It’s official. China is now Japan. Or, more specifically China is now the country that poor countries in the third world are supposed to be emulating. When I was just a grad student, Japan was the model the world was supposed to follow. That one at least made a bit of sense, since by the 80’s Japan was a fully first-world country (no millions living in rural poverty) and a democracy. Even then most popular evocations of “The Japan Model” were pretty silly. Japan was, like all countries, shaped by its history, but I would find it hard to recommend a period of ultra-militarism, losing a war, and being bombed, atom bombed and occupied as a development strategy. FOARP discusses some of the problems with attempts to borrow the China model, identifying China’s strong nationalism as the reason China is such a hard model to follow.
“under the nationalists and now under the communists China has been subject to the greatest and most successful program of nation-building ever seen.”
This may well be true, but it still freaks me out a bit to see how a couple decades of success can change China’s entire past. I work in an industry (Modern Chinese History) whose chief product has always been explanations for Chinese failure at nation-building. Now it looks like we are going to have start churning out the exact opposite. Well, the Japan people seem to have adjusted to going from an Asian Anomaly to a model for humanity and back, so I guess we can. And regardless of how useful the China model ends up being I’m betting there will be buyers in the Third World for the idea that being run by a corrupt one-party state is no barrier to a nation’s development.