America: What's Really Going On in China?

May 7th, 2014
in Op Ed

Written by Frank Li

I was in China from April 2 to April 15. Aside from mourning my father on April 5 (Li Dexin and Lee Kuan Yew) and spending some quality time with my mother (who is 88, with Alzheimer's), I causally studied China. Here are four salient points as a summary:

  1. Xi is firmly in control.
  2. Corruption is lessening dramatically.
  3. Pollution is lessening slowly.
  4. There is a cultural renaissance in China.

Follow up:

Now, let me elaborate these four points one by one.

1. Xi is firmly in control

In a previous post (Correctly Assessing Chinese Leaders and American Presidents), I quoted Henry Kissinger as saying China's President Xi "is a strong leader." That has turned out to be an under-statement. All signs indicate that President Xi is on the way to becoming a paramount leader in China, with his power control second only to Mao (i.e. more than Deng) in China's recent history! For example, Xi not only has newly formed several committees at the top (e.g. the reform committee and the national security committee), but also is personally chairing them.

Overall, Xi has been very good for China, so far. For example, most of Xi's policies have worked out very well, especially on anti-corruption, which is hugely popular among the Chinese people.

2. Corruption

Have you heard of the saying: "China's past three decades is more than its previous three centuries"? It means that what China has achieved over the past three decades, in terms of economic development, is more than it had achieved over the prior three centuries. I largely agree with this saying.

Unfortunately for China, the rapid development has resulted in many corollary problems, such as corruption. To understand how and why, read: America: What is China, Anyway?

Fortunately for China, President Xi is addressing the corruption problem. For more, read: Xi's Corruption Crackdown and Actually, Over 182,000 'Corrupt' Officials Punished in China.

Here are three easily visible results:

  1. Many high-end restaurants are no longer in business for lack of customers. They used to serve corrupted government officials, mostly.
  2. The price for Maotai, the most luxurious brand of alcohol in China, has dropped from a few thousand Yuan a bottle to a few hundred Yuan.
  3. The check-out lines at a super-market close to my parents' home are much shorter now than one year ago. When I asked why, the answer was that "we were one of the few stores accepting government-issued gift coupons. Because they are no longer issued, we lost a lot of business."

Looking beyond the surface, Xi has actually stopped the culture of corruption in China, where kick-backs and gift-giving were getting worse and worse until 2013, when Xi took over power.

In case you do not know, it's not easy to live as a corrupted official in China! S/he must hide, often sleeplessly, the illegally obtained wealth, and can be captured any time! For example, further to Bo Xilai, the next big one out will be Zhou Yongkang, a former member of the Politburo Standing Committee! Stay tuned ...

3. Pollution

A second corollary problem of rapid development is environmental pollution.

China has been working hard to fix the problem (China to 'declare war' on pollution). Here is a concrete example: in my hometown Hangzhou, the number of car registration plates issued in 2013 was 320,000. A new policy became effective on March 26, 2014, which will cut this annual number down to 80,000. This huge reduction in vehicle registration will certainly help reduce the smog.

In case you are wondering how these 80,000 registration plates will be issued ... 60,000 will be given away by lottery, while 20,000 will be auctioned off, starting at 10,000 Yuan (i.e. $1,600) a pop and capped at 30,000 Yuan (or $4,800). So want a car? Show me the money (or luck)!

Although the overall situation is getting better (China's Pollution Police Are Watching), China must do more with better results, sooner!

4. Cultural Renaissance

I am concluding that there is a great "cultural renaissance" in China! I have been feeling it for a few years, but was not convinced until now!

China had been in a steep decline since 1800, reaching its bottom by 1976. Throughout this period of time, especially during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), the Chinese culture suffered greatly.

With the remarkable achievements in modernization over the past three decades, the Chinese culture has begun to recover from its prior losses. Three most notable points:

  1. Some Chinese movies and TV shows are now so high in quality that they may even challenge Hollywood and be Oscar worthy, in my humble opinion!
  2. Through many great TV shows, China can now boast a population well educated in history, at least!
  3. China is among the best educated countries in the world. For more, read: Best education in the world.

5. Discussion

China still faces many challenges, with corruption and pollution still topping the list. But overall, China is on the right track.

Xi's strong leadership is exactly what China needs today and I wish him well. Here is the middle cut of the cover of my first book:

It shows my bold prediction, in 2012, of Xi's position in history. He has not disappointed me, yet ...

Will Xi make mistakes? Yes! Will he make big mistakes? Highly unlikely! Will he be a bad president? Impossibly unlikely! That's the beauty of China's political system (a.k.a. "a dictatorship without a dictator"). For more, read: Towards An Ideal Form of Government.

Overall, I am more bullish about China than most Chinese, who adore America. This is a good sign for China: dissatisfaction is the mother of change.

In contrast, I am more bearish about the U.S. than most Americans, who have yet to take China's rise seriously while blindly indulging in American Exceptionalism. This is a bad sign for America: complacency is the mother of failure (The Tortoise and the Hare)! At this pace, China will unseat the U.S. as the largest economy by 2030, thus ending America's leadership not only economically, but also politically. For more, read my book: "Saving America, Chinese Style".

The main reason behind these two differences is the same: Knowledge is power - I know more about America than most Chinese and I know more about China than most Americans! For more, read: A frog in a well - never having seen the whole.

6. Closing

China is a vast country with vast changes underway. This article provides a simple snapshot of China. Hopefully you, my fellow Americans, find it helpful.

Knowledge is power!

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