I’m reading proofs of my forthcoming book on the Chinese state, The Perfect Dictatorship. A theme running through it, I now see, is the tug-of-war between myth and fact. There has been too much hype about China, too much wishful thinking, too much boasting by the leaders, too much believing what is wanted to be believed.

Here are a couple of extracts:

“There is much we do not know and much of false information and propaganda swirling around. The observer’s guide must be skepticism, always skepticism.”

“This particular putting of China in perspective has been of consequence. It opened my eyes early on to two observations that have stayed at the back of my mind while working my way through this project. First, China’s achievements are big in quantity but small in quality. The numbers may be impressive, but much of the substance is shabby. Second, even in quantitative terms, what bedazzles is not growth as such, although observers often think it is, but bigness. China weighs more in the world than, for example, South Korea, not because it has outperformed South Korea, which it has not, but because it is so big.”

“Here is the basic truth about the Chinese model in all its glory, economically, politically and administratively: it is effective but not efficient. There has been growth, but only thanks to massive debt and excessive investment. There has been governance, but only thanks to massive and extractive bureaucracy. The machine delivers but is exceedingly expensive to run. It get results but only with monumental inputs that do not translate efficiently into outcomes.”


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