Sunday, August 10, 2008

Will China's Third Time Be A Charm?

Han trade routes

Treasure ship vs Santa Maria

Treasure ship

2008 Olympics Beijing

This past Friday, the World was captivated and awed by the specular opening ceremonies in Beijing. China used the opportunity to reintroduce itself to it's neighbors whose collective memory reaches back to a few centuries of less than stellar images of China.
What is most significant to me as I watched China remind the world of it's past glory, is that this is not their first attempt to connect with the world. As the story unfolds below I will retrace the history they conveyed in such vivid images.
No history of China could be told without the foundation of a philosophy. The Spring and Autumn Period was a conflicting time and out of it the teachings of Confucius became the philosophy that succeeding dynasties would intermittently follow.
China's first attempt at globalization occurred as unintended consequence of seeking allies to combat the constant invasions by the Xiongnu. The Han Dynasty Emperor Wu dispatched his envoy Zhang Qian on what today would still be considered one of the greatest stories of adventure and survival of all time. The result was the opening of the trade routes that became known as the Silk Road.
China's second attempt to at globalization came during the Ming Dynasty when the Yongle Emperor dispatched his admiral Zheng He to lead several voyages to collect tribute from the known countries of the world. The ships larger than anything seen until the 19th century introduction of steam, were marvels of engineering and technology. Fate and the celestial powers mandated that China would suddenly stop and destroy the fleet, and turn inward banning trade and contact with the world. The result became the the lost 600 Years of Chinese history, that the opening ceremony cut from history.

This period contains the decline, Qing Dynasty, the stillborn birth of modern China, Republic of China, and what today, could be described as twenty seven years of national chemotherapy People's Republic of China 1949-1976.
If anything can be predicted it is that time changes everything. China's awakening began shortly after Richard Nixon in a dramatic reversal of his personal antipathy of Communism, visited China and symbolically midwifed the birth of today's China. 1976-1989 1989-2002 2002-present.
Watching this history be presented in such images of glory has a lesson for the United States as we watch China's emergence. A column by Tom Barnett: What Beijing Olympics will tell us about our world calls attention to:

The Beijing Olympics, which began last week, will signal many good and several bad things about China. Some images will be grossly exaggerated by media coverage, but most will be reasonably accurate and thus revealing of where China stands today in its stunning but costly rise. All will reflect this age of transformative globalization, making China the perfect host for the 2008 Games.

And these observations.
"Despite Flaws, Rights in China Have Expanded by Howard French in the New York Times.

Seeing China Whole - Steve Chapman, Chicago Tribune

The lesson for the United States is to remain connected and stay the course by continuing to expand our role in connecting the world through trade and culture. The United States today, far exceeds the power of China during the Han and Ming Dynasties. We would be wise to carefully chose our path, as we consider walls of tariff protection and withdrawing from direct engagement with problem areas.
One final thought, this will be China's third attempt at globalization and regaining it's prestige as a great power. No other nation or empire has been able to regain that role in all of human history. Will the third time be the charm for China?

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