While China has seen historic growth in its productive capacity in the last 30 years, the knowledge and ideas that have driven the growth has all been imported from the Western world. The United States has fallen behind China in manufacturing, but America is still number one when it comes to innovation. Why is it that even with the world's largest population, China is still unable to innovate?
I argue that the root cause lies deep within Chinese culture. In China, the old, rather than the new, is valued. When the Emperors of Imperial China had problems, instead of seeking new knowledge and insights, they would look back to the great Sage Emperors of antiquity, as they had ruled over what was seen as the epitome of a well ordered society. While this may seem trivial, the idea is still deeply rooted in all Chinese people.
This is most visible in the traditions of Confucianism. Confucianism says that the key to a well-ordered society are proper relationships between people. In every relationship, there is always one person who is superior, while the other is inferior. In a well-ordered society, everyone knows and respects their place in the world. Respect for age is central to this idea of the different roles in relationships. Age is what gives things their worth; the older someone is, the wiser they are.
This can be seen in Chinese schools. Students are taught that they should not question their teachers, even if their teachers are incorrect. Correcting a teacher is seen as extremely disrespectful and a violation of their proper role in the student/teacher relationship. Because of this, students are expected to do as they are told; thinking freely is not encouraged. After years and years in this stressful school environment, it is no surprise that Chinese children have lost their creative capacity.