Modern China – an Era of Fools

Apr 18, 2011

Zhang Ming bemoans the growing stupidity of his countrymen, much as they’d like to believe they are a nation of wily strategists.

601 Sun Tzu, an unhealthy influence on Chinese minds?


It’s been said that the Chinese are growing stupid. Indeed there’s some truth to it. Just as we got a respite from Zhang Wuben1, we now have a “Miracle Doctor” who supposedly can diagnose your illness just by looking at you (even a photograph will suffice). There are many rumours out there that do not make sense and still are believed by many; plenty of rubbish books that still manage to sell like hot cakes. Clearly, there are many people out there waiting to be taken for a ride, and there’s no stopping them.

Everybody wants to learn to scheme.

Yet the strange thing is, we are also a generation of plotters and strategists. Never has Sun Tzu’s Art of War been more revered, and even the 36 Stratagems is now a household name. Movies based on conspiracies and power struggles are sure box-office hits, and our world is filled with endless talk of commercial strategies and office politics.

In short, everybody wants to learn to scheme, as though in a quest for greater “wisdom”. It makes them feel intelligent, and others mere fools.

But in this quest for the so-called greater “wisdom”, the Chinese have forgotten their common sense. They can’t tell the good from the bad. They do not even know what they want. They will believe anyone who can and will fool them. Hence they blindly follow fashion in the clothes they wear and the things they buy, regardless of need and suitability. And they, who have no basic general knowledge of Chinese medicine, will – because they hear of the “Miracle Doctor” – blindly believe in his healing and pay through the nose.

80% of the publishing industry is devoted to educational materials.

Our cities may seem modern, but the people who live in them lack basic general knowledge. There are some fundamental books that need to be read, and advice from our forefathers that need to be heeded. Yet as everyone pursues the society’s quest for that greater “wisdom”, reading is at an unimaginably low level. About 80% of the publishing industry is devoted to educational materials and most families don’t even own a real book. Those who do read, read Sun Tzu or Houhexue2 . As a result, they lose their general knowledge and their basic capacity to think.

What a paradox – in their quest for greater “wisdom”, the Chinese have become fools.



[1] Popular TV celebrity “health expert”, now exposed as a charlatan.

[2] Philosophy tract that advocates being thick-skinned and black-hearted to achieving success.


This post was originally published on 张鸣的BLOG in January 2011.