China recently edged out Japan to become the world’s second largest economy by nominal GDP, though they’ve been far ahead of Japan based on purchasing power parity for some time. China’s rise to economic dominance has caused queasy stomachs and raised eyebrows for some in the West, while others have been gloating with self flagellating glee as they put on their kneepads in preparation for the coming of their Chinese overlords.
A reoccurring dismissal of the Asian giant’s meteoric ascension is that China is unequally developed, with the rural inland areas being far behind the urban coastal areas. This is a weak argument based on some vague egalitarian notion of equal distribution of wealth. China is a massive nation with over 1.3 billion people. It’s a special ed fantasy to expect the whole of China to reach modern industrialized levels in the short time since they adopted free market reforms. This criticism would be much like deriding western Europe for being more advanced than eastern Europe. While China is not on par with the West or Japan in terms of per capita income, they have a middle class of 300 million and growing. If a day comes when the entire population does reach a Western standard of living, they’ll have an economy so large that no one will be able to touch them. We may eventually see a global superpower far surpassing the United States that unapologetically acts in its own self interests without regard for the concerns of the rest of the world.
One of the factors behind the assertion that China will reign supreme is the belief in the population’s high median IQs. Most of this belief stems from the high IQs and high tech economies of other East Asian countries, but China covers an area so large that the East Asian categorization is an oversimplification. The current political boundaries of the nation are the result of centuries of warfare and political consolidation, with China being a long lived empire that imposed rule on a patchwork of disparate peoples. Even among the Han, there is large cultural, linguistic and genetic differences. The northern Chinese are more similar genetically to other northern Asians like the Koreans than they are to their own southern countrymen. Should we expect a genetically diverse people to have similar average IQs?
The current estimate of an average IQ of 100 comes from the work of Richard Lynn based on studies showing an urban coastal Chinese mean of 105, then guesstimating that downwards by assuming a lower IQ in the rural areas. It’s been a long standing trend that urbanized areas have higher IQs than rural areas, which is likely the result of both increased nutrition and selective immigration to cities. Lynn’s estimate of 95 for inland China may be correct, but without corroborating data to back that up, it’s simply a guess. What is the actual mean IQ? Well, it’s likely that China’s central government has studied it, but if the numbers are lower than the current estimates, we’ll never see those figures.
But let’s consider those numbers are correct for the time being. What future can we expect out of China? The advancement in technology and science is directly related to a nation’s smart fraction, the percentage above a certain threshold of intelligence. If we assume that East Asians have the same distribution of intelligence as Europeans then the percentage of China’s(and the rest of Asia’s) future population with an IQ above 130 would be as follows:
In the chart we see different estimates based on projected population numbers for 2050 and possible rises in IQs due to the Flynn effect as poorer nations industrialize. Even with a mean IQ of 100, China would have a smart fraction almost five times higher than the U.S. and this doesn’t take into account the likely drop in American IQ as the nation embraces diversity. Some have suggested that these numbers are wrong, because East Asians don’t have the same distribution of IQ as Europeans, which superficially seems plausible. The problem is that there is no evidence showing this and I’m sure while analyzing global test scores, Lynn would’ve reported a sharp variation in IQ percentages had they existed.
Another commonly expressed idea among Westerners is that while East Asians may have higher IQs, they are not as creative as Europeans. East Asians have contributed many interesting developments during the modern era and generally have technologically advanced societies, but the majority of innovations still come out of the West. Is this due to cultures that promote uniformity of thinking or do these cultures exist because of an innate need to conform because of millennia of domestication through civilization? Whatever the case, China’s dramatic rise couldn’t have occurred without a highly intelligent population that has been able to rapidly adopt Western technology and science. It doesn’t really matter where the innovation comes from; as long as it exists, the Chinese will be able to exploit it.
There is no doubt that the 21st century will see China as a central player on the world stage. What will this mean for the U.S. and the rest of the world? We are already seeing a shift away from American hegemony in Asia, with China becoming the biggest trading partner of most of the nations in the region. As China’s economic influence grows, they’ll be able to flex their muscles with increasing strength. They are currently building up a blue water navy with attempts to match the U.S. in capacity and numbers. Right now they are technologically behind, but it’s doubtful that other advanced nations would turn down Chinese money in exchange for military tech. A time will come when China, like the U.S. before it, will use their military might to protect their interests. China has invested heavily in Africa, developing infrastructure, refineries, factories and mining operations. With 100,000 Chinese nationals currently living on the continent, China could easily find an excuse for military invasion if instability threatened the lives of their citizens as well as their business interests. With China holding so many U.S. dollars and being an integral trading partner, there’ll be little the U.S. could do if China moved into Africa, besides giving stern condemnation.
What could be the pebble that trips this giant? Well, besides the threat of global economic meltdown that we currently face, China’s diverse population could also unravel a nation that has been held together through threat of force from an all powerful government. With over a dozen different languages spoken and as many ethnic groups, China is hardly cohesive. The push towards democracy could mean a disintegration of China into numerous political entities. It’s not likely that Tibetans, given a choice, would freely choose to remain part of this empire, nor would the numerous other groups such as the Turkic Uighur or Mongolians. Though condemned by Westerners and pro-democracy groups, China’s clampdown on political dissent has been necessary to sustain its existence. Against the current popular mantra, we find that diversity is not a strength, unity is. If China is to achieve the lofty goals of world dominance that so many expect of them, they cannot do it if fractured into pieces. This will mean a continued rule by an authoritarian one party system and in turn we’ll find ourselves having to deal with a regime that has little interest in the will of people. Only China’s current lack of power is preventing it from acting on its claims of Taiwan and the territory of the South China Sea. With Europe already a neutered shadow of it’s former glory, only the U.S. has the strength to prevent it from doing so. As America begins to implode from bad management and unsustainable expenditures, we’ll see the political will to stand up to one of our prime lenders start to vaporize. Many will find the new Chinese superpower to be not as benevolent as the U.S.