China's future with a only-child society
Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 8:15AM
Thomas P.M. Barnett in China, Citation Post, democracy, demographics

NYT story on Science article describing Australian research on the only-child phenomenon inside China.  This wasn't interview based, but actual work with kids, testing their trust behavior (a simple drill involving money).

The result:

The researchers concluded that the "one-child-policy" players were less trusting, less trustworthy, less competitive and more risk-averse than the older participants.

And on the basis of a personality test, they were also "less conscientious, more neurotic and more pessimistic ...

What is interesting:  China is already all those things in terms of top leadership stuck in a single-party mode. What this says is, there is quite possibly no hope on the horizon in terms of top-down reform/democratization dynamics.  Yes, the leadership will talk such lines (reforms) and hint at such possibilities (democracy), but they won't move down this path without pushing from below - and hoping generational changes will trigger top-down dynamics is probably far too optimistic.

A bit more depressingly, it also says there may only be a generational window of people, roughly corresponding to the 6th generation of leadership (on slate to rule 2022-2032), who are able to trigger the bottom-up dynamics necessary for change (i.e., serious demand for it from below that pushes the way-too-cautious elite to finally do something real and not just experiment and talk and promise).  To me, that says the 2020s may be it - as in, get the system moving in the right direction or China loses its nerve - both above and below - to make the difficult steps happen for the post-Mao system's full maturation (reforms, marketization, globalizing, middle-class and then democracy).

A worrisome observation, but not an insurmountable one.  The Chinese system is already rife with intense populist anger and it's growing by leaps and bounds.  We can hope Xi Jinping and Co. catch a clue, because if they don't, China - in terms of generational leadership - might have only one more swing at the plate to get it done before turning - yet again - back in on itself.


Article originally appeared on Thomas P.M. Barnett (
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