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Martin Jacques On Understanding The Rise Of China.

Posted in Events, Good People

A client of mine directed me to a link of a Tedx talk by Martin Jacques on China. I watched it and liked it so much I wanted to share it with our readers. You can watch and listen to the speech here and below is a transcription of Mr. Jacques’ speech.

It is certainly thought provoking. What do you think?

The world is changing with really remarkable speed. If you look at the chart at the top here, you’ll see that in 2025, these Goldman-Sachs projections suggest that the Chinese economy will be almost the same size as the American economy. And if you look at the chart for 2050, it’s projected that the Chinese economy will be twice the size of the American economy, and the Indian economy will be almost the same size as the American economy. We should bear in mind here that these projections were drawn up before the western financial crisis. A couple of weeks ago I was looking at the latest projection by BNP Paribas for when China will have a larger economy than the United States.  Goldman-Sachs predicts 2027; the post-crisis projection is 2020. That’s just a decade away.

China is going to change the world in two fundamental respects. First of all, it’s a huge, developing country with a population of 1.3 billion people, which has been growing for over thirty years at around ten percent a year. And within a decade, it will have the largest economy in the world. Never before in the modern era has the largest economy in the world been that of a developing country, rather than a developed country. Secondly, for the first time in the modern era, the dominant country in the world, which is what I think China will become, will be not from the west and from very, very different civilizational roots. 

Now, I know it’s a widespread assumption in the West that as countries modernize, they also westernize.  This is an illusion. It’s an assumption that modernity is a product simply of competition, markets and technology. It is not; it is also shaped equally by history and culture.  China is not like the west, and it will not become like the west. It will remain, in very fundamental respects, very different.

Now, the big question here is obviously, well, how so we make sense of China? How do we try and understand what China is? And the problem we have in the West in the moment, by and large, is that the conventional approach, is that we understand it really in western terms, using western ideas. We can’t.  Now, I want to offer you three building blocks for trying to understand what China is like, just as a beginning. The first is this: that China is not really a nation-state.  Okay, it’s called itself a nation-state for the last hundred years. But anyone who knows anything about China knows it’s a lot older than this. 

This is what China looked with the victory of the Qin dynasty in 221 BC at the end of the warring state period, the birth of modern China, and you can see it against the boundaries of modern China. Or, immediately afterwards, the Han dynasty, still 2,000 years ago, and you can see already it occupies most of what we know as eastern China, which is where the vast majority of Chinese lived then and live now.  Now what is extraordinary about this is that what gives China it’s sense of being China, what gives the Chinese the sense of what it is to be Chinese, comes not from the last hundred years, not from the nation-state period, which is what happened in the West, but from the period, if you like, of the civilization-state. And thinking here, for example, of customs like ancestral worship, of a very distinctive notion of the state, and likewise a very distinctive notion of the family, social relationships like guangxi, Confucian values, and so on, these are all things that come from the period of the civilization-state. In other words, China, unlike the western states and most countries in the world, is shaped by its sense of civilization; its existence as a civilization-state rather than as a nation-state.

And there’s one other thing to add to this, and that is this: of course we know China is big; it’s huge, demographically and geographically, with a population of 1.3 billion people. What we often aren’t really aware of is the fact that China is extremely diverse and very pluralistic, and, in many ways, very decentralized. You can’t run a place on this scale simply from Beijing, even though we think this to be the case. It’s never been the case. 

So this is China: a civilization-state rather than a nation-state. What does it mean? Well, I think it has all kinds of profound implications. I’ll give you two quick ones: the first is that the most important political value for the Chinese is unity, is the maintenance of Chinese civilization. Two thousand years ago, Europe, breakdown, the fragmentation of the Holy Roman Empire; it divided, and it’s remained divided ever since.  China, over same time period, went in exactly the opposite direction, very painfully holding this huge civilization- civilization-state- together. 

The second is Hong Kong. Do you remember the handover of Hong Kong by Britain to China in 1997?  You may remember what the Chinese constitutional proposition was: one country, two systems. Wager that barely anyone in the West believed them. Ha, window dressing. When China gets its hands on Hong Kong, that won’t be the case. Thirteen years on, the political and legal system in Hong Kong is as different as it was in 1997.  We were wrong. Why were we wrong? We were wrong because we thought, naturally enough, in nation-state ways. Think of Germany’s unification in 1990. What happened? Well basically, the East was swallowed by the West. One nation, one system: that is the nation-state mentality. But you can’t run a country like China, a civilization-state, on the basis of one civilization, one system. It doesn’t work. So, actually, the response of China to the question of Hong Kong, as it will be to the question of Taiwan, was a natural response: one civilization, many systems. 

Let me offer you another building block to try and understand China, maybe not such a comfortable one.  The Chinese have a very, very different conception of race than most other countries. Do you know, of the 1.3 billion Chinese, over ninety percent of them think they belong to the same race, the Han. Now, this is completely different from the world’s other most populous countries. India, the United States, Indonesia, Brazil: all of them are multiracial. The Chinese don’t feel like that; China is only multiracial, really, at the margins. So the question is, why? Well the reason, I think, essentially is, again, back to the civilization-state. A history of at least two thousand years, of history, of conquest, occupation, absorption, assimilation, and so on, led to the process by which, over time, the notion of the Han emerged, nurtured, of course, by a growing and very powerful sense of cultural identity. 

Now, the great advantage of this historical experience has been that without the Han, China could never have held together. The Han identity has been the cement which has held this country together. The great disadvantage of it is that the Han have a very weak conception of cultural difference. They really believe in their own superiority, and they are disrespectful of those who are not.

Or let me give you my third building block of the Chinese state. The relationship between the state and society in China is very different from that in the West. Now, we in the West overwhelmingly seem to think, these days at least, that the authority and legitimacy of the state is a function of democracy. The problem with this proposition is that the Chinese state enjoys more legitimacy, and more authority, among the Chinese, than is true with any western state. 

And the reason for this is because, well, there are two reasons, I think. And it’s obviously got nothing to do with democracy, because, in our terms, the Chinese certainly don’t have a democracy. But the reason for this is, firstly, because the state, in China enjoys a very special significance, as the representative, the embodiment, and the guardian of Chinese civilization, of the civilization-state. This is as close as China gets to a kind of spiritual role. 

And the second reason is because, whereas in Europe and North America the state’s power is continuously challenged — I mean, in European tradition, historically against the Church, against the sections of the aristocracy, against merchants, and so on — for one thousand years, the power of the Chinese state has not been challenged. It’s had no serious rivals. So you can see that the way in which power has been constructed in China is very different from our experience in western history. The result, by the way, is that the Chinese have a very different view of the state. Whereas we tend to view it as an intruder, a stranger, certainly an organ whose powers need to be limited, defined, and constrained, the Chinese don’t see the state that way at all. The Chinese view the state as an intimate. Not just as an intimate, actually, but as a member of the family. Not just, in fact, as a member of the family, but as the head of the family: the patriarch of the family. 

This is the Chinese view of the state. Very, very different to ours. It’s embedded in society in a different kind of way, to what is the case in the West. And I would suggest to you that, actually, what we are dealing with here in the Chinese context is a new kind of paradigm, which is different than anything we’ve had to think about in the past. You know, China believes in the market and the state. Adam Smith, writing in the late eighteenth century, said that the Chinese market is larger, and more developed, and more sophisticated than anything in Europe. And apart from the Mao period, that has remained more or less the case ever since. 

But this is combined with an extremely strong and ubiquitous state; the state is everywhere in China. I mean, its leading firms, many of them are still publicly owned. Private firms, however large they are, depend, in many ways, on state patronage.  argets for the economy, and so on, are set by the state.  And the state, of course, its authority flows into many other areas, as we are familiar with, as in something like the “one child” policy. 

Moreover, this is a very old state tradition, a very old tradition of statecraft. I mean, if you want an illustration of this, the Great Wall is one; but this is another (shows photograph of a canal). This is the Grand Canal, which was constructed in the first instance in the fifth century, BC, and was finally completed in the eighth century, AD. It went for 1,114 miles, linking Beijing with Hangzhou and Shanghai. So there’s a long history of extraordinary state infrastructural projects in China, which I suppose helps us to explain what we see today, which is something like the Three Gorges Dam (shows photo) and many other expressions of state competence within China.

So there we have three building blocks for trying to understand the difference that is China: the civilization-state, the notion of race, and the nature of the state and its relationship to society. And yet we still insist, by and large, on thinking that we can explain China by drawing on western experience, looking at it through western eyes, using western concepts. If you want to know why we unerringly seem to get China wrong, our predictions about what’s going to happen to China are incorrect, this is the reason.  Unfortunately I think, I have to say, that I think our attitude toward China is that of a kind of “little Westerner” mentality. It’s arrogant. it’s arrogant in the sense that we think that we are best and therefore we have the universal measure, and secondly, it’s ignorant. We refuse to really address the issue of difference. 

You know, there’s a very very interesting passage in a book by Paul Cohen, the American historian, and Paul Cohen argues that the West thinks of itself as probably the most cosmopolitan of all cultures. But it’s not. In many ways, it’s the most parochial. Because for the last two hundred years, the West has been so dominant in the world that it’s not really needed to understand other cultures, other civilizations. Because at the end of the day it could, if necessary, by force, get its own way. Whereas those cultures — virtually the rest of the world — which have been in a far weaker position vis-à-vis the West, have been thereby forced to understand the West because of the West’s presence in those societies. And therefore they are, as a result, more cosmopolitan, in many ways, than the West. 

I mean, take the question of East Asia. East Asia, Japan, Korea, China, etc.. A third of the world’s population lives there. Now the largest economic region in the world. And I’ll tell you now that East Asians, people from East Asia, are far more knowledgeable about the West than the West is about East Asia.  Now, this point is very germane, I’m afraid, to the present. Because what’s happening, back to that chart at the beginning, the Goldman-Sachs chart, what is happening is that, very rapidly in historical terms, the world is being driven and shaped not by the old, developed countries but by the developing world. We’ve seen this in terms of the G-20 usurping, very rapidly, the position of the G-7 or the G-8. 

And there are two consequences of this: first, the West is rapidly losing its influence in the world. There was a dramatic illustration of this, actually, a year ago at the Copenhagen climate change conferenc where Europe was not at the final negotiating table. When did that last happen? I would wager it was about two hundred years ago. And that is what is going to happen in the future. And the second implication is that the world will inevitably, as a consequence, become increasingly unfamiliar to us, because it will be shaped by cultures and experiences and histories that we are not really familiar with or conversant with. And at last, I’m afraid, take it America and Europe are slightly different, but Europeans, by and large, I have to say, are ignorant, are unaware about the way the world is changing. I’ve got an English friend in China who said, ‘the continent is sleepwalking into oblivion.’ 

Well, maybe that’s true, maybe that’s an exaggeration. But there’s another problem that goes along with this, that Europe is increasingly out of touch with the world, and that is a loss of a sense of the future. I mean, Europe once, of course, commanded the future in its confidence. Take the nineteenth century, for example. But this, alas, is no longer true. If you want to feel the future, if you want to taste the future, try China (shows photo of statue of Confucius); there’s old Confucius. This (shows photo) is a railway station the likes of which you’ve never seen before; it doesn’t even look like a railway station. This is the new Guangzhou railway station for the high-speed trains. China already has a bigger network than anywhere else in the world, and it will soon have more than all the rest of the world put together.

Or take this (shows photo); now this is an idea.  It’s an idea to be tried out shortly in a suburb outside of Beijing. Here you have a mega-bus, on the upper deck it carries about two thousand people, it travels on rails down a suburban road, and the cars travel underneath it. And it does speeds of about up to 100 miles per hour. Now this is the way things are going to move, because China has a very specific problem, which is different from Europe and different from the United States: China has huge numbers of people and no space. So this is a solution to a situation where China’s going to have many, many, many cities over twenty million people. 

Well, what should our attitude be toward this world we see very rapidly developing before us? I think there will be good things about it, and bad things about it. But I want to argue, above all, a big-picture positive for this world. You know, for two hundred years, the world was essentially governed by a fragment of the human population. That’s what Europe and North America represented. The arrival of countries like China and India, between them thirty-eight percent of the world’s population, and others like Indonesia and Brazil and so on, represent the most important single act of democratization in the last two hundred years.  Civilizations and cultures which have been ignored, which had no voice, which were not listened to, which were not known about, will have a different sort of representation in this world. As humanists, we must welcome, surely, this transformation.  And we will have to learn about these civilizations. 

This big ship here (shows photo of two model boats) was the one sailed in by Zheng He in the early fifteenth century on his great voyages around the South China Sea, the East China Sea, and across the Indian Ocean to East Africa. The little boat in front of it was the one in which, eighty years later, Christopher Columbus crossed the Atlantic. Or, (shows photo) look carefully at this silk scroll made by Zhou Zhou in 1368. I think they’re playing golf. Christ! The Chinese even invented golf. 

Welcome to the future!  Thank you.

 

 

  • http://chinayouren-free.com julen

    It is all from his book “when China rules the World”. Interesting read, and thought provoking perhaps, but lacking some solid basis.
    For example, it is not at all sure that China GDP will catch up with the US anywhere near his timeframe. He shows a specialist prediction, sure, but one can find dozens of predictions to the contrary. Other example, the story of HongKong, there are many ways to explain this without the concept of “civilisation”, and for obvious reasons it is not at all comparable to the German unification.
    In fact, the very concept of China civilization from the beginning has been about uniting the system, not diversifying it. Qin Shi Huang is known precisely for that.
    This idea of China as a civilization as opposed to a nation-state is not new, and it certainly has something attractive to it. But considering it carefully, I fail to see how you can apply it to modern China in post- imperial times. Sure, China is completely different from the US and Brazil, but that is because those are countries of colonial origin. However, I fail to see how China’s civilization makes it significantly different (in terms of politics) from Spain, France or Russia.

  • L. Marquardt

    This is a great speech, though the more I think about it, the less I agree with it. But I guess that’s what makes it great. It really did get me thinking.

  • Timothy

    No link ?
    Re: the article itself. I agree with a lot of it. Not bad for a career Marxist. His identification of the 3 building blocks is a great observation.
    But in other areas he fails. Typical of leftists and anarchists, he suggests that the west is rapidly losing it’s influence, and I reject that premise completely. If anything, the west’s influence may still be waxing. If I compare China today to China 20 years ago, I see a HUGE increase in western values, culture, organization, and overall influence. Same thing in India and most of the African continent. I’d suggest that the Chinese diaspora, on a global basis, is becoming less and less of a unified civilization than it’s ever been before. 25 years ago, I didn’t come across many Chinese who had moved to the west who openly criticized the government in Beijing or the many problems in China; today I see it every day.
    Last point he fails to address: the progress of technology and the overall interconnectivity of the world is a game-changer. The ability of individuals in China to organize and communicate, to be exposed to other cultures, societies, and races, todecide for themselves what is true and what is important is available for the first time in history. That will have profound impact. We already see that, in limited doses: when Premier Wen advocates more elections at the village and local level, that is a change in the state-citizen relationship. I don’t see a lot of evidence of Chinese culture spreading around the world, of of Chinese governance models spreading around the world either.
    On the race issue, that is a tough one, I agree. But again, I think that with exposure to the rest of the world, that will change, gradually, over a few generations. Today’s college kids in places like Beida are exposed to students from all over the place. I’m old enough to remember drinking fountains for colored folks here in the US; and today, less than 50 years later, the teens and 20-somethings have no problem dating people who are not from their race. Don’t underestimate the ability for today’s youth to reject some the outdated beliefs that their parents and grandparents believed. The velocity of change on the planet is staggering, and that will impact China in all kinds of ways – both good and bad.
    But yah, China will never become the US. That much I agree with.

  • IWT

    It’s great!

  • http://www.xuway.com Marc in Oslo

    Martin Jacques book took ten years to write. He has given us a generous gold mine for all those who are interested to understand China in itself.
    Marc in Oslo

  • Jerome Cole

    This is poorly thought-out and poorly argued pap. This reminds me of the fads for the Soviet Union and Japan of previous decades.
    The Chinese government manipulates public spending and artificially boosts investment through its control of the banking system and state owned enterprises. Given that GDP = Consumption + Government Spending + Investment, this approach is bound to result in high and steady GDP growth. Yet, this growth is largely an illusion. Boosting GDP in this manner destroys massive amounts of capital. The Chinese basically have created a zombie GDP number that has little relationship to actual wealth creation and living standards. This is one of the reasons why wages and other forms of personal income make-up a shockingly small percentage of China’s GDP. And then of course there is the issue of outright fraud in Chinese economic statistics. We all know that the Chinese government would never falsify data, right?
    In any event, even if China’s real economy were growing at 10% a year that trend would not continue indefinitely. China has not exempted itself from diminishing marginal returns. They will kick in and growth will slow considerably.
    For many, many reasons China’s growth is not sustainable, if it is even real in the first place. Something that cannot continue indefinitely will not. Count on it.

  • http://www.EricMacKnight.com Eric MacKnight

    I squirmed through most of this: a bit too glib, a bit too much of the tone of self-help seminars and overly simplified advice to businessmen about a foreign culture. But I agree completely with this paragraph near the end:
    “Well, what should our attitude be toward this world we see very rapidly developing before us? I think there will be good things about it, and bad things about it. But I want to argue, above all, a big-picture positive for this world. You know, for two hundred years, the world was essentially governed by a fragment of the human population. That’s what Europe and North America represented. The arrival of countries like China and India, between them thirty-eight percent of the world’s population, and others like Indonesia and Brazil and so on, represent the most important single act of democratization in the last two hundred years. Civilizations and cultures which have been ignored, which had no voice, which were not listened to, which were not known about, will have a different sort of representation in this world. As humanists, we must welcome, surely, this transformation. And we will have to learn about these civilizations.”
    Exactly.

  • http://www.iqidu.com Mao Ruiqi

    In a word, “watergy?” Okay, than how about food?

  • Stark

    I’m curious – why does everyone (and Goldman Sachs, for example) assume China’s growth rate over the last twenty years will continue indefinitely? All of these projections seems to rely on 8%+ Chinese growth, and 3% American growth. It seems like we are already bumping against the limits of infrastructure / export led growth rates – - where will this 8% growth come from in the future? I’m honestly curious. It seems like there are some really lazy economists out there with little imagination . . .

  • Duncan

    Much interesting stuff in there, but much to disagree with too. People (locals as well as foreigners) often talk about the Chinese people having a very different view of the state, but this is largely important only because it frames the current discussion. Historically concepts of the state has been anything but a contiguous idea in China. I dare say the experience of living under Communism differed quite a bit from that of living under the Tang (let alone the several century-long periods when China was divided), and would regard with deep suspicion anyone who projects their concepts of what it was like then onto the modern Chinese psyche. And anyone who doesn’t think that the only reason the CCP has been able to survive so long is precisely because it has gotten out of the day to day business of managing people’s lives in the last few years is probably missing the main message. I think the top of the government certainly believes in the state and its beneficent effect, but then they would say that wouldn’t they? Plenty of local economists and dissidents would argue otherwise.
    And I’ll believe that bus when I see it. China should and I hope will learn to come up with the sorts of innovative responses that its size and special circumstances demand. But so far the vast majority of what I see shows a distinct reluctance to do something that hasn’t been tried first elsewhere. I’d love to hear examples of things that don’t simply involve doing what others have done cheaper (and, yes, in some cases better, but not blue sky thinking).

  • http://www.nixhome.com jvincentnix

    I enjoyed the read, but I disagree with much.
    Most of the disagreement comes, in part, from his third “building block” which may be a consequence of the data being 10 years old. He may have been close to ‘spot on’ when the data was mined.
    It is more likely, however, that this data comes from high-ranking participants, and reflects their “front stage” (Erving Goffman) as presented to any foreigner. This third building block, seems to reflect the Party’s beliefs and their stubborn stance that “China can not fail” and “China will not see a social revolution.” It simply does not reflect the views of the now 1.7 or 1.8 billion people in China, of which roughly a billion are peasants (thus non-citizens).
    There is no “one-child policy” it is a family-planning policy that has resulted in overpopulation among uneducated peasants and a dwindling population among the wealthiest and the rising middle class.
    I do agree that China will not be “westernized” as I maintained in my dissertation and at the defense of it. One of the questions to me was:
    “Don’t you think China will have to adopt to Western Ethics as they develop?”
    My response was:
    “No. China will develop on its own terms, and fail, on its own terms. If the West wants to continue to benefit from China’s development, the West must adopt ‘Chinese ethics’ whatever they may be.”
    When the Chinese were setting their first banquet tables, much of the west was hanging from trees or figuring out which plants/trees would make good (not poisonous) snacks (maybe from Schneiter and Feign, 2000; I read that somewhere, long ago). Any foreigner that has spent time in China knows, the Chinese invented everything.

  • dan berg

    The book is a clip and paste collection of everything from fashion to finance. I know nothing about fashion, but neither the finance nor the economics make any sense. One example (of many) will have to do:
    “The (Chinese) government is fortunate in enjoying very strong finances and is therefore in a position to lavish considerable resources on stimulating the economy…while the Western financial sector is effectively bankrupt, that of China is deposit-rich.” (p.164) The one Big Idea: China, rather than being a nation state, is a Civilization State. So what? How about Empire? What difference does it make? In my opinion he misreads Chinese history – but thats a long story.

  • Fei Wei

    as a Chinese, I don’t agree with this artical though it is thought provoking. It sees only the past, but the past is not exactly the future. Everybody can see China is more and more west.

  • http://www.notesfromxian.com Richard.李志

    Here’s the TEDx link directly: http://tinyurl.com/4gcyhcz

  • Twofish

    Stark: I’m curious – why does everyone (and Goldman Sachs, for example) assume China’s growth rate over the last twenty years will continue indefinitely?
    Not indefinitely, but there are no obvious limits for the next two decades. The fact that other places in the world have grown at such levels for a sustained period of time suggests that it’s not crazy to assume 8% for the next two to three decades.
    Stark: where will this 8% growth come from in the future?
    China has about 300 million farmers, whereas with mechanization, all of the food that China needs could be produced by maybe 3 million at the most. So if you take the 300 million farmers who are really not adding any value to the economy and get them to do something else that generates wealth, you have a lot more new wealth.
    Cole: Yet, this growth is largely an illusion. Boosting GDP in this manner destroys massive amounts of capital
    That’s what neo-liberal economists argue. It should be considered that perhaps neo-liberal economists are wrong. In any case, if China were “burning wealth” it should be an easy matter to figure out when everything is going to crash, and predictions of a crash have been wrong enough to question the fundamental idea that Chinese growth is an “illusion.”
    Cole: This is one of the reasons why wages and other forms of personal income make-up a shockingly small percentage of China’s GDP
    It’s not that small. and if you have an economy that is rapidly growing you can get people to accept a fractionally lower wage. If you have the economy growing at 10%, you can get people to accept 5% income growth and then plow the rest back into investment that makes the economy continue to grow at 10%.

  • dan berg
  • http://www.xuway.com Marc in Oslo

    Fei Wei,
    Yes China is modernizing at a pace unseen anywhere else. What Jacques is arguing is that the transformation happening there cannot be fully understood if it is not seen as well as a Chinese process. Modernization does not necessarily equates to Westernization. Although one cannot overstate the impact of history, one should spend sometimes reading Martin Jacques, (not just listening to a 20 minutes presentation) and judge for herself or himself several of MJ key concepts including “conflicting modernities”.
    Interestingly “modernity” does not like plural in English …

  • Fahana

    I watched and listened to the whole thing and I put myself in the camp of believing he raises some interesting and valid points, but in the end, I found myself saying so what.

  • Fanch

    Well, I haven’t read the book, but through this review I guess it’s quite a brilliant synthesis of all the commonplaces and generalities that are currently being heard around. Seems to me there is just too many assertions that would need some more justification and debate before they can be taken for granted.
    As it is strange that, in the paragraph supposed to illustrate “Europe vanishing into Limbos and China running straight towards becoming the brilliant incarnation of the future of the World, the Galaxy and the Universe all together “, the example chosen is the building of high speed trains, which is an idea Europeans had and began to implement more than 30 years ago now (Maybe they should put Confucius stickers the trains so that it would show that they have a “sense of the future”. Or, should they detach the western end of the Eurasian continent and drive it from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. Might need some tough rowing abilities, and Cape Horn is going to be a tricky place, but who knows ?)
    Anyway I love this kind of books, Have to find it.

  • Twofish

    What he says doesn’t make any sense to me. One problem is that I really don’t have any clue what he means by “westernization.” Marx was a German living in Britain. Lenin was Russian. Most Chinese leaders have Deng Xiaoping went to school in France. Jiang Zemin was Russian educated.
    That seems pretty “Western” to me. Then you can argue that a Communist Party based on Marxist-Leninism that thinks that massive infrastructure investment is a good thing isn’t really “Western.” In that case, you have to tell me how you define Western and non-Western, and if you define non-Western as “whatever China does” then of course China is non-Western, but that doesn’t seem to be a useful definition.

  • http://www.xuway.com Marc in Oslo

    Twofish,
    MJ points exactly to our difficulty to distinguish what is Western from other transformations, such as modernization, the rise of the market economy etc.. because for 200 years Europe, then the West as whole, had an absolute monopoly in projecting itself and its values worldwide.
    A modern China does not equate to a Western China. A concrete example: traditional Chinese Medicine remains as important in China today, alongside Western Medicine.
    Of course Communism has its roots in West, but the market economy in China today is more capitalistic than any Western European countries I have been to. Now the high relevance the of the State for most Chinese, and the permanence of the concept of the Emperor in today’s one party rule is deeply rooted by several thousands years of a specific Chinese experience.

  • dan berg

    Twofish: i checked your website – the latest entry was JANUARY; How about a Chinese discussion on your website: Will China eclipse US anytime soon and, if so, so what? (dan berg / Qingdao)

  • Twofish

    Marc: A modern China does not equate to a Western China.
    You can (and some people do) define Western to mean modern, at that point it becomes tauntologically true.
    Marc: A concrete example: traditional Chinese Medicine remains as important in China today, alongside Western Medicine.
    On the other hand, I’ve gotten acupuncture in Texas done by someone that isn’t Chinese, does that make Texas “non-Western”? There is a distinct Chinese medicine, but there isn’t Chinese chemistry or Chinese physics.
    Marc: Now the high relevance the of the State for most Chinese, and the permanence of the concept of the Emperor in today’s one party rule is deeply rooted by several thousands years of a specific Chinese experience.
    Except that the national hero of China, Sun Yat-Sen, is the guy that overthrow the last emperor, and Republcanism is as important in China as it is in France. You could say that the Communist Party is the “new emperor” but at that point you are being pretty tauntological. Yes, the Communist Party is like the Imperial system, if you ignore all of the ways in which it isn’t. For one thing the Communist Party has had a lot more control over people’s daily lives than any emperor ever had.
    The other thing to point out is that for the last several hundred years most of the time China has been very divided, and if history had been slightly different, then China would look like Europe and Europe would look like China.
    — Now what is extraordinary about this is that what gives China it’s sense of being China, what gives the Chinese the sense of what it is to be Chinese, comes not from the last hundred years
    I think that he is being very ahistorical. The idea of China as a *nation* is 19th century. Once you start creating a nation then it’s common to create a mythology that gives that nation deep historical roots, but that’s how China is like Armenia, Serbia, or Turkey.
    — And thinking here, for example, of customs like ancestral worship, of a very distinctive notion of the state, and likewise a very distinctive notion of the family, social relationships like guangxi, Confucian values, and so on, these are all things that come from the period of the civilization-state
    All of that comes from the 17th century and no earlier. The notion of Confucianism is actually late-19th century. see Jensen’s Manufacturing Confucianism
    China is really a quite modern nation.

  • Twofish

    Martin: Secondly, for the first time in the modern era, the dominant country in the world, which is what I think China will become, will be not from the west and from very, very different civilizational roots.
    Unless India implodes then China is not going to be the dominant country in the world. It’s going to be *a* great power, but it’s going to have enough peer competitors to keep it form looking anything like the United States in 1950 or 1990.
    Martin: The result, by the way, is that the Chinese have a very different view of the state. Whereas we tend to view it as an intruder, a stranger, certainly an organ whose powers need to be limited, defined, and constrained, the Chinese don’t see the state that way at all.
    Neither Lenin or Mussolini or Louis XIV thought that the state should have limited, defined, and constrained powers. The current Chinese state gets its ideological justification from Karl Marx and Lenin who weren’t Chinese.
    Martin: So, actually, the response of China to the question of Hong Kong, as it will be to the question of Taiwan, was a natural response: one civilization, many systems.
    That doesn’t make any since to me. First he says that the defining characteristic of China is the support of an all powerful unified state, and then to support that conclusion it points to an example in which the Chinese government accepted de-facto limitations on the power of the state in order to preserve a legal and political system that is based on British principles.
    Martin: Now, the great advantage of this historical experience has been that without the Han, China could never have held together. The Han identity has been the cement which has held this country together.
    It really hasn’t. The idea of the Han identity only was invented in the 19th century. Ironically it was invented so that the “majority” could distinguish themselves from the Imperial rulers who were not Han. Also, the idea of dividing people into nationalities comes from the Russians.
    Martin: Europe once, of course, commanded the future in its confidence
    Europe ruled the world at one point. Then it found like most of the people that rule the world that ruling the world isn’t very fun. You spend all of your time sending your sons to be killed in random places in the world, and while your own infrastructure falls apart.

  • John in SF

    I think Martin raises some very good points. Even if I don’t agree with every detail he provides, I absolutely feel that his overall message is spot on. I think the key message here is that at the end of the day China is not a Western creation nor does it come from the same historic/religious/social background that has shaped Western thought, so it actually has a very different concept (including ideals, goals, and priorities that to them are perfectly legitimate and valid) of how its own society, government, and even the rest of the world should be organized or managed.
    I think the key to understanding that (not just for China, but for every other civilization that developed outside of the European sphere) is to gain a better understanding of what actually “makes the country/civilization/society tick” and what they value.
    Think of things in reverse. Before the West’s economic and cultural ascendancy in the 1700′s, China (and East Asia in general) was at the time more materially and technologically developed than what we call the “West” today. They had their own established systems, belief systems and ways of doing things.
    By trying to fit the West within that world view, China was just as frustrated and perplexed about the West, for most of the 1800′s, as we are of China today. Instead of evolving, it turned into a competition that unfortunately, China eventually lost out on. Think of the famous embassy to the Qing court by Lord MacCartney in 1792. To the emperor and his court (and may Chinese thinkers) at the time, they wondered, “Who were these strangers/upstarts who refused to conduct diplomacy or business within the established/centuries old rules or had the gall to demand entitlements that no other countries had, such as the right to trade in all Chinese ports, have their citizens not be subject to Chinese laws, or a permanent embassy in Beijing. Why were they being so difficult? How dare they not believe in/want to be/or, god forbid, attacked Buddhism or Confucianism. Doesn’t everyone hold Buddhist ideals as something to aspire to? Can anyone believe any government would actually believe in for force their people to live by this thing called Christianity? How horrible is that? I feel so sorry for the people.”
    These are the types of things I hear in reverse all the time now when people talk about China. We here in the West, unfortunately, are still the unwanted missionaries trying so hard to “convert” or “save” China, except that now, the new religion is Western-style democracy or nation-states, rather than the Christianity of old. We are also so certain of the superiority and “rightness” of these systems and thought processes as we were of Christianity back in the 1800′s. “Oh, but of course these benighted and backward people need to be saved from themselves, right?”
    People may not put it so clearly out there, but that’s much of the undertone of the ongoing debate. This isn’t to say any system, or even what’s going on in China doesn’t have its own problems, but at the end of the day, we need to recognize, that China as culture, civilization, and even state, has the right to and will make decisions or draw conclusions that doesn’t always align with the ones we want them to. They don’t exist purely for our benefit or detriment. They are not our teenage child but a separate sovereign country. At the end of the day, our job is to also understand and figure out how we can work effectively with their system as well.
    If you look over the 3800+ years of recorded Chinese history, there’s always been a history of absorbing and appending outside influences without completely replacing or cutting the continuity of core Chinese culture. I think as the balance of power starts shifting again over the coming years, the West may need to do a little absorbing, accommodating, etc. of their own (which I already do see happening and not always for the bad.)

  • Richard

    First off, I have trouble believing that the average Chinese person holds the state in such high regard. While there may be some reverence for the central government or an overarching nationalism that supports an abstruse idea of a strong Chinese “motherland,” surely there is widespread distrust of local/city/provincial governments and Party officials. 10 minutes on Sina Weibo should disabuse MJ of any notion that all Chinese share a deep love for government. In my experience, many Chinese, ranging from recent college graduates incensed over housing prices and low wages to the millionaires squirreling away their grey income from the taxman, have a profound distrust of the government and Party. Coupled with the general feeling of helplessness (particularly strong among young urbanites), I would say suspicion of the Chinese state meets or even exceeds what we might find in the U.S.
    Twofish: China has about 300 million farmers, whereas with mechanization, all of the food that China needs could be produced by maybe 3 million at the most. So if you take the 300 million farmers who are really not adding any value to the economy and get them to do something else that generates wealth, you have a lot more new wealth.
    Yes, it would be great if China could invent jobs for 300 million peasant farmers, but the economy is currently not even generating enough jobs for college graduates. I suppose the idea is that farmers can work in other low-wage sectors like manufacturing (ie: export driven) or construction (ie: taxpayer funded)? It is possible for China to meet this challenge but assuming that China can pull 300 million jobs out of thin air is pretty far-fetched. I think the Chinese government understands quite well that there is a difficult balancing act ahead of them between wage growth, consumer spending, and low-wage job creation. Look at it like this: in spite of recent attempts to bolster consumer spending, Chinese household savings rates are rising (see M. Pettis) and consumer spending, with the exception of the very rich, stagnates. Wages are rising, but principally in low-wage sectors where households have very limited disposable income. As baseline wages for manufacturing and construction continue to rise, job opportunities for unskilled workers will dwindle just as they have in other industrializing states. The mechanization in farming that you suggest is already underway in the manufacturing sector as a result of wage increases, which in turn, will push more unskilled labor out of the job market. This is a Schumpeterian process and it’s hard to see how peasant farmers are positioned to benefit at all. The government can’t invest in railways and bridges forever to create low-wage construction jobs, so at some point there need to be more consumers for Chinese goods and services. At present, it does not appear that the Chinese population nor rich country consumers can fill that gap.
    Twofish: That’s what neo-liberal economists argue. It should be considered that perhaps neo-liberal economists are wrong. In any case, if China were “burning wealth” it should be an easy matter to figure out when everything is going to crash, and predictions of a crash have been wrong enough to question the fundamental idea that Chinese growth is an “illusion.”
    Predicting a slowdown in growth is not the same as predicting a crash. In fairness to Mr. Cole, he did not suggest that the Chinese economy would crash, just that it will “slow considerably.” I don’t think it is unreasonable to assume that there are myriad natural limits to Chinese growth, including, but not only: high levels of fraud/corruption, poor capital allocation between the state and private sector, weak intellectual property protection, slowing/reversing consumer demand in rich countries, increasing energy costs, etc. Yes, China has grown quickly by harvesting low-hanging fruit, following the same basic pattern as all other industrializing countries (see T. Cowen) but that growth will absolutely plateau, as it has in every other economy in history. Hopefully, when China reaches that point, they will learn the lesson from the U.S. and not attempt to conjure up illusions of wealth creation through financial engineering.