Condescending, Ignorant, Deceptive: A Review of ‘China’s Megatrends’ by John & Doris Naisbitt
Sidney and Beatrice Webb were prominent socialists in the United Kingdom in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They went to the Soviet Union in 1932 and came back with rave reviews; the gulags weren’t on their radar.
A book by John and Doris Naisbitt, published in 2010, is like an updated Webb pamphlet, with flashier PR, written for contemporary China rather than communist Russia.
It is probably not worth the brain power to try to understand why otherwise intelligent people allow themselves to be deceived in this manner, but the upshot is that there is little to learn about China from their book. If you wanted to understand the psychology of the utopian, you needn’t spend time on their volume. Go grab Paul Hollander’s Political Pilgrims: Western Intellectuals in Search of the Good Society. You’ll actually learn something.
The work is about eight supposed Megatrends (a buzzword previously coined by John Naisbitt) that constitute the “pillars of a new society” that China and the Chinese Communist Party are supposedly forging. There’s no need to know what they are, except that they all are wrong. The first is “Emancipation of the Mind,” for example. Another is “Artistic and Intellectual Ferment.” Another is “Freedom and Fairness.” You get the idea.
No, the Naisbitts didn’t go to another planet to write the book. They went into the heart of the beast, living in Tianjin. Neither of them speak Chinese, so they assembled a pool of clientist graduate students and other clever people to monitor the Chinese press (yes, the one controlled by the Party) and produce translations for them. They then entered all this in a database and analyzed it, coming up with the “eight pillars” and other balderdash.
Here’s an example on the kind of logic you get in this book: there is no suppression of speech in China because John Naisbitt has never been asked not to say certain things at his university speeches (p. 222), domestic media censorship is more about “the approach to the reporting than with the content,” CCP rule is for the well-being of the Chinese people (no need for the “distractions and disruptions that characterize western democracies,” for example). And so on.
John Naisbitt is obviously a “friend of China.” He was asked by Jiang Zemin, a man who has been indicted on charges of genocide for the mass murder he ordered against the Falun Gong, to write a book similar to this. That was in 1997. He regretted not taking Jiang up on it at the time, but says he has attempted to make up for it in this volume. He certainly did.
In any case, there is simply no need for Communist Party officials to tell him what to say and what not to say. The apparatchiks know that Naisbitt has their back, so why would they go insulting his intelligence with demands about what he would say? The problem is that only “friends” of the CCP like Naisbitt can travel around China saying whatever they like, whereas those who would give a view contradictory to the Party line never receive such opportunities.
Many of the similar assertions in the book are obviously either untrue or lies. It is unclear which. The Naisbitts talk a lot about “basing our views on facts” (p. 223), but it is clear that there is only a very narrow subset of facts they have chosen to acquaint themselves with. They are, for example, apparently unfamiliar with the stories of countless journalists who have been fired, jailed, beaten, or even killed over the years in attempting to report on facts that the Party does not want them reported on. Lawyers attempting to investigate such facts have fared much worse.
Do the Naisbitts know nothing of Gao Zhisheng, Cheng Guangcheng, Ran Yunfei, Wang Lihong, Tian Jianyong, Tang Jitian, Li Wei, Li Tiantian, etc.? The authors never once address the problem of labor camps, torture, arbitrary detentions, and the whole apparatus of violence and propaganda upon which Communist Party rule is predicated.
They also see no problem with the mythical, united, harmonious “China” as it is portrayed by the Communist Party, where the rulers mean for the best, the peasants lives are always improving, and a bright future is always close at hand. The result is a manipulated, cropped, and airbrushed version of Chinese reality.
China’s Megatrends is indeed a repulsive work, for its condescension, for its ignorance, its deception, and its conceit. Friends, stooges and dupes of the current regime will love it.
UPDATE: I hadn’t looked up the press on this before writing the review. Seems I’m late to the party. It’s official: the Naisbitts are useful idiots.
THE STANDARD VIEW. That’s what author Bill Dodson presents in China Inside Out: Ten Irreversible Trends Reshaping China and Its Relationship with the World. There’s nothing particularly the matter with this work, at least in comparison to the Naisbitt’s house of horrors, but there is nothing endearing or extraordinary about it, either.
The book is basically ten chapters of summarized news reports (New York Times features heavily) about China over the last decade or so, presented thematically. The themes do not delve beyond the surface, but they are relevant to any serious consideration of contemporary Chinese society.
They are: the Internet, the middle-class, the rural-urban divide, pollution and industry, resources, the challenge of increasing domestic consumption, the service industry, outbound investment and business dealings, demographic pressures, and finally, the dark nexus of foreign policy, militarization, and nationalism.
Dodson’s treatment of the topics he chooses to cover is adequate. Not much will be new to people already deeply engaged in China, but putting it into a single package is quite helpful. Politically, he is no booster of CCP-rule, though nor does he see the Party’s destruction as a precondition to a meaningful, free, and truly flourishing country.
China Inside Out serves as a respectable introduction to the sweep of issues that characterize modern China. It makes no large predictions, and sets many of the main issues on the table. If you want more than that, you’ll have to keep reading.
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