It is the nature of time to continue moving forward. Writers create texts, shape them over time, but then declare them finished, at which point they–unlike reality–cease evolving. This scares writers of non-fiction, especially those in the putatively predictive social sciences, as it leads to the possibility that we will be demonstrated to have been wrong. This is clearly the most terrifying of prospects and to be avoided at almost all costs. While the solution may seem simple – don’t write anything, this is a common but not particularly successful strategy for promotion in academe. The difficulty lies in the method of evaluation of scholars, namely, totaling up the number and quality of works on a cv.
Writing about the past then, or at least about politics and policies that have already made plain the way that they shaped the world, seems like a reasonable course of action. If policies have half-lives, having effects that decay into the future dissipating quickly, then writing about them seems safe. Grabbing the headlines of changes happening today and shaping the way that the world sees the world or perceives it to be is tempting as well.
Enough with cliches, back to the real subject matter. China is a moving target. It is also a complex world of people and politics and culture and history and interactions and events. Variation abounds. The modal story might not be the average situation or the perspective of the person on the ground. The only certainty is that tomorrow’s story is different than today’s and so anything that one writes ending today will be quaint by the time that it comes out in ink and wood pulp.
The question is not will history repeat itself but how. Will the banking sector collapse, drowning in an ocean of bad debt, or will the China critics continue to be wrong as we have for 20 years?
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