Western model not universal prescription for development

Source:Global Times Published: 2010-3-4 22:08:50

By Pan Wei

The "China model" concept has been much debated in recent years. The Western consensus is that China model means manipulated market mechanisms plus autocracy.

Some Chinese scholars also refuse to admit the existence of the China model, and regard China's reform as an unfinished "process" aiming at spreading market mechanisms and Westernizing China's political system.

As a result, almost all the problems in the past and at present are attributed to immature market mechanisms and flawed political systems that are not fully Westernized yet.

They worry that talking about the China model will "halt" reform. They are enthu-siastic about hyping problems like "the state advances while the people retreat" and worries about the sustainability of development. Some scholars propose that China should be reformed into a North European welfare society with a Western political system.

Since the May Fourth Movement in 1919, the mainstream of Chinese academia comprehensively neglected traditional systems and firmly advocated learning from the West, including the former Soviet Union, the US and Europe.

At the beginning of the 21st century, China's achievements surprised the world. Some thus began to ask how to explain China's success. Is China's rapid growth the result of "Westernization" or "its own way" of integrating Western models and its own situation?

But blind obsession with Western doctrines and neglect of actual situation can undoubtedly lead to setbacks and even failures. Both the Western and Chinese systems are evolving, but their key characteristics are still different from each other.

Social organizations in the West are based on individual classes or group of interests. These organizations consist a civil society independent from the government, and fight for social resources through partisan competition.

By contrast, the family is the basis of Chinese society. People are organized by units and communities.

Social network and government management intervene into each other at the grass-roots level and constitute a three-dimensional "country".

Western political parties practice electoral democracy and a system of checks-and-balances by separation of powers, to ensure the stability of partisan competition system.

China, on the other hand, upholds meritocrat principles, practices "people's democracy" with guidance from a united ruling group, and relies on a containing system by dividing labor to prevent errors.

The West practices a free market economy on the basis of private enterprises with shareholding system. China relies on its people and implements a guided market economy, including State-owned and private sectors that complement each other.


Unlike the system of the former Soviet Union, China's system is not ideologically opposed to the West, nor is it aimed at destroying it and running the world. Wouldn't it be great for Western and Chinese system to coexist, compete, learn from and complement with each other?

Since the 1600s, the West has dominated the world. The major means of seeking hegemony is the Western system and belief, which is "modern," "civilized" and "legitimate".

But no modern developing nation seems to have successfully copied the West.

People often argue that the system cannot be easily copied because it's too delicate and thus calls for constant learning and reforming. Therefore, they believe that the patient, instead of the prescription, is the cause of problems.

Some use difficulties emerging during China's accumulation of wealth as the evidence of the China model's "unsustainability." It seems as if all the problems can be solved through reform, like demolishing the Forbidden Palace and building a White House. Intellectuals are not patient at all.

They are devoted to absolute solutions, and attribute all the problems to deviation from the Western system. Those who seek generality always look at a model's flaws rather than possible solutions to problems.

They are not patient enough to find detailed solutions, and expect the "changes in system" to create a utopia without any problem. Therefore, when China is quite prosperous, many people are anxious to announce the end of the China model.

The author is a professor at the School of International Studies at Peking University. forum@ globaltimes.com.cn

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