- by Yang Sheng
- The Guardian
- Issue #2016
Photo: N509FZ – commons.wikimedia.org (CC BY-SA 4.0)
When commenting on China, some in the West only see a country constantly at the cusp of crisis, ranging from predictions of a “China hard landing” or “China collapse,” to “COVID is China’s Chernobyl moment” and “the end of Communist Party of China’s (CPC) rule.” Over the past decade, whenever China encountered difficulties and challenges, some Western politicians, scholars and so-called China experts always repeat wild prophecies about the fate of China and the CPC. Needless to say, none was even remotely right.
Far from it, China under the leadership of CPC has overcome various challenges, become stronger than ever and is closer to the centre of the global stage than ever. Even under the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, China has showed a much better performance than the West in saving lives and controlling the epidemic since the beginning, and its economic growth is still faster than most major economies, Chinese experts said.
The wrong predictions about China in the past decade have shown an interesting trend of Western understanding of China: from downplaying China’s development and exaggerating the problems that China has, to recognising the fact of China’s rise, and now to the anxiety of how to deal with a powerful China with a unique political system and culture that is very different from the West. In other words, from the China Collapse Theory to the China Threat Theory, said analysts.
The “China collapse theory” is a typical example of wrong Western predictions about China, and there are quite a number of Western scholars who used to or still hold these opinions. A representative prediction of such kind was made by Francis Fukuyama in 2012: China’s top-down political system, under pressure from a growing middle class empowered by wealth and social networks, is likely to blow up at some point.
Fukuyama told media that “China has always been a country with a big information problem where the emperor cannot figure out what is going on at a grassroots level” […] and “this is in so many respects exactly the Communist Party’s problem. Because they do not have a free media, they do not have local elections, they cannot really judge what their people are thinking.”
Fukuyama is not alone in this regard. There were some other “famous” Western proponents of the hilarious theory that used their biased knowledge to predict China’s course in the past ten years, such as when former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said in 2011 that the “Chinese system is doomed.” In an interview with the Atlantic, Clinton said Beijing’s human rights record is “deplorable” and it is “trying to stop history” by opposing the advance of democracy.
Gordon Chang, a “well-known” “China Collapse” theory fanatic, has frequently prognosticated on “China’s collapse,” but despite all indications to the contrary, he just kept changing the time of the “collapse” again and again.
WHY ARE THEY WRONG?
In the background of Fukuyama’s prediction was the Wenzhou high-speed train accident in 2011, which sparked a massive discussion by the Chinese public on social media platforms, with many voices expressing safety concerns about public transportation as well as questioning the credibility of the government over the crash investigation.
But was the incident proving Fukuyama’s assumption that the CPC has failed to grasp what Chinese people are thinking? Has the growing access of the Chinese middle class to the internet weakened the authority of the government? Analysts say the answer is clear: Fukuyama was wrong.
In terms of social media, today China has more than 1 billion web users, compared with about 560 million in 2012. “Why didn’t the expansion of web users weaken the political system of China? The reason is that China has successfully developed online public opinion platforms that allow people to express their opinions, reflect on the problems of Chinese society and effectively warn the government to fix them,” said Zhang Yiwu, a professor at Peking University.
In the past ten years, China proved that its high-speed trains are reliable and the country has the biggest and most advanced high-speed rail network in the world. The accident in 2011 did not stop the development of China or change the people’s confidence in the country, said analysts.
Many hotspot issues that were discussed every day on Chinese social media networks like corruption and air pollution have been effectively addressed in the past decade. The anti-corruption campaign launched by the CPC after the 18th CPC National Congress has successfully reshaped a clean and healthy political environment in China and has won full support from the people. Air quality in cities like Beijing has improved remarkably in recent years and residents in the capital can see blue skies frequently, compared to a decade ago.
All of these facts prove that the CPC can effectively collect information about the grassroots to find the problems and solutions, spot mistakes and effectively correct them as soon as possible, experts noted.
Zhang Weiwei, director of the China Institute of Fudan University, told the Global Times that Western political scientists or scholars have made a lot of efforts to predict events in the world, but most of time, they failed. “They failed to predict the collapse of the Soviet Union in the past, and they also failed to predict the rise of China, they couldn’t even predict the rise of Trumpism, and most Western economists failed to predict the financial crisis in 2008.”
There are two main problems with the failure of the West to make correct predictions about China, Zhang said. “First is that they have ideological bias, as they believe China or any other non-Western country will eventually be Westernized as long as it wants to be modernised. Another problem is that Western political science is based on the experience of Western history, so when Western scholars used such ‘science’ to analyse China, a country with an entirely different civilisation, they will come to unreliable conclusions most of the time.”
Of course, not all predictions from other countries about China are pessimistic but the problem is that Western media and society does not pay enough attention to these predictions.
Martin Jacques, a former senior fellow at the Department of Politics and International Studies at Cambridge University, made some correct predictions in his work published in 2009, When China Rules the World. Jacques said China’s history and its culture is so different that you cannot make sense of it using a Western template.
“My book was very controversial when it was published in 2009, because basically it did not accept what was then the Western common sense about China. Chinese economic growth would continue for a long time to come because its level of development allowed that possibility,” Jacques said.
Jacques holds an entirely different opinion compared to many other Western scholars who always demonise the Chinese political system or the governance of the CPC in China. “Far from being in crisis, in fact, support for the Chinese political system had increased and would continue to increase as long as China was successful,” he said.
Because the people can see that it has “worked extremely well for China, and therefore would strengthen the political system in China. China would not only remain very different, but globally, as China rose, there would be an increasing process of ‘sinification’ of the world,” in other words, growing Chinese influence in lots of different ways around the world, Jacques said.
On how to analyse China correctly, Zhang Weiwei has some suggestions for the Western scholars. “They should observe polls from creditable and authoritative institutes like Pew and Ipsos, as they conduct surveys on large samples of people on topics like government satisfaction in successive years, and you will get a cautious conclusion via comprehensive comparison of that data; second, to do the field research rather than only staying in the house to focus on data and second-hand sources, otherwise your conclusions will be far from the facts.”