The coronavirus pandemic will change the world order forever. When the Covid-19 pandemic is over, institutions in many countries will look as if they have failed. It is not a question of whether this judgment is correct from an objective point of view. The reality is that after the coronavirus, the world will never be the same again.
The effort to deal with the crisis, however great and necessary, should not prevent the urgent launch of a parallel initiative to ensure the transition to the new post-coronavirus order. Leadership is managing the crisis largely at the national level, but the disruptive effect of the virus on societies knows no boundaries…The pandemic has become an anachronism, reviving the walled city at a time when prosperity depends on global trade and the free movement of people.” Henry Kissinger as quoted in a paper out of the US National Defence University.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. Bad China, Good China
2. Talent at the Top
A Little History
Beyond Comprehension: Mao Zedong
3. Data in the Middle
Poverty, Work & Wages
Earth is My Mother
A San Francisco Every Month
4. Democracy at the Bottom
Dimensions of Democracy
Corruption: The Worst kind of Treason
Discussion is Suspended
Confucian Ethics, Digitized
Lost Girls and Half the Sky
Religion, Tibet & Xinjiang
5. China in the World
The Mongol Trade
Polishing the Gun
The Balance of Admiration
Following China’s Progress
Imagine the impact upon European civilization of a series of Imperial dynasties maintaining the self-same style and significance from Caesar Augustus until the First World War. Now imagine such a civilization existing on the other side of the planet–unaware of Greek philosophy, the alphabet, Roman governance, Christianity, feudalism, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, or democracy–but with its own unique cultural and institutional correlates that exceed all of them in intellectual subtlety and material success. Fernand Braudel.
Dusk was falling over Kunming and I sat in a downtown park watching apple-cheeked children chase each other around the bushes, oblivious to the descending gloom.
I recalled my own carefree childhood, before the Age of Fear, when we played and wandered freely night or day. “So, this is China?” I said and made a mental note to query friends about cultural indicators they had noticed.
Back in California, I asked Larry, an old China hand, who told me about returning to Shenzen after six months in California, chatting with a Chinese man on the plane, and mentioning that he had forgotten to pay his electricity bills. He dreaded returning to a cold, dark flat in midwinter, he said. His companion was puzzled. Utilities are publicly owned, he said, so why would they turn off his electricity? The electricity was on.
Frans was interpreting for a German engineer at a Bosch joint venture in Nanjing whose CEO was a German ex-pat, and whose assistant was a young Chinese woman who had studied at the University of Bamberg. At their final meeting, the CEO requested some German baking mix to be sent with the next shipment, so Frans asked his assistant if she would like something sent from Germany, too.
Without hesitating, she responded, “I don’t know what. There is nothing I need that I can’t find in China!” For him, said Frans, her response was the essence of the Middle Kingdom and a measure of its distance from the European peninsula.
Peter Man, a Chinese Canadian, first visited his ancestral land in 1981 and recalled the night he treated the hotel staff to dinner.
They ended up in a packed canteen that seated two hundred, and where the dishes were simple, tasty, and inexpensive. When he ordered rice, the waiter pointed to a gigantic steaming vat of it where diners were lined up, “An unlimited supply of free rice,” he thought, “only in a communist country!” Then he noticed something odd. Standing quietly against the walls were neatly-dressed families holding bowls, and, as he finished his rice and put down the bowl, several of them approached him.
The first to arrive was a family of three, whose child was seven or eight years old and whose father politely asked if they were done. “I was perplexed, and then my companions explained that the Yellow River had flooded and many peasants had lost their homes, their fields, and produce.
Local authorities moved some of the refugees to Changsha, where the local government would resettle them. In the past, this would have been disastrous. Many victims of the flood would have starved to death or been sold into slavery. Instead, they survived by eating free rice and leftovers.
“I watched in wonder as the Family put some of the leftovers on their rice, thanked us, and walked away, leaving some for two young men lined up behind them. I did not see any police or government officials organizing the refugees.
They seemed to be following some natural law that allowed the young, the old, and the weak to eat first. There was unlimited rice, so no one needed to go hungry. Everyone lined up at one table for the leftovers seemed to allot a share for everyone else in the queue mentally. I did not feel that these people were beggars or did anything undignified.
Quite the contrary, I was impressed by the orderly way they shared the food and their dignified comportment. I did not know that I would return to bustling, modern Changsha, to build a digital television production facility for Changsha TV twenty years later. I spent two decades there, travelling and learning about China, and there is much that I have grown to love, but I cherish most of all the memory of China I first saw in that canteen in my youth”.
Their anecdotes recall Good China, where poor people own their homes, everyone trusts the government, media are truthful, people are happy with their country’s direction, everybody doubles their wages every ten years and, collectively, they own everything worth owning. Imagine how we’d feel if that was our reality.
How would we feel if we could trust our government?
Imagine that our country was going where we wanted to go.
If our wages had grown, instead of stagnating, for the past forty years?
So, if we could all sleep in our own homes tonight and nobody slept in the streets?
If, together, we owned all the land, the banks and insurance companies, the TV stations, utilities?
Finally, how would we feel if we trusted our media?
Pollsters have spent decades in China gathering those statistics, skeptics have audited them, and millions of visitors have verified them, but we struggle to believe them. This book explains why we should.
- Fernand Braudel. A History of Civilizations. Penguin. 1995. ↑