China’s rapid growth over the past decades has been a topic of intense study for economic and political analysts all over the world. While some people admire how China turned a third world country into a major superpower within a short period of time, those who take a closer peek on the workings of Chinese society will discover that the country’s growth has come at the cost of human freedom, life, and fundamentally sound policies. In short, China’s growth model is a human rights crisis in an inherently flawed system.
Democracy vs communism
America’s economic growth has taken place on the back of a democracy that allows people to choose their leaders, open markets that ensure freedom of trade, and a society that guarantees freedom of expression, where people can say anything they want, even against those who rule them.
In contrast, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has held an iron grip over the country for many decades, achieving growth by threatening, torturing, and even killing those who speak against the government. Chinese citizens cannot access content they want since everything from the radio to the internet is censored to only allow communist-approved material.
So while America’s growth model is based on honoring human rights, China’s growth model is dependent on quashing human rights. This makes America’s economic growth more sustainable and all-inclusive.
America’s growth model has ensured that even inner cities and towns have achieved almost the same quality of life as the major cities like New York or Chicago. But in China, the much touted “development” is largely restricted to big cities such as Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Beijing. Go deep inside rural China and you will find that most people live a substandard life.
When it comes to sustainability, the American system again has an advantage. Economic growth is not a straight path. There are often bouts of intense economic recession whereby people lose jobs and companies shut down. This “cooling down” is a natural process in the economic growth cycle. America’s democracy ensures that people continue to have trust in their government. If they don’t like the current leadership and policies, the public can vote another party into power. This freedom to choose leaders limits the possibility of large-scale public uprising in democracies.
In contrast, when an authoritarian regime like China enters a recession, people become angry and direct all hitherto suppressed anger at the government. The CCP will not be able to maintain order. The more the Party tries to control the public through intimidation and torture, the more resentful its citizens become. Why? Because its citizens have nothing to lose, just as the citizens of 18th century revolutionary France had nothing to lose. The citizens in China tolerate the CCP’s authoritarian regime and censorship only because the economy remains strong. When the economy crashes, the ruling CCP will essentially become public enemy No. 1. This is why China’s growth model is inferior to the organic growth of Western democracies — it’s simply unsustainable.
Cultural and ethical impact
The growth models chosen by America and China also have a deep impact on the ethical development of their societies. Being built on the foundation of respecting individual rights, America is a country that protects the property rights of businesses. If any company, whether American or non-American, finds its intellectual property stolen, U.S. law will protect them and force the accused to compensate the company.
In contrast, since the CCP has essentially built the society on a “take what we want” model, intellectual property rights carry little value. This is one of the reasons why Chinese companies are notorious for stealing IPs of American and European firms.
This mentality has also resulted in deep-rooted corruption in Chinese society. While China was ranked a dismal 77 out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2017, the U.S. fares much better with a rank of 16. As wise men say: “People are simply a reflection of the rulers.”
In the cultural sphere, America dominates China even though the U.S. only has only about one-third of the population and is just a few centuries old when compared to China’s glorious 5,000-year-old history. The impact of American culture is so strong that one can find a young person in the remotest regions of China who knows more about Hollywood and American rap and hip-hop music than an urban American knows about Chinese cinema or popular music.
Such a big difference in cultural impact is again due to the freedom America offers its citizens. Open societies allow artists to explore all thought processes, eventually generating better cultural material. Strict censorship of the communists has meant that people remain confined to a few ways of thought, which ends up creating a low-impact culture.
The return of the Middle Kingdom
At the end of the day, analysts and political thought leaders realize that it is only a matter of time before the great Chinese bubble bursts. The repercussions will be felt throughout the world, and the instability might even trigger a worldwide recession. But from this chaos, Chinese society is expected to move down a new path and bring China to the position of a “positive influencer” that it has always been throughout its past history.
Contrary to flowing out as refugees as is happening now, people will be flocking into the nation when there is true prosperity. And when the lifestyle, work ethics, and belief systems of its citizens along with regulatory policies are based on virtue.