China embraces ‘British Model’, ditching Mao for Edmund Burke

China embraces ‘British Model’, ditching Mao for Edmund Burke

David Cameron might be reassured to know that China’s Communist leadership is studying the long arc of British history with intense interest, even if Russia’s Vladimir Putin deems our small island to be of no account.

Professor Li said the 18th Century Irish philosopher Edmund Burke is now all the rage in Chinese universities, studied for his critique of violent revolution, and esteemed as the prophet of stability through timely but controlled change. Photo: Quirky China News / Rex Features

By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

4:30PM BST 08 Sep 2013

“We want to learn from the British model,” said Daokui Li, a memberChina’s upper chamber or `House of Lords’ (CPPCC) and a professor at Beijing’s Tsinghua University. “Today’s leaders in China are looking carefully at the British style of political change over the last 400 years, analysing the difference with France,” he told me at the annual Ambrosetti gathering of world policy-makers at Villa d’Este on Lake Como. “England went through incredible changes: a war against the US; wars against France; wars against Germany twice, the rise and decline of empire; and universal suffrage. Yet society remained stable through all this turmoil, with the same institutions and political structure. We think the reason is respect for tradition, yet willingness to make changes when needed.”“It is a contrast with France. We know from De Toqueville’s study of the Ancien Regime that if you don’t do reforms, you will end up with a revolution, and that is what will happen in China if we don’t reform in time,”

Professor Li said the 18th Century Irish philosopher Edmund Burke is now all the rage in Chinese universities, studied for his critique of violent revolution, and esteemed as the prophet of stability through timely but controlled change. They are enamoured by his theories of inheritance, the “living contract” through the generations, the limits of liberty, and — a harder sell — his small battalions.

Hobbes too is sweeping China’s intelligentsia, and so is Hannah Arendt, the philosopher of the twin totalitarian movements Left and Right. It is a ferment of ideas. Mao is out, even if the Communist Party is still coy about saying this too publicly.

“We went through the Revolution of 1911 when we overthrew the emperor, then the May 4th Revolution of 1919, then the Communist Revolution of 1949, and then the Cultural Revolution. We’re looking back at our history, and we are tired of this.”

“This is why Bo Xilai scares people. He was embracing Mao’s practice of continuous revolution, and it brings back bad memories.”

I was aware that Burke is making a much-deserved come-back in Britain, propelled by Jesse Norman’s splendid book “Edmund Burke:The First Conservative”. But China’s enthusiasm for his work has more global “gearing”, as traders say.

The Nobel peace laureate — and dissident — Liu Xiaobo is a Burkean, as were many of those who signed the 2008 human rights charter.

Needless to say, Burke has much in common with Confucius, the ancient Chinese philosopher of order, tradition, and harmony, now enjoying a revival in China as a post-Maoist source of authority. Jiang Qing cites Burke extensively in his classic work on the rise of a new Confucian political order published in 2008: “China: Democracy, or Confucianism?”

You will recognise the words and style if you have read Burke’s masterful Reflections on the French Revolution, the book that unmasked the squalid character of the Paris Putsch, and shattered the illusions of Jacobin fellow-travellers across Europe.

”Circumstances (which with some gentlemen pass for nothing) give in reality to every political principle its distinguishing colour and discriminating effect. The circumstances are what render every civil and political scheme beneficial or noxious to mankind.’’

“To avoid, therefore, the evils of inconstancy and versatility, ten thousand worse than those of obstinacy and the blindest prejudice, we have consecrated the state, that no man should approach to look into its defects or corruptions but with due caution; that he should never dream of beginning its reformation by its subversion; that he should approach to the faults of the state as to the wounds of a father, with pious awe and trembling solicitude.

By this wise prejudice we are taught to look with horror on those children of their country who are prompt rashly to hack that aged parent in pieces and put him into the kettle of magicians, in hopes that by their poisonous weeds and wild incantations they may regenerate the paternal constitutions and renovate their father’s life.”

To hack that aged parent to pieces. How resonant that must seem to survivors of the Cultural Revolution.

Prof Li said the new team of President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang — both singing from the same hymn sheet according to him, though not others — will start reforming the one-child policy, the hukuo code of rural `serfdom’, and much else, before the end of the year. The last team coasted complacently, he said, relying on post-Lehman stimulus to keep growth going as the old system festered.

Whether China can really pull it off in an orderly way after letting rip with the biggest credit bubble in modern market history is a very open question.

But let us wish them the best of British luck, and celebrate our new Special Relationship with China.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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