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 International Conference on Complex Systems (ICCS2007)

Can You Put That in Writing? Viewing China's Modernization Through the Complexity Lens

Max Boisot
University of Birmingham

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     Last modified: December 31, 1969

It was always assumed that, with the collapse of Communism, some kind of global market order was now pretty much inevitable. China's rapid modernization, currently unfolding in the world's last major communist country, would appear to prove the point. I have argued elsewhere, however, that China may be moving towards a capitalist order but not necessarily towards a market order and that the two are not the same. I have tentatively accounted for this by pointing to the country's cultural and institutional preferences for pre-modern forms of exchange - T\"{o}nnies' Gemeinschaft rather than his Gesellschaft.\par In my presentation I will present the complexity perspective that my colleague Yan Li and I are using to explore the communicative underpinnings of these hypothesized cultural and institutional preferences. Drawing on Kauffman's NK modeling, on Shannon's information theory, and on the history of printing in China, we argue that China's written language imposes a degree of transactional complexity on both economic and social forms of exchange that results in a marked preference for informal face-to-face interactions over more formal and impersonal ones - and by implication, a preference for the local over the global. One can also frame this as a preference for absorbing complexity through social interaction rather than reducing it through cognitive action. Such cultural dispositions bestow important political advantages on those who have fully mastered the written medium, leading to a more hierarchical ordering of the social structure than is typically found in Western societies.

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