Column by Michael Arnold - Mar 7, 2007
The case of China, the fastest growing and largest market in the world, is an interesting one. While itís fashionable in circles across the globe to criticize the States as the center of world capitalism, itís equally as fashionable to run down China as the greatest remaining stronghold of communism.
It can sometimes seem as if the masses donít mind who they point the finger at, as long as itís anyone but themselves.

As one of the many thousands of foreign expatriates now choosing to live in Chinaís enigmatic capital of Beijing, I get a good window seat on the nature of the mood and attitudes of Chinaís metropolitan population.

Sure, I hear the same criticism of America that might be said anywhere nowadays, but behind the bravado lies a surprising (or perhaps not-so surprising) conviction that America is what China should really be like.

Despite what people may claim to believe, itís astonishingly clear just how favorably Chinese citizens regard the United States ó and thatís in spite of their unquestioned support of their own government, which could be said to be the embodiment of the antithesis of American free-market values.

I have to admit that I was surprised when I first arrived in China. Perhaps I was still under the illusion that China remained under the iron curtain, that it was still something far more military in character with uniforms, curfews, and rigid crackdowns on civil liberties.

In the Beijing of open-late nightclubs, glass-tower jungles and what can only be described as pure, jet-setting capitalism, I found a place that on the face of it seemed more Western than the West.

Of course, thatís only a skin-deep impression: dig any deeper and you hit the sluggish, brutish, and bureaucratic machinery of the Peopleís Government. Perhaps itís a testament to human nature that this is an aspect of China that is becoming increasingly irrelevant.

In the earnest quest for personal wealth that Ayn Rand would have described as wholly moral, the model of America is something that remains a light in the gloom of Chinaís red shadow.

In spite of this, Chinese people see no contradiction in showing support for the communist government and in hoping for a more Americanized future. Despite their patriotism, Chinese people are in fact widely critical of the government ó something that theyíre far readier to admit than Westerners might expect.

Even though politically outspoken Chinese nationals risk imprisonment for publicizing their views, that doesnít mean that the average Chinese citizen wonít be more than happy to make their distrust of their government clear on a casual basis.

They might rather their government continue to stay in power for the sake of social stability, but for all other purposes, Chinese people view their governmentís policies as largely irrelevant.

The policies are mostly annoyances that have to be circumvented with Ďback doorí methods and complicated business networks of associates who ignore the iron fist while getting on with the things that really matter: business, trade, and personal advancement.

There are good and bad governments, but the essence of governments everywhere is that those in power love to be there, and wherever possible, those in government will take measures to preserve their positions. The democratic systems of the West demand popular support for the privilege of power, whereas the Chinese government has no such need for the mandate of the masses.

That difference aside, people in power everywhere itch to use it. They pass wide-ranging ultimatums to constrict the freedom of individuals and force the masses along with the dictates of their own bright ideas ó usually for the worse of everyone involved. Thatís something thatís equally true almost anywhere in the world.

Chinaís government may be notorious in the West, but here in the East it has rather less of a presence on the public stage.

Now that the Chinese rulers have woken up to the fact that tightly controlling a nation as vast as China can only have disastrous consequences, theyíve been tiptoeing towards a less invasive method of government for decades. They are concentrating more on something dearer to their own hearts ó maintaining power.

For the people of China, itís been something of a relief. In this day and age, Big Brother is still watching you ó but who cares?
Michael Arnold is a literature and philosophy major who now lives and works as a freelance writer in Beijing. He specializes in travel essays and has spent years in China traveling and acquiring the Chinese language. He has recently completed his first in a series of Chinese city guides.
Who's Afraid of Big Brother? - Ayn Rand Admirers at The Atlasphere