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China’s success spawns problems, offers challenges

Dr. David Lampton

Dr. David Lampton, George and Sadie Hyman Professor and Director of China Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, delivered this year’s Stukes Lecture March 11, speaking on “Chinese and American Power in the 21st Century.”

Lampton, who attributes his lifelong interest in China to “a great high school teacher,” described contemporary China as a society that has “moved an unbelievable distance” since the death of Mao Tse-tung in 1976.

Recalling his own 1976 visit to China, Lampton said he arrived Oct. 10, just 30 days after Mao’s death. The airport was a one-room facility, most of the population lived in rural areas, and China was far removed from the international economy.

He was eager to try out his Chinese, but Chinese citizens were afraid to be seen talking with a foreigner. When they spotted him, they simply crossed to the other side of the street.

Lampton finally managed to corner one man and ask him about a large pile of dirt nearby. The man, who was apparently digging a bomb shelter, looked at him, looked back at the pile of dirt, looked at Lampton again and asked, “What dirt?”

A lot has changed in China since 1976.

That airport is considerably larger now, China is 51 percent urban, and its economic aspirations are high, aiming for 7.5 percent growth this year.

“President Obama would think he’d died and gone to heaven if we had 7.5 percent growth,” Lampton said. But he predicted China would surpass that goal.

Success in China has produced wealth, fueling the growth of the middle class, a group now numbering some 350 million people who “want predictability, fairness, justice.”

Even in the wake of such success, Lampton said, “You do not want to be a Chinese leader.”

Among China’s current problems are corruption, including the dangerous practice of accepting false studies on the efficacy of drugs; employment demands, with 10 million added to the workforce through birth each year; off-the-scale air pollution levels in large cities like Beijing, where visitors sometimes change travel plans to escape the choking miasma; and a below-world-average supply of nearly every resource except coal.

China’s emergence as an economic power raises the problem of “how we get cooperation amidst competition,” Lampton said.

Reflecting on the country’s many challenges, Lampton posed an important question about China for the 21st century: “Is China able to control itself and able to control its external behavior in a way that would be good for the world?”

Lampton took time to answer a number of questions from students following the lecture.

Author of The Three Faces of Chinese Power: Might, Money, and Minds (2008), and Same Bed, Different Dreams: Managing U.S.-China Relations 1989-2000 (2001), Lampton has published articles in many journals and periodicals, including the American Political Science Review, the China Quarterly, the Journal of Contemporary China, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and others.

Lampton received the Ph.D. from Stanford University and is an honorary senior fellow of the American Studies Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. He was the inaugural winner of the Scalapino Prize, awarded in 2010 by the National Bureau of Asian Research and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He was named to the inaugural class of Gilman Scholars at Johns Hopkins University and consults with the Kettering Foundation.


The Joseph T. Stukes Lecture Series brings a distinguished lecturer in history to Erskine College each year. The fund was established by students and colleagues of Stukes, who served as professor of history (1966-74) and vice president for academic affairs (1966-71) at Erskine College.




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