I have been reading some more of Paul Cheng's (Zheng Mingxun's) book On Equal Terms in which he attempts, and I think succeeds, in explaining modern China to western readers. Certainly, if you wish to begin to understand the Chinese political and social psyche this book is essential reading. What strikes me about about Mr. Cheng's description is not so much the differences between 'us and them' but the (sort of) similarities. China is a one-party state but the Party itself is far from monolithic. It contains within it, in broad terms, a Left and Right wing. There are those who yearn for a return to purist Mao-ism and those who are eager to seize the advantages, as they see it, of capitalism, albeit, capitalism guided by the Party:
Today, the country has a hybrid economy, neither fully communist nor fully capitalist, run by a government that has evolved away from genuine top-down control yet is not subject to the kind of constitutional checks and balances associated with Western democracies. Integrating the private sector into the country's socialist market economy continues to be a huge and complex transition.
You might think that one-party rule is very foreign to our system - but think about it again! Would it really make a Chinese noodle's worth of difference if 'Edenoidal Ed' was running the country as opposed to 'Dim Dave'? We now have a political class running our country. Take away the extreme fringe and you have a soft, wobbly centre whose only real interest is ensuring they remain part of the political class and a system which almost guarantees them their "brief hour upon the stage". To their regret and irritation, they remain subjected to the unremitting laws of economics which, if breached too often or too carelessly, will wreak havoc on them. Also, if national affairs lead to sustained and stormy times, even the people might demand their revenge, as our European neighbours are beginning to find out.
However, a large difference between 'us and them' lies in the nature of the political class. Ours is almost entirely ill-educated, inefficient and unintelligent. I'm not suggesting that the Chinese have somehow abolished these universal weaknesses but they have a very strict system for weeding out some of them:
Here it is worth looking at the process of becoming a government employee, which is very rigorous in China. Officials in public institutions are trained and retrained through approximately three thousand party schools before they are eligible for promotion. Any misconduct is first investigated by the party before being turned over to the civilan justice system. The tentacles of the state and thus the party go well beyond the government.
Of course, whilst Mr. Cheng doesn't mention it, we all know, or can guess, that the purity of the sytem is not virgo intacto! Human nature being what it is, there is bound to be cronyism at best and outright corruption at worst, but even so, at least officialdom is trained for the job on the basis fo some rigorous examinations and tests which is in direct contrast to the mandarins of Whitehall with their 2nd class degrees in social studies from Cleckheaton Poly-versity!
Alas, I must return to the Churchyard now, having failed yesterday to complete the cutting of the grass in the south-east corner. I will return later with some thoughts on possibly the greatest menace to the stability of the world as this new, giant, Chinese cuckoo grows in the global nest - American politicians!