The Chinese Juggernaut Isn't
May 31, 2015 12:52 PM   Subscribe

For American pundits, China isn’t a country. It’s a fantasyland.

Whenever I want to be cheered up about the future of my adopted country, I turn to American pundits. The air here might be deadly, the water undrinkable, the Internet patchy and the culture strangled, but I can always be reassured that China is beating America at something, whether it’s clean energy, high-speed rail, education or even the military.
posted by Johnny Wallflower (18 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
 
Great article. Thanks form posting!
posted by persona au gratin at 1:01 PM on May 31, 2015


Yes. Rings true. I wonder if European pundits similarly conjured with the metaphor of "America" in the 19th century to score political points.
posted by mono blanco at 1:45 PM on May 31, 2015


And because China is so vast, its successes can be attributed to whatever your pet cause is. Do you oppose free markets and privatization, like John Ross, former economic policy adviser for the city of London? Then China’s success is because of the role of the state. Do you favor free markets, like the libertarian Cato Institute? Then China’s success is because of its opening up. Are you an environmentalist? China is working on huge green-energy projects. Are you an energy lobbyist? China’s building gigantic pipeline projects. Are you an enthusiast for the Protestant work ethic, like historian Niall Ferguson, who describes it as one of his “killer apps” for civilizations? Then credit China’s manufacturing boom to its 40 million Protestants — even though they’re less than 5 percent of its 1.3 billion people.

Not only that, I have little doubt you'll easily find articles here in the west using China to prove the very opposite points. I'm sure you'd find them even here on MF.

It shouldn't be a surprise, really, when someone tries to use a place as vast, diverse, and foreign, as China to make a point, that it often feels bullshitty even if one is sympathetic to the point being made.
posted by 2N2222 at 1:50 PM on May 31, 2015 [6 favorites]


It was the Arabs in the 1970s, and the Japanese in the early 1980s. I think maybe the Europeans in the 90s? Now China.

But it is slowly coming true, they are all winning a little bit and the US is slowly becoming a more mediocre and middling place.
posted by Meatbomb at 1:51 PM on May 31, 2015 [6 favorites]


I love this article, which skewers a kind of mindset I've seen in Americans that fawn over foreign countries as somehow being more pure, more right, etc.

I'm always like ... when you were there, did you ever leave the hotel lobby? We're still talking about a country run by human beings, right? Not, say, Vulcans?

Every problem that exists in, for example, Chicago, also exists in (insert name of city here).

Except basic universal healthcare. I give you that, the U.S. is fucked, but still...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:51 PM on May 31, 2015 [4 favorites]


Yes, I remember the Japanese scare of the 80s. Americans have a strange mix of belief in America's own superiority and a belief that nearly everything we do is done better elsewhere and that our future looks bleak.

The Americans I respect most, like Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt and Martin Luther King believed fiercely in America, and all of them lived in an America that was much worse off for all Americans but white men. Just as they believed that America would continue to become a more just place because of its strengths, so do I.
posted by persona au gratin at 2:52 PM on May 31, 2015 [16 favorites]


I think for most right-wing pundits, China is (privately but NOT publicly) the Model for what they want America to become: Cultural monopoly, government working for the corporations, workforce impotence, environmental disregard and worldwide influence through fear... plus crucifixes in all the government buildings of course.
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:42 PM on May 31, 2015 [9 favorites]


the US is slowly becoming a more mediocre and middling place

Or is the latest layer of American exceptionalism wearing off? Maybe it's time for the powers that be to invest in some distraction?
posted by sneebler at 7:05 PM on May 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


In or around 1999, my (community) college history prof went off about China during our second session of class. She occasionally had these rants (it was my second class with her), but overall I'd had a very good impression of her before this one. She told us, with gravity and significant volume, that China was rattling her sabers over Taiwan, would be the world power well within our lifetimes, that we would not like it, and "if you're thinking of having children, DON'T."

And at that moment, I thought about all the doom and gloom environmental stuff I'd gotten during the previous summer from my astronomy prof, and all the crap about how worthless Generation X was from the lady who taught my American history class, and how every single fucking piece we read in my literature class was about being helpless and alone and dying with no agency at all...and I walked out.

I am fully convinced that a great many people in this country are genuinely disappointed that we did not all die in a nuclear Armageddon with the Soviets. The story didn't play out the way they expected all their lives, and now they don't know what to do with that despair. And a great deal of their children seem wrapped up in that, too.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:00 PM on May 31, 2015 [16 favorites]



In or around 1999, my (community) college history prof went off about China during our second session of class. She occasionally had these rants (it was my second class with her), but overall I'd had a very good impression of her before this one. She told us, with gravity and significant volume, that China was rattling her sabers over Taiwan, would be the world power well within our lifetimes, that we would not like it, and "if you're thinking of having children, DON'T."


Pretty much off topic, but I distinctly remember this very thing in the late 90s up to 9/11. It was a very (almost... quaint isn't really the word... in hindsight) significant issue with neocons at the end of the Clinton years. The right was very interested in going to war. With somebody. Almost anybody, it seemed to me. China was high on the list, because who the fuck really knows why. And then 9/11, the tipping point swung toward the Mid East, and American sentiment rose up to the neocon's wet dream. I had a bad feeling when Dubya was elected, precisely because of the neocon angle. It worked out far worse than I imagined it would be. I knew they were assholes, but I didn't think they'd turn out so reckless. I can only imagine how much worse it could have been if they'd found a reason to go to war with China instead.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:02 PM on May 31, 2015 [4 favorites]


Isn't this just another case of Orientalism, just with a conversion of the fictional mystical threats from the unspecified east changed to the looming specter of this fictional "beating us at everything" version of China?

Also, augh, Geoffrey Miller. I wish that guy'd gotten fired over those fat-shaming tweets so he wouldn't have the credibility to run his mouth about eugenics and shit, what an asshole. He teaches at my alma mater and it makes me depressed every time that's why it gets in the news.
posted by NoraReed at 3:45 AM on June 1, 2015


Not only that, I have little doubt you'll easily find articles here in the west using China to prove the very opposite points. I'm sure you'd find them even here on MF.

It shouldn't be a surprise, really, when someone tries to use a place as vast, diverse, and foreign, as China to make a point, that it often feels bullshitty even if one is sympathetic to the point being made.


One thing they export is corn, or as the Indians call it, "maize." Another famous Indian was "Crazy Horse." In conclusion, China is a land of contrast. Thank you.
posted by Mayor West at 5:53 AM on June 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


If you were a panda bear, what would you rather eat? Bamboo? Or the terrified face of a fat American tourist while their precious country coughs up all their worthless dollars to pay off a debt to China, and instead China says no thanks, we've got all these cool pandas and factories and so much tea you could never imagine how much and besides, we do so many things better than you as you already know, so take your worthless dollars and buy some more toys we made with lead so your children will become even more stupid while we eat your lunch but certainly not your unhealthy fast food while we continue to surpass you in every metric!!! Think about it!
posted by krinklyfig at 7:32 AM on June 1, 2015


Most of what we know about Sparta is from the remains of writing of just this sort by Athenians.
posted by Trochanter at 7:58 AM on June 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'm old enough to remember when it was the Japanese who were beating us at everything, so I'm a bit cynical about any similar claims about China.

Every problem that exists in, for example, Chicago, also exists in (insert name of city here).

Snow removal is a problem in, say, Bangkok?
posted by Anne Neville at 1:38 PM on June 1, 2015


China may not be "officially" exploring eugenics, but investigation of the subject seems to be a lot more permissible there than in the West. A couple of years ago, Wired explored the work taking place at BGI (Beijing Genomics Institute).
posted by theorique at 2:45 PM on June 1, 2015


-The Chinese Bailout is Starting to Bail Fast
-Why You Should Pay Attention to China's New Monetary Policy Tool
-Michael Pettis: The Limit To China's Growth[*]
-China's cunning plan to revive growth
-Did China Just Launch World's Biggest Spending Plan?
-"One Belt, One Road," or the New Silk Road for China?

Xi Jinping's 'smart authoritarianism' is the greatest political experiment on earth - "The success or failure of the president's domestic programme will determine whether there is peace or war in east Asia."

oh and keep in mind japanese FP in addition to PM abe's domestic agenda...
Revised defense rules would give Japan new powers to aid U.S. military

I distinctly remember this very thing in the late 90s up to 9/11. It was a very (almost... quaint isn't really the word... in hindsight) significant issue with neocons at the end of the Clinton years. The right was very interested in going to war. With somebody. Almost anybody, it seemed to me. China was high on the list...

US told to make China its No 1 enemy (2001/3/24)* - "A historic shift of emphasis in United States military deployment from Europe to Asia, with China supplanting Russia as America's principal foe, is at the heart of the Bush administration's long awaited defence strategy review... Outlines of the potentially epochal rethink of the US's global strategic priorities were given to President George Bush by his defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld at a private meeting at the White House..."

re: BGI...
-DNA Dreams
-Genetic architecture and predictive modeling of quantitative traits

also btw...
Americans in China
posted by kliuless at 5:34 PM on June 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


ezra klein's take:
China's success in recent decades has been one of the great growth stories in human history, but the country is beset by economic mismanagement, political corruption, environmental devastation, rural-urban tensions, pockets of hardcore nationalism, and much more. China's continued rise isn't inevitable, or anything close to it. There's a lot that can go very wrong in the country, and sooner or later, something will.

That isn't to say China will collapse, or even that its growth will end. But I don't think we know what happens when the 8 percent (or more!) growth that's been the norm gives way, for an extended period of time, to 2 percent growth — or worse. I don't think we know how Chinese society will react. I don't think we know what the Chinese government will do to try to get growth moving again, and what the long-term consequences will be. (Arguably, China's already got a lot of economic time bombs from past government efforts to goose growth.) And I don't think we know how the political system will fare if an extended period of slow growth leads to real, widespread dissatisfaction with the ruling class.
noah smith's take:*
Chinese officials are publicly expressing pessimism about the near future. The immediate reasons for this appear to be pretty typical -- the bursting of a land price bubble, combined with vast industrial overcapacity. The flight from real estate has probably given the Chinese stock market an unsustainable burst that will shortly reverse itself (and yes, for the record, I just did make an asset market prediction!).

Does this mean that the heyday of Chinese hypergrowth is over? ...while a permanent Chinese slowdown is possible, it’s highly unlikely. The reason is that China still has so much room to grow. The country’s per capita gross domestic product, measured in purchasing power parity terms, is still only about $13,000. Japan, in contrast, stands at about $38,000 and South Korea at more than $35,000...

China has several big factors in its favor. For one thing, it's gigantic. A large, dense market gives rise to agglomeration effects, where companies want to locate near to consumers, and consumers -- who are also workers -- want to live near their employers. The snowball effect from this process means that China won’t be left as an economic backwater. Another factor in China’s favor is its openness to foreign technology. Part of this comes from stealing the technologies of companies in the developed world...

Yes, eventually we can probably expected China’s authoritarian system to hold back its growth. The relative lack of clear property rights, the tradition of extensive government involvement in the economy and uncertainty over the political succession process will all conspire to stop China from reaching Japanese or South Korean levels of income. But even if China only reaches, say, 70 percent of South Korean levels, it still has a large amount of catch-up growth left to do.
-Where Are the China Hawks?
-Just How Great a Threat Is China?*
-Chinese censorship now extends beyond the borders of China
-With a series of major hacks, China builds a database on Americans

---
*viz. How Should the U.S. Engage With China? cf. The Middle East Is Falling Apart & U.S. considers harder line on Russia[*]
posted by kliuless at 8:53 PM on June 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


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