Holistic thinking for a stable China

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From Dr Alex Mackinnon.

Sir, The excellent recent analyses of China by FT correspondents (James Kynge and Gideon Rachman come quickly to mind) are insightful. But China thinks holistically, not analytically, with cognition emphasising connections, coincidence, correlation and trial-and-error dynamics. The west relies on Aristotelian logic but China progresses by Confucian relationships. Chinese culture retains its stability through protective networks (guanxi) controlling resources, and avoiding, where possible, external controls. We need the complex theories of Ostrom, not Keynes or Hayek, to understand China.

Thinking holistically, therefore, creates a new perspective. Dynamic historical patterns, not causal events, repeat themselves.

Recent research, by US mathematical historian Peter Turchin, categorises the structural-demographic variables leading to national instability. His six predictive “indicators” are labour oversupply; labour pricing; biological wellbeing and health; wealth inequality; intra-elite competition and conflict; and sociopolitical instability. When applied to China, these complex dynamics reflect very worrying negative trends. Poor economic data indicate labour oversupply; as well as recent cost increases; worries over pollution and health abound; inequality – as measured by the Gini coefficient – is well above most countries; internal feuding is high – exemplified by the Bo Xilai case; and riots and rebellions, whether in Wukan or western Xinjiang, are increasing.

The young adults of the one-child policy (balinghou and jiulinghou) may not recognise the Turchin categories but do recognise the indicator directions. They are also communicating rapidly through the social media developed in the west and adapted in China. Their extended relational networks and increased individualism are creating difficulties for Beijing. It is not economic policy (such as the 2030 targets agreed with the World Bank) that requires resolution but the social dynamics that re-create chaos and revolution. Shakespeare recognised these signs as they “forerun the death or fall of kings”. Only mandated holistic governance for the Chinese civilian, not splintered western democracy, offers true stability.

Alex Mackinnon, Dollar, Clackmannanshire, UK

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