My Conversation with Yasheng Huang

Here is the audio, video, and transcript, Yasheng is a China scholar and a professor at MIT.  Here is part of the episode summary:

Yasheng joined Tyler to discuss China’s lackluster of technological innovation, why declining foreign investment is more of a concern than a declining population, why Chinese literacy stagnated in the 19th century, how he believes the imperial exam system deprived China of a thriving civil society, why Chinese succession has been so stable, why the Six Dynasties is his favorite period in Chinese history, why there were so few female emperors, why Chinese and Chinese Americans have less well becoming top CEOs of American companies than Indians and Indian Americans, where he’d send someone on a two week trip to China, what he learned from János Kornai, and more.

And an excerpt:

COWEN: Now, in your book, you write of what you call Tullock’s curse— Gordon Tullock having been my former colleague — namely, embedded succession conflict in an autocracy. Why has Chinese succession been so stable up to now? And will we see Tullock’s curse whenever Xi steps down, passes on, whatever happens there?

HUANG: I do want to modify the word that you use, stable. There are two ways to use that term. One is to describe the succession process itself. If that’s the situation we’re trying to describe, it is not stable at all. If you look at the entire history of the PRC, there have been so many succession plans that failed, and at a catastrophic level. One potential successor was persecuted to death. Another fled and died in a plane crash. Others were unceremoniously dismissed, and one was put under house arrest for almost 15 years, and he died —

COWEN: But no civil war, right?

HUANG: Yes, that’s right.

COWEN: No civil war.

HUANG: That’s right. There’s another way to talk about stability, which is stability at the system level, and that, you are absolutely right. Despite all these problems with these successions, the system as a whole has remained stable. The CCP is in power. There’s no coup, and there were not even demonstrations on the street associated with the succession failures. So, we do need to distinguish between these two kinds of stability. By one criterion, it was not stable. By the other criterion, it is quite stable.

The reason for that is, I think — although it’s a little bit difficult to generalize because we don’t really have many data points — one reason is the charisma power of individual leaders, Mao and Xiaoping. These were founding fathers of the PRC, of the CCP, and they had the prestige and — using Max Weber’s term — charisma, that they could do whatever they wanted while being able to contain the spillover effects of their mistakes. The big uncertain issue now is whether Xi Jinping has that kind of charisma to contain future spillover effects of succession failure.

This is a remarkable statistic: Since 1976, there have been six leaders of the CCP. Of these six leaders, five of them were managed either by Mao or by Deng Xiaoping. Essentially, the vast majority of the successions were handled by these two giants who had oversized charisma, oversized prestige, and unshakeable political capital.

Now we have one leader who doesn’t really have that. He relies mostly on formal power, and that’s why he has accumulated so many titles, whereas he’s making similar succession errors as the previous two leaders.

Obviously, we don’t know — because he hasn’t chosen a successor — we don’t really know what will happen if he chooses a successor. But my bet is that the ability to contain the spillover effect is going to be less, rather than more, down the road, because Xi Jinping does not match, even in a remote sense, the charisma and the prestige of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. There’s no match there.

Recommended.  And I am happy to recommend Yasheng Huang’s forthcoming book The Rise and Fall of the East.

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