From Low Trust To High In China

(MENAFN- Asia Times) It's a matter of trust

It's always a matter of trust

– Billy Joel

After the Hong Kong protests of 2019, Han Feizi figured time had run out on his carpet-bagging days in the fragrant harbor. Ah well, all good things come to an end. It was a pretty good run and the mainland never stops beckoning. Han Feizi, however, was apprehensive. He lived in Beijing over twenty years ago and left with a sour taste in his mouth.

Of course, Han Feizi knows everything had changed – he has been dragging clients around Beijing for two decades. He has witnessed the throngs of bicycles disappear from city streets, replaced by cars, only to reappear as candy-colored shared versions.

The two subway lines of 2001 have grown into what locals call the“spider web”, covering every last inch of the city. All of Han Feizi's old haunts have either disappeared or gone hideously upscale.

But still. This is Beijing we're talking about – where Han Feizi has gotten into his share of street altercations, shoved his way through nonexistent queues, hocked loogies with abandon and raised his voice in government offices.

He has even been party to a bloody brawl with steel rebar and cinder block fragments used as weapons – don't ask. Han Feizi suddenly felt too old to be doing this again.

One night, as Han Feizi was hardening himself for Beijing's rough and tumble, he clicked on an Atlantic article by David Brooks. It was a handwringing piece on the decline of social trust in America. While perhaps overwrought, it was written during the lurid 2020 election season when dumpster fires seemed to be burning all over the country. It was a fine essay but one line made Han Feizi chuckle:

Nations that score high in social trust-like the Netherlands, Sweden, China, and Australia-have rapidly growing or developed economies.

Brooks may be a keen observer of America but he obviously doesn't know China. It's fine. The article wasn't about China. Americans, embroiled in a crisis of confidence, were just wistfully extrapolating from footage of China's bullet trains and glittering skylines. Han Feizi knew better. These social trust scores are fruity, reflecting different cultural interpretations of both the questions and the answers.

According to an Ipsos survey, China and India scored the highest on interpersonal trust with 56% saying“most people can be trusted” with third place Netherlands lagging at 48% and unscrupulous Japan ranking near the bottom at 21% (below the US at 33%, Russia at 24%, South Korea at 23% and Columbia at 22%).

Han Feizi does remember not trusting any of the aggressive touts at Tokyo's Roppongi district but they didn't look Japanese. C'mon Ipsos. China and India? Ahead of Japan? And Sweden, Germany and Switzerland? Really?

In 1995, not long after his star turn with“The End of History and the Last Man”, Francis Fukuyama published“Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity.” In it, he laid out his theory of social trust, based on liberal principles, which allowed citizens to spontaneously organize for the greater good – namely to build large wealth-generating corporations.


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