What China must learn from America

 The prominent Chinese general Liu Yazhou, possibly at great risk to himself, is calling upon his country to adopt American-style democracy and rule of law:

A Chinese general has warned his conservative Communist Party masters and People’s Liberation Army colleagues that China can either embrace American-style democracy or accept Soviet-style collapse.

While officers of similar rank have been rattling their sabres against US aircraft carriers in the Yellow and South China seas, General Liu Yazhou says China’s rise depends on adopting America’s system of government rather than challenging its presence off China’s eastern coast.

”If a system fails to let its citizens breathe freely and release their creativity to the maximum extent, and fails to place those who best represent the system and its people into leadership positions, it is certain to perish,” writes General Liu in the Hong Kong magazine, Phoenix, which is widely available on news stands and on the internet throughout China.

His article suggests China’s political and ideological struggles are more lively than commonly thought, and comes before a rotation of leaders in the Central Military Commission and then the Politburo in 2012.

”The secret of US success is neither Wall Street nor Silicon Valley, but its long-surviving rule of law and the system behind it,” he says. ”The American system is said to be ‘designed by genius and for the operation of the stupid’. A bad system makes a good person behave badly, while a good system makes a bad person behave well. Democracy is the most urgent; without it there is no sustainable rise.”

General Liu was recently promoted from deputy Political Commissar of the PLA Airforce to Political Commissar of the National Defence University. His father was a senior PLA officer and his father-in-law was Li Xiannian, one of China’s ”Eight Immortals” and one time president of China.

While many of China’s ”princelings” have exploited their revolutionary names to amass wealth and family power, General Liu has exploited his pedigree to provide political protection to push his contrarian and reformist views.

But his article is extraordinary by any standards. It urges China to shift its strategic focus from the country’s developed coastal areas including Hong Kong and Taiwan – ”the renminbi belt” – and towards the resource-rich central Asia. But he argues that China will never have strategic reach by relying on wealth alone.

”A nation that is mindful only of the power of money is a backward and stupid nation,” he writes. ”What we could believe in is the power of the truth. The truth is knowledge and knowledge is power.”

But such national power can only come with political transformation. ”In the coming 10 years, a transformation from power politics to democracy will inevitably take place,” he writes.

”China will see great changes. Political reform is our mission endowed by history. We have no leeway. So far, China has reformed all the easy parts and everything that is left is the most difficult; there is a landmine at every step.”

General Liu inverts the lesson that Chinese politicians have traditionally drawn from the collapse of the Soviet Union – that it was caused by too much political reform – by arguing reform arrived too late.

”Stability weighed above everything and money pacified everything, but eventually the conflict intensified and everything else overwhelmed stability,” he writes.

This is extraordinary by any standards, and it contains lessons for us Americans who have possibly taken for granted what we have.   “A bad system makes a good person behave badly, while a good system makes a bad person behave well.”  What a brilliant observation!   Our constitutional system of checks and balances minimizes the harm that a particular office holder or citizen can do, and our economic system channels even self-interest into a force for the greater good.  Conversely, corrupt systems–defined in part as lacking the rule of law–create corrupt people.

HT:  Adam Hensley (from one of the leading Australian newspapers)

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Dinesh d’Souza comments on this in his book What is so Great about Christianity. Basically what makes the West such a great place comes from the tenets of Christianity.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Dinesh d’Souza comments on this in his book What is so Great about Christianity. Basically what makes the West such a great place comes from the tenets of Christianity.

  • Winston Smith

    As discussed on this blog yesterday, Christianity is on the rise in China (though the exact numbers are a open to question). Is it a coincidence that both material blessings and, slowly, political freedom are coming to China?

    China is becoming a Christian nation, just as the United States, Britain and western European countries are allowing their Christian heritage to slip away. Not by coincidence, China is on the ascendancy, and the formerly Christian countries are on the decline.

  • Winston Smith

    As discussed on this blog yesterday, Christianity is on the rise in China (though the exact numbers are a open to question). Is it a coincidence that both material blessings and, slowly, political freedom are coming to China?

    China is becoming a Christian nation, just as the United States, Britain and western European countries are allowing their Christian heritage to slip away. Not by coincidence, China is on the ascendancy, and the formerly Christian countries are on the decline.

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    this is brilliant stuff. I hope it gets all translated into english and widely published. Brasil could use a strong dose of this thinking. we all could.

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    this is brilliant stuff. I hope it gets all translated into english and widely published. Brasil could use a strong dose of this thinking. we all could.

  • John C

    I have to agree with Jonathon.
    I don’t think China should look to America as a model for democracy.
    The system of checks and balances promotes inertia, frustration and rancour.
    A federation of states with strong central government inevitably leads to arguments over the provision of services and funding , a variabiliy from state to state and the duplication of bureaucracy. A case in point is the failure of the Federal Government to fund public schools and set a national curriculm.

  • John C

    I have to agree with Jonathon.
    I don’t think China should look to America as a model for democracy.
    The system of checks and balances promotes inertia, frustration and rancour.
    A federation of states with strong central government inevitably leads to arguments over the provision of services and funding , a variabiliy from state to state and the duplication of bureaucracy. A case in point is the failure of the Federal Government to fund public schools and set a national curriculm.

  • LAJ

    @5Who wants the Federal government setting a national curriculum? We don’t want more federal interference in our schools.

  • LAJ

    @5Who wants the Federal government setting a national curriculum? We don’t want more federal interference in our schools.


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