Wang elaborated on these ideas in a 1988 essay, “The Structure of China’s Changing Political Culture,” which would become one of his most cited works. In it, he argued that the CCP must urgently consider how society’s “software” (culture, values, attitudes) shapes political destiny as much as its “hardware” (economics, systems, institutions). While seemingly a straightforward idea, this was notably a daring break from the materialism of orthodox Marxism.
Of course, it's all about mental models, and always has been. When people install defective ones, bad outcomes happen. Orthodoxy (right-thinking) is the only way to lead to Orthopraxy (right-doing). Ironic that the CCP got political tutelage pilled; no wonder the KMT sorta kissed and made up in the latter day.
Meanwhile, he believed that the modernization of “Socialism with Chinese characteristics” was effectively leaving China without any real cultural direction at all. “There are no core values in China’s most recent structure,” he warned. This could serve only to dissolve societal and political cohesion.
Of course this is bad, the default mode of humanity is to do as little work as possible to maximize the time you can devote to being totally awful to one another.
“The real cell of society in the United States is the individual,” he finds. This is so because the cell most foundational (per Aristotle) to society, “the family, has disintegrated.” Meanwhile, in the American system, “everything has a dual nature, and the glamour of high commodification abounds. Human flesh, sex, knowledge, politics, power, and law can all become the target of commodification.” This “commodification, in many ways, corrupts society and leads to a number of serious social problems.” In the end, “the American economic system has created human loneliness” as its foremost product, along with spectacular inequality. As a result, “nihilism has become the American way, which is a fatal shock to cultural development and the American spirit.”
This is basically how Jhayant Bhandari describes India; every man for himself
In any case, Wang's Self-Strengthening movement 2.0 will likely fail for the same reason it did during the late Qing period.
Like the Indians, they too are mired in the exact problem he sees in the USA, but worse and for many more generations.
Despite all his and Xi’s success in draconian suppression of political liberalism, many of the same problems Wang observed in America have nonetheless emerged to ravage China over the last decade as the country progressively embraced a more neoliberal capitalist economic model.
Rapid social mobility as enabled by extreme economic growth will necessarily upend the sexual marketplace, which is the ultimate driver here: "What's the script I as Joe Blow have to follow for good happy success and reproduction???" There is no such script, and can be no such script so long as there is such rapid change. Things have to work themselves into a new equilibrium of functional mental models before the situation improves.