make the mistake of confusing modernization with westernization. While western “core tenants” have featured in China’s modernization drive for about one hundred years (see New Culture Movement and May 4 Movement) the realities intellectuals faced then and now demand compromises, at least to hear them speak of it. A synthesis is not only likely in China’s case, you see it happening every day, albeit at a pace that has yet to match its erection of showcase projects. The alternative to such a synthesis is simply frightening to contemplate.

More important for the west, I think, is to be true to your school, and to be alert to how we ourselves have traded off our principles in the name of security. And if this is the point that Hutton is making, I just may buy his book.

This one by Reader Jeff