Martin Jacques: Expanding the Frame of the Concept of China

Mr. Jacques is an economist, author of the book, When China Rules the World: The End of The Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order, and obviously has such a big hard-on for China that, like The Great Wall, it can be viewed from space.

Not to say that's a bad thing.  China in fact has a lot of things to get engorged about, and Jacques happily points that out several times throughout his recent article in the BBC - namely, the economy.

But Jacques goes where most pro-China pundits, even fanboys like Thomas Friedman, draw the line.  He actually questions if western governments truly have greater "legitimacy" than China's.

I love this because it instantly reframes the mainstream narrative about China.  A question like this before has never been asked (seriously, by a Westerner, in something like the BBC), because it is assumed that everyone knows the answer.  Of course western governments have more legitimacy - Question Over.  China after all jails dissidents, censors the internet, and let's not forget about that one summer in the 80s. No, not when Wham! played.

At a time when both the American and Chinese leaderships are being switched up, what a question to pop about legitimacy, especially since this is the west's greatest weapon against china - moral authority.  They can't go to war, they dont want to mess with trade. They even won't take a stance on some pitiful little islands. So instead they incessantly shame China for her moral failings.

I'm really curious how people will respond to this.  I would imagine that most people will have a knee-jerk negative reaction to it, because it goes so against the mainstream narrative.  If the west doesn't even enjoy legitimacy compared to China then we really have lost, right?

As an expat living in China I've gone over this topic often with myself and a few friends, but I don't bring it up much because even most expats wont go there.  Without getting too much into it, if there is one thing that expats in China love, it is to hold their home country's moral and political superiority as a trump card when they have had a bad day. (It's not just expats who do this, either.)

However, I personally view this as a question worth exploring.  Not just because it is fun, but because a truly progressive society would embrace a challenge like this, if only to strengthen themselves. If we try really hard, we can find a lot of examples where Jacques is right on point.

For example, the American presidential election is beyond depressing precisely because it is paraded as something that is "at least" better than the Chinese system.  If we really had oodles of legitimacy - enough to make Jacques claim completely laughable - shouldn't we have more to go on?  Shouldn't our presidential election be slightly less farcical if we are really going to have so much confidence that our system is better, without a doubt?

(It's interesting that the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China - the people choosing the next president - has 2270 delegates, while the US Electoral College has 538 people.  Thanks to jinx107 from r/china.)

Although he definitely glosses over many of the Chinese government's extreme shortcomings, crimes and embarrassments, in the allotted space provided I think Jacques at least accomplished his mission well: to reframe the debate, making China and the Chinese system a contender in respected and admired mainstream systems, rather than being confined to the dark, unreachable corners of what is currently thought to be inhabited only by apologists and paid propagandists.

1 comment:

  1. Well said.You make some very salient points, especially about the criminally wastefull US presidential elections. I would love to hear your views on everyday life in China, how they see Americans and the US, etc. Next time you're in town, let me know. You and your lovely bride can come over for dinner.


Thanks for reading, how about doing some writing?