The incongruous arguments held up by both proponents and opponents of the Western Model’s application have ignored the sequence of development in China.
Two years ago, a British author, Martin Jacques, published a book titled, “When China Rules the World,” which galvanized many to reconsider their notions of China’s strategic development. However, Chinese professor Zhang Weiwei’s recent best-seller, “China Shock” has not created the same shock and intrigue. China’s rise is an indisputable fact. Professor Zhang’s most important contribution in this work is his comprehensive overview of the China Model.
Raising the theme of “rejecting Western influence” to a new pitch, the book’s tone is optimistic. His ideas are part of a larger cavalcade of commentators in recent years, which have warned against the lure of the Western Model. But in all of this, the question of audience is worth asking: Who actually cares so much about the Western model?
There are two camps on this issue. The first group follows no one but the Western model. They are strong advocates that only Western model can solve China’s problems. The other group believes that the only path for development in China comes from standing on the opposite side of the Western approach for all decisions. The two views seem diametrically opposed, but in fact, they are subject to the same uncritical framework of judgment.
Contrasts between the Western Model versus the China Model are misleading to begin with and the more basic and pressing question should simply be: What is a good model? Pitting criteria of whether an attribute is “ours or theirs” as a standard is intellectual torpor.
Truly valid criticisms of the so-called Western Model do not lie in whether the idea originated in the Occident, but on functions of merit. Critics of the current Western Model can argue with conviction when they say that “no non-western countries have been successful through imitating the Western Model.”
As early as the beginning of reform and opening up period in China, the market economy has been deemed by many people as the Western economic model. But the current economic model in China is subject to rigorous dispute – the term “command economy” hold traction in the same sphere as the “market economy.”
But no matter how many discernibly Chinese features can be picked out as a contributor to recent economic growth, the undeniable fact is that rapid changes occurred only after the adoption of market economy measures. Have the past 30 years of China’s rapid economic growth been the result of following the Western economic model? Of course not, China has grown out of a unique political and economic orientation through learning from the Western Model, rather than replicating it.
Development through the market economy has also resulted widening income gaps, environmental deterioration, the rampant spread of corruption and a spiritual crisis within society. Many believe these effects have emanated directly from applying the Western Model.
Putting all one’s faith in the Western model with such absolutism will lead to negative consequences. But while the current China model could be perceived as a shock or a “threat” to foreigners, for Chinese, the broader issues of balanced development raises many questions over the China Model.
The tremendous national influence that the model has created has yet to meet a number of other goals: As a socialist country, the Gini Coefficient Index should at least be lower than all the developed capitalist countries; the per capita GDP and per capita income level should both at least surpass the current world rank of the Chinese men’s soccer team; annual expenditures on education and healthcare should at least exceed the astronomical cost of government vehicles; people should be freed from the fear of toxic additives in the food; and they should not have to worry about being treated as “dissidents” when they speak or whether their remarks touch the “sensitive” nerves of the state censorship system.
When this day arrives, the issue of “rejecting Western influence” will likely be regarded as a quaint and distant memory.
– Liu Qing is a research fellow at The Modern Chinese Thought and Culture Institute and professor of history at East China Normal University