Understanding China’s historic changes through informed empathy Commentary from the Web, Week 43, 2021

Understanding China’s historic changes through informed empathy

By Kaiser Kuo, SupChina, October 28, 2021

“So, even as President Biden frames this great global contest as one between democracy and authoritarianism, some Americans — and really they span the gamut from the progressive left to the very conservative right — openly praise and perhaps even pine after certain features of today’s archetypal authoritarian polity, China. Its seeming capacity for decisive action, for long-term planning, and for husbanding of resources to invest in durable infrastructure and human capacity. A perhaps enviable, certainly arguable, absence of this endless culture war that polarizes us and this partisan polarization with all of its hatreds, it seems to drain off American energy and American attention.

“The other version of China, though, is one that dominates the American imagination. In this version, China is the opposite number in nearly every respect to our self-conception as Americans. China is communitarian, where we are individualistic. It’s totalitarian, where we are free. It’s planned and top-down, where we believe ourselves to be spontaneous and bottom-up. It’s repressive and even genocidal in its treatment of its ethnic minorities, while we empower and celebrate ours.

“But to reduce China to simplistic binaries is utter folly. So, too, is viewing China through a single lens, the simplistic calculus of so-called realism, say just as an example, that one prominent American IR scholar insists upon in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, which I just read before this talk and which was just appallingly wrong and dangerous…..”

“Now, the fancy name for this kind of empathy is cognitive empathy, I generally prefer to call it “informed empathy.” And it doesn’t require us to abdicate our own values, not at all. Even if you insist on seeing China as an enemy or thinking of China as an enemy, surely, if you hope to prevail, you have to know how that enemy thinks. So, spend some time inside China’s head, come to an appreciation for why the mental furnishings are as they are. Really see how the world looks when you look out through those eyes and I’m confident that you will come away, maybe no longer thinking of China as the enemy. It does require us to know something about the other, as I’ve said. That takes real work, that not all of us have the luxury of the time to put in. What takes much less work though, is to learn to recognize when someone else has made that effort and does apply that informed empathy to her analysis of China. Those are the perspectives you should value….”

“We call this the Red New Deal, in part, because it has, sort of, an ostensible vision that seems to share many features with the Green New Deal. It wants to create jobs in cleantech, to remake the economy to be more sustainable and more fair. To emphasize the core industries of the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution. It is red, of course, because it will inevitably draw on the Party rhetoric, if not the actual ideology, in hopes of restoring some class consciousness and restoring dignity to the beleaguered working class.”