China’s rapid development has drawn no small amount of interest over the last decade, given its sheer momentum and relatively minute time frame.
Analysis of this development is not easy (to put it mildly), involving cultural, historical, geographic, and economical, elements that are usually inaccessible to foreigners – and, to an extent, the Chinese themselves. However, two articles brought to our attention by Malcolm Moore (of the Telegraph, via Twitter), admirably break down the details for us.
Both articles focus on China’s arrival at a turning point, where free enterprise and globalization have challenged the limitations of central governance. China is a case study in contradictions: while China has experienced more social freedom recently, with the encouragement of education and the rapid proliferation of information technologies, this freedom comes with the marginalization of groups that don’t necessarily fit into the central plan.
Those tensions, between governmental control and individual rights, are the focus of an article by Nicholas Bequelin, published in the final issue of the Far Eastern Economic Review. The article also sums up the Chinese’s government’s predicaments in its search for stability:
The level of unrest the country faces—with officially over 90,000 protests a year, not to mention the serious ethnic tensions that have recently erupted into riots in Xinjiang and Tibet—suggests limits on the ability to maintain general stability through politically affordable concessions to social demands.
Without the implementation of the rule of law, he concludes, China may find itself increasingly reliant on an arbitrary system of governance – a frustratingly unstable plan in a system enamored with harmony and stability.
The second article, written by Paul R. Gregory and Kate Zhou in Policy Review, illuminates China’s progress through a comparison with Soviet Russia, a regime that began with similar characteristics to China, yet went down a decidedly different route when reform was implemented:
Chronically depressed Chinese agriculture began to blossom, not only for grain but for all crops. As farmers brought their crops to the city by bicycle or bus, long food lines began to dwindle and then disappear. The state grocery monopoly ended in less than one year. Soviet Russian agriculture continued to stagnate despite massive state subsidies. Citizens of a superpower again had to bear the indignity of sugar rations.
The authors go on to justify China’s rise: economic reform seems to have succeeded in China where it failed in the U.S.S.R. because Chinese government reforms were mainly a response to pre-existing entrepreneurship. But unless China continues to respond to social trends and implement stable social structures that support citizen-fueled progress, China may face the same “stagnant oligarchy” that derailed Russia’s development.
In other words, the Chinese government would do well to reflect the changing attitudes of Chinese society, especially in regards to transparency, legality, social reforms — if it wishes to continue the economic boom that has characterized China in the last decade.