When I arrived in China halfway the 1990s as a foreign correspondent, its former leader Deng Xiaoping was on his prolonged deathbed. Media headlines, and many informal meetings speculated on what would happen with China, when Deng would actually pass away. “It will be chaos, and China will collapse,” was the standard opinion at the many meetings with foreign diplomats and business people I attended in my early days in China. It sounded all very convincing.
When Deng Xiaoping actually passed away in February 1997, I was just attending a huge and boring political meeting in Shanghai. At that stage I was just discovering that political meetings in China were not the best way to get information. So, after the news of Deng’s death broke, I rushed to the office of the Ministry of Foreign affairs in Shanghai at the other side of the street, where I found my handler already standing on the stairs of their monumental building.
“Everything is normal in the country, there is no chaos,” he told me without being asked. The fact he was heavily sweating and trembling did not make his message rather convincing.
But as it turned out, China did not turn into mayhem – at least not more than it was on a daily basis. And it did not collapse.
It was only the first of many of doomsday scenario’s about China I met over the years. The handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China. Infighting in the Communist Party. Massive corruption scandals. Uproar in the country side. The real estate bubble. The dot.com crisis. And more recently the Wukan rebellion. There was no shortage of theories predicting the next collapse of China.
Those theories had two elements in common. First, they were all very convincing. Second, they never materialized.
That turned me, after a few dozen failed theories, into a reversed cynic. No doomsday theory could convince me anymore. There was no shortage of giant problems in China. Whole industries, provinces and parts of the ruling system could collapse on a regular basis. But I could no longer be convinced about the collapse of China.
I was already in that state of mind when I met Gordon Chang for the first time, early this century, when he was preparing what turned out to be the first book on the Upcoming Collapse of China, an event he predicted for 2006. He was then still rather secretive about this upcoming book, so I could not really challenge his predictions at the time, but we did have a good laugh when the book hit the shelves.
I was not the only reversed cynic on the collapse of China. We admired Chang for his commercial take on setting his career: he was telling what at least a part of the US political scene loved to hear. But we did not take his prediction serious for one second.
So, five years passed, and the predicted collapse of China did not take place in 2006, or even up to 2011 the country failed to collapse. Just as many other reasons why China would collapse, Gordon Chang was just plain wrong in his prediction.
Even worse, I was right in my reversed cynicism, although predicting the survival of China is just not a good theme for a book.
Now, we wake up in 2012, and Gordon Chang announced in Foreign Policy he second edition of the Upcoming Collapse of China. The comments under the article predict that he new prediction might not be taken for granted by many, like it was a decade ago.
Telling fairy tells is a useful skill, and actually, one of these days, when doomsday scenario #83 turns out to be true, I’m on the wrong side of history as a reversed skeptic. China has collapsed a few times dramatically in its rich history, so it is a chance that might still become true.
But not now, and not very soon. And it is about time, Gordon Chang finds a new fairy tale to tell.