"Predictions are a hazardous business at the best of times. In the case of China, they are positively dangerous. The country is so vast, and changing at such speed, that we should expect the unpredictable as much as the predictable."Jacques always struck me as one of those former Marxists who found determinism the most difficult part of the Marxian model to let go of, so this was refreshing to read. I don't pay enough attention to what he writes to know whether this represents a change of mind on his part but he's surely right? One of the things about China that makes prediction even less likely to be accurate than usual is that its demographics are, to my knowledge, completely unprecedented.
One aspect of this is that China is the first country in history to grow old before it becomes economically wealthy.
The other is the demographic imbalance that the One-Child Policy has left in its wake. It is estimated that by 2020, there will be something in the region of 30 million men in China bereft of a mate - a battalion of bachelors roughly equivalent to the population of Canada.
The social and political implications of this, I wouldn't care to predict - beyond the observation that it's unlikely to be conducive to social harmony. I don't intend to be crude or reductionist but when it comes to understanding social dynamics, I take the view that the sexual aspect of the human condition tends to be neglected, compared to the economic. Most of the violence in the world is carried out by males over the age of puberty but before they have settled down and produced a few sproglets. And when there is no foreseeable prospect of producing the aforementioned sproglets, or at least participating in the enjoyable activity that, in the absence of contraception, leads to this - they are all the more dangerous.
Jason Burke made this observation in relation to the development of radical Islam in Afghanistan. This was exacerbated by the highly uneven economic development in the country with Kabul pre-Taliban being much like any other city - mobile, anonymous, relatively cosmopolitan - and tantilising. To an excruciating degree for any young man brought up in the countryside where conservative social mores and, above all, the lack of privacy made the opportunities for sexual adventure limited in the extreme.
I'd reiterate that I don't intend to be reductionist here. Crucial elements in the production of violence throughout the world today include the deracination of males finding their way in societies where the state, if it exists at all, is unable to sustain a monopoly over the legitimate use of weaponry - and these conditions don't, as far as I'm aware, apply to China as it is today. However - and here I hope you'll forgive me for falling into Glaswegian crudity - as a friend of mine once put it, "There are few things on this earth more dangerous than a young man who cannae get his hole". Especially if they are living in poverty and/or under conditions of political repression.
May you live in interesting times. My understanding was that this saying, often wrongly understood as a kind of blessing, is taken by the Chinese to be a curse.