March 19, 2006
To Get Ahead in China... Become a Geologist?
For the longest time I have wondered: Who runs China? How do you come to be the leader of a quasi-communist autocratic state? George Bush’s path to power I get. Kim Jong-il’s I get. But this guy? It’s not election… it’s not family succession… what is it?
I finally found the book with all the answers.
And it turns out China is basically like… General Electric? The current crop of leaders are all engineers. China has put the cult-of-personality thing behind it, and is now deep into an era of enthusiastic technocracy. The rising generation is made up of people whose young lives were bisected by the Cultural Revolution — people who value education because it was denied to them. And they’ve advanced through the government based on connections made at school. Simple corporate politics — but this corporation is a country.
And China really is organized like a classic Death Star megacorp. This month’s Foreign Policy (favorite magazine!) has an article enumerating all the ways in which the country is still incredibly centralized. For instance:
In 2003, the state controlled $1.2 trillion worth of capital stock, or 56 percent of the country’s fixed industrial assets.
There are only 40 private firms among the 1,520 Chinese companies listed on domestic and foreign exchanges.
It’s a parade of startling statistics. Bottom line: No surprise that China is nervous about the internet. The radical decentralization of the web is like antimatter to China’s almost unbelievably centralized government. Which is basically composed entirely of former nuclear physicists and civil engineers. Now you know.