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In the Jaws of the Dragon


mirgcire

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Has anyone read this book by Eamonn Fingleton? I am on page 45 and although the author's main theme is credible, his approach to the subject makes me a little skeptical.

The main theme that I am picking up is summed up in one sentence "authoritarian Confucianism almost effortlessly out performs Western capitalism". I don't quarrel with this point, nor do I quarrel with his assertion: "The Washington establishment is betting that a rich China will be a free one. .. Moreover, the very process of China's enrichment is supposedly serving to undermine the Beijing government's authoritarianism."

What makes me skeptical is that, while making his points, he attempts to undermine the credibility of anyone who has anything to do with China. According to him, Beijing controls our sources of information (scholars, journalists, authors, etc) about china through a combination of carrots and sticks . For example he discusses china scholars as a group saying "many of them quickly come to expect a level of 'chop-chop' service on their visits that, in other parts of the world, is reserved for film stars and royalty". Of foreign correspondents, "Any aspect of Chinese reality that jars with the media's globalist background music tends to be downplayed or misrepresented." Very few of his claims are substantiated and rarely cites other sources.

In terms of content, I find one of his claims particularly unsettling: that Confucian values provide a moral justification for lying and deception that western politicians, scholars, business people and journalists never even suspect. The basis of this is the Confucian emphasis on the group - and no matter how you cut it, westerner's are always outside of the group that one must treat with sincerity. To sum it up "More than probably anywhere else in the world, East Asia is culturally equipped to make good use of American gullibility. For anyone who wants to understand how the East Asian system is changing the world, the beginning of knowledge is to understand the Confucian truth ethic."

It is not that I beleive East Asian politicians and business people always tell the truth. Rather, I assume all politicians and business people will say whatever they think will bring them the most power or money. And I expect any competent negotiator to have the same assumptions.

If the author is credible, I find the book disturbing because is seems to ring true on a number of points and the logical conclusion is that it will not be long before the greatest super power on earth is an authoritarian regime with an intolerance for free speech and distinct lack of concern for truth and human rights. I haven't gotten very far in the book, but I am not expecting any plot twists.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Ok, since I haven't been able to read the book, I went to amazon and read some reviews, I will comment on this one since it is more complete:

Eamonn Fingleton has more than twenty years of experience on the ground in Asia and he has brought his wealth of knowledge about the region to his latest book, In the Jaws of the Dragon. Far from integrating smoothly into a democratic capitalist world order, China, Japan and other Asian countries are going their own way with their own economic and political model - with authoritarianism and bureaucratic control of the economy and the general population a centerpiece.

This ignores something that should be obvious: Japan is a democracy.

Apologists for globalization like Thomas Friedman write from 30,000 feet and conclude all is well in the new flat world, but on the ground Fingleton makes clear in this book that China is following in the footsteps of Japan (with the aid of the Japanese, in fact, directly for "reformer" Deng Xiaoping's rise to power) towards a new form of capitalism that is on a collision path with the west. American readers will be surprised and should be concerned about Fingleton's detailed discussion of the long standing and very close relationship between Japan and China. We are seeing the emergence on a world scale of a major competitor and possible rival for global leadership in East Asia.

Close relationship between Japan and China? To some degree this is true from a business perspective since Japan is a major source of foreign investment, but this blatantly ignores another obvious political reality: Japan and China have a very frosty political relationship, mostly because of Japan's inability to own up to it's history.

Particularly interesting to me in In the Jaws of the Dragon is Fingleton's discussion of the state's suppression of consumption in order to accumulate capital wealth controlled by the government. China, for example, recently renewed its "one child per family" policy - an ultimate form of suppression of consumption. Similarly, the Chinese regime continues to outlaw the formation of genuine trade unions and the right to strike which leads to artificially low wages.

Suppression of consumption? This makes no sense, the government in recent years has been trying to shift more and more of China's growth towards domestic consumption instead of exports. The one child policy is hardly a "policy to suppress consumption", but rather a sadly necessary measure to stop a population explosion from getting more out of control than it already was. The banning of independant trade unions is really more of a result of paranoia about their potential political clout than an economic issue. Just this year there was a new labor law that was passed that forces employers to provide contracts to their employees, if the contract is broken then the employee can take the employer to court.

While some in policy circles argue that China's admission into the WTO heralds an era of openness to western investment, Fingleton argues that this is not the case. My own research on the reform of state owned enterprises, like PetroChina, confirms this view. The goal of the regime, in my view, is to navigate an evolution to a more competitive economy but not a democratic society. The party shows no sign of giving up control and the variety of measures it uses to control access to its markets reinforces this approach.

Petrochina is an SOE, but it is also one that deals with a critical strategic natural resource and as I recall the US government did much the same thing with (albiet a privately owned company) UNOCAL a few years ago on "national security" grounds. It is true that the government does direct foreign investment to a degree, but as the review correctly states it is to allow the country to evolve a more competitive economy. Which benefits china more: a semiconductor fabrication facility or a toilet seat factory? It doesn't seem like an unreasonable thing to do. As for evolving towards a more democratic society.......while it probably is not going to, it is unwise to underestimate the influence of western culture and philosophy on China, particularly the young generation. Just keep that in mind.

I realize this is effectively just a review of a review as I have no opportunity to read the book at the moment, many of the claims the author of the review derives from the book just don't jive with reality.

Now to really blow a hole in Eamonn Fingleton's overall credibility I did a search on Amazon for other books in his name and found this: Blindside: Why Japan Is Still on Track to Overtake the U.S. By the Year 2000, which was written in 1995. Well, here we are 13 years later and the Japanese economy is in no better shape than in '95. After finding out about this, I would take any of his interpretations and "insights" with a grain of salt.

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Now to really blow a hole in Eamonn Fingleton's overall credibility I did a search on Amazon for other books in his name and found this: Blindside: Why Japan Is Still on Track to Overtake the U.S. By the Year 2000, which was written in 1995. Well, here we are 13 years later and the Japanese economy is in no better shape than in '95. After finding out about this, I would take any of his interpretations and "insights" with a grain of salt.

I am not sure if this is fair. Fingleton's credibility seem's pretty well established to me. As a foreign correspondent to Japan and a published economist, he seems uniquely well qualified to make the accusations in his books. I am now on page 80 and he has worked hard to convince the reader that Japan is the number two economic power in the world and the Japanese economic slow down was basically an illusion. This is consistent with my limited understanding of world economics, and supported by an article in World Watch by Rowan Callick last year.

But we ignore Japan at our peril. While China gets all the attention, Japan, still firmly ensconced in second place among the world’s economic powers, is quietly enjoying its longest period of sustained growth since World War II. Japan’s global brands have never been stronger: Toyota surpassed General Motors in car and truck sales for the first quarter of 2007, knocking it out of the world’s top spot for the first time in 76 years; patent royalties deriving from Japanese inventiveness hit $4.2 billion in 2006. Sony and Canon, Honda and Panasonic, Fujitsu and Hitachi: throughout the world, Japanese brands are respected and profitable. By contrast, despite the best efforts of personal-computer giant Lenovo and white-goods producer Haier, China has yet to build a single brand that most Americans could name. Japan is back.

I am getting the impression that Fingleton may be an iconoclast, but he seems to have a clear view of reality. His comments are sobering, but if there is any truth to them I think we should pay attention.

I will let you know if I change my opinion after another 40 pages

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"authoritarian Confucianism almost effortlessly out performs Western capitalism"

That's the exact opposite of Will Hutton's conclusions inThe writing on the wall. He argues fairly cogently that although recent rapid Chinese growth has followed "their own economic and political model - with authoritarianism and bureaucratic control of the economy and the general population a centerpiece", this is rapidly becoming unsustainable.

I was moderately convinced - more by the economic arguments, which I'm somewhat familiar with, than the socio-cultural ones. If I get a chance I'll borrow it again and summarise it in another thread.

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and the Japanese economic slow down was basically an illusion.

How exactly was it an illusion?

Sony and Canon, Honda and Panasonic, Fujitsu and Hitachi: throughout the world, Japanese brands are respected and profitable.

It is true that Japan's export economy is competitive and in very good shape, but Japan's domestic economy is not. That economy is hugely inefficient and heavily protected and until there are major economic reforms in this area, Japan's economy will continue to stagnate.

I am not sure if this is fair. Fingleton's credibility seem's pretty well established to me.

How is it not fair? He wrote an entire book supporting the claim that basically all was well in Japan and that it would overtake the US 5 years, and he was flat wrong. It's been 17 years since Japan's stagnation started, and maybe he will need another 17 years of stagnation before he gets the message.

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mirgcire:I find one of his(Fingleton's) claims particularly unsettling: that Confucian values provide a moral justification for lying and deception that western politicians, scholars, business people and journalists never even suspect. The basis of this is the Confucian emphasis on the group - and no matter how you cut it, westerner's are always outside of the group that one must treat with sincerity.

Americans on the whole have never read Confucius or the Analects (论语). Neither I suppose has mirgcire! This more or less explains why Fingleton can make money writing such utter trash.

How is it possible to get such a twisted interpretation of Confucius teachings and yet still have people telling you: "the author's main theme is credible!", is beyond me! :evil:

Fingleton is an American making money off the ignorance of other Americans like mirgcire.

I bet although this is a website about Chinese language, Chinese Literature or Chinese culture, mirgcire has never flip through a copy of the Analects of Confucius. Wonder why Fingleton does not pay someone to write a copy of his rubbish in Chinese, that way he can be properly laughed out of 'the stage' for good.

People who really understand the teachings of Confucius would never deride the Master in this way because they feel it is a matter of utmost importance or integrity, about standing up for the truth, and would never stoop so low as Fingleton to make money.

20 years on the ground in Asia? That's a qualification?? :roll:

Interpret this for me Fingleton:

The Analects Book XV verse 22 : The Master said, " The gentlemen is conscious of his own superiority without being contentious, and comes together with other gentlemen without forming cliques."

Book II v14: The Master said, " The gentlemen enters into associations but not cliques; the small man enters into cliques but not associations."

Book II v1: The Master said, "The rule of virtue can be compared to the Pole Star which commands the homage of the multitude of stars simply by remaining in its place."

The authoritarian way, or inspire people?

Book II v3: The Master said, "Guide them by edicts, keep them in line with punishments, and the common people will stay out of trouble BUT will have no sense of shame. Guide them by virtue, keep them in line with rites, and they will , besides having a sense of shame, reform themselves."

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ignorance of other Americans like mirgcire

Bamboo, I realize that the wording of my post is not as clear as it could be. But, I am actually expressing disbelief, not agreement, with the author on his interpretation of Confucianism. While I agree with your observation that I am woefully ignorant about Confucianism, I hardly think it is helpful to vilify me for this.

I think the author's observations about US, China, and Japan trade policies are accurate and I also agree with the author that US citizens are in serious denial about the affects of these lopsided trade agreements, but as far as placing the blame on Confucian values, and massive conspiracies to suppress the truth - let's just say I find this hard to believe.

As far as your assertion that one can achieve a relevant understanding of Confucian society by flipping through a copy of the Analects, I find that unlikely. I can quote you all kinds of wonderful things from the Bible, but it would not give you a realistic picture of how Christian people behave.

I am, however, eager to learn more about how the interpretation of Confucian writings has shaped Chinese society today. I am also interested to hear from anyone who has read the book.

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I agree with your observation that I am woefully ignorant about Confucianism, I hardly think it is helpful to vilify me for this.

I think the word you want is 'reprove' or 'reproach'. Many years ago someone was equally 'distressed' : For ...though by this time you ought to be teachers........................ You need milk, not solid food; for every one who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a child. But sold food is for the mature, for those who have their faculties trained by practice to distinguish good from evil. Heb 5:12~14

As far as your assertion that one can achieve a relevant understanding of Confucian society by flipping through a copy of the Analects,
I asserted this or you imagined thus...?
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