174 Comments

This is exactly the correct line to take on China and the article shows that Noah has his finger on the pulse of contemporary Chinese intellectual circles who, when allowed to write and speak, bemoan their current leadership and its embarrassing squandering of Chinese human capital.

Expand full comment
Jan 25Liked by Noah Smith

I really get the impression that things have changed a lot more under Xi than most people in the US appreciate. It’s really sad things turned in this direction when China actually had a shot at becoming a great neoliberal success story.

Expand full comment
Jan 25Liked by Noah Smith

I've met dozens of Chinese citizens like the expats in Chiang Mai. I think this is the common worldview among young, educated Chinese in major cities: a desire for China to be more open internally and externally--engaging with the world and allowing freer expression at home. They also have almost no interest with military provocations against Taiwan that could draw in the US and Japan.

Yet I once assumed that this must be the median opinion of young Chinese... but the people that a Westerner encounters in China or overseas are much different than the median Chinese person who lives in a Tier 3 or 4 city, doesn't have a VPN, and consumes only state media. Unfortunately, the median Chinese opinion is likely pretty close to the CCP worldview... which is the point I suppose.

It's a very similar dynamic to Russia. The young, educated passport-weilding Russians (once they grow tired of partying in Moscow) have already left. Yet the median Russian consumes only Russian media and is as nationalist as ever.

Expand full comment

As someone once said, what would China look like if it were democratic and capitalist...

It would look like Taiwan, which is Chinese, democratic and capitalist.

Expand full comment
Jan 25Liked by Noah Smith

We need new variety of content, after the western and Japanese & South Korean style.. China could have been the next exciting content generator, but seeing that China's youth bulge has already passed away behind censorship, I remain doubtful.

Although I am extremely optimistic about India, today Indian OTTs are generating new tv series and movies almost every week and they are really good unlike the same old story of romance and machoism of Bollywood. I also see lots of theatres and community spaces filled with young people in metro cities such as Bengalore, Mumbai and Delhi. Given that demographic dividend of India would last for another 3 decades, I feel that the best is yet to come from India given it would get much more prosperous in upcoming decades..

Expand full comment

Is this code for a critique of some ot the intellectual currents within both the Left and Right in the US?

Expand full comment
Jan 25Liked by Noah Smith

The Nineties consensus was wrong that trade would make China liberalize, but it was right that failure to do so would be against their interest.

Expand full comment
Jan 25Liked by Noah Smith

"A truly great nation has confidence in its people" By this criterion, Chinese never was a truly great nation. No Chinese rulers ever had full confidence in its people, a.k.a subjects. In fact, if we look at the whole history of China, the most prosperous and most inventive and intellectually creative periods were the times when the emperors were the weakest. The China Order by Wang Fei-Ling argues for this point.

Expand full comment
Jan 25Liked by Noah Smith

What Xi and the CCP are doing to the Chinese people is a tremendous loss for humanity. They keep pushing against a string and squeezing regular workers to subsidize it. Rather than fund social services and pensions, they direct money into military expansion. This expansion is not to provide for common goods like sea lane protection or international rule of law, but rather so Xi and the CCP can flout treaties and undermine a rules based order.

Expand full comment
Jan 25·edited Jan 25Liked by Noah Smith

I can't help but wonder how much longer the "grand bargain" can last. Younger Chinese (college educated especially, foreign educated particularly) have no interest in it and I can't imagine older Chinese, many of who lack the social safety net they expected (namely, their kids having kids), are much more thrilled with the bargain's current status. The flip side to this of course is that should said bargain break down, there's no guarantee what comes next will be better for anyone (see the novel from 2015 "Ghost Fleet").

Expand full comment
Jan 25Liked by Noah Smith

Given your articles about the need for US to ramp up military spending to be able to thwart China, your comment that Xi may not start a war with the US (over Taiwan presumably) seemed surprising. I don’t mind, but I’m curious if I missed an article or something.

On another note, I would love to visit China and zoom around all over their bullet trains. Do you think you would be safe traveling there after what you’ve written? I’ve also posted critiques of Xi, saying he shouldn’t invade Taiwan, and Taiwan should invest heavily in drone manufacturing to defend itself. I’ve even reposted your critiques on X.

Expand full comment

Think about this: if China wasn't hobbling itself by micromanaging its population, then the US would be utterly swamped by that tide of energy. I'm not sure if that future would be good or bad, but it certainly would be completely unpredictable.

Expand full comment
Jan 25·edited Jan 25Liked by Noah Smith

Considering how the PRC has treated its neighbors... this is a good thing in my view. Why would I want a country with a proven track record of bullying everyone around it to be "great"?

Expand full comment

Good article.... it is just very sad to see the shift from Deng to Xi. Right now, China is very susceptible to economic shocks which in the worst case can lead to their own Great Depression. There will certainly be an impact in China, but very likely worldwide.

Expand full comment

It sounds like you're reading the textbook definition of “Communism, Government, form of…”

Any system of government that requires extensive control of its citizens (ie., significant prohibition of liberty) is, by definition, one that does not have confidence in its people’s inherent goodness and capabilities.

Ironically, China’s people are extremely capable; which is why their government isn’t actually “squandering” their potential, so much as acting *in fear of it*. Ask yourself where Jack Ma suddenly disappeared to, and your thesis will seem crystal clear.

Expand full comment
Jan 25Liked by Noah Smith

China did not commercialize the lithium ion battery. That was Japan, in 1991. Japan also invented it.

Expand full comment