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OPINION: China – The Future, After 4,000 Years of History

Johan Galtung is Professor of Peace Studies and Rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University, and the author of over 150 books on peace and related issues, including '50 Years – 100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives' published by TRANSCEND University Press. In this column, he describes a China marked by relative coherency of dynasties and the West as a series of empires that decline and fall.

PENANG, Malaysia, Feb 9 2015 (IPS) - A theory serves comprehension, prediction and identification of conditions for change. Seven such historical-cultural pointers will be indicated for China – using the West in general, and the United States in particular, for comparison.

Look at a map combining world history and geography, time and space. China shows up through 4,000 years as relatively coherent dynasties with complex transitions and the West as empires-birth-growth-peaking-decline-fall, like the Roman, British and now U.S. empires – duration vs bubbles that burst, China-centric vs hegemonic.

Johan Galtung

Johan Galtung

China marginalised space peopled by South-West-North-East barbarians – outside the “Chinese pocket” between the Himalayas-Gobi desert-Tundra-Sea, except for the East China-East Africa silk roads, destroyed by Portugal and England from 1500, colonising Macao-Hong Kong.

A goal of current Chinese foreign policy is to restore the silk roads and lanes: high speed trains for Eurasia, cooperating for mutual and equal benefit, harmony.

The United States marginalises time by disregarding past history, and with the idea that creates future New Beginnings for immigrants, and New History for itself, for other countries, for the whole world.

For Daoism, valid knowledge is holistic and dialectic, based on big, complex units of thought (whole humans, China, the world) riveted by forces and counter-forces, yin-yang, good vs bad, themselves yin-yang, with what is suppressed growing and what is dominant declining until the next turn. The holon may jump from one contradiction tapering off to the next.

For the West, valid knowledge is based on subdivision and accumulation of knowledge about elements, woven together in theories.

For Mao Zedong the basic contradiction was foreign imperialism with landowners vs the people, students-peasants-workers. The 1949 revolution started a distribution vs growth dialectic with jumps every nine years (1958-1967-1976): Mao’s death, four chaotic years.

“China shows up through 4,000 years as relatively coherent dynasties with complex transitions and the West as empires-birth-growth-peaking-decline-fall, like the Roman, British and now U.S. empires”

For Deng Xiaopeng, it was misery vs lack of growth. The 1980 revolution accumulated capital with farmers near cities and in Shenzen (26 percent annual growth), and re-created merchants. Then nine years distribution vs growth again: from 1989 (Tiananmen!) distribution, 1998, 2007, 2016: new focus on growth.

China draws on Daoist insights, on Confucian ideas of hierarchies with harmony, and Buddhist small community equality: Buddhism for distribution, Confucianism for growth, Daoism for jumps between them.

The West could have drawn upon the positives in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, but focused on negatives for discrimination-prejudice-war-genocide – now as Judeo-Christianity vs Islam – with unused synergies.

Chinese Mandarin rulers combined rule by rules with high culture, over farmers and artisans, and merchants marginalised at the bottom; Western aristocrat rulers combined rule with force, trade and clergy benediction; later to become State, Capital, Intelligentsia. A basic difference was marginalisation vs integration of merchants.

The Chinese Emperors were Sons of the Heaven trading with those who paid tribute to the Emperor; in the West, Heaven was the only God for the whole world at all time, creating and taking life, the monarch being the only person with a Mandate from God-rex gratia dei-by the grace of God, also entitled to take life, delegated to His army.

The English refused to pay tribute, using opium wars, “gunboat diplomacy”, burning (with the French) the imperial palace instead; China was never violent outside the “pocket” (except when provoked by India in 1962).

The Mandate of the Heaven is lost when People shout in the streets, and regained by addressing their grievances and ideas in the ancient petition system – by “idea democracy, not arithmetic democracy”; the West counting votes in multi-party national fair and free elections.

The Cultural Revolution shouted in the streets against Confucian rule by older men with high education from East China, paving the way for the young, the women and West China – also in 80 million educated “communist” Party members, presumably wise enough to understand the yin-yang dialectics. Tiananmen 1989 was not about democracy, “no votes for uneducated”, but – like Hong Kong (?) – about losing their feudal position to wealthy farmers, merchants, private and state capitalists.

China is China-centric, the deep culture is still holistic-dialectic with a Western surface, the three civilisations synergy is there. So is the Chinese inability to handle the “pocket”: Taiwan-Tibet-Uighurs-Mongolians-Vietnamese-Koreans.

But China indeed went global; trading with barbarians; upgrading merchants-traders-money people; accumulating huge wealth. Mao opened up society for huge masses of Chinese, the young, women, and the West; Deng lifted the bottom 300-400 million up 1991-2004, with the communist focus on the needs of the neediest, into capitalism: capi-communism. Beijing 1980: six million bicycles 0 private cars; 2010: 0 vs five million.

The West, out-competed by BRICS (Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa), did more killing than learning.

China’s ruling class, steeped in culture, linked dynastic cycles to yin-yang thought, and traders to barbarians. Today’s rulers, deep in money shouting to beget more money, link money to corruption – and speculation? And competition from Latin America+Africa – shouting in the streets may send China packing – and the end of a dynasty is near.

China’s lead is not forever. Nothing ever was. Except, maybe, some China. A more spiritual dynasty, after materialist “communism”? (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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