By June 10, 2013 Read More →
Reflections on the Middle Kingdom

Reflections on the Middle Kingdom

John Garnaut, Fairfax media’s foreign correspondent in China, has for the past few years produced some of the most insightful analysis of Chinese politics. His work offers a valauble window into the many tensions at the heart of the Chinese “miracle” of recent decades: the embrace of state capitalism under a veneer of socialist rhetoric; gradual economic liberalisation within an autocratic political framework; and a ballooning – and increasingly politically mobilised – middle class, which has emerged in the midst of incredible inequalities in wealth within Chinese society. In his latest piece China Inside out, Garnaut offers a reflection on his experience over the past six years:

I came to China thinking I knew something about the place, having spent two years here as a child. I had warmed up by reviewing The Writing on the Wall, by economics writer Will Hutton, which argued that China’s road ahead would become more difficult as the contradictions of dictatorship and market economics grew more acute. I dismissed his thesis – that the China model could not long survive without the values and institutions of the European Enlightenment – with the kind of certainty that can only come from being both young and not in China.

After a few years of covering China at a grassroots level, Garnaut moved to the “virgin country of elite politics”,

where a foreign passport gave cover to investigate what others could not. The battle for China’s future was rapidly spreading from the industrial trenches and Sina Weibo to the founding families of Chinese communism.

The pace slowed and venues shifted from frozen black-soil fields and coalmining tunnels to tea houses, cadre apartments and occasionally the old imperial courtyard houses of inner Beijing. It took months, and sometimes years, but gradually the “princeling” children of the communist revolution shared their histories and aspirations and introduced me to each other. Individually they shared a sense of crisis and a conviction that the system needed to change. Collectively, however, they were trapped in a cage of money, brutality, privilege and insecurity that offered no clear way out.

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(Wikimedia Commons image courtesy of Severin.stalder)

Posted in: Asia, China

About the Author:

William Oliver is Nabateans’ editor for international economics and Middle East current affairs. He obtained his degree in History from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. While his studies focused on the Middle East in the 18th and 19th centuries, William has a long-standing interest in international finance and the political economy of development. William’s work is aimed at understanding how the Middle East integrates with the global economy, and into the wider geopolitical landscape.

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