Ian Buruma: China’s Class Ceiling

Ian Buruma is a professor of human rights at Bard College and the author of, most recently, “The China Lover.” From LA Times:

Hong Huang is a round-faced, expensively dressed media mogul who runs a string of trendy magazines. Her mother was Mao’s English teacher. Her stepfather was Mao’s minister of foreign affairs. Hong was partly educated in New York, and one of her husbands was the filmmaker Chen Kaige, another player in Beijing’s gilded age.

… Because most foreign journalists, businessmen, diplomats and academics tend to meet educated, privileged Chinese like Hong, most reports from China reflect their views: that soft authoritarianism is good for China; that the Chinese masses are not ready for democracy; that to give them the right to vote would only create chaos. But the main argument for technocracy, heard not just from the Chinese elites but increasingly in Western countries too, is that it is more efficient. Once the rulers put their minds to something — the Olympic Games, birth control, economic reform, perhaps even tackling pollution — nothing and no one stands in the way of success.

People who like the idea of strong central government and top-down change are often attracted to the Chinese model. And so are businessmen who would much rather deal with authoritarian party officials than independent trade unions. China is often favorably compared with India, with its gross inefficiencies, dire poverty and huge problems with illiteracy, corruption and organized crime. Messy democracy, it might seem, is holding India back, while China is forging ahead with ever more impressive statistics.

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