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Remarkable consistency.

I will be traveling to London as of tomorrow, so poasting will be light for the next 7-10 days.

If my flight takes off – a whole bunch of them have been canceled because the Brits don’t know what to do about snow. Meanwhile, the North Pole is positively balmy, at above freezing, and Arctic sea ice is setting new minimums. I will be happy to endure minor inconveniences for the sake of accelerated Tropical Hyperborea.

Forthcoming articles: A comprehensive survey of Russian science, technology, robotization [pending since late last year]; an analysis of whether Putin and Navalny are nationalists, commissioned long ago by Sputnik & Pogrom, which I really hope I can finish before the Russian elections [spoiler: No, they're not]; the existential risk from limited computational space to run our simulation [done, but needs to be tidied up].

I also hope that I’ll be able to focus on my Russia book in earnest from early April.


Featured News

* Mike Johnson: The problems of consciousness: a taxonomy (roadmap to qualia research)

* David Becker: THE NIQ-DATASET V1.3 – A Summary (Part – I)

* spandrell: China doesn’t care about your opinion (informed take on Emperor Xi, from a person who knows China)

* Michael Hippke, John G. Learned – 2018 – Interstellar communication. IX. Message decontamination is impossible

* Glenn Greenwald: A Consensus Emerges: Russia Committed an “Act of War” on Par With Pearl Harbor and 9/11. Should the U.S. Response Be Similar?

* RT: ‘Polocaust museum’: Polish minister calls for commemoration of non-Jewish victims of WWII. Envious. ROGPR has long argued that a Russian national state needs its own genocide museum. Russians were the victims of three genocides in the past century.




* Jing Zhang: How Russia’s ‘red tourism’ is luring wealthy Chinese visitors bored with Paris and Milan

* Leonid Bershidsky: A Russian Business Icon Sells Out to the State

Sergey Galitsky and Magnit were one of the rare genuine entrepreneurial success stories of modern Russia, and now it too has been swallowed up by Leviathan.

The buyer is state-owned VTB, a politically well-connected bank that recently financed the “privatization” of 19.5% of Rosneft. Galitsky did not seem happy with the sale, and the price he got for it was surprisingly low relative to the revenue and profits it was making.

I have pointed out Putin’s success at improving ease of business in Russia. But to what extent is this even relevant now that the state controls 70% of the economy and is expanding its reach into the grocery aisles?

* Depressing Novaya Gazeta account of Russian failure to organize post-sanctions domestic manufacturing of military thermal imagers thanks to nepotism and corruption.

* Moscow has built 70 metro stations in the past 5 years.

* Why does Russia have zero soft power?


Head of Paris division of Rossotrudnichestvo [first problem: impossible for non-Slavs to pronounce] happened to be headed by the former wife of Peskov (Putin’s spokesman), Ekaterina Solotsinskaya, who had been appointed to the position in 2017 when Putin visited France in May 2017.

She refused Zakhar Prilepin, a hugely popular Russian writer and vatnik, access to its hotel on the basis that he was a “Donbass terrorist.”

Russia is not so nepotistic to let that stand, and she had to write step down, albeit for another reason – having two undeclared companies, through which she had been acquiring Paris properties (presumably at the expense of promoting Russian culture). Best part, though? She strongly resisted signing the resignation letter, on the basis that she… had good ties with Ksenia Sobchak and Ramzan Kadyrov (!). So, apart from all that, terminally stupid as well.

On the other hand, she’s much richer than me, so what do I know, really.

* Russia might withdraw from the ECHR, which will automatically eject it from the Council of Europe. Given its anti-Russian bias, that’s the correct thing to do.

* Fred Weir: Why the Kremlin publishes uncensored translations of Western news (on Insomi)



* Audacious Epigone: Fake Russia collusion calumny delivers body blow to FBI’s credibility

* South Africa legalizes expropriation of land from white farmers without compensation. Looks like we’re approaching the Mugabe scenario there.

Advice for Visegrad, Russia: Easen immigration for South African whites. You’ll be:

  1. doing a good, humanitarian/Christian thing;
  2. Trigger the SJWs;
  3. Be better able to deflect German/Brussels lectures about refugees;
  4. Reinforce your own demographics;

* John Derbyshire: WHAT’S WRONG WITH CHINA–A Study Of Unchanged National Character.

Also, you are never going to be so this hardcore:


* Pony Ma (Tencent) becomes richest Chinese person with $47 billion. This is pretty interesting, since there was previously an unofficial rule that Chinese billionaires were not supposed to exceed $10 billion in wealth.(any more, and they got in trouble… corruption investigations, etc.). Have the CPC finally dropped this policy?

* Sinotriumph Chronicles:

* The US is so zogged that it is telling Poland that it shouldn’t count on a meeting with Trump or Pence because of their anti-Polish holocaust law.

* Poles have started asking Ukrainian immigrants about their attitudes to Stepan Bandera. Ambiguous responses = deportation.

* Bryan MacDonald: America’s elite thinks it has a divine right to rule the world

* New Statesman: The polite extremist: Jacob Rees-Mogg’s seemingly unstoppable rise

* Niccolo Soldo: The Visegrad Group’s Exit from Liberal Democracy

* Turkey’s Erdogan in row over ‘girl martyr’ comment on TV. This is very normal and not creepy at all.


Science & Culture

* National Geographic: These People Believe Death Is Only Temporary (photo essay about Russian transhumanists)


Powerful Takes

This entire thread, pretty much:




• Category: Miscellaneous • Tags: China, Corruption, Open Thread, Russia, South Africa 
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BEIJING, Feb. 25 (Xinhua) — The Communist Party of China Central Committee proposed to remove the expression that the President and Vice-President of the People’s Republic of China “shall serve no more than two consecutive terms” from the country’s Constitution.

I don’t normally devote individual posts to China news, since I don’t follow it closely and certainly don’t consider myself any kind of China expert, so I rarely have much in the way of original analysis to contribute.

However, this is pretty important news, so I am making an exception.

One of the achievement of the Communist Party of China is that it has settled on a system of limited terms for its paramount leaders since the death of Deng Xiaoping, which has enabled two peaceful transfers of power: From Jiang Zemin, to Hu Jintao, to Xi Jinping.

Paramount leadership is defined by control of the three key political positions in China: The Presidency, the General Secretaryship of the CPC, and the Chairmanship of the Central Military Commission. Though out of these only the Presidency has a formal two term limit, my understanding is that it helped underpin the informal understandings about the necessity of periodic cadre rotations in the other two. This, along with his failure to introduce a young successor-in-waiting to the Politburo Standing Committee in October 2017, the enshrinement of Xi Jinping Thought in the Constitution, the evident admiration for Putin, and what can in general be described as a general reorientation towards traditionalist, imperial forms, all hint that Xi Jinping is in this for the long haul, to oversee China’s emergence as a world-leading power.

The main problem problem with autocratic systems is their tendency to stagnation. Indeed, one of the very reasons the Chinese introduced term limits and mandatory political retirements in the first place was on account of observing the decrepitude of the late Soviet gerontocracy. Rotation of cadres would seem to be especially important in a policy with no democratic mechanism to give the boot to leaders who have overstayed their welcome.

Nonetheless, if China is to have an Emperor, Xi Jinping is hardly the worst person for it. He is intelligent, well-read, and by all accounts an effective and conscientious technocrat. Since the degree of CPC control over all aspects of Chinese life are far greater than in Russia – for instance, “red telephones” connect Zhongnanhai to the top 50 or so companies, and the Chinese military is suborned to the CPC to a far greater extent than even in the Soviet Union – someone like Xi Jinping can get many great things done.

Even so, we are all subject to age-related cognitive decline, and absolute power wielded to manage the passage across precarious geopolitical straits can just as easily be abused to enrich a circle of cronies. And since we don’t yet have radical life extension, the question of the successor will come up sooner or later. Even the Chinese hurrah-patriots at /r/Sino are discussing these questions, so hand-wringing over this is hardly just a Western conceit about China.

• Category: Ideology • Tags: China, Communism 
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This will be the first month in which Russian Reactions gets more than 100,000 pageviews (standing at 100,336 as of Jan 29).

Highlighted posts since the last Open Thread:

Donations always appreciated:


Main News

* So about Wolff’s Fire and Fury…

Trump was certainly entertaining and a breath of fresh air in 2016. Tragedy is, the first American nationalist President just had to have rapidly deteriorating dementia.


Even if 25% of it is true (and I suspect it is) it still paints a pretty damning picture. But beggars can’t be choosers.

* Aubrey de Grey interview:

* Alexey Turchin – 2018 – Global catastrophic and existential risks communication scale (summary)

* Anders Sandberg – 2018 – Space races: settling the universe fast

* Gwern’s 2017 newsletter.

lewontin-fallacy* Greg Cochran with what might be the best short explication of Lewontin’s fallacy yet written.

* Robin Hanson (he of Age of Ems) publishes Elephant in the Brain. José Luis Ricón has an absurdly long review.

* The Russia Insider scandal: Charles Bausman’s “It’s Time to Drop the Jew Taboo” provoked a predictable response, both from predictable quarters as well as not so predictable ones (RT, Babich, Mercouris).

Well, actually the latter is predictable enough, since The Duran has had beef with Russia Insider since its founding (the split was provoked over allegations of fraud at RI).

I suppose I should lay out my position. I am not associated with either RI or The Duran, though both have re-published my articles (with my permission). I consider Jewish influence a legitimate object of discussion. Problem is that there are few who can or want to do so in an intelligent, productive way (e.g. Emil Kirkegaard has some good suggestions on how to go about this).



* Ukraine’s “reintegration law” basically annuls Minsk II (defines the LDNR as territories temporarily occupied by Russia, and threatens criminal penalties for cooperating with them).

Strelkov believes there will be a Ukrainian attack before the Russian elections on March 18.

* Bryan MacDonald: Are Ukraine’s population figures totally inaccurate? Ex-PM claims 8mn emigrated since Maidan.

For those of my critics who consider me an anti-Ukrainian propagandist:

Anatoly Karlin, a Russian writer at America’s Unz Review who focusses on demographics, claims there are only three explanations for the apparent contradiction. “Either Ukraine is experiencing a baby-boom far bigger than anywhere else in eastern Europe, which seems unlikely given [the current] economic circumstances [or] Ukraine is also fiddling its fertility statistics [or] this theory is nonsense, [and is a] mirror image of ‘dying Russian bear’ trope.”

* Kathy Lally/eXile spat:

* Caitlin Johnstone: What Happens When A Russiagate Skeptic Debates A Professional Russiagater

* Chronicles of Putin Derangement Syndrome:

* Svidomism chronicles:

* NBF: Russia approves operation of 70 Megawatt floating nuclear reactor

* Karina Orlova: An Eight-Year Jail Term Kicks Off Six More Years of Putin. I don’t usually agree with her, but I think she’s correct in her analysis of the Ulyukaev case. Sechin is getting out of control.

* Bloomberg: Putin Family Split Offers Peek at Secret Dealings of Russia Inc. Putin’s daughter has apparently divorced Kirill Shamalov, who subsequently lost a considerable part of his billion dollar “dowry.”

* Straits Times: Russians cut back on drinking, smoking as fitness trend grows. This ties in with my reports on Russia’s improving life expectancy.

* What Solzhenitsyn actually said about nuking the USSR: “And some U.S. generals suggest destroying selectively the Russian population by an atomic assault. It is strange how Russian national consciousness inspires the greatest fear in the world today for the rulers of the U.S.S.R. — and within your entourage. It is the revelation of a hostility to Russia as such, to her people and to the country as distinct from the state structure, which is characteristic of a significant part of the American educated community, American financial circles and, alas, even of some of your advisers.



china-crispr* Some accumulated Sinotriumphalism:

* Peter Frost: The Crisis of the 2020s. Good set of falsifiable predictions.

* Pumpkin Person: Trump’s IQ professionally tested?

* Paul Nehlen: What Wouldn’t Post About My Proposed #ShallNotCensor Legislation

* Deep State chronicles:

* Ben Cardin, the guy Chelsea Manning is challenging, wants to make it a felony to boycott Israel.

* Jerusalem recognition. And they say there’s isn’t a Jewish Lobby:

* Estcoins

* Vincent Law’s thoughts on the Alt Right in 2017.

* SJW highlights of 2017:


* Weev outed as Jew by his own mother. Don’t know if true but hilarious.


Science & Culture


* Nikhil Sonnad: Tea if by sea, cha if by land: Why the world only has two words for tea

* Matej Moravčík et al. – 2017 – DeepStack: Expert-Level Artificial Intelligence in No-Limit Poker

* Bayesian Investor Blog: Moore’s Law and AGI Timelines


* The Russian civilization in Mount & Blade: Bannerlord: “The commercial ethic was strong in early Rus, with the town veche or council ensuring that merchants had a major role in state policy. Danger and opportunity went hand in hand. A Muslim chronicler recalls how the Rus father of a newborn boy would show the baby a sword and tell him this would be his only inheritance: the blade would have to win all the rest of it. The Icelandic sagas, though geographically very far removed from the Rus, have also been an inspiration for the Varangians’ ideal of businesslike warfare and warlike business, the kind of society where a father could say, “Son, you’ve been lazing around the fire all winter. Time to get up and show you can take some responsibility for your life. Go pillage someone.

* Hanson’s viewquake:

* Rosa Luxemburg on Russia:


Powerful Takes




• Category: Miscellaneous • Tags: China, Open Thread, Ukraine 
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Commenter Polish Perspective draws attention to a startling new statistic:

Total spending on R&D in China (as a percentage of GDP) more than doubled from 0.9% in 2000 to 2.1% in 2016… China’s share of high-impact academic publications (the top 0.1% of papers in Scopus, which rates by citations) has grown, from less than 1% in 1997 to about 20% in 2016.

In my 2016 longread, I pointed out that China was converging with America on a broad range of hi-tech economy indicators.

Now yes, Chinese papers have a reputation for shoddiness, being worse on average than Western ones, but absolute values do matter, and quality is rapidly improving anyway.

Incidentally, this is confirmed by China’s performance on Nature’s WFC index, where it rose from 24% of the US level in 2013 to 40% in 2016, and 46% as of just the Oct 2016-Sep 2017 period.

Clearly it is well on the road to becoming a global innovation power, in addition to its already extant strengths in basic manufacturing.

Note that this will not be evident in Nobel Prize statistics until the middle of the century, since they now have a 20-30 year lag time (the Japanese, for instance, only started winning substantial numbers of them from around 2000).

The most interesting question is whether China will converge to Japan/Korea’s level of per capita elite scientific output, or go on to hurtle past them to the Anglo/Germanic level.

If the former, it will still end up the world’s premier scientific power, with around 50% higher Science Point production than the US.

If the latter, its scientific dominance will be commensurate to its demographic preponderance, and as complete as its economic (and probable military) dominance.

Incidentally, Russia is a complete failure on these metrics – it is considerably less productive than a high-functioning small country like Switzerland. I have a 4,000 word post on that ready to go in due course.

• Category: Science • Tags: China, Science 
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1. I do not consider it likely that North Korea will have the means to successfully deliver nukes to population concentrations in S. Korea, Japan, or the US. As far as I know this is expert consensus. It has had impressive successes in both nuclear weaponry and long-range rocketry in the past year, but there is still no concrete evidence of the successful coupling of the two technologies. Without that, you are just going to get a far shorter and less intensive – and likely not that much more accurate – version of Germany’s V-2 attacks against London in 1944-45 (with just three civilian deaths/rocket, one of the least effective military investments ever).

2. The construction of a survivable deterrent capacity is a separate project that will take many more years and might in any case be beyond North Korea’s capacity anyway.


Author’s calculations.

3. The actual strength of the North Korean Army might be closer to 700,000 troops (the widely cited one million figure is now suspected to be more of a fantasy). Furthermore, I don’t see a large percentage of these being credibly combat-worthy. It’s no secret that the North Korean military doubles as a source of cheap labor, from helping with the harvest to road repairs and construction. This is time that they don’t spend training. Healthcare is at a Third World level. That recent defector was swimming in parasites, and those are border guards which could be expected to be more privileged and politically reliable than average. There has since been yet another defector. This raises questions about the real state of morale in its forces.

The often quoted figure of 200,000 “special forces” I suspect are the only ones loosely equivalent in quality to regular First World armies. However, even they are much more technologically obsolete. For instance, even at the most elementary level, none of the North Korean soldiers I have seen in videos ever seem to have body armor – something that has long been standard in modern militaries. As commenter peterAUS also noted, the last experience of real military conflict that North Korea had was more than half a century ago. How much do North Korean generals, and no less importantly, officers, know about modern developments in military theory?

North Korea does indeed have some genuinely “special” special forces with impressive feats over the decades. However, by analogy with other countries, there can’t be more than a few thousand of them.

One more note on morale. Although North Koreans have never lived better – hardly a high bar to clear relative to the barracks socialism of Kim Il-Sung and the famines of Kim Jong Il – this has also translated into a large material gap between elites and commoners. To be sure, North Korea has always had draconian, legally entrenched class differences that would put any capitalist country to shame (read about Songbun), but it is only in the past decade that is has become more visible than ever before – that is, the Pyongyang elite now has cars and access to department stores, while the rest have only have bootleg DVDs about the unimaginable quality of life in China and South Korea. And we know from cliodynamics that rising inequality is the death of asabiya. Unclear if unprivileged conscripts would still want to fight for such a country.

4. North Korea’s air defense system is extremely dense, and with over 150 AAA positions, Pyongyang is the most defended city in the world. But the guns and fire-control radar are of 1950′s/60′s Soviet vintage.

Much good they will do against this scenario (which is itself from 2003):

Six B-2s each armed with 80 500-lb JDAMs sequentially launch from Guam. The strike is coordinated with several divisions of B1-s with 12 JDAMs per aircraft and F-117s with two laser-guided precision-guided weapons per aircraft, taking off from other bases in the region. These strikes would be deconflicted with the launch of more than 300 Tomahawk cruise missiles from the various cruisers and submarines positioned in the Pacific. Six additional B2s, flying out of their homebase in Missouri, time their arrival closely behind – loaded with 24 1,000lb JDAMs or 16 2,000lb JDAMs. One thousand targets could be destroyed prior to sunrise.

5. The US has by far the best SIGINT in the world, and more of it is concentrated per square kilometer in North Korea than on any other country in the world.

Recent leaks indicate that voices within the Trump administration, including McMaster and Trump himself, want to “punch North Korea in the nose,” for instance, by destroying a launch site while the North Koreans are prepping for a new missile test. They should have no problems in doing so.

I do not believe it at all likely that China will intervene. While China has a formal alliance with North Korea, which it has publicly affirmed it will keep, it has no love lost for KJU and would not mind him getting taken down a peg or two. Another thing that few people mention is that both China and Russia have good relations with South Korea, and are unlikely to want to jeopardize them for the sake of Rocket Man. Neither China nor Russia want a nuclear armed North Korea, which could potentially rebound on them; and should this provoke a pro-Chinese military coup against KJU, then all the better for Beijing.

Consequently, the smart thing for North Korea to do at that point would be to swallow their pride and leave matters be.

6. North Korea has no proportionate means to retaliate against this. Maybe it could just about manage to lob a missile at Japan or Guam, with few chances that they will hit anything important, but that will just invite a much harsher retaliation against its military infrastructure.

7. What North Korea could do unleash its massive artillery forces against Seoul – the “soft” WMD doomsday scenario on the Korean peninsula. This might add up to a few 10,000′s of deaths before they are fully suppressed, especially if chemical weapons munitions are used.

This means total war, of course.

As I wrote, “I suspect it will be a harder nut to crack than Iraq in 2003, or even 1991. It is an ultranationalist regime with a formidable secret police, so you’re [probably] not going to be buying any generals off. North Koreans have higher IQs than Iraqis (so more competent), do not practice inbreeding (so more cohesive), and a have a lot more hills, mountains, and tunnels (which partially negate South Korean/American technological predominance).”

Still, this doesn’t make up for the vast technological gap (which some “anti-imperialist” writers seem to brush off as of no consequence). A South Korean victory over the North is pretty much inevitable, with the KPA getting much the worse of the exchange and ceasing to exist as a coherent force within a couple of weeks if not a few days.

Perhaps the regime’s best technologically feasible bet to stall and massive increase costs for the advancing South Koreans and Americans would be to use nuclear mines (an idea touted by NATO in the 1950s to counter Soviet numerical superiority). Not much the advancing forces will be able to do about this, and will increase their military deaths from 1,000′s or even 100′s, into the 10,000′s.

If China is smart (and they are) they would use the opportunity to try to foment a pro-Chinese military coup against KJU, and/or to take direct control of most of the country under the pretext of defending it from American aggression. With North Korea existentially engaged in the south and the Chinese-North Korean border denuded, this should be a trivial task. Americans end up expending most of the political capital, South Koreans do most of the bleeding (apart from the North itself), and the Chinese end up with most of the actual territory, which it could then leverage in post-war negotiations.

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Guangzhou, China (/r/Cyberpunk)

Some time ago a commenter asked me about the state of China Studies in Russia, an issue that is pretty germane as they increasingly align with each other.

TL;DR – Catastrophic. Simply put, Russia does not have the cognitive tools to understand the country that Kremlin talking points describe as Russia’s “strategic partner.”

Longer answer: Alexander Gabuev, who has a BA/MA in Chinese History from Moscow State University, wrote a couple of comprehensive articles on the state of Sinology in Russia when he was deputy foreign editor of Kommersant:

This post is heavily based on Gabuev’s material.

History of Russian Sinology 101

The first Russian mission to China was in 1714, with contacts for the next 150 years dominated by religious figures (Illarion Rassokhin, Alexey Leontyev, Osip Kovalevsky, Nikita Bichurin). There was a faculty of Eastern languages at Kazan University from 1807-1855 (Nikita Bichurin, Palladiy Kafarov, Vasily Vasiliev), which relocated to Saint-Petersburg State University (SPBU) around 1854. The Eastern Institute was set up in Vladivostok in 1899.

The Oriental faculty at SPBU was disbanded in 1919 and was spread out across other faculties, but Eastern Studies continued flourishing during the 1920s. However, the Soviet Oriental Studies community was devastated by the late 1930s purges, with several prominent Sinologists such as Nikolay Konrad and Julian Shutsky being sent to the Gulag or shot on charges of being Japanese spies.

In the next 50 years, Sinology would recover and develop further, but strongly tied to the perceived needs of the state and, like all social sciences, under tight Marxist-Leninist ideological strictures. The collapse of the USSR brought ideological freedom, but also a collapse of funding (salaries for top Sinologists plummeted from a comfortable level of 400-500 rubles during the 1980s to $30-$50 by the mid-1990s) and spiraling corruption that preempted any flowering of Russian Sinology to this day.

“Sinology is dead”

In June 2011, President Medvedev was presiding over a state prize awarding ceremony. The only Russian social scientists to be recognized were a group of Sinologists, including Artem Kobzev and Mikhail Titarenko, for their work on compiling and editing a six tome Encyclopedia of Chinese Spiritual Culture: “Their work helps us better understand the traditions and spiritual culture of China, they deepen and enrich modern Sinology. Their work is read all over the world…” proclaimed Medvedev. Kobzev followed it up with a short history of Russian Sinology: The first Chinese-Russian dictionary was compiled under a 140,000 ruble grant from Alexander I, and the USSR also financed a Big Chinese-Russian Dictionary. This was a pointed comment; as he soon clarified in a smaller discussion with the President, the Encyclopedia had actually been financed by the Chinese Development Bank at the personal direction of its CEO Chen Yuan, in honor of his late father, who had warm feelings towards the USSR. According to Kobzev’s account, Medvedev was rather distraught by what he had heard, and the Sinologist soon got a letter from the Kremlin telling him that his suggestions were considered important. Soon after, the Russian Fund for the Humanitarian Sciences allocated a total of 6 million rubles [$200,000] in the form of five grants for the study of China. It’s unclear if anything useful was done with them; one of the five grants went to the Philosophy faculty of Saratov State University, which didn’t have a single Sinologist.

This anecdote appears to be pretty representative of the sorry state of China Studies and social science in general in Russia.

There are fewer than 200 academic Sinologists, of whom only about 50 can be considered active (he compares this with 15,000 in the United States, but apparently, this was a big overestimate; Gabuev says: “this figure appears to be wrong, my mistake. picked it up from an American colleague back in 2012 without critically assessing it”). The average age of these researchers is rising inexorably; the director of the Institute of the Far East RAS is 78 year old Mikhail Titarenko [he died in 2016]. Whereas there were 500 experts at that institution in the 1980s, there are now just 147 of them, according to Sergey Luzyanin, the Institute’s deputy director. There isn’t a single academic expert in Russia on the finances, law, or military of China.

This is linked to low academic salaries, even at Russia’s top institutions for Sinology. Here are some of the figures when Gabuev wrote his article:

  • 16,000 rubles ($500 at 2012/13 exchange rates) for a Research Fellow, 27,000 rubles ($900) for a senior researcher at the Institute of the Far East RAS.
  • 30,000 rubles [$1,000] for an Assistant Professor, 45,000 rubles [$1,500] for a full Professor at Moscow State University’s (MSU) Institute of Asian and African Countries.
  • Salaries are 20% higher at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs-affiliated Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) than at the MSU.
  • Literally the only institution where Russian Sinologists get an internationally respectable salary is at the Higher School of Economics – salaries of 150,000-200,000 rubles ($5,000-$6,500) are not atypical.

Things are even worse outside the capital. Saint-Petersburg State University, the second most prominent China Studies center in Russia outside Moscow, had to close down a program on the Chinese economy around 2011 due to lack of financing, and the third center of Russian Sinology, the Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok, closed down its Eastern Institute, an organziation that traced back its lineage to Tsarist times, at around the same time.

Only a few dozen scientific articles on China are produced per year, and their quality lags English language output, even though the latter produces orders of magnitude more material. Many of their articles aren’t even open access; a significant percentage are merely reference works for the country’s leaderships, prepared whenever there are big summits or other major state events in China. Furthermore, many articles aren’t indexed by international databases. “We do not subscribe to the Journal of Contemporary China, it’s too expensive. From 1991 the state doesn’t finance any international scientific partnerships. Not a ruble on literature, on travel, only just the occasional grant for a conference or a book…” says Vladimir Portnyakov, another deputy director of the Institute. New literature is acquired by renting out the Institute’s properties, which have emptied out as a result of so many people leaving after 1991.

Consequently, there is large-scale brain drain amongst young researchers to the private sector, or abroad (it is noted that Israel has seen large improvements in its Sinology in recent years, in no small part thanks to immigrants from Russia – even though, I would add, other business sectors have to the contrary seen a “backflow” from Israel back to Moscow in the past decade). Even those those specialists who stay on have to spread themselves out across multiple institutes to make a halfway decent living, leaving no time for research.

This has also resulted in a generational chasm within the Sinologist community; there are hardly any serious middle-aged researchers. Although there are several respectable Sinologists over the age of fifty who were produced in the USSR: Alexander Lomanov, Sergey Luzyanin, Andrey Ostrovsky, Vladimir Portyakov, Viktor Larin, Alexey Voskresensky, Vladimir Korsun, Andrey Karneev, Alexander Lukin, Mikhail Karpov, Nikolay Samoylov, Alexey Maslov – the author could name only one significantly younger figure, Vasily Kashin, at the CAST thinktank.

The state of affairs is no better at the state level

The main source of China talent in Russia is in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Gabuev’s sources mention several particularly competent people: Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov, Thailand ambassador Kirill Barsky, China ambassador Andrey Denisov, and a few other members of the Russian diplomatic staff in China. (This makes sense; in one of my Twitter conversations with Chinese Russianist Xin Zhang, he pointed out that “one related problem is agenda for bilateral communication between specialists are still highly state-sactioned”). However, according to a business source, this doesn’t apply to people in the lower rungs: “The people at the top level can be okay. But the people on the ground are not the best, in the sense of helping out businesses or even as a source of expertise, they are quite useless.” This reflects the narrow focus of China experts in the Russian state structures, who focus on highly specific areas such as classic “high diplomacy,” nuclear non-proliferation, and the banalities of arranging Putin’s meetings with Chinese leaders. And this is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In contrast, there is almost a singular lack of Sinologists within Russia’s economics-related Ministries.

The situation in the “silovik” agencies is, if anything, even worse. In Russia’s military intelligence, the GRU, there is precisely one (!) analyst working on the Chinese military (before Serdyukov’s reforms, there were two). During the Russian-Chinese military exercises “Maritime Cooperation 2012,” the Chinese had nearly 200 young officers with a solid knowledge of Russian at hand to provide linguistic support; the Russians could only muster three translators. Evidently, the Chinese military has made efforts to build up a large base of Russia expertise, unlike Russia with respect to China. So do bear this in mind whenever you read the next Andrei Martyanov article about Russia’s supposed military dominance over China. Even if that is an accurate assessment – and I have my doubts – do note that there would be almost no-one to translate intercepted Chinese communications within the Russian Army (hopefully the Americans don’t block access to Google Translate).

I would note that many of these observations are backed up by the aforementioned Xin Zhang, who in 2014 corrected me on my prior belief that the state of Sinology and Russianology in Russia and China were similarly dismal: “… likely more Russian experts in China than the other way… In Shanghai, we held conferences & seminars in Russian, although translation is needed for some participants.”

No China expertise in the media

Both RIA and ITER-TASS only had around half a dozen journalists each in their Beijing bureaus as of when Gabuev wrote his articles. None of Russia’s major broadsheets, even the “serious” ones like Kommersant and Vedomosti, have a presence on the ground in China. For comparison, major Western news agencies have bureaus of 15-20 people in Beijing, as well as employees in the provincial centers. It also far less than the attention China devotes to Russia: There are 70 people in the Xinhua bureau in Moscow. Consequently, there is far less news about China in the Russian press relative to the other major countries. I would also add as an observer of both the Western and Russian media that much of it basically consists of reprints of Western coverage of China, as opposed to original journalism.

The business sector isn’t interested either

Despite China being Russia’s largest trading partner – and its main bulwark against more serious Western sanctions – Russia’s state corporations aren’t rushing to avail themselves of China expertise, with predictable consequences – Gabuev cites a $3.5 billion loss in Rosneft from an unsuccessful pipeline to China, and Gazprom’s repeated failed attempts to enter the Chinese gas markets. Neither is the situation in the private sector much better. There only partial exceptions to this dismal picture are nuclear power monopoly Rosatom and development bank Vnesheconombank in the state sector, and Deripaska’s En+ Group in the private sector.

Certainly there is nothing on the scale of Chinese business analysis of Russia, such as that of the Chinese state-owned oil company CNPC. Not only does it maintain a large in-house staff of Russia specialists composed of Chinese Russia experts, Russian China Studies majors, and catches from the Chinese bureaucracy and security services, but it even orders reports from thinktanks on topics such as the “prospects of Russia’s political system to 2024 and its influence on Russia’s oil sector.”

Can one imagine anything like this under Rosneft’s Igor Sechin? To ask the question is to answer it.

There are very few instances of state bureacracies or corporations ordering expert analyses from Russian academia, as is typical in both China and the West. “The state has simply left Sinology. And this is a huge mistake. In China, the opposite is happening – the state is developing Russia Studies,” says Alexey Maslov, dean of Oriental Studies faculty at the Higher School of Economics (and a shaolin master). On the other hand, business and bureaucrats aren’t too satisfied with the academic Sinologist community either. “There is no practical benefit from communicating with them. You ask them a simple question, and they start their answer from the time of the Yellow Emperor, and don’t end up clarifying anything. Typical professors,” says one federal bureaucrat.

The future of Russian Sinology

Alexander Gabuev wrote these articles four years ago. In the meantime, the author himself – who can be considered somewhat of a China expert himself – left Kommersant to work for the US-financed Moscow Carnegie Center thinktank, which also happens to be the most highly rated thinktank in Russia. One can consider this as just one more depressing anecdote in the context of all the dismal things he wrote about Russian Sinology and social science in general.

The following is based largely on my own impressions.

In the years since 2012-13, the situation of Russian academia has improved, especially in the elite universities that are part of Project 5/100 – the state program to get five universities into the world’s top 100 (currently, only Moscow State University qualifies, and that by a hairsbreadth). Salaries there are now quite respectable, and are at least minimally comparable to those at the Higher School of Economics. However, I suspect financing at the Russian Academy of Science, at least if my impressions of the Institute of Psychology are anything to go by, remains catastrophically low.

There has also been a massive increase in the numbers of Russians studying Chinese in the past two decades. Whereas there were just 5,000 Russians studying Chinese in 1997, by 2007 it was 17,000, and by 2017 there were close to 56,000 of them (this is not entirely bad by comparison with the 200,000 Chinese learners in the United States, many of whom I suspect are Chinese-Americans).

On the other hand, the average quality of Chinese instruction in Russia leaves much to be desired, so optimism is premature. As Alexander Gabuev also pointed out in 2013, quoting Alexey Maslov: “Today we have more than 160 universities that offer Chinese… But many of these people are almost impossible to use in real life. This creates the impression that we have a lot of Sinologists. But in reality, they are not Sinologists, their level of Chinese language knowledge is very low.”

Nonetheless, the overall situation does seem to be improving, even if at a slow rate and from a very low base. And there’s no obvious reason for things to get worse.

However, so long as Putin remains more interested in financing the Rotenbergs than RAN – for instance, the planned bridge to Sakhalin might consume about as much money per year as the entire federal budget for science – there can be no serious talk of Russia starting to produce a lot of world-beating research in Sinology or any other brance of science.

• Category: Economics • Tags: Academia, China, Russia 
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For what my views are worth – which is very little, especially in China – I am always for freedom of speech.

That said, it’s worth clarifying that the late Liu Xiaobo was much more a Western nationalist than a genuine humans right activist.

“[It would take] 300 years of colonialism. In 100 years of colonialism, Hong Kong has changed to what we see today. With China being so big, of course it would require 300 years as a colony for it to be able to transform into how Hong Kong is today. I have my doubts as to whether 300 years would be enough.”

“Modernization means whole-sale westernization, choosing a human life is choosing Western way of life. Difference between Western and Chinese governing system is humane vs in-humane, there’s no middle ground… Westernization is not a choice of a nation, but a choice for the human race”

In his 1996 article entitled “Lessons from the Cold War”, Liu argues that “The free world led by the US fought almost all regimes that trampled on human rights … The major wars that the US became involved in are all ethically defensible.” He has defended U.S. policies in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, which he thinks is the fault of the “provocateur” Palestinians.

Liu also published a 2004 article in support of Bush’s war on Iraq, titled “Victory to the Anglo-American Freedom Alliance”, in which he praised the U.S.-led post-Cold War conflicts as “best examples of how war should be conducted in a modern civilization.” He wrote “regardless of the savagery of the terrorists, and regardless of the instability of Iraq’s situation, and, what’s more, regardless of how patriotic youth might despise proponents of the United States such as myself, my support for the invasion of Iraq will not waver. Just as, from the beginning, I believed that the military intervention of Britain and the United States would be victorious, I am still full of belief in the final victory of the Freedom Alliance and the democratic future of Iraq, and even if the armed forces of Britan and the United States should encounter some obstacles such as those that they are curently facing, this belief of mine will not change.” He predicted “a free, democratic and peaceful Iraq will emerge.”

His closest equivalent in Russia would probably be someone like Valeria Novodvorskaya, authoritarian neocon “liberals” who in net terms set back the cause of liberalism and human rights rather than advance them because of the negative reactions their Western cargo cultism and photo ops with John McCain provokes amongst the patriotic toiling masses.

Moreover, just like Novodvorskaya, he was a creation of not so much China itself as the sovok/Maoist system that he pretended to despise:

“I realized my entired youth and early writings had all been nurtured in hatred, violence and arrogance, or lies, cynicism and sarcasm. I knew at the time that Mao-style thinking and Cultural Revolution-style language had become ingrained in me, and my gaol had been transform myself [...]. It may talk me a lifetime to get rid of the poison.”

Unfortunately, a lifetime was not enough.

He was also a strong critic of Chinese nationalism, believing that the “abnormal nationalism” existed in China over the last century had turned from a defensive style of the “mixed feelings of inferiority, envy, complaint, and blame to an aggressive “patriotism” of “blind self-confidence, empty boasts, and pent-up hatred”. The “ultra-nationalism”, being deployed by the Chinese Communist Party since the Tiananmen protests, has also become “a euphemism for worship of violence in service of autocratic goals.”

Contra Alt Right rhetoric, China is one of the least nationalist entities on the planet. What other country legally restricted the birth rates of its indigenous majority while letting minorities have second and third children to their hearts’ content? Even Sweden has yet to “cuck” itself that hard.

Netizens on the Chinese Internet constantly lambast the PRC for its limp-wristedness in responding to foreign provocations.

However, not even all this was enough for Liu Xiaobo. So far as he was concerned, only unequal treaties, only hardcore.

• Category: Ideology • Tags: China, Human Rights, Neocons, Obituary 
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* Reports just coming in that there has been a terrorist attack in Manchester.

Manchester a pretty well-off city, by the standards of the English North-West, though the city’s penchant for hedonism has given the city the lowest female life expectancy in England.

16% of the population are Muslims. Not as vibrant as Luton or Birmingham yet, but it’s getting there.

* New podcast with Robert Stark about automation and basic income.

Also, if you understand Russian, a reminder that I participate in a weekly Russian language podcast ROGPR. We are on our 14th episode as of this week.

* Vincent Law: Who Are Russia’s Black Hundreds?

This is a good article.

* Neo-Nazi converts to Islam, murders Neo-Nazi roommates for disrespecting Islam. TFW you take the WHITE SHARIA meme a bit too seriously.

Of course it happened in Florida. And of course the perpetrator is a ginger. The perfect memetic trifecta.

orb-of-power* #RiyadhSummit: “Three values to embrace to propel ourselves forward. They are tolerance, diversity and hope, and that’s what makes us human.”

They’ve learned the Davosi dialect well, I’ll give them that.

Anyhow, about Saudi Arabia: On the grand list of things to fault in Trump, continuing the bipartisan American tradition of cosying up to the House of Saud is one of the smallest and most irrelevant ones.

They basically subsidize the American military-industrial complex to the tune of several billions of dollars a year (I am pretty convinced the massive price gouging they tolerate is done on purpose and is a sort of bribe).

Frankly for that sort of money I think just about everyone would agree to say some bad things about Iran, turn a blind eye to Yemen, and worship a glowing orb for a day.


* I am not usually one for conspiracy theories, but the Seth Rich affair is very suspicious.

* Zuckerberg’s (new) vision via P.T. Carlo (also discovered this other article of his about the most loathsome neocon bugmen).

* Daniel Chieh’s comment on servitude in traditional China.

* About Ukraine’s banning of, Yandex, and basically half its Internet – will have separate post on that.

* Sinotriumph #1: China’s hyper-competitive schools are forcing parents to take IQ tests before accepting pupils (h/t whyvert)

Meanwhile, the US is still rehashing the same old Bell Curve debates, each one more farcical than the last.

Even as society lags, science continues to move forwards: James Thompson – IQ Brain Map. In the long run, Gnon always wins.

* Sinotriumph #2: The evolution of metros in China 1990-2020 (Peter Dovak).


• Category: Miscellaneous • Tags: China, Open Thread, Terrorism 
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I once wrote a long article about a Korean War II.

But this one chart tells essentually the same tale.


I suspect it will be a harder nut to crack than Iraq in 2003, or even 1991. It is an ultranationalist (not a Communist) regime with a formidable secret police, so you’re not going to be buying any generals off. North Koreans have higher IQs than Iraqis (so more competent), do not practice inbreeding (so more cohesive), and a have a lot more hills, mountains, and tunnels (which partially negate South Korean/American technological predominance).

Still, the gap is too vast for the ultimate result to be in doubt. (Unless China gets involved. Then things get complicated.)

And this is why it’s isn’t going to happen.

I do think that Kim Jong Un enjoys the good life, as do the elites he’s fostered in Pyongyang the past decade – according to Andrey Lankov, one of the foremost experts on North Korea, living standards are now far higher than during the grim 1980s or the dismal 1990s – and would prefer to keep things that way. If there is a limited strike on Nork nuclear facilities in the coming days, I doubt we will see anything more substantial than outraged rhetoric.

China will probably be just fine with that. There is very little love lost between Kim Jong Un and the current Chinese leadership. Xi Jinping recently noted that whereas his father had visited China four times, the son had yet to do so, which is a rather open criticism by demure Chinese standards. This was understandable, since Kim Jong Un has spent the last few years suppressing pro-Chinese factions in his country, including members of his own family (executed uncle, assassinated half brother). I suspect the Chinese are fine with Kim Jong Un receiving a demonstrative slapdown, and wouldn’t mind seeing his nuclear program set back a few years. After all, Beijing is considerably closer to Pyongyang than is Tokyo, to say nothing of Honolulu, and there is no telling what North Korea would do in a truly serious future crisis.

Why not get Donald “I Make the Best Deals” Trump to give Kim Jong Un a good beating, especially when he’s also offering to throw in some excellent trade deals for free. It’s a bargain!

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“Nuclear weapons should be completely prohibited and destroyed over time to make the world free of nuclear weapons,” Xi said, according to an official translation.

There’s just a few problems:

(1) In a world without MAD, China will eventually become an unrivalled military hegemon, by dint of its unrivalled industrial capacity.

(2) Of more immediate pertinence, does this include the couple thousand plus nuclear warheads that China might have tucked away in its 2,500km network of underground tunnels?

karber-chinese-nukes This was the theory proposed by Phillip Karber and his students in a 2011 study [big pdf], which analyzed Chinese fissile materials production and concluded that its nuclear arsenal was an order of magnitude bigger than claimed – perhaps 3,000 warheads.

There’s been a lot of criticism of Karber’s methodology, but its worth pointing out that around the same time, the former head of the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces, Viktor Yesin, came out with very similar figures. In a 2012 article for a Moscow military think-tank (pp. 25), Yesin posited China could have some 1,600-1,800 warheads.

This would be a pretty clever strategy on the part of the Chinese – quietly build up nuclear parity with the US and Russia, then strike up a progressive pose to build up stress cred with American leftists and “civilized” Yuropeans who will push for disarmament with gusto now that the Oval Office will be occupied by someone whom they view as a crazed General Ripper character.

This seems to be a concrete strategy the Chinese have adopted. They are now also talking a lot more about their love for renewable energy, their respect for small nation sovereignty, and about how Trump is a big fat ignorant idiot in general, all topics bound to resound well with the besuited latte-sipping IYI class of D.C., New York, and Brussels.

Most conveniently, the Americans might even take Russia along for the ride. Not only has nuclear disarmament traditionally focused around the Russia-US relationship, but Trump has also gone back on his old promise to upgrade the US nuclear arsenal, and is now linking the removal of Russia sanctions to nuclear downsizing.

A US with fewer or no nukes sees only a modest hit to its relative global power, at least in the medium-term, before the arrival of Chinese primacy.

But a Russia with far fewer or no nukes becomes a sidenote to world politics, and the Chinese threat to its Far East – currently entirely fictive – becomes quite germane.

I am by no means a Sinophobe, and as a country that practices realism, it is perfectly understandable for China to be doing what it is.

But it also has to be acknowledged that a world in which the US and Russia disarm while China potentially retains a huge, hidden nuclear complex will be a more dangerous and undesirable one. Now that China is beginning to stake out an “activist” position on this issue, it would be well warranted – before the beginning of any further serious talk about nuclear disarmament – to devote much more serious publicity and research to clarify whether Karber’s and Esin’s theories on the true size of China’s nuclear arsenal are, in fact, correct.

If it emerges that they do in fact have merit, then all future nuclear discussions must become a trilateral affair.

• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: China, Nuclear Weapons 
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Here is the download link:


First Impressions

(1) China B-S-J-G (Beijing-Shanghai-Jiangsu-Guangdong) has a PISA-equivalent national IQ of 102. This is actually worse than the IQ=103 leaked 2009 results based on 12 provinces, which I posted about a few years ago. Even more curiously, Beijing, Shanghai, and Jiangsu all constitute three of the top five Chinese provinces based on other IQ tests (original), with Guangdong in 7th place; the provinces China uses for PISA are still evidently selected for their likelihood of doing very well. Furthermore, coverage was an unimpressive 64% of the population.

UPDATE: A better source cited by commenter Bobbi based on Raven tests shows Guangdong getting 2 IQ points less than the Chinese average, so this would partially cancel out the inclusion of three otherwise cognitive elite provinces.

(2) Vietnam gets a national IQ of 100, although at 49% based on even smaller coverage than China’s. This, too, was a decline from PISA 2012, when they got around 102. Korea also dropped substantially from 106 in 2012 to 103 this round. All in all – a bad beat for “Team East Asia.”

(3) Russia improved significantly, which went from 96 in 2009 to 97 in 2012 and 99 this year – and this is with 95% coverage. This is likely because the generation that grew up in the 1990s was afflicted by the consequences of the Soviet collapse and shock therapy, which included a near halving of meat consumption and an alcoholism epidemic (education spending also fell, but performance on these tests seems to be pretty inelastic to this factor). But the 2015 PISA cohort was born around 2000, when living standards began to recover along with nutritional diversity and all kinds of other biodemographic indicators. Note that I did expect this to happen: “… in the next decade I expect the Flynn Effect to kick off in Russia’s favor, raising its average IQ levels to their theoretical peak of 100 by the 2020′s.

(4) Poland does not repeat its anomalously good IQ=103 results from 2012, converging down to a still respectable 101.

(5) The US modestly improves to 98.

(6) A major improvement for Argentina, which raised its IQ to 95 by an amazing 10 IQ points. This improvement is so big that questions have to be asked as to how exactly they managed it. It wasn’t because they dropped their commendable habit, first noticed by Steve Sailer, of rounding up their dimmest 15 year olds to take the PISA tests (unlike Mexico, or Vietnam); to the contrary, they continued going well beyond the call of duty, achieving 104% coverage – the highest of any country.

UPDATE: From Sailer’s thread, Gaucho de la Pampa comments:

1) Argentina no longer means Argentina, it’s just the city of Buenos Aires (CABA – Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires) . The results for the rest of the country were invalidated because of cheating:

2) It’s not about rounding up missing schoolchildren, if that many went missing from taking the test the results would be annulled as they were in Argentina, rather in some countries vast numbers of 15 year olds don’t attend school and PISA is a test designed for those attending school.

3) The glass half full interpretation is that as Mexico’s share of 15 year olds that attend school has increased its scores have remained roughly static (though obviously crappy)

LOL, well that explains everything. Good job Argentina!

(7) At the very bottom of the list, the Dominican Republic has a PISA-equivalent IQ of 76, which is roughly equivalent to that of India (which, incidentally, dropped out of PISA 2015, possibly on account of doing so badly in the last assessment). Lynn estimates it at 82. According to an analysis by Jason Malloy, Cuba gets an average of 90 on Raven’s tests, and 105-109 (!) from a couple of UNESCO comparative regional tests. So it’s probably safe to say that Cuba is cognitively better off than the Dominican Republic, which makes its decline from double its income level in the 1950s to 2/3 of it today all the more attributable to central planning.

• Category: Race/Ethnicity • Tags: China, PISA, Psychometrics, Russia 
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Nothing illustrates China’s meteoric rise as some well chosen numbers.

By the end of the 1990s, China had come to dominate the mainstays of geopolitical power in the 20th century – coal and steel production. As a consequence, it leapt to the top of the Compositive Index of National Capability, which uses military expenditure, military personnel, energy consumption, iron and steel production, urban population, and total population as a proxy of national power. Still, one could legitimately argue that all of these factors are hardly relevant today. While Germany’s fourfold preponderance in steel production over Russia may have been a critical number in 1914, China’s eightfold advantage in steel production over the US by 2014 is all but meaningless in any relevant comparison of national power. The world has moved on.

By the end of the 2000s, like Victorian Britain in the mid-19th century, China became the workshop of the world, overtaking the US in both manufacturing and coming very close to it in terms of PPP-adjusted GDP. As a consequence, this was when China also overtook the US on a wide range of consumer welfare and ecological impact indicators, such as exports, CO2 emissions, Internet users, energy consumption, car sales, car production, and number of patents issued. Still, its presence in the hi-tech sector was still pretty modest, and innovation was low. This was not yet an economy that could furnish first-class armaments, or inspire far off peoples to carry out color revolutions in its name.

But as of this year, China is hurtling past yet another set of inflection points – the hi-tech component of its economy, roughly comparable to any of the major European Powers a mere decade ago, is now about to converge and then hurtle past that of the US by the end of the 2010s (even if in per capita terms it remains considerably behind, like South Korea 20 years ago).

This process can be proxied by three indicators: Number of scientific articles published, operational stock of industrial robots, and number of supercomputers.

Science Articles

The SJR maintains a database of scientific publications by country and subject for the past 20 years.

In 1996, China published a mere 29,000 papers, well behind Japan, the UK, Germany, and France (50,000-90,000) not to mention the US with 333,000. As of 2015, however, China had surged to 416,000 published papers, still modestly behind the US with its 567,000 papers but far ahead of everyone else.

science-plagiarism-map Now to be sure, Chinese papers are still considerably less cited than those of the developed world. And yes, this reflects the fact that, on average, the quality of Chinese scientific output remains inferior – less innovative, more derivative – than that of the US. This extends to outright plagiarism; the negative stereotypes about Chinese academia are somewhat borne out by a study that showed that 7-8% of Chinese articles on were flagged for text overlaps, compared to less than 4% for the US and the UK.

Nonetheless, in the “hard”/STEM spheres that arguably matter more for technological progress – and which have much less in the way of a replicability crisis – China is already ahead of the US in terms of total publications: 34,000 to 28,000 in mathematics; 67,000 to 52,000 in physics and astronomy; 63,000 to 36,000 in chemistry; 120,000 to 67,000 in engineering; 49,000 to 41,000 in computer science. The only major spheres here in which the US remains considerably ahead are the more biologically orientated sciences, such as: 196,000 to 69,000 in medicine, 83,000 to 59,000 in biochemistry/genetics, 23,000 to 7,000 in neuroscience, and 18,000 to 14,000 in pharmacology. Otherwise, the US retains clear dominance only in the the softer spheres of social science and the arts: 54,000 to 7,000 in the social sciences, 10,000 to 2,000 in economics, 23,000 to 2,000 in psychology, and 27,000 to 2,000 in the arts and humanities. In one subcomponent that is arguably outright negative value added, that of Gender Studies, the US published 1,456 documents to China’s 23.

The overall trends cannot be denied – Chinese scientific output is rapidly approaching American levels and will probably outright overtake, at least in absolute numbers, by around 2020.


Until recently, the general consensus was that automation would be an issue mainly for developed countries with high labor costs. China, then still seen as a country of boundless, cheap, and disciplined if unskilled labor, was not expected to be deeply affected by those developments (except perhaps to the extent that it would be challenged by renewed competition with First World manufacturing “reshoring” back to the American rustbelts).

This was, until recently, a logical enough viewpoint. Traditionally, the world’s operational stock of industrial robots was concentrated in the most advanced manufacturing economies, with the highest per capita rates seen in Japan (which accounted for a third to half of all industrial robots during the 1980s and 1990s), Germany and the Germanic lands, Northern Italy, and more recently, South Korea. In contrast, until the early 2000s, the publicly available databases generally didn’t even bother to estimate the numbers of industrial robots in Chinese factories so small and insignificant were their numbers.

But from the late 2000s, the robotization of Chinese industry began to explode.


China went from having 32,000 industrial robots in 2008 (~Spain), to 189,000 by 2014 (~Germany) and approximately 263,000 robots by 2015, which puts it ahead of the 259,000 robots in all of North America and just behind Japan’s 297,000. It is therefore safe to assume that China took first place this year. By 2018, China is projected to have 614,000 industrial robots, equal to that of Japan and North America combined.

It is also worth noting that China dominates the global machine tool production industry, having overtaken the two leading countries in that sphere – Germany and Japan – around 2010. As of 2014, China accounted for 30% of the world’s yearly production of machine tools. This is of special interest not only because of this industry’s inherent technological sophistication, but also because of its strategic importance as the only part of the industrial economy that actually reproduces itself and makes everything else possible.


A third excellent proxy for a country’s technological sophistication is its stock of supercomputers, which enable detailed simulations of phenomena as disparate as global climate, protein folding, and nuclear weapons reliability.

China emerged on the supercomputing scene in force during the early 2010s, when it became the world’s (distant) second to the US. However, within the space of the past year, it has surged ahead. According to the June 2016 list of the world’s top 500 supercomputers, China is now marginally ahead of the US in terms of total number of systems, with 168 top systems relative to America’s 165, and well ahead in terms of performance share, with 211 petaflops total to America’s 173 petaflops.


China also hosts the world’s most powerful single supercomputer, the Sunway TaihuLight, which is nearly three times as powerful as the world’s second best (also Chinese) and five times as powerful as the top US supercomputer. Remarkably, it is based entirely on Chinese processors, the US having banned the export of Intel chips used in previous Chinese supercomputers for national security reasons in 2015. Evidently, this has had negligible effects on Chinese technological progress, because China has no dearth of native human capital and a state-backed program to reduce reliance on foreign technologies.


Forget the war against terror, forget the Syrian conflict, forget Ukraine – when historians look back on this period, they will identify China’s emergence as a technologically capable continental economy (soon to far overtake the US in absolute size) that is less and less reliant on the West for its technological convergence is by far the most important geopolitical trend of the century.

As this process unfolds, China is likely to start being more assertive on the international stage. We are already seeing this in the South China Sea, and its recent aquisition of its first foreign military base in Djibouti and plans to multiply its (as yet meager) power projection capabilities by building over 1,000 heavy strategic aircraft – that’s far more than what the US and Russia have combined. (Note that my standing projection is for China to overtake the US in total military power by 2030 and in naval power by around 2040).

It will also come to assume a much bigger presence in science, culture, and soft power generally, though this will take some time to recognize given the long lag times between invention and recognition.

Its also worth emphasizing that this technological emergence is quite specific to China, not to the BRICS in general. South Africa is basically an affirmative action BRIC and not worth mentioning further, while Brazil is the country of the future – and always will be, as per De Gaulle’s witticism. Despite strong recent economic growth, India’s presence in all the aforementioned spheres – published papers, supercomputers, industrial robot stock – is comparable to that of a typical middle-sized European country, its huge population being nullified by underdevelopment and an average national IQ in the low 80s.

As for Russia, while general economic output has recovered and exceeded Soviet era levels, its scientific and technological superstructure remains depressed: Russia’s share of global science papers as of 2015 is now 1.9% of the world’s total relative to 7.6% in 1986 (a drop made all the more remarkable by the USSR’s absence of a “publish or perish” scientific culture); its respectable Soviet-era stock of ~60,000 industrial robots has now almost entirely depreciated without getting replaced; and the quantity of Russian supercomputers in the top 500 in any given year has stabilized at around 5-10 since the late 2000s (i.e., comparable to Sweden). This is a consequence of the post-Soviet degradation of Russia’s human capital, especially its more elite elements, due to the 1990s brain drain; the ultimately lackadaisical approach to industrial and technological policy under Putin; and the intrinsic limitations of a ~97 average national IQ (in comparison, China, Germany, Japan, and the advanced parts of the US and Italy are in the low 100s).

• Category: Economics • Tags: Automation, China, Technology 
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I have often remarked that a convenient way to think about East Asian comparative economic development is to view its three biggest players – China, Japan, and South Korea – as being separated by twenty year “chunks” of development, with Japan being on its leading edge and China being its laggard.

For instance, here is a graph of their respective per capita GDP growth rates from 1950 for Japan, 1970 for Korea, and 1990 for China – the years when all three passed the $2,000 mark (in terms of 1990 Geary-Khamis dollars, the standard unit of measurement used by what is probably the world’s most accessible comprehensive economic history database compiled by Angus Maddison).


This argument has recently been advanced by Jingyi Jiang (via Brian Wang), who likewise noticed the similarity of Japan’s, Korea’s, and now China’s “miracle economy” growth experiences – although his explanation of this might be a bit lacking:

Third, South Korea, Japan and China are geographically close. They trade a great deal with each other, and both South Korea and Japan invest directly in China. These close economic ties suggest that their growth experiences could be similar.

Alternatively, it could have something – just a little – to do with the fact that all three of these countries have First World average national IQs, which have been shown time and time again both on this blog and increasingly in academia to be the best predictors of economic potential around. I know, crazy thought, that.

Jingyi Jiang predicts China’s ultimate steady state level of GDP per capita at around half of the American level. The basis on which he does this is pretty weak: “No country in the world has been able to sustain growth rates of 7 percent or higher for more than four decades.” But this does not have to apply to China, since its level of economic development had been artificially suppressed by Maoist economic lunacy prior to the 1980s. Since China’s average national IQ and hence human capital potential is comparable to that of Japan (which has settled at 75% of the US level) and that of South Korea (at 65% of the US level, but continues eking out small gains), an ultimate limit of 50% seems to be unduly pessimistic.

Of course in population terms China is Japan x10 or Korea x25, so even half the US level of GDP per capita translates to a Chinese economy that is more than twice as large as the US in aggregate and at least as large in terms of military spending even if the share of GDP devoted to it remains 2% and 4% for China and the US, respectively. This is why all the numerous pundits who have argued that the (actually largely non-existent) China hype is all fake by smugly pointing out similar trends with respect to Japan in the 1980s are either idiots or knowing peddlers of nonsense.

• Category: Economics • Tags: China, Development 
HBD, Hive Minds, and H+
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Today is the publication date of Hive Mind, a book by economist Garett Jones on the intimate relationship between average national IQs and national success, first and foremost in the field of economics.

I do intend to read and review it ASAP, but first some preliminary comments.

This is a topic I have been writing about since I started blogging in 2008 (and indeed well before I came across Steve Sailer or even HBD) and as it so happens, I have long been intending to write a similar sort of book myself – tentatively titled Apollo’s Ascent – but one that focuses more on the historical aspect of the relationship between psychometrics and development:

My basic thesis is that the rate of technological progress, as well as its geographical pattern, is highly dependent on the absolute numbers of literate high IQ people.

To make use of the intense interest that will inevitably flare up around these topics in the next few days – not to mention that rather more self-interested reason of confirming originality on the off chance that any of Garett Jones’ ideas happen to substantively overlap with mine – I have decided to informally lay out the theoretical basis for Apollo’s Ascent right now.

1. Nous

Assume that the intellectual output of an average IQ (=100, S.D.=15) young adult Briton in the year 2000 – as good an encapsulation of the “Greenwich mean” of intelligence as any – is equivalent to one nous (1 ν).

This can be used to calculate the aggregate mindpower (M) in a country.

Since sufficiently differing degrees of intelligence can translate into qualitative differences – for instance, no amount of 55 IQ people will be able to solve a calculus problem – we also need to be able to denote mindpower that is above some threshold of intelligence. So in this post, the aggregate mindpower of a country that is above 130 will be written as M(+2.0), i.e. that aggregate mindpower that is two standard deviations above the Greenwich mean.

2. Intelligence and Industrial Economies

There is a wealth of evidence implying an exponential relationship between average IQ and income and wealth in the United States.


Click to enlarge.

There is likewise a wealth of evidence – from Lynn, Rindermann, La Griffe du Lion, your humble servant, etc. – that shows an exponential relationship between levels of average national IQ and GDP per capita (PPP adjusted). When you throw out countries with a legacy of Communism and the ruinous central planning they practiced (China, the Ex-USSR and Eastern Europe, etc), and countries benefitting disproportionately from a resource windfall (Saudi Arabia, the UAE, etc), there is an amazing R2=0.84 correlation between performance in the PISA international standardized student tests and GDP (PPP) per capita. (In sociology, anything about R2=0.3 is a good result).

The reasons for this might be the case are quite intuitive. At the most basic level, intelligent people can get things done better and more quickly. In sufficiently dull societies, certain things can’t get done at all. To loosely borrow an example from Gregory Clark’s A Farewell to Alms, assume a relatively simple widget that requires ten manufacturing steps that have to be done just right to make it commercially viable. Say an 85 IQ laborer has a failure rate of 5% for any one step, while a 100 IQ laborer has a failure rate of 1%. This does not sound like that big or cardinal of a difference. But repeated ten times, some 40% of the duller worker’s production ends up being a dud, compared to only 10% of the brighter worker’s. Consequently, one is competitive on the global markets, whereas the other is not (if labor costs are equal; hence, of course, they are not).

Now imagine said widget is an automobile, with hundreds of thousands of components. Or an aircraft carrier, or a spaceship. Or a complex surgery operation.

More technical way of looking at this: Consider the GDP equation, Y = A * K^α * L^(1-α), in which K is capital, L is labour, α is a constant that usually equals about 0.3, and A is total factor productivity. It follows that the only way to grow per capita output in the longterm is to raise productivity. Productivity in turn is a function of technology and how effectively it is utilized and that in turn depends critically on things like human capital. Without an adequate IQ base, you cannot accumulate much in the way of human capital.

There are at least two further ways in which brighter societies improve their relative fortunes over and above what might merely be implied by their mere productivity advantage at any technological level.


Source: Swiss Miss.

First, capital gets drawn to more productive countries, until the point at which its marginal productivity equalizes with that of less productive countries, with their MUCH LOWER levels of capital intensity. First World economies like Germany, Japan, and the US are extremely capital intensive. It is probably not an accident that Japan, Korea, and Taiwan – some of the very brightest countries on international IQ comparisons – also have by far the world’s highest concentrations of industrial robots per worker (and China is fast catching up). Since economic output is a function not only of pure productivity but also of capital (though subject to diminishing returns) this provides a big further boost to rich countries above the levels implied by their raw productivity. And as the age of automation approaches, these trends will only intensify.

Second, countries with higher IQs also tend to be better governed, and to effectively provide social amenities such as adequate nutrition and education to their populations. Not only does it further raise their national IQs, but it also means that it is easier to make longterm investments there and to use their existing human capital to its full potential.

All this implies that different levels of intelligence have varying economic values on the global market. At this stage I am not so much interested in establishing it with exactitude as illustrating the general pattern, which goes something like this:

  • Average IQ = 70 – Per capita GDP of ~$4,000 in the more optimally governed countries of this class, such as Ghana (note however that many countries in this class are not yet fully done with their Malthusian transitions, which will depress their per capita output somewhat – see below).
  • Average IQ = 85 – Per capita GDP of ~$16,000 in the more optimally governed countries of this class, such as Brazil.
  • Average IQ = 100 Per capita GDP of ~45,000 in the more optimally governed countries of this class, or approximately the level of core EU/US/Japan.
  • Average IQ = 107 – Per capita GDP of potentially $80,000, as in Singapore (and it doesn’t seem to have even finished growing rapidly yet). Similar figures for elite/financial EU cities (e.g. Frankfurt, Milan) and US cities (e.g. San Francisco, Seattle, Boston).
  • Average IQ = 115 – Largely a theoretical construct, but that might be the sort of average IQ you’d get in, say, Inner London – the center of the global investment banking industry. The GDP per capita there is a cool $152,000.

Countries with bigger than normal “smart fractions” (the US, India, Israel) tend to have a bigger GDP per capita than what could be assumed from just from their average national IQ. This stands to reason because a group of people equally split between 85 IQers and 115 IQers will have higher cognitive potential than a room composed of an equivalent number of 100 IQers. Countries with high average IQs but smaller than normal S.D.’s, such as Finland, have a slightly smaller GDP per capita that what you might expect just from average national IQs.

These numbers add up, so a reasonable relationship equilibrium GDP (assuming no big shocks, good policies, etc) and the structure and size of national IQ would be:

Equilibrium GDP of a country exponent (IQ) * the IQ distribution (usually a bell curve shaped Gaussian) * population size * the technological level

Which can be simplified to:

Y ≈ c*M*T

… where M is aggregate mindpower (see above), T is the technology level, and c is a constant denoting the general regulatory/business climate (close to 1 in many well run capitalist states, <0.5 under central planning, etc).

To what extent if any would this model apply to pre-industrial economies?

3. Intelligence and Malthusian Economies


Source: A Farewell to Alms

Very little. The problem with Malthusian economies is that, as per the old man himself, population increases geometrically while crop yields increase linearly; before long, the increasing population eats up all the surpluses and reaches a sordid equilibrium in which births equal deaths (since there were a lot of births, that means a lot of deaths).

Under such conditions, even though technology might grow slowly from century to century, it is generally expressed not in increasing per capita consumption, but in rising population densities. And over centennial timescales, the effects of this (meager) technological growth can be easily swamped by changes in social structure, biome productivity, and climatic fluctuations (e.g. 17th C France = pre Black Death France in terms of population, because it was Little Ice Age vs. Medieval Warm Period), or unexpected improvements in agricultural productivity e.g. from the importation of new crops (e.g. the coming of sweet potatoes to China which enabled it to double its population over the previous record even though it was in outright social regress for a substantial fraction of this time).

All this makes tallying the rate of technological advance based on population density highly problematic. Therefore it has to be measured primarily in terms of eminent figures, inventions, and great works.


Distribution of significant figures across time and place. Source: Human Accomplishment.

The social scientist Charles Murray in Human Accomplishment has suggested a plausible and objective way of doing it, based on tallying the eminence of historical figures in culture and the sciences as measured by their prevalence in big reference works. Societies that are at any one time intensively pushing the technological frontiers outwards are likely to be generating plenty of “Great People,” to borrow a term from the Civilization strategy games.

To what extent does the model used for economic success apply to technology?

4. Intelligence and Technology Before 1800

A narrow intellectual elite is responsible for 99%+ of new scientific discoveries. This implies that unlike the case with an economy at large, where peasants and truck drivers make real contributions, you need to have a certain (high) threshold level of IQ to materially contribute to technological and scientific progress today.

The Anne Roe study of very eminent scientists in 1952 – almost Nobel worthy, but not quite – found that they averaged a verbal IQ of 166, a spatial IQ of 137, and a math IQ of 154. Adjusted modestly down – because the Flynn Effect has only had a very modest impact on non-rule dependent domains like verbal IQ – and you get an average verbal IQ of maybe 160 (in Greenwich terms). These were the sorts of elite people pushing progress in science 50 years ago.

To really understand 1950s era math and physics, I guesstimate that you would need an IQ of ~130+, i.e. your typical STEM grad student or Ivy League undergrad. This suggests that there is a 2 S.D. difference between the typical intellectual level needed to master something as opposed to making fundamental new discoveries in it.

Moreover, progress becomes steadily harder over time; disciplines splinter (see the disappearance of polymath “Renaissance men”), and eventually, discoveries become increasingly unattainable to sole individuals (see the steady growth in numbers of paper coauthors and shared Nobel Prizes in the 20th century). In other words, these IQ discovery thresholds are themselves a function of the technological level. To make progress up the tech tree, you need to first climb up there.

An extreme example today would be the work 0f Japanese mathematician Shinichi Mochizuki. At least Grigory Perelman’s proof of the Poincare Conjecture was eventually confirmed by other mathematicians after a lag of several years. But Mochizuki is so far ahead of everyone else in his particular field of Inter-universal Teichmüller theory that nobody any longer quite knows whether he is a universal genius or a lunatic.

In math, I would guesstimate roughly the following set of thresholds:

Mastery Discovery
Intuit Pythagoras Theorem (Ancient Egypt) 90 120
Prove Pythagoras Theorem (Early Ancient Greece) 100 130
Renaissance Math (~1550) 110 140
Differential Calculus (~1650+) 120 150
Mid-20th Century Math (1950s) 130 160
Prove Poincare Conjecture (2003) 140 170
Inter-universal Teichmüller theory (?) 150 180

This all suggests that countries which attain new records in aggregate elite mindpower relative to their predecessors can very quickly generate vast reams of new scientific discoveries and technological achievements.

Moreover, this elite mindpower has to be literate. Because a human brain can only store so much information, societies without literacy are unable to move forwards much beyond Neolithic levels, their IQ levels regardless.

As such, a tentative equation for estimating a historical society’s capacity to generate scientific and technological growth would look something like this:

Technological growth c * M(>threshold IQ for new discovery) * literacy rate


ΔT c * M(>discovery-threshold) * l

in which only that part of the aggregate mindpower that is above the threshold is considered; c is a constant that illustrates a society’s propensity for generating technological growth in the first place and can encompass social and cultural factors, such as no big wars, no totalitarian regimes, creativity, etc. as well as technological increases that can have a (generally marginal) effect on scientific productivity, like reading glasses in Renaissance Italy (well covered by David Landes), and the Internet in recent decades; and the literacy rate l is an estimate of the percentage of the cognitive elites that are literate (it can be expected to generally be a function of the overall literacy rate and to always be much higher).

Is it possible to estimate historical M and literacy with any degree of rigor?


Source: Gregory Clark.

I think so. In regards to literacy, this is an extensive area of research, with some good estimates for Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire (see Ancient Literacy by William Harris) and much better estimates for Europe after 1500 based on techniques like age heaping and book production records.

One critical consideration is that not all writing systems are equally suited for the spread of functional literacy. For instance, China was historically one of the most schooled societies, but its literacy tended to be domain specific, the classic example being “fish literacy” – a fishmonger’s son who knew the characters for different fish, but had no hope of adeptly employing his very limited literacy for making scientific advances, or even reading “self-help” pamphlets on how to be more effective in his profession (such as were becoming prevalent in England as early as the 17th century). The Chinese writing system, whether it arose from QWERTY reasons or even genetic reasons – and which became prevalent throughout East Asia – surely hampered the creative potential of East Asians.

Estimating average national IQs historically – from which M can be derived in conjunction with historical population sizes, of which we now generally have fairly good ideas about – is far more tricky and speculative, but not totally hopeless, because nowadays we know the main factors behind national differences in IQ.

Some of the most important ones include:

  • Cold Winters Theory – Northern peoples developed higher IQs (see Lynn, Rushton).
  • Agriculture – Societies that developed agriculture got a huge boost to their IQs (as well as higher S.D.s).
  • Inbreeding – Can be estimated from rates of consanguineous marriage, runs of homozygosity, and predominant family types (nuclear? communitarian?), which in turn can be established from cultural and literary evidence.
  • Eugenics – In advanced agricultural societies, where social relations come to be dominated by markets. See Greg Clark on England, and Ron Unz on China.
  • Nutrition – Obviously plays a HUGE role in the Flynn Effect. Can be proxied by body measurements, and fortunately there is a whole field of study devoted to precisely this: Auxology. Burials, conscription records, etc. all provide a wealth of evidence.
  • Parasite Load – Most severe in low-lying, swampy areas like West Africa and the Ganges Delta.

This old comment of mine to a post by Sailer is a demonstration of the sort of reasoning I tend to employ in Apollo’s Ascent.

All this means that educated guesses at the historic IQs of various societies are now perfectly feasible, if subject to a high degree of uncertainty. In fact, I have already done many such estimates while planning out Apollo’s Ascent. I will not release these figures at this time because they are highly preliminary, and lacking space to further elucidate my methods, I do not want discussions in the comments to latch on to some one figure or another and make a big deal out of it. Let us save this for later.

But in broad terms – and very happily for my thesis – these relations DO tend to hold historically.

Classical Greece was almost certainly the first society to attain something resembling craftsman level literacy rates (~10%). Ancient Greeks were also unusually tall (indicating good nutrition, for a preindustrial society), lived in stem/authoritarian family systems, and actively bred out during their period of greatness. They produced the greatest scientific and cultural explosion up to that date anywhere in the world, but evidently didn’t have quite the demographic weight – there were no more than 10 million Greeks scattered across the Mediterranean at peak – to sustain it.

In 15th century Europe, literacy once again begun soaring in Italy, to beyond Roman levels, and – surely helped by the good nutrition levels following the Black Death – helped usher in the Renaissance. In the 17th century, the center of gravity shifted towards Anglo-Germanic Europe in the wake of the Reformation with its obsession with literacy, and would stay there ever after.

As regards other civilizations…

The Islamic Golden Age was eventually cut short more by the increasing inbreeding than by the severe but ultimately temporary shock from the Mongol invasions. India was too depressed by the caste system and by parasitic load to ever be a first rate intellectual power, although the caste system also ensured a stream of occasional geniuses, especially in the more abstract areas like math and philosophy. China and Japan might have had an innate IQ advantage over Europeans – albeit one that was quite modest in the most critical area, verbal IQ – but they were too severely hampered by labour-heavy agricultural systems and a very ineffective writing system.

In contrast, The Europeans, fed on meat and mead, had some of the best nutrition and lowest parasitic load indicators amongst any advanced civilization, and even as rising population pressure began to impinge on those advantages by the 17th-18th centuries, they had already burst far ahead in literacy, and intellectual predominance was now theirs to lose.

5. Intelligence and Technology under Industrialism

After 1800, the world globalized intellectually. This was totally unprecedented. There had certainly been preludes to it, e.g. in the Jesuit missions to Qing China. But these were very much exceptional cases. Even in the 18th century, for instance, European and Japanese mathematicians worked on (and solved) many of the same problems independently.


Source: Human Accomplishment.

But in the following two centuries, this picture of independent intellectual traditions – shining most brightly in Europe by at least an order of magnitude, to be sure, but still diverse on the global level – was to be homogenized. European science became the only science that mattered, as laggard civilizations throughout the rest of the world were to soon discover to their sorrow in the form of percussion rifles and ironclad warships. And by “Europe,” that mostly meant the “Hajnal” core of the continent: France, Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and Northern Italy.

And what had previously been but a big gap became an awning chasm.

(1) In the 19th century, the populations of European countries grew, and the advanced ones attained universal literacy or as good as made no difference. Aggregate mindpower (M) exploded, and kept well ahead of the advancing threshold IQ needed to make new discoveries.

(2) From 1890-1970, there was a second revolution, in nutrition and epidemiology – average heights increased by 10cm+, and the prevalence of debilitating infectitious diseases was reduced to almost zero – that raised IQ by as much as a standard deviation across the industrialized world. The chasm widened further.

(3) During this period, the straggling civilizations – far from making any novel contributions of their own – devoted most of their meager intellectual resources to merely coming to grips with Western developments.

This was as true – and consequential – in culture and social sciences as it was in science and technology; the Russian philosopher Nikolay Trubetzkoy described this traumatic process very eloquently in The Struggle Between Europe and Mankind. What was true even for “semi-peripheral” Russia was doubly true for China.

In science and technology, once the rest of the world had come to terms with Western dominance and the new era of the nation-state, the focus was on catchup, not innovation.This is because for developing countries, it is much more useful in terms of marginal returns to invest their cognitive energies into copying, stealing, and/or adapting existing technology to catch up to the West than to develop unique technology of their own. Arguments about, say, China’s supposed lack of ability to innovate are completely besides the point. At this stage of its development, even now, copying is much easier than creating!

This means that at this stage of global history, a country’s contribution to technological growth isn’t only a matter of the size of its smart fractions above the technological discovery IQ threshold. (This remains unchanged: E.g., note that a country like Germany remains MUCH more innovative per capita than, say, Greece, even though their aveage national IQs differ by a mere 5 points or so. Why? Because since we’re looking only at the far right tails of the bell curve, even minor differences in averages translate to big differences in innovation-generating smart fractions).

It also relates closely to its level of development. Countries that are far away from the technological frontier today are better served by using their research dollars and cognitive elites to catch up as opposed to inventing new stuff. This is confirmed by real life evidence: A very big percentage of world spending on fundamental research since WW2 has been carried out in the US. It was low in the USSR, and negligible in countries like Japan until recently. Or in China today.

Bearing this in mind, the technological growth equation today (and since 1800, more or less) – now due to its global character better described as innovation potential – would be better approximated by something like this:

Innovation potential ≈ c * M(>threshold IQ for new discovery) * literacy rate * (GDP/GDP[potential])^x


I c * M(>discovery-threshold) * l * (Y/Y[P])^x

in which the first three terms are as before (though literacy = 100% virtually everywhere now), and potential GDP is the GDP this country would obtain were its technological endowment to be increased to the maximum level possible as dictated by its cognitive profile. The “x” is a further constant that is bigger than 1 to reflect the idea that catchup only ceases to be the most useful strategy once a country has come very close to convergence or has completely converged.

Japan has won a third of all its Nobel Prizes before 2000; another third in the 2000s; and the last third in the 2010s. Its scientific achievements, in other words, are finally beginning to catch up with its famously high IQ levels. Why did it take so long?

Somebody like JayMan would say its because the Japanese are clannish or something like that. Other psychometrists like Kenya Kura would notice that perhaps they are far less creative than Westerners (this I think has a measure of truth to it). But the main “purely IQ” reasons are pretty much good enough by themselves:

  • The Nobel Prize is typically recognized with a ~25-30 year lag nowadays.
  • It is taking ever longer amounts of time to work up to a Nobel Prize because ever greater amounts of information and methods have to be mastered before original creative work can begin. (This is one consequence of the rising threshold discovery IQ frontier).
  • Critically, Japan in the 1950s was still something of a Third World country, with the attended insults upon average IQ. It is entirely possible that elderly Japanese are duller than their American counterparts, and perhaps even many Europeans of that age, meaning smaller smart fractions from the Nobel Prize winning age groups.

Japan only became an unambiguously developed country in the 1970s.

And it just so happens that precisely 40 years after this did it begin to see a big and still accelerating increase in the numbers of Nobel Prizes accruing to it!

Extending this to South Korea and Taiwan, both of which lagged around 20 years behind Japan, we can only expect to see an explosion in Nobel Prizes for them from the 2020s, regardless of how wildly their teenagers currently top out the PISA rankings.

Extending this to China, which lags around 20 years behind South Korea, and we can expect to see it start gobbling up Nobel Prizes by 2040, or maybe 2050, considering the ongoing widening of the time gap between discovery and recognition. However, due to its massive population – ten times as large as Japan’s – once China does emerge as a major scientific leader, it will do so in a very big way that will rival or even displace the US from its current position of absolute primacy.

As of 2014, China already publishes almost as many scientific papers per year as does the US, and has an outright lead in major STEM fields such as Math, Physics, Chemistry, and Computer Science. (Though to be sure, their quality is much lower, and a significant fraction of them are outright “catching up” or “adaption” style papers with no new findings).

If we assume that x=1, and that c is equal for both China and the US, then it implies that both countries currently have broadly equal innovation potential. But of course c is not quite equal between them – it is lower for China, because its system is obviously less conductive to scientific research than the American – and x is higher than 1, so in practice China’s innovation potential is still considerably lower than that of the US (maybe a quarter or a third). Nonetheless, as China continues to convege, c is going to trend towards the US level, and the GDP gap is going to narrow; plus it may also be able to eke out some further increases in its national average IQ from the current ~103 (as proxied by PISA in 2009) to South Korea’s level of ~107 as it becomes a truly First World country.

And by mid-century it will likely translate into a strong challenge to American scientific preeminence.

6. Future Consequences

The entry of China onto the world intellectual stage (if the model above is more or less correct) will be portentuous, but ultimately it will in its effects on aggregate mindpower be nowhere near the magnitude in global terms of the expansion in the numbers of literate, mostly European high IQ people from 1450 to 1900, nor the vast rise in First World IQ levels from 1890-1970 due to the Flynn Effect.

Moreover, even this may be counteracted by the dysgenic effects already making themselves felt in the US and Western Europe due to Idiocracy-resembling breeding patterns and 80 IQ Third World immigration.

And no need for pesky implants!

Radically raise IQ. And no need for pesky neural implants!

A lot of the techno-optimistic rhetoric you encounter around transhumanist circles is founded on the idea that observed exponential trends in technology – most concisely encapsulated by Moore’s Law – are somehow self-sustaining, though the precise reasons why never seem to be clearly explained. But non-IT technological growth peaked in the 1950s-70s, and has declined since; and as a matter of fact, Moore’s Law has also ground to a halt in the past 2 years. Will we be rescued by a new paradigm? Maybe. But new paradigms take mindpower to generate, and the rate of increase in global mindpower has almost certainly peaked. This is not a good omen.

Speaking of the technological singularity, it is entirely possible that the mindpower discovery threshold for constructing a superintelligence is in fact far higher than we currently have or are likely to ever have short of a global eugenics program (and so Nick Bostrom can sleep in peace).

On the other hand, there are two technologies that combined may decisively tip the balance: CRISPR-Cas9, and the discovery of the genes for general intelligence. Their maturation and potential mating may become feasible as early as 2025.

While there are very good reasons – e.g., on the basis of animal breeding experiments – for doubting Steve Hsu’s claims that genetically corrected designer babies will have IQs beyond that of any living human today, increases on the order of 4-5 S.D.’s are entirely possible. If even a small fraction of a major country like China adopts it – say, 10% of the population – then that will in two decades start to produce an explosion in aggregate global elite mindpower that will soon come to rival or even eclipse the Renaissance or the Enlightenment in the size and scope of their effects on the world.

The global balance of power would be shifted beyond recognition, and truly transformational – indeed, transhuman – possibilities will genuinely open up.

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There is, once again, widespread excitement about the prospects of the Indian economy. This comes on the heel of news that India’s Q3 growth has now marginally edged above China’s, after a statistical adjustment. Can we now expect the Elephant to replace the Dragon as the motor of the world economy?

At times like these it helps to take a longer term view. Assembling GDP growth data since 1960 from the World Bank and taking a moving average of 5 years, I made the following two graphs of the longterm economic performance of the world’s two demographic giants.

The comparison does not come out well for India. It has underperformed China without break, even when China was ruled by Maoists who made Soviet central planners look like paragons of competence by comparison. (The dip at the very beginning is an artifact of the Great Leap Forward and the ensuing chaos and famine). The Licence Raj might not have exactly been a panacea either, but at least markets functioned, and that alone should have made conditions for economic growth orders of magnitude better. Even though China is now about two and a half times richer per capita than India in PPP terms, there are no signs of convergence even to this day, as India continues falling relatively behind.


The difference is, if anything, even more profound when you adjust for population growth, which has been systemically higher in India than in China since the 1970s.

india-china-gdp-per-capita-growth-1965-2014 Will India’s growth rate eventually converge with and overtake China’s? That is almost certain, since relatively poorer countries should in theory be able to grow much quicker than richer one’s by buying/stealing knowhow. The main question is how long will it take: Will it happen in the next few years? Or a decade? Or a few decades?

Increasing numbers of economists are coming round to the view that human capital is the main, overriding determinant of economic growth. According to my own calculations, there is an astounding R2=0.84 correlation between PISA-derived national IQs and GDP (PPP) per capita amongst countries that do not benefit from a resource windfall or suffer from a Communist economic legacy. Unfortunately, India’s IQ appears to be very low, somewhere in the low 80s, so I remain very skeptical of its prospects for becoming a second China.

Still, I don’t want to come off as an India basher. There are a few factors working in its favor too. First, it’s got a very substantial “smart fraction,” i.e. it has relatively more bright people than you would expect from the standard bell curves you have in more homogenous countries. Thank the caste system for that. As Heiner Rindermann showed, smart fractions have a disproportionate effect on a country’s overall economic performance. Furthermore, Indian IQs might be even more environmentally suppressed than in Sub-Saharan Africa. India has comparable rates of malnutrition, likely worse sanitation and hyeginic standards, and more inbreeeding. All this might sound bad and it is but that likewise creates the potential for very rapid improvement, should a strong and capable hand be there to help it along.

In this respect, India is lucky to have gotten Modi.

• Category: Economics • Tags: China, Convergence, India, Indian Economy 
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The Otherness of Self” by Xin Liu, published in 2002. Rating: 1/5.

I don’t want to sound overly demanding, but really, unless a writer is the next Kant or Heidegger, he owes it to his readers to make his prose at least minimally engaging. With this book on too many occasions I was under the impression that I was reading something from the Postmodern Essay Generator. Here is a totally random quote I just pulled from THE OTHERNESS OF SELF: “As Carr argues, a solution to the problem of experience is provided by the Husserlian idea of retention-protention as a horizon from which the experience of being experienced at the present moment stands out.

Come again, amigo? About 80% of this book is PoMo-babble, as verbose as it is apparently meaningless – one is under the distinct impression that Xin Liu is padding out a thesis paper with references to thinkers who are not really at all relevant to the putative object of his studies, the Beihai Star Group and South Chinese business culture. It is with this in mind that we come to the actual content, unearthing which expends no small time of energy and sanity.

In this book, the anthropologist Xin Liu argues that “the human experience itself is narrative in character… time is the life of narrative.” By extension, social life is centered around the perception of time as it relates to the past, present, and future, as well as to the sense of “before” and “after”. He analyzes China’s changing society through the prism of its changing conceptions of temporarily as described in three contemporaneous books representative of the time periods in which they were written, as well as his own observations of business life in Beihai.

In traditional society, social life centered around the family, which in the Chinese word jia carries not only strong implications of materiality but also refers to “not simply a group of biologically connected individuals but a chain of individuals in time.” The family is a rope, its various strands are its various branches, and the single-thread (male) individual is the “personification of all his forebears and of all his descendents yet unborn.” As such, the ethnographer Francis Hsu in his 1948 study Under the Ancestors’ Shadow characterizes Chinese life as a “continuum of descent”, with all its attendant rites and features like reverence for ancestors. I would further note that even the Chinese language supports such an interpretation, with “before” being coterminous with “above” (e.g., 上个星期) and “after” being coterminous with “below” (下个星期). Or in McTaggart’s interpretation, which is heavily expounded on by Xin Liu, the traditional Chinese concept of time is an “A-series”, in which there is “an equivalence between the chain of past-present-future and that of ancestors-self-descendents” – that is, the self is defined in terms of ancestors, and one must honor them by maintaining filial piety and producing children; in their turn, the ancestral spirits will continue looking after the family line.

The Maoist Revolution kept the A-Series but inverted it, such that “the self was no longer imprisoned by the shadow of the ancestors”; to the contrary, the jiu shehui (旧社会), or old society, was to be decisively rejected in the long march to the Communist utopia. This process is reflected in Hao Ran’s massive novel The Sky of Bright Sunshine, written in 1964, in the interlude between the millenarian madness of The Great Leap Forwards and the Cultural Revolution. The novel itself has no dates, it is for all intents and purposes timeless. It features a struggle between a dedicated party cadre, Xiao, persuading the people to join collectives, and the reactionary agent Ma, who does all he can to subvert the Smaller Helmsman’s efforts – up to and including sacrificing his own son for the socialist victory. In this secular-Oriental version of the Biblical story of Abraham, Xiao received The Selected Works of Mao Zedong as a reward. That said, I would note that the millenarian element of the Maoist Revolution – the inversion of the A-series – is not unprecedented in Chinese culture, as we see from the Taiping Rebellion; and furthermore, the very concept of an end-time Da Tong (大同) is integral to the otherwise unchanging, “frozen-in-time” essence of classical Confucianism.

The third novel Xin Liu analyzes is A Song of Everlasting Sorrow by Wang Anyi, written in 1995, in which the nature of time becomes a B-series of “before” and “after” from which the self now becomes alienated from. This is already well into the period of the capitalist roaders, and contemporaneous with the story of the Beihai Star Group that forms the focal point of Xin Liu’s analysis of the self in today’s China. “The total absence of scheduling”, he notes, “is a key feature of South Chinese business practice in general.” The business culture is intensely people orientated, given the importance of building up contacts and grace with officialdom, for the chuzhang is “someone who pleases when pleased.” Now there is no longer either a past orientation or a future orientation. To quote Xin Liu in extenso: “For those whose life is part of A Song of Everlasting Sorrow or is spent on these pleasure trips, the utterance today seems no longer pregnant with either “yesterday” or “tomorrow”; instead, the utterance has become “today’s today.” … It is no longer burdened by the world of ancestors or driven by the promised communist final victory.”

It is here however that we come to the crucial problem surrounding all attempts to reduce the complexities of social life, arising in specific socio-political circumstances, to general sociological theories. One can, like Xin Liu, attempt to situate South Chinese business culture in terms of its perceptions of time. Alternatively, one can note other explanatory factors. Beihai was in the far south, in the mountainous, non-Mandarin speaking Guanxi province – a pertinent point given the realities of high mountains and far away emperors (山高皇帝远). This meant that the enterprising laoban could suborn central officials with “unofficial” holiday trips and the “golden production line of entertainment” at locations far removed from the official scrutiny of Beijing; a matter of overriding importance, as it is these officials who would decide which companies swam or sank.

But apart from that Beihai was also one of China’s fastest growing cities during the transition period. These two factors – the sheer speed of development, and the remote location – strongly incentivize the kind of people-centered, improvisational, and traceless business culture that Xin Liu describes. After all if success depends for the most part on guanxi , not meticulous business plans, then it makes sense to focus one’s efforts on the former. Furthermore, not that many other locations during the transition period fulfilled the two criteria of mega-boom and remoteness. As such, the Beihai story does not seem to have been all that typical, and the business practices it spawned as such may not have existed in so full and flagrant a form in other Chinese regions.

The final point to consider is to what extent this dissolution of self in the river of time was a specific Chinese experience of the transition – or a feature traditionally common to the Chinese, or to societies caught up in rapid changes. Consideration of these points do not necessarily refute Xin Liu’s thesis but they do give cause for numerous caveats, and the more caveats there are to a theory, the less useful it tends to become in terms of explanatory power. First, in his article Why Chinese Is So Damn Hard, David Moser notes that the language’s linguistic idiosyncrasies – namely, the difficulty of remembering less common characters – means that in general, detailed note-taking isn’t as practical; far easier to give someone a call. Second, in his book Future Shock, the futurist Alvin Toffler writes of the impact of modern technology as “too much change in too short a period of time”; an effect that produces social anomie and “shattering stress and disorientation.” The conditions apply to China what with its turbo-charged transition from agricultural subsistence to the Information Age.

As such, the radical simplification of temporal categories implicit in the transition from the A-series to the B-series – and the attendant constriction of a disembodied self between a “before” and an “after” – may well in part be just a coping mechanism of Beihai executives to deal with the information overload produced by the capitalist, “informatized”, monetized, extensively quantified new world that they are constructing themselves.

So, in conclusion. He does have an occasionally interesting idea, such as the laoban-chuzhang-xiaojie triangle; or his theory of time and narrative as applied to post-Maoist China. And in the spirit of Smith, he is capable of making the occasional poignant observation. But these nuggets are deeply buried under an avalanche of quasi-academic vapidity, and aren’t all that universal or profound anyway (certainly not near enough to justify the verbosity expended on their behalf). Yes, hustlers hire call girls to get favors from officials – we get that, it happens in quite a lot of other places too. No need to write 200 pages about friggin’ Husserl to make that point.

THE OTHERNESS OF SELF matches neither the wit and flair of Arthur H. Smith’s “Chinese Characteristics”, nor the lucidity and true erudition of Benjamin Schwartz’s “In Search of Wealth and Power.” It is most not recommended for reading.

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In Search of Wealth and Power by Benjamin Schwartz, published in 1964. Rating: 4/5.


In Search of Wealth and Power is a very dense but richly rewarding tome by Benjamin Schwartz, a noted China scholar. He focuses on the life of the translator Yan Fu to illustrate the culture clashes that arose when traditional Chinese civilization came into contact with Western philosophies.

Yan Fu was a translator and thinker who was one of the first Chinese to engage with Western thought at a deep level. He rejected contemporary thinkers like Zhang Zhidong, who aimed to integrate Western technics onto Chinese cultural foundations – not for him was the slogan “Chinese learning for fundamental principles and Western learning for practical application.” Nor was he a Marxist, to consider society as a mere superstructure to underlying economic realities. Instead, Yan Fu emphasized that if anything there was “more materialism (in the ethical sense)” among Chinese than in the West, whose own material foundations were built on innovative legal, political, and spiritual foundations. In a nutshell, the purpose of Yan Fu’s lifework was to foster the evolutionary growth of these Western qualities, many of them quite intangible, so as to “enrich the state and strengthen the army.” Yet in so doing this through his translations and commentary he ran into many paradoxes, and grew disillusioned with Western thought in the last decade of his life – as did admittedly many Western intellectuals as well. At the end he (re)turned to a form of Taoist mysticism.

At the start it is important to note that Yan Fu was intimately acquainted with all major strands of the Chinese philosophical tradition. Confucianism had been the bedrock of the Chinese state since the Qin dynasty. It stressed the importance of filial piety, of the ruler setting a virtuous example of the people, and of keeping laws and regulations light; however, Yan Fu and numerous other members of the Chinese intelligentsia during that time were coming to see it as a regressive influence keeping China backward. For his own part Yan Fu has little patience with it, beyond keeping its few good parts – mostly those to do with family organization – and extending it to the masses, the armies and factories (much as he perceived Christianity to have laid the groundwork for English public spirit despite its purported theological errors).

The other strand that he drew on is Legalism, a far more practical doctrine that contained the Chinese version of balance of power theory and Machievallian ideas about the state. Furthermore, Schwartz writes, “while the immediate aims of the Legalists may be narrowly fiscal, the germ of a notion of economic development is latent within this mode of thought.”

Finally, there was Taoism; although the least practical of the three, Yan Fu was extremely influenced by it. In its attribution of a deep and incomprehensible driving force he found deep parallels with the monist Western philosophers, as well as a metaphysical lattice to hold together the evolutionary process and the “ten thousand things”. It did not proscribe a frozen feudal order like old-school Confucianism, and it was the polar opposite of the crass materialism of Legalism. As such, Yan Fu considered it the ultimate anchor on which Western philosophical concepts could be moored, even going so far as to argue proto-democratic tendencies in the works of Zhuangzi.

Of course while finding a balance between Confucianism, Legalism, and Taoism seems to be hard enough, meeting the challenge of Western ideas is all the more so. Possible consequences include the very extinction of certain Chinese intellectual traditions, for whereas “one could conceive of wealth and power as an outer rampart for the inner sanctum of essential Confucian values and institutions only so long as the requirements of one were not incompatible with the demands of the other.” But what if it was impossible to build the new fort, bristling with modern weapons, without also “destroying the sanctum”?

This dilemma reflects one universal to all non-Western conservatives who realize their country’s backwardness. For instance, Nikolai Trubetzkoy would lay out precisely this dilemma in his seminal 1918 tract Europe and Mankind, where he noted that whereas Romano-Germanic nations could “move along a well-worn path, looking neither to the right nor left and concentrating its efforts on the coordination of elements from a single culture” and the rest of the world had to manage the culture clash of its own traditions with these European imports. Staying still is not an option because of the West’s military threat; on the other hand, the permanent culture clash involved in copying the West, the so-called “duel logique”, expends precious energy and reinforces the permanent gap between the Romano-Germanic world and the country attempting to modernize. Eventually the situation becomes desperate and the lagging country attempts a “long leap”, covering in a few years what took decades or centuries of organic development in the original countries. But the consequences of these leaps tend to be terrible, according to Trubetzkoy, because it is followed by “a period of apparent (from the European standpoint) stagnation, when it is necessary… to coordinate the results achieved by a leap in a particular area with other elements of the culture.”

Yan Fu stares this dilemma straight in the face. On the one hand, it is necessary to modernize, and – he believes – modernization has to be full-spectrum, and not in just the narrow military sense that he senses will lead to ruin, as with Peter’s Russia. He is a proponent of Herbert Spencer’s Social Darwinism, and applying biological laws to that of society; individuals and nations are evolving, competing, progressing… unfortunately, the process hadn’t taken off in China. So paradoxically, China had to kick-start it via Great Men and legislators, a hopeless task according to at least two of Yan Fu’s Western philosophers – the Master himself, for Spencer believed that social evolution was a natural process that was outside human influence; and Montesquieu, who held that riverine civilizations located on great plains have a natural tendency towards despotism. No wonder then that Yan Fu cardinally reinterpreted Spencer to create a kind of “Evolution and Ethics with Chinese Characteristics,” and vigorously argued against Montesquieu’s crude geographic determinism and understandable lack of foreknowledge about technological changes that would shrink the world and make it more generally conductive for the evolution of democracies. It is stressed throughout the book that Yan Fu’s commentaries on these Western philosophers, his attempts to reconcile them with contemporary Chinese realities as well as its own intellectual tradition, were every bit as significant or even more so to the intellectual atmosphere in China than the actual translations that he performed.

Personally conservative and patriarchal; supporter of a strong state, but also one with liberal elements and public spirit – one gets the impression that disillusioned as he was by the 1910’s, Yan Fu would have had his faith restored by Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew. The state there was not a full democracy, but a managed democracy that maintains fairly strict social mores under a liberal economic environment. He would not have had too many issues with Taiwan either, where a dictator governed until the 1980’s, when – as he might see it – the people had become advanced enough to run the country themselves. As a man who loathed the idea of sudden, jolting changes he would have been aghast at the Maoist model, which developed by Trubetzkoy’s playbook: Importation of a Western ideology (Marxism) in one of its more extreme forms, and its attempted marriage to Chinese cultural traditions (some, like Confucianism, were repressed; others, like Legalism, were not, as Mao indeed was an admirer of Shang Yang’s methods); attempts to “leap forwards” (literally so, in 1959-62); a period of cultural clashes (Cultural Revolution 1966-76) and relative stagnation.

Even so, in a way the Communist Party did introduce important elements of Western thought and habits. There was a real emphasis on development, even if in practice was very inefficient until the late 1970’s. Concepts such as subsistence as the ideal were decisively rejected (in theory if not quite in practice). And one can even argue that the Communists introduced a kind of public spirit with the economic system of rural collective farms and urban danwei system and Maoist songs such as Comrade in Arms and The East is Red (equivalent in some ways to choral songs under Christian civilization). However this sense of community broke up pretty quickly after the 1970’s, people no longer call each other 同志, which formerly meant comrade but now denotes homosexuals in popular parlance, but things such as corruption and greed are also believed to have increased under the new capitalist order. Ironically however a similar process took place in the West, e.g. community life and public spirit is held to have declined since the 1960’s on most metrics both statistical (e.g. wealth inequality, incarceration rate, crime rate, etc) and intangible. So in a sense China and the US are converging towards being richer, more atomized societies. Perhaps Yan Fu would have seen this as a vindication of Spencer’s original vision after all, though then again, it’s not like the “power” part of “wealth and power” is exactly irrelevant today what with an incipient naval race between the US and China in the West Pacific.

What this book exudes in academic dryness it easily makes up in lucidity and erudition. (This is a 1960s Harvard man, writing well before it became widely acceptable to substitute genuine research with meaningless PoMo-babble). Unfortunately the Wade-Giles system is used throughout, but again that’s standard for that time. This won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, unlike Arthur H. Smith’s Chinese Characteristics, but definitely recommended for those who wish to delve into modern Chinese intellectual history, China’s “encounter” with the West more general, and the interplay of traditional Chinese philosophies with interloping Western ideas.

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The latest Experts Panel discussion was about Russia’s burgeoning partnership with China. I especially recommend Mercouris’ contribution which – although unfortunately titled by VoR’s editorial staff)) – is otherwise quite brilliant. My own effort follows below:

First of all, let me preface that I’m one of the biggest China bulls around. Its economy in real terms will overtake that of the US by the mid-2010’s, if it hasn’t already. It’s already bigger in a range of industries, from traditional heavy industry (steel, coal) to consumption (car sales, e-commerce). Its manufacturing wages have caught up with Mexico’s, which is a quintessential middle-income country. If the average Chinese is now about as prosperous as the average Mexican, then the PRC’s total GDP – taking into account its vast population – is now well ahead of America’s.

Nor is it a house build on sand, as many Sino pessimists would have you believe, but on solid, steel-reinforced concrete. Its economic growth is NOT dependent on cheap exports. And fantasies about its “exploited” cheap labor force, which will become increasingly uncompetitive as it develops, belie the fact that the average Chinese now scores higher in international standardized tests than the OECD rich country average. Given the centrality of human capital to economic growth, China’s rise to the top tables of world power is all but assured.

It would be very worrying if China’s ascent was accompanied by the bellicose rhetoric and militaristic posturing adopted by other rising Powers of the past, like the Kaiser’s Germany. But “yellow peril”-type hysteria aside, this does not seem to be the case. China spends a mere 2% of its GDP on its military, i.e. about twice less in proportional terms than both Russia and the US. This is a most fortunate confluence of events, especially for Russia, as competing with China is unrealistic in the long-term – not when its economy is an order of magnitude bigger. On the other hand, deep engagement with China hold out a number of benefits.

First, China gets access to Russian energy resources, bypassing the vulnerable routes past the Strait of Malacca (either overland via Siberia, or across the top of the world via the thawing Northern Sea Route), while Russia gets access to Chinese capital and technologies – much of the latter purloined from the West, true, but so what? Second, both countries secure their frontiers, allowing them to focus on more troubling security threats: The Islamic south and possibly NATO in Russia’s case, and disputes with Vietnam, Japan, and a USA that is “pivoting” to the Pacific in China’s case. Third, resources can be pooled to invest in Central Asia and root out Islamist militants and the drug trade – an issue that will assume greater pertinence as the US withdraws from Afghanistan.

Frankly, the West is too late to the party. It had an excellent chance to draw Russia into the Western economic and security orbit in the 1990’s, but instead it chose the road of alienation by pointedly welcoming in only the so-called “captive” nations of East-Central Europe. Putin’s reward for his post-9/11 outreach to the US was a series of foreign-sponsored “colored revolutions” in his own backyard. While in rhetoric both he and Medvedev continue to affirm that Russia is a European country, in practice attitudes towards them have come to be based on practicalities, not lofty “values” that they don’t even share. So it is only natural that with time Russia came to be more interested in pursuing a relation with the BRICS (“The Rest”) in general, and China in particular.

The West’s response hasn’t been enthusiastic. The BRICS are written off as a bunch of corrupt posers with divergent geopolitical ambitions that will stymie their ability to act as a coherent bloc. Russia and China come in for special opprobrium. While there’s a nugget of truth in this, it misses the main point: The BRICS might be poorer but by the same token they are growing faster and converging with the West, or at least China and Russia are; and while they don’t see eye to eye on all things, they agree on some fundamentals like multi-polarity, a greater say for developing nations in the IMF and World Bank, and the primacy of state sovereignty.

Here is a telling anecdote from an online acquaintance of his recent experiences with the European news channel, Euronews: “A feature of this site is that there’s a world map with happy and sad smileys on it to indicate good news and bad news. And there on Moscow I spotted a sad smiley, so I focused on it, thinking there would be a report on the already day-old and forecast to last another day blizzard that is raging right now across the Ukraine and European Russia… And the “bad news” that I read? The meeting between the Russian president and his Chinese counterpart together with a report and an analysis of the increase in trade between those two states. That’s really bad news, it seems, for some folk.”

And this is not so much an isolated incident, but a metaphor for the general state of West – Russia relations: While the former expects a certain degree of respect and even submission from the latter, it doesn’t tend to make reciprocal gestures, and then acts like a jilted lover when Russia gives up and goes to someone else’s bed. But that’s the reality of a globalized world, in which the West isn’t the be all and end all, and countries have choices. It is high time that the West mustered the humility to finally accept that it has been dumped.

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Chinese Characteristics by Arthur Henderson Smith, published in 1894. It is available free here. Rating: 5/5.


In rich and evocative prose reminiscent of De Tocqueville’s writings on America, Arthur H. Smith lays out what he sees as the core features of the Chinese character and his values. The tone is bold and fearless, making sweeping generalizations and brusque judgments that many today will dismiss as insensitive or “Orientalist,” if not downright racist. I will say from the outset that this is ahistorical and frankly, misses the point. Humans try to understand the world through simplified models, and stereotypes are an intractable part of this process. This was especially true in Smith’s time, when more objective data, e.g. statistical, was severely lacking in China. Thus, while he carefully acknowledges that “these papers are not meant to be generalizations for a whole Empire”, he nonetheless argues that deriving Chinese characteristics by “recording great numbers of incidents,” especially “extraordinary” ones, and setting down the “explanations… as given by natives of the country,” is an entirely valid and legitimate approach for a popular book on that country.

The “Chinese character” that emerges from his account forms a stark contradistinction to what we might call the “Smithian character,” a category that embraces not only the eponymous author but also reflects the values and assumptions of your archetypical fin de siècle American WASP male. The Chinese character goes by nature’s cycles, and does not have a good sense of either punctuality or even his own age; the Westerner, on the other hand, marches to the chimes of the clock. This “disregard of time” is matched by a “disregard for accuracy” – it is mentioned that the real distance of the Chinese li varies depending on terrain, the prevailing weather, etc. Likewise, the real value of the national currency varies from province to province.

Another major element covered by Smith in relation to China is “intellectual turbidity.” This might seem strange, considering that he also talks of how “all the examination halls, from the lowest to the highest, seem to be perpetually crowded”, but one which becomes much more comprehensible after noting that Smith also says that “education in China is restricted to a very narrow circle”. These observations are confirmed by the historical fact that primary enrollment was at just 4% of the eligible school-age population in China in 1900. (This characteristic, incidentally, seems to be alive well to this day, as evidenced by the immense stress that revolves around the gaokao). Nonetheless, the common folks come off as pretty stupid, and unable to grasp the essence of the questions put to them. For instance, in reply to a query about his age, one man’s answer is said to resemble a “rusty old smoothbore cannon mounted on a decrepit carriage.” Although isn’t asking such a question awkward in the first place? That said, at least we can’t fault Smith for not knowing how to throw in a good turn of phrase!

Another major part of the book concerns Chinese attitudes as regards kin, family, society, and nation. Filial piety is extremely developed; in fact, it is over-developed, to the extent that there have been cases of children willing to sacrifice themselves so as to avoid the death penalty for their criminal parents. (Not exactly a civilization with much in the way of individual responsibility). A less extreme but far more widespread effect of this is the devaluation of the worth of women. While Smith is undoubtedly a man of patriarchal views, he subscribes to the Christian idea of the spiritual equality of the sexes, and supports women’s education. These aims are harder to achieve in a society built around ancestor worship, where the prerogative to maintain the “continuum of descent” is overriding. Social sanctions, such as the ones for harboring criminals or traitors, are collective in nature, and go against the idea of personal responsibility. But it’s not all bad, at least as regards violence: “Human life is safer in a Chinese city than in an American city.” Nor are the Chinese dying out like the French:

“Contrast the apparent growth of the Chinese at any point, with the condition of the population in France, where the rate of increase is the lowest in all Europe, and where the latest returns show an absolute decrease in the number of inhabitants. Such facts have excited the gravest fears as to the future of that great country. The Chinese, on the other hand, show no more signs of race decay than the Anglo-Saxons.”

Although there is a widespread “hatred of foreigners,” – but isn’t that quite understandable, given the circumstances of late Qing China? – it does not translate into a sense of national cohesion or patriotism. In practice, it is the family (jia) which come first, and then the clans around which Chinese villages are built. (This appears to be accurate). Concubinage and soft polygamy are rife. Honesty is absent in general, though not always at the individual level. The bureaucracy is stiff, rigid, and all too frequently, corrupt. In modern parlance, we would call this a lack of “social capital.” While Smith acknowledges that Confucianism is a praiseworthy ethical system, the problem is that it is an elite ideology and does not percolate down to the masses. What China desperately needs is “righteousness,” and this can be attained “permanently, completely, only by Christian civilization.”

If there is one overriding problem with Smith’s perspective, it is HIS characteristic of consistently failing to distinguish between Chinese characteristics and undeveloped country characteristics. It was at the edge of subsistence, as repeatedly mentioned by Smith and confirmed by historical evidence; malnutrition was rife, and various infectious diseases were rife, both factors which have major depressive effects on IQ; and the typical absence of literacy can’t have helped either, as literacy is a necessary prerequisite to the development of logical and abstract reasoning. In this context, Smith’s observations that Chinese arguments “consist exclusively of predicates”, which are “attached to nothing whatever”, begin to seem eminently understandable – but on the caveat that what we are seeing is not a Chinese characteristic per se, but the perspective of a literate cosmopolitan on an illiterate peasant mentality (which he perceives as “intellectual turbidity”). Since China has now solved its malnutrition and illiteracy problems – the latest Census put the literacy rate at 97%, and its performance on international standardized tests is now very respectable – this cultural and cognitive chasm has now closed.

The influence of China’s historical backwardness is also clearly manifest as regards the lack of hygiene, the threadbare poverty, the “disregard of accuracy”, etc. Likewise, while he notes the province by province discrepancies in weights, distances, coinages, and dialects, he largely forgoes to mention that this is all in the context of a weak state that is slowly falling apart – in no small part thanks to Western intrusions. Considering the large stock of Chinese mechanical inventions during the European middle ages and China’s long pedigree as a centralized bureaucratic state, it is strange to consider that such differences could be a specifically “Chinese” characteristic. It is worth nothing that even France, despite the prior legacy of Colbert’s dirigisme, only unified its national market in the late 18th century, while linguistic unification would take an additional half a century.

Another point of criticism is that Smith conflates development with Christianity, which surely at least in part reflects his values as a missionary. Nonetheless, this criticism shouldn’t be overdone. The causes of long-term economic development were still largely unknown in the 19th century. Economics had yet to come into its own as a social science, and there was no agreement between the political economists. As such, the assumption that Christianity was a prerequisite of development was not, perhaps, an entirely unreasonable one, given that up to that point only Christian Powers had grown rich and come to rule over most of the world. And it should be stressed that Smith is no fanatic, and only forcefully makes this argument in the last chapter. He is also not averse to recognizing that in many respects, such as personal safety and filial piety, Confucian China is superior to the West.

In the end, it is up to the Chinese themselves to decide whether Smith was a laowai blowhard or someone worth listening to. For the most part they have come down on the latter assessment. The China discourse in the West a century ago was framed in the rather schizophrenic dichotomy between seeing it is a decayed civilization, about to get eaten up by its predatory neighbors, and the “yellow peril,” ready to disgorge its ravenous hordes upon the Christian world. Smith’s observations far surpassed those (admittedly very low) bars in nuance, detail, and understanding. He heavily influenced one of China’s most influential 20th century writers, Lu Xun. And it’s an undeniable fact that some of the negative characteristics he identified continue to plague China to this day, both in terms of “extraordinary incidents” – as in the recent story of a toddler who got ran over to mass indifference, as well as the more objective realm of hard cold statistics – such as the the soaring male to female ratio, which has arisen thanks to the marriage of sex-selective abortion technology with the traditional Chinese view that by “the accident of sex [the daughter] is a dreaded burden… certain to be despised.”

China during the 20th centuries saw many disappointments, traumatic convulsions, and finally, what appears to be a fairly sustainable takeoff into rising prosperity. The characteristics that Smith ascribed to China more than a century ago became redundant: The sense of nation and community was built up under the father-like gaze of Mao, while the transition to capitalism has imprinted upon the new Chinese man a lot of the basic characteristics of capitalism (e.g. “time is money”) that Smith leads us to believe are specifically Western but are not. And we must also bear in mind that America, too, is not the America of Smith’s time, e.g. public spirit and community life is held to have declined since the 1960′s on most metrics both statistical (e.g. wealth inequality, incarceration rate, crime rate, etc.) and intangible. So in a sense China and the “West” are converging towards being richer, more atomized, and for lack of a better term, “post-Smithian” societies. I would therefore argue that while Chinese Characteristics is of great historical and anthropological interest, its direct relevance to China today is very much limited.

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Not often that you see Russia in some color other than bloody red on a world map of corruption or institutional quality. But according to the Open Budget Index (2012 results), the Russian budget is actually pretty transparent as far as these things go.

Of the major countries, only the UK (88), France (83), and the US (79) are ahead. The other major developed countries in the survey like Germany (71), Spain (63), and Italy (60) are all behind Russia (74), as are its fellow – and supposedly far cleaner – BRICs fellows Brazil (73), India (68), and China (11). Of perhaps greater import, only the Czech Republic (75) edges above Russia in the CEE group, whereas all the others – Slovakia (67), Bulgaria (65), Poland (59), Georgia (55), Ukraine (54), Romania (47), etc. – lag behind it. Also noteworthy is that Russia’s typical neighbors on Transparency International’s CPI, such as Zimbabwe (20), Nigeria (16), and Equatorial Guinea (0), reveal almost nothing in their national budgets.

Now of course the Open Budget Index is not the same thing as corruption. You can have an open budget but still steal from it (and this does happen in Russia frequently), and you can also have a closed budget from which few people steal, at least directly (as was the case in the USSR… or to take a more modern example, while Russia’s OBI is now higher than Germany’s, it is inconceivable that state corruption is even in the same league in these two countries).

Nonetheless, there is surely a very significant degree of correlation between the two. Having an open budget means that it is can be subjected to scrutiny; were Russia’s budget closed like China’s or Saudi Arabia’s, Navalny’s work to expose corrupt state tenders would be simply impossible (as it is, the latest ploy corrupt bureaucrats have been forced to resort to is to sprinkle Latin characters into the Cyrillic texts of state tenders so as to confound search engines).

Second, a high OBI score demonstrates the state’s commitment to fighting corruption. If Putin and Co. really didn’t care and were truly the kleptocrats they are repeatedly labeled as by the Western media, they would instead do everything in their power to hide the budget so as to remove the possibility of scrutinizing it. But they don’t. To the contrary, Russia’s OBI has increased from year to year.

As we can see above, Russia’s budget transparency in 2006 was… about middling; consistently below developed world standards, but higher than plenty of Third World countries and even quite a few CEE countries. But by 2012 it was 10th out of 100 countries. If Russia’s government were truly only committed to stealing as much as it possibly could why would it bother with the legislative and institutional improvements that enabled such a change in rankings?

It is now the most transparent of the BRIC’s, having overtaken both (consistently transparent) Brazil and (also rapidly improving) India in 2012.

Of most pertinence, Russia has massively improved its relative position to other CEE countries; only the Czech Republic and Georgia under Saakashvili have registered such appreciable improvements. To the contrary, both Poland and Romania actually registered declines in their overall levels of budget transparency.

Russia no longer even trails the developed world in this regard.

I would also note that this chimes with the findings of the Revenue Watch Index, which found Russia to be one of the world’s best countries at reporting information about revenue from the extractive sector. This in particular goes against the widespread trope of shady siloviki appropriating all the proceeds from Russian oil and gas and murdering the investigative journalists who go after them.


Once again I would like to emphasize that the OBI does not measure corruption. For instance, China is nowhere near as corrupt as the numbers indicate here; FWIW, my own impressions from perusing various indices and reading comments boards from both countries is that “everyday” corruption is somewhat higher in Russia and elite-level corruption is comparable. Nonetheless, the OBI is an objective measure, drawn from concrete metrics, and that alone makes it superior to Transparency International’s CPI, which is a measure of corruption perceptions.

To remove any possible insinuation that I only castigate the CPI because it ranks Russia abysmally low, I would ask the following question: Is it really plausible that Italy is more corrupt than Saudi Arabia, as implied by the CPI, when there is such a vast gulf in their levels of budget openness and other objective assessments of institutional quality?When we actually pretty much know that a substantial chunk of Saudi Arabia’s budget goes into feeding the country’s 15,000 odd princes… that the very country is named after the family that rules it? I find that very improbable. I would suggest it is somewhat more likely that the “experts” and businessmen asked to assign CPI ratings simply bumped up the Gulf states for their (admittedly) very generous and sumptuous hospitality and their pro-Western policies; all factors that would work in the reverse direction in the cases of countries like Russia, or Venezuela.

Still, all that is speculation. Much like the CPI itself. Back in the world of concrete statistics and facts, I think this further confirms my basic thesis on Russian corruption, which goes something like this:

  1. It was extremely high during the 1990′s.
  2. It declined at a steady if not breakneck rate (media narrative – it keeps getting worse every single year under Putin).
  3. The state itself is moderately but not extremely interested in curbing corruption (media narrative – Russia is a “mafia state”).
  4. Today, Russia is not an outlier or an anomaly on corruption when compared against Central-Eastern or Southern Europe. To the contrary, it is comparable to the worst-performing European countries (e.g. Hungary, Romania, Greece), and about middling in the overall global corruption ratings. (media narrative – “Nigeria with snow”).
  5. It continues to improve at a slow but steady pace.

For more information see my Corruption Realities Index, which I developed in 2010 and takes into account the OBI when computing corruption levels.

Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.