A classic futurist scenario-based extrapolation of current trends across the event horizon, but it doesn’t really compel. Micheal Lee spins three scenarios, based on factors in the footnotes, but it’s all so top-down and disconnected to outside influences:
Michael Lee, Too Big to Succeed? Three China Scenarios to 2050
The fate of the 21st century is literally tied up with which future emerges for China between now and mid-century.
In the Runaway Train Future, China, obsessed with economic growth at all costs, and caught indecisively between the trajectories of evolving into a great civilisation or going deeper into a totalitarian nationalistic state, irretrievably damages its environment and the trust of its population leading to ecological and social collapse. In this scenario, China will self-implode, breaking down under its own weight and complexity. The Chinese Communist party would be unable to govern effectively following loss of control over the environment and its vast and diverse population.
Can the current system – the state, the CCP, the private sector and the environment– continue to support the growing economy and provide for the changing needs of the rapidly urbanising population in the midst of increased complexity?
If China’s consumption leads to the economy and industry outstripping the country’s carrying capacity – then its systems of order will collapse in an overshoot scenario.
In the Juggernaut Future, China becomes increasingly authoritarian, nationalistic and militarised, mercilessly crushing all domestic and international opposition in its rise to become an imperialistic global power. This scenario would radically destabilise geo-politics and would lead eventually to a Chinese Revolution and the violent overthrow of the Chinese Communist state. East Asia would become a fierce battleground, globalisation would unravel and loss of life through World War 3 would surely exceed that of World War 2.
Will the CCP complete the political reform process it has initiated and introduce the rule of law, political freedom and constitutional protection, or will the party back-track and revert to totalitarianism and excessive nationalism? Will the power of nationalism prove to be an intoxicating and fatal temptation to the CCP for holding on to power, playing on the sense of historic humiliation still very much present in the Chinese collective psyche? Will the need for resources outside China, from food to energy, lead to a more aggressive foreign policy?
If China seeks to manage its complexity through a repressive authoritarian one-party system, a growing disconnect between the state and the urban population, with its improved education, internet access and increased wealth, will develop. This path would lead eventually to a Chinese Revolution, with China turning in on itself to produce mass disturbances and eventual civil war.
In the Xanadu Future, China evolves into a modern Middle Kingdom civilisation after centuries of historic humiliation. In this scenario, China establishes a new political system enshrining the rule of law and the core values of freedom, emancipating Chinese women, its religious population, and its labour force within this current generation. Chinese civilisation would be a global powerhouse of education, science, technology and innovation. China would once again become a world of wonders as it was for Marco Polo on his 13th century travels to Asia. The world would admire China, as a model of progress, much more than it ever feared it. This Xanadu Future would keep China in a strong position for centuries, not just for decades.
But will China prize its civilisation more highly than its own global power and growing wealth? Will the expanded role of the Chinese intelligentsia shift the nation decisively towards political reform, especially as the power of education becomes linked to greater freedom and equality? Will a long-term and historic vision prevail over short-term emotional needs for nationalistic assertion and military expansion?
If China embraces the values of Confucius at the level of the state, seeking to create a modern, sustainable, devolved and free Chinese civilisation, it will have a positive impact on world progress and ensure its own long-term survival.
The good news is that the groundwork for the creation of a great Chinese civilisation is already in place. In the philosophy of Confucius (551-479 bc), the pragmatic and benevolent values of a society are ingrained in rules of social conduct and personal discipline. It has been said that to be Chinese is to know how to behave in all circumstances.
China also has 2,000 years of history to draw on (in futurological terms, it has a “memory” of its Xanadu future). China has been called a civilisation trying to be a nation-state.
Finally feels like the outcome of a workshop that ignored the outside world, and treats China as completely self-defined.
A better approach? Instead of playing what-if scenario games, consider an object — for example, a tourist guide to Beijing for Westerners, written in English — and develop three versions of it that reflect the hypothetical Chinas, and how an outsider of those three future worlds would perceive it. Because, if there are three Chinas, there are three Americas — and three Earths — as well. The various form factors might be very different, to reflect what’s what in these very different worlds.
- One would be made of cheap paper, dog-eared, and much used, taken from a library, from a dystopic future, where China and other major countries have exhausted resources, and we are living on mining the tailings and dumps for metal.
- Another might be a shiny app, running on a obligatory and dedicated super cool tablet, pushing ads all the time: state capitalism gone wired in a ‘China-becomes-Singapore’ story.
- And the third would be a distributed torrent of advice and recommendations from friends, connections, and friends of friends, streaming in real-time, often anonymous, in a time of great turmoil and confusion: the China Spring.
I am planning to use this as a technique to explore various alternative Europes based on what might happen to the euro, as well. Stay tuned.