People’s Daily: A dialogue with Dr. Kuhn

From People’s Daily Online: China should be applauded – an interview with the author of “The Man Who Changed China.”

Dr. Robert Lawrence Kuhn has almost became a household name in China recently. As the Managing Director of Citigroup and the archor of PBS, he authored a famous book entitled The Man who Changed China: The Life and legacy of Jiang Zemin. The book soon became a best seller. Since 1989 Dr. Kuhn has travelled between China and America frequently, advising Chinese government on a variety of major issues.

Kuhn:Two fundamental points to begin. First, China’s situation is unique. When the largest population on earth undergoes one of the fastest transformations in history, traditional rules may not apply. China must go through in a few decades a transforming process that took many industrialized countries, including the United States, over one hundred years. Therefore, not all experiences and lessons from the West should or even could be applied wholesale in China. The experiences of the West are a helpful reference not an absolute prescription. The ideas here should be evaluated for applicability in China.

Second, national development strategies must be tailored to the real environment of the times. Economic or political ideas that are idealistic or exist in a vacuum are not only not effective but can be disappointing or even destructive if applied without real-world practicality and grounding. The American developmental experience, like that advocated by Deng Xiaoping and implemented under Jiang Zemin, was that economic development came first historically. Without economic development, when everyone is poor, all theory is idealism and idealistic theory alone cannot help improve the lives of people. Whereas in an ideal world it may have been theoretically preferable for economic development to proceed in a coordinated manner with social, cultural and political development, the historical reality has been, in China as in the West, that economic development did in fact come first.

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