China is also Hong Kong and Macao, both of which were still colonial possessions when I first visited in 1991. Hong Kong was ceded back to China by the British in 1997; Macao, by the Portuguese in 1999. Since that time, China has become the world’s second largest economy and is poised to become the largest sometime this century.
This shouldn’t surprise anyone as the Chinese have always been skilled at business and entrepreneurialism. Yes, the post-revolution era of Chairman Mao bogged that spirit down in the quicksand of ideology. But Mao’s passing marked the re-emergence of the entrepreneurial drive in China. Gradually, the communist government began allowing greater economic freedom while still keeping a boot on political freedom.
That seems to be China’s essential paradox, at least to our western sensibilities: freedom to acquire all the wealth you can, as long as you leave the politics to the central government. It’s a deal the Chinese people, for now at least, have been willing to make. (more…)