Nicholas Kristof Discovers Sun Tzu

It’s a story I’ve brought up on this blog (and elsewhere) but Kristof finally puts it in front of the “right” people:

Some 2,400 years ago, a Chinese king invited a legendary military strategist named Sun Tzu to give a demonstration in military training — using women from the palace.

Sun Tzu agreed, organizing 180 of the king’s beautiful young women into two companies. He made the king’s two favorite concubines officers in charge, and explained the principles of marching.

The women treated this as an uproarious joke. An ancient account explains that when Sun Tzu beat the drum to signal “right turn!” “the girls only burst out laughing.”

So Sun Tzu patiently repeated the instructions and beat the drum to signal “left turn!” Again, the women simply burst into laughter. So Sun Tzu seized the two favorite concubines, accused them of failing to maintain discipline — and beheaded them. Now the other terrified women followed orders perfectly.

That’s the kind of historical tale that members of China’s Politburo absorbed while growing up — and reflect today. In battles over Google and the currency exchange rate, they model the hardheaded Sun Tzu, accepting that making omelets will require breaking eggs.

He goes on with the usual American blather than the core failure of the Chinese is to institute “democratic” institutions.  But it’s just that: blather.

First, the relationship between Chinese and their government is vastly different here than in the US.  The Chinese may “want” democracy, but sustaining it in their culture is another ball game altogether.  (The Russians put on a more easily understood display of this problem in the 1990’s.)

Second, if there’s an “egg breaker” in this deal, it’s Barack Obama.  The health care passage shows that Congress and the opinion of the American people are, in his idea, positive nuisances when it comes to doing the “right” thing.   There’s no doubt in my mind that Obama looks on the absolutism of the Zhongnanhai with envy, and that someday he or another of his idea will attempt to replicate that on this soil.

We’d better start worrying about sustaining democracy here rather than throwing rocks at the Chinese.

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