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posted on 28 June 2017

Governance in China: Past, Present and Future

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In a previous post (Human History Greatly Simplified), I simplified human history over the past 2,000 years as the West vs. China.

In this post, I will explain governance in China, its past, present, and future. I do it for the sake of my fellow Americans, with a strong message to America: you are 2,000 years behind China in governance!


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1. The foundation

Chinese civilization over the past 2,000 years was primarily defined by the First Emperor, with his grand, but when compared with Rome, more realistic vision of "one written language, one culture, and one Emperor" (Ancient Rome vs. Ancient China) as the foundation.

Largely because of that, China was, and still is, very simple to govern, especially when compared with the West, which has been troubled by multiplicity, including wide diversity in languages, cultures, races, and religions.

2. Governance in China: Past

The First Emperor had many great achievements. Let's focus on just one: administrative reforms. Below is an excerpt from Wikipedia - Qin Shi Huang - Administrative reforms.

In an attempt to avoid a recurrence of the political chaos of the Warring States period, Qin Shi Huang and his prime minister Li Si completely abolished feudalism.[48] The empire was then divided into 36 commanderies (郡, Jùn), later more than 40 commanderies.[48] The whole of China was thus divided into administrative units: first commanderies, then counties (縣, Xiàn), townships (鄉, Xiāng) and hundred-family units (里, Li, which roughly corresponds to the modern-day subdistricts and communities).[51] This system was different from the previous dynasties, which had loose alliances and federations.[52] People could no longer be identified by their native region or former feudal state, as when a person from Chu was called "Chu person" (楚人, Chu rén).[51][53] Appointments were subsequently based on merit instead of hereditary rights.[51] Further information: History of the administrative divisions of China before 1912

The image below highlights the basic structure of Chinese government over the past 2,200 years. It is strictly top-down, with all the key positions (e.g. governors) being appointed in a top-down fashion from the Emperor downwards.

How, then, were these appointments made top-down? It is via a merit-based system called Imperial examination - Wikipedia, bottom-up! Below is an excerpt.

The Chinese imperial examinations were a civil service examination system in Imperial China to select candidates for the state bureaucracy. Although there were imperial exams as early as the Han dynasty, the system became widely utilized as the major path to office only in the mid-Tang dynasty, and remained so until its abolition in 1905. Since the exams were based on knowledge of the classics and literary style, not technical expertise, successful candidates were generalists who shared a common language and culture, one shared even by those who failed. This common culture helped to unify the empire and the ideal of achievement by merit gave legitimacy to imperial rule, while leaving clear problems resulting from a systemic lack of technical and practical expertise.

In summary, here are three key philosophical ideas in Chinese governance:

  1. A society must be organized hierarchically, with more able men (and women) higher up in the hierarchy, not only economically, but also politically.
  2. A society must be mobile, allowing anybody (aka "a commoner") to have a chance to climb up along the hierarchy.
  3. Only the best should serve in the government.

Overall, this Chinese system was sound with one fatal flaw: the Emperor. Simply put, "crown by inheritance" proved to be only good for a few generations.

There were some 10 major dynasties in China over the past 2,000 years. Each dynasty started with a new and able Emperor, who often literally had to fight his way to the top, only to have his dynasty ended by his less able decedents a few generations later.

Bottom line: Feudalism had its days under the Sun. It's time for mankind to recognize its shortcomings and move on without it.

3. Governance in China: Present

China became a republic in 1912. Since then, the Chinese, especially the young ones, have been fascinated by many forms of government, from democracy (May Fourth Movement in 1919), to communism (1949-1976), and to democracy again (Tiananmen Square protests of 1989).

Eventually, China seems to have found her own path to success by solving her oldest, and biggest, problem: the Emperor, with neither communism per se, nor democracy for sure. For more, read: Chinese Presidency: An Earned Kingship for 10 Years.

The image below highlights the significance of China's current political system. For more, read: Towards an Ideal Form of Government (Version 3).

Additionally, three big notes:

  1. The strictly hierarchical structure of the Chinese government (as well as the Chinese society), as discussed in Section 2, remains true today, without the layer of kingdoms, of course.
  2. China abolished the Imperial examination system in 1905, only to realize that it was a mistake, because it was actually the best, if not the only, way for commoners to move up. The new system is called "national college admission exam", with new emphasis on science and technology. Hundreds of thousands of high school graduates take it on the same days every year (see image below) - been there, done that!
  3. A government job is no longer the only way to prosperity and stability. Instead, entrepreneurships are rising. For more, read: The rise of entrepreneurship in China. Of course, having other prospects drains away some of the best and brightest who would otherwise work for the government.

In short, China is managed like GE, especially on the part of leadership nurturing and selection, including the CEO.

4. Governance in China: Future

The biggest advantage of China's current political system is simplicity: the temporary "king" is guaranteed to be reasonably good, and there is only one real political party (i.e. the CPC - Communist Party of China), which is actually a huge club, with the "king" at the top.

However, the one-party system is also a big problem: lack of opposition and lack of checks-and-balances. As a result, the CPC is inherently corrupted by definition, because kiss-up is part of the requirement for career advancement. It is chiefly for this reason that China has her own version of freedom of speech: Say anything you want, as long as you do not challenge the political system!

On the other hand, most of the criticisms against the government are petty, because of the lack of real and profound comparisons. After all, China has been doing remarkably well over the past three decades, while the West has been languishing.

The best description of today's Chinese system is "state capitalism". It has certainly proven to be the best system for China, ever. It may even be the best system for most of the world. For more, read: Towards an Ideal Form of Government (Version 3).

Bottom line: China will stick to state capitalism for a long time to come.

5. Discussion

Throughout human history, great civilizations have come and gone, with one major exception: China - come (about 1800 years), go (about 200 years), and come again (more than 30 years and counting). For this reason alone, China is unique and should therefore be considered to be one of the greatest countries in human history. For more, read: The Greatest Countries in Human History.

Every country is different. Each must find her own path to success, especially with regard to democracy nowadays. For more, read: Democracy: to be or not to be?

Six big notes about China:

  1. Historically, the Chinese have been an obedient people (under the "Emperor"). This is especially true when compared with the westerners. For more, read: Ancient Rome vs. Ancient China.
  2. The Chinese were a content people, enjoying their own civilization for most of the first 1800 years of our 2017-year-old calendar. For more, read: The Era of the Byzantine Empire vs. Ancient China.
  3. The Chinese went through two centuries of enormous suffering and humiliation, thanks to the invasions from the West and Japan, until 1945. For more, read: Spanish & British Empires vs. China.
  4. After a few decades of struggle under communism (1949-1976) and with an illusion of democracy from time to time, China seems to have finally found her own path to success: state capitalism, without democracy!
  5. The Chinese are a content people no more. They are now trying hard to expand their sphere of influence globally, in a real competition with the West. For more, read: The U.S. vs. China.
  6. China must continue to improve constantly, especially its political system, with one certainty: democracy (i.e. one person, one vote) is not the way to go!

Now, let me repeat (and highlight) three key philosophical ideas in Chinese governance:

America is obviously very different from China. Three key differences in governance:

  1. Equality: Equality in America: Oversold and Overbought!
  2. Leadership at the top: American Presidency: Is It a Joke (III)?
  3. Government: It's a charity and income redistribution scheme. Below is an excerpt from this article: The Black Workforce by the Numbers.

African Americans are overrepresented in the federal government, which was one of the first sectors to integrate. Just over 20 percent of the black workforce is employed by federal, state and local governments.

I believe China’s three philosophical ideas in governance are absolutely correct, which, unfortunately, are fundamentally incompatible with democracy (i.e. one person, one vote). Therefore, [American] democracy, as we practice it today, will lose in competition against China!

6. America is 2,000 years behind China in governance

Below are three main reasons America is 2,000 years behind China in governance.

  1. “All men are created equal”. This founding principle is fundamentally wrong. It was wrong in 1776, when even slavery was harbored, and it is wrong now when equality includes equal outcomes. In contrast, China got it right 2,000 years ago!
  2. The relationship between the Federal government and state governments has never been clear throughout American history, resulting in much confusion, from healthcare to gun control. In contrast, China got it right 2,000 years ago!
  3. Is America the New Rome and Greece? China out-raced both ancient Greece and the Roman Empire! For more, read: Ancient Greece vs. Ancient China and Ancient Rome vs. Ancient China.

Oh, a relatively minor point: in China’s top universities, there are no likes of Jared Kushner (whose father donated $2.5M to Harvard for his admission) or George W. Bush (who got into Yale via its “legacy” program).

For a holistic diagnosis of America’s failing political system and the best possible solution, read my book: American Democracy – Why is it failing & how to fix it?

7. Closing

Keep your friends close, your competitors closer!

China is a competitor, not an enemy, against the West.

China has studied, and learned from, the West for the past few decades at least. It's time for the West to study, and learn from, China! This post has granted some insight, hopefully.

Now, please sit back and enjoy this short video on capitalism.

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