Saturday, September 22, 2007

Yes, China is Complex

I am often told by Chinese and China scholars that China is complex. Of course, this statement is a truism. Every big country is complex and full of paradoxes. The more you study something the less you are sure about it.

After four years of living in Japan, I was less able to say something certain about Japanese society than ever. When I met non-Japanese in Japan I could detect their newness to that country by how certain their statements were--it was a direct correlation. But there is also a sub-text to the comment about China being complex: I think it is to imply an exclusivity to the China Club.

In any case, it is the complexity and paradox that will cause problems for China. It is no surprise that China is more than just General Tso's chicken, kung fu, and win-win no strings attached business deals. Just like any big power enjoying the fruits of globalization, as an economy becomes more entangled in the global economy, the more the state will have an interest in the policies of other countries.

Josh Kurlantzick's excellent, nuanced book Charm Offensive calls China's current period a "honeymoon" with the world. It enjoys many of the benefits of its soft power without the paradoxes and complexities that come with it--the eventual resentment, blowback, and scrutiny that comes with greater power. Here is an excerpt from his book:

"As China becomes more powerful, the world media will focus more intensely on the People's Republic. Some of China's own dirty laundry, like rising socioeconomic inequality or Beijing's crackdown on Muslims in the western province of Xinjiang, will be beamed around the world."

How prescient.

Josh and I will be talking about his book on next week. I hope you will check it out.

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