I love Chinese history; been to China several times; and like and respect the Chinese people--they work hard, they like Americans, and want to study and live in America. I have dealt with China's very slick, tough, and well-trained diplomats. That said, I have found it impressive over the years to see how China has transformed itself from a poor, brutal authoritarian police state into a poor, brutal, authoritarian police state with large foreign currency reserves. Sorry, but shoddily-built skyscrapers, and streets clogged with Fords, BMWs, Lexus, and Buicks, and lined with luxury stores and restaurants cannot hide the hard facts.
Confucius's 2500-year old Analects still provides an accurate account of China's philosophy of governance in which every person has an assigned role; failure to keep to it has dire consequences. I saw the repression at work in a visit to Tibet which escaped the control of our handlers. Even outside Tibet the legal system, to put it mildly, remains opaque, capricious, subject to political manipulation, and harsh. Avoid Chinese cops--who seem to be everywhere--and courts. For all the vaunted economic progress, control of the legal-political system remains with an unelected and corrupt Communist Party cadre. These rulers have agreed among themselves that not one will have the total power once wielded so disastrously by Mao. The top jobs rotate; major decisions are not made solo. Progress? I don't know. We saw a similar development in the USSR after Stalin: how is the USSR doing these days? The people remain cut out. The elite decide what's best, the people must comply--see Confucius. This secretive, stale, corrupt, aloof, and repressive system remains a major hindrance for China's development as a true power. Despite ham-handed attempts to block outside influence, word spreads of ways to live which do not involve fear and blind loyalty. We probably will not see a Chinese 21st century, but we will see a "Chinese Spring," and it could get nasty.