The rise of China had happened as many people predicted. A famous quote attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte (9/15/1769-5/5/1821) said: “China is a sleeping giant. Let her sleep, for when she wakes she will move the world.” Isaac Stone Fish in Foreign Policy (FP 1/19/2016) wrote a review article, "Crouching Tiger, Sleeping Giant", about this quote as an overused cliché. In 1997, The Economists cited the popularity of this quote: “(Napoleon's words) launched a thousand articles”. Financial Times journalist James Kynge wrote a 2006 best-seller “China Shakes the World”. On January 4, 2016, the Wall Street Journal ran a video also titled “Opinion Journal: China Shakes the World”, giving a negative assessment of China's economy.
According to Fish, The Economist proudly claimed to have “got in relatively early” with this cliché by publishing a special feature in 1992 titled “When China Wakes” — two years before New York Times journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s best-seller “China Wakes” and roughly five years before French diplomat Alain Peyrefitte’s best-seller, "China Has Woken", (which is a response to a 1966 book, "When China Wakes", by prominent French journalist Robert Guilain). Richard Nixon also titled one chapter of his 1988 book on China “The Awakened Giant.” American journalist Harold Isaacs wrote in 1958. “A quick scanning of a variety of periodical and book indexes turns up the titles of some sixty magazine articles and thirty-odd books, published at various times between 1890 and 1940, in which China, or the giant, or the dragon, has awakened, is waking, or is stirring, rising, changing, or being reborn.” So the quote was used for nearly two centuries of time non-stopping even though there was no absolute proof Napoleon said it.
One interesting point Fish had made in his article was: "A “sleeping lion,” or “sleeping giant,” as another version of the cliché has it, permits a certain degree of complacency… allows Americans to cling to the idea of American Exceptionalism, to displace into the future the anxiety about the loss of global prestige — the relative weakening of the U.S. (led) global order …and the relative strengthening of (wakening to) a Chinese one." Actually, "sleeping lion" and "sleeping dragon" are used by Chinese scholars and common folks alike with two purposes, one to motivate the Chinese population to wake up, to work hard, and to contribute to nation building or rejuvenation/reconstruction, and the other to echo with the world's complacency towards a rising China. China certainly does not wish to be targeted as a roaring lion.
However, as we entered into 21st century, Napoleon's quote seems to have become a prophecy coming true. Scholars and political commentators have turned their attention from ‘sleeping’ to how did China rise so fast? World scholars including Chinese all pondered this question and struggled to find a Chinese model as an answer to ‘how’! But it is a real challenge to connect from Deng Xiao Ping's reform policy - opening China with a slogan: "keep a low profile and bide your time" - to today’s China being the number two economy in the world. Western political analysts and economists just can’t get their arms around this 'China model'. Ironically, neither can any Chinese scholar. This is not because that the “China Model” is a national secret. China sincerely wants to offer her 'model’ to developing countries, but no simple treatise of the ‘China Model’ exists even though tons of facts and articles on China's achievements do. Interestingly, numerous papers analyzing the rise and weakening of the U.S. do exist but no precise models to describe ‘how’ the two Giants have reached their current status. However, researching a little deeper, two elements of reasoning or two salient characteristics can be found to explain ‘why’ a "China Model" may have existed and worked for China and in their absence affected the development of the U.S.
The first element has to do with China's governance or political systems. West political analysts often describe China's political system as totalitarian run by one-party, the CCP. But what the West missed is that China’s 'one strong party' political system is precisely the element that is responsible for her effective governance. The CCP government makes decision through thorough efforts in gathering inputs and perspectives from all sectors of their people, including other small political party and organizations. This planning process always starts from grassroots with democratic procedures to arrive at consensus decisions that percolate up through the political system, village, town, city, province, to central government guided by CCP. The main feature of China's political system is that CCP is keenly aware of its vulnerability if decisions were not rigorously formed, accountable and owned by the majority who cultivated them but More Importantly if they were not also owned by the minority!!
In China’s democratic processes, majority rules (same as Western political processes) AND minority obeys (no opposition after a decision has been reached). This characteristic is so critical to Chinese government's efficiency and effectiveness and CCP’s stability. The art and challenge in the CCP is to arrive at decisions through rigorous due process so there is no post-decision opposition not only in the party but among all people. Therefore, China’s mega programs or small policies mostly get executed successfully. In the Western democracy, when decisions were reached even with fairly thorough and rigorous public hearing etc, the opposition, even very small minority, often goes into acute opposition mode, carrying out protests, lawsuits and even sabotage. This political phenomenon makes the government inefficient and ineffective and also intimidates legislators to shy away from ambitious programs or giving too many compromises rendering them ineffective, Obamacare as an example. Majority rules-Minority obeys explains why in the past decades China has made so much progress in her nation building, surpassing the U.S. in many areas: infrastructure, transportation, etc. and soon in energy, environment, healthcare, even space exploration.
The second element has to do with Chinese people's spirit. In general, the Chinese people have a very much forward-looking spirit and philosophy. This particularly includes people in the leadership, both in the government and in the industry. The entire country is serious about achieving middle class living standard within shortest possible time. This drive grows stronger from villages, towns, cities, provinces to the central government. The forward looking-spirit explains many mega programs launched in China; The One Belt and One Road (OBOR) reflects that spirit in China's diplomatic perspective and policies. The Chinese do treasure their history but they look forward and are emboldened by their rich inheritance in philosophy such as global harmony, world prosperity and superior human power to nature.
In the Chinese society, families motivate their members thinking forward, schools motivate students own responsibilities to get better lives for themselves and others. This Chinese spirit does create problems like migration of population to major cities sort of yuppie materialistic society producing social challenges such as job demands and wealth gaps. However, China with its long history of having family as the fabric element of society, the transformation of Chinese societies may have checks and bounds guided with Chinese philosophy. On the other hand, the forward-looking spirit in the U.S. represented by 'Go West' seems to have diminished to ‘typing on the phones for hours in Starbucks’. From the U.S. Foreign policies, one sees legacy strategy and out-dated international perspective. The U.S. still heavily imbedded in military alliances based on Cold War mentality. In contrast, Chinese diplomatic approach is focusing more on economic development partnership and working within the confines of international bodies such as the UN, BRICS, Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), G20 etc. Also in contrast, the U.S. Asia policy maintains antiquated military treaties with an aging Japan who could not shed her legacy being an Imperial power pre WW II. Lack of a forward looking spirit, the American people will eventually fall behind China as she pushes her forward-looking programs.
The above two elements may not give us a quantitative characterization of a 'China Model' but they highlight the reasons for China’s rise and the U.S. stagnation and alarm Americans to understand China and develop partnership with her for mutual and world prosperity!
Ifay Chang. Ph.D. Producer/Host, Community Education - Scrammble Game Show, Weekly TV Columnist, www.us-chinaforum.org . Trustee, Somers Central School District.