Chinese Identity Amid an Economic Slowdown

BY Paul Solman  July 16, 2012 at 3:29 PM EDT

A security guard patrols outside the headquarters of the Bank of China in the Xidan shopping area of Beijing
A security guard patrols outside the headquarters of the Bank of China in the Xidan shopping area of Beijing. Photo by Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images.

With all the talk of a Chinese economic slowdown there, I have a suggestion: Read an article on China by former career diplomat and current Yale faculty member Charles Hill.* “China’s Identity Crisis” has just been published by the Hoover Institution at Stanford, where Hill is a Senior Fellow. A sample with which to tease you:

“China’s history from remotest antiquity to modern times has been as turbulent, unpredictable, and violent as any other major civilization on earth. And through the most recent centuries, the question of ‘Chineseness’ itself has come to the fore. The Beijing regime, led by the Communist Party, seems preoccupied with the matter of Chinese identity as it launches one campaign after another to try to explain to the Chinese people who they are and what China’s meaning to the world should be.

The incongruity between the eternal cultural image and its currently contested reality suggests that modern China’s long ‘search for a political form’ has not yet ended, and the status of traditional Chinese thought and practice remains uncertain.”


*Hill, who was posted in Taiwan and Hong Kong in for the State Department in the 1960s, is the author of “Grand Strategies,” a remarkable book on political and military grand strategy as told through literature, from Homer and Thucydides to Proust, Kafka and Rushdie. He helped devise Yale’s “Studies in Grand Strategy” course, for which I have, in the past few years, provided a dose of economics.

Name: David Drukaroff

Question: Why not save a lot of money on college by clepping out? Take college proficiency exams like CLEP, earn credit and obtain a degree.

Paul Solman: More and more folks are doing just that. And if there’s a job that simply requires a degree, and absolutely nothing else, then why not? On the other hand, insofar as college means more than a piece of paper that might or might not be worth something, I would enthusiastically recommend the experience, even if we’re talking crude economics. I became a journalist at Brandeis University — by learning and practicing my craft there. I learned how to think systematically from a professor named Kurt Wolff, and I am a far better journalist because of it. On the same “benefits” side of the ledger, though using a broader measure — maximizing utility — Brandeis instilled a devotion to Yeats and Tolstoy that has never left me. It taught me how to live with people besides my parents. And it all took place in an environment that valued thought and culture and concern for others. In fact, I’d say I learned how to be a citizen in a democracy.

Granted, going to college was cheaper then and I was on a scholarship. But Brandeis was priceless. When I worry about the 70 percent of Americans who don’t have 4-year degrees, it’s not the degree that’s missing so much as the experience.

This entry is cross-posted on the Making Sen$e page, where correspondent Paul Solman answers your economic and business questions