It was perhaps only a matter of time before the grand wizard of Chinese exceptionalism Eric X Li got himself invited to speak at a TED conference. What’s surprising is that the concentration of smug in the room didn’t cause the universe to implode.
Li, last seen espousing the benefits of the “Chinese meritocracy” alongside sometime collaborator Daniel Bell, fits in perfectly with the elitist Silicon Valley types who shell out upwards of $7,000 to watch mostly vacuous and self-congratulatory talks by other rich people (with the occasional notable exception).
The Shanghai-born venture capitalist’s TED talk touched on all his usual topics, as this fawning write up of Li’s talk on the conference website describes:
What he found punches holes in our assumptions about China’s limitations. People think that the one-party system must be operationally rigid, politically closed, morally illegitimate. In fact, he argues, the opposite is true: what defines China’s one-party system are adaptability, meritocracy and legitimacy.
We’ve dealt with Li’s spurious claims before and his schtick hasn’t changed much since then. The Communist Party, in Li’s opinion, is not the corrupt, illegitimate monolith it is made out to be, but a meritocratic machine for lifting people out of poverty. Li, like so many CPC apologists, bases his assessment of the Party entirely on its (undeniably impressive) achievements. According to this view, the many recorded instances of deep, systemic corruption are irrelevant. Calls for political reform from those outside the system can be ignored because the Party “has not stopped reforming”, it is in fact, the “world’s leading expert in political reform” – if you believe reform carried out to hold on to power at all costs and reform carried out for the benefit of the population at large are the same thing.
The most absurd piece of evidence provided by Li to support his claims is that “polls of public attitudes suggest consistently that citizens are highly satisfied with how the country and nation are progressing”. Both Li and the official write up of his talk conveniently ignore the role China’s huge propaganda apparatus might have in shaping public opinion, let alone the unwillingness of people to speak their mind to pollsters in a country where dissent is still rigidly policed.
What’s interesting is that the TED Global crowd apparently ate Li’s crap up, though perhaps that shouldn’t be so surprising given Silicon Valley’s (completely false) perception of itself as meritocratic paradise. In fact, TED, a “massive, money-soaked orgy of self-congratulatory futurism” is perhaps the perfect venue for Li’s personal brand of historical revisionism.
[Image credit: James Duncan Davidson, TED]