Why China Lags

IQ Distributions for Four Populations
Source: Wiki

China is amply endowed with a high intelligence population, hard working and ambitious. Historically, China has supplied the world with a number of significant inventions. So why is the modern measure of China so small and lagging?

China Was Once Number One

Two thousand years ago, China was far ahead of the rest of the world in science and technology. They had gunpowder, printing, paper, and the compass. __ Edward de Bono in Think! Before It’s Too Late

Since the rise of Genghis Khan and the fall of the Song dynasty, China has had trouble keeping up.

Why the Lag?

Part of the problem for China is the rigid compartmentalisation, and almost universal corruption of the communist party led system. But is it also possible that something in the evolved Han Chinese personality tends to hamper the modern Chinese from producing high numbers of ultra disruptive innovators?

Could it be personality? Kenya Kura, Jan te Nijenhuis, and Edward Dutton published a study in 2015 claiming that there is something in the personality of East Asians that limits their ability to win top scientific prizes.

Most scientific discoveries have originated from Europe, and Europeans have won 20 times more Nobel Prizes than have Northeast Asians. We argue that this is explained not by IQ, but by interracial personality differences, underpinned by differences in gene distribution. In particular, the variance in scientific achievement is explained by differences in inquisitiveness (DRD4 7-repeat), psychological stability (5HTTLPR long form), and individualism (mu-opioid receptor gene; OPRM1 G allele). Northeast Asians tend to be lower in these psychological traits, which we argue are necessary for exceptional scientific accomplishments. Since these traits comprise a positive matrix, we constructed a q index (measuring curiosity) from these gene frequencies among world populations. It is found that both IQ scores and q index contribute significantly to the number of per capita Nobel Prizes. __ Why Do Northeast Asians Win so Few Nobel Prizes

Sociologist Satoshi Kanazawa published an article looking at the same question back in 2006. Kanazawa points the finger at conformist cultures of Northeast Asia.

East Asians have not been able to make creative use of their intelligence. While they are very good at absorbing existing knowledge via rote memory (hence their high standardized test scores in math and science) or adapt or modify existing technology (hence their engineering achievements), they have not been able to make original contributions to basic science. __ Satoshi Kanazawa

Kanazawa follows his claim with a table of Nobel Prize winners, which demonstrates the relative dominance of Anglo and Euro countries in Nobel Prizes, and the relative underachievement of East Asian nations.

The contrast between the five Euro-American nations and the nine Asian nations cannot be starker. The first four Euro-American nations are overrepresented among the Nobel laureates by a factor of 5 to 10; Switzerland is overrepresented by a factor of 28! In sharp contrast, all Asian nations are underrepresented among the Nobel laureates. __ Satoshi Kanazawa

La Griffe du Lion looks at the high average IQs vs. the lagging nature of East Asian nations in per capita GDPs and suggests that it is the unbalanced nature of East Asian IQ that is at fault. With a very high visuo-spatial component but a relatively lower verbal component to their IQ scores, East Asians may lack the necessary “balance” to break out of the role as “the world’s factories.”

Charles Murray tried to provide as many examples of East Asian achievement as he could in his masterful book “Human Accomplishment.” But when he was finished, the scholarly tome was mostly filled by the accomplishments of dead white males. There were simply not enough East Asian ultra-high achievers to make much of a dent in the overall trend of mostly-Europeans.

Lack of Curiosity?

This lack of curiosity extended into science. While ancient China was in many ways more technologically advanced than ancient Greece, knowledge for its own sake was never valued. The ancient Greeks in contrast wrote and debated tirelessly about abstract ideas that had no connection to the real world. _HBDBooks

The Chinese never did systematise their scientific and technical knowledge. Only with an interconnected system of science and technology could a revolution such as occurred in the west after 1500 have occurred.

Consider also that the state of Chinese medicine up until recently testifies to the general backwardness of indigenous scientific scholarship over the many centuries past.

Those who are impressed by inventions of ancient China should also have the awareness to be disappointed by what the Chinese actually did with their inventions — especially after the Song Dynasty fell to the Mongols almost 1,000 years ago. The burning of the treasure fleet is a sad example.

What Does the Future Hold?

When East Asian scientists and engineers migrate to the west, their productivity seems to increase. Perhaps just getting out of that pit of conformism — especially in China — allows latent independent ambition to bloom? But inside of the infinitely pigeon-holed nation of China, the necessary level of organic interconnectedness between science, technology, society, and the world at large simply does not exist. The elites of the CPC cannot allow that level of communication for fear that insurrection would follow.

History teaches us that in China it is natural for the nation to split into warring fiefdoms on a regular, periodic basis. More

We can be sure that the surface level of strength and confidence exhibited by PRC propaganda outlets does not reflect what is truly happening behind the curtains.

Some of the material here was previously published on the original Al Fin blog

China’s modern predicament:

The massive gravy train of foreign investment and voluntary technology transfer to China is slowing. Foreign-owned factories are moving out of the country.

Sinking numbers in 6 key sectors

  • Manufacturing jobs,
  • Electrical machinery exports,
  • Rail freight,
  • Electricity generation,
  • Auto sales,
  • Box Office revenues

Coal imports are also down, and likely many other items not mentioned in most reports.

t is becoming harder and more expensive for China to steal its “innovations.” The Yuan has fallen in value. The decline started in 2008 but was papered over by a massive ongoing stimulus and indebtedness. More of China’s trading “partners” are choosing to opt out of BRI projects. Eventually the house of cards cannot hold itself up.

Rather than to risk insurrection as living standards collapse, the CPC is more likely to start a war to boost nationalist sentiment. Taiwan is the most likely target. Whatever the communists do will be risky unless they can get a more manageable US president in place.

China’s Hong Kong problem simmers on

The CPC has few tools to manage its imperial acquisitions other than the heavy hand. Xinjian and Tibet are other imperial holdings that are simmering at levels uncomfortable for Beijing. Things eventually fall apart.

China’s organ transplant program is less popular worldwide now that more people know where the organs come from.

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9 Responses to Why China Lags

  1. Bob says:

    The burning of the treasure fleet is a sad example.

    The burning of the fleet might turn out to have been a good move.

    The Age of Sail brought trade, migration, and traffic in slaves and labor to the West, resulting in heterogeneous societies within the West today. The short term gains they provided in the past are largely overwhelmed today by the long term costs.

  2. Borepatch says:

    Walter Scheidel has an interesting new book out, “Escape From Rome: The Failure of Empire and the Road to Prosperity”

    His argument is that Europe was unique that Rome was the only empire to ever exist there, and once it fell the political fragmentation allowed experimentation and development of systems that were basically suppressed elsewhere (or which likely would have been suppressed in the Roman Empire had it survived). Essentially Europe did a better job of not stuffing creativity in a box.

    There’s a quite good podcast episode where Prof. Scheidel is interviewed at Tides Of History:


    David Landes deals with this from a different perspective (but reaching the same conclusion) in “The Wealth And Poverty Of Nations”. The “Great Divergence” occurred because political power was extremely fragmented in Europe, and wasn’t elsewhere. His comparison of China’s treasure fleets and the Portuguese explorations is particularly good. The Portuguese were motivated by profit; the Chinese weren’t. The profit motivation led to a virtuous spiral up, while its lack led to a spiral down. Repeat for other fields – gunpowder, paper and printing, etc – and the outcome seems pre-determined.

    This doesn’t seem to be an IQ thing. It’s the shackling (or not) of IQ.

  3. ROBERT SYKES says:

    For an alternative view, in which China is rising and we are falling, see:


    • alfin2101 says:

      In these dark times, the CPC propaganda bureau needs as many upbeat China writers like Godfree as it can get. He earns what they pay him. 😉

  4. info says:

    Northern China was historically the cradle of its civilization. But I think the mongol mass slaughter may have killed off a lot of those innovators.

    Aside from a few skilled technician and comely women beautiful enough to be spared. Everyone else in cities that resisted had their entire populations killed.

    • alfin2101 says:

      For whatever reason, China seems unable to display that “innovative spark” that made ancient China so advanced over most of the world other than ancient Greece (in terms of systematic thought).

      China was given a magnificent gift by western corporations and nations in the form of massive investment and technology transfer … and “free” membership in the WTO that China has abused shamelessly. Things are changing now.

      First, China has reached the “end of extrapolation” and what worked for it in the past will not continue to work. Second, what makes it doubtful that China will adapt to the challenges now facing it is the insistence of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) (and especially of Xi Jinping, who recently made himself in effect President-for-life) on tightening control over the economy and society. __ Decline and Fall

      • info says:

        The last time China was creative at least comparable to Europeans was during the Song Dynasty prior to the Mongol conquest.

        Since the cities that resisted had pretty much everyone killed. Those who would “step outside the norm” would be heavily selected against.

        After it. It disappeared.

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