Skip to main content.

Back to: >> Editorial


Mysterious, unknown, and scary to many Western peoples; misunderstood by diplomats as well. If you don't believe that, just read or listen to the media--it is all of these things. Or is it? This page was motivated by those who automatically condemn the Chinese in knee-jerk fashion. Our observations differ considerably from the Western news media and are based on visiting the whole of Taiwan and a half dozen large and small cities in Mainland China. There is a fundamental disconnect between most of the Western media and what one sees on the ground. Reporting the 2007 Party Congress, provides a case in point.

  • American media claimed Hu Jintao was consolidating his power.
  • European media reported the agenda and speeches.
  • China media covered the import of the speeches, while emphasizing a key reorganization and the fact that a brilliant young economist had been promoted to a key job. This was entirely appropriate, for economic growth is the current theme in China. What was farm land two decades ago is now a financial district worthy of respect and making waves on the world scene.

Compare today’s China with that of Mao, Some conclusions are inescapable: In just 32 years:

  • China has shed Communism and embraced a market economy.
  • Democracy has advanced dramatically in step with new economy. It has a way to go, but Communism is dead.
  • China is poised to become the world’s largest economy and is already its greatest polluter as a nation.
  • Achieved a very real leap forward by essentially abolishing poverty.
  • All these things evolved from within--doubling the miracle.

Economic freedom a large number of Chinese now have. And with it has come loyalty and nationalism have evolved quite naturally. Hosting the Olympic games is an appropriate coming-out party, and what a party it was. This much all can see and rightfully applaud.

Less obvious is how this all came about. Of course the architect was Mao's successor in influence, the insightful Deng Xiaoping. As one of the influential old guard of the Chinese Communist Party, Deng became the party's Secretary General in 1954. In that position, he strongly protested the the ideological excesses of Mao's Great Leap Foreward. For that, he was purged by Mao in 1966. By 1974, he had been "rehabilitated" and returned to power.

Remarkably after his return to power, Deng was never formally head of party, state or government. He was simply the leader, the go-to guy in times of trouble, the reformer par excellence. He inspired a new generation of pragmatic leaders, and those who followed him rose to greatness in their own rights. Very few did not, and their demise often quickly followed. Deng initially earned his vast respect for his military role during World War II and the battles with the Nationalists thereafter. He retained vast influence in later years because of his political and economic acumen were recognized and appreciated by all.

After Mao's demise, Deng retained his reputation among leaders of a nation in shambles after the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. In ten short years he introduced a market economy, opened China to world trade, and in effect destroyed the Communism of Marx, Lenin, and Mao. His leadership was inspirational and not at all self-serving. His accomplishments are unique in history for one who operated without a top portfolio. He simply had everyone's confidence and respect.

Under Deng's leadership, China awoke to new ways of thinking, enabled individuals, vastly improved the standard of living, all without the social upheavals that usually accompany such drastic about faces. In the way Deng changed the direction of his nation, his socio/economic "miracle" has few parallels in history. The legacy of Roosevelt in America lived on, that of Yeltsin did not. Deng also was very much like Elizabeth I, except he was not an imperialist, nor the top dog on paper.

In sharp contrast with Mao’s ideology, Dang was a consummate pragmatist. Therein lay his strength. He followed well-worn paths, used things that worked for the West and encouraged others to do likewise. Most of all, he dared. One of his more famous remarks captures his spirit:

"I don't care if it's a white cat or a black cat. It's a good cat so long as it catches mice."

Deng’s legacy of pragmatism became deeply ingrained. The governing party is still evolving, adopting whatever works. It recognizes the need for democracy, just not in the American style. The ruling party operates internally in democratic ways. In a very real sense, Deng began a social evolution that is still making dramatic progress 22 years after his time in government.

How did he do it?

By relaxing controls, enabling the middle classes and allowing them to embrace western thought as appropriate.

Of course great disparities still exist among the Chinese social classes. But think about that. When the middle classes benefit as they have in China, they embrace reforms. While it is rare, the peasant classes have their achievers as well. Tang Jei is one of them. Nineteen years after the crackdown in Tienanmen Square, Tang, of peasant stock, is writing his PhD dissertation at Fudan University on Western Philosophy. (He still takes time out to help his mother with the harvest.)

Tang produced a patriotic video that he released on the Chinese equivalent of UTube. It became a smash hit. It was, in fact, a personal manifesto, a dramatic defense of China’s honor. He produced it on Movie Maker.

Tang knows Western history well. He is not a Party member. Yet he has this to say: “We think our love for China, our support for the government and the benefits of this country, is not a spontaneous reaction. It has developed after giving the matter much thought.”

Our personal contacts in China have been similar. It is almost like the government has become a minor, if vital, inconvenience! Middle class couples aspire to have an apartment of their own and a car. Huge numbers are realizing both dreams. Apartment building is big business in China. Cranes dot the skyline in major cities. Freeway construction is well along and is already having an effect in the Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing triangle.

This year, July 2008, China became the number one user of the Internet. Tang made exquisite use of it.

China still has pressing problems, internally and externally. For a variety of reasons, it is being criticized on human rights in spite of progress the Chinese people themselves feel has been made. Largely because of such foreign criticism, nationalistic sentiment is growing. This can hardly be good for a world already at odds with itself. In fact, it is downright scary. Counter to that is the huge economic investments China and the rest of the world are making in each other. In Deng's mind, this development is a good cat.

It is not surprising that China has had some growing pains.

  • Inflation has come to China, annualizing to over 15% for 2008.
  • Power shortages which limited industrial output during natural disasters as well as the Olympics.
  • Environmental degradation is now severe in many areas; some of it is reaching the Western hemisphere according to satellite photos.
  • An international disconnect arising in part from its own propaganda promoting nationalism.
  • An earth quake that was both an economic and human disaster.

To its credit, China rose to meet these challenges. Methods used were not to Western liking to be sure. But comparing 21st-Century history of China with earlier times reveals a huge decrease in human toll. Talking with numerous Chinese of the middle classes, reveals true excitement about what is happening on the individual front. The typical Chinese citizen still risks prison if s/he is too vocal in criticizing the government. But compared with earlier times, They feel truly freer than ever. They also feel safe. Cities and countryside are safe places to live. What violence there in China is largely restricted to urban peripheries, where the gap between the haves and have nots is most extreme.

No over-heated economy has ever lasted. Japan of the 1980s was an Asian case in point. The 1990s were a decade essentially lost. China faced similar problems as the millennia drew to a close. The Chinese evidently learned from the Japanese, and were able to right their ship in time to refuel it. Neither country has yet fixed all the excesses. But China, as a nation, exhibits an important trait:

China practices Deng's legacy "religiously." To paraphrase in Western Style

It matters not where an idea comes from if it is useful.

This feature, more than any other, explains China's coming of age. The most recent party congress replaced nearly half of the Central Committee. It also established a new power elite. Two seasoned economist were given top jobs. Notably also, about one-third of the central government is from the provinces.

It is always risky to predict the future, but China seems well set to play a role in modeling world governance beyond Nationalism. Will Deng's pragmatism catch on world wide? Probably not any time soon, for nationalism dies hard. Could any world government accomplish a similar feat in abolishing poverty world-wide, and limit population growth to allow it. Not as long as nationalism stands in the way. Is nationalism even rational in our day? Shoguns and Emperors succumbed to better ideas of governance. Nationalism will too. Meanwhile, we can only hope to avoid a world-wide mushroom cloud.

Is Deng's insight the last word? Could there be an even better way than Deng's?

History will provide the answers in due course.


No comments yet

To be able to post comments, please register on the site.