“Hong Kong became rich on the small government, laissez-faire, rule-of-law-not-men principles of its late colonial administrators. It has remained rich because, by comparison to mainland China, it remains relatively free and uncorrupt. Hong Kong is what China could be if it weren’t, well, China – if state intervention were minimal; if government weren’t a vehicle for self-enrichment; if people could worship, write, exercise and associate just as they please…

…That’s what’s been at stake in the past week of mass protests: The people of Hong Kong have come out in force because they know what China is. Yes, they value their territory’s political autonomy, its traditions and idiosyncrasies. Yet they would not be lying in the streets, enduring thunderstorms and tear gas, if Beijing were offering them a better deal—better governance, bigger markets, greater wealth, wider possibility….. Don’t make us like the rest of China,” is an implicit theme of the movement. It comes from people who understand that what is hailed in the West as “the China dream” is a hoax. Dreaming is the essential freedom: There can be no true dreaming when the state regulates the sorts of dreams its people may have. Where the real dream lies is in the minds of China’s cheerleaders in the West.”, Bret Stephens, “Hong Kong Pops the China Bubble”, Wall Street Journal

Global View

Hong Kong Pops the China Bubble

The protesters know that what’s hailed in the West as ‘the China dream’ is a hoax.

Protesters outside the central government offices in Hong Kong, Oct. 7. Brent Lewin/Bloomberg News

By Bret Stephens

Whatever comes next with the demonstrations in Hong Kong, they’ve already performed a historic service. To wit, they remind us of the silliness of the China infatuation so prevalent among pundits and intellectuals who don’t live in China.

That’s the central lesson of “Occupy Central With Love and Peace”—a movement that, morally speaking, is to its Wall Street namesake roughly what Václav Havel was to Abbie Hoffman. The student-led protests, which have demanded that Beijing honor its promises to allow democratic elections for Hong Kong’s chief executive, represent the ideal future of modern China: principled and well-educated, pragmatic and worldly. And what this potential Chinese future has been saying emphatically for the past week is that it wants no part of China’s dismal present.

That might come as news to the legion of China boosters who have been insisting for years that the 21st century belongs to the Middle Kingdom, and that the sooner we get used to it the better off we all will be. These are the people for whom a visit to Shanghai’s skyscraper-rich Pudong district, or a glance at official Chinese economic statistics, or a ride on one of China’s bullet trains, is enough to convince them that the West has had its day.

If only we could be “China for one day,” so that democratic partisanship didn’t stand in the way of enlightened governance— wouldn’t that solve everything?

Don’t tell that to the people of Hong Kong, who have learned the hard way that, except when pressured, Beijing honors no promises, countenances no dissent and contemplates no future in which the Communist Party’s grip on power can be loosened even slightly. Hong Kong became rich on the small government, laissez-faire, rule-of-law-not-men principles of its late colonial administrators. It has remained rich because, by comparison to mainland China, it remains relatively free and uncorrupt. Hong Kong is what China could be if it weren’t, well, China—if state intervention were minimal; if government weren’t a vehicle for self-enrichment; if people could worship, write, exercise and associate just as they please.

That’s what’s been at stake in the past week of mass protests: The people of Hong Kong have come out in force because they know what China is. Yes, they value their territory’s political autonomy, its traditions and idiosyncrasies. Yet they would not be lying in the streets, enduring thunderstorms and tear gas, if Beijing were offering them a better deal—better governance, bigger markets, greater wealth, wider possibility.

It’s not. There’s a reason why the elite of the Chinese mainland are often looking for the exits. The daughter of Supreme Leader Xi Jinping enrolled at Harvard under a pseudonym, as did the grandson of former leader Jiang Zemin . Other wealthy Chinese vie for jobs at U.S. investment banks, apartments on Manhattan’s 57th street, passports from Canada, green cards from the U.S. Chinese entrepreneurs account for three-quarters of the EB-5 U.S. visas—green cards for foreigners willing to put $1 million down.

“While the [Communist] party touts the economic success of the ‘Chinese model,’ many of its poster children are headed for the exits,” reported the Journal’s Jeremy Page in 2012. “They are in search of things money can’t buy in China: Cleaner air, safer food, better education for their children. Some also express concern about government corruption and the safety of their assets.”

These are the people for whom every conceivable door in China is already open. What about the nonelite? What about the people who don’t have a politically connected relative, or can’t afford to bribe a party official for a contract or a doctor for a medical procedure, or lack the funds to leave the country, or simply intend to pursue an honest calling in life, and do so honestly?

These are the people for whom the demonstrators in Hong Kong were also marching. “Don’t make us like the rest of China,” is an implicit theme of the movement. It comes from people who understand that what is hailed in the West as “the China dream” is a hoax. Dreaming is the essential freedom: There can be no true dreaming when the state regulates the sorts of dreams its people may have.

Where the real dream lies is in the minds of China’s cheerleaders in the West. These are people with the souls of technocrats. They look to Beijing now—as they did to Moscow in the 1960s—as a model of government in which wisdom comes from the top, national energies are put in the service of gigantic projects, and autocratic consensus replaces democratic fissiparousness. They seek life (and politics) without contradictions. Five or 10 years from now, when the China bubble has burst, they’ll be making a fetish of some other promising technocracy.

Meanwhile, pay attention to the people of Hong Kong. They have reminded us again that China is a dream only to credulous columnists, and that the lamp of the West still shines brightly in Asia.

Posted on October 7, 2014, in Postings. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: