China: Group of individuals or individual group?

Hello readers! I recently came back from my exchange in Hong Kong. I’ve had the chance to travel through Asia and feel the east culture first hand.

What most shocked me about Asia was their “group culture”. They do everything in groups and the tendency to group thinking is much higher than in Europe. You could see it in many occasions, for example when you asked a question to some of them rarely did they just directly answer, they normally called some other people nearby and expose the question (in Chinese) so they could speak about it before answering. One could feel how they were much more comfortable this way. This is something I could also observe in Japan, when I attended the 55th edition of the International Student Conference in Tokyo last year. In our debate table about environmental issues there was an approximate 50-50 mix between westerners and Japanese and when we were planning the final presentation we openly started discussing how to organize it. The Japanese students were not really taking active part of the discussion and when we reached what looked like an agreement on the content and the structure the chief of the table said something like: “Ok, that sounds good, but let us [the Japanese] have some time to discuss it”. So then they spent about 10 minutes discussing in Japanese and when they reached a consensus the chief expressed all their doubts and ideas. No individual opinion expression again, we were quite shocked with the situation then.

In my opinion, this collective thinking and acting could help explain how can an authoritarian government still successfully rule a country which has the second biggest GDP in the world (in nominal and PPP) and how such a big country with such population can stay united (not that it hasn’t struggled of course). Other countries like Russia and Canada have more than 17 times less density, so it is not quite comparable (see the territories and countries population density list by the United Nations).

Moreover, focusing on China: How dangerous can a mass of 1.3 billion group-thinking people led by an authoritarian, strongly influencing and highly keen on censorship government be? However focused they are at the moment on inner growth and on boosting their exports there will be a time when priorities change and they will probably look for more power. This makes me think about how there has been leaders through history that have arrived to the power by democratic means and then have turned crazy and led their country/empire to disaster, dragging the world together with them. I don’t want to imagine what some future leader of the Communist Party in China could manage to do with such a powerful country under his command, with no opposition parties and with no media criticism. Who will get to power in China in the future without this big filter of democracy and without freedom of speech is a huge concern that the world should have.

Am I exaggerating my fears? Debate is open!

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6 responses to “China: Group of individuals or individual group?

  1. Marc!!
    I like this post! You’re right opening this debate because everybody is wondering how China could be dangerous in terms of rights. There is no opposition party because it has no place.
    Look at this side, a new action from China:

    http://www.gurusblog.com/archives/china-egipto-internet/31/01/2011/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+gurusblog%2FFFxc+%28GurusBlog%29&utm_content=Twitter

  2. Hey mate,
    been a while. i think in terms of “changing priorities”, yes you may be over-reacting. Simply justifying a shift of economic interests to political world domination plans with the collectivist reasoning is somewhat questionable. The behavior of collectivism for china has lead to its quick development and patriotism towards “keeping the country strong”. Don’t forget, china has been fucked up countless times, but always recovered to now competitively “overthrow” the US as an economic powerhouse. However, the political influence that US still has will not be ignored and although China always had its eyes on Taiwan, Taiwan’s strong relations to the US, will make China second guess any decision regarding the takeover of that island again. Point is, the world, especially US and China are immensely interdependent on exports/imports/currency exchange rates/global current affairs and so on. It would be fucking stupid of either to sacrifice that. In another case that the world is growing anxious about (north korea), China may have signed an agreement of supporting the north, but i highly doubt that China would put its head on the chopping block to uphold the signed treaty from the past. Just look at the political developments between the US and China, Hu Jin Tao just travelled to the US and had a quote “successful” visit in terms of discussing future economic developments, human rights issues and was able to clarify that the different cultures have different approaches to both classifying and dealing with certain negatively perceived inadequacies that a country has. In short, the promotion of “cultural understanding” is further going to promote peace, not because of peace priorities themselves, but because of the economic interdependency.

    Stop worrying…

    • Hi Lars, it’s been some time yeah.. Thanks for commenting!

      I liked your comment on the dependency on imports/exports and global affairs acting as a control factor. It really does at the moment, although in countries as big as China it is not so difficult to imagine an autarky in the future, is it?
      Apart from how group thinking will affect the future of China, you will agree with me that it will be better for the Chinese – and for the world – if there existed some more control on what the govt. can or can’t do to their citizens, right? I trust the govt. will find the way in the middle term, when the quality of life it’s significantly improved and the middle class gets a greater power and say in its society.

      Cheers Lars, take care!

  3. Hi Marc!
    I’m glad you open a debate about that topic. There is an interesenting thing about your post I wish to mention:
    The collectivism that countries like Japan or China are showing is something that is not new, I guess it is something they have been doing during centuries, but because globalization it is something we start to realize now. There was a Dutch guy (Hofstede) who studied this behavior with his “Hofstede’s Framework for Assessing Culture”. One of his indexes is the collectivism/individualism index. It is shown that countries like US and UK are more individualistics, opposite to countries like Indonesia and Thailand that are more collectivism.
    The point here is if there is a “good way” of doing things. During years, the individualism of US has seem the correct way. Now is the time of China, let’s see if they can be as efficient as the americans deciding as a whole group. And lets see if an authoritarian government will be able to continue ruling in such a huge country with an emerging middle class that maybe, some day want to claim their freedom.
    Do you think that emerging middle class could one day be the reason of a political change in China?

    • I most definitely think so Albert. The rise of the middle class has started many revolutions world wide through history. I really hope they can help push the development of human rights in China, so its growth is healthier as it is now, and see if they can do it better than Europe and US, which haven’t been so good in distributing richness at the end,right? 😉 (see who’s responsible for the crisis and who’s paying for it for more info)

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