I find China as clueless about the future as most emerging countries. That’s why they plan so much. People really confident about the future don’t have to plan. They simply know what to do. I believe this is a naturally accruing capability with age, and in that regard, China is “young” despite the age of its civilization. Again, we need to think of them more like the U.S. at the start of the 20th century: getting brash but essentially uncertain and nervous about how to behave in the world. The more the bluster, the more the fear–I always say.
Forget trying to figure out today’s China through its own history, which consists of a seemingly endless cycle of disintegrating peace and integrating war. Instead, simply stipulate that China’s last extended civil war, which did not spin to a complete stop until the murderous Mao Zedong departed and eventual successor Deng Xiaoping opened the country back up for business in the early 1980s, deposited China somewhere in the vicinity of rising America of the late 1800s – absent democracy, of course.
Putting aside all the cultural differences, traveling to China is like surveying – in real-time fashion – the past dozen decades of America’s social and economic history. It’s all there: from our 1890s robber baron capitalism to today’s high-tech post-industrialism, with a slew of social revolutions tossed in.
China’s next generation of leadership comes online over the next several years. Many of these guys got their college education right here in America a couple of decades ago. That formative experience may well turn out to be our country’s greatest contribution to China’s political evolution.