A long time ago, deep in remote spacetime, the China-watching universe was inhabited by wizened sages and their apprentices who applied the same analytical method to a small body of information from a single source open to all on the road to truth. That method rested on a set of premises and a logic that culture heroes in the even more remote past originally had derived to analyze the politics and foreign policy of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. As later extended and applied to affairs in the PRC, that analytical approach had its shortcomings. But it also scored signal successes in an era when no other method or significant body of information was available.
Then a lot of stuff happened. The United States established diplomatic relations with Beijing, opening up to a broad range of interactions, permitting access to previously denied sources, and providing new avenues of research in understanding current trends in Chinese politics and foreign policy. Meanwhile, the fount of the old wisdom–PRC media–evolved. They abandoned the staid, stupefying uniformities that made the old analytical ways feasible in favor of splashy advertising, racy stories, and sensationalist reporting. In this new era, the old ways were set aside and, with the passing eons, are now only dimly remembered by a few elderly sages. The result has been a degraded age of analytical disorder populated by all sorts of cow ghosts and snake spirits, an outcome that, surely, Confucius himself would have lamented as paralleling his own. Regrettably, in these days tender analysts have lost sight of the eternal Way of media analysis and so succumb to the irresistible charms of the sirens of uncertain insight, the Beijing rumor mill and the Hong Kong China-watching press.
This is surely an analytical tragedy. But, heeding the example of past worthies such as Han Yu and Ouyang Xiu, it is also one that a new movement to “restore the ancient ways” may repair. Despite the sweeping changes in PRC media, the premises that enabled the ancient logic of China-watching still hold. Therefore, the old analytical ways may still reward those who have the patience, diligence, and insight required to apply them. Thus again may the Way ascend into view and an age of enlightenment prevail.