Join our Mailing List

"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

The big China change

June 15, 2008

PRC is no longer "old China," it is turning into something very new.
America also will be crucial for the end result
by Francesco Sisci
La Stampa (Italy)
June 13, 2008

University libraries are filled with thousands of volumes explaining
to us and the world all the problems and intricacies of the momentous
passage from agricultural to industrial society, from rural to urban
life, from a world marked by huge gaps in time and space to another
where communications and telecommunications immensely narrow times
and distances. These changes still puzzle us and seem largely
unexplained. Yet these changes, occurring over a span of 200 years,
are minimal if compared to what has been occurring in China in past 30 years.

These changes have been concentrated in a bit more than one
generation. But this is just a small part of a larger phenomenon: In
the past 150 years, China's complex cultural values have been under
constant attack and forced revision. That is, not only did China have
to undergo the same structural changes as the West in a shorter
period of time, but at the same time, it also underwent dramatic
cultural changes. The only similar experiment took place in Japan in
the late 19th century. But to put it very briefly, Japan was at much
earlier phase of cultural evolution, so the breadth of the structural
change was not as huge; it was in a society that claimed it had
already absorbed and digested a foreign culture, that of China about
a thousand years earlier, so the present digestion of Western culture
was within the Japanese tradition; and it could do so with great
confidence because in the first phases of the reform, it had military
victories over the regional superpower China, in 1894, and a Western
power, Russia, in 1905.

China, conversely, arrived to the fast phase of modernization pretty
late, with a larger gap to fill in less time. China also didn't have
much confidence, as it had been defeated by foreign powers, invaded
and almost totally conquered by Japan, and had won only a small war
against India. It managed to gain an almost honorable draw with
America in Korea in 1950s (with Russian support) and with Vietnam in
1979 (with some American assistance). Furthermore, China had no
affirmed tradition of digesting foreign culture into its own mold and
changing itself in the process. It has the opposite tradition, of
making foreigners "Chinese," which occurred several times in Chinese
history. The last time was with the Manchu invaders who eventually
were completely Sinified. One could argue that Buddhism vastly
changed China, but the current perception is that, in fact, China
changed Buddhism even more. Now, the situation is completely
different, and there is no doubt that China is changing to adapt to a
Western values-dominated world, rather than the contrary.

The country that faced the "foreign devils from the ocean," yang
guizi, during the Opium Wars in the mid 19th century has dramatically
changed in the following century and half—to the point that
contemporary China can be regarded as only superficially similar to
the country it was during the Opium Wars. In fact, the whole social
and personal context, which defines and influences ideas, ambitions,
and world-views, has been totally transformed in these 150 years.


The change started with the family, the basis for society and the
state. The ideal family in the 19th century was unchanged from the
times of Confucius, some 2,000 years before: three generations under
one roof. The older man had many wives even more children. Each male
heir had also many wives and children all living together
harmoniously in a large courtyard, resembling a small village of
dozens of people. In the courtyard, there were also many servants.
The females of the clan were betrothed to neighbors, who then gained
a closer relationship with the family. In this way, whole towns were
under the control of one family. Each relative had a name indicating
his precise relationship to the speaker. There were no vague
appellations like "aunt," "uncle" or "cousin." There were terms such
as "uncle, first younger brother of my father" (da shushu) or "uncle,
second brother of my mother" (er jiujiu), and so on. Cousins also
bore different names, accordingly. It was an intricate cobweb of
relations in which each individual had his or her precise place. A
male child grew up thinking that if he studied hard and if he were
virtuous and filial, he would pass the official exam, become a
successful mandarin, inherit the family fortune, and establish his
own large family home. Then, he would pick the brightest of his heirs
and support that child through his studies, continuing the glorious
family tradition.

That was an ideal. Most men had only one wife, as they could afford
only one. Some men, poor, had no wives; and some, just a little less
poor, had to share a wife with their brothers. Yet, the ideal family
was one man, many wives and many, many children.

For the emperor, this condition was an issue of state security. The
emperor had many wives to make sure he had many children and could
choose the fittest among them to succeed him. The successor had to be
male, but not necessarily the first born from the first wife, as was
the situation was in Europe. The Chinese system tried to make sure
the emperor was not incompetent, which could be the case with the
European system where God chose the successor—namely, the first born.
The issue of family and keeping only one wife was the stumbling block
in the conversion of the Qing emperor to Catholicism.

The emperor might have entertained the idea of converting to
Catholicism, as many of his closest advisors were Jesuits, but he
could not accept the idea of having one wife, as this would alter the
rule for succession in China. However, the Jesuits in the 17th
century knew that they could not compromise on the rule of
succession: The king's many wives and their children had been the
very issue that caused a split between England and Rome the century
before with Henry VIII and Elizabeth. Elizabeth died in 1603, seven
years before Matteo Ricci's demise in Beijing in 1610.

This ideal of the family persisted until the Communists took over in
1949. After the May 4th movement in 1919, the idea of one wife was
introduced as progressive and modern. However, Chiang Kai-shek had
more than one wife, as did many senior KMT officials. Conversely, the
Communist party broke the old mold and introduced puritanical rules
imposing just one wife. This was already a major break with the
ancient tradition, but an even greater break came in the 1980s with
the one-child rule. This completely reversed the old pyramid of
relations. A hundred years before, a grandfather could be served by
scores of grandchildren all vying for his favor.

In 1980s, one couple, often two single children of single-wife
marriages, could have as many as four grandparents all hovering
around a single child. Then, one has six adults spoiling one child.
It is the phenomenon of the "little emperors." The children were
spoiled, but also under enormous pressure. They had the
responsibility to succeed for their family's glory. In larger
families, this responsibility was spread among scores of siblings who
first had to learn to live with each other. In 1980s, the one child
had to be number one in his class to be sure to get into a good high
school, which, in turn, guarantees a place at a good university in
the extremely selective Chinese education system. But this, of
course, is impossible. What happens, then, in most families, if the
one child fails to get into a good university and has no hope for a
good job? How will the children reconcile themselves with their lot?
Will they be frustrated and angry? They are no small number—there are
millions of children in this generation. How will these people impact
the society, state, world, and culture in the next 20 years?

One thing is sure, China has never experienced a generation like
this, and neither has any place else in the world, so it is very hard
to forecast trends. Because the situation is so widespread, the
Chinese government has realized the problem and is trying to address
it. But before turning our attention to the answer, first we have to
look at how the Chinese government has dramatically changed.


Since unification in the late 3rd century B.C., China was always
ruled by an emperor, a supreme head of state, ultimate source of
power, and decision- maker. Possibly, there had been "emperors" even
before then, such as the son of heaven (tianzi) of Zhou times, but he
was likely more of a religious and ceremonial figure than a real
political monarch.

The imperial system really started with the first emperor, Qinshi
Huangdi. The system underwent many changes, but there was always one
constant element: The monarch did not run the administration of the
country. That duty was largely entrusted to a body of ministers and
officials who were selected on the basis of merit. The emperor
embodied the interest of the state, as the state was his. It was a
mechanism similar to that of modern companies differentiating
property and management. The owner, or major stock-holder, sets the
goals and decides the broad direction and the interests of the
company, such as its stability and welfare. The emperor's interests
coincide with the interests of the population, or in our comparison,
the employees in a company. The citizens want to lead comfortable
safe lives, and creating this environment maintains with a stable
hold on power for the emperor.

In the middle, between the emperor and the people, there were
officials who had the job of running the country and maintaining
stability. It is easy to see how people recognized their interests as
coinciding with those of the emperor, and thus, both the emperor and
the people blamed officials if something minor went wrong. If
something major was wrong, it meant the emperor had lost his marbles,
he did not understand his and his people's interests, or heaven did
not want him to rule -- and that was the end for him and the dynasty.
They would be replaced by a new emperor and dynasty, setting new
standards for the old stability game.

In the 19th century, Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong also followed
this pattern. Although they did not call themselves "emperor," they
were the ultimate embodiment of the interests of the state and the
ones who set the grand directions. Deng Xiaoping's rule was softer,
but he still commanded great respect. Jiang Zemin was something in
between. However, the real radical change occurred right at the
beginning of this century, with the smooth transition of power from
Jiang Zemin to Hu Jintao. That transition confirmed that both men
were not emperors. They are officials promoted because of merit to
become head of state, but they do not embody the ultimate interests
of the state. They cannot make the ultimate decisions alone -- they
have to reach a consensus among top leaders. And they cannot even
choose their own successors: Hu's post was decided by Deng (Jiang
might have preferred Zeng Qinghong), and Hu's successor Xi Jinping
was not decided by Hu alone (who might have preferred Li Keqiang).
Both Jiang and Hu are top managers, but this poses a new question:
Who embodies the interests of the state and of the people?

In democracies, those interests are represented by the electoral
body, which votes for the head of state and other representatives. In
modern China, there are no elections and the "legitimization" offered
by the leaders is simple: We are in power because we are in power. If
nobody topples us, then we are legitimized to stay. We can stay in
power by granting economic growth and development that spreads
welfare to the whole population, although unequally.

However, legitimization is only part of the issue. The larger issue
is: Who decides the broad direction to take? What are the criteria
and standards to judge the performance of officials and top
managing-rulers? Here, there are two arenas that have a greater and
lesser voice in deciding the performance and setting the goals.

The less powerful arena (whose voice is growing) is public opinion,
which is conveyed by a number of channels, such as local media, blogs
on the web, social surveys, and local elections. This does not form a
black and white picture but reveals where the general interests are
moving or not moving. For instance, on the issue of environmental
protection, ten years ago people were less responsive to it, but now
they are more receptive.

A more powerful arena influencing the leaders is the pool of experts,
old cadres called on to discuss different policies. The opinion of
experts is solicited when considering any given policy, and the
opinion of retired cadres, who now have no vested interests, is also
called on to consider the promotion of officials. Tens of thousands
were consulted to draw the program for the last party congress in
2007, and 5,000 helped write the draft. Even after retirement,
officials have access to some levels of internal news bulletins and
maintain privileged channels of communication with top leadership.
Therefore, they influence the broad decision process. But the system
is not transparent, leading to all possible venues for corruption.
For example, middle- and low-level officials who are backed by
companies can try to climb up the official ladder by distributing
presents and favors to higher-ranking officials. Companies,
especially if they are State companies, can try to move policies by
offering gifts and favors to officials.

To counter these instances, the party has moved toward appealing to
scholarly experts, with no personal interest in the issues, and
retired cadres, also without personal interests. They also keep the
process secretive and thus not open to wide interference. But even
this system is not tight—and they know it. For this reason, they are
now pushing for democratization, although they are concerned about
the shortcomings of that system, as well.

The party is currently facing a major quandary about how to move
forward -- and also because, for most people, the ultimate goal is to
be emperor.


Right at the end of Tiananmen Square, next to Zhengyang Men ("the
Midday gate") and two hundred meters from Mao's mausoleum, there is a
spot where people can take pictures of their children dressed as
little Manchu emperors and sitting on a throne. The place is
symbolic: The ancient gate once opened on the nei cheng (the inner
city) and the buildings of the imperial government. Every day, there
is a line of parents, mostly from the countryside, holding their
children by the hands and waiting to take the picture as a sign of
good luck. Each parent wants his or her only child to be
successful—to become, in his or her way, an emperor.

For centuries in ancient times, there were only two ways to be successful.

The first way was to lead a rebellion or follow one -- to topple the
dynasty and become the emperor. This was the method of Liu Bang (the
founder of the Han dynasty), Zhu Yuanzhang (the founder of the Ming
dynasty), and Mao Zedong (the founder of the "Communist
dynasty").  The path is extremely dangerous—one could easily lose his
head over it—and possibilities of success are very slim.

Second, an ambitious young man could pursue a career as an imperial
official. He could take the challenging exams, and if he passed them,
become even the top official of the empire. This path had no
risk—nobody would kill the failed youth who did not pass the exam.
And it was relatively easier. Although the official bureaucracy was
tiny compared to the population, there were still hundreds of
officials to be promoted every year, giving the average person a much
better chance to succeed this way than by rebelling against the
system. For this reason, most people first tried to become an official.

However, the exam system was not perfect, and many rebel leaders
began as students who had failed the imperial examinations, like the
famous Hong Xiuquan who started the Taiping rebellion that in the
middle of the 19th century, an uprising that almost toppled the Qing
dynasty. If these brilliant people had earned a post, perhaps there
would have been no rebellion or a much more modest one.

Actually, there was also a less common path to try to make a fortune
for oneself -- clever people could go into business. This path,
however, was not as glorious as the choice of being an official, the
top of the social hierarchy. And although not as risky as being a
rebel, it was far from secure. In fact, officials could easily
concoct all kinds of excuses to seize the property of rich merchants.
Business, concentrated in cities, was tolerated but not exalted, and
businessmen had to be careful not to eclipse the wealth of local
officials, who had to remain officially the richest in the area.
Businessmen could protect their assets in two ways: befriending the
officials or having his son pass the examination and become an
official. The second choice was safer and considered more socially
respectable than the first.

The rest of people, the vast majority of the population, were
peasants who were bound to the land and had all types of constraints
to leaving his place and moving somewhere else. Furthermore,
officials and peasants were the stronghold of stable power, the
guarantors that nothing would change and the imperial power would be
unchallenged. Business, with its drive to accumulate wealth and
invest in new ventures, was a force for instability and change. This
had to be tolerated for several reasons, but the imperial power could
not allow business and enterprise to grow to threaten the emperor's stability.

This situation has largely changed in the past 30 years. There are
still officials selected through a complex party system with courses
and exams, but now business is exalted for the first time in Chinese
history. Business is central to the drive for fast development, which
is the paramount task for the nation to recover its former might and glory.

This has many consequences.

On a personal level, being a businessman is now as glorious as -- or
perhaps even more than -- being an official. When the best kids at
university are chosen to join the party and have an official career,
they feel it is an honor that they must accept. But this career is
long, very difficult, full of traps, and rewarding only at the
end—if, at around age 50, one has managed to survive the political
selection and become a senior official.

However, most young people prefer to try to become businessmen. They
can be successful early in their lives, they're freer since they're
not subject to the strict party discipline, and they can enjoy
themselves with the money they make. A businessman can have his own
enterprise and decide what to do with minimal official interference.
In other words, each young person can become the little emperor of a
small empire, something that did not exist in the imperial past.
Besides, trying one's hand in business is easier and far less risky
than trying to start a revolution to become emperor.

On a social level, the changes brought by business and enterprises
must be "digested" at every level by the system. Formerly, the
imperial system could stop businesses from threatening the status
quo. Now the nation wants to improve the status quo, and therefore
has to push for new businesses and then factor in the constant
changes to the social and political fabric of the nation. Moreover,
business-driven growth means urbanization, depopulation of the
countryside, extinction of the old peasants, the end of ancient rural
China, and the birth of a new, urbanized China. This course will
follow the only existing pattern for urbanization—the Western one.

Most importantly, the overall system has discarded the ancient notion
of stability and embraced the notions of change and development. This
is a deep cultural change, confirmed by the official Chinese rhetoric
about stability. When the leaders stress the need for stability in
China, they are looking for some balance in a situation that has
inherently rejected it.

And if everything fails, the government thinks, there must be
something to appease the public. In the West, those appeasements were
traditionally sports and religion.


Public sporting events, attended by both the aristocratic and common
people, have been popular since ancient times in the West. The
tradition of the Olympics was that all Greek cities would suspend
activities so that the entire population could enjoy the games, an
event with the spirit of bringing together all citizens united by a
common cultural identity and mutual interests. The spirit of the
Roman circus was the same. The patrician and the plebeian would
attend it to share in the common enjoyment of the show, and thus,
renew the cultural bond linking the two parts of the society. The
games had also a link with war, the other crucial occasion where high
and low stand side-by-side, this time to shed blood in defense of the
common motherland. In Greece, war was suspended during the games; in
Rome, games were a recreation of war with fights between gladiators.

Sport thus played a crucial political and ritualistic function in
creating a sense of common belonging. This was extremely important as
both Greek and Roman societies were split into separate strata on the
basis of birthright. In Greece, the aristocrats were concentrated in
the upper portion of the city, the acropolis, and the common people
had the lower square of the "agora." A similar structure could be
found in Rome, where the old aristocrats centered on the Senate and
the plebeians would live in the lower strata of the "urbs." Upward
movement was possible but very difficult and uncommon.

This social difference, determined by birth, was very hard to
overcome and created a huge social gap that the common attendance at
games or participation in war helped to bridge.

The system was highly effective. Even now there are families in Rome
claiming a lineage back to Julius Cesar, living in the same area and
the same buildings for millennia, despite many changes in the ruling
elite of the land. The concept of aristocracy, of blue-blood
privileges, was very strong for centuries in the West. Apart from the
many crowned heads of state in Europe, England's House of Lords is a
modern vestige of the old Roman Senate: a group of grandees—largely
chosen by the merits of their forefathers—ruling the nation of common people.

In ancient China, there were no games or circus bonding upper and
lower strata. However, there were also no birth-determined social
divides, and upward mobility based purely on merit had been
encouraged and idealized since very ancient times. The Mozi, possibly
the earliest text of systematic philosophy in China, begins its
earliest part (4th century BC) by discussing the importance of
promoting capable people as high officials (Mozi, shang xian pian).
The philosopher also claims this is an ancient tradition coming from
the Shang dynasty (2nd millennium BC), which in turn was taken from
the most legendary ancient Chinese emperors -- Yao, Shun, Yi, and
Tang --who selected their successors on the basis of merit regardless
of origin. In fact, Shun or Yi had very humble origins.

Confucius, about a generation older than Mozi but referring to the
earlier cultural tradition of Zhou (starting around 1,000 BC), also
stressed the paramount importance of education and upbringing over
birthright in the promotion of officials.

The original and enduring Chinese cultural myth is of a self-made man
-- the senior official born out of a peasant family or the top
general starting off as foot soldier. In this sense, social mobility
was encouraged, and this may have created a strong bond in society.
In fact, as we have seen, there were two channels for upward
mobility: the selection of officials, which is open to all, and the
revolution (ge ming). The second is particularly important in
comparison to Western tradition. Since the early first millennium BC,
there has been the tradition of the change (ge) of the Mandate of
Heaven (ming). Essentially, the idea was that the dynasty would rule
until it was overthrown. The toppling was seen as legitimate when it
was successful, evidence that Heaven had withdrawn its graces from
one emperor and granted them to another. The emperor, Son of Heaven,
had to hold onto its power. His success in so doing proved his ritual
and religious legitimacy. Large natural disasters and social
uprisings confirmed the waning of Heaven's favors.

Besides the selected officials, each dynasty had its court of
aristocrats -- relatives of the emperor or descendents of the closest
comrades of the founder of the dynasty. They, and the relatives of
the senior officials, had varying influence. But this influence faded
with the decades, as the generations grew away from the original
connection. Furthermore, each change of dynasty completely wiped out
the former aristocracy and established a new one. The Mongols
eliminated the Song aristocrats, so did the Ming with Mongols, the
Manchu with the Ming, and the communists with the Manchu. This
created a situation where there is no aristocratic continuity
stretching back hundreds of years, as there is in Europe. At most,
Chinese aristocrats can claim a lineage of three hundred years.
Presently, there is no official aristocracy, but the siblings of
senior leaders are called "taizi dang" ("prince-lings"). However,
even they can claim an aristocracy that is less than one hundred
years old. This means that social mobility is strong, and aristocracy
has not played as conspicuous and continuous a role as it has in Europe.

This has also changed. Communists now have started looking to sports
-- especially mass gatherings like the Olympics that are attended by
both common people and senior officials—to create a new social bond.
Now, there are more occasions for the people to feel a sense of
unity. There are also new and old systems for social mobility
(promotion of officials, career opportunities in business), a weak
aristocracy, and more occasions of coming together for sports.

The present attention to sports is still weaker than in the West,
often because of the extreme corruption in local tournaments. But
there is also a phenomenon unknown in Western societies: great
attention to sports from abroad. Chinese people love soccer played in
Italy, England, Germany, and Spain as well as basketball from the US.
This appreciation of foreign sports has also created positive
attention for developments abroad, in the countries home of those
games, in a way unknown in the West. And it is extending the feeling
of unity the Chinese feel with the motherlands of those games.

This is a phenomenon that goes beyond sports.


China traditionally has not had a religious system that is comparable
to the monotheistic religions of the West or the polytheistic
religions of India and many other countries. There was
Buddhist-Taoist lore full of metaphysical explanations for various
phenomena. In addition, there was a system of civil values without
any metaphysics, which we may call Confucian ethics.

Both of those systems were criticized by modernist intellectuals
during 1919's May 4th Movement and were then smashed in Maoist times
and replaced with an atheist religion that idolized Mao Zedong. In
the early 1980s, at the end of the Maoist era, China was without any
kind of values system, either religious or civil.

Since the early 1980s, China has seen a massive return of the
traditional Taoist semi-religious respiratory practice of Qigong.
Elderly Chinese leaders were eager to practice this discipline, which
promised an earthly long life. They arranged the return of Qigong
masters (who sometimes were just self-taught), organizing them as
sport trainers and registering them under the Sport Federation. There
were many Qigong schools flourishing all over the country, and a
dozen of them were registered with the Sport Federation.

Their popularity increased after the Tiananmen movement in 1989, when
many young people who were disillusioned with politics went into
meditation. Furthermore, in early 1995, Deng Xiaoping had a stroke
and almost died. He was saved, according to Beijing's rumor mill, by
the intervention of revered Qigong masters. This episode helped
increase the fame of Qigong.

By the mid-1990s, police, soldiers, officials, and students were all
practicing various forms of Qigong. Among them, the most successful
was the Falun Gong. It was the best organized with cells, a central
committee, and a politburo modeled after the Communist party. Its set
of beliefs was a mish-mash of old and new: faith in the coming end of
the world, the idea that extraterrestrial beings were among us and
had taken the shape of men, the denial of modern science and
medicine, and a strong xenophobic attitude. The last sentiment well
suited the many ageing leaders who had joined the Party in their
youth with nationalist sentiments.

The Falun Gong movement grew so strong that it demanded recognition
as an official religion and to no longer be classified as a sport.
When it failed to obtain that classification, followers organized a
series of demonstrations in early 1999 with the support of senior
Chinese intelligence and military officers. The government saw these
demonstrations—backed by crucial officials—as a powerful threat, an
attempted coup d'etat, and commenced a gradual yet merciless crackdown.

This moment was crucial in China for the return of religion. The
whole Falun Gong episode convinced the Party that what was formerly
believed—that opening up was too much—was not true. In fact, opening
up was too little. This had made it possible for millions to believe
absurd theories about UFOs or to refuse modern medical attention.

Yet, it also revealed that Chinese people wanted religious values,
and the government had to be open to them. Buddhism was favored: It
was a religion that had been in China for hundreds of years, Chinese
people were very familiar to it, and Buddhist monks had been among
the first to denounce the dangers of Falun Gong in 1998.

Furthermore, the Chinese leaders had realized that much-feared
Christian faiths were not so dangerous after all. In 50 years of
Communist rule, despite ruthless oppression, Christian Protestants
and Catholics had never staged demonstrations in Tiananmen, as the
Falun Gong followers had. In 1989, during the Tiananmen
demonstrations, then-bishop Zen from Hong Kong told students in
Chinese seminars not to get involved with the demonstrations.

This created new goodwill among the Chinese leadership for
traditional religions and made possible official overtures to the
Vatican in 2001 for the normalization of ties with China. In 2001,
Pan Yue also wrote an article that redefined the theoretical
concept[i]. Pan Yue argued, essentially, that Marx said that religion
is the opiate of the people, and thus religion is bad for revolution.
But once revolution is successful, the government needs religion as
opiate to avert new revolutions. The reasoning is crude but fitting
for Chinese political thought. It also changed the meaning of
revolution from the original Marxist one, entailing a total change of
political order, to the Chinese "ge ming," a simple traditional
Chinese change of political power.

This brought the momentous change of 2007.

On December 18th, the Politburo of the Communist Party of China
(CPC), the highest ruling body in the country, held a plenary
collective study session. It was the second one since the Party
Congress ended in October. For the first time in the history of the
People's Republic, the Party top echelons met to discuss a once-taboo

The CPC, like many other Communist Parties, is patently atheist to
the point that religious affiliation is forbidden for Party members.
However, right in Congress there was the first sign that things could
be moving into a different direction.

Broadcasting from the cavernous Great Hall of the People, where
congress was in session, TV screens showed the slim and attentive
face of the young Panchen Lama, who was following the speech of the
General Secretary Hu Jintao. The badge on his chest said "guest."

The shot revealed that the most important religious dignitary in
Tibet was supportive of the Beijing government, and also that the
Party was reconsidering its stance on religion. Now religious
personalities were invited guests, but perhaps, in a not so distant
future, they could also be full-fledged delegates to Congress. That
is, the Party could drop its ban against religious figures joining its ranks.

In fact, Hu's keynote speech devoted a whole paragraph to
religion[ii]. He said that religious people, including priests,
monks, and lay-believers, played a positive role in the social and
economic development of China. Furthermore, Hu did not talk about
religions as such, thus establishing a form of respect and
non-interference in purely religious affairs. The Party is not
interested in religion, but it values the positive social
contribution of religious people.

At the meeting on the 18th, Congress explored the issue. Two experts
introduced the subject. One was Zhuo Xinping, a specialist on
Christianity from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and the
other was Mu Zhongjian, scholar on Confucianism from the Central
University of Nationalities. It seemed the Party wanted two
perspectives, one about the new Christian faiths coming from abroad
and one from the country's own native tradition.

Hu presented some introductory remarks, reported in a Xinhua article
in Chinese[iii], and it was indeed a historical event.

Two facts are extraordinary.

It was the first high-level meeting of the Party fully devoted on
religion. That was a sign that Party leaders recognize the great
political significance of religion in building a "moderate, affluent,
and harmonious society." Religion is no longer an issue of public
security that can be handed over to the police—it is a top social and
political issue involving all aspects of society, and therefore, all
Politburo members must be aware of it.

Secondly, in all of the Xinhua reports, there were no negative,
derogatory remarks about religion, as one would expect to find
discussing what the Marxist tradition regarded as the opiate of the
masses. There are not even "ifs" or "buts" to indicate that the Party
will handle religion with diffidence. The English version stresses
that there must be freedom of belief, and in the Chinese version, Hu
is quoted as saying that the Party must mobilize the positive
elements of religion for economic and social development. Thus,
religion can play an important role in realizing the "harmonious
society" that is the new political goal of the Party.

Furthermore, Hu spoke at the conference, meaning that he and the
Party deem this issue of top importance and not simply something to
be delegated to the United Front or the CCPCC, the two bodies coping
with religious affairs in the Party. His speech, which might
circulate in internal meetings, will set the direction for handling
religious affairs in the future.

This does not mean that the Party has converted to some religious
belief or is going to do so. Religion is an instrument for
governance. As Pan Yue bluntly put it in his essay, the Party wanted
to learn how it can use religion to appease people, to enhance social
stability, and to avert rebellions and revolutions.

The CPC understands this is a complex issue, but one with many
potential positive social outcomes. In the late 1990s, an
investigation carried out in some costal regions found that the areas
with more people converted to a religious faith had a lower rate of
criminality—more religion meant less crime.

However, Chinese history tells Party leaders that religion is also an
extremely volatile element. Major uprisings in the past were
organized by religious groups. For instance, the Taiping, who almost
brought to an end the Qing dynasty in the 19th century, were
pseudo-Christians. Similarly, extreme radical Islam now mobilizes
millions worldwide. Religion has to be handled with care, but it
cannot simply be ignored or looked down upon like some kind of feudal


Globalization in the West started with the Greeks -- with the
Anabasis told by Xenophon, a disciple of Socrates. Then, 10,000 Greek
mercenaries marched to Persia to aid Cyrus, who enlisted Greek help
to try to take the throne from Artaxerxes. This occurred between 401
BC and March 399 BC. About half a century later, Alexander the Great
(356-323 BC) followed almost the same route not to serve the
Persians, but to battle and defeat them. He wanted to conquer and
discover new lands, following the legend of the trials of Hercules.
Alexander and his conquests then became the model for great Roman
conquerors: Cesar and the emperors following him. Exploration,
conquest, and plunder were the trademarks of the Mediterranean world,
where the line between commerce and pirating was often blurred.
Exploration and conquest were the driving forces pushing Spanish and
Portuguese ships across the Atlantic in search of new sea-lanes to
the Indies. The Atlantic was an extended version of the
Mediterranean[iv]. It was a space to conquer and win -- seeing it as
a limit would be an admission of defeat. The colonial era and present
globalization are modern adaptations of the old principle of
expansion. In each era, the idea was that economic welfare could be
achieved through goods from new conquered lands, which were obtained
through plunder, exploitation, or simple commerce. Security was best
achieved by attacking enemies first and invading their lands, before
they did the same, an action that was also rewarded by the booty of plunder.

In China, everything was different. Desert and mountains in the north
and the west, jungles in the south, and the ocean in the east were
the natural limits of conquest. In 200 BC, the first unification of
China defined what is still the reach of Chinese civilization. The
first emperor had conquered what is now northern Vietnam and had
probably gone as far as present North Korea. The conquest of the wild
south proceeded slowly and methodically, in a spirit of systematic
incorporation into the empire. The empire stretched out to fight the
warring barbarians and moved several times as far as the Caspian Sea
or northern Siberia, but it always withdrew from it. The idea was
that the security of the empire would be guaranteed by a belt of
buffer-vassal states. In return for their "service," these states
received from the empire more than what they offered as homage.

The world outside was known and could be explored, as in the famous
15th century Zheng He expeditions, but it was of no major consequence
for the empire, which had to produce security and economic welfare
from within. Agriculture was fundamental to the growth of necessary
industry, but there was no trust in the benefits of bouts of plunder
and conquest. This was the way of the northern population or eastern
pirates, but both did not make a stable living out of these
activities and often survived on the verge of extermination. It
appeared much better for the empire to improve domestic agriculture,
industry, and trade. Industrial and agricultural surpluses in
ceramics and tea drew in furs and horses (the latter necessary for
the industry of defense) from the north or gold and silver from the
western traders. China could easily ignore the rest of the world,
because it was not relevant.

This changed dramatically after the Opium Wars, when England tried to
sell the only goods China would consume and import—drugs,
specifically, opium—to make up for a massive trade deficit that was
draining Europe of all its American silver and gold. When China
restricted the trade of opium on grounds that presently seem more
than reasonable—it was drug trade, after all—England forced the trade
to continue by fighting and winning a short but momentous war.

Over a century later, the lesson China learned is that even defeat in
a small-scale war can trigger a deep political crisis, which in turn
can topple a government.

Most importantly, the wider lesson is that China cannot ignore
commerce and must be part of the global economic cycle, which now is
highly industrialized and demands more resources than can be found
internally. Therefore, China must go around the world looking for all
kinds of resources and energy as well as new markets for its growing
industries. In other words, China as a state[v] recognizes the same
economic necessities that Western countries have addressed for
centuries, if not millennia.

Western states have refined, through centuries of experience and
mistakes, the methods and practices for dealing with foreign
countries that are used even now. China's methods for dealing with
foreign lands are largely useless. It cannot rebuild a belt of vassal
states— neighbors would bitterly resent China and turn against it.
China then has to go to places where it traditionally had no foreign
policy, for instance Africa and Latin America, without knowing well
how to handle these people. In other words, the old foreign policy
must be rejected, and there is no culture or experience for the new
foreign policy.

It is a brave new world for China. And for the world, it is a brave new China.


Military thought is an integral part of the Chinese philosophical
tradition. Among the ancient classics, "military thinking" is present
not only in the Sunzi Bingfa, but also in the work of Mozi, China's
first really systematic philosopher and the first to mount an
opposition to the Confucian school. Here we have the three chapters
on "fei gong," (against offensive war), which explain why a state
should not conduct offensive wars but only defensive ones.
Furthermore, in Mozi, we have fragments of technical chapters on the
preparation of city defense, meaning that these philosophers were not
only thinking about war, but preparing for it practically.

However, since the beginning of philosophical thought in China, war
was not simply an episodic clash of arms or a parenthesis between the
normal unfolding of politics and diplomacy, as Clausewitz would put
it many centuries later. War was "a matter of life and death for the
state," as Sunzi put it. In the military classics, there is an
extended concept of war, which includes the overall state preparation for war.

Shangjun is the philosopher credited with helping to organize the Qin
state (the state that eventually unified China in 221 BC) and
inspiring Hanfei Zi, one of China's greatest thinkers. In Shangjun's
work, the author presents the organization of the tax system, the
tilling of the land, and the military levy as a unified concept: They
are all integral parts of state organization and military preparation.

In fact, war is the main function of the state. In the Sima Fa, a
volume on the philosophy of war compiled in early Han times but
reflecting previous ideas, the author begins by addressing the matter
of the benevolence of the Son of Heaven. That is to say that a good
government or benevolent ruler is the necessary basis for waging a
good war. He creates a system that citizens are ultimately willing to
defend with their own lives. And a good government guarantees a good
life for the families of those who die on the battlefield.

War in total is a concept that comprises what goes before and comes
after the actual clash of arms. We can see the same attention to war
in modern thinkers like Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui in Chaoxian
zhan, "war beyond the limits" or asymmetrical war. Here the two
authors explain that war is political thought: Strategy that goes
beyond the use of weapons and tactics in the battlefields. This
reasoning is echoed in the Italian author and general Fabio Mini's La
Guerra dopo la Guerra ("The war after the war"), where he explains
that one must not wage war without first considering the sort of
peace one wants to achieve. These ideas also appear in Mao's thought,
which deals with the issues of social contradictions and guerrilla warfare.

Seen through this lens, war -- the conflict and competition of states
-- is larger than the shooting between soldiers. There is reason to
argue that states are always at war. But by the same token, with
respect to the Chinese principle of yin and yang, one can also argue
that states can be always at peace, that actual clashes and bloodshed
can always be avoided or minimized. In other words, if war is
constantly being waged in many ways, then one can try to curb the
wars in which millions die.

Wars can be "waged" in the form of cold or soft wars, as Joseph Nye
would have it.

To resolve conflicts without bloodshed, communication is crucial. But
even the understanding created by open channels of communication
would still require, if not an impossibly unified world view, then a
"lingua franca" of ideas.

This is, in a nutshell, the idea put forward by Zhao Tingyang in
Tianxia Tizhi: It is necessary for the world to have a common
"tianxia view". Tianxia is not precisely a shared culture so much as
a shared sensibility; it is a common understanding that we all live
in the same world, and we need to have some kind of tolerance of each
other's ideas. It is different from the concept of empire.

Generally speaking, states and statesmen have differing worldviews.
For instance, during the Cold War and World War II, states embodied
strong ideologies, which compelled their people to fight for them.
Or, in the case of World War I, warring states were motivated not by
ideologies but by opposing national interests, and in the case of the
citizens, by nationalism itself.

What is the situation now? Are we witnessing clashes of ideologies,
worldviews, and civilizations? Can war be avoided? Here we need not
be delusional: War has been with us for millennia and will accompany
us into the future. But a common tianxia would help smooth over
conflicts and avoid the kinds of misunderstandings that lead to war.
It could lead to agreements such as the ones that forbid the bombing
of hospitals during wartime or like the Geneva Conventions.

What would be the content of a tianxia system? We can sketch the
minimal requirements: Market economies and freedom of enterprise.
These elements, though not implying deeply shared values, make it
possible for goods to travel form one side of the world to the other
everyday. Russia has it to a certain extent. Other groups, such as
radical Islamic movements or old-fashioned communist movements such
as the new Red Brigades in Italy, appear to reject the concept of a
common market.

Chinese tradition could ameliorate the present difficulties in the
world. In ancient times, China was not "China" for the people living
there; it was "all there is under Heaven." The rest, what was not
part of the Chinese world, was simply not under heaven and beyond the
sphere of this world. The West's encroachment has helped to form a
new identity: That of China. This, in turn, has created a new
relationship of the "Chinese" people with the rest of world. However,
the ancient sense of history lingers, creating new challenges as
China is driven to become the largest economy in the world or to
expand the scope of "all there is under Heaven."

During China's imperial past, order (zhi) was easy to understand. It
entailed the concept of peace, with all things in their appointed
places. Disorder (luan) was chaos, disaster, and death. Merchants and
other businessmen began, over time, to cause luan. The price of their
goods would change with time and place. Businessmen could become
richer than the local mandarin and jeopardize the order of a society
in which the official was supposed to be the richest and most
powerful. But businessmen were a small necessary evil—containable,
but impossible to eradicate—like secret societies or small scale
peasant uprisings.

But business is different in modern society and in modern China. If
business itself becomes an integral part of peace, encouraged as the
driving force of development, and military might leads to greater
stability for China in the international arena, then how can order
and peace be said to exist at all? What kind of order and peace can
be expected in a place of constant and growing business? How can we
square this situation with the Chinese historical preference of zhi over luan?

In a world in which wars are minimized and pushed to the periphery,
war becomes a form of large-scale policing. This new perception
radically changes the idea of war. In conflicts such as World War I,
the lines between peace and war were clearly demarcated. If war
becomes a matter of policing rogues and criminals, then one is always
at war, because there will always be criminals.

For these matters, a different international framework is needed. The
traditional UN will simply not work, as it is not working now. Yet,
it is not clear what new structure should be established.

Similarly, if luan is an integral part of a new order that includes
international business, we need a new political structure to manage
this society, a structure that is different from the imperial past.
Here things are somewhat easier: Experience in the West has proven
that democracy has been effective in preserving a large degree of
order and stability while still encouraging economic growth. In
China, there are many students of Marx who fervently believe that
economics and politics go hand in hand. Simply stated, if China wants
to manage the turbo-capitalism it has ignited, it will need a major
political change. What the future will be is certainly not clear, but
some form of democratization might be unavoidable.


All of these changes clearly mean that China's whole cultural
universe is being shaken up and reorganized. This started at the end
of the 19th century with the massive arrival and translation of
Western knowledge from the original languages or from Japanese
translations[vi]. At that point, the traditional organization and
categorization of knowledge -- dating back to Sima Qian (ca. 145–90
BC) and his first historic account in the Shiji ("historic records")
of philosophers and literature before the Han empire -- fell apart.
That is, 2,000 years of tradition had to be reshuffled and
re-systematized. The study, for instance, of what were previously
considered the "classics" (jing), "masters" (zi), and "historical
records" (shi) had to be relabeled under the new code words coming
from the  Japanese: "philosophy" (zhexue), "historiography" (shixue),
and "literature" (wenxue). What's more, as Ge put it, "It was as if
what the past, which could not just simply be called the study of
classics, masters, or historical records, could not longer hold the
old grand unity. The study of the words and language of the classics
became an independent subject, and it was granted the honorific title
of 'science' [another new, imported word] and other contents of the
written legacy started going into historiography, philosophy, or
literature, as if the wholly body of the classics was ripped apart in
the execution by five horses tearing the limbs of a cadaver. The
study of the masters followed the same destiny ripped apart into
philosophy, ethics, logic, and even physics or chemistry."[vii]

It is hard to fathom the depth of the change and the seismic waves
that rippled through society and individual psychology. The colorful
and passionate language used by Ge (born in 1950, over one century
after the first Opium War) reveals that this change still touches the
very soul of the Chinese people, even now when libraries, mass media,
and education from primary schools have been following the new
Western classification for about a century. When reading the
classics, the scholar still feels the holistic soul of the ancient
Chinese world seeping through the pages. This vision, for instance,
of the Yijing (The Classic of the Changes, also found transliterated
as "yi king" or written as "I Ching") is almost impossible to ignore
whether or not one believes in the prophetic powers of the book. Its
language and way of thinking has pervaded centuries of cultural
tradition and still pops up in proverbs. Its way of approaching
problems, handling situations, and considering issues resonates with
truth in the soul of the Chinese reader. This truth is impossible to
dismiss, as it would be for us to dismiss the Greek and Roman
tradition. Even Christianity had to digest Green and Roman culture to
conquer the souls of that world, and Islam did so with Greek culture
when it stretched into the then Hellenistic lands of Asia Minor or
North Africa.

Then, we have a series of massive cultural problems. The Chinese have
reclassified their cultural world according Western criteria and are
still digesting the problems and trying to finds way to reconcile the
old with the new—a process that will take centuries. Buddhism took
half a millennium to be completely assimilated, and back then the
pre-existing Chinese culture was not as complex as the culture now
embracing the Western world[viii].

Now, it is clear to all Chinese that Western culture is the root of
wealth, success, development, and political survival—it is the
essence of modernity. When China embraced Western culture, as it has
been doing since Deng's times, it began growing; when it closed down,
as it did under Mao, it sank into defeat, utter poverty, and
political collapse. So, there is only one road to modernity and
success—Westernification. And the shorthand for Westernification is
America. For this reason, there are over 200 million Chinese people
studying English (the results are often poor, but that is a different
issue), and English is now being taught in primary schools.

Meanwhile their souls are torn between East and West, between old and
new, and uncertain to which they should pledge allegiance. They are
hoping that there is a way to have them both.

In the end the result will be that, as Chinese residents in the many
Chinatowns of the world are showing: They will have both, one way or
another. This is apparent also in the cultural language, which still
uses old sayings like "ming zheng yan shun" ("when names are right
speech is consequential"), drawn from the Analects of Confucius but
also from "Pandora Box," a Greek myth that is one of the "topoi" of
the Western world.

This will create another problem, this one for us as Westerners.
Since the Romans assimilated Greek culture in the 3rd century BC, the
Western world has never met a massive cultural challenge. Even in
colonial times, other cultures were dismissively branded as inferior
and were never the object of wholesale incorporation, as Romans did
with the Greeks. There has been piecemeal curiosity and interest,
such as being incorporated into the conferences of geographic
societies, carried out with great erudition and the careful
"scientific" dissection of foreign texts—as if they were insects. But
that was it.

However, China's economic and political growth is leading the growth
of all of Asia, and there could be a time in the not so distant
future when the economic and political might of Asia—or even just
that of China—could be as great or even greater than that of the
entire West. The West will then have to try to come to grips with the
newly Westernized Chinese culture. This will shake Western culture to
its roots and its soul, perhaps as it has shaken the Chinese culture.

We might remember that we were already Sinicized at one point in the
17th and 18th centuries, when China appeared to the West as a model
for development. Europe was coming out of the religious wars between
Catholics and Protestants, and hyper-Catholic Jesuits provided
inspiration to both camps with translations of Chinese classics and
accounts of Chinese culture. Their work stirred massive changes in
the West, in fields ranging from mathematics (Leibniz invented the
binary numbers inspired by the diagrams of the Yijing) to politics
(the civil service and the idea of officials being promoted on
grounds of merit, not birth, came from China). It's possible that
even the idea of the abolition of monarchy through a popular
revolution was inspired by the Chinese idea of ge ming.

It might be helpful to remind the Chinese that the West they are
conversing with was already Sinicized, in a way—some of the modern
concepts they are adopting are remodeled versions of Chinese ideas.
Conversely, the West, which could face a massive "Sinification,"
should remember that it was already Sinicized in the past, and that
the present and future China is largely Westernized.

This Westernification is not just in the heads of a handful of
pundits, it is also in everyday life, as those who have been to China
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
Developed by plank