A more granular development narrative for the PRC

I’m reading a translated passage of French essayist and poet, Paul Valery, writing in 1897, and come across the following passage:

We see that Germany has become industrial and commercial just as she became military deliberately. We sense that she has spared no pains. If we wish to understand her new and far from imaginary greatness, we must conceive constant application, minute analysis of the sources of wealth, bold construction of the means of producing it, a rigorous survey of favored localities and serviceable roads and, above all, total obedience, the constant devotion to some simple, jealous, and formidable conception strategic in form, economic in aim, scientific in its deep preparation and in the extent of its application. Such is the over-all view of German operations. If we turn now to concrete evidence, the documents, the diplomatic reports, the official statistics, we can admire at our leisure the perfection of detail, having glimpsed the majesty of the broad outline, and appreciate how when everything knowable was known, when everything predictable had been predicted, when the formula for prosperity had been found an activity, insinuating or brutal (in turn), both world-wide and continuous, radiated from every part of Germany to every part of the world, bringing about the return of maximum wealth from every part of the world to every part of Germany.


And I immediately think: “That’s today’s storyline for China!”

–On initial reflection, I could say this is another remarkable example of Valery’s prescience. On second thought, it’s not so much prescience–even though he wrote early on about the imminent rise of Asia–as much as his analytic sensibility to think in terms of specifics and continue with that analysis at that level.

But what makes this different from prescience?

–Here’s my spin on extending a Valery-like sensibility–aka, Get more granular!–to today’s hegemonic narrative about the last decades of PRC economic development.

It’s not only we must focus on specific impacts of specific demographic trends, like those related to documented declining population levels on regional economies. It’s not just we should focus more on the recent economic debacles, like the COVID lockdown and massive housing glut and bankruptcies. It’s not just all the unreported but predictable lapses in major policy and management that come with the inevitable gap between doxa and really-existing practice.

It’s also the need to ferret out the data and information already there and highlight it. One from many examples will have to suffice. While China has indeed become a world leader in container shipping ports, it’s been estimated that four out of 10 containers returning to China from Europe are empty. That too we call an overcapacity problem

–Now if instead you think that also is part of the genius of party-state capitalism, go ahead. We expect nothing less from what are actually decline-and-stall narratives.



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