Vine may have died years ago, and people might try to tell you that TikTok is "the new Vine" (which it isn't), but there are still touchstone Vines that encapsulate a certain feeling. Last night, while I was at an economics lecture about China, I kept thinking of the angry/sad girl who destroyed her hair and was coming to terms with the fact that she was going to be stuck with the consequences for a long time. I had signed up to attend this event because I thought, "Maybe I'll meet someone who is professionally involved in the Chinese economy and that will lead to a job." You know, like the person from The Smiths' song "How Soon Is Now?":
There's a club and you'd like to go
You might find somebody who really loves you
So you go and you stand on your own, and you leave on your own
And you go home and you cry and you want to die
I'm not sure why I ignored the fact that Morrissey told me how it would end up. Nevertheless, I went. And here's what I learned: I could give at least as informative a lecture on the Chinese economy as the speaker gave. More so, actually, because I wouldn't conflate Iceland with Greenland, which he did. And I would have spoken into the microphone instead of mumbling everywhere but AT THE MIC.
The speaker put a lot of stock into the post-development political liberalization experienced in places like Taiwan and South Korea, and although he was quite critical of American firms for investing in China without steering the Chinese system to more freedom, he still believes that a growing Chinese middle class will eventually result in political freedoms. Maybe it's because he's from Korea, so the Korean experience dominates his view. I, however, would argue that China cannot follow a Korean trajectory because it has Tian'anmen Square in its history.
Look at the current situation in Hong Kong: the reason the students feel they have the ability to demonstrate is because there's uncertainty whether Xi will use the PLA in Hong Kong. In that sense, they are in the same place that Chinese students were in back on 3 June 1989. But no one in China has any uncertainty about whether another Tian'anmen would happen today: is there anyone who thinks Xi is more liberal than Deng? And it was Deng who sent the troops in on June 4th. Prosperity leads to freedom when there is ambiguity about how far the newly-prosperous can push. There has been no ambiguity about that in China for over 30 years, now.
The talk was a bust. All I wanted was a job. Is that so much to ask?