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« More Chinese media coverage | Main | Our plans to bomb the length and breadth of China »
12:01AM

Esquire: "When China Ruled the World" (January issue)

 

For the record, my 20th piece in the magazine.

Intro:

There's a moment in part two of Quentin Tarantino's revenge epic, Kill Bill, in which legendary martial-arts master Pai Mei teaches the Bride how to exact her revenge by delivering the killer blows instantly and then waiting for her nemesis to drop. Pai Mei "hits you with his fingertips at five different pressure points on your body, and then lets you walk away. But once you've taken five steps, your heart explodes inside your body and you fall to the floor."

And the battle is over before it really begins.

Okay, a gruesome analogy, perhaps, but apt. I'm here to tell you that America plunged its fingertips into the Middle Kingdom's body politic across the 1970s, beginning with Nixon going to China in 1972 and culminating with Jimmy Carter's normalization of relations in 1979. The first embrace allowed aged Mao Tse-tung to extinguish his nonstop internal purge known as the Cultural Revolution by firewalling his fears of Soviet antagonism. The second cemented China's wary-but-increasingly-warm relationship with the United States and allowed Deng Xiaoping, who narrowly survived Mao's insanities, to dismantle the dead emperor's dysfunctional socialist model, quietly burying Marx with the most revolutionary of eulogies — to get rich is glorious!

Deng chose wisely: Reversing Mikhail Gorbachev's subsequent logic, he focused on the economics while putting off the politics. This decision later earned him the sobriquet "the butcher of Tiananmen" when, in 1989, the political expectations of students quickly outpaced the Party's willingness for self-examination. But it likewise locked China onto a historical pathway from which it cannot escape, or what I call the five D's of the dragon's decline from world-beater to world-benefactor: demographics, decrepitude, dependency, defensiveness, and — most disabling of all — democratization.

Let us begin this journey right where Deng did, with a focus on the family.

Read the entire article at Esquire.com or in the January issue now on newstands.

Reader Comments (8)

Excellent piece.While Tom Barnett is not an expert on old Europe,he much better understands future China.If I was Moody´s I would give this article a triple A.It shows the constraints, the changes of social value, worth ethic and economic growth pattern very good.I especially like this American humor when talking about such serious things."No American blood for Chinese oil"--maybe this could become the common slogan of the peacemovement AND the Tea-Party movement.Maybe his idea of a long war as a sinoamerican enterprise might not be so unrealistic as many expect.
However: An important question will be what kind of middle class will occur in China. Will it be more a liberal middle class like in the USA or more like the middle class of imperial Germany and the Weimar republic which were strong supporters of imperialism and fascism (the best portray of the German middle class was the book of Heinrich Mann "Der Untertan).Another variable: What if the Falungong became a political mass party?

December 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRalf Ostner

Fascinating article! But now I'm hoping Tom will explain how his proposed 'new deal' (if I can use that term here :-) with China addresses the concerns laid down in this article.

December 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Emery

Tom,one of your best articles. I enjoyed your five "D" categories which provide great insight into the vast challanges ahead for China. The analogy with "Kill Bill's" five pressure point hits causing death reminded me of the mid 21st century decline of China predicted in George Freidman's "The Next 100 Years" which I found hard to imagine at the time I read this book.

December 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterElmer Humes

I think you have it backwards. The US is right now staring to drop from China's ninja moves..

Watch it happen.

December 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPenGun

David,

That's getting awfully remedial.

But to summarize: China's domestic development challenges are all much easier to meet if Beijing is not simultaneously dealing with a hostile international environment. Plus, having investment opportunities in the world's largest economy is an obvious good when it comes to better use of their reserves and further development of national companies.

Since I'm sure you already know all of that, I can only assume you harbor some hostility to the term sheet proposal and are engaging in this approach to signal that to me.

But that message was received loud and clear in several other communications, so you need not worry.

Tom

December 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTom Barnett

Metaphoric rule:"Five D's of the dragon's decline"

Demographics, decrepitude, dependency, defensiveness, and democratization: perhaps, I think, a fundamental set of organizing principles framing the "historical pathway from which [China] cannot escape."

Five D's of the dragon's decline, the meme carries the metaphor. Translation, how to approach the context of rising China, "from world-beater to world-benefactor."

December 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCritt Jarvis

Tom Barnett´s article emphazises the weaknesses and constraints, the vulernabilities and the dependencies of a future China.That´s the one side of the medal.The other: China´s potential strength is described very good in the book of John-Milligan-Whyte and Dai Min "China and America´s Emerging Partnership".It includes important factors as globalization 3.0, internet economy and knowledge revolution and has the thesis that China because of the new technologies (100$ lap top, wireless technology, real-time translation of voice, e-mailand data communication, etc.)and disruptive technologies will even accelerate its current economic growth rate.That´s a brand new idea which cannot be found in the main stream literature about China which mostly are prolonged projections of past trends, historical chronologies and well-known stereotypes.The implication of these new technologies will be: a immense growth on connectivity at mass scale.To get the whole picture of future China the best is to read both: Tom Barnett´s Escquire article and Milligan-Whyte/Dai Min´s book.That´s dialectics at ist best.

December 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRalf Ostner

re: China and America´s Emerging Partnership
@Rolf

The 5D's of the dragon's decline do indeed illustrate "the weaknesses and constraints, vulnerabilities and dependencies of a future China." On your recommendation, I ordered "China and America´s Emerging Partnership" to better understand the context of "globalization 3.0, the internet economy and knowledge revolution". We must be diligent to address those whose concerns lie in "prolonged projections of past trends, historical chronologies and well-known stereotypes." As access to situational awareness improves, perhaps we will see data maps of the oppositions and correspondences influencing China's economic growth rate and emerging foreign relationships.

December 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCritt Jarvis

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