the problem with china

i remember reading a long time ago about how, when bangkok’s elevated train system was built (don’t recall if it was the failed berts or the skytrain or what), everything from the pillars to the platforms was made over dimensioned, because everyone, all the city planners and the engineers, knew — they all knew — that there would be cheating involved at every stage of the construction process — watered down concrete would undoubtedly be used, reused steel reinforcements would take the place the new ones that should’ve been installed, etc., etc. everything had to be over dimensioned to ensure that the whole thing wouldn’t just fall over. (costly, no?)

china has the same fundamental problem — what m.g. has referred to a disregard for the commonweal. the chinese (and other asians, with the apparent exception of the japanese) simply care less about unrelated members of their society than northwest europeans do. and this goes way back — from greif and tabellini [pgs. 18-20]:

“Charity in pre-modern China was generally given to kin. The innovator of the clan trust, Fan Chung-yen (989-1052), “had ruled that the lineage should aid only relatives with lineage ties that were clearly documented in the genealogy” (Smith, 1987, p. 316). Only in the early 17th century non-Buddhist, impersonal charity permanent organizations were established on some scale. Although the Chinese authorities encouraged impersonal charity, moral philosophers decried it viewing the diversion of assistance way from kin immoral. A popular 17th century morality book “tells of a generous scholar who was derided by a member of his lineage for lightly giving money away to strangers ”(ibid)….

“The lack of self-governed cities in China was not simply due to a more powerful state, but also to a pervasive kinship structure that facilitated state control over cities. Indeed, immigrants to cities remained affiliated with their rural kinship groups. As late as the 17th century, in a relatively new city “the majority of a city’’s population consisted of so-called sojourners, people who had come from elsewhere and were considered (and thought of themselves as) only temporary residents …. suspicions were always rife that sojourners could not be trusted ”(Friedmann, 2007, p. 274). As noted above, families that moved to cities retained ‘their allegiance to the ancestral hall for many generations, the bonds of kinship being much closer than those of common residence’ (Hsien-Chin, 1948, p. 10).”

allegiance in china, for a very long time, has been to the clan, not the broader community.

china’s being touted nowadays as the “IT” country of the twenty-first century (third millennium?). maybe. certainly the chinese seem to have the requisite number of iq points — and intelligence is, of course, essential in succeeding in this world. you definitely don’t get very far without it.

but — and if anyone ever takes anything away from this blog, i’d like it to be this — there’s more to human biodiversity than iq.

think, for example, about the probable differences in the life histories of your average person with an iq of, say, 135, and a psychopath with an iq of 135. or a neurotypical with an iq of 135 vs. an aspie with 135. different, right? (no, i’m not saying that the chinese are a bunch of psychopaths — i’m just trying to illustrate that iq is not everything.)

the chinese are not trusting — read greif and tabellini — nor particularly trustworthy (they don’t trust each other!). not when it comes to non-family members anyway.

it’s mighty difficult to build a civil society — or, i think, a successful market economy — without trust — without concern for the commonweal. i don’t see the chinese doing it anytime soon — not without a little evolution first.

china might turn out to (continue to) be a smashing economic success story — if it does, it’s going to look very different from what happened in europe/the u.s. the system won’t be built on trust in strangers — maybe in families/clans, but not strangers — so it won’t be built on corporate entities, not public ones anyway (see greif and tabellini, pg. 24). something to keep in mind if you’re gonna do some, what half sigma has dubbed, hbd investing in china.

(note that none of this is meant to be a criticism of the chinese, nor should it be taken as such. they’re merely hbd observations. we westerners might not particularly like how the chinese operate, but in terms of numbers, they are clearly in the lead right now in the Game of Life. their system may prove to be the superior one — although it didn’t get them to the moon first. or mars.)

previously: the return of chinese clans and the return of the return of chinese clans

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the return of the return of chinese clans

avner greif — of Family structure, institutions, and growth – the origin and implications of Western corporatism fame (well, famous on this blog anyway), and who is rapidly becoming one of my favorite researchers even though he doesn’t take into account human biodiveristy things (nobody’s perfect!) — and father guido tabellini have a fantastic paper out titled: The Clan and the City: Sustaining Cooperation in China and Europe.

they really get why western europe works the way it does while china works in a whole other way — except they’re missing the underlying biological reasons, of course. here’s what they have to say:

“In a clan, moral obligations are stronger but are limited in scope, as they apply only toward kin. In a city, moral obligations are generalized towards all citizens irrespective of lineage, but they are weaker, as identi…cation is more difficult in a larger and more heterogeneous group. We refer to this distinction as limited vs generalized morality.

i like that. more…

“Institutional mechanisms also differ between the clan and the city: clan enforcement mainly relies on informal institutions, whereas the city relies more on formal enforcement procedures. In terms of economic effciency, these two arrangements have clear trade-offs. The clan economizes on enforcement costs, whereas the city exploits economies of scale because it sustains cooperation in a larger and more heterogeneous community.”


where greif and tabellini get it wrong is that they believe that people become clannish or not depending on what sort of moral system they have. *sigh* which is exactly backwards, of course (i think) — a population’s moral system stems from whether they are clannish or not, not the other way around. but here’s there take on it:

Two otherwise identical societies that differ only in the initial distributions of moral traits evolve along different self-reinforcing trajectories of both cultural traits and organizational forms. Initial diffusion of kin-based morality leads to a steady state where clan loyalty is widespread, the clan provides public goods, the share of the population living in the city is small, and intra-city institutions are weak. This equilibrium captures the arrangements that prevailed in China.

“Conversely, if generalized morality is initially widespread, the organization of society moves to an opposite steady state, where strong and large cities act as the main providers of public goods, as in the evolution of Europe. Thus, to understand the different paths in China vs Europe, we need to focus on cultural differences in their respective early histories. Even if China and Europe had access to the same technologies, and neglecting the role of geography and other factors, social organizations and cultural traits evolved endogenously and mutually reinforced each other.”

yeah. almost. but, just where did the “initial distribution of moral traits” come from in the first place?

they’ve also got a lot of interesting stuff on the return of clans in china today. ruh roh:

“The persistence of cultural attitudes is matched by a striking persistence of clans as a central organization in Modern China.

“The modernization movement in the early 20th century was hostile to the clans, that were viewed as an obstacle to economic development. In 1904, the Chinese government legalized corporations with the explicit intention to foster joint stock companies. The law failed in this regard, as Li Chun explains: ‘the idea that members of the public would be invited to join one’s business and share in its control and pro…fits was indeed repugnant. On the other hand, the notion that one’s money be put into the pocket of some strangers for them to run a business was just as unthinkable’ (Li, 1974, p. 205 cited by Kirby, 1995, p. 50).

“The communist regime officially abolished the clans upon gaining power in 1949: clans’ properties were confi…scated, elders lost their legal privileges and authority, clan legal codes were no longer recognized, and the ideology of class consciousness was promoted (e.g., Huang, 1985, p. 308). Had the clans been a product of the state, they would not have survived the crackdown since 1949. If, however, clans had been a product of the coevolution of deeply held moral convictions, social organization, and institutions [not to mention biology – h. chick], clans should have persisted and reemerged following the reforms that allowed individuals to organize themselves. This is indeed what has happened since 1978.

“A county-level survey in 2000 (by Liangqun and Murphy, 2006, in Jiangaxi) documents that 70 surnames out of 99 (in 40 villages) updated their genealogies since 1981 and 41 surnames invested in their ancestral shrines since 1991 (p. 230). A 2002 representative national survey of more tham 300 villages reveals lineage activities and kinship organizations in 66 percent of the villages (Tsai, 2007, pp. 154–7). Clans resumed their role in securing property rights from predation by officials, organizing weddings and funerals, providing welfare, contributing to public projects, and promoting mutual aid arrangements (ibid). Inter-clan confl‡icts also resumed and collectively owned rural fa…rms often formally exclude non-locals (Thøgersen, 2002). About 90 percent of the 887 households that migrated to or from one of 50 villages relocated to their ‘ancestral village’ and 60 percent relocated due to inter-lineage tension (Liangqun and Murphy, 2006, p. 623).

“We quantify clans’ persistence using a random sample of 76 counties, 205 villages and 4274 individuals from China General Social Survey, 2005 (GSS05). The GSS05 asks (only) rural residents whether there is a clan organization in their community and, whether it is a surname-based or a temple-based clan organization. Although under-reporting of clan organizations is likely given tradition of suppression by the communist authorities, the census reveals 277 clan-based organizations. A clan organization almost always (90 percent) has a genealogy, a graveyard, or both. The two organizational types differ, however, in their economically-relevant assets such as land, estates (other than ancestral hall), and trust funds. Only 26 percent of the surname-based network have such an asset compared to 78 percent of the temple-based organizations (F12). On average there is 1.35 organizations per-village and one organization per 15.5 respondents. The highest number of people per-clan organization is in the eastern region (35) and the lowest is the northwest.

Almost 70 percent of the population live in a county with positive sample probability of a village having an organization and in 41 percent of the counties the village-probability of having a clan organization is at least 50 percent. In fact, clan organizations currently exist in each of China’s six regions although there are no temple-based clan organizations in the north (Figure 2, note that the northwest is a separate region) but they are particularly strong in the south-central region and, speci…cally, in Guandong, the richest province. These findings correspond to our historical discussion in which we noted the relations between out-migration from the North and the rise of clans.

“Table 5 presents the number and fraction of organizations –out of the 277 in our sample that ful…ll various functions. Most common are cooperation-promoting functions –resolving private disputes within the village and handling inter-village relations –and providing public goods in the village or the clan.

“Our online appendix also documents that the frequency and strength of clans in modern China is negatively correlated with urbanization in townships (i.e. excluding major cities), as predicted by the model. Speci…cally, data from China County-prefectural Statistical Yearbook, 2006 (YB06) and China General Social Survey, 2005 (GSS05) reveals that in the sample of 76 counties, clan strength is negatively correlated with urbanization even after controlling for such variable as education, infrastructure investment, and distance from the coast.

This re-emergence of clans is particularly noteworthy given that the reforms were not designed to foster clan organizations. Households, and not clans, were given land-use rights in the former collective farms and privately-owned businesses were permitted. Yet, kin-based and relations-based exclusive organizations have re-emerged and resumed their traditional role in supporting cooperation.”

previously: the return of chinese clans and china today… and whatever happened to european tribes?

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