Look for This From Aspen: Minxin Pei vs. Eric Li

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This happened just a few hours ago, so the video has not yet gone up on the Aspen Ideas Festival's video archive page. But please look for it tomorrow, and I will put up a link when I get one. It was a debate this afternoon between Minxin Pei, of Claremont McKenna and the influential book China's Trapped Transition (right) and Eric X. Li, a venture capitalist and author of such articles as "Democracy Is Not the Answer" (left, below). Both men are originally from Shanghai but have lived, studied, and worked extensively in the U.S.

EricLi2.jpegThe formal topic of discussion was "China and Democracy"; in effect, it was a debate about whether China was nearing the limits of its current authoritarian single-party guided-growth model, or whether it was still gathering steam and had plenty of success still ahead. I am biased, because the subject is of great interest to me and because I was on stage as moderator / referee. But I thought this was an unusually clear, informed, and vigorous airing of contrary views on China's present and future. They pretty much agreed about its past.

Seriously, if you would like the most concise introduction to the case for concern about China's development, you can listen to Minxin Pei's side of the argument in this 80-minute (including audience Q&A) discussion. If you would like an unusually forthright statement of the "China knows best, and don't lecture us when you have such troubles of your own" perspective, listen to Eric Li -- and watch the way they parry each other's arguments. "Debates" at high-toned conferences are often something more like polite seminars. This was an actual contest of views, perfectly civil but with no softening of the hard edges of disagreement. Check it out.

And of course if you'd like a narrative-based approach to these and related questions about China's future...

UPDATE The Atlantic's John Gould has put up a long and very interesting account of the session, which you can read here.


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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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