The Doomsday Scenario

A number of female significant others have contacted me requesting that I discontinue the Japanese surfing theme.
“My husband is becoming overheated and is continually bothering me at inopportune moments. Its tiring and can be embarrassing when friends and our religiously-inclined relatives pay a visit”.

Fair enough, so I trawled google news reader and came up with the following:

Bangkok Times: China system could ‘blow up’

China’s top-down political system, under pressure from a growing middle class empowered by wealth and social networks, is likely to “blow up at some point”, says the American academic Francis Fukuyama.

“China has always been a country with a big information problem where the emperor can’t figure out what’s going on” at a grassroots level, said Fukuyama, best known for his 1992 book “The End of History and the Last Man“, which argues that liberal democracy is the fulcrum of social evolution.

While I find the argument that liberal democracy is the fulcrum of social evolution highly questionable to put it mildly, I wasn’t hard to locate the full article by this warrior of the lecture circuit.

This is his excerpt dealing with China taken from AFP 12.10.2012:

Q: You have said that everywhere in the world – except China – religion has been crucial in laying the foundation for rule by law. Can you explain that idea, especially with reference to China?

A: In the Christian West, the Muslim world and India, religion was always a bulwark against state power. In all three religious traditions there was a body of religious law that was not controlled by the state but rather presided over by religious hierarchy. That’s the origin of the rule of law in the West. The development pattern in the West was very unusual because law came first. You had law before you had a strong state, which is why Germany didn’t unite the 1870s – the Holy Roman Empire imposed legal constraints that prevented German unity. China never had a religious establishment that could tell the emperor he couldn’t do things. There was no separate judicial mechanism, so that tradition in China is quite weak. The strong state prevented the formation of groups and civil society that potentially could be the nucleus of the civil opposition to the state. That’s the situation that prevailed for the first 2000 years of Chinese history. As China goes through a period of rapid economic growth, things are changing enormously. Suddenly you’re getting new groups outside of the states that are simply the result of capitalist growth – businessmen, a middle-class, and educated people who are on Sina Weibo [the Chinese equivalent of Twitter]. And they are mobilized.
The high-speed rail accident that happened last year is very revealing because the government had invested several hundred million dollars into this model high-speed rail system. This accident happened very early on and the government’s first instinct was to bury the train that had the accident so that no one could figure out what happened. But they were forced to rescind that decision because people got on Weibo and started talking about it, publishing pictures. Despite the fact that there hasn’t been much organized social protest in China over history, the process of modernization itself creates new social groups that have different aspirations, and it creates a very different kind of situation that the Chinese government has to face. And globalization is critical – China is not is not like North Korea, it wants to be part of the world. Interesting fact; 90% of the members of the Communist Party Central Committee have relatives and assets outside of China. They themselves see that there are alternatives to their system. Despite this long history of state centralization in China there are some reasons to think that it’s not going to be particularly stable going into the future. Having said that, you have to credit them with an amazing performance over the last 30 years.

Q. A year ago, you said that China is at a critical juncture. Is that what you mean?

A. The Bo Xilai affair is revealing of key weaknesses within their system. One of the things that makes their form of authoritarian government work better than Mubarak, or Qaddafi or any of these Arab dictators is became more institutionalized. It was more rule-bound:10-year term limits, can’t get on to the standing committee of the Politburo if you are older than 67, etc. Or so it seemed. The Bo Xilai incident pointed up the limits of the system. One of the reasons they felt they had to get rid of him was that he was a charismatic leader who was reviving Mao-era red songs, developing a populist base that could have blown up this whole system. I call it the “bad emperor problem.” This is the vulnerability they face. Up to now, their leadership has been composed of people who lived through the Cultural Revolution, and they do not want to see that repeated. But once they die off there’s no guarantee you won’t get another Mao.

Q. The Chinese top-tier leadership – composed almost entirely of engineers, in other words a technocratic caste – is extremely mindful of this danger and has taken these and other measures to avoid such a scenario. Why might these steps be insufficient?

A. Here’s an example of why it’s good to have constitutional government. The rules are absolutely clear. In Latin America, for example, there has been a whole series of presidents who have wanted to stay in office forever. But because there is still more of a rule of law in Latin America than other places, they still have to go through this process of trying to amend the Constitution to allow them to do that. The Chinese have a constitution but nobody pays any attention to it. China’s rulers have always resorted to morality rather than to law. This is the essence of the Confucian doctrine – you raise the Emperor to respect order and the public good, and it works in certain ways, but it’s not an effective constraint when you get a really bad emperor.

Q: So despite a revolution and the destruction of a ruling class, you see continuity here.

A: When you look at the imperial rule in the Han or Ming dynasty it’s so familiar because it’s all centralized, all top-down. The emperor wants to create accountability upwards to the center, but there’s no downward accountability to anybody at a local level. China has always been a country — a huge country – with a big information problem where the emperor can’t figure out what’s going on in any of the provinces. This is in so many respects exactly the Communist Party’s problem. Because they don’t have a free media, they don’t have local elections, they can’t really judge what their people thinking, so they constantly have to have these further surveillance mechanisms to try to keep track. That’s one of the reasons I think that system is going to blow up at some point. They lose track of what’s really happening. Even with the slowdown in their economy nobody really knows what’s going on because all the officials have big incentive to lie about how much output their regions are producing. People just don’t trust the statistics. China supposedly has some 50,000 people monitoring the Internet. Yes, the purpose of that is partly repressive, but that surveillance network is also there to find out what the hell people are thinking about. They do polling, to try to solve this problem. This is one of the nice things about democracy — you actually have elections in which people can express their views if they don’t like what’s happening.

Q: You mentioned social networks – do you see them as a potent force in this context?

A: Definitely. As people get more educated and tech-savvy, these networks are not just localized phenomena but pathways for information on a national scale. The technology is facilitating the growth of a national consciousness that did not exist under the controlled media setting of the Communist regime.

Q: So the social networks become a force for accountability.

A: Absolutely. That high-speed rail accident is a good example. The government was actually forced to dig up those railroad cars and launch an investigation as to what caused the accident. Of course the true accountability slowed down because they’ve got lots of ways to block that. But it’s still interesting because that wouldn’t have happened 10 years ago.

Really profound stuff Team. The vacuum cleaner approach to Sino-analysis, and everything else under the sun and a few things beside.

As for deconstructing his macro and micro arguments, I leave that to someone with serious time on their hands.

After the recent Ammesty report on land seizures, John Garnaut of the SMH again provides a more nuanced analysis based on (yes, real) interviews and (dodgy) statistics..

The slowdown in the Chinese economy is producing an unexpected reduction in violence and social conflict, a senior Chinese security official says.
Falling land prices and fewer transactions have reduced the number of forced land appropriations, which had accounted for an estimated two-thirds of the 187,000 ”mass incidents” reported for 2010.

There is also a counter-argument that Provincial Govts will become ever more reliant on forced land appropriations in order to service their massive debts which have been calculated by Victor Shih.

I look forward to your advice re: any or all of the above.

At least it will take your mind off lustful thoughts.

Even the ChinaDigitalTimes hasn’t stopped so low as to excerpt Fukuyama yet, but I have no shame.

One Response to “The Doomsday Scenario”

  1. justrecently Says:

    A number of female significant others have contacted me requesting that I discontinue the Japanese surfing theme.

    I was about to comment on the Japanese surfing article last night that Jimmy Carter must feel very guilty whenever he reads your blog.

    How prophetic.

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