Zhang Weiwei: Eight Ideas Behind China’s Success

Zhang Wei-Wei is a professor at the Geneva School of Diplomacy and International Relations and visiting professor at Tsinghua and Fudan Universities in China. He was a senior English interpreter for and other Chinese leaders in the mid-1980s. He wrote following OP-ED on the New York Times:

Critics of China like to claim that despite its economic success, the country has no “big ideas” to offer. But to this author, it is precisely big ideas that have shaped China’s dramatic rise. Here are eight such ideas:

1. Seeking truth from facts. This is an ancient Chinese concept, as well as the credo of the late Deng Xiaoping, who believed that facts rather than ideological dogmas — whether from East or West — should serve as the ultimate criterion for identifying truth. Beijing concluded from examining facts that neither the Soviet Communist model nor the Western democracy model really worked for a developing country in terms of achieving modernization, and that democratization usually follows modernization rather than precedes it. Hence Beijing decided in 1978 to explore its own path of development and to adopt a pragmatic, trial-and-error approach for its massive modernization program.

2. Primacy of people’s livelihood. Beijing has embraced this old Chinese governance concept by highlighting poverty eradication as the most fundamental human right. This idea has paved way for China’s enormous success in lifting nearly 400 million individuals out of abject poverty within one generation, an unprecedented success in human history.

China has arguably corrected a historical neglect in the range of human rights advocated by the West, which since the Enlightenment have focused almost exclusively on civil and political rights. This idea may have lasting implications for the world’s poor.

3. The importance of holistic thinking. Influenced by its philosophical tradition, China has pursued a holistic strategy for modernization from the early 1980s to this day. This has enabled Beijing to establish a clear pattern of priorities and sequences at different stages of transformation, with easy reforms usually followed by more determined and difficult reforms — in contrast to the populist, short-term politics so prevalent in much of the world today.

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