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

By James Fallows
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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.


More from the Aspen Ideas Festival

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http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/07/look-for-this-from-aspen-minxin-pei-vs-eric-li/259357/