A Chinese Dream for China, Just Like There Is An American Dream For America? Maybe – Still, Only The American Dream Is Founded On Freedom, And This Is A Big Difference

By Paolo von Schirach

May 7, 2013

WASHINGTON – Searching for ways to perpetuate its uncertain legitimacy, the Chinese Communist Party has come up with a new clever idea: the Party is now the promoter and the major force behind a Chinese Dream of new prosperity and appropriate national pride and assertiveness. So, there you go: until yesterday it was the age of the American Dream. But now the Chinese Dream is the new game in town. Move over America, and let the Chinese people enjoy their new glory.

China’s place in the world

Of course, there is nothing wrong in inspiring the Chinese people to do better so that the new era of growth unleashed by Deng’s reforms back in the 1980s will continue and bring more prosperity to this vast nation. And there is nothing wrong for a self-confident China to seek its rightful place within the community of nations. A self-confident, prosperous China should be welcomed by all.

Top down dream

That said, there is a major difference between the American Dream and this new idea of the Chinese Dream. The first distinction is that the Chinese Dream is a slogan invented by the leaders who are now busy trying “selling” it to the public through a relentless barrage of public initiatives ranging from prizes for those who come with clever ideas as to what the Dream should include to classroom instructions about what’s in the Dream. So: one thing is clear this is not a concept emerging from a collective feeling elaborated by the broader society. This is a “top down” notion that may or may not be embraced by the people. 

Superficial similarities

But there is a far bigger distinction that has to do with fundamental values. On the surface the American Dream and the Chinese version appear alike. It would seem that they are both about opportunity for self-improvement and economic growth while increasing the nation’s profile and ability to influence events abroad. True enough, millions of people, Europeans first, then Asians and now Latin Americans were and are attracted to America because this is the land where “everything is possible”. And so we may conclude that as America was the past model for economic opportunity, nowadays fast growing China is the modern, updated Asian version of what America used to be.

The American Dream is based on Freedom

Well, this is on the surface only. There is one fundamental difference between the two Dreams. America at its core is not about economic opportunity. At its core, America is about Freedom. Vast economic opportunity is a consequence, a byproduct if you wish, of  the basic freedoms guaranteed by the Republican Constitution.  The American Constitution is premised on the principle of popular sovereignty. The Constitution created a system of representative government, a government whose main task is the safeguard of individual freedoms. Among those freedoms there are economic freedoms. It follows that a free country in which people are free to undertake diverse economic activities has an edge over others that create all sorts of restrictions and limitations on enterprise.

That said, while it is true that millions of people came to America because of its economic openness and vitality, this vitality rests on a value system founded on the sanctity of individual freedoms.

China’s dream based on its own history

No such thing in China. The Chinese leaders my find a lot of valuable material in China’s past: Imperial splendor, artistic endeavors, technological achievements, Confucian social values, Taoism and Buddhism. But they shall not find the entirely Western of individual rights as the only proper foundation and organizing principle of a modern society. For better or worse, America is the modern embodiment of a political society founded on individual rights. Which is to say that American prosperity is not the result of  chance or some smart policy. America is prosperous because it is free. A free society allowed people to engage in whatever activity they wanted. The cumulative result is more enterprise and more wealth created.

Chinese economic freedoms come from the top

China is a totally different story. China is more prosperous because the state –in a carefully orchestrated fashion– allowed a much larger degree of economic freedom. This freedom comes from the state and from its self-appointed leaders. There is no document that asserts the principle of popular sovereignty and/or constitutionally protected individual economic freedoms in China. And this is a fundamental difference.

For this simple reason, my feeling is that this new notion of the Chinese Dream will be soon recognized for what it is: a political slogan, and not the expression of truly felt values.

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