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