Interesting op-ed by Eric Li

On July 19, 2011, in Economics, Politics, by Sandy Zhu

The New York Times today ran an op-ed by Eric X. Li, a Chinese venture capitalist who’s also studying international relations, called “Counterpoint: Debunking myths about China”. In the op-ed, Eric Li stated that the world still holds many negative misconceptions about China due to the presence of CCP, and that the Chinese government is indeed a good one.

I don’t dispute his argument that the Chinese government has done a lot of good for the Chinese society, and I do think that they probably deserve more credits than they are usually given by other countries. However, some of his points do seem biased. For example, he argued that the Chinese government is meritocratic because the Chinese society is meritocratic, and wrote :”A visit to any top university campus in China would make it obvious to anyone that the Communist Party continues to attract the best and the brightest of the country’s youth. In fact, China’s Communist Party may be one of the most meritocratic and upwardly mobile major political organizations in the world — far more meritocratic than the ruling elites of most Western countries and the vast majority of developing countries. What is wrong with self-perpetuation through merits?”

I’m curious–meritocratic, for whom? Most students who were born in villages still have no access to quality education, residents of big cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, etc) still get preferential treatment for Gao Kao. The cutoff for Peking University, arguably one of the best in China, is 566 if you are applying from Shanghai, 655 if you are applying from Beijing, and 677 if you are applyling from Xinjiang. Students in the cities often receive better education to begin with, but still, they can get into the Chinese Harvard with fewer points than students from rural regions.  If Mr. Li’s “meritocracy” merely means that the best student in every province will have a chance of attending college, then sure, this goal will always be possible. However, a system where the rich gets to go further with fewer requirements really doesn’t seem meritocratic or fair to me.

In addition, he also quoted that  ”fifteen out of 35 living artists worldwide who command seven-digit sales for their work are Chinese. If these facts do not demonstrate innovation, what does?” well, Ai Wei Wei’s name comes to mind when I read this paragraph. Technical innovations are very well supported in China (much better than how they are treated in the US, especially when it comes to renewable energies), but artistic innovation that points to the “wrong direction” will never be tolerated nor allowed to exist. I’m surprised that he actually brought this point up–if you live in China, it would be pretty obvious that innovations are only allowed if they head into certain “desirable” directions. As someone who works there, Mr. Li should know this better than anyone else.

In all faireness, I think the CCP is more competent than how they are usually described in the US. China didn’t get to where it is today just by being lucky. The country has been doing something right (opening up, controlled capitalism, open-mindedness and lack of ideological fights like the ones in the US), but it’s also been blessed by a huge population, vast geography, and a strong leadership. CCP’s efficiency is a large part of China’s success; as much as they have improved the life style (of most people, at least) in China, there are still problems that need to be dealt with. China’s recent history of economic success isn’t necessarily indicative of the future, where the population mix, international balance, and consumer habits will have changed dramatically.

In his concluding paragraph, Mr. Li wrote: “Hypotheses that do not stand up to facts and yet still dominate people’s consciousness are specious and harmful. It is especially dangerous in this case because one cannot imagine a peaceful world order when the political and intellectual establishment of today’s world powers holds views that are built on falsehoods”. I agree that it is probably better for everyone to view China with less predetermined distain. However, it is also harmful to be blinded by current success to the point that you refuse to see your own weaknesses. China has done well, and it will probably do even better in the next few decades. However, it is probably in China’s (and everyone else’s) best interest to recognize its shortcomings as well as its strenghts, and to improve itself when the economy is still going strong.

You can find his op-ed here: At any rate, I’m still glad that this is on NYTimes–I feel like a few years ago, an op-ed with such pro-China tone wouldn’t have been published on a main-stream newspaper like NYTimes.


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