China in Pictures

From Der Spiegel, a photo essay titled, China: From Mao to the Space Age. Quite an odyssey. The image of the couple on a bicycle under a bridge as tanks pass overhead the day after the Tiananman Square massacre is particularly haunting. So many of our projections about China’s rise are based on the assumption that the regime has won its gamble of offering prosperity and security as a trade-off for political liberalization. That strikes me as a premature conclusion. The China democracy movement probably came too early, both in China’s process of emergence and the world’s process of integration. And by all indications, the regime can still get away with pretty muscular interventions in Tibet, or against the Uighurs in Xinjiang. But the urge to freedom never disappears, and the cost of repressing it will almost certainly become prohibitive as China’s modernization matures and potential growth become proportionally narrower. There are also opportunity costs, such as intellectual creativity, that will become increasingly essential as China moves from a “copy & paste” economic model to one that demands innovation. So the fifty years to come are likely to see as dramatic an evolution as the fifty years that the photos document.

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