Today, China has attained a level of prosperity and stability not seen since 1840. It has the best governing system to date, and compared to other major countries in the world, is the best-performing in terms of development. These facts lay the foundation for the Party’s spiritual guidelines as highlighted during the 18th Party Congress: ‘confidence in our road, our theory, and our system.’

[h4] A Time of Confidence: China is the Future[/h4]

Today, China has attained a level of prosperity and stability not seen since 1840. It has the best governing system to date, and compared to other major countries in the world, is the best-performing in terms of development. These facts lay the foundation for the Party’s spiritual guidelines as highlighted during the 18th Party Congress: ‘confidence in our road, our theory, and our system.’

A Horizontal Analysis Since 1840

The year 1840 marks a turning point in Chinese history. China, the former “central empire”, was forced into a global system dominated by Western imperial powers. Both the Qing Dynasty and the Republic of China that followed tried but failed to rescue China from the lowest point in the country’s long, renowned history by adjusting to this new historical reality. However, the entire Chinese nation deteriorated to the point that threat of national implosion was imminent.

China signed 1,175 treaties with other nations after the 1840 Opium War, most of which were unequal,These treaties involved ceding of territories, war reparations,  stationing of foreign troops, tariffs, and judicial rights. Imperial forces from around the world bullied and humiliated China, carving up China among themselves with no regard to the feeble Qing government’s sovereignty.

The Qing government’s submission to these unfair treaties led to the unequal treatment of the Chinese people, an example of which is the Chinese Exclusion Act pass by the U.S. Congress in 1882 which discriminated against Chinese immigrants. However, China managed to remain a nominally sovereign and independent nation under the Qing government, with intermittent periods of peace between incessant wars and domestic unrest.

The Republic of China, on the other hand, fared even worse. Its 37 years (1912-1949) of rule brought China neither independence nor unity, not to mention the widespread poverty and loss of dignity that continued during this period. The financial system broke down, warlords continued fighting, civil wars and foreign invasions continued, and corruption was rampant. The Republic of China not only failed to solve any of the challenges left behind by the Qing Dynasty—extreme poverty, foreign invasion and threats, division of the nation and dominance of the military by warlords—it aggravated them.

In the first years of the Republic of China, China was presented with three paths for its future: First, to follow Yuan Shih-kai’s autocratic monarchy; second, to pursue Liang Qichao’s constitutional monarchy; and third, to take on Sun Yat-sun’s revolutionary path. However, none of the three leaders managed to realize their visions, and China lingered on in a dead end.

China’s inferior status improved little even after becoming a victor in World Wars I & II. When World War II ended, the three allied powers—the United States, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom—continued to infringe on China’s sovereignty to the extent that all three countries had a military presence in China and enjoyed extraterritoriality.

It was the People’s Republic of China, established in 1949 by the Chinese Communist Party, that finally rescued China from its impoverished and feeble past, reestablishing China’s long-lost independence for the first time since 1840.

China in the Past Sixty Years

The People’s Republic of China has existed for over sixty years. From a historical perspective, today’s China has already transcended both the Han and Tang Dynasties. A horizontal comparison between China and the other two Asian powers—Japan and India—further illustrates the advances China has made.

Japan completed industrialization before World War II and became one of the five major powers in the world. It was able to retain its advantages in both technology and human resource despite its devastating defeat. Moreover, the country enjoyed huge peace dividends under American military protection and preferential terms of trade from the United States due to the Cold War. During the 60 years following the war, Japan was able to develop free of wars and civil unrests.

However, Japan now finds itself in a severe debt crisis and is experiencing political chaos. It has undergone several cabinet reshuffles and virtually lost the ability to govern. The 2011 nuclear meltdown also found the then prime minister Naoto Kan unable to deal with the crisis, leaving the refugees unattended months after the disaster. Furthermore, the current prime minister Yoshihiko Noda recently had the political insensibility to challenge China’s sovereignty by nationalizing the Diaoyu Islands.

India, on the other hand, became an independent country in 1947 and inherited British democracy, the rule of law, a constitutional system and the English language. The country lagged behind China even after the latter experienced ten mournful years during the Cultural Revolution, a gap that inceased exponentially after China’s reform and opening up began in 1978. Today, compared with China, India is more populated, less urbanized and less regulated in terms of public hygiene. India also has higher child mortality rates and widespread hunger. Moreover, both Japan and India lag behind China in terms of gender equality.

As for the United States, it is now struggling with the worst financial crisis ever experienced since the 1930s, with the amount of its foreign debt weighing more than 160 trillion dollars. Many medium-sized and small cities went bankrupt during the crisis, and even some state governments almost went broke. Since 1960, the US has raised its debt ceiling 78 times, averaging almost twice a year. The so-called debt ceiling has long been defunct.

During the twenty years since the Cold War, the United States has committed a series of strategic mistakes, squandering its soft and hard power. Domestically, the U.S. has suffered from the Internet bubble, the real estate bubble and the subprime crisis. Internationally, it has made one strategic mistake after another by waging wars overseas. Such a state poses a stark contrast with China, which has been making advances in leaps and bounds over the same period. The U.S. has lost its former crown to China as the world’s largest manufacturer (the first time this has happened since it surpassed the U.K. a hundred years ago), largest automobile market, and the country with the most patent applications. China has also overtaken the U.S. in terms of contribution to global economy, accounting for 50 percent of the economic growth in 2009.

One can interpret the American political system from many angles, although some comments by former U.S. president Jimmy Carter are quite thought-provoking. At the International Economic and Financial Conference held in Sanya in 2012, Carter expressed his malcontent with the anti-China rhetoric while acknowledging that they are simply part of the American political life.

While Carter’s comments concern only certain phenomena, others in the U.S. have taken a critical stance on the American democracy itself. Conservative commentator David Brooks made the following comments in the New York Times: people today have unlimited faith in the notion of democracy without realizing that the founding fathers of this country talked very little about democracy itself and built the nation on republican principles. The main difference between democracy and republicanism is that democracy places unlimited faith in the character and judgement of the people whereas the believers in a republic are highly suspicious of the character and judgment of the people and erect institutions and barriers to contain the potential damage the fickle human nature can cause.

In contrast to the United States’ focus on liberal corporatism, Europe follows a welfare-oriented model characterized by a gigantic bureaucracy, an increasingly burdensome income redistribution system (through taxation), and government control over enterprises. However, such a model has also become unsustainable in face of the global economic crisis. An example is the debt-stricken Greece which has seen its  unemployment skyrocket, living standards deteriorate, and suicide rate rise to an all-time high.

In the face of the unprecedented challenges posed by the economic crisis, the West has failed to come up with a clear and focused blueprint for reforms, nor has it seen forceful leaders like Margaret Thatcher or Ronald Reagan in the 1980s arise to push through far-reaching reforms. The societies remain in a chaotic and lost state, undermining the Western elites’ confidence in their political and economic system.

Characteristics of the China Model

The West has repeatedly questioned the sustainability of the China model throughout its course of development. Whether China’s rise to power can be sustained under its current model can only be verified by history. Meanwhile, the current crisis has already demonstrated that the Western model cannot be sustained and is in dire need for comprehensive and far-reaching reform.

A look at history leads us to the conclusion that the current system is not only the most successful one for China in the past century, it is also the best-performing system the world has seen in the past 60 years. How should one interpret the Chinese system?

Since the founding of the People’s Republic, China has developed, through a series of political reforms, a model with Chinese characteristics in terms of power transfer and checks-and-balances. These characteristics stand in stark contrast to the troubled West and turbulent Arab world, which is currently undergoing revolutions. The West regularly rotates both its leaders and political parties, whereas China only changes its leaders without changing the party. The Arab societies change neither. So far, the Chinese system has been the best performing for it is a flexible system with a high degree of continuity, whereas both the Western and the Arab systems sacrifice one at the expense of the other. The need for political reform in both the West and the Arab world is pressing, whereas China is undertaking the reforms more as a precautionary measure.

China’s current system is the result of a series of lasting, internally-generated evolutions based on Chinese cultural and political traditions. Take power transfer as an example, the transfer of leadership in China resembles the ancient practice of emperors abdicating and giving the crown to a designated successor, while breaking free from the limits of lifelong tenures. China inherited its political tradition by “recognizing the Party’s rule, selecting the leaders from all over the country, and cultivating them over a long period of time”, institutionally innovated by ‘setting limit on the leaders’ age and tenure’, and borrowed from the West in regularly replacing leaders. Such system allows China to draft out long-term strategic plans under the leadership of one party and select the most talented politicians at a low cost through nationwide selection and cultivation, while regular transfer of leadership introduces new blood and prevents the rise of a strongman.

China is the driving engine for the world economy, it has imported $750 billion worth of goods every year since joining the WTO, and it has written off huge amounts of debt owed by Third World countries while providing large sums of economic aid. However, in the eyes of the Chinese, China’s principal contribution to the world is that it has demonstrated a new and successful model of development. No wonder Thomas L. Friedman, the New York Times columnist sighed with concern: “I was very relunctant to tell my daughter that she must go to China to see the future.”

Apparently, just as Western elites are starting to lose faith, China is welcoming its own age of confidence.










中华民国时代是一个既没有带给中国独立,也没有带来统一,更没有带来富强与尊严的时代。在其短短的37年间,经济陷入破产,军阀混战,大规模的内战,外敌入侵,国土分裂,从上到下的完全腐败,等到它退出历史舞台的时候,中国几乎到了“蛮荒亡国”的地步:人均寿命不足35 岁,文盲高达80%。中国几千年唯一一次落后于印度就在此时。清末中国面临的三大挑战:极端的贫困和积弱不振、列强环伺的生存危机、国家的分裂和军队的军阀化,中华民国不但一个挑战都没有解决,反而更加恶化。

在民国初年,中国有三条道路选择。一是旧体制内的新人物袁世凯选择走向帝制。二是代表体制外民间力量的梁启超主张君主立宪。 三是孙中山主张继续革命。然而,一番博弈下来,袁世凯固然称帝失败,横死而身败名裂。梁启超心仪的开明专制——君主立宪也同样没有实现。至于一向主张革命的孙中山,也仍然一败涂地,抱憾离世。中华民国堪称中国历史上少有的所有博弈者全盘皆输的历史阶段:帝制的失败并不意味着共和的胜利,而是无一胜者,从而使中国陷入绝境和死路。《剑桥中华民国史》总结道:“自由主义政治和独裁——似乎彼此促成了各自的灭亡”。

对民国,当时记者黄远庸(笔名远生,有“民国第一名记”之称)曾有如下评论:“一国受人欺凌至此,吾人真乃生不如死。” 中华民国时期最著名的商人、身体力行实业救国的张謇(他曾被票选为民众“最敬仰人物“)1926年临死有如下遗言:“不幸而生中国,不幸而生今之时代”。








但就是这样一个国家,在20年后的今天,它的债务占GDP的比重全球第一,高达225%——其政府预算中的一半要靠借债!2012年经济再度出现负增长,国民储蓄率(家庭储蓄在家庭可支配收入中所占比例)竟然连续5年仅为一向没有储蓄传统的美国的一半!与经济失去的20年相对应的,则是日本政治上混乱的20年。上世纪90年代日本出现了7任首相、9个内阁——这其中还发生了6次内阁改组。这期间最短命的羽田内阁仅存在了两个月零两天。21世纪头12年,更出现8个首相,11个内阁——这其中还有10次内阁改组。最短命的小泉第三内阁仅维持了一个月零十天(另一个短命的森喜朗内阁仅持续了三个月),实际已经丧失了治理国家的能力。这也是为什么鸠山上台后竟然异想天开地“疏美亲中”、 2011年日本发生百年一遇地震和海啸,时任首相的菅直人虽然无能还亲自指挥,结果导致核电站爆炸而在下台后被检方起诉!灾难过去几个月了,灾民还得不到安置,处于生活无着的状态。野田佳彦上台后竟然在主权问题上向中国挑衅(国有化钓鱼岛)。一个经济上20年无法摆脱困境、政治上20年持续混乱的制度,算是一种什么制度呢?


尽管印度拥有全球最多的耕地,但根据国际食品政策研究所2011年全球饥饿指数(2011 Global Hunger Index)显示,印度在81个国家中排名第67位(中国是第4位)——后33位被指饥饿是最主要的威胁,有两亿人的食品安全得不到保障,是世界上饥饿人数最多的国家。(全球饥饿指数根据一个国家营养不良人口的百分比,五岁以下体重过轻儿童的比例以及五岁以下儿童的死亡率等指标来衡量饥饿程度。)2012年1月,印度总理辛格将印度的营养不良问题称为国家的耻辱,因之前的一项调查显示,印度有42%的儿童体重过轻。

日本和印度,还有一个共性,即严重的社会不平等。 根据世界经济论坛在瑞士发表的2012年全球性别报告,日本和印度男女不平等程度在135个国家中分别名列第101名和105名,远远低于众多非洲国家、中东国家。中国是第69名,名列亚洲最佳五强行列(该指数都分列各洲前五名国家),优于欧洲的意大利、捷克、斯洛伐克、希腊和匈牙利等国。

最近,印度首都新德里一起强奸案引发全国愤怒和抗议浪潮,就是对女性长期所受歧视不满的总爆发。根据路透社的调查,对女性而言,印度是全球危险程度第四高的国家,比索马里还要糟,略好于战乱不断的阿富汗。新德里更是以“强奸之都”而恶名远扬。印度除了严重的男女不平等,还有更触目惊心的种姓制度。目前印度低种姓超过全国人口的一半,也就是说一半以上的群体遭遇到全方位的歧视,再加上广大受歧视的妇女,这等于是说在印度,绝大多数公民是二等公民 。










类似于今天西方经济危机的考验,自中国崛起以来已经几乎成为常态。上世纪80年代,是拉美经济危机,90年代先是日本经济泡沫崩溃,再是东南亚经济危机和俄罗斯经济危机。 但中国大陆不但没有发生类似的危机,而且顶住了各种危机的冲击,进而又不得不担负起克服危机的区域或全球性责任。今天的中国,被称为金砖国家,但在五大金砖国家中,中国GDP的总量是其他四国总和的两倍还要多(广东一省GDP2008年就超过南非,和荷兰不相上下),全球竞争力更是以名列第29位而远远把另外四国抛在身后(巴西排名第48,南非排名第52,印度排名第59,俄罗斯排名第67)。反腐败问题,中国在人口过亿的发展中国家中,也是表现最好的。根据透明国际2011年排名:巴西73位,中国75位,印度95位,印尼100位,墨西哥100位,孟加拉国120位,巴基斯坦134位,尼日利亚143位,俄罗斯143位。




中国今天的制度是在其政治和文化传统的基础上长期、内生性演变的结果。以领导权力的更替为例。中国最高权力的更替一方面具有传统的“禅让”色彩,但又打破古代“禅 让”终身制的局限,实行的是一党领导、全国选拔、长期培养、年龄限制、定期更替。这其中“一党领导、全国选拔、长期培养”是对传统政治文化的继承,“年龄限制”则是中国独创,“定期更替”则是对西方的借鉴。这种模式基本综合了西方和阿拉伯世界制度的优点,而避免其缺点。一党领导,可以避免委托代理风险、制订长期的发展战略,全国选拔和长期的培养可以在产生成本不高的前提下尽最大可能选出最优秀的人才,可以避免民主制度的政治平庸化,定期更替则可以带来新的血液,更避免政治强人的出现。




The original Chinese article was written by Luzheng Song

Translated by Xiaoyuan Li. Xiaoyuan is a volunteer for the China Program at The Carter Center.

Photo: Yu Yuan Area, China. From

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