By Alan Caruba
Last year I read a book, “China’s Megatrends: The 8 Pillars of a New Society” by John and Doris Naisbitt and was so entranced I completely neglected my normal skepticism and missed all the signals that what I was reading was essentially propaganda.
I wonder now how I could have missed this after reading just the first page in which the authors said, “the constancy of the Communist Party has worked not against but for the well-being of the Chinese people. Long-term strategic planning could be carried out without the distractions and disruptions of elections that characterize western democracies.”
Oh, wow! This line from the second paragraph of the book says everything you want to know about its justification of a completely authoritarian system whose brief history has put millions of Chinese in their graves, invaded and occupies Tibet, and is most famous for the slaughter in Tiananmen Square where mostly young Chinese were expressing a desire for real democracy.
The other clue about John Naisbitt is that he is “currently a professor at both Nankai University and Tianjin University of Finance and Economics. His wife has been a professor at Yunnan University and now directs the Naisbitt China Institute in Tianjin. Did I really expect to read a book that was anything but pro-China in every respect?
A new book provides a far different perspective. Troy Parfitt is a Canadian who has lived for years in South Korea and in Taiwan as a teacher of English. He has previously written “Notes on the Other China”, but his new book is titled, “Why China Will Never Rule the World: Travels in the Two Chinas” ($20.95, Western Hemisphere Press, New Brunswick, Canada, softcover). It is, for all intents and purposes, a travelogue of a three-month odyssey the former Taiwan-based author took throughout 17 provinces of China until he could no longer stand being in the Middle Kingdom.
Parfitt is his own man and one with an eye for detail and a talent for describing his journey in ways that do not ignore some obvious and ugly truths about the real China, not the tourist China, and most certainly not the China created by media myths.
He has the added benefit of having actually studied the history of China, past and modern, to the point where the book’s “select bibliography” runs to nearly 70 titles. As much as he made a point of visiting the places a tourist is expected to visit, because he spoke Chinese he was able to speak with the locals along the way in ways most tourists cannot. He was not taken in by the “exotic” aspects of China because he had spent enough time in Asia to have lost any naiveté.
Thus, Parfitt, looking for a description, concludes that China is “the epitome of George Orwell’s most famous novel. It is ‘Nineteen-Eighty Four with Chinese characteristics.”
Orwell’s book is about an authoritarian future ruled by Big Brother where truth is what the state says it is. It is a world inhabited by “proles” who are not encouraged to have any thoughts other than those approved by the state. It is, in short, Communism.
“China’s great rise is a great illusion,” says Parfitt. “Modernization in Chinese society is little more than window-dressing, the welding of superficial constructs—Pepsi signs, department stores, state-of-the-art production methods—onto an antique mindset. To say that China is rising is exceedingly vague. To say that it is already great or slated for greatness is a mindless mantra at best and a cheap marketing ploy at worst.”
One is brought up short when told that “China’s economic advances are certainly impressive, although it’s important to remember that foreign companies are responsible for roughly 60 percent of all Chinese exports and 85 percent of all high-tech exports.” (Emphasis added)
And then Parfitt adds, “Politically, culturally, socially, and historically, China has practically nothing to offer the Western world…or any other non-Confucian country or culture.”
“China does not even meet the definition of a developed state,” notes Parfitt. “As of 2009, it was listed on the United Nations Human Development Index as being in the 92nd spot.”
“Chinese culture remains locked in a self-replicating state of chaos, myopia, inefficiency, intolerance, violence, and irrationality. It is, in a word, backward,” says Parfitt. “China may be embracing Western trends and technology, but so what? It’s been doing that for more than a century. Culturally, and psychologically, it remains anchored to the distant past.”
For my part, I have long thought that a nation with 1.3 billion people is not likely to function well under the best of circumstances, even with the most enlightened leadership. If you want to see a country that has real potential to emerge in a leadership position among nations, look instead to India which had the great good fortune of being a British colony long enough to adopt its best qualities.
If the U.S. ever gets around to reducing its hideous debt and, in particular, reducing the amount of it owned by China, we may also begin to treat China more realistically. In the meantime, let’s not romanticize China.