Faustian bargains leave public rich but culture weakened Illustration: Sun Ying Susanne Weigelin-Schwiedrzik, vice-rector of the Universit...
Faustian bargains leave public rich but culture weakened
Illustration: Sun Ying
Susanne Weigelin-Schwiedrzik, vice-rector of the University of Vienna
In ancient China, both the nation and society were powerful. According to John K. Fairbank's studies, ancient China had a very special governance pattern, one that could manage the relationship between central and local authorities well. He believes that in ancient China, civil society was a powerful partner of the nation.
R. Bin Wong, director of the UCLA Asia Institute, holds that in ancient China, the nation's power lay in its capability to maintain unity, and the nation's political symbolic meanings exceeded its practical efficiency. Meanwhile, civil society's power lay in its autonomy and its supervision of the nation.
In the 19th century, European modern nations emerged, which were powerful not only militarily, but were able to transform economic growth into national strength. This became the biggest threat and challenge that China faced. China then began to seek a political system which could not only address such challenges, but stand in accordance with China's unique political culture. To a certain degree, this process is still going on.
The Chinese nationalists established a new government through learning from Japan and the Soviet Union. However, the nation was still very weak. On the one hand it was weak militarily and wasn't able to control economy and society. On the other hand traditional China's ability to maintain unity was lost, due to both domestic resistance and interference by imperialism.
In Mao's era, things changed. The nation appeared very powerful - both militarily and in its ability to control economy and society. And its ideological appeal exceeded its actual efficiency. But after the Great Leap Forward movement (1958-61), the government's ability to control society was undermined, and some local protesting forces became powerful.
The initial achievements of China's reform and opening-up lay in the full mobilization of social vigor. And society's economic vigor began to transform into national strength. Today's China looks more similar to European nations.
However, a social participation system in accordance with China's unique culture, which could better deal with the rising social vigor, is still missing. Many people are talking about where China is heading today, but no one could give an answer yet.
Cultural values missing
Xu Jilin, deputy director and history professor at the Si-mian Institute for Advanced Studies in Humanities, East China Normal University
The 21st century actually began in 2008, when the US-led developed world was stricken by a severe financial crisis and emerging countries rose with the Beijing Olympic Games as a symbol.
Within China, there are generally three kinds of views toward China's rise. Some liberals believe that China's rise is a product of globalization, and there's no special secret. Some believe that China's rise is simply a repetition of government-promoted East Asian "miracle" in the Four Asian Tigers last century. The third view is that there's a unique China model.
There's no need to talk further about China's national strength, since it has become the second largest economy in the world. I believe if Confucius or Zhu Xi, a Confucian scholar (1130-1200), woke up today, they wouldn't recognize today's Chinese. The biggest change lies in the mentality and attitude of ordinary Chinese.
Today's Chinese are most similar to Europeans in the 19th century; the prevalence of a Faustian spirit, the strong sense of competence, the untiring pursuit of wealth and strength, as well as a strong belief in social Darwinism. This has become a strong drive for China. Today in China, especially in coastal areas, we have so many rational systems which stress efficiency and orderly management in various fields. But we still lack civil reforms that are clearly value-oriented.
Ancient China was powerful not in the European way, but because it had invisible appeal. It appealed to the world through the strength of its culture.
Today things are totally different. The strength of culture has greatly faded. We are very powerful economically, but the whole society lacks a clear set of values, and basic ethical bottom lines are repeatedly violated. We do need further reforms, especially political ones, to resume our cultural strength.
China is quite prominent on the international stage nowadays, and any of its moves may have a strong effect, especially in the developing world. Historically, China undertook its responsibilities as a great civilization. It must repeat this today through dialogue with the worlds' mainstream civilizations and improving its own clear values and systems. Only then can the whole world be really convinced that China has risen.