China is the most unresolved nation of consequence in the world,” Orville Schell began. It is defined by its massive contradictions. And by its massiveness— China’s population is estimated to be 1.25 to 1.3 billion; the margin of error in the estimate is greater than the population of France. It has 160 cities with a population over one million (the US has 49). It has the world’s largest standing army.
No society in the world has more millennia in its history, and for most of that history China looked back. Then in the 20th century the old dynastic cycles were replaced by one social cancellation after another until 1949, when Mao set the country toward the vast futuristic vision of Communism. That “mad experiment” ended with Deng Xiaoping’s effective counter-revolution in the 1980s, which unleashed a new totalistic belief, this time in the market.
So what you have now is a society sick of grand visions, in search of another way to be, focussed on the very near term. [Full text]
Schell’s full talk should be available for download soon here.