WSJ video shows Chinese students abroad don’t return home with Western democracy

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It has long been a puzzle why so many mainland Chinese students, after a number of years of living and studying in the Western countries, do not push for democratization after they have returned home.

Some scholars even suggested that perhaps there were Chinese spies everywhere watching these students here and there overseas.

In the early 1990s many Chinese students sought to settle in the West after finishing their studies. However, since the 2000s, these type of emigrants did not increase while the number of mainlanders studying abroad rocketed high. For example, the enrollment figure in the U.S. jumped from below 30,000 in the 1980s to 68,000 in 2007 and then 304,040 in 2015. Some of them admired the freedom in the West, yet the vast majority returned home with a strong will to make contributions to the growth of China under the CCP leadership.

Now, the Wall Street Journal offers an answer to the puzzle via a video clip “China’s New Nationalists” with English subtitle. Li Xiapeng, a man born in 1982 in a very remote town in the southwest of China, thinks his experiences and the way he changed his views are very representative of his generation:

[1] When he was studying at the university in Beijing, he and his peers thought the West was good and the Chinese system was bad — tyrannical, one-party dictatorship.

[2] When pursuing his study in Economics at Cambridge UK and Harvard USA, he gained direct knowledge of the reality in the West.

[3] Then, he discovered that Western democracy may not be good for China. One of the reasons he quotes, which shares with my view, is that “Chinese politicians start their career from the ground level and have to work their way up. It’s not like the US, where politicians are elected and often lack practical experience.” He is of the belief that this selection system is superior to democracy.

He is not alone with this view. A Foreign Policy Magazine survey of mainland Chinese students in the U.S. in 2015 reported that “the lion’s share of the respondents expressed cautious approval for an official rejection of Western ideology. Most admitted to a general admiration for Western thought but said they believed such ideas were simply inappropriate for China.” Furthermore, “surprisingly, a number (of them) expressed that their time in the U.S. had changed their mind — from opposing the Chinese government’s position to supporting it.”

I repeat: the meritocratic rotational power succession in China [Note 1] is the root for China’s stable and rapid growth on all fronts. So long as it can work effectively in China, it makes this nation no weaker than the democratic West. Be alert: something similar is working in Iran, too.

[Note 1]
China Daily Mail: Keith K C Hui, “China’s rotational political succession system”, Aug 24, 2013.

The opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of China Daily Mail.

Tony Simon

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