Orville Schell on China: world’s most unresolved nation?


Richard Moore

This summary of Schell's talk, written by Stewart Brand, offers some 
very interesting observations regarding China today.  It's a brief 
report and I recommend it highly.

Left out of the discussion, however, is the role of the US in China's 
future. The US is now urgently preparing for nuclear confrontation 
with China (on a first-strike basis), while China is urgently 
preparing its 'asymmetric defense'.  This is never mentioned in the 
mainstream media, but is well known to US and Chinese strategic 
planners.  Just as Lebanon was practice for an attack on Iran, Iran 
will be practice for an attack on China. (Similarly, Grenada was 
practice for Panama, and Panama was practice for Desert Storm). New 
battle tactics and weapons systems (and accompanying propaganda 
techniques) need to be tested in the field, on relatively small 
adversaries, before being deployed in more challenging conflicts.

China's current drive toward ascendancy won't be allowed to play out 
according to its own dynamics, just as happened with Germany c. 1913 
(WW I) and Japan c. 1980. The report below refers to the reversal of 
Japan's ascendency, but does not note that this was due to 
intervention by Anglo-American bankers. We also had the same scenario 
with China itself, c. 1840, when China's economic ascendency was 
thwarted by British attack (the Opium War).

Imperialists don't sit idly by in the face of upstart threats.

all the best,

Date: Sat, 23 Sep 2006 19:23:14 -0700
From: Robert Bolman <>
Subject: Giant contradictions (Schell's China talk) Reported by Stewart Brand

This is a very interesting look at China.  It comes from a talk in 
the Bay Area by Orville Schell as reported by Stewart Brand.

---<forwarded message>---

"China is the most unresolved nation of consequence in the world," 
Orville Schell began.  It is defined by its massive contradictions. 
And by its massiveness--- China's population is estimated to be 1.25 
to 1.3 billion; the margin of error in the estimate is greater than 
the population of France.  It has 160 cities with a population over 
one million (the US has 49).  It has the world's largest standing 

No society in the world has more millennia in its history, and for 
most of that history China looked back.  Then in the 20th century the 
old dynastic cycles were replaced by one social cancellation after 
another until 1949, when Mao set the country toward the vast 
futuristic vision of Communism.  That "mad experiment" ended with 
Deng Xiaoping's effective counter-revolution in the 1980s, which 
unleashed a new totalistic belief, this time in the market.

So what you have now is a society sick of grand visions, in search of 
another way to be, focussed on the very near term.

These days you cannot think usefully about China and its potential 
futures without holding in your mind two utterly contradictory views 
of what is happening there.  On the one hand, a robust and awesomely 
growing China; on the other hand a brittle China, parts of it truly 

- Peaceful borders in all directions
- Economic, non-threatening engagement with the entire world, 
including with societies the US refuses to deal with
- 200 million Chinese raised out of poverty
- Private savings rate of 40 percent (it's 1 percent in the US)
- 300 million people with cell phones, and the best cell phone 
service in the world
- A superb freeway system built almost overnight
- New building construction everywhere, and some of it is brilliant
- 150 million people online
- 350,000 engineering graduates a year
- One-third of the world's direct investment
- Huge trade surplus
- And an/ economic growth rate of 9 to 12 percent a year/!  For decades.

but also...

- Not much arable land, so a growing dependence on imported food
- Two-thirds of energy production is from dirty coal, by dirty 
methods, growing at the rate of 1-2 new coal-fired plants per week
- 30 percent of China has acid rain; 75 percent of lakes are polluted 
and rivers are polluted or pumped dry
- Of the 20 most polluted cities in the world, 16 are in China; you 
don't see the sun any more
- Some industrial parts of China are barren, hellish wastes
- Driven by environmental horrors and by widespread corruption, there 
were 87,000 instances of social unrest last year, going up every year
- The population is aging rapidly, with no pension or welfare, and a 
broken healthcare system
- The stock markets are grossly manipulated
- Public and official amnesia about historical legacies such as 
Tiananmen Square in 1989

How can such contradictions be reconciled?  The best everyone can 
hope for is steady piecemeal change.  For the Chinese the 
contradictions don't really bite so long as they have continued 
economic growth to focus on and to absorb some of the problems.  But 
what happens when there's a break in that growth?  It could come from 
inside China or from outside (such as a disruption in the US economy).

It's hard to look at the China boom now without thinking about the 
Japan boom in the 1970s and '80s, remembering how everyone knew the 
Japanese were going to dominate the US and world economy, and we all 
had to study Japanese methods to learn how to compete.  Then that 
went away, and it hasn't come back.

The leadership of China is highly aware of the environmental problems 
and is enlightened and ambitious about green solutions, but that 
attitude does not yet extend beyond the leadership, and until it 
does, not much can happen.

That's China:  huge, consequential for everybody, and profoundly unresolved.

                                        --Stewart Brand
Stewart Brand -- •••@••.•••
The Long Now Foundation - http://www.longnow.org
Seminars & downloads: http://www.longnow.org/projects/seminars/

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