A report from the Financial Times’s Beijing correspondent should leave everybody in the Western world laughing out loud (and the Chinese too if they were allowed to). It is only slightly exaggerated to say that the rulers of Western countries, and the US government at the first rank, have been dead scared of the Chinese government and the supposed mighty economy it runs with a visible fist. The US government has been working hard to change its trade policy and espouse industrial policies on the Chinese model. The Financial Times’s report describes how the development of Chinese AI and much else in that country rely on “the thought of Xi Jinping” (Ryan McMorrow, “China’s Latest Answer to OpenAI Is ‘Chat Xi PT’,” May 22, 2024); a few excerpts:

The country’s newest large language model has been learning from its leader’s political philosophy, known as “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”, as well as other official literature provided by the Cyberspace Administration of China. …

The creation of the LLM follows extensive efforts by Chinese officials to disseminate Xi’s ideas on politics, economics and culture in a variety of formats. …

CAC [Cyberspace Administration of China], which has led the way in issuing rules for generative AI and introduced a licensing regime, mandates that generative AI providers “embody core socialist values” and says generated content cannot “contain any content that subverts state power”. …

The training set draws heavily from government regulations and policy documents, state media reports and other official publications, according to portions reviewed by the Financial Times.

One of the dozens of text documents in the data package contains 86,314 mentions of Xi Jinping. “Let us unite more closely around the Party Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core,” reads one line.

We must “ensure that in thought, politics, and action, we are always in high alignment with the Party Central Committee with General Secretary Xi Jinping at its core,” says another.

What we know from history and the invention of widespread prosperity by the Industrial Revolution in the wake of the Enlightenment, as well as from economic theory, strongly suggests that neither imperial dynasties nor Mao Zedong’s thought nor Xi Jinping’s thought nor any guru cult nor any Central Committee can produce such advancement. It looks like the poor Chinese people may be forced to stay at no higher than their current relative GDP per capita, which stands at about one-fourth of the American level. Joel Mokyr’s A Culture of Growth (Princeton University Press, 2018) provides interesting perspectives on the requirements of general prosperity and individual liberty, which cannot be long separated. Two of my short pieces have also discussed this issue: “Fearing Leviathans With Feet of Clay” (EconLog, November 29, 2022), and “Why the Great Enrichment Stated in the West,” Regulation, Summer 2023.

In a future age more rational than ours (let’s be optimistic), everybody will understand how China failed again when its post-imperial state, from Mao’s to Xi’s, tried to marry tyranny and economic planning with general prosperity. Remember Mao’s Great Leap Forward directed by the visible fist of the state. Of course, a tyrannical state can still be very dangerous for freer individuals in freer countries as it diverts to military power a high proportion of the (relatively meager) resources of its hapless people.


I have borrowed the featured image of this post from a remarkable collection of propaganda posters dating from Mao’s Great Leap Forward (1958-1961): BG E16/33 (chineseposters.net, IISH collection); see also https://chineseposters.net/posters/e16-33 and https://chineseposters.net/about/faqs#rights. The image is also reproduced below.


Propaganda poster from the Chinese Cultural Revolution BG E16/33 (chineseposters.net, IISH collection)

A propaganda poster from the Great Leap Forward: BG E16/33 (chineseposters.net, IISH collection)