Everything Under the Heavens and China’s Conceptualization of Power

Written by: Stephen Hsu

Primary Source:  Information Processing

Howard French discusses his new book, Everything Under the Heavens: How the Past Helps Shape China’s Push for Global Power, with Orville Schell. The book is primarily focused on the Chinese historical worldview and how it is likely to affect China’s role in geopolitics.

French characterizes his book as, in part,

… an extended exploration of the history of China’s conceptualization of power … and a view as to how … the associated contest with the United States for primacy … in the world could play out.

These guys are not very quantitative, so let me clarify a part of their discussion that was left rather ambiguous. It is true that demographic trends are working against China, which has a rapidly aging population. French and Schell talk about a 10-15 year window during which China has to grow rich before it grows old (a well-traveled meme). From the standpoint of geopolitics this is probably not the correct or relevant analysis. China’s population is ~4x that of the US. If, say, demographic trends limit this to only an effective 3x or 3.5x advantage in working age individuals, China still only has to reach ~1/3 of US per capita income in order to have a larger overall economy. It seems unlikely that there is any hard cutoff preventing China from reaching, say, 1/2 the US per capita GDP in a few decades. (Obviously a lot of this growth is still “catch-up” growth.) At that point its economy would be the largest in the world by far, and its scientific-technological workforce and infrastructure would be far larger than that of any other country.

Gideon Rachman writes for the FT, so it’s not surprising that his instincts seem a bit stronger when it comes to economics. He makes a number of incisive observations during this interview.

At 16min, he mentions that

I was in Beijing about I guess a month before the vote [US election], in fact when the first debates were going on, and the Chinese, I thought that official Chinese [i.e. Government Officials] in our meeting and the sort of semi-official academics were clearly pulling for Trump.

See also Trump Triumph Viewed From China.

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Stephen Hsu
Stephen Hsu is vice president for Research and Graduate Studies at Michigan State University. He also serves as scientific adviser to BGI (formerly Beijing Genomics Institute) and as a member of its Cognitive Genomics Lab. Hsu’s primary work has been in applications of quantum field theory, particularly to problems in quantum chromodynamics, dark energy, black holes, entropy bounds, and particle physics beyond the standard model. He has also made contributions to genomics and bioinformatics, the theory of modern finance, and in encryption and information security. Founder of two Silicon Valley companies—SafeWeb, a pioneer in SSL VPN (Secure Sockets Layer Virtual Private Networks) appliances, which was acquired by Symantec in 2003, and Robot Genius Inc., which developed anti-malware technologies—Hsu has given invited research seminars and colloquia at leading research universities and laboratories around the world.
Stephen Hsu

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