America: What is China’s Political System, Anyway?

May 11th, 2012
in Op Ed

by Frank Li

This is the twelfth article of the series: “Towards An Ideal Form of Government”.

Frank-53-Fig-1There has been a lot of political news coming out of China recently, from the purge (China Leadership Purge: Maoists Out, Liberals In), to the calls for political reforms (Chinese Premier Acknowledges Need for Political Reforms), to the latest Time cover story “The People’s Republic of Scandal.” How should we view these news stories as a whole?

To me, all these news stories reflect positive changes for China. Here is why:

  1. Purge: The purge of Bo is good for China. In fact, most of the purges over the past decade (e.g. Chen Xitong and Chen Liangyu) have been good for China.

  2. Political reforms: It’s positive to acknowledge the problems first and try to fix them via reforms. This is very different from the U.S., whose leaders are in total denial of its big problems (Top-10 American Misconceptions about America)! Remember: China was a very screwed up country, thanks largely to Mao. It takes a lot to fix it.

Follow up:

1. Overview of China’s political system

Simply put, the Chinese political system can be characterized in two points as follows:

  1. System: It is a one-party system, with the ruling party being the CPC (Communist Party of China). How to view today’s CPC? “Equate it to the Republican Party in America today, without the extreme right part (i.e. neo-cons)” (Top-10 American Misconceptions about China)!

  2. Leadership: It is a dictatorship without a dictator.

Overall, this system, while far from being ideal (Towards An Ideal Form of Government), appears to be slightly better than the American political system, in my opinion.

2. View China as GE

To best understand China, compare it to GE! Three positives in this analogy:


  1. Leadership: Most of the leaders are accomplished people.

  2. Management: It’s like a company with the CEO at the top.

    • Jack Welch was perhaps a more imperial CEO at GE than President Hu Jintao in China, relatively speaking.
    • A dictatorship without a dictator has worked out well so far.
  3. Built to last: The current leaders prepare the next generation leaders.

Two negatives in this analogy:

  1. Mandatory compliance: because GE is the only game in town, you must kiss your way up for your career, or there is no place to turn.

  2. Purge: purge is a part of the game by “design” (not necessarily 10% yearly as in GE), complicated by the traditional “Chinese palace politics.” As a matter of fact, GE probably purges more often and larger in scale than China does. Recall this: When Jeff Immelt was chosen as Welch’s successor, the two other candidates (i.e. James McNerney and Robert Nardelli) were “purged” out of GE.

3. Politics:  The U.S. vs. China

Politicians are basically the same everywhere: they serve themselves first before serving anybody else. Here are three key differences between the U.S. and China:

  1. Quality of the servants:

    • In the U.S, because of the abundance of opportunities in the private sector, if you are really good, you should not even think about working for the public sector before succeeding in the private sector! Using Steve Jobs’ words: “Why join the Navy when you can be a pirate?”
    • In China, the best people serve in the government, traditionally and culturally, although the massive adoption of capitalism over the past three decades has changed that, because of the new opportunities in the private sector.
  2. Cost of making a big mistake:

    • In the U.S., the cost of making a big mistake in the public sector is limited. Any doubt? Read this: Mel Reynolds Rap. What a big second chance!

    • In China, the cost of making a big mistake in the government can be huge; you are basically done for the rest of your life.
  3. Permanency:

    • In the U.S., the culture of politics is to enjoy as much as you can for as long as you can. Few, not even the American Presidents, care about the well being of the country in the long run, thanks to “getting re-elected ad nauseam” (American Democracy: Massive Falsehoods at The Top!). Big problems? Kick them down the road, while you benefit yourself now!

    • In China, there is a concerted effort, at the top at least, to perpetuate the CPC, which means you have to do things more responsibly, both short and long terms, without kicking the can down the road forever.

Frank-53-Fig-3SMALLAs a result, while the best people do not necessarily make it to the top in China, the top leaders are all accomplished people (pictured right. Click on picture for a larger one with names), with their lifetime effort vested in it, just like in GE! Needless to say, there are many flaws in the Chinese political system, not the least of which is the lack of "democratic" elections. But isn’t that true for GE as well?

Bottom line: China is moving in the right direction, but the U.S. is not!

Here is a must-read article for all Americans who care about the U.S.-China relationship: Chinese Insider Offers Rare Glimpse of U.S.-China Frictions.

4. Closing

For Americans, Chinese politics is like Chinese food: Enjoy it but do not go into the kitchen to see how it is made - the closer you look, the more ugly it becomes! Overall, few Americans, including me, can live happily in China, either politically or economically.

It’s just sad that America is losing in its head-on competition with China. Worse yet, I know America can be better than China, but we just do not seem to be able to adapt


Related Articles

Previous articles by Frank Li

About the Author

Frank LiFrank Li is the Founder and President of W.E.I. (West-East International), a Chicago-based import & export company. Frank received his B.E. from Zhejiang University (China) in 1982, M.E. from the University of Tokyo in 1985, and Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University in 1988, all in Electrical Engineering. He worked for several companies until 2004, when he founded his own company W.E.I. Today, W.E.I. is a leader in the weighing industry not only in products & services, but also in thought and action.

Dr. Li writes extensively and uniquely on politics, for which he has been called "a modern-day Thomas Jefferson"(see page 31).

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