“There is no best, only better.”
– Xi Jingping
A Grand Delusion
I have lived in China for the most part of the past 15 years, during which it developed from a relatively poor country into what its government now officially calls “the early stage of a moderately prosperous society”. The rest of the world knows little about China, not knowing its language. Yet in the West, the media generally paints a demonic picture of the “Communist” country with an avalanche of fabricated, twisted and/or misrepresented stories, and purported them as facts. During the Cold War period, these were part of the propaganda warfare. But the same phenomenon of targeting information to spread fear and resentment against China persists to this day.
In the US, practically all reporting on China in the mainstream media are edited to chime to the same narrative and given a spin formula. Fake and “interpreted” news processed through the CIA, NED, undercover NGOs and their affiliated conduits repeatedly give the public the impression that the “repressive regime is about to collapse”. The establishment think tanks get lazy in “getting it right” by embroidering around the basic paradigm. That way they can make their living in a field with lots of funding for the right “message”. A conversation with them can turn sour and sore easily. And a large library of books got written to add reference to the same grand delusion.
The Natural Contrarians
Those who are open-minded, and have lived in China for long periods of time, or visited and worked there regularly, would give quite a different impression. Henry Paulson, the former Chairman of Goldman Sachs and US Treasury Secretary, for example, has been to China over eighty times over the last fifteen or so years with his wife. Not only do they have much to contribute, he emphasizes that they go there because there is plenty to learn.
Based on my first-hand experience, people like Paulson are right. China today is very progressive. It has come a long way since the beginning of Deng Xiaoping’s Reform and Opening Up policy in 1978. In many ways, it has developed the means of governance and social organization that are breakthroughs in human history. What is unique is the incredibly vast trove of knowledge and fact-based analyses its system possesses, and the intense interactions its huge teams of professionals in every field engage constantly with the best minds of the rest of the world. In recent years, their business people have become everybody’s go-to sources for essential information and practical ideas, since their enterprises are at the center of much of the world’s real （as opposed to virtual and tertiary）economy. And they have the markets.
China professes that its system is applicable only to China’s unique conditions, and that it is still evolving. It does not claim universality or superiority. The Chinese are more than willing to share its method with the world, but emphasize that it would not necessarily work in other countries. For lack of a better label, they call their system Socialism With Chinese Characteristics. Ironically, even though the government is led by the Chinese Communist Party (the “CCP”), it is in many ways more capitalistic, more free and democratic than the present conditions in many parts of the Free World.
If you were Marco Polo, and have spent the past 15-20 years in China, and you wish to describe the elements that is unique to how the country is governed and how progress is achieved, then I think you would at least mention the following six things.
1. Consultative democracy.
2. Mix of PPP (private, public and partnership).
3. Regulated market forces.
4. Systems approach.
5. Focus on “general well-being”（or “小康 xiaokang”）in healthcare, education, housing, culture, entertainment.
6. Science and technology （best understood by the code-names 863，973，163）.
These are the six elements I plan to write about, in a series to follow this. They constitute China’s approach to governance and development. They have evolved and changed substantially over time. They were not a continual story of successes either. As the Xi Jingping quote above implies, they are the processes and products of constant refinement and trial-and-error.
During the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368 AD), Marco Polo was admitted to the imperial court and served as a minister of sort. By happenstance, I was fortunate enough to be connected with the current leadership by way of personal friendship. Over time, I got to learn about the country’s official policy Think-Tank (that is with capital-letter Ts), and the amazingly cutting-edge ingredients of the country’s Big Brain (I will explain that term in another post). As a friend and a reclusive retiree, I have been asked and offered my views and opinions frequently, earning some respect in the process. Because they are personal and never publicized, my observations offend no one, and few even know they exist. As a result, I enjoy a unique vantage point and special channels from which to observe the pond, and occasionally toss some benign pebbles into it. Some of my knowledge of history are microscopic, and of its leaders, relatively detailed.
Not Just Pastas and Dumplings
What Marco Polo wrote about China were not secrets. But few in his home country knew of them, and could hardly conceive of some. So they thought his stories sometimes contain “baloney”. Also, his report was descriptive, not analytical. Like him, my observations contain interpretations from personal vantage points. But they are analytical, more like de Tocqueville’s observations about democracy in America in the early 19th century than Marco Polo’s comparison of Italian pastas to Chinese noodles and dumplings.
I read and study voraciously, and made many discoveries through such intellectual curiosity. Some of my observations delve into depths not commonly known to the public, based on my cumulative and distinctive experience. Other observations may be debatable, even in the indigenous context. But among the professional elites and circles of knowledgeable people in China, they are neither novel nor outlandish. They are some of the generally accepted characteristics of the system known as Socialism With Chinese Characteristics, even though the term has no exact definition because everything is still evolving everyday. Nonetheless, among the people concerned with the country’s governance, there is a general consensus that these notions and facts constitute the current reference for policy deliberation and social development. They go deeper than the official policy description which, by its nature, is relatively brief because it can only embody the common denominator.
Indeed, China is a very exciting place at the moment. It is where the intellectually curious and sharp people learn constantly, and the doers get to do.