China 2.0

The Chinese Pursuit Of The American Dream

In Flushing, Queens, New York
In Flushing, Queens, New York
Li Huafang


Whether a place can continue to attract immigrants relies fundamentally on institutional competition. Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson concluded in their book Why Nations Fail that countries with "inclusive institutions" will attract a diverse citizenry and adequate resources, and that this is advantageous for sustained economic progress. Instead, they argued, countries with more isolated, insular institutions won't enjoy the same kind of economic growth.

My own experience in the United States tells me that China is becoming increasingly important. First, there are more and more media reports about China. From culture to politics, a wide variety of subjects are being covered. Second, Washington, D.C."s think tanks are engaging in more discussions concerning Chinese issues. Two years ago, maybe one to two China-centric subjects a month would appear on Linktank, a service that specializes in publishing information about think tank events. But these days, there are at least two events a week related to China.

Some might think this suggests the "China model" is becoming more attractive globally. But this is very possibly an illusion, given that the increasing mentions of China more often involve criticism, not praise. There are, after all, also more Linktank mentions about North Korea and Iran. But among policymakers and the media, these two countries are regarded negatively.

So which is it: Is China becoming more or less attractive?

In 2010, my friend Jia Jia wrote an article entitled Becoming an American Dad in which he defined the American dream this way: "The idea that one can definitely achieve a better life through one's unremitting efforts." But I don't think this is much different from the Chinese dream. We all want to improve living standards and make the most of ourselves.

Jia Jia outlined two ways Chinese people can become American citizens. The first is through investment. He joked that "Beijing residents with property who live within the boundary of its Fourth Ring Road are all potential American citizens." Considering Beijing's sky-high real estate prices, this isn't really a joke. And the recent problems of smog-ridden Beijing and disease-carrying dead pigs in the river near Shanghai are probably responsible for another wave of Chinese immigrants in America.

The second way for Chinese to become American citizens is more complicated — to become American parents by giving birth to a child in the United States. Once the child confirms his or her status as a U.S. citizen, this fulfills the parents' wish.

Pursuit of knowledge

What Jia left out is the option to study in the U.S. and subsequently find a job, settle down and finally earn citizenship. This is really the Chinese-style American dream.

Since 1978, 1.06 million Chinese have gone abroad to study, and only 275,000 of those have returned home. Although not all of them end up in the U.S., the high quality of American higher education is very attractive to Chinese students.

Competition is extremely important, and if the Chinese elite and their offspring all long for America, then the ideal model of the Chinese dream seems to be the American dream. This is somehow ironic.

So do the Chinese elite indeed aspire to become American citizens? A glimpse of the data from the GRE, an admissions test for American graduate schools, offers a clue. Between 2011 and 2012, India and China are behind only the U.S. in representing the most candidates sitting for the GRE — 33,504 students from India, and 29,255 from China. Relative to the more than 1.6 million Chinese students who take exams to get into domestic graduate schools, this is a small percentage. But if it's truly representative of the number of elite Chinese students who pack up and go live in America, then there must be a problem somewhere.

According to the data, these Chinese students demonstrate a very high average academic level. This is important because it shows that though China's higher education system has been improving for years, it nevertheless fails to retain an important slice of the student population. Though some of these students may eventually choose to return and work in China, that may be because of intense competition within the U.S. rather than because Chinese institutions are attractive to them.

I mention this Chinese-style American dream to make the point that the Chinese elite class has clearly voted with their feet about which is the better system, or at least which has better higher education. And universities are probably the ultimate embodiment of a country's institutional competitiveness.

But the Chinese and American dreams share a lot in common. The principles of freedom of choice and opportunity are universal aspirations. The difference between the two is in the attractiveness of their various institutions. This is where the Chinese can learn from the American model.

To achieve China's institutional reforms, we need to use understand how and why the U.S. stands out globally. And this isn't just about education but also about the country's constitution, which helped give birth to this system. That is ultimately what nourishes the American dream.

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Paying tribute to the victims of the attack in Kongsberg

Terje Bendiksby/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA
Carl-Johan Karlsson

The bow-and-arrow murder of five people in the small Norwegian city of Kongsberg this week was particularly chilling for the primitive choice of weapon. And police are now saying the attack Wednesday night is likely to be labeled an act of terrorism.

Still, even though the suspect is a Danish-born convert to Islam, police are still determining the motive. Espen Andersen Bråthen, a 37-year-old Danish national, is previously known to the police, both for reports of radicalization, as well as erratic behavior unrelated to religion.

Indeed, it remains unclear whether religious beliefs were behind the killings. In an interview with Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, police attorney Ann Iren Svane Mathiassens said Bråthen has already confessed to the crimes, giving a detailed account of the events during a three-hour interrogation on Thursday, but motives are yet to be determined.

Investigated as terrorism 

Regardless, the murders are likely to be labeled an act of terror – mainly as the victims appear to have been randomly chosen, and were killed both in public places and inside their homes.

Mathiassens also said Bråthen will undergo a comprehensive forensic psychiatric examination, which is also a central aspect of the ongoing investigation, according to a police press conference on Friday afternoon. Bråthen will be held in custody for at least four weeks, two of which will be in isolation, and will according to a police spokesperson be moved to a psychiatric unit as soon as possible.

Witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

Police received reports last year concerning potential radicalization. In 2017, Bråthen published two videos on Youtube, one in English and one in Norwegian, announcing that he's now a Muslim and describing himself as a "messenger." The year prior, he made several visits to the city's only mosque, where he said he'd received a message from above that he wished to share with the world.

Previous criminal history 

In 2012, he was convicted of aggravated theft and drug offenses, and in May last year, a restraining order was issued after Bråthen entered his parents house with a revolver, threatening to kill his father.

The mosque's chairman Oussama Tlili remembers Bråthen's first visit well, as it's rare to meet Scandinavian converts. Still, he didn't believe there was any danger and saw no reason to notify the police. Tlili's impression was rather that the man was unwell mentally, and needed help.

According to a former neighbor, Bråthen often acted erratically. During the two years she lived in the house next to him — only 50 meters from the grocery store where the attacks began — the man several times barked at her like a dog, threw trash in the streets to then pick it up, and spouted racist comments to her friend. Several other witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

The man used a bow and arrow to carry the attack

Haykon Mosvold Larsen/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA

Police criticized

Norway, with one of the world's lowest crime rates, is still shaken from the attack — and also questioning what allowed the killer to hunt down and kill even after police were on the scene.

The first reports came around 6 p.m. on Wednesday that a man armed with bow and arrow was shooting inside a grocery store. Only minutes after, the police spotted the suspect; he fired several times against the patrol and then disappeared while reinforcements arrived.

The attack has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms

In the more than 30 minutes that followed before the arrest, four women and one man were killed by arrows and two other weapons — though police have yet to disclose the other arms, daily Aftenposten reports. The sleepy city's 27,000 inhabitants are left wondering how the man managed to evade a full 22 police patrols, and why reports of his radicalization weren't taken more seriously.

With five people killed and three more injured, Wednesday's killing spree is the worst attack in Norway since far-right extremist Anders Breivik massacred 77 people on the island of Utøya a decade ago.

Unarmed cops

As questions mount over the police response to the attack, with reports suggesting all five people died after law enforcement made first contact with the suspect, local police have said it's willing to submit the information needed to the Bureau of Investigation to start a probe into their conduct. Police confirmed they had fired warning shots in connection to the arrest which, under Norwegian law, often already provides a basis for an assessment.

Wednesday's bloodbath has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms — the small country being one of only 19 globally where law enforcement officers are typically unarmed, though may have access to guns and rifles in certain circumstances.

Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert and professor at the Swedish Defence University, noted that police in similar neighboring countries like Sweden and Denmark carry firearms. "I struggle to understand why Norwegian police are not armed all the time," Ranstorp told Norwegian daily VG. "The lesson from Utøya is that the police must react quickly and directly respond to a perpetrator during a life-threatening incident."

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