Whatever happened to 'smart' China?By William Stimson
Tuesday, May 24, 2005,Page 8
Chinese are smart people. There's no doubt about it. I wondered why the European civilizations and not the Chinese discovered America, and invented the airplane, the car, the computer and almost all the rest of modern civilization.
Whatever happened to "smart China?" I've lived in Taiwan for more than two years now and I think I've found the answer -- not from Taiwan, but from China, which looms menacingly over this free little nation.
This speak volumes about how China got to be so backward and why it may well fall behind again. To give an example, a Chinese official recently rejected reconciliation with Hong Kong's pro-democracy camp, saying it must first stop opposing Beijing's policies. The actual words of the official: "The premise for communication is not opposing the central government's policies."
In other words, "We'll talk to you if you say what we want." How familiar such nonsense is to anyone living over here in Taiwan. The Chinese put it this way to us, "We'll negotiate with you over your sovereignty only if you first accept you have none."
Such wording says everything about China's backwardness because it's a veritable mirror image of the contract those governing the country have with their own people.
The way the leaders of China operate is by not giving anybody a choice. This is the subtle logic to statements such as, "We'll negotiate only after you accept our position." They mean, bluntly, "You do as we say." These are the terms used by a tyranny.
The same goes for, "We'll talk democracy so long as you neither demand nor expect it." Such is the contract of a tyranny with its people.
Illogical though such a contract may be -- the billion-plus smart Chinese, their long and rich cultural tradition, and their large and diverse nation -- it makes perfect sense. With such stratagems as information control, for example, and the punishment of individuals who slip up in what they say or write, a handful of old men can keep over a billion energetic and smart people preoccupied.
To continue strangling that great nation and that great people, China's leaders make sure that, at least on some level, things stay in a confusing, undefined and undeveloped state. That way no one in the country has quite the time or energy to notice that the nation's leaders are robbing it blind. Whatever money, nice houses or prestigious positions those in power may be grabbing for themselves or their families, that they are indeed doing so is the least of their crimes and certainly of scant importance compared to the far greater evils they perpetrate.
The ultimate disgrace that can be stooped to by someone with a smart mind who has scratched their way to the top, is to deprive someone on the bottom who has so little to begin with and so much to offer. In doing this, China's leaders have not just robbed China, but they've robbed the world of China. How sorely the world needs China's vast intelligence, resourcefulness and imagination -- the genius of its ordinary people. When you look at all that tiny little Taiwan has achieved, you get a hint of what the vast China is capable of.
What's the use of being so smart if you don't have the sense to use that gift towards higher purposes?
I'd rather be comparatively more stupid than them any day, but have the foresight and breadth of vision to care about a government by the people, for the people and of the people -- and about mechanisms of accountability that periodically sweep the crooks out of office and therefore out of business.
The Chinese know they're big and they're smart and are convinced the future is theirs. But they could be wrong. The future does not belong to the big or to the smart, after all -- but to the free.