for americans, government is a danger; for chinese, the solution -- 1/09/18

Today's selection -- from Following the Leader by David M. Lampton. The fundamental belief in the purpose of government is very different in China than America. "In America government is accountable to the people. In China, the people are accountable to the government":

"China ... [has] a deeply engrained political culture charac­terized by leaders who are deeply anxious about their grip on such a huge and diverse population and territory. As C.H. Tung, Hong Kong's first chief executive in the postcolonial period, has remarked, ' "[Chi­nese] leaders, from their earliest days, are taught to expect that dangers lurk around every corner. Be cautious!"'

"The basic wisdom about governing China has been voiced by Yao Yilin, one of China's most prominent (and politically conservative) eco­nomic leaders: 'China was so big that it was very difficult for things to go completely bad or go completely well, and hence leaders had to sim­ply manage big problems as well as possible and not go to extremes in either actions or analysis.' [Political scientist] Herbert Simon called this 'satisficing' -- less jargonistically, this is the search for 'good enough,' or chabuduo in Chinese.

The 12th National People's Congress held in 2013

"It is striking how enduring the tasks of governing China have been over time, tasks that boil down to achieving growth and maintaining social and political stability. Central to achieving stabilization has always been 'feeding the people' (yang min); maintaining revenue flows to the central state; communicating policy expectations effectively down the very deep hierarchies; monitoring the implementation of central directives and having adequate internal intelligence to warn of pending instability locally or nationally; and securing China's histori­cally elastic boundaries from threats both near and far, often from non-Han peoples with populations spilling across far-flung frontiers. In a 1979 meeting, Vice-Premier Li Xiannian (later president), who presum­ably had the experiences of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution fresh in his mind, revealed his underlying worry by stating his minimalist governance objective: '[I] can't guarantee results but I'll "guarantee no starvation."'

"Chinese citizens and leaders have persistently believed that the cen­tralized state plays a decisive role in achieving these objectives. For Americans, government is a danger; for Chinese, government ought to be the solution. In January 2000, Vice-Premier Qian Qichen expressed the view that East Asian governments could not achieve progress with­out strong government. Chinese political discourse revolves around what the government can and should accomplish and how it can do so effectively. This is a far cry from American beliefs on limiting govern­ment and enlarging the private and individual sectors. One senior PRC academic explained in 1999, 'In America government is accountable to the people. In China, the people are accountable to the government.'

"China scholar Lily Chen illustrates these concepts in a Chinese idiom:

'In the older Chinese governance tradition, officials, especially local gover­nors, are called fumu guan, or parent officials. Local governors in ancient China were called mushou, which means that they will guard the mass or the herd of people for the emperor. This implies that these local officials have rights over their herd, just as the parents, knowing and having the best inter­ests over their children, have rights over their children, including education, training, and discipline. This concept of fumu guan is somewhat inherited after 1949 .... The antithesis of this concept, I think, is "taxpayer," a con­cept Chinese borrowed from the West, implying that the mass, the people, have a right to know what the officials have done with their tax money, and therefore implying a sense of democracy and representativeness of govern­ment officials.'

"Thinking on Chinese governance has always stressed the importance of political leadership. Leaders are not weather vanes sensing popular will whose job is to understand what the people want and deliver it, though some impulses in this direction are evident in today's China. Rather, the core task of political leadership is to understand, define, and act upon society's enduring interests; when the populace does not understand its own underlying interests, the leader is supposed to edu­cate, persuade, and perhaps even change popular inclinations. "



David M. Lampton


Following the Leader: Ruling China, from Deng Xiaoping to Xi Jinping


University of California Press


Copyright 2014 by The Regents of the University of California


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