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A rare Xi Jinping interview from year 2000 translated

Having just read an interview (translated by Nordic Institute of Asian Studies) of Xi Jinping when he was still governor of Fujian Province back in 2000, I am struck by the differences between the current Chinese political system versus the American. Think about Obama before becoming president. The largest budget he’s ever managed was probably his 2008 election campaign. From that, he would inherit a budget in the trillions of dollars. In contrast, Xi went from village to cities, and then provinces. He would be placed into bigger challenges as he excelled, and not to mention, observed in the seat of the vice president for a full term before the National Peoples Congress formally anoints him into president. As much as the Western press would like to criticize the Chinese system, it is a genuine form of meritocracy. Today’s Romney or when President Obama was still a senator would probably not stand a chance becoming president in China.

I should say, it is not clear which system works better. Some take solace in the idea that anyone (okay, provided if you are somebody within the Democratic or Republican parties) can become president. Look at how dominant America has been in these last couple of centuries. If that is not testament to success, then what is? Fair point.

Someone else may say, look at the last few millenia and count the number of centuries when China has been dominant. Fair point too.

Xi’s response on why he avoids public interviews is also telling the stylistic difference between the two systems. However, both systems claim to serve the people. Below is Xi’s articulation of that concept:

The old poet and calligrapher Zheng Banqiao[12] wrote in his first poem “when your roots are deeply anchored in the mountains, no storms from any corner of the world can blow you down or make you surrender.” I would like to change some of the words based on my own experiences from my stay in the countryside saying: “when you are close to the grass roots and close to the people, no storms from any corner of the world can blow you down or make you surrender.” My seven years in the countryside have meant a lot to me. I have gained a deep knowledge of people, and that has been a decisive precondition for my later work.

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  1. November 1st, 2012 at 01:35 | #1

    You’re right that both systems have been proven effective and successful at the right time, in the right circumstances, as were Ginghis Khan’s and Queen Victoria’s. I don’t think there is an everlasting good system.

    The Democracy Empire reminds me of the Colonial Missionaries. I wrote a little piece on that last year (http://guo-du.blogspot.hk/2011/02/democracy-mission-conspiracy-theory.html).

    In summary, my questions were:

    1. Regardless of the merits of democracy, Why is it being imposed upon others with such missionary zeal. Altruism?

    2. Democracy is vague like “Christendom”, the “Islamic World”, or “the West”. Besides the banner, I fail to see much in common between the USA, Afghanistan, Iraq, Japan, India . . . and so on.

    3. A matured democracy is ironically a boisterous dead-end, very resistant to real change, including revolution. The money power effectively controls everything (hence maturity). The people vote for Party A, then B, then A, then B. The approval rating of the US Congress is, what, under 10%? Sadam Hussein was certainly more popular. The sum total approval rating of both political parties in Japan is about a third. What can the people do?

    Governing a country like the US or China is a complex task. Members of the Democracy Empire depends on a “Yes Prime Minister” style arrangement, and the wisdom of lobbyists and supporting money. China depends on “internal struggles” among millions of party members (sparing the people much anxiety) as a selection mechanism, starting from an early stage in their career.

    The current Chinese way ensures training of the leaders, and a relatively high degree of continuity and predictability. Unlike popular democracies, the Communist party knows it must maintain a reasonable level of support, or follow the path of previous dynasties. The Chinese system works as good as it could be in today’s world. With time, it will age, die, and reincarnate (assuming people are still around), as always.

    In any event, disregarding conspiracy theories, isn’t it preposterous for Americans to lecture the Chinese (or anyone else) how to organise their societies if they don’t have a hidden agenda or mental disorder? An American once told me the Chinese should learn to “rebel” (like James Dean I supposed) if they were to “improve” their politics. I asked him: “China has had dozens of major revolutions? How many have you guys had?”

  2. November 1st, 2012 at 22:32 | #2

    @Guo Du

    Agreed, and your article is a good read.

  3. Mch27
    November 2nd, 2012 at 12:09 | #3

    Guo Du, in your article and in your above post, you talk about revolution as something a proper regime should be afraid of. Something that could just happen if approval ratings or the people’s support fell too low.

    An authoritarian regime which employs censorship and political imprisonment in an effective way would not have to worry about the risk of a revolution.

    As long as you have a large degree of wealth inequality, control over what people see and read, and the ability to weed out and put the “trouble makers” in jail, you don’t have to worry about losing control.

  4. November 3rd, 2012 at 04:00 | #4

    Hi Mch27, I believe having “a large degree of wealth inequality, control over what people see and read, and the ability to weed out and put the “trouble makers” in jail” would only buy very limited time as history has invariably shown. It would also weaken the community, making it vulnerable to external predators. Also, an “authoritarian regime” is a matter of degree and perspective, full of cultural bias. The USA customarily labels a country it doesn’t like an “authoritarian regime”, regardless of whether it has an electoral system. All countries have a degree of inequality, and control over the people. Using the US again as a “non-authoritarian” illustration, even bartering with silver coins is “domestic terrorism” (http://guo-du.blogspot.hk/2012/10/us-government-sues-bunch-of-coins.html) carrying a life-sentence. Very few countries are “authoritarian” to that extreme.

    Ironically, dictatorship may not be as effective a control machinery as democracy. Even a true, classical, dictatorship needs the backup of military muscles. The soldiers are after all kids of the people. Dictators with grass-root support as low as the US congress would be in danger of being overthrown, if not by revolutionaries, then his own army. That’s why not everyone could declare himself a dictator.

    In Japan, the combined approval of both plausible parties is about 1/3. The Japanese can do nothing. After casually watching the Obama/Romney campaign, I am more convinced that we could see in the near future a candidate with 8% support debating with one who has 7.8%. Congress approval is already in that region. What can the people do? “Anyone can stand up and run for president” is a fantasy with zero feasibility in real life.

    Meanwhile, flooding the information sphere with huge amounts of junks and unplugging intelligence from the school system is more effective than traditional brainwashing and propaganda; old-fashioned propaganda actually make people more alert to government lies, even when it’s telling the truth. In a country with full access to excessive information, the general public (except small elite groups of voiceless professionals) don’t even question the bizarre, non-Newtonian, free-fall collapse of modern skyscrapers. Evidently, uncontrolled access to a lot of information does not necessarily result in a more enlightened populace, not the average anyway.

    I personally believe the current Chinese way is a rather sensible experiment for now, for them, for reasons I remarked. But they have their unique circumstances; the same approach may not work for a day in the USA. But a much more important point is that this should not be a direct competition. As yinyang commented, we can’t say which system is better. Only time will tell. Let history be the judge. If the American system is better, I’d be happy for their people. Many countries would voluntarily emulate. They might wish to keep it a national secret.

    Meanwhile, we should leave each other to experiment the way each sees fit. Trial and error, learning from mistakes, diversity of ideas, cautious adjustments and bold changes, and luck, are essential features supported by the human spirit. Whatever we try, the objective should be to chose “leaders” in increasingly complex societies. The current method of the Democracy Empire appears to be consciously selecting “opportunistic followers” rather than leaders. I for one find it puzzling, especially in the challenging environment that the global community faces.

  5. November 5th, 2012 at 22:29 | #5

    the Chinese system isnt perfect, but it’s better than anything ive seen in europe, australia, canada, or usa

  6. Mch27
    November 6th, 2012 at 22:52 | #6

    Somebody please ban that troll “BEIJING SHOTS” his comments are purely spam and contribute nothing to the conversations we have.

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