The Intellectual Elite of China

Question: Where are the debates over China’s future taking place?

Mark Leonard:  What I focus on in my book is the debate between elites.  I mean, there is a large elite within China.  They are very influential.  And in a way, they act as a sort of surrogate for the absence of the sort of institutions that you have in a free society.  There are no political parties.  There’s no free media.  You don’t have trade unions to stand up for workers’ rights.  And that, in a way, gives the intellectuals a more important voice than they have in Western society, because they become a surrogate for political competition.  The political class is happy to let ideas, have ideas in play, and these intellectuals who keep these ideas in play, and they see the sort of marketplace of ideas emerging.  Sometimes the intellectuals do speak up for genuine concerns on a lower level, and they reflect the concerns that are happening within society.  But it is very different from a Western political system where you have ideas filtering their way up through civil society and political platforms, which then compete in general elections. 

Question: How has the Chinese government responded to these debates?


Mark Leonard:  Well, the government is incredibly pragmatic.  It’s not an ideological government anymore.  It’s desperate to succeed.  It knows there are all sorts of problems that it faces, and it’s paranoid about China collapsing.  So therefore they are very happy to kind of pick and chose different ideas and to test them out in different places.  And that also empowers the thinkers in China, because the man with a good idea is kind of

king in that sense, and if ideas are well developed and attractive enough, there’s a good chance they’ll be picked up by a policy maker somewhere in China.  And there’s a very porous relationship between the universities and the think tanks and the government.  For example, when they developed their 11th five-year plan, which was the last attempt to really think about the strategic direction of the country, they launched a 100 academic studies that fed into it, and involved literally 1000s of researchers from all over China in working these ideas up.  So it’s a very different sort of political system from when you had sort of Deng Xiaoping or Mao sitting in a room and working out what he wanted to do.  And that’s one of the ways that these debates move from the academic realm into policy.

Mark Leonard describes how academic elites work with the government to shape Chinese debate.

VR experiments manipulate how people feel about coffee

A new study looks at how images of coffee's origins affect the perception of its premiumness and quality.

Credit: Escobar / Petit / Velasco, Frontiers in Psychology
Surprising Science
  • Images can affect how people perceive the quality of a product.
  • In a new study, researchers show using virtual reality that images of farms positively influence the subjects' experience of coffee.
  • The results provide insights on the psychology and power of marketing.
  • Keep reading Show less

    Is empathy always good?

    Research has shown how important empathy is to relationships, but there are limits to its power.

    Videos
    • Empathy is a useful tool that allows humans (and other species) to connect and form mutually beneficial bonds, but knowing how and when to be empathic is just as important as having empathy.
    • Filmmaker Danfung Dennis, Bill Nye, and actor Alan Alda discuss the science of empathy and the ways that the ability can be cultivated and practiced to affect meaningful change, both on a personal and community level.
    • But empathy is not a cure all. Paul Bloom explains the psychological differences between empathy and compassion, and how the former can "get in the way" of some of life's crucial relationships.
    Keep reading Show less

    Your body’s full of stuff you no longer need. Here's a list.

    Evolution doesn't clean up after itself very well.

    Image source: Decade3d-anatomy online via Shutterstock
    Surprising Science
    • An evolutionary biologist got people swapping ideas about our lingering vestigia.
    • Basically, this is the stuff that served some evolutionary purpose at some point, but now is kind of, well, extra.
    • Here are the six traits that inaugurated the fun.
    Keep reading Show less

    Godzilla vs. Kong: A morphologist chooses the real winner

    Ultimately, this is a fight between a giant reptile and a giant primate.

    Surprising Science

    The 2021 film “Godzilla vs. Kong" pits the two most iconic movie monsters of all time against each other. And fans are now picking sides.

    Keep reading Show less
    Quantcast