Last week, I argued at considerable length (sorry) about my belief that China's fundamental underpinnings have not really changed that much, but rather, that it has adopted a Confucianist type of reverence for the “old white men” of Western science and economics. Reading the Western experience as a road map, China's been able to develop rapidly, in part because the majority of its population has not adopted the pesky democratic habit of publicly questioning the wisdom of each particular action. I believe this makes sense, it's much harder to blaze a trail than to follow it, and requires very different institutional capacities -- China's long tradition just happens to be one of the best at following the precepts of its venerated classes.
The problem for China, though, is just how far to go on this second journey West? Wen Jiabao and a group of party liberals have recently made their case for universal values, made manifest in political reform and increases in the rights of speech and the press. These leaders seem to hold to the notion, (surprisingly?) prevalent in China, that democracy is inevitable -- a striking imbibing of 19th century Europe's belief in the inevitability of “progress." The star of last week's blog, Mao Yushi, has more to say about the necessity of political reform, and does so again in a forthright, hilarious way here: “nobody trusts the government.”
So, one group of China's patriarchs has spoken, but many have been wondering the following: where's Hu Jintao in all of this? I think to many of us in the West -- perhaps because we were reared on bianary conceptions of good and evil in popular movies and literature -- assume that for Wen's “Luke Skywalker” there must be a “Darth Vader,” and Hu seems the most likely choice (or rather, the default choice, because really, how many other members of the Politburo can you name?). Of course, Darth Vader wasn't a simple character by any means, and neither is Hu.