Re: Chinese Meritocracy

Alan’s right, and channeling Tocqueville, too:

…as men become more alike and the principle of equality has penetrated deep into the institutions and manners of the country, the rules of advancement become more inflexible and advancement itself slower. […]

From hatred of privilege and embarrassment in choosing, all men, whatever their capacities, are finally forced through the same sieve, and all without discrimination are made to pass through a host of petty preliminary tests, wasting their youth and suffocating their imagination. […]

In China, where equality has for a very long time been carried to great lengths, no man graduates from one public office to another without passing an examination. He has to face this test at every stage of his career, and the idea is now so deeply rooted in the manners of the people that I remember reading a Chinese novel in which the hero, after many ups and downs, succeeds at last in touching his mistress’ heart by passing an examination well. Lofty ambitions can hardly breathe in such an atmosphere.

There is something to this I think instinctually depressing to an American soul. But as globalization continues apace, we do need to acknowledge that the economics of equality are spreading over the world, and Tocqueville was correct to argue that the natural consequence of that spread is the rise of administrative management as a valued skill and the rise of universally standardized testing as the rank ordering metric.

But none of this means we should rush to get beat by China at a game it’s been playing for all of recorded human history. It still astonishes me that this argument is nonobvious, as the New York Times Opinionator once famously revealed:

Perhaps the most unusual conservative criticism of Bush comes from James G. Poulos at the American Spectator blog, who faults the president’s plan to improve math and science education: “Our culture is not doomed but it is unraveling,” he writes. “Building a professional army of scientists and mathematicians is precisely the wrong kind of educational emphasis required” to change that.

Americans! Let the Chinese do what they do best. Our genius is elsewhere, and elsewhere may it always remain! Standardized educational systems work against political liberty, and standardized educational systems stripped of humanities teaching most of all. During the struggle, the inertia of bureaucratic equality will pull us down…but please, please let’s use this chance to turn things around.

PS. More fun is to be had at Postmodern Conservative concerning the future extension of China’s administrative regime to sex.