Home > Analysis, politics > Lacking insight in James Fallows’ piece, “What Is the Chinese Dream?”

Lacking insight in James Fallows’ piece, “What Is the Chinese Dream?”

James Fallows is one of the most accomplished journalists in the West. His talents were demonstrated very early on in his career, being former U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s chief speechwriter; the youngest person to ever hold such a job. Personally, I admire his understanding of the Western media. For example, his take on the “new media” is totally excellent. However, Fallows doesn’t ‘get’ China. As humans, our imagination is often limited by our biases, and in his latest article, “What Is the Chinese Dream?” he dared implying a nation of 1.3 billion without dreams. It’s preposterous. While the article is certainly helping to frame the ongoing debate about China’s rise, the article is also an indication of what’s wrong with the prevailing Western narratives about China.

To the Western audience, Fallows might appear objective, especially as he rightfully acknowledges some of the problems from the West, especially the ‘gaps’ in the universalism claimed. Below is Fallows’ article, on the left column, and my take, mostly on points where I disagreed, to the right. Following that I will summarize my analysis.

“What Is the Chinese Dream?”

MAY 9 2012, 9:25 AM ET

The nation may have larger-than-life ambitions, but it hasn’t figured out how to win over the world.

[Note: This story is adapted from James Fallows’s new book, China Airborne, and published as part of an Atlantic special report.]
When I first arrived in China, I wrote the one and only “I’ve just arrived, and here is what I’m wondering” article that journalistic convention permits each writer on first immersion in a country. Among the questions I said I wanted to answer was, What is the Chinese dream?
Nearly six years later, I realize that it’s a silly or meaningless question, since for the foreseeable future the country’s ambitions will be fully satisfied by allowing hundreds of millions of people to realize their individual and family dreams. Grandparents who can live in reasonable health and security to an old age? Great. Students whose education makes the most of their abilities and who have the chance to do their best around the world? Better still. After China’s centuries of seeming to move backward as a society and its more recent decades of tragedy and turmoil, the simple bourgeois comforts are much of what the modern Chinese miracle could and should provide. Fallows is indeed correct to say that the Chinese overall are preoccupied with their near to mid term goal of pulling the nation out of poverty.  It is the strongest force that is propelling China forward today.

Fallows appears quite revisionist here when he writes, “China’s centuries of seeming to move backward as a society,” without mentioning much of it was due to Western colonialism.  He well knows China was thoroughly invaded during that period.  Look up the Opium Wars.  That followed by ex-territorial concessions and Western attempts at carving up China.  China’s “move backward” would be further helped by a full on and brutal Japanese invasion.

History is important, because it informs us about a possible pattern of behavior in our current events.  For example, is the 2003 invasion of Iraq under the false pretense of WMD done out of “human rights” and “democracy” concerns for the Iraqis?

If so, what explains the nearly non-existent coverage of the plight of Iraqi deaths in the Western press?  What explains the lack of concern in the West for countless number of Iraqi children killed?  How about the plight of deformed births due to depleted uranium dropped on the Iraqi population?

Today, I would say, most Westerners don’t fully understand how wrongfully Hong Kong was taken by the Brits.  During the 1997 Hong Kong handover, it was a perfect opportunity for the Western press to provide a little bit of history lesson.  That didn’t happen.  Not only that, they instead focused on a ‘bad’ and ‘menacing’ China about to pour into a “free” and “democratic” Hong Kong!

Yes, there was tragedy and turmoil too in recent decades due to the fault of the Chinese themselves.

All that combined informs the Chinese people’s priorities.  Who would then not want stability and being able to crawl out of poverty?

Who would not want a stable government of their own, not undermined by foreign powers?

Whether intentional or otherwise, Fallows, who in many ways represents the pinnacle of Western journalism, shows how easy it is to be irresponsible and unfair when it comes to treatment of history for other people.

This is the crux of the issue with Western narratives.  The West can go on pillaging and invading foreign countries and at the same time call themselves saviors and “human rights” champions.

That is not to say there aren’t Westerners who truly care about human rights.  There indeed are.

For an article to criticize China’s lack of dream while presuming validity of ‘universalism’ as the U.S.-led Western dream, it is disingenuous to not give weight to the victims of that ‘universalism.’

But there is a way in which the question does make sense, as an expression of concern about what the rise of a “non-universal” nation will mean for the rest of the world. This is perhaps the most important point of Fallows article.  If China represents the “non-universal” nation, what would it mean, especially if China becomes “successful?”

This same concern was expressed by Fareed Zakaria elsewhere:

“What if China gradually expands its economic ties, acts calmly and moderately and slowly enlarges its sphere of influence, seeking only greater friendship and influence in the world? What if it quietly positions itself as the alternative to a hectoring and arrogant America? How will America cope? This is a new challenge for the United States, one for which it is largely unprepared.”

First of all, the answer to Zakaria’s ‘concern’ is in fact extremely simple to address.  American should just lead by example and don’t do unto others what she doesn’t want done unto her.

Those values are not incompatible with Western societies.  Such concerns are not warranted unless the plan is to be unfriendly and arrogant.

What then is the Chinese dream?

From the foreign policy perspective, it is exactly that.

Peaceful coexistence and non-interference in other’s internal affairs which China, India, and a number of other countries coined, have in fact gained a wide following on the global stage.  Right now it lacks a strong military alliance to back that up, unlike how universalism is by NATO.

Another Chinese dream is to earn relative material wealth for her people while not consuming at the same rate as the current developed countries are consuming.

That would be a tremendous gift to humanity if China is able to find a way to achieve it.

As David Daokui Li (soon to be on China’s central bank’s monetary policy committee) said while on the Munk Debate program last year, China’s appeal to the rest of the world (and hence her soft power) will come from showing developing countries a way forward.

Taking a quarter of humanity out of poverty has tremendous appeal.

China will also attempt to achieve it through social harmony.

The strategy of the Communist Party of China is the Scientific Development Concept, which the party adopted into its constitution in 2007.

If ‘universalism’ is confident that it is right, then be confident there will be more to show for at the end of the day.

Through the centuries of Western military, technological, and economic dominance, “universalism” of some sort has been so basic a part of international relations that it barely needed to be discussed. The leaders of the French Revolution issued their Declaration of the Rights of Man — not the rights of Frenchmen. The Declaration of Independence began, “When, in the course of human events,” not “events in the colonies of North America.” With varying degrees of sincerity, Western colonialists tried to create replica British, French, or American citizens in their colonies. Long before the colonial era, Christian missionaries wanted to bring people worldwide to their view of the one true universal faith. Fallows is correct to say “universalism” is a done deal –  in the West!  There, it needs no further justification.  The narrative has been indoctrinated and has taken on a religious like fervor.

There is hardly any dissenting view in the Western press.

The idea that anyone could — and should — “aspire” to Western standards is simultaneously the most and least admirable part of the Western tradition. Most admirable in advancing the principle that people of different origins, races, and religions should be judged and valued by the same standards. Least admirable in the gap between that principle and a discriminatory reality, and in the condescension it implied for the unfortunate non-Westerners of the world. People aspire to American power and wealth.  Out of  power and wealth, culture and scientific discoveries flourish.  Everyone wants that.

I appreciate Fallows’ honesty here in talking about that ‘gap.’  That ‘gap’ is rather HUGE.

We only need to think of the number of Iraqi children killed in the last decade.  We only need to do some searches on the Internet for the effects of depleted uranium on Iraqi babies.

Nowhere is the ‘gap’ so glaring as demonstrated by the American media when they pay homage to a dead soldier while dead children silently disappears off the face of this planet.

The best and worst parts of the American model are intensified versions of this Western universalism. In theory, anyone can become an American. Most Americans innocently, or pridefully, assume that in fact most people around the world want to become Americans, and would if they only had the chance. (And many do want exactly that.) The self-satisfaction of this view can make non-Americans roll their eyes, but it is connected to the factor that is the enduring secret of American national strength. American faith in Western ‘universalism’ is an “enduring secret of American national strength” sounds poetic, but is irrational.

American national strength comes from her military might and economic strength.


Modern America’s power is often calculated in material terms, from the size and strength of its military to the scale of its corporate assets. But everything I have learned convinces me that these are finally reflections of the country’s success in attracting and enabling human talent. That success, in turn, has depended on the fortunate interaction of many different circumstances, rules, and decisions. I agree whole-heartedly the fact that America continues to attract talented immigrants from around the world gives her strength.  This is something other countries can do more to learn.
For the United States these have included immigration policies that made it attractive for ambitious people to migrate and realize their ambitions within American institutions and companies. Persecuted Jews, Hungarians, Cubans, Vietnamese, Iranians, Ethiopians, Chinese, in periods of turmoil in their respective countries; highly motivated Indians, Mexicans, Dominicans, Russians, Nigerians, Irish, Poles, Pakistanis, and many others through the decades. At their best, the levels of America’s public-education system, from grade school through Ph.D. programs, created opportunities for the ambitious. A research establishment leveraged their work for public and private benefit; an American pop culture kept renewing itself with outside stimulus until it became for better and worse the pop culture of the world. While I believe American immigration policies have been very helpful to the strengthening of this nation, we must also put in perspective that America is desirable because of the standards of living and quality of life offered.

Despite issues about glass ceilings, opportunities in America are abound, and for immigrant and native born alike, there are tremendous socioeconomic mobility.  America deserves to be lauded for that.

I some time feel American culture should be celebrated as other cultures are.  We should not think about them in competing terms.  After all, culture enriches and why wouldn’t we welcome it?

In its pluses and its minuses, everything about this approach — the approach that has created the world’s reigning power of the moment — is fundamentally different from the principles behind the rise of the aspirant great power, China. America’s challenge is strangely conservative: Somehow it has to avoid destroying the cultural conditions that have been so important to its growth. Why must the American approach be “fundamentally different” than the Chinese approach?  China certainly could learn more about attracting talents from around the world.

I would add, China is in fact doing that in earnest.  My college professor who was a well known patent lawyer in the United States was hired by the Chinese government for advice when China codified her patent laws.

Follows obviously is thinking in ‘universalism’ versus ‘non-universalism’ terms.  The answer to that “fundamentally different” approach can be easily addressed.  As Henry Kissinger likes to say, “America pursues her values with missionary zeal,” all America has to do is to lead by example.  If she is so confident in her values, be confident that others will be lining up to copy them.  Why antagonize other societies by forcing those upon them?

China’s challenge is more complicated — which, of course, doesn’t mean that it is insurmountable. The country’s successes over the past three decades arise mainly from allowing more and more of its people to apply ideas, ambitions, and energies in ways that benefit themselves and their families, and that build the national economy at the same time. To take the next step in its development, it will have to alter that equation in subtle but significant ways, by granting broader scope to individual ambition than has been possible through the Communist Party’s decades in control. The institutions at the heart of such “soft” success have until now been areas of signal weakness for China. Warren Buffet few years ago commented that the Chinese are finally unlocking their potential.  Make no mistake about it.  As hundreds of millions of Chinese move out of the farm, out of subsistence to pursue science, art, and generally participate in industry, China will be oozing with ideas.

To frame that phenomenon in terms of “freedom” and “human rights” terms vis a vis the Chinese government is a wrong mindset.

China’s restrictions on ‘freedom’ is really to suppress political opposition.  Chinese society for the most part are free.

At an individual level, and as an accumulation of daily interactions over the years, my experience is of the great permeability of Chinese culture. People are easy to meet, to get to know, to laugh or argue with. And in its vastness, today’s China contains people who belong to a variety of universalist faiths, including Islam, Christianity, Baha’i, and Buddhism. But in its international dealings as well as in most of its domestic operations, today’s China gives more weight to duties and ethics based on personal relations than on abstract principles of how people in general should be treated. It is too pat to put the ethical system the way one Chinese friend did: “Everything for my family and friends; nothing for anyone else.” But a variant of these sentiments goes through many aspects of Chinese life. Culturally, Westerners have been far more religious than the Chinese.  Individualism, “freedom,” “democracy,” and “human rights” have taken on religiosity in the West.The West should learn to be more tolerant and respectful.  China not infatuated with those words shouldn’t be concocted into a “fundamental difference” between Western and Chinese societies.
Early in my stay in Shanghai I was amused to see that the first occupant of an elevator would instantly push the “close door” button. Then, for a while, I was annoyed; ultimately I acclimated. When my wife and I had been away from China for several months and returned for a stay, my wife saw a charming young boy walking with his mother on a street in a little enclosed neighborhood. He was eating a bag of potato chips. This was itself a sign of a different trend: the obesity epidemic now affecting China. The country is already dealing with one actuarial consequence of its one-child policy of the past generation — that its population will soon become on average so old. It is just beginning to cope with another, the long-term public-health problems, especially diabetes, coming from the rising rate of obesity in people under twenty, especially the often-favored “little emperor” boys. Fallows surely has experienced people cutting in line or fighting to get on a bus in a very disorderly fashion while in China.

That’s the stage where China is at.  The West has gone through incredible transformations of her own too, even within the last few decades.

While I don’t have specific issues with what Fallows wrote here of China, one should be more critical in teasing out what is reasonable due to China’s socioeconomic condition today vs. what is more inherently ‘Chinese.’

This should not impinge on whether China can dream big or not!

As the boy finished the last chip, he simply let the bag drop from his hand, onto the sidewalk in his neighborhood. His mother briefly glanced over to see the bag’s fall and kept on walking and talking with her son about something else. The instant seemed not to register, since the sidewalk where their bag sat was in no sense “theirs.” Of course, moments like this happen all around the world. At that moment in China it struck me as an illustration of the reality that the consciousness of a “general” public interest is underdeveloped, compared with interest that affects individual families in the here and now — and the country relative to other parts of the world. The disregard for the environment is indeed a reflection of lack of public awareness for environmentalism in China today.  The West went through a transition too.I would add, Western consumers produce 4x to 10x the CO2 emissions as that of developing countries.  That is a form of awareness too which, in my opinion, is also lacking.We all should have a collective dream for a more equal consumption of our world’s resources.  Does the ‘universlism’ dream encompass that?
The still-limited awareness of interests outside China’s immediate ambitions will, I think, affect China’s ability to project soft power and improve its standing. China is steadily gaining the hard power that comes from factories and finance. Its military hard power is increasing, though from an extremely low base. But lasting influence in the world has come more from soft than hard power: ideas for living, models of individual, commercial, and social life that people emulate because they are attracted rather than because they are compelled. The world will be looking at China as an example if she is able to lift her people to relative wealthy positions while consuming much less than the average Westerner.

China is already a ‘model’ for some countries.  Look at Africa.  They are abandoning the Western ‘universalism’ and embracing the Chinese ‘model.’  Otherwise how do we explain the traction China has had with Africa in the last decade?

Soft power becomes powerful when people imagine themselves transformed, improved, by adopting a new style. Koreans and Armenians imagine they will be freer or more successful if they become Americans — or Australians or Canadians. Young men and women from the provinces imagine they will be more glamorous if they look and act like people in Paris, London, or New York. If a society thinks it is unique because of its system, or its style, or its standards, it can easily exert soft power, because outsiders can imagine themselves taking part in that same system and adopting those same styles. But if it thinks it is unique because of its identity — “China is successful because we are Chinese” — the appeal to anyone else is self-limiting. This is very bizarre to say the least!  What a crazy straw-man!Earlier in the article, Fallows essentially said America is powerful because there is a believe among Americans that others want to be American!The Chinese are not saying China’s soft power comes from being Chinese.
From the Chinese government’s point of view, soft power has so far boiled down to using money to win other people’s goodwill or acquiescence. Chinese-built roads in Africa and Latin America; Chinese investment and interaction in Europe and the United States. The public-opinion elements of the soft-power campaign have often backfired, since they have been crudely propagandistic in the fashion of the government’s internal news management. Wrong narrative.  Chinese soft power comes from not dictating to others what they should do.  Chinese software power comes from respecting other people’s values.

The Western media may paint a negative picture of China in their dealings with Africa, but that’s narrative and not reality.  (See Ray‘s “Debunking Myth of China exploiting Africa again!“)

Again, China’s success in Africa is a testament to Chinese value winning.  Universalism and colonialism have kept the Africans backward for far too long.

Even before the bad publicity China suffered with the jailing of Liu Xiaobo and the Jasmine crackdowns, a scholar from the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, Johan Lagerkvist, argued that China would likely lose more and more international support unless the government fundamentally reconceived its connections with the rest of the world. “China’s internal stability/security and survival of the Communist Party will always be more important to China’s leaders than the image it projects for outside consumption,” he contended. A choice between maintaining domestic order and pleasing outside critics was no choice at all. “Pouring money into Chinese equivalents to CNN and Al-Jazeera won’t help [without] reform initiatives,” he said. Wrong narrative.  The Western press is on a campaign to defame China.  See our article, “Collective Defamation,” by Melektaus.By the way, the West does not represent the “rest of the world.”As all the recent PEW and other international polling organizations have shown, the Chinese government enjoys very popular support.  (Sure, there are also huge problems of corruption, environmental degradation, food safety, and so on.)

I agree that stability is more important in China than China’s reputation in the West.

One could equally argue if the U.S.-led West continue on that ‘universalism’ path, Western soft power will continue to decline.

For example, in the 4th BRICS meeting, member countries are seriously embarking on creating their own development bank.  That will diminish the power of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Is dilution of the USD, a world reserve currency, consistent with that ‘universalism?’  Since the USD is a defacto world currency, why not allow other countries have a say?  Such would be an expression of ‘democratic’ value, wouldn’t it?

The BRICS are about to settle their trade through currency swaps, completely bypassing the USD.

In every country, internal interests come first. With more time on the world stage, China’s leaders may learn to do what their American, British, French, and other counterparts also had to learn: at least feigning awareness of the interest of mankind. China’s predicament is more difficult because its emergence is so rapid, and so much is unclear about other ways in which it will change. America is going to be dominant for generations to come.  It is not certain what China will do if she ever reaches parity with the United States in terms of power.

Until she gets there, her only recourse is through fairness and just means.  If China resorts to unfair and unjust means, it would be much easier for the extremely dominant U.S.-led West to come down on her.  Hence, Chinese leaders are careful to characterize their development as “Peaceful Development,” because that is their course.

Given that China represents a quarter of humanity, her tending to this many people, ensuring no disaster occurs, is an achievement of itself.

Allen said to me privately, if China raises all of her people out of poverty and catches up to the standards of living of the developed countries, that alone would make this century the Chinese century.  Never mind China’s soft power in that process!

I am sitting in Washington, D.C., as I write these words, and I realize how different the world feels to me than when I was sitting in Beijing, or Yinchuan, or Chengdu, or Linyi, with the chaos and achievement of Chinese efforts just outside my window. From a distance, it can seem strange to think that there are limits or challenges to China’s progress. The action, the sense of can-do, is so different from the political and economic paralysis of America’s age of constraint. Perhaps this is something the U.S. can learn from.  It’s a missed opportunity if the narrative is that China is “so different” and thus all the positives her society conveys ought to be ignored.

If anything, the West utterly lacks introspection.

(See “Professor Ann Lee on her book, “What the U.S. Can Learn from China”)

But I know how much is in flux, and how much is at stake. It is not an evasion of analysis but a recognition of China’s complexity, and the world’s, to say that a wide range of outcomes is possible, and that it is worth watching very carefully signals like those I have mentioned to recalibrate our estimates. Nearly every day of these past five years — when watching the earth being scraped away for airports or highways, when seeing apartments put up within a week and the families who used to live in the knocked-down tenements sent scrambling to other parts of town, when seeing the beggars next to the Bentleys and the security agents watching students in the Internet cafés — I have thought to myself, How long can this go on? In case Fallows haven’t heard, China is undergoing an industrial revolution.China’s urbanization rate is at 50% now.  If we look at the ratio of urban population vs. rural in developed countries, then another 500 million people in China are still waiting to be moved in the coming decades!
And nearly every day, when seeing those same sights, I have asked myself, What is this system not capable of ? Anyone who says China is destined to succeed or fail, to open up or close down, either knows much more than I do, or much less. Anyone so sure is not willing to acknowledge the great unknowability of life in general and life in this quarter of mankind. This is the part about Fallows I actually admire.  He is wise to not discount what a society of 1.3 billion people is capable of.

Therefore, he should not discount what this 1.3 billion is also capable of dreaming up!

In the lede, Fallows wrote:

The nation may have larger-than-life ambitions, but it hasn’t figured out how to win over the world.

We can also say that a bum on the street has larger-than-life ambitions, but how is he suppose to out-dream another person who is already a billionaire?  That bum will have incredible soft power if he could teach other bums on how to get out of poverty, perhaps not to earn a billion dollars but to have enough to buy a modest home.

Well, the bum may in fact still have grander dreams, but he dare not be so public about it.  He could parade around dreaming to be a billionaire.  In such a case, he would likely invite ridicule.

Imagine if China dreams “full spectrum domination” or in similar fashion as Obama (and other presidents) who says it is America’s “God-given” to be number one!  Is that helpful?

In my view, I hope China succeeds in this industrial revolution.  In few centuries from now, I hope China can assert a more humane culture in international relations (see Tsinghua University Professor, Yan Xuetong, “The Rise of China in Chinese Eyes.”)

Eric X Li once said, “universalism is singularity.”  By definition, it also means intolerance.  If Fallows is looking for that one word which culminates what the Chinese dream is, then it might be PLURALISM.

But pluralism clearly doesn’t capture it.  There’s peaceful coexistence.  Scientific development model.  And others.  Perhaps the bigger truth is when you distill a whole civilization’s dream down to a single word, then its rather ridiculous.  The true allure of the West is not ‘universalism.’  I think it’s safe to say everyone wants to enjoy the relative power and wealth the West enjoys.

  1. pug_ster
    May 14th, 2012 at 19:44 | #1

    I was wondering when someone write a rebuke to Fallow’s White Man’s Burden piece. Many people think that Fallows is an Academic concerning China, but his views is no different than the next China basher written in more eloquent words. Western Universalism? That’s a good one.

  2. lolz
    May 15th, 2012 at 00:15 | #2

    I thought the article is not bad actually. It has this “white man’s burden” smugness to it and the issues have been beaten to death already. However there are some nuggets of wisdom here though, such as when he wrote “In every country, internal interests come first. With more time on the world stage, China’s leaders may learn to do what their American, British, French, and other counterparts also had to learn: at least feigning awareness of the interest of mankind. ” I agree with this 100%.

    As for the view of every Chinese out for him/herself, that is actually one of the major things which I don’t like about China. Social consciousness is still a major problem in China. A lot of Chinese people cannot perform simple tasks such as following a queue; they pretend as if others are not waiting infront of them and has zero shame to cut others off in a line. However if there is one country which is trying to improve this aspect of its society it’s China. There is a noticeable change in people’s behavior today than it was a few years ago. In Shanghai people actually wait for green lights to cross a street rather cross as they please. On the subways they actually form a line, and often you can see people waiting for others to get out of the train before rushing in. There are a lot less people screaming on their cell phone now in closed public spaces. On escalators you can see people letting you pass on the left. All of these habits are newly picked up by Chinese citizens because they are encouraged to engage in less “anti-social” activities by the government. Needless to say, almost no western journalists picked this up. This is partly because the western journalist types like most other expats in China, live in their own little bubbles. The other reason is because western journalists are afraid to give Chinese government credit when credit it due. It actually takes far more courage for a western journalist to write something good about China, than something negative.

  3. Kai
    May 15th, 2012 at 02:53 | #3

    I don’t think he implied that 1.3 billion people don’t have dreams at all. yinyang, I think you’re nitpicking his words out of context. You liberally interpret some of his words and then strictly interpret others. That’s unfair. Of course, that tends to happen in these sort of discussions so I’ll move on to defending what I’m certain Fallows is intending to say versus what you think or misrepresent him as saying.

    Here, he’s juxtaposing the “American Dream” versus a “Chinese Dream”, which he concludes does not exist. It doesn’t mean Chinese people don’t have dreams, but that there is no sociological phenomena in China that is comparable to what many people popularly understand as the “American Dream”. That’s true. Although not clearly defined, there is indeed a bundle of ideals and notions that make up the “American Dream”. You’ll find interpretations and representations all over the internet, even on Wikipedia. At present, China doesn’t have something similar with the same level of mass appeal that has shaped Chinese pop culture and, more importantly, become China’s “soft power”. The “American Dream” has won over the world (where do you think all the immigrants come from?), but China doesn’t have that yet. This is also what the lede is alluding to. I’m 100% certain you’ve misunderstood this key crux of his entire piece.

    Now I’m going to respond to each of your in-line responses, numbering according to each of your response segments:

    1. I think Fallows qualifies his statement here well with “seeming”. Fallows has in the past responded to criticisms like yours here by saying they at the Atlantic don’t apologize for having a conception of their audience as having a certain amount of education. They don’t try to write for the lowest common denominator and feel it necessary to explain the backstory or teach history lessons for everything. You guys don’t either. So I think you’re nitpicking out of context here as well. Fallows is setting out to share his views on “What is the Chinese Dream”, not provide a history lesson on colonialism and China’s history of humiliation at the hands of others. That may be something you set out to do but you have to be reasonable in whether or not you can rightfully project that desire onto him. You have to give some respect to what he’s trying to write without accusing what’s “missing” as necessarily a conspiracy theory or Western bias.

    The picture he’s painting here that his educated readers understand is that China did “seem” to move backwards for many years, as even Chinese scholars and historians have and do argue all the time. The fact is that many things in Chinese society did not (like “hard” things such as actual technology), but many things (the “soft” things, such as ideology of societal norms and governance) did, at least in some people’s eyes. In many people’s eyes, it isn’t so much that China moved backwards as China stagnated and became complacent, for centuries. Think, for a moment, how much of Chinese dynastic history is characterized by good and bad emperors, by those who revolutionized and reformed versus those who just coasted on their predecessor’s coattails, squandering the achievements of their predecessors?

    The picture he’s painting also inherently factors in the juxtaposition of Chinese history versus European history, where China who was once much more advanced than Europeans fell behind during the European Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution or even Japan’s Meiji Restoration. Much of the world moved forward while China did not, and arguably even moved backwards as dynastic governments panicked and tried to clutch onto their power harder. We both know this, yinyang. As you said, history is important.

    Notice how your response to a single sentence that isn’t even that controversial and turned into a rant about Western media bias over Iraq coverage? You’re attempting to use that irrelevant example to illustrate how this sentence is an example of Western bias, of how Fallows is being unfair to other peoples. Pretty much 80% of your response to that sentence is irrelevant, going off-topic, and fundamentally premised on a misunderstanding and further mischaracterization of what Fallows is saying in that sentence. You’re reading too much into it, and there isn’t even reasonable evidence for you to read that much into it.

    If you read in context (and that includes the past few sentences), its abundantly clear that Fallows is advancing toward and reinforcing his thesis that Chinese people are both currently preoccupied and content with achieving material “bourgeois comforts”. They’re not aiming for “universalist political or ideological goals”, they just want a better, more comfortable life with more opportunities for themselves and their children, after centuries of seemingly moving backwards (relative to European powers) and recent decades of turmoil. Let’s not forget that many Chinese did see many of the Communist initiatives of the past 60 years as moving backwards, such as sending urbanites and professionals into the countryside, propping up the peasant (not even the worker as per Communist ideology, but literally the peasant), wholesale slaughter of the education system and elite (the likes of which even anti-intellectual American conservatives like Bush and Palin would frown upon), etc.

    So you have two choices here. You can either understand Fallow’s sentence in the larger context of that paragraph and his thesis and see that it doesn’t say anything wrong. Or you can take it a little more literally and remember that Chinese people share the same view and hence it isn’t wrong either. You’re latching onto what you think is possibly an intentional omission that evidences Westerners’ bias. No, reread your diatribe in response to that single sentence. You’re not arguing against that sentence or even Fallows himself for what he said, you’re ranting against a straw-man that you’ve taped Fallow’s face onto. Instead of evaluating Fallows for his own writing, you broadened the subject to all your grievances against other Westerners and media and attacked Western media bias overall instead of Fallows. You’re just using Fallows’ piece as a jumping board for your pet topics.

    You’re not supporting your central thesis of why James Fallows’ piece is lacking insight. You’re simply using it to launch a diatribe that doesn’t respond to his work and instead responds to everything you’re upset about outside of his work.

    2. I’m surprised you didn’t question “the rest of the world” as a generalization here. I would’ve.

    Your “plan to be unfriendly and arrogant” sentence is just petty, yinyang. That’s just childish. Stick to the topic. Avoid throwing irrelevant jabs that only undermine your argument.

    The problem with your suggestion of non-interference in other’s internal affairs is that it isn’t true. China most certainly does interfere in other’s internal affairs. What do you think Zakaria meant with “enlarges its sphere of influence”? China involves itself in the internal affairs of other countries for its own interests just like Westerners do. The scope and rationale used may be different but the fundamental act and effects are the same. Buying into China’s claim of noninterference is like buying into America’s claim of human rights and democracy. Both are moralistic universalist appeals that are legitimately and regularly called into question as mere covers for self-interest. You can’t scrutinize Westerners’ claims of human rights and democracy without scrutinizing China’s claim of noninterference. That’s operating on a double-standard. You’re simply giving your detractors an easy way to undermine your position, yinyang. Tighten up your rhetoric.

    Your “Chinese Dream” of “relative material wealth for her people while not consuming at the same rate as the current developed countries are consuming” is not a “Dream” comparable to the “American Dream” in substance and appeal. Fallows explains this throughout his article. “The American Dream” is a universalist notion that seduces people and brings them to America. Fallows is asking if the Chinese have a similar offering, a similar set of notions that is so seductive to people outside its borders so that they want to go to China, to buy into that dream and into the American “way of life” and then become part of it:

    Soft power becomes powerful when people imagine themselves transformed, improved, by adopting a new style. Koreans and Armenians imagine they will be freer or more successful if they become Americans — or Australians or Canadians. Young men and women from the provinces imagine they will be more glamorous if they look and act like people in Paris, London, or New York. If a society thinks it is unique because of its system, or its style, or its standards, it can easily exert soft power, because outsiders can imagine themselves taking part in that same system and adopting those same styles.

    Again, Fallows is discussing if China has a “Chinese Dream” comparable to the soft power of the “American Dream”. Your suggestion of this Chinese dream fails the comparison. This particular Chinese dream isn’t even remotely widespread amongst Chinese people themselves, unlike how pervasive the American Dream is amongst Americans. This Chinese dream is more like a government initiative than a grassroots social phenomenon. You offering this as a “Chinese Dream” shows that you’re not understanding Fallow’s thesis, and its really hard to be persuasive in arguing that he lacks insight when you’re demonstrating that you don’t understand what he’s arguing.

    In fact, your suggestion reinforces Fallows’ thesis. You say the Chinese Dream is to earn relative wealth for her people. The American Dream is for anyone to be able to earn relative wealth for themselves in America so long as they work hard because they’ll be afforded the opportunity there. Whatever our academic criticisms of whether or not the American Dream still exists, it was indeed the popular notion that brought so many people to its shores. It appealed to the universalist notions of equal opportunity and just reward for the man willing to work for it. A Chinese Dream of wealth for only her own isn’t very appealing to others, is it? It doesn’t have the same soft power as the American Dream, does it?

    You have to first understand that Fallows is wondering if there’s a Chinese Dream that rises to that level of broad universalist appeal that the American Dream has. He concludes quite quickly that it doesn’t at this point (which I agree), because its preoccupied with lifting itself up first (which I agree and don’t find problematic at all, nor he). But he believes the question “What is the Chinese Dream” is still worth thinking about:

    But there is a way in which the question does make sense, as an expression of concern about what the rise of a “non-universal” nation will mean for the rest of the world.

    You could’ve taken issue with his characterization of China as a “‘non-universal’ nation” as well. I think its entirely arguable that China has universalist notions too despite what many popularly think, even Chinese people like yourself who already accept that China is “non-universal” (worrisome that you automatically accept that actually).

    Anyway, Fallows here is addressing his audience here, agreeing that there may be differences in values and ideals between China and whatever “Chinese Dream” may be forthcoming versus America and the existing well-known “American Dream”. What will this mean for everyone else who admires the American Dream and the values and ideals enshrined within it? How will this change the world? For better? For worse? All reasonable questions that stakeholders of the world order care about.

    Taking a specific quarter of humanity out of poverty only has appeal for that specific quarter of humanity, yinyang. Fallows is asking about what appeal does the Chinese Dream have for people elsewhere. The American Dream is inherently about “what does America offer me”, whereas your Chinese dream only offers “what does it offer itself”. The world will give you a polite golf clap for lifting yourself out of poverty but they will brave the stormy seas and border guards to get to your country if you can also help life them out of poverty. Will China offer a Chinese Dream of comparable soft power as the American Dream and how will it be the same or different? That’s what Fallows is addressing. You’re not looking at the question the same way Fallows is and all your rebuttals are off the mark as a result.

    The closest you got to actually offering a relevant response to Fallows so far is China offering a model for developing countries, but that still falls short of being comparable to the sociological phenomenon of the American Dream. Remember too that America ALSO offered and offers a model for developing countries. Both models (if China really even has a model or if its just adapting as it goes) have not been replicated to much empirical success in developing countries (not necessarily through any inherent fault of each model itself as local conditions prevent the adoption of any model wholesale, as the Chinese are wont to point out). The issue of the day, yinyang, is soft power.

    3. It isn’t just indoctrinated, its indoctrinated and accepted as truth precisely because of historical dominance. The reason why its now becoming somewhat vogue to question it is because China might offer an alternative though it remains to be seen if it (whatever “-ism” China ends up offering, it itself not knowing what it is because it isn’t focusing on it and is still instead focusing inward) will achieve the same power as Western “universalism”. You have to acknowledge that “universalism” has a track record of success measured in terms that Chinese people themselves measure in. “Universalism” has brought their host countries development, high standards of living, and both high-levels of relative political and social stability, all things China wants for itself. China just doesn’t think it needs to use the same methods or institutions (though you’ll note that the CCP and PRC Constitution appeals to universalist principles too). It must be acknowledged that there are shared values but there are differing priorities. China is not diametrically the opposite of universalism. You need to avoid that false dichotomy. If anything, China’s proposition right now is that Western universalism has left them out and Western universalism isn’t really universalist.

    4. You engage in an irrelevant diatribe again. You’re supposed to be supporting why there’s a lack of insight in Fallows’ piece, not going off topic into smearing America. Imagine how pissed and irrelevant you’d think it if someone were constantly bringing up the number of people who have self-immolated, been disappeared, tortured, and murdered by government authorities, etc. etc. etc. when discussing why your piece about something entirely irrelevant “lacks insight”. Save your Western media criticisms for a proper post about that. You’re just getting in the way of your thesis here. Pandering to your audience may get you cheers but it isn’t advancing your point.

    5. No, he said the “enduring secret of American national strength” is a factor “connected to” the “self-satisfaction” of the view that “people around the world want to become Americans”. Your response is wrong because you didn’t understand his argument. Read it again. It isn’t irrational whatsoever. He says the American model is an “intensified version” of Western universalism, which it most arguably is. A factor of national strength is indeed a people’s convictions in their country, themselves, their ideals, and their place in the world. These convictions are indeed a factor in national strength. Why do you think patriotism and nationalism is such a big part of modern Chinese education and governance? A country’s strength does factor in how much its people identify with the country and the value of their identity. For America, her national strength, both hard and soft power, is about a certain American way of life, that “American Dream” that they believe they should aspire towards (soft power) and protect (hard power).

    6. Good, now read this part of what Fallows is saying with the rest of what he’s saying and you’ll better understand the thesis of soft power in the question of “What is the Chinese Dream?”

    7. See #6. These are key paragraphs where you should’ve understood what Fallows is discussing that should’ve prevented you from making the responses you’ve made before and after. This is all to do with the “American Dream”. What does or will China offer as a “Chinese Dream” that compares to this? What it offers or will offer will offer insights into China’s soft power as a rising nation.

    8. You got so close to attacking a key generalization of Fallows that is actually worth attacking and isn’t premised upon a misunderstanding of his entire thesis. There are arguably fundamental differences in principles between the approaches of America and China, but the real weakness is “everything”. Is “everything” about America’s approach fundamentally different from the principles behind the rise of China? I personally don’t think so and characterizing “everything” as “fundamentally different” might be a dangerous exaggeration when common ground is what should be sought to reconcile the friction between the two powers to find a way forward in mutually beneficial coexistence.

    While I don’t think your second paragraph directly addresses where Fallows is going here, I agree that America should not be forcing its values on others.

    9. You’re not explaining why its the wrong mindset. Fallows believes “granting broader scope to individual ambition than has been possible through the Communist Party’s decades in control” is the “next step in [China’s] development”. This doesn’t necessarily mean “human rights” and “freedom”. Are you sure you know what Fallows is talking about? Or are you substituting straw men here? Think carefully. This isn’t as simple as whether or not there is freedom in Chinese society, where “for the most part free” is a suitable answer. This is all about soft power in future development.

    10. “Individualism, freedom, democracy, and human rights” are also about concepts of tolerance and respect. It isn’t that the West doesn’t tolerate and respect, it’s about differences in what ought to be tolerated and respected. Chinese people like you feel the West doesn’t tolerate or respect how China wants to govern itself. Westerners feel China, for example, doesn’t tolerate or respect its own people’s speech, dissent, will. Could we also not say China should learn to be more tolerant and respectful? Wouldn’t such a statement also be true? It all depends on what we’re talking about. The fact is that there is moral relativism here, and double-standards, all premised upon the priorities of those in power.

    The “fundamental difference” that Fallows was driving towards is this:

    But in its international dealings as well as in most of its domestic operations, today’s China gives more weight to duties and ethics based on personal relations than on abstract principles of how people in general should be treated.

    Some would say this is a rehash of the whole “Confucian model” versus some sort of “universalist we’re all equal model” but that’s not important. The important thing here when proposing to highlight the lack of insight in James Fallows’ piece is to show that you know this is what he means when talking about “fundamental differences” between the American and Chinese approaches.

    So what are your thoughts about this thesis of fundamental difference? Is he right? Wrong? Is it not so simple? Is there a lack of insight here?

    11. He’s not writing this to impinge upon whether or not China can dream big. Fallows actually goes on aside here that he didn’t need to. He’s writing this to illustrate the previous quote.

    12. You’re still missing the point of Fallows’ narrative here and using it as an opportunity to throw another irrelevant jab at the West that doesn’t support your stated thesis of Fallows lacking insight. What you’re supposed to zone in on is this:

    At that moment in China it struck me as an illustration of the reality that the consciousness of a “general” public interest is underdeveloped, compared with interest that affects individual families in the here and now — and the country relative to other parts of the world.

    This wasn’t about environmentalism but you seized the opportunity to throw a hypocrisy retort with it. This was about the above, about how this incident illustrated a fundamental difference between China and the West at this point in time: China isn’t as conscious about the the world (“general” public interest) than it is about itself (interest that affects individual families in the here and now). Fallows is arguing that this underdeveloped consciousness will affect China’s soft power and any emerging “Chinese Dream”. He’s arguing that the “American Dream” was born from a consciousness of the rest of the world, of “general” public interest. He’s arguing that this is a fundamental difference. See:

    The still-limited awareness of interests outside China’s immediate ambitions will, I think, affect China’s ability to project soft power and improve its standing.

    I don’t think it has to be, because China’s consciousness can very well change, but is there a lack of insight in what he’s saying here? Not really.

    13. China’s model in Africa is one of business. America’s model in Africa (the American government’s model, no so much the model of its corporations), is one of proselytizing. I’m generalizing and oversimplifying a bit here but I hope you already know what I’m talking about. China is “you give me that and I’ll give you this” while America has been “I’ll give you this if you do that”, with that often involving some sort of political or social ideology or transformation. Americans and Westerners have been writing critically about this for years now.

    China IS arguably more hands-off in Africa because unlike the Americans, for better or worse, China don’t really care how you do things as long as China gets what it wants. It isn’t even because China believes in any real principle of non-interference (it uses and throws that under the bus when convenient), China just doesn’t care about African countries because its busier caring about itself. Americans and Westerners have a lot more free time on their hands because they can afford to (feign, sometimes) concern for other people and countries whereas Chinese people are at a stage of standard of living where they can’t just yet. Some of it is principles of universalism but most of it is simple economic status. People are a lot more nosy about others when they’re well-fed.

    African powers will of course be happier to deal with less strings attached. It’s cleaner and its in their own interests. No surprise there. It’s easy to understand the differences between American/Western and Chinese approaches in Africa. Also, Africa never really “embraced” universalism for them to “abandon” it. They’re not even adopting the Chinese model really because there isn’t really a Chinese model. The closest thing they are doing is investing in infrastructure, and the provision of infrastructure for resources isn’t even a Chinese model. It’s been something that many countries have been doing around the world, including the Americans in Africa. Railroads, highways, shipping ports, etc. None of this is really “Chinese” much less a model.

    If there’s a fundamental difference in approach to Africa, we can generalize that Westerners have sought political and social infrastructure from the African nations for aid whereas China is happy to give hard infrastructure for resources.

    Fallows’ main point here is this:

    But lasting influence in the world has come more from soft than hard power: ideas for living, models of individual, commercial, and social life that people emulate because they are attracted rather than because they are compelled.

    The American Dream has been about ideas for living and models for life that people have been attracted to and emulated. Which is undeniably true. Just look at affluent Chinese people in China. Fallows is asking how any emerging “Chinese Dream” will have the soft power of ideas for living or the soft power of a model for individual, commercial, and social life. The world won’t give a shit about China lifting her own people to wealth, they want to know what’s in it for them. They will only be attracted to emulate if it works for them. When the American Dream is powerful with the people of third-world, developing, and developed countries, what would be a comparably powerful “Chinese Dream” to the same constituents?

    Don’t forget that China’s “model” so far isn’t very different from what Japan, Korea, Taiwan, etc. has done before (both economically and even politically). China’s “model” is only because its a bigger problem so the application of similar methods are even more validated if they succeed. China is fundamentally a “catch-up” model whereas America doesn’t offer one because its current situation was organically developed over time. China may be instructional for the leaders of third-world and developing nations, but how will it be an aspirational example for the ordinary people of those nations? This is what soft power is, appealing to the ordinary people, so that they want to emulate and aspire to the lives you can offer. What will be the “Chinese Dream” if there is to be one? How will the differences in values or priorities between the Chinese and Americans shape this possible “Chinese Dream” and the possible soft power involved?

    14. It is not a straw man. You’ve misunderstood what Fallows is saying here. Your comparison to what he said earlier is also wrong, because you misunderstood what he was saying earlier too. The key here is:

    But if it thinks it is unique because of its identity

    The American identity is premised upon the American Dream, a set of universalist notions applied to a conglomeration of different immigrant cultures and identities. In other words, the American Dream is “anyone can be American as long as they believe in these things”. If you can’t be Chinese if you’re not Chinese, that’s of course “self-limiting”. Fallows is saying “American” is tied to certain notions, not tied to an existing identity. That’s why it has soft power, because anyone can become part of it. He’s saying if “Chinese” is to have soft power, it has to embrace notions that can be adopted, assumed, and incorporated by non-Chinese people. Success has to be tied to certain notions people can take for themselves. Success can’t be tied to a racial or ethnic identity (much less what is inherently a circular argument).

    15. Actually, your narrative is arguably wrong too and your suggestion of the Chinese approach winning in Africa is oversimplified and overeager. Any objective observance of the facts shows that there are successes and failures in China’s dealings in Africa, just as Western dealings have. You really must avoid claiming wins and just focus on the actual issues and arguments.

    Fallows is basically saying China’s soft power so far is mostly through buying people off. You also need to ask if China has soft power with leaders or with the ordinary people. For example, African leaders may love that China doesn’t care to dictate how they should govern their people, but do the ordinary African people feel the same way? Some invariably do, but many also invariably do not. America’s soft power is in its appeal to the ordinary masses. It actually loses the goodwill its soft power has earned it through its actions, and Americans buy goodwill too just like the Chinese. The issue Fallows is addressing is how China can also get that same level of soft power.

    16. No, again, its not the wrong narrative. This is all supporting discussion for his central thesis about soft power and the possibility of a “Chinese Dream” to rival that of the “American Dream”.

    Oh good, you finally got to the “rest of the world” argument I mentioned above.

    Fallows isn’t arguing about whether or not China should be more or less concerned with stability vis a vis its reputation in the West. He’s discussing how this will influence Chinese soft power, which is definitely does. If China wants soft power, then it necessarily must care about its reputation. There’s no argument against that. The very nature and definition of soft power necessitates it.

    17. The reason why the West CAN come down so hard on China is precisely because it resorts to unfair and unjust means! Your entire response here doesn’t even address what Fallows is saying which is simply that China will necessarily have to care about how others look at it just as other dominant powers have had to learn. He’s saying if China wants soft power, they’re necessarily going to have to at least “feign an interest” in mankind overall. That’s hard to argue with.

    No one is downplaying the achievement of lifting up a quarter of humanity from poverty. If China can do that without undergoing any major political revolution or instability, great, but at this point, its about as peaceful as America’s past, where certain members of the population are subjugated and suppressed ostensibly for the good of the whole. Not much more of a “peaceful” development to be honest. It’s only peaceful largely from the perspective of those in power who have a vested interest in maintaining the system.

    But yes, gradual reform is usually considered better than revolution in terms of how disruptive it is to overall society. No one is arguing with that, not Fallows.

    18. The statement that “the West utterly lacks introspection” is ridiculous, especially given how introspection as a whole is protected and not censored in the West unlike China. The fact is that there is plenty of instrospection in both places but at least in one place that introspection can be freely disseminated without reasonable fear of reprisal. This entire piece of Fallows is plenty of instrospection itself. There are many people in the West or the US who chafe at the idea of learning from China but there are also many who don’t. The same is true in China. This sort of hyperbole is not constructive.

    19. yinyang, Fallows is not unaware of urbanization, he’s just juxtaposing the harm and the potential, the bad and the good of all the change he’s witnesses, because all of this change affects the “wide range of outcomes” and how we should “recalibrate our estimates”.

    20. He doesn’t ever discount what Chinese are capable of dreaming up in his article, yinyang. His article is asking “What is the Chinese Dream” and discusses soft power. If anything, he repeatedly makes it clear that the Chinese are capable of so much.

    You ask how can a bum out-dream a billionaire. No, again, you’re misunderstanding Fallows’ point. First, America wasn’t always a billionaire. The American Dream developed over history, starting back when it was anything but a billionaire and just a few scrappy colonies. America rose to dominance in the 20th century and has struggled to maintain and build on an “American Dream” that began with certain idealistic universalist notions enshrined in its founding documents by its founding fathers. The “American Dream” is both the impetus and the result. The American Dream is about becoming a billionaire and being a billionaire is framed as a result of pursuing that American Dream. The American Dream did not manifest itself out of thin air AFTER America became a billionaire. It started when it was a bum too. The American Dream is precisely about bums lifting themselves out of poverty and then possibly to become billionaires. Why do you think the American Dream is held so tightly by the middle class? Because they often see themselves as the beneficiaries, the bums who raised themselves up. Buffet himself credits the American Dream and circumstance for his own fortunes. That’s soft power.

    Americans see their own success and think it can be imparted upon others. As Fallows says, this is both a good and bad thing, both admirable but also maddeningly arrogant. Everyone knows why. Its nice that they want to share, but its obnoxious when they think its the only way. Yet regardless, it cannot be denied that the American Dream and soft power are very real and not just because it is rich today but because it has made itself rich over time.

    China is making itself rich right now, but the question Fallows is addressing is whether or not her doing so will have the same attractive power as America. If it does, then there may be a “Chinese Dream” just as there was an “American Dream”. The American Dream is not about full-spectrum domination. Full-spectrum domination and the maintenance of it has become a measure of the validity of the American Dream but not the American Dream itself. Don’t get confused. You’ll just be setting yourself up for making straw man arguments.

    The “Chinese Dream” is not defined by “pluralism”. In fact, that word is probably better suited to the American Dream since it is inherently about fashioning America as a melting pot power of multiculturalism and tolerance. If there is something more befitting of China right now (not of the Chinese Dream, which I don’t think there is one at this point that is comparable to the American Dream), it would be of “relativism” instead of “universalism”.

    I agree that distilling a society down to a word is ridiculous, but it isn’t hard to understand what Fallows was doing. He was discussing the underpinnings of the American Dream that has become a symbol of modern soft power that China will necessarily grapple with in its own efforts for soft power.

    The “American Dream” isn’t just about wealth, its also about universalist notions of aspiration and self-actualization. Will any coming “Chinese Dream” also feature such attractive notions for people outside of China?

    Overall, I think you failed to support your thesis. There is no lack of insight. At best you argued that Fallows should’ve digressed to mention certain things you want mentioned to Western audiences. That’s merely a desire to co-opt him for your own ends. If you’re going to accuse him of lacking insight, then you have to show how his points and arguments are weakened for insights he doesn’t have. In my opinion, you failed to do that, not least of which because his point and arguments are fundamentally sound and quite fair. Whatever your misgivings about unfair Westerners and their unfair perspectives, you should really be careful when accusing and attacking someone like Fallows who has consistently occupied a reasonable middle-ground.

    EDIT: Sorry, this was much longer than I intended. Probably should’ve written this as a blog post. I just think I ought to address each of yinyang’s responses in the process of explaining my disagreement.

  4. zhongziqi
    May 15th, 2012 at 08:27 | #4

    re: yinyang
    I disagree with you in a few ways (such as the value of universalism) as I read the article. But in the end all really kind of came down to an irony.

    Your whole argument is based on the importance of pluralism and tolerance, the theme of the blog and an idea I wholeheartedly believe in. and yet you (as well as the Chinese government) are using the idea of international pluralism to defend China against western criticism of China’s domestic authoritarian singularity.

  5. May 15th, 2012 at 08:57 | #5

    Thanks for your lengthy reaction. I will respond later today / tonight.

    It’s ironic, indeed. I’ll accept your observation that this whole affair is ironic.

    If you look from the U.S. side, that irony is there too. Domestically, there is a strong believe in freedom of thought and respect for one another. However, in U.S.’s foreign relations, it’s universalism and complete disrespect for how other societies function if the U.S. doesn’t like them.

    So, then what’s the truth? Which of those two ironies do you run with?

  6. May 15th, 2012 at 09:03 | #6

    Also, I would argue in China’s case, the irony is not as glaring.

  7. Charles Liu
    May 15th, 2012 at 09:15 | #7


    Wow that has to be the longest reply I’ve ever seen. I’ll address just one point, the comp between American Dream and Chinese Dream.

    Even in America the American Dream is a collective ideal defined individually. To paint the Chinese with one broad stroke is over-simplification. But I agree there probably is a collective ideal that resonates with most Chinese? But doe that ideal currently reside with the CCP’s power base, or the few dissidents who are on NED’s payroll? Turncoats that have pledged allegiance against China?

    IMHO it’s reasonable to say the few dissidents that’re amplified by western media is not representative of the “Chinese Dream”. Fallow’s notion that any “Chinese Dream” that doesn’t fit our mold doesn’t count, is Official Narrative purely for domestic consumption in America. While the dominate narrative in China is something the Chinese government has every right to influence (just as ours does with our own.)

    The Chinese probably want their government to change for the better, to reflect greater human aspirations they’ve seen outside China. But just like us, they will not choose it over China self-destructing. After all, “my country right or wrong” is also a collective ideal that resonates with each people, Chinese or American.

  8. Charles Liu
    May 15th, 2012 at 09:31 | #8


    Do you think the West has consistently affirmed the universal value it proclaims? Sorry this is a leading question – as American, and a citizen of the West, I often find we have forsaken what we claim to be indispensable:

    – Responsibility To Protect and Libya
    – Drone attacks in Pakistan
    – Afghanistan and Osama Bin Ladin
    – Iraq and WMD
    – Use of Depleted Uranium munition
    – Guantanamo, black sites, extraordinary rendition

    This list is much longer, but I fear if I keep going, I’d exceed Kai’s comment in length.

  9. May 15th, 2012 at 11:15 | #9

    Unfortunately, you still haven’t gotten out the thinking of “we vs them”. Do you actually believe that if China is exactly like the US, Fallows wouldn’t be writing this piece? In fact, if China today is a exact copy of the US we would be seeing even more confrontation. if China has a population of 300 million and wealth similar to the US, we would be seeing Chinese carrier groups all over the world from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

    By starting of your argument by saying that the “American Dream” has more appeal than “Chinese Dream” worldwide you had already taken a position. Are you so sure that “American Dream” has won the world over? Is the US viewed more favourably in S. America, Asia, Africa or the Islamic world?

    Also, can you imagine if the world’s population currently consumed like the average American? If that was to happen, planet earth would become a desert in a decade. China has to pursue a different model of growth that include self-imposed family size restriction, limitation of population movement. There is no doubt the US is still ahead in term of per capita income, in fact it is around 10 times more without adjusting for PPP. The lifestyle of the rich and famous are what people aspire to, not that of poor farmers plotting an acre of land.

    The biggest difference of opinion lies in here. Fallows belonged to a group of elite who does not have to worry about where his next meal has to come from. For majority of Chinese, this is of foremost importance on their mind. What comes up next is education for the children and health care for all. Fallows like others who lived in ivory tower like to imagine that a human should live a higher pursuit like intellectual enlightenment. The current generation of Chinese all grow up hearing tales of mass hunger, starvation and destructive wars.

    Unfortunately, the reality is much more cruel. Just take the Philippines as an example, it is a classic example of how the “American Dream” is not able to take root outside of its own home ground. Since the end of colonialism after WWII, few formerly colonized countries or region fall into the developed status. The few who made it are S. Korea, Taiwan, HK and Singapore. Did they achieved that status because of aspiration of “American Dream” or something else? Likewise, since the end of WWII the huge Chinese diasporas numbering some 60 million worldwide pretty much is able to achieved semi-developed status.

    Frankly, I am not attributing this as a superiority of any idealism or ism. Those sharing the Confucian school of thoughts believe in solving the practical matters first. One simply cannot attend higher level of development on an empty stomach! Basically, if you try to teach your baby how to run, swim or play chess before he doesn’t know how to walk is recipe for disaster.

    This is unfortunately the elitist thinking of the US that is falling them. And this is exactly why the “American Dream” model has failed in Iraq, Afghanistan etc. What you and Fallows failed to see is the “bread and butter” issue first and foremost. The PRC also gone through a stage of blind idealism where the leadership believed communism and socialism is a cured all. What we got is the great leapt disasters of 1950s and the CR of the 1960s where practicality gave in to idealism.

    Again, I am not arguing that the Chinese model or Confucian/Legalism/Daoism model is perfect. There are lots of weakness in them. Chinese intellectual have been debating over two thousand years on these issues. Basically, the PRC is an evolving country and if the US does not keep evolving too it would be left behind.

    Ok, time to go on the offence. If you think the US is morally superior to China, answer me this simple question. Why would a beacon of freedom of democracy hold on to a place called Guantanamo? I am not simply talking of the prison there, we all know the base was obtained through colonial and unfair mean. Imagine Cuba obtained the port of San Diego through the same deal and you get the picture.

  10. colin
    May 15th, 2012 at 12:32 | #10

    “I would add, Western consumers produce 4x to 10x the CO2 emissions as that of developing countries. That is a form of awareness too which, in my opinion, is also lacking.”

    Great insight. It would be nice if Fallows could glean such thoughts.

    I think Fallow’s whole article is stupid. He’s just publicizing his book. Seriously, the Chinese do not have a dream????? The problem starts when western folks ask questions like this. It means they don’t really understand that China and the Chinese are in the end, people, with aspirations and dreams same as anyone else. The whole platform of their arguments and discourse is warped.

  11. May 15th, 2012 at 14:59 | #11

    I think you are drunk, despite your lengthy comment.

    Fallows article is saying America’s soft power comes from universalism in her values – ‘freedom,’ ‘democracy,’ and ‘human rights.’

    America’s true soft power comes from the fact that she has hard power and wealth. I already said as much, and that explains why America is able to continue to attract immigrants from around the world. America becomes poor, all that goes out the window. Can you imagine people clamouring to immigrate to India?

    Universalism in her values is an excuse to justify American and Western foreign policy.

    You are confusing what is true allure versus propaganda.

    Fallows’ article is trying to turn this propaganda into substance which is what’s fundamentally wrong with it.

    1. On that sentence – I don’t know why you are defending such a nonsense. Let me quote what Fallows wrote again:

    After China’s centuries of seeming to move backward as a society and its more recent decades of tragedy and turmoil, the simple bourgeois comforts are much of what the modern Chinese miracle could and should provide.

    Fallows is not talking about the dynastic cycles. He IS specifically talking about “China’s centuries of seeming to move backward,” meaning these last few centuries.

    Western universalism’s appeal is totally undermined when the West’s hypocrisy is exposed. That’s why it’s inconvenient for Fallows to give any hint whatsoever about their atrocious past, because those acts in the past were done in the name of the same universlism too.

    This would have been a much more honest articulation:

    After China’s centuries of exploitation by foreigners and her inability to pull together as a society and its more recent decades of tragedy and turmoil, the simple bourgeois comforts are much of what the modern Chinese miracle could and should provide.

    Are you so dense as to not realize China’s rejection (anybody else’s rejection) of that universalism is deeply rooted in knowing the past? Not only is that universalism weakened by hypocrisy, the Chinese in fact have their own values which they believe are more suitable, namely, peaceful coexistence, noninterference, and others as I have pointed out.

    So, yeah, what Fallows has articulated with the article is just another iteration of the dominant Western narratives on this topic. Unoriginal. Perhaps written well. Certainly, sorely lacking in insight.

    2. On China’s noninteference, you can’t resort to using absolutes. We are all talking in shades of gray here. Of course, there’s appeal in “freedom” and “human rights” too. Who would argue absolutely against them?

    China in fact has more peacekeepers working in U.N. than the United States. So, Chinese troops are participating and ‘intefering’ abroad for sure.

    When we talk about non-inteference, we are talking about the value and the practice of restraint. Western and NATO interference is about toppling foreign governments they don’t like under the pretext of ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights.’

    I know, you are thinking, what about the U.N. peacekeeping missions in Africa? I would say, those under the sanction of the U.N. where agreements around the world is essentially unanimous, then I would consider such true humanitarian inteference.

    So, when we talk about non-inteference, we are talking about not invading some society simply because we don’t like them. When we cannot get the U.N. to agree on inteference, we do it unilaterally, which is wrong.

    Don’t parade your own misunderstanding of non-interference as me being hypocritical.

    Interesting that you brought this up:

    Buying into China’s claim of noninterference is like buying into America’s claim of human rights and democracy. Both are moralistic universalist appeals that are legitimately and regularly called into question as mere covers for self-interest.

    If you said this at the outset, then I think we are done discussing. That’s the whole point. There is no sincerity in the West’s universalism.

    In terms of China’s claim of noninterference, if it is mere covers for China’s self-interest, well, we should then look at China’s track record. For example, does China fund political opposition anywhere on the planet? No, she doesn’t. Is China trying to arm-twist India into a one-child policy? No, she doesn’t. That’s where China is credible in adherence to that value.

    Then you said the following which I find preposterous:

    “The American Dream” is a universalist notion that seduces people and brings them to America. Fallows is asking if the Chinese have a similar offering, a similar set of notions that is so seductive to people outside its borders so that they want to go to China, to buy into that dream and into the American “way of life” and then become part of it

    Why should an alluring dream manifest only in somebody wanting to abandon their own culture and society to “leave” behind? That’s ridiculous. What everyone want is to better their own society. For that, of course, if China can show a way to move forward for the planet’s poor countries, that’s incredible appeal. How to you respond to Ray’s contention Iraq is a massive failure in that universalism?

    Why, do you think America is able to absorb all the developing countries’ population? If anything, I failed to mention how self-obsessed and arrogant that view is about the dream, which is also myopic and impractical.

    Thus, as I said, he lacked insight, and I think your comment also exhibit the same:

    You offering this as a “Chinese Dream” shows that you’re not understanding Fallow’s thesis, and its really hard to be persuasive in arguing that he lacks insight when you’re demonstrating that you don’t understand what he’s arguing.

    Man, you presume yourself right too much! Look, the allure of the “American dream” comes from American military and economic might. For having those two qualities, America has the luxury to be more open and free. Don’t forget that China has those periods in her history too. Look at Tang Dynasty.

    Anyways, Kai, I appreciate your perspectives as always. Give me time to respond to your other reactions.

    I hope you find the time and energy to respond to other’s comments in this thread too.

  12. May 15th, 2012 at 15:57 | #12

    Very interesting topic. Been traveling so will keep it short.

    In many Chinese dynasties, after the empires fought the battles of competing the “mandate of the heaven” and won it all, they felt the need to have an official narratives on why they were the true sons of the heaven. Typically it involved some sort of astrological abnormalities during their births, or their fathers’ births, or grandfathers’ births. The “American Dream” narrative is sort of like it.

    The US reached higher level of per capita income compared to most other powers at sometime around 1890. The “American Dream” narrative became popular when the US started accepting a large number of Eastern/Southern European immigrants and allowing them to become a part of the core society, which was sometime in the early 1900s. The “American Dream” didn’t extend to black, brown and yellow people until much later. By and large, the “American Dream” hasn’t been around for more than a few decades. Certainly, the “American Dream” narrative wasn’t why the US became the most powerful nation in the world, but rather it was due to a combination of good British style of organization, Protestant Ethics, luck (no major competing powers around), and a lot of nasty things (displacing a large number of Native Americans and taking the Mexicans’ lands for themselves).

    Well, if China is to reach (or return) to the top, the last thing you need to worry about is being able to find some inspirational narratives. Ancient Chinese told themselves apart (Hua Yi Zhi Bian) not by tribal association, but rather by being courteous (Li), and wearing beautiful clothes (Hua Fu). Throughout the years, countless other non-proto-Han or non-Han tribes have joined and become Chinese (Hua Ren).

  13. May 15th, 2012 at 22:50 | #13

    Continuing from my comments from above . . .

    3. That universalism as Ray pointed out, has left many in shambles. Nope, China is not diametrically the opposite of universalism, but as you recall, the reason we are having this debate is because Fallows is touting it against what China lacks in. This universalism is not so ‘great’ as he claims. That’s the point.

    Do you propose that when China gets better at ‘democracy,’ ‘human rights,’ and ‘freedom’ where she has like 100 aircraft carriers, she should try to undermine a future American system for failing those values? In places like Libya or Iraq, then what, use bombs?

    So, no, I don’t believe that’s the path China should take.

    4. You are dense here, Kai. In order for a preacher to be effective in his sermons, why is it important that he tries to live up to what he preaches? Universalism as a propaganda tool is totally undermined by hypocrisy.

    That preacher is molesting children and he himself does not believe in what he preaches for other people! It is not out to smear America for the sake of doing it. It’s amazing why you don’t understand this idea – America’s universalism is not sincere when it is applied to countries she doesn’t like.

    If China is to preach that Americans should drop their way of living and adopt what the Chinese have, we’d simply laugh in her face. Why? Well, China is not as rich and powerful as the United States. In fact, for that to work, China would need to be disproportionately stronger in either of those two dimensions.

    Kai, continuing to address your points is amounting to a repeat of what I said previously. I will address your other points another time.

  14. Kai
    May 16th, 2012 at 01:21 | #14

    Before I respond to you, yinyang, I want to share a link to Sam Crane’s response to Fallows’ piece: http://uselesstree.typepad.com/useless_tree/2012/05/reply-to-james-fallows-the-return-of-a-universal-china.html

    It pushes back on a characterization by Fallows in a way I alluded to above (for the same reason) while still fully understanding Fallows’ point and thesis.

  15. Kai
    May 16th, 2012 at 03:10 | #15

    @Charlies Liu

    Yeah, that was a beast. I don’t understand what you’re trying to say in most of your comment. I can only say I understood and agree with the final paragraph. I have a feeling your middle paragraphs don’t actually address anything I was saying. Perhaps you can rephrase and elaborate (especially with regards how it relates to whatever I said).


    By paragraphs:

    1. How ironic, I’m usually the one who accuses people of “us vs them” mentality. Where did I ever say Fallows would be writing this piece if China was like the US? The rest of this paragraph does not relate to anything I’ve said.

    3. Uh, stating that the American Dream, an actual sociological phenomenon that’s largely defined by academics around the world including China, has more appeal than a Chinese dream that hasn’t been defined is just stating the facts. I didn’t say the American Dream has won the world over but I do believe it has won many people around the world over. You’re broadening my position in order to attack a straw man here.

    4. This entire paragraph is completely irrelevant to anything I said.

    5. This entire paragraph is completely irrelevant to anything I said and also irrelevant to what Fallows said. Not only does Fallows think it is natural and proper for Chinese people to worry about the material first, he’s discussing the issue of international political soft power that China will necessarily deal with as it develops beyond basic sustenance.

    6. Irrelevant paragraph.

    7. I don’t think you actually understand the Confucian school of thought based upon this characterization of yours. Either way, irrelevant paragraph. No one here is suggesting what you’re arguing against, not me, not Fallows. I have an idea of what type of opponent you’re arguing against but its not relevant because neither that opponent nor that position is at play here in this discussion.

    8. No, I think you’ve misunderstood Fallows’ piece and his position.

    9. Agreed, but irrelevant to the discussion.

    10. Where did I say I think the US is morally superior to China?


    Nope, not drunk.

    Modern America’s power is often calculated in material terms, from the size and strength of its military to the scale of its corporate assets. But everything I have learned convinces me that these are finally reflections of the country’s success in attracting and enabling human talent. That success, in turn, has depended on the fortunate interaction of many different circumstances, rules, and decisions.

    When you say America’s true soft power comes from its hard power and wealth, you’re neglecting to keep in mind history. This is why I specifically brought up how America wasn’t always a billionaire but started of as a bum as well. America’s hard power and wealth is both a result of its soft power as well a reinforcement of its soft power. America was attracting people before it became a world super power, before it had military dominance and pop culture dominance. The universalism of its values did and does play a significant role in American soft power, as Fallows correctly describes. People were clamoring to go to “the land of opportunity” long before it became the world’s dominant super power. Surely you haven’t forgotten that, have you?

    I disagree that universalism is only a tool for justifying foreign policy. I’m truly disappointed that you think American soft power is only propaganda. That’s a really extreme position to take. There’s a bit of irony in that you’re in America and I’m in China. It isn’t entirely relevant but ironic nonetheless to me on a personal level.

    1. Sorry, I disagree. I don’t think your suggested articulation is bad, I just don’t think his articulation was that offensive or even maliciously dishonest when its a view popularly shared by many ordinary Chinese who simultaneously ardently love their nation. I assume both of us have studied Chinese history but I can only conclude you have a strangely one-sided rosy view that China and the governance of China hasn’t involved what could arguably be characterized as “moving backwards”. Even American and Western society is regularly characterized in such terms.

    Furthermore, I don’t see how you’re linking Chinese rejection of universalism due to past experiences with what Fallows is saying in that sentence. I suspect you’re reacting to a position in your head, but its one that isn’t represented in that part of Fallows’ piece. He doesn’t, for example, say anything about the appeal of Western universalism or Chinese rejection in that sentence. It’s equally hard to say Fallows doesn’t give a hint about the crimes of the West when he has regularly brought it up himself in his work. As I said, I think you’re just upset he doesn’t do it at every turn that you want him to and that’s an unreasonable position.

    Western hypocrisy does undermine the values it promotes. Neither Fallows or I disagree with this. We both in fact openly acknowledge and condemn it.

    Peaceful coexistence and noninterference are hardly “Chinese” values and they aren’t well represented in Chinese history either.

    Still not seeing any lack of insight with Fallows’ piece here.

    2. Of course I use absolutes if you use absolutes.

    You’re broadening the criteria for “crimes” you want to accuse others of while narrowing the criteria for who you want to defend.

    I agree with your criticisms of American foreign policy, such as doing things unilaterally. I just don’t think you’re being honest with yourself. Yes, there are shades of gray, but China engages in fundamentally the same behaviors, namely not practicing or holding themselves to the principles or values they publicly profess because of self-interest. What you think I’m thinking actually turned out to be wrong. I wasn’t thinking that but that actually works too.

    Sorry, I don’t see how I’ve misunderstood non-interference. I think you’re applying double-standards.

    No, I think there’s plenty of sincerity and insincerity in both universalism and noninterverntionism. Saying there isn’t sincerity is doing the issue an injustice. The question is about when and where there is sincerity and by whom. Oversimplifying the entire thing as there not being sincerity is simply that, an oversimplification. Not constructive in addition to simply being factually wrong.

    No one, not I nor Fallows, said the American Dream or any alluring dream manifests itself only in abandoning their culture and leaving their society behind. You just set up a straw man. I still don’t see how what I said there is “preposterous”. I already responded to Ray above.

    You don’t have to mention how self-obsessed and arrogant the “American Dream” or the way Americans view themselves can be. Fallows already did it for you.

    yinyang, we both presume we’re right. You disagreeing with Fallows is inherently you presuming your disagreements are right. Me disagreeing with you is inherently me presuming my disagreements are right. Can we move on? I disagree that the allure of the American Dream is from American military and economic might. That doesn’t explain the immigration to America prior to it being either. Immigrants have gone to America primarily for economic opportunity, just as there are people going to China right now for economic opportunity. The perception of economic opportunity is shaped by politics. Please explain to me exactly how anything I am saying here is preposterous.


    Good comment. The “American Dream” moniker wasn’t really articulated until the 20th century but it comprises various values, ideals, and notions that trace back to the motivations of its earliest settlers and immigrants.


    3. Universalism has left many in shambles but it has also uplifted many. I think we ought to give it some credit. Success and failure comes with application, not necessarily the theory itself.

    I’m not sure Fallows is really saying China lacks universalism as much as he is discussing what sort of universalism China may incorporate into its soft power. Sam Crane also pushes back against the possible notion that Fallows thinks China has no universalism, but I think Sam still understood Fallows’ overall thesis, which I don’t think you do. Context matters and I think that’s why neither Sam or I are attributing such an extreme position to Fallows’ piece. His is a discussion of soft power and what constitutes soft-power. Universalist values and notions are part of the “American Dream” and he explains how they seduce people outside of America while questioning what a “Chinese Dream” might look like. The one you offered doesn’t have the same appeal as the American Dream. I think “where anyone can make it if they work hard” is more appealing than “consuming less than Westerners”.

    Fallows doesn’t actually claim “universalism” is great and he himself criticizes the difference between ideals and the reality of applications of those ideals. Therefore, you can’t say “that’s the point” here, because you’re again arguing against a position he doesn’t hold. A straw man. His main thesis is how universalism powers soft power and especially in the the American Dream form. To prove him wrong, you have to prove how universalism doesn’t power soft power, and you haven’t done that. You’ve argued that, but it isn’t factual or persuasive as discussed above.

    No one is proposing that China make the same mistakes America has made, not I, not Fallows. You’re conflating things here. It’s like conflating the appeal of Communist theory with the execution of Mao. When Americans want more “democracy” or “freedom” or “human rights” for China, do you really think they want China to be bombing other countries? No, don’t be ridiculous. You’re smart enough to discuss the merits of these things without conflating them.

    You have to acknowledge and keep in mind that yes, there are people who want China to copy the US system wholesale, but there are also people who simply want China to incorporate certain things that the US has or also pursues into itself for the benefits they see in those things. Broadening a person’s desire for more of “X” in China into them wanting “XYZ” for China is not fair or honest.

    4. Sorry, I don’t think I’m dense here at all. I think you’re misunderstanding my point. Nowhere do I say it isn’t important for a preacher to avoid hypocrisy. Fallows doesn’t say anything of the sort either. Likewise, no one says America hasn’t been hypocritical and that it doesn’t harm its soft power as a result. Fallows has, however, been discussion how universalism is a part of American soft power and why he believes universalism is a key, even necessary, component to successful soft power. You’re attacking a straw man.

    I repeat myself in much of numbered responses to you so its up to you if you want to respond point by point. Overall, I think you’ve really misunderstood and mischaracterized Fallows’ thesis and are arguing against a straw man. I still do not see any lack of insight whatsoever on his part. The best and actually supported disagreement I’ve seen against his piece so far is what Sam wrote and what I myself pointed out in my initial response to you.

  16. Charles Liu
    May 16th, 2012 at 10:18 | #16

    Kai, if you really are the Kai Pan people know (to me you are starting to sound like someone else), you should start up blogging again. At least I kept my response, to Fallows’ ignoring Chinese people’s right to form their own ideal, relatively short and to the point.

  17. May 16th, 2012 at 12:35 | #17

    This is the extent of Fallows’ eurocentric narrow-mindedness.

    “The nation may have larger-than-life ambitions, but it hasn’t figured out how to win over the world.”

    The “world” for fallows must mean “the western world” and not the world which includes most of the people in the world who are not the same complexion as Fallows.

    China is winning over the world. Fallows need to wake up from his self-induced parochial stupor. Africa and S. America are now China’s partner in business and political affairs. China is a huge player in international affairs and supports the international community in spreading multilateralism unlike what the US has always done; undermine that with unilaterialism. Much of the non western world (and even large parts of the western world) now see China more positively than the US and the EU.


    But of course Fallows can always look down at this evidence with a contemptuous, sarcastic “that’s your evidence? pfft” Wake the fuck up, Fallows!

  18. May 16th, 2012 at 13:27 | #18

    Basically, I think your biggest problem is you are not able to differentiate what Fallows is insinuating. He is arguing that the US model is superior to the Chinese model by selectively presenting a few facts! He ignored the fact that the modern USA of was founded on the genocide of the many native nations. And that its attempt to install its model in Afghanistan and Iraq have failed miserably. To him and you those suffering masses caused by US invasions is totally irrelevant as well.

    What I have said is more relevant than Fallows or you try to white wash. Unsustainable mass consumption and unbridled capitalism is what is destroying the world. I think you are truly thick. Of course according to Fallows and you, throwing an empty bag or not holding the elevator (very selective and stupid examples, I may say) defines a nation but totally oblivious to the issues that affect the lives of millions.

    Frankly, I would have more respect for his article or your respond if you can look at the big picture. What I am saying is the so-called Chinese model or rather the Confucian/Legalist/Daoist model is the more workable model for developing countries or regions like China, Africa etc. When one person compares two countries with 4 times the population difference and 10 times per capita income disparity, we expect a lot more than his superficial analysis and your pathetic attempt at trying to suck up.

    Like I have said, the Chinese model is based on practicality, Chinese banks already lent out more money than the IMF for the developing world. Again, Fallows failed to answer why the US government owed more than two trillion dollars to the two East Asian countries. I can also chose your line of argument by saying that what Fallows wrote is irrelevant. China is a civilization destroyed many times over and rebuild. Its model is more relevant for many developing nations destroyed by colonialism. China is a countries that boasts over fifty languages officially taught in the public school system. It always amazes me a rich country like the US cannot even afford to revive any of the hundred of native languages and culture decimated. As you can tell, if I selectively chose a few examples that put the US in a bad light and try to pretend it is just comparison, it can be meaningless. The issue is, I see selective fact presenting as a problem but you do not.

    By saying that peaceful coexistence and non-interference are hardly Chinese values and suggesting it aren’t well represented in Chinese history either is very offensive. Give me an example in Chinese history where the majority invaded and destroyed a native culture for material gain?

    When a writer write something, there are a lot of reading between the lines to gauge what he truly feels. From reading Fallows’s piece I get that he feared China’s rise. Most of his fear comes from selective observation or prejudice. He feared that China would have more influence than the US in the future. However, he chose to selectively use facts again to wean a tales of how the US model is the better ones. I would be very blunt here, the US models is dominant because it is rich and powerful, a modern day Roman empire established in N.America. It is built on conquered land and gradually gives citizenship to people who may be beneficial to its development. This is what future historians will say about it. It is just another rich and powerful country that has graced the page of history. It is not a beacon of light, democracy blah blah that existed to benefit humanity. If this is your view, I will rest my case. And China is just China, another country civilization.

    Basically, what Fallows did was compares apple and grape. He tried to argue that the grape is better because it has a higher vitamin C content. On top of that he said that the grape is purple while the apple is not. And he again insinuate that the grape is better because wines taste better than apple ciders. All in all, this is what many people who harboured superior attitude (but misguided) would do in their analysis.

  19. Jimmy
    May 16th, 2012 at 13:31 | #19

    Way to go, yinyang. This is the most detailed comment on a article I’ve ever read.

  20. May 16th, 2012 at 13:40 | #20

    Exactly, those guys failed to see through their own narrow mindedness. Ask the natives of Americas, Australia who they have caused more pain and destruction? China or Europe? In fact, if we extend the question to Africa we would get the same answer. The Euro-centric people failed to account for the fact that their modern day prosperity, democracy was built on the back of colonialism. Of course, many groups have done it in history and the Europeans are by no means the only ones.

    However, they pretend that the ugliness never happened. Most modern states created by colonialism still have too many wounds and historical baggage to deal with to be on a path of peaceful development. Those under developed world includes all countries in S. America, Africa and Asia. However, to those self-condescending self-righteous zealots, those regions are in strife and under development because they do not have democracy!

  21. May 16th, 2012 at 15:50 | #21

    ‘democracy’ whenever is uttered from the West towards the non-West is propaganda. Take Hong Kong for example. The British and American press would start to drum about ‘democracy’ during the lead up to the 1997 hand over and after, but NEVER while under British rule. Look at this ugliness.

    “Colonialism, Genocide, and Tibet”
    Asian Ethnicity, Volume 7, Number 3, October 2006

    Power in colonies resided with settlers or the governor and his expatriate lieutenants. All top bureaucrats were drawn from the metropole (Abernathy, 1988, p. 8). India had the greatest native participation in administration, but in 135 years of British state rule, it was only in the last three decades, in anticipation of Britain’s retreat, that Indians were admitted to the higher civil service. Rough parity of Europeans and Indians was achieved just before independence (Misra, 1977, p. 291). In Hong Kong, the British governor staffed all governing institutions from the colony’s inception in 1842 until 1985. Almost no Chinese were appointed until after World War II (Goodstadt, 2005, Ch. 5).

    Governors of Hong Kong were always appointed by the Brits too.

    So, ‘democracy’ would only enter the picture around 1997. Why? Because ‘democracy’ used in such a context is propaganda, propaganda to smear and defame. In the case of Hong Kong, to defame China.

    That’s why this universalism is such a joke.

    Fallows is trying to pay credence to this nonsense universalism by attempting to link the “American dream” to it.

    Some may misconstrue this is saying that China’s interaction with the West is always fruitless. That’s not it. For example, China in fact hires TONS of experts from developed countries (the West included) in all fields, including law, education, science, civil engineering, you name it.

    The soon to be President Xi Jinping and other Chinese leaders send their children to the West to study. China is absolutely not afraid of ideas from the West.

    The successful venture capital industry pioneered in the U.S. has been replicated now in China too.

    This is not discounting the fruitful and helpful exchanges that actually do exist between China and the West.

  22. collin
    May 16th, 2012 at 16:00 | #22


    Well said, Ray. I find it difficult to comprehend just how far-reaching are the aftershocks, so to speak, of the Ages of Exploration and Imperialism.

  23. Rhan
    May 16th, 2012 at 17:37 | #23

    Nice article and comments.

    I think Kai not necessarily agree with Fallows piece. And I believe most Chinese aspire to have a Chinese dream similar to the Americans, many here often use the description ‘civilisation state’ is an indication, but I think it is still a long way, however it would not be something identical, historically America do not have the baggage like China do.

  24. Rhan
    May 16th, 2012 at 19:52 | #24

    “The soon to be President Xi Jinping and other Chinese leaders send their children to the West to study.”

    I know is irrelevant but is this not one of the most interesting mystery that happen? My own government non-stop criticize the West and tell us how great is our education system, but almost everyone of them send their children to US, UK and Australia for education.

  25. Zack
    May 16th, 2012 at 22:50 | #25

    where does China ‘non stop criticise the West’?

    All official Chinese statements consistently call for cooperation and greater understanding between China and xyz western country ”.

  26. May 16th, 2012 at 23:23 | #26

    Rhan is talking about his home country, Malaysia.

    I agree with your view about China. China’s criticisms, when occur, are usually in response to some incitement from the West. For example, China was upset recently when U.S. Embassy vehicle was used to fetch CGC. Or State Department publishing annual human rights report criticizing where recent years China started publishing her own against the U.S.. Or response to U.S. selling weapons to Taiwan. etc..

  27. amaryllis
    May 16th, 2012 at 23:56 | #27

    The comparison of the American Dream and China’s 24/7 catch-up ethic really has no legs.
    The real face-off, in progress, is between the Washington Concensus and the Beijing Consensus.
    Mr Fallows overlooks the tussle, either willfully or maybe because the Beijing Concensus, to some, remains a fluid concept.
    But America is already uneasy about China’s influence on the non-Western world; as in the May 16 article published into Times of India (google: Beijing Concensus +Times of India):
    WASHINGTON: India wants to be like China in IT manufacturing sector and the US needs to work hard to make sure that New Delhi does not go down to Beijing consensus path, an eminent American expert has told a Congress-appointed Commission.
    “One of the biggest problems I see with what we have termed the Beijing consensus is that other countries now appear to be adopting it, Brazil most recently, but now India,” Robert D Atkinson, founder-President of Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) told lawmakers at a Congressional hearing.
    Despite the pauses for mea culpa and self-reflection, Fallows’s baseline leans towards America as, in Madeline Albright’s description, the indispensable nation; you knuckle to its force or succumb to its `soft power’.
    The author lauds the reach of the latter, but does not rule out the practical application of `universalism’ as a necessary evil to enforce American influence.

    He has also glossed over the reality that America’s `soft power’ goes back, at source, to the violent means of its nationhood.
    The conditions of peace and stability necessary for development were created by eliminating challenges: the Indian genocide, from the mid-18th century, and the Monroe Doctrine, which threw a cordon sanitaire over the Americas against European meddling.
    In splendid isolation, it could attract settlers with the promise of choices and individual freedom, and grew in power and wealth, peaking with the post-War American Dream and its seemingly universal appeal.
    One thing that Mr Fallows’s has got right is that China has defined its goals as a nation: it is the Chinese government’s mission to re-claim what some see as China’s `rightful’ place at the top table, perhaps – as some critics claim – to justify its continuing hold on power with the population.
    It has yet to find its mission as a superpower-in-waiting; but should China declare Pax Sinica, given the falsities of Pax Britannica, Pax Americana, etc?
    Another thing he gets right is that, only America can screw itself up as a nation and great power. Given its financial excesses and imperial overstretch, one cannot accuse America of not trying hard, doing just that.

  28. May 17th, 2012 at 17:04 | #28


    America’s hard power and wealth is both a result of its soft power as well a reinforcement of its soft power. America was attracting people before it became a world super power, before it had military dominance and pop culture dominance. The universalism of its values did and does play a significant role in American soft power, as Fallows correctly describes. People were clamoring to go to “the land of opportunity” long before it became the world’s dominant super power. Surely you haven’t forgotten that, have you?

    A part of the American “soft power”, the narrative centered on that “all men are created equal”, did it start at the Declaration of the Independence, or at the 13th Amendment of the Constitution, or after the 1964 Civil Rights Act? How do you reconcile the Chinese Exclusion Act with the tagline that “anyone can become an American”? Why “American Dream”, not “Brazilian Dream” — Brazil has had a much less discriminatory immigration history, and a racially more harmonious society? Or even “Peruvian Dream” — years before Obama there was Alberto Fujimori, still the only full-blood non-European descent head of state in the Continental America?

    Quite frankly, early immigrants to America, or Brazil and Peru for that matter, were not attracted by some “soft power” and “universalism”, but rather escaping religious oppression, famines, wars and poverty in the Old World. The migratory patterns before the US became significantly richer than the South American countries mostly were: English/French-speaking went to the US and Canada, and Spanish/Portuguese-speaking went to South America; among the other major groups, more German-speaking went to north than south, and more Italian-speaking went to south than north. BTW, even today there are more Italian descents in Brazil than the US — and Italianos are mightily proud that the Argentine football legend and legend-in-the-making, Maradona and Messi, are both Italian descents. Heck, Dunga’s and Gisele Bundchen’s ancestors left Germany to Brazil when Brazil was in an imperial period!

    Don’t get me wrong, today America is a great country to live in, and the “American Dream” as an ideal is real — there are also plenty of things China can learn from the US. The problem I am having is this revisionism to retrofit some grandiose vision statement. It’s sort of like Microsoft’s “founding” vision statement, every PC on every desk and every home. Had they had that vision statement at pre-IPO, it was aggressive but commendable… but in mid-70s at Albuquerque they said that? Get real, would you?

    yinyang is exactly right, the American “soft power” comes after its “hard power”. The problem with all these revisionist histories is they make you learn the wrong lessons. Kai I wouldn’t fault you in buying into them… but Fallows should certainly know better.

    To achieve greatness, as a person, as a business, or even as a country, may I recommend Jim Collins’ books?

  29. May 18th, 2012 at 06:50 | #29

    Good insight. However, only the northern part of America industrialized in the 19th century. The south still continued the old plantation system thus missed out the boat of being a dominant world shaper. So in many ways, the ending of slavery in the US help transformed the socio-economic structure of country.

    Condoleezza Rice once remark that the US comes with a birth defect and it was not corrected until the civil rights movement of the 1960s. But is it now a perfect country and role model for the world?

  30. May 18th, 2012 at 16:44 | #30


    Condoleezza Rice once remark that the US comes with a birth defect and it was not corrected until the civil rights movement of the 1960s. But is it now a perfect country and role model for the world?

    We might be wrong, and sometimes horribly wrong, but we are always right! Damn it, don’t you realize our “soft power”?

    Gonna ramble a bit more on this topic…

    After the Civil War, the US had enjoyed some 3 decades of peacetime, during which it had grown by leaps and bounds. In 1900, the US was already at a per capita basis several times richer than most South American countries, except Argentina. A bit after that, the US overtook Brazil and became the most favorable emmigration destination for Italians — never mind Brazil gained so much “soft power” by ending its empire and starting a new republic.

    If you were black, brown or yellow living back then, discounting the living standard differences, South America as a whole was so much better a place for you than the US. In other words, South America had more the “soft power” that today’s US would approve, than the US circa 1900.

    It’s been fascinating to me how the US had outperformed Latin America so much from 1800 and on. A few reasons that I have pieced together:

    * The British system was superior to the Spanish (and Portuguese) system. It’s more open, meritocratic and competitive. In the Texas Revolution war and the American-Mexican war, Mexico was at a numerical advantage, yet managed to lose the wars. Among other reasons, Mexico’s military leaders were quite incompetent.

    * Protestants tended to save, invest and have better work ethics, and Catholics tended to spend and be happy now.

    * The US had far fewer competing powers surrounding it than most South American nations. Other than the early decades in the 1800s, British Canada and Canada had a reasonably amiable relationship with the US.

    * Quite possibly the most important one was the Californian gold. After the US wrestled California away from Mexico, the gold it had unearthed in the next 5 decades or so amounted to several times of Mexico’s GDP in 1900. In the gold standard world, the Californian gold had fueled the industrialization of the US. The amount of gold was huge and its importance can’t be overstated. Think about this, proportionally projecting the case onto China today, imagine China had extra $25 trillion (in 2011 dollar) in 1950 to 2000 to spend on infrastructure, capital stocks and education, and where might China be today? Mexicans were robbed that chance.

  31. Rhan
    May 18th, 2012 at 17:57 | #31

    jxie, in another word, i do think the Native American do possess some sort of “soft power” with the absent of “hard power”, and that is why they able to “attract” many to come over. 🙂

  32. Zack
    May 18th, 2012 at 18:12 | #32

    wrong, the native americans possess miniscule power; what so called power-political, economic, cultural power they supposedly possess as a group is negligible compared to the power of the predominantly anglo-saxons in American’s political, economic and cultural spheres. This comes after almost 2 centuries of active policies of cultural and physical extermination; to say that the native americans are a force in democratic politics in the US, is laughable. They are so pitifully few, and their bloodlines and tribal customs are so diluted that they have in effect been castrated as a viable political force in the United States. Consider also that some Indian tribes had previously attempted to join the United States as a State in the 19th century, yet racism against non whites prevented such a thing from happening. Also, it was easier and cheaper to simply rape and kill the native americans into near extinction.

  33. May 18th, 2012 at 18:38 | #33


    A young Nigerian nationalist is pondering how to improve his people’s lot, and getting to know the “American model”, and the “Chinese model”. Of course, as every young man ought to, he starts with the more accomplished one, the “American model”.

    Lesson 1, have a grandiose vision, but only really mean it near 200 years later. “Oh, that’s easy. Check.” — says our young West African.

    Lesson 2, find your Native Americans and Mexicans, and take over their land — don’t be afraid of doing the nasty things. The young man looks at the map, and after a short pause, “please, tell me more about the ‘Chinese model'”.


    Rhan was likely being facetious.

  34. Zack
    May 18th, 2012 at 19:38 | #34

    my bad lol

  35. Zack
    May 19th, 2012 at 12:14 | #35

    my impression is Fallows is this:

    Up to a certain point quite recently, i’d taken a rather favourable view of Fallows, dismissing his misconceptions about China as idealistic naivete, but in this article:
    where he actually sources C. Custer form Chinageeks as a viable source, my respect for him dropped precipitously, as was his act of taking Yang Rui’s comments out of context. Yang was commenting about the state of expat foreigners including self hating traitors like AJE’s Melissa Chan’s anti China actions whilst taking advantage of China’s offered benefits. To any sane person with wholesome concepts of right and wrong, one can see how this is a bad thing, yet Fallows refuses to step out of his preconceived notions of liberal democracy being the ONLY way forward. He reminds me of analysts like stratfor founder

    I can now understand well the antipathy most of us have towards Fallows’ journalism. Until he is willing to accept a different culture and viewpoint, as opposed to simple immersion, i’ll remain negatively predisposed towards Fallows’ reporting. To say that his reporting is better than that of say, Gordon Chang or Melissa Chan’s would be apt, but that is quite frankly, setting the bar ridiculously low.

  36. May 22nd, 2012 at 09:40 | #36

    The US Civil War is a monumental event that transformed the US. The north by mid 19th century has an economy that is mostly urbanized and semi-industrialized. The south is still dominated by the big plantation model. In a sense the end of the war spread the northern economic model nationwide.

    Why is the British system superior to the Portugese/Spanish model? I don’t think it is religion per se but rather how the social and economic structure made it possible. The Portugese/Spanish model actually is the first one in Europe to modernize and innovate. For example, they revolutionized the military by introducing the regiment system (commanded by a colonel) with 9-12 companies (commanded by captain). They also integrate firearms as the main weapon. Of course they have to if they were to survive against the stronger Ottoman empire. Their naval revolution also made their victory against the Ottoman certain at Lepanto.

    You mentioned that the British is more open, meritocratic and competitive than the Spanish which is a fact but how does it come about. Remember, it is meritocracy that allowed Columbus to be sponsored by the Spanish crown for the fateful trip to the Americas too. Problem with the Spanish is that their society is controlled by the land owning elite most are also nobility. They have the same model in their colonies in the Americas which did not industrialize. Basically, they are they are a victim of their own success.

    How did the British earned their initial riches? By robbing Spanish ships bringing their loot from Americas to Spain. The Spanish ships of the line are big battleship designed for stand up fight. Most of their duties are escorting their treasure fleet crossing the Atlantic and they have broad hull. The British eventually settled down on a successful design called the frigate, which is lighter armed but very agile for used in raid. The Spanish navy moved in that of a wedge shaped formation with the transport in the middle and powerful warship on the outside ring. The Spanish armada is such a formation.

    Although on paper the Spanish armada is more formidable, in reality it is unwieldy and would be defeated by the British fleet using a new line astern formation, basically the frigates would go in a line and circle and fired on the slower Spanish fleet which has to stay in a group and only the outside ships can fire. The British was able to run ring around the Spanish allowing both sides of their gun to bear (this is before the invention of turret).

    What I am saying is, the Spanish because they have enormous colonies and riches to transport have to design a fleet on that need. The British does not have colonies that can provide wealth then. So in essence the situation in both countries decide their ship design and strategy. The colonial situation in Spanish also made its meritocracy more backward. Their civil service and military are now dominated by nobility since they have defeated their biggest rival the Ottoman. They failed to innovate to keep up with new Dutch, British, French challengers. After getting frustrated with sending riches to Spain, their colonies rebelled and Spain was reduced to a back water of Europe!

    And this is how the British meritocracy work. Although the British might appear today to have a very rigid nobility, in the 16-17th century. Anybody who can rob the Spanish fleet, founded colonies and bring riches to the British crown would be knighted and given a title. The Spanish by contrast have over expanded and try to hold on to their colonies, stay stagnant with their 15th century model. The most famous privateers are Francis Drake, John Hawkins, and all colonies founder are knighted too. Again it is simple to attribute it to religion but the Austrian, Bavarian, French are Catholics too but that did not hinder their eventual progress.

    But thanks for enlightening me on the wealth of the California gold rush. The Spanish becomes the riches country for a time in Europe because of gold and silver from the Americas.

  37. zhongziqi
    May 25th, 2012 at 19:02 | #37

    we you first asked me this question, I wanted to say that China can be open and tolerant as home, while respecting other countries’ choices for their own development. I didn’t reply untill now is because I thought that was just lame to be so “politically correct.” Truthfully, I care about Chinese people and China a lot more than the rest of the human race. I hope nobody is gonna call me a traitor for this.

    But today I read this article. nothing in it is really new to me. but then I thought of something interesting: the bloggers and many of the patriotic commenters here seem to be more angry with western media criticizing Chinese government violating human rights of the great Chinese people than the violations themselves. It is quite fascinating how the mind works.

  38. Black Pheonix
    May 25th, 2012 at 19:17 | #38


    If criticism of the Western media is “anger”, then criticism from the Western media is nothing more than Temper Tantrum, and your criticism of us is irrelevant.

    Now, tell us, why are you so angry?

  39. zhongziqi
    May 25th, 2012 at 19:55 | #39

    well, I don’t think I was angry. I was simply saying I find it odd to see people who claim they love China spending all this time to “deal with”, for lack of a better term, western criticism, while there are real problems in China.

    I think Fallow’s argument about a Chinese Dream is quite silly. but we do need to ask ourselves: what is that we want for our people and our country? and How do we get there? I think a conversation on this is more helpful to move our country forward than discussing how terribly ignorant foreigners are about China and Chinese people.

  40. May 25th, 2012 at 22:52 | #40

    First of all, thanks for that link. I am 100% for LI CHENGPENG’s wish for investigations into possible shoddy school constructions of the schools that collapsed. What Chinese people would oppose that? Who have you found would oppose such a thing?

    As to AWW’s attempts at ‘profiting’ from that controversy with the Western press, I would only suggest that he go digging at New Orleans with Katrina. Not saying two wrongs make a right, but clearly, have some humility in the idea that even the most powerful and richest nation could have imperfections.

    Criticizing AWW’s nonsense is NOT the same as not wanting better buildings or wanting less corruption in China.

    What you perhaps don’t realize is political movements can take root. Like a brush fire that can spread uncontrollably, China doesn’t have the luxury right now for the bigger macro trend to be derailed.

    Imagine a more powerful country taking the OWS movement and double its strength politically? Imagine if a foreign country arms it. Imagine if the London riot was fomented into a political movement given arm and monetary support from outside?

    Don’t be so naive to think this couldn’t happen. Look at the FLG today. It’s no longer a Chinese organization. It’s a NED funded and American run organization.

    For the U.S.-led West’s interaction with China, there are those with awesome goodwill who are openly welcomed by the Chinese government. There are also those who wish the opposite. The Chinese need to guard against that kind of interaction.

  41. weixuan
    May 26th, 2012 at 02:12 | #41

    Hi, I see what you’re saying about the ‘bigger macro trend’ being derailed. I know this is a complicated issue, but I think it would take a lot to derail current developments. In any country at times you get the situation where the people want change and the government of the day is resistant to that change, for whatever reason. Then, when governments appeal to things like ‘stability,’ there exists the possibility that they are doing so simply to resist changes which they are opposed to.

    As a side issue, you mention that FLG is NED funded. I hadn’t heard of this before, so I went on the NED website and found their reports from 2010. I couldn’t find anything mentioning FLG. Do you have a link that gives evidence of current NED funding for the FLG please.

  42. Black Pheonix
    May 26th, 2012 at 07:20 | #42


    “well, I don’t think I was angry. I was simply saying I find it odd to see people who claim they love China spending all this time to “deal with”, for lack of a better term, western criticism, while there are real problems in China.”

    Well, I think you are “angry” according to your own definition. You claim you love China, yet you are spending all this time “dealing with” us, instead of actually answering your own questions about what’s best for China.

    “I think Fallow’s argument about a Chinese Dream is quite silly. but we do need to ask ourselves: what is that we want for our people and our country? and How do we get there? I think a conversation on this is more helpful to move our country forward than discussing how terribly ignorant foreigners are about China and Chinese people.”

    Fine, have a “conversation” and answer your question. I debate about that question here all the time, except we get Trolls here constantly trying to divert the debate by asking what THE West thinks is best for China.

    Now you have asked the question, we would love to discuss it. Unfortunately, we admins here have to deal with the Trolls and Spammers.

    So I remind you, to keep on topic of your question, you have already spent too much time and bandwidth accusing other commentors here as “angry”. That has nothing to do with “what’s best for China”. Thus, I say again, you are making irrelevant comments.

  43. May 26th, 2012 at 12:36 | #43

    What do you think the Epoch Times, the NTDTV are? 😉

  44. May 29th, 2012 at 14:03 | #44

    You are banned because you are the same troll.

  45. Black Pheonix
    May 29th, 2012 at 19:26 | #45


    or alternatively, you keep bringing up the same BS as you always do, and you get banned every single time. You know why you get spotted so easily?

    Because you trolls have no imagination.

    Oh look, the Troll is going to register yet another fake name and spew the same BS.

  46. Black Pheonix
    May 30th, 2012 at 16:58 | #46


    Nice try, Troll.

    On second thought, stupid try, Troll.

    As if we couldn’t tell when a new ID pop up in this forum, just after you get banned.

    Gee, do I believe in coincidences, or do I believe Trolls like you are predictable?

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