British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is visiting Beijing and the Daily Telegraph has a dour op-ed piece written by Bruce Anderson in today’s edition.
succeeds, there will be a price. The West would lose power. But Chinese success is much the lesser evil. Imagine what would happen if that huge and powerfully armed nation became a failed state.” China
Fair as it goes.
Anger. Sex. Fear. These are things sure to titillate op-ed readers and attract fans of the “Jerry Springer Show.”
Let's ignore, if we can for a moment, that the modern concept of race as Anderson seems to use it, had little, if anything, to do with the pre-20th century Chinese worldview. When more contemporary ideas of race did appear, 20th century Chinese intellectuals, influenced in large part by imported theories such as Social Darwinism, stressed the weakness of the Chinese race vis-à-vis the rest of the world. In
Contemporary nationalism in the PRC is also just as much the product of ‘patriotic education’ that emphasizes historical attacks on
So, let’s talk about sex, baby. (Did I just date myself with that song reference? I think I did. No matter. Press on.) In his piece, Anderson summarizes the Baby Boy Bomb argument: China’s One Child Policy will create a veritable army of pampered and spoiled male children in for a huge shock as they come of age and realize that some of them are going to be left out of the marriage pool.
Again, fair as it goes. It’s not a given, but if one wishes to destabilize a particular society, having a large group of underemployed young males with little hope of being able to enter into normative family relations is a good start. It was a factor in the rebellions of the late Qing and, for some, it’s a cause of concern in the
The One Child Policy and its long-term effects are a favorite topic for western commentators on Chinese affairs. It's hard not to ignore a strong whiff of "exoticization for the post-modern age" in the West’s continuing fascination with the Chinese family planning regime. To be sure there have been and will continue to be negative consequences (infanticide, abortion for the purposes of sex selection, and increased trafficking in women to name but a few of the most horrific) but it is far from certain that the One Child Policy will have the kind of political or even international ramifications that some have suggested.
It's definitely worth watching, but there seems to be an assumption in the West that China is definitely heading for some sort of Male Malthusian Meltdown. Like many aspects of China's recent re-emergence, we really don't know, there just aren't any models by which to predic the outcome of this kind of large-scale social engineering.
Finally, we have fear itself, more specifically the Chinese government’s fear of its own people. Here
Anderson argues, “The Chinese are an individualistic race; they do not share the Japanese tendency to a group mentality.” Thus, he contends, the demand for individual rights will grow stronger and become an irresistible force for change.
I do think that the demand for individual rights is bound to grow in the coming decades but I think this has less to do with the Chinese as ‘a race,’ and more to do with urban Chinese as newly-enriched property owners seeking to preserve their gains over time and generations. Eventually, the choice will be have to be made by China’s emerging urban elite over which is the greater danger to the preservation of accumulated wealth: social instability (the bugaboo of ‘chaos’) or the unchecked power of the state in its myriad forms (official corruption, state appropriation of property, inadequate legal protections of property rights, etc.).
In the final balance,
Too often op-ed pieces on China’s rise seem to be written by recipe: A couple of references to late-Qing history, a soupçon of Mao, a quirky anecdote from earlier historical annals and/or a Cultural Revolution reference (though some prefer the minty freshness of a Great Leap Forward pun), a dash of economic data on China trade, a smidgen of your favorite T-for-Trope: Tyrannical Tots, Taiwan, Tibet, or Tiananmen (to taste). Garnish, if wished, with a cab driver quote, picked up on the way to or from the
Part of the goals of this space is to provide a corrective to the sort of “robot errors” that creep into reporting and writing on