The debate between Chinese intellectuals will continue to swirl within think tanks, journals and universities and¡ªon more sensitive topics¡ªon the internet. Chinese thinkers will continue to act as intellectual magpies, adapting western ideas to suit their purposes and plundering selectively from China¡¯s own history. As China¡¯s global footprint grows, we may find that we become as familiar with the ideas of Zhang Weiying and Wang Hui, Yu Keping and Pan Wei, Yan Xuetong and Zheng Bijan as we were with those of American thinkers in previous decades; from Reaganite economists in the 1980s to the neoconservative strategists of the 9/11 era.
China is not an intellectually open society. But the emergence of freer political debate, the throng of returning students from the west and huge international events like the Olympics are making it more so. And it is so big, so pragmatic and so desperate to succeed that its leaders are constantly experimenting with new ways of doing things. They used special economic zones to test out a market philosophy. Now they are testing a thousand other ideas¡ªfrom deliberative democracy to regional alliances. From this laboratory of social experiments, a new world-view is emerging that may in time crystallise into a recognisable Chinese model¡ªan alternative, non-western path for the rest of the world to follow.