Strategic Foresight


Chinese dream deserves a better narrative

24 Dec 2013 - 17:33
Source: Flickr / familymwr

Europeans and Americans better start getting used to the idea of living in a post-Western world and China as ‘leader of a world freed from Western dominance.’

By 2030, two-thirds of global GDP will be earned by developing countries, with China as the alpha male in the pack.

China's rising wealth

Ten years from now, and probably less, fifty percent of the world's middle class will no longer live in the West, but in the East.

An interesting indicator of Asia and China's rising wealth today, as seen from outer space, is that global light emissions are moving eastward with a stunning pace of 65 kilometers per year.

Now China needs the missing ingredient: a convincing story.

Societal side effects

China's President Xi Jinping has good reasons to worry. Does his government possess the skills to manage this great civilization state? After three decades of reform and opening-up under conditions of relative stability, economic growth in the next decades is bound to have unsettling societal side effects.

Growth will meet the objective of alleviating social imbalances, but in the process of doing so, it is likely to create new ones.

The West may be on the wrong side of history, but China's political future will not be plain sailing.

The leadership's aim to make the Chinese dream one shared by the world is a challenge of sorts.

American dream

The American dream was a grass-roots idea that did not accentuate the idea of US civilization, while the Chinese dream is a top-down concept based on the principles of China's unique culture. That will not make it an easy sell.

The Chinese dream's ultimate test at home lies in the maintenance of good relations between government and society.

China is the first country to grow old before it becomes wealthy. As US scholar Kenneth Lieberthal has suggested, together with adverse demographics, the growing free market, globalization and the bottom-up dynamic of the digital age may influence the relationship between ‘the river and the boat’ - the ruled and their rulers.

50,000 international flights

The logic of recently announced reforms and unintended social developments that come with reforms mean that the State is going to have less of a grip on the economy.

Fast-growing interaction between the Chinese population and people elsewhere will affect the country's social fabric.

Last year, 57 million people visited China, the majority of them arriving on roughly 50,000 international flights, and hundreds of thousands of students were living abroad to get foreign degrees.

China's domestic opinion may be guided from above, but two-directional communication flows tend to ignore such principles.

Societal instability in a country with 1.3 billion people would be a nightmare

There are good reasons to wish China's leaders success with their dream project, even if one is not sharing their definition of success.

The main reason for doing so is obvious.

Societal instability in a country with 1.3 billion people would be a nightmare, and centrifugal forces in China are a recipe for a global crisis of enormous proportions.

It is hard for China's leadership to communicate the country's ‘rejuvenation’ to the rest of the world or, for that matter, to people at home. The leadership has not yet produced much of a narrative beyond the line that hard work leads to a prosperous life and a prosperous society.

A better story than the one that currently underpins the Chinese dream may capture the imagination of the next generation.

Intellectual merchandise

The world is waiting for China to articulate its thoughts and dreams in a way that may turn its values, ideas and concepts into exportable intellectual merchandise.

A more balanced relationship with the world on the level of ideas is not impossible, and indeed necessary.

China's State Council Information Office and its chief Cai Mingzhao, a former journalist, know very well what it takes to influence foreign opinion.

It would also be foolish to underestimate China's great capacity to learn and draw lessons from past mistakes and those of Western countries.