P.J. O'Rourke on China


Apres his National Lampoon days, P.J. O'Rourke made his bones as a serious journalist (horrible phrase) at Rolling Stone by doing some of the best and most-involved shoe-leather-times-10 travel reporting ever since Tocqueville decamped to America. Via Arts & Letters Daily comes this excellent recent piece based on a trip to China O'Rourke took in 2006. From the opening:

It took me almost two years to realize that what I have is a survey of "the tacit consent of the governed." Not that the Chinese I talked to were taciturn. They were forthcoming enough about their government, but they didn't care much about the political theory of it. Tom said, "Their attitude is, 'Shhh, politics is sleeping, don't wake it up.'"

I talked to people who worked in private enterprise and people who worked in government and people who worked on furthering cooperation between the two. That is, I talked to the kind of people who are necessary to the advocating of freedom and democracy but who, so far, aren't advocating it. We need to listen to what they don't say. Here is a record of what Chinese think of politics when politics isn't what they're thinking of.

This is O'Rourke at his best. Informed by ideological suppositions but not enslaved to them; talking to a wide range of people; bringing his perspective to bear; and more.

Read the whole thing at the World Affairs Journal website.

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  1. That fits my experience dealing with the new Chinese business class: they just don’t care that much.

    Their kids will probably demand the rights they’re too busy getting rich to ask for.

  2. To many of you this may seem like beating a dead horse, what after Iraq, Katrina, Hamas’ election victories, etc. over the last few years, but for those of you who haven’t yet read the memo–there’s more to legitimacy than just elections.

    …in China, Iraq, the United States and elsewhere. Really.

  3. …there’s more to legitimacy than just elections.

    I smell a Godwin violation coming up.

  4. The politically unfree are often content in prosperous times.
    When economies go south is when things get interesting.

  5. His writing reminds of William Faulkner’s. Unintelligible unless you read the whole story about 7 times.

  6. The right to elect one’s leaders is one right. Property rights are another. Any increase in freedom should be welcomed.

    China has started holding local elections, btw.

  7. His writing reminds of William Faulkner’s. Unintelligible unless you read the whole story about 7 times.

    Faulkner was just flat insane. That it made any sense to you at all should be cause for concern.

    PJ? Easy enough for me after one run through, but your Faulkner admission makes me question the source.

    (I kid. But only slightly.)

  8. Agreed about Faulkner. My point with PJ is that he gives details first and his point last. Reminds me of Faulkner.

  9. a good read

  10. Great article. O’Rourke is the master of the anecdote.

  11. I loved those old Rolling Stone travelogues he did in the 80’s. I still quote from the classic, ‘Among the Euroweenies’, when some of my European friends and associates start to get too uppity on me.

  12. You are beautiful, you are unique, but before you have to find your own

  13. Each person in this life, that there is at least a loved one, trying to dream

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