Saturday, November 28, 2009

China's Three C's Confucius, Communism and Capitalism

The past few weeks the blog has been quiet while I traveled to China to visit my in-laws and take time to absorb the massive changes in what is perhaps the world's most resilient civilization. I say that not as a card carrying Sinophile, but as a historian trained to steel himself to try and objectively examine each beauty mark and wart on the face of history. When I say resilient civilizlation, let’s look at the record. For almost 4000 years China has been ruled by one of eleven major dynasties. There were periods of war and chaos like the Spring and Autumn Period, Warring States Period and four hundred years of confusion between the Han and Tang dynasties before entering the 20th century as a weak caracture of it's former self. History of China

Recent Chinese history is filled with transition and change much like several of the periods between the successful dynasties. As the Qing Dynasty collapsed under the weight of internal stagnation, it's carcass was fed upon by the emerging great powers of the Western world. The 20th century saw China try and jump start what turned out to be a stillborn republic that ushered in the brief reign of totalitarism under the mantle of communism. China today, seems to be blooming in a  reawakening the great engine of humanity that has propelled her to greatness more often than almost any civilization in history. She retains the single party mantle, much like our own nation saw in the first decades, but the new creed is free market capitalism.

If one looks closely at China beyond the walls of the Forbidden City and back into her history, capitalism has always played a major role in propelling her civilization forward. Consider, the ancient trade route to Europe and the countless inventions as well as the voyages of Admiral Zheng he who sought trade and tribute before the age of sail. All these events served to inspire trade and ended in China becoming wealthy before and longer than any of todays Great Powers. People from all over the world flocked to the ancient capital, Xian and kept it the largest, most diverse city on the planet longer than any other city in history.

One of my blog friends Mark asked if I thought China was going to go the way of Singapore in a few decades. That is the unanswered question, can she sustain this awakening and direct it in ways she has never done before, or is she destined to give rise to a new Mandarin class where a privileged minority live extremely well at the expense of the masses that will eventually lead to decay, uncontrolled corruption and collapse.

Let us turn to the observation of others to help understand what is happening in China. Steve DeAngelis of Enterra Solutions blog has this timely post that contrasts the level of hope in the United States and what is now found in China.

The future held limitless opportunities. Everyone talked about achieving "the American dream." America doesn't seem to be dreaming as much as it used to. The Swiss have overtaken the U.S. as the world's most competitive country ["Swiss, not U.S., now the most competitive," by Elaine Engeler, Washington Times, 9 September 2009], China is predicted eventually to pass the U.S. as the world's largest economy, and unemployment remains in double-digits. The question is whether as a country the U.S. has lost hope in the future. That is the subject of an opinion column by David Brooks ["The Nation of Futurity," New York Times, 17 November 2009]. He begins his column by reminding readers that America was once the most hopeful nation on earth.
He goes on to quote from Brook,s article regarding the level of hope in China versus America.

The Chinese are now an astonishingly optimistic people. Eighty-six percent of Chinese believe their country is headed in the right direction, compared with 37 percent of Americans. The Chinese now have lavish faith in their scientific and technological potential. Newsweek and Intel just reported the results of their Global Innovation Survey. Only 22 percent of the Chinese believe their country is an innovation leader now, but 63 percent are confident that their country will be the global technology leader within 30 years.

The gist of Steve's post is that we as a nation need to find a path to becoming resilient, but currently he holds out little hope.

Given that Brooks and Herbert can see eye-to-eye, is it too much to ask U.S. politicians to find common ground on how to move forward, spruce up the country, educate America's children, employ its workforce, and instill hope in this and coming generations? I don't think so. I read that the election results in November didn't really tell us much about how the public was thinking -- except in one respect: the electorate is unhappy with incumbents. Hopefully, incumbents will get the message and begin to replace divisiveness with vision -- or maybe the whole lot of them will be thrown out during the next election.

Read more of this important post from Steve: Hope Infrastructure and the Future.

I can attest to much of what is been written in Steve's post and the articles he linked. Tom Barnett has compared today's China, to the United States in the period after the Civil War up to the early 20th Century. He is spot-on in his observation. All a person has to do to understand this, is visualize Beijing without cars and and instant reincarnition of our own past boomtimes comes into view. The Beijing is bustling with wealth and future modes of transportation competing with the old, just as our own pasttime saw horses and handcarts competing with trollys, gaslamps, early subways, conveying every class of citizen in a frenzy that saw people more interested in traveling to get somewhere and making a living, than loafing on street corners or hustling dope, as seen today on too many of America's urban streets.

China is no utopia, just as the United States was not perfect in our youth. The really troubling thing is that in our middle age as a nation we have become sloth and lost our national pride and the ability to dream of a better future.

This brings me to another example of how we need to find our way, courtesy of a book review over at Zenpundit. J. Scott Shipman has penned this review of The Genius of the Beast by Howard Bloom.

J. Scott's review jumped out at me because much of what Bloom writes about is coming to pass in modern China. Just as Western Civilization turns to navel gazing and self loathing about the system that in the long run improved the lot of billions of people.

Here some brief examples of how becoming a stake-holder in a society via economic prosperity is changing China. Two weeks ago, two snow storms struck Beijing and the northern proviences. 38 deaths, road and airport closures and clogged streets brought open criticism in the media of why the government did not warn or prepare for these storms. The complaining went on for a week after the incident, with government officials promising to investigate and do better next time. No Katrina event, but revealing to this observer that the govenment is taking the complaints seriousley.

Another example, is a growing Chinese pride in their national heritage. I noted before that there were no lines at Mao's tomb on a cold and blustery day. But the next day, when the temperture was even lower our journey to the Great Wall was impacted by a massive traffic backup of people traveling to an airshow. At the Great Wall, the temperature was well below freezing and the crowds, almost all Chinese had not diminished. The same was true when we visited the Terracotta Warriors, thousands of Chinese queyed up to visit this heritage site to remind themselves of their past achievements.

We may scoff at the idea of  people fawning over sites where thousands of their ancestors perished in the servitude of others, but those examples are a window on the pride being ignited in every Chinese soul that it is their time of destiny again. So as thousands of Chinese brave the cold winter's day to climb to tower #4 at the Great Wall in the opening photo at the top, we pause to look below at the reminents of hope from an earlier time that China will find a way to endure and prosper.

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