As China soars to become the world’s second largest economy and becomes a major player in the international scene, we marvel at her economic accomplishments in the last 35 years. What would happen in the next 35 years? Would that meteoric economic rise continue, perhaps at a slower rate? Or would China experience many serious consequences that could cripple the country in many important facets? These include social, environmental, political (both internal and external), military, moral, and economical. While we are addressing that question, because people would often just point to Western countries, especially the U.S., as a model for China to copy, it is important to provide an objective assessment of how Western countries like the U.S. have behaved. Then we may be able to find a solution for China’s problems.
LOOKING EAST: From various economic indicators, we know that during the last 35 years China has experienced impressive economic growths, as illustrated by the following sample quotes:
- “Prior to the initiation of economic reforms and trade liberalization 35 years ago, China maintained policies that kept the economy very poor, stagnant, centrally controlled, vastly inefficient, and relatively isolated from the global economy. Since opening up to foreign trade and investment and implementing free market reforms in 1979, China has been among the world’s fastest-growing economies, with real annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth averaging nearly 10% through 2013. 
- During the last 30 years the size of the Chinese economy grew by roughly 48 times, from $168.367 billion (current prices, US dollars) in 1981 to $8.227 trillion in 2011.” 
- “The GDP per capita also reached to $6,075 in 2012, up from $205 in 1980 (almost 30 times) … as the largest exporter and second largest importer, China has accumulated $3.3 trillion in foreign exchange reserved, ranked top in the world.” 
However, we also know that during these 35 years, many problems have emerged or significantly intensified. These problems include:
- Serious pollution: China is now a most polluted country whose air, water, and land are very much polluted, leading increasingly to serious health problems and birth defects (see: http://www.boredpanda.com/pollution-china/)
- Increasing gap between the rich and the poor: Although in China people in the low end of the economic ladder are not getting poorer, the gap between the rich and the poor is widening, so that that gap in China has now exceeded that gap in the U.S. (see: http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/chinas-rich-poor-gap-surpasses-us-1446516)
- Concentration of wealth and power: A major reason for the increasing gap between the rich and the poor is because a lot of the major businesses are at least partially state-owned, so the top executives of these businesses are the people in high offices or their adult children. These executives are either in positions of power or children of people in positions of power, and therefore can more easily get their projects approved or more easily win large contracts. This makes it easier for officials to become corrupted and allows them to use their positions of power to stuff their own pockets.
- Abuse of power and not enough checks and balances: Because laws are often not well specified or not enforced consistently, officials often have a lot of leeway in making decisions, resulting in an abuse of power. Furthermore, because of insufficient checks and balances, there are insufficient mechanisms to stop or reverse such abuse of power decisions. Not only that many decisions that are made are not in the best interests of the country, these decisions can also infuriate the citizens at large.
- Lack of freedom to dissent, to make choices, and to advocate: People are different and have different opinions. Not allowing people to make personal choices, or express their dissent, or advocating opinions different from those of the government at that time not only results in unhappy citizens, but also stifles the competition of ideas and the nurturing of new policies or better ways of doing things.
- The “Ugly Chinese”: About 50 years ago, there were a popular book and movie titled “Ugly American”  that refers to Americans living or visiting overseas who are loud and ostentatious. With the new class of super-rich Chinese, some of their children come to the U.S. to study have a fancy to show off their super-expensive sports cars and have no hesitation to flaunt their wealth. Or pregnant women of the super-rich families come to the U.S. and temporary settle in fancy neighborhoods dedicated to provide them all the facilities to make it easier for them to give birth so that their babies will be citizens of the U.S. Or many Chinese visitors who are rich but not necessarily super-rich on temporary visits to the U.S. buy and bring home many expensive handbags.
- Single-minded drive to get rich: People’s purpose in life is to pursue money, to get rich as quickly as possible, sometimes with any means. The traditional Chinese Confucius customs of humbleness, treating all people rich and poor with respect, valuing hard work and learning have been put to the wayside. Many people seem to be so selfish and morally corrupt.
Each one of these problems is extremely serious. This collection of such problems can cripple the country and cause the country to disintegrate, either from within or from without. So how can China solve these problems?
LOOKING WEST: A simple and often given response is for China to copy the American system of freedom and democracy, because many people think that the U.S. is a beacon of hope and salvation for the world. The U.S. is a knight in shiny armour who comes to the rescue with a helping hand. I wish it were as simple as that. Let’s examine the U.S. more carefully, first her foreign policies, then her domestic policies, and finally the American Dream.
U.S. Foreign Policies: American politicians and mass media always advertise the U.S. as a country who is willing to offer a helping hand to other countries. However, if you examine it more carefully, the helping hand is really not a helping hand, but a hand involved in extracting benefits for the U.S. or a hand in exploiting that other country. In the 19th century and the first part of the 20th century, the U.S. was just like the other foreign powers who carried a big stick and extracted all kinds of benefits for the U.S. at the expense of the Chinese people. In 1949 after the Chinese Communists won the civil war in China, the U.S. kept Taiwan from being united with the rest of China, and is still keeping it so after more than 65 years. For 22 years from 1949 to1971, the U.S. kept the People’s Republic of China (PRC) from taking its lawful place in the U.N. And on December 25, 1953, the U.S. unilaterally included the Diaoyu Islands (called Senkaku Islands by Japan) within the map of Okinawa whose administrative rights were handed over by the U.S. to Japan in 1972, thus helping to establish the territorial dispute between China and Japan over these islands.
Instead of helping to unify a country like Korea and Germany, the U.S. worked hand-in-hand with the Soviet Union to partition Korea into a North Korea and a South Korea and partition Germany into an East Germany and a West Germany. After Vietnam drove out the colonial France, the U.S. tried to replace colonial France that resulted in a deadly 20-year war with a huge loss of Vietnamese lives (as well as American lives) and a vast destruction of the Vietnamese country.
The U.S. always presents herself as a great advocate of human rights. Since the end of WWII, Japan has been a close ally of the U.S. and the U.S. has had exceedingly strong influence over Japan, including overseeing the reconstruction of Japan. During WWII Japan committed probably the most massive unimaginably inhumane and ruthless atrocities in the history of mankind, and yet even after 70 years she is still trying to whitewash that part of history. If the U.S. is truly an advocate of human rights, why hasn’t the U.S. applied more pressure on Japan to face up and acknowledge, apologize, and compensate for the victims from that part of history?
The U.S. played a most critical role in unrests and changes of governments in countries like Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, and possibly Syria. Are these countries in better shape than before? Hardly. Would these countries’ people be better off without the interference of the U.S.? In Ukraine all we hear from American politicians and mass media is how ruthless and aggressive is President Putin of Russia, but what about the role the U.S. played in overthrowing the legally elected former President Viktor Yanukovych and replaced him with the current pro-West President Petro Poroshenko?
U.S. Domestic Policies: Even from the very beginning of the establishment of the U.S. of America, there were some serious problems. Although the U.S. Constitution does have a lot of important features that other countries could learn and copy, it also had some serious shortcomings. It did not recognize Black people as equal human beings. It allowed slavery, and in terms of headcount, a black slave was counted as only 3/5 of a white person.
After slavery was abolished with the 13th Amendment in 1865, it still took about another 100 years before Black people started to get equal rights. And this development occurred only after massive civil rights marches and demonstrations that took place in the 1950s and 1960s. In other words, that struggle for equal rights did not come from the conscience and good hearts of the American political leaders, but was forced upon them by the decade-long protests and demonstrations. Furthermore, that struggle for equality continues to today, another 50-plus years later.
The Constitution was 133 years old before the 19th Amendment in 1920 gave women the right to vote. Another almost 100 years later, women still do not have complete equal rights. We recognize that the lack of equal rights for women is almost a universal phenomenon all over the world.
The Native Americans who were the original owners of the land in this country had most of their land stolen, and a large percentage of them were slaughtered, and were discriminated in other ways.
The U.S also advertises and emphasizes her free press. However, the overwhelming majority of opinions and messages conveyed in the major American press is just a reflection of the American government’s (and business’s) policies. If there is any doubt, just look at all the distortions and critical attacks of almost everything that is happening in China. Look at the almost complete rejection of letters to the editors of the major American newspapers expressing opinions that are different from the official government opinions.
American Dream: One may argue that the American society may not be perfect, but look how successful the U.S. has been during her almost 240 years of history so that people from all over the world come to the U.S. seeking the American Dream of a better life as long as you are willing to work for it. Yes, it is true that the U.S. has made tremendous progress during this period, and that millions of people from all over the world have come to this country, especially since 1950, seeking the American Dream. However, if one studies more carefully all the unique favorable external factors that the U.S. enjoyed during her initial 200 years of history, one may come to the conclusion that her success may be due more to certain unique and favorable external factors, and not necessarily due to her intrinsic system. These unique favorable external factors include:
- A vast country with a very small population
- Good natural resources with a large percentage of the land ideal for agriculture and cattle ranging
- The country is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on the East and the Pacific Ocean on the West, providing natural barriers from foreign aggressors.
- It is bordered on the north and the south by two also relatively new countries with a vast land of their own and a small native population.
With these unique favorable external factors, the U.S. was able to live relatively peacefully without worrying too much about the threat of foreign invasion until World War II. These favorable external factors allowed the U.S. to focus her resources and energy internally to develop the country. Furthermore, they also gave the U.S. room to expand and enough resources to share, instead of being a zero-sum situation where one could gain only at the expense of someone else.
With all the above advantages, the U.S. was able to develop into a rich and powerful country. Furthermore, compared with most other countries, she suffered from WWII relatively minor damages to her infrastructure. This enabled her to develop into the richest and most powerful country in the world after WWII. Then for another 30-50 years before many other countries (e.g., first Germany and Japan, and then Korea, India and China) developed into credible economic competitors, the U.S. was able to reap great economic advantages all over the world. The country actually welcomed more new comers to help develop the vast land. As a matter of fact, it was partially due to immigration to the U.S. of so many of the best and brightest from other countries that propelled the U.S. economic engine to become the richest and most powerful in the world. It is important to recognize that this lack of a zero-sum situation (i.e., there was always room to expand and enough resources to share) for the first 200 years of the U.S.’ existence softened or hid the shortcomings of an intrinsic self-centric and greedy American system.
This is not to deny that other factors (e.g., its democratic system of government, the American entrepreneur spirit) were also contributors to the success of the U.S. during the first two hundred years of its existence. The point we want to make is that there was almost an ideal geographical or natural environment for the U.S. during most of its existence that greatly helped it to develop into the richest and most powerful country in the world and created the base for the American Dream.
However, in the last 20-30 years, the U.S. has essentially fully expanded, so its economy has transformed from a continuing expanding economy into a zero-sum economy. In a zero-sum economy, the benefit of the larger entity must be taken into account. Adopting a greedy and self-centric approach may benefit one part of the society in the short term, but not the whole, and not even that part in the long term. Therefore, if the U.S. continues to conduct its affairs with business as usual, it will not be able to continue to offer the American Dream.
Note that we are not necessarily saying that the U.S. is more greedy and more self-centric than other countries, but we are saying that the U.S. is not a knight in shiny armour who always offers a helping hand to the needy, and the U.S. is not necessarily a beacon of hope and salvation for the rest of the world. [For a more detailed discussion of the topic “Can the American Dream Be Continued?” please see the article of that title at: http://www.dontow.com/2010/01/can-the-american-dream-be-continued/.]
SO WHAT CAN CHINA DO? How can China get rid of or at least reduce significantly the many serious problems mentioned earlier? We already argued that China should not just copy the U.S. system, but she could utilize some facets of that system when they can be usefully applied to the Chinese situation. China must examine carefully her society, custom, and tradition, and then formulate a solution that may be different from any of the existent solutions.
This of course is an extremely complex question, and I do not claim to know the solution. But I like to offer several suggestions that should be considered:
- Significantly reduce state-owned enterprises to separate the people in charge of the political system from the people in charge of enterprises: This should reduce corruption.
- Devise a better way of selecting/promoting people to the executive positions of large enterprises so that they are not dominated by children of senior party leaders. This should decrease the concentration of power and wealth, and also reduce corruption.
- Be bold to allow diversity of opinions in essentially all aspects of life. The competitions of ideas, products, and services will give rise to the best ideas, products, and services. Have confidence in your own ideas, products, and services. If they are not as good as those proposed by others, then at least be comforted that your ideas, products, and services have been replaced by better ones. Over reacting is often counter-productive. For example, over reacting by suppressing Falun Gong only generates more publicity and more followers for them even if they may be supported financially by external organizations or governments who are not friendly toward China. Taking actions such as creating publication roadblocks for books with the word “Qigong” in their titles is definitely a counter-productive over reaction. Suppressing religious worships such as Christian worships just generates more alienation and opposition to the government. Valuing diversity of opinions should help to win the minds and hearts of the Chinese people as well as other people of the world.
- Reemphasize in educating the youths the importance of traditional Chinese Confucius customs of humbleness, treating all people rich and poor with respect, valuing hard work and learning, and taking care of the old, the weak, and those less fortunate than yourselves. This also helps to win the minds and hearts of the Chinese people as well as other people of the world.
- Government laws and rules must be specified clearly and enforced consistently to reduce corruption, increase fairness, and again help to win the minds and hearts of the Chinese people as well as other people of the world.
- Establish and enforce strict environmental protection laws and rules to result in a healthier China and reduce the mindset of earning money at any cost.
- Eliminate the single child policy, a policy that is not sustainable from a long-term economics point of view, but more importantly eliminating it should decrease the probability of raising spoil brats.
SUMMARY: While making astonishing economic achievements during the last 35 years, China is also experiencing many serious problems. These problems collectively can cripple the country and cause the country to disintegrate, either from within or from without. How can China solve these problems? Although many people will point China in the direction of copying the American system, we argue that the U.S. is not a knight in shiny armour that can come to rescue those in need. As a matter of fact, it is the U.S. who has contributed to many of the problems of the world. The solution is very complex, and we do not claim that we have the solution. However, we do offer several suggestions that should be considered. Many of the suggestions focus on increasing China’s soft power to win the minds and hearts of the Chinese people as well as other people of the world.
 W. M. Morrison, “China’s Economic Rise: History, Trends, Challenges, and Implications for the United States,” U.S. Congressional Research Service, October 9, 2014.
 Economy Watch World Economy Team, “China Economy,” June 4, 2013: http://www.economywatch.com/world_economy/china.
 Li Yang (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences), “China’s Growth Miracle: Past, Present, and Future,” seminar at the United Nations Research INstitute for Social Development, July 3, 2013.
 The 1963 movie starred Marlon Brando.