January 09, 2004

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Does anyone else find it strange that China, with a billion plus people and thousands of years of advanced civilisation, is only now becoming a world economic power; whereas the USA, a few hundred years old and with less than a quarter of China's population, is the world's dominant economy and political power.

It's just strange, you know.

posted by Simon on 01.09.04 at 11:20 AM in the


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this is the same "advanced civilisation" that believes things like chickens feet, civet cats and shark soup are good to eat? and that snake blood and tigers claws cure impotence? and snake soup prevents colds / sars, and that retreating from all "outside" connections / trade / interaction for 500 years is a good idea? and that sending lawyers / teachers / anyone with a brain out into the fields to harvest rice is a good step forward? chinese civilisation stopped progressing the moment they invented gunpowder. from then on it's been reverse the whole way. even the italians have mastered noodles better than most of china (except for Singapore Noodles obviously!).

posted by: english on 01.09.04 at 11:39 AM [permalink]

This came to my mind when I was watching one of those Chinese drama seriels set during the Manchu dynasty. It was mainly due to communism that closed up China to the rest of the world and even to it's own history. What kind of China would it be today if communism didn't reign?

But then again, there are many ancient civilisations such as Egypt and India also didn't become advance societies.

posted by: Melissa on 01.09.04 at 12:23 PM [permalink]

I have this strange personal theory that the new countries are destined to be more advanced because the individuals who were brave enough to go out and forge a new life in a new country are more forward thinking, less likely to be weighed down or held back by tradition and these people are the parents of a series of healthier (due to better living conditions) and more intelligent(??debatable) generations...just my 2c worth :) but I like throwing this at some poms when they start paying out the aussies :)

posted by: nisi on 01.09.04 at 12:33 PM [permalink]

There's a saying that 1000 geniuses can't retrieve a stone thrown into the middle of the sea by 1 idiot. (or something along those line).

China has had a problem with it's leadership for centuries. The setbacks they suffered just in the past 60 years due to political reasons would take a very long time to fix.
It is somewhat akin to Russia which is a huge country with abundance of natural resources and great human talents, but with the wrong idealogical leadership for most of the last century.

posted by: Eyal on 01.09.04 at 01:59 PM [permalink]

I’m an American. Let’s set the clock to 1715. The European colonists through bullets and disease pushed the native peoples back beyond the eastern mountains, have more arable land then they can work, have imported hundreds of thousands of African to work as slaves, and have a central government located a fast three months away.

Meanwhile, there’s China…

If they had gotten on their boats and populated the West Coast…

But they didn’t.

Not knocking all the brilliance that was the making of America, but what kind of f*cking chuckle heads would we have been to not be the dominant power on earth given the head start we got 400 years ago?

posted by: dave on 01.09.04 at 02:44 PM [permalink]


You are right. Americans would have to be chuckleheads not to have done well. But both China and Russia, as others have mentioned, have at least as many natural advantages and they had a head start on us!

And it is not that they have not advanced. China and much of the developing world, including the Middle East HAVE advanced over the last 300 years. Just not nearly as rapidly. Why? Adam Smith style capitalism and Founding Father style constitutional republicanism for at least the first 100 years after independence.

posted by: kennycan on 01.09.04 at 04:04 PM [permalink]

If we're measuring advancement as western capitalist / commercial standards.

Sometimes countries stumble or need to come to terms with western style civilisation on their own terms. Of course, corrupt opressive regimes hold back things as well.

If every country developed into a world / eceonmic power straight away, we'd have quite a problem on our hands. Whose going to make our cheap consumables then ?

posted by: Andrew on 01.09.04 at 07:36 PM [permalink]

You're assuming that countries want to become superpowers and that Americans are racially more advanced (something I think your first commenter would agree with no doubt).

Perhaps the desire to become a superpower is more in reaction to the fact that a world with only one superpower is not a good world to live in.

posted by: Bens on 01.09.04 at 07:41 PM [permalink]

Great comments. The idea for this came to me because I read a long time ago a book called Guns, Germs and Steel by someone Diamond. It talks about how Europeans basically ended up the dominant society (what we now called Western) due to fortunate climate, cultivation, disease and luck. I highly recommend a read.

What's certainly true is many "great" countries, e.g. China or India, have been hampered by poor leadership over a long period of time, more than any other factor. America and the West have managed to succeed at least in part because of their political systems. The proof is in the pudding: even China is slowly moving towards a more Western style economy, and from that flows political moves too. It is ineviatble.

posted by: Simon on 01.09.04 at 08:51 PM [permalink]

I think one very important advantage held by America over China, India, and Russia is that America is generally more accepting of societal change. The others mentioned have gone through long stretches where the society as a whole was introspective and not looking outward. Japan went through a long isolationist phase as well, but got kick-started out of it after WWII.

posted by: Ted on 01.10.04 at 03:39 AM [permalink]

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