Sunday, April 25, 2004
"Despotism of custom", Japanese style.

The one thing about China that always gives me a measure of optimism, is that it is such a large & diverse country, with a large measure of tolerance for differences; this is in spite the conformist stresses of Confucian and authoritarian doctrine. It is a curious fact, that places such as Singapore, Japan, and Korea, Confucian by adoption, can sometimes have a much smaller tolerance for exception and difference, even while being politically much more open. It is a common complaint, among the Chinese and the foreign, that China is so messy & chaotic (乱), without the discipline and coherence of say, the Japanese; I think this is a good sign. When Democracy does one day arrive in China, if it were to remain vigorous without becoming poisonous, it will be due to our diversity and the unavoidable measure of attendant chaos.

Incidentally, a common characterisation of China, especially in America, is as a "monolithic" & relentless organism; whether during the "blue ants" period of the Cold War, or the "the next superpower" fever of the present. This has always struck me as fairly ridiculous; anyone who thinks about China in monolithic terms has probably never been there.