13 Jun Understanding the Second Rise of China
Have you ever been to China? Be careful. You could uncork an explosive interest.
It’s a fascinating country with an incredible story that spans thousands of years. It is so culturally distant to where I am from – Australia – that I became fascinated a few years ago.
A lecturer did it. She introduced me to Martin Jacques (online that is).
It was 2012. I had lived in Japan and had holidayed in Taiwan and Hong Kong. I had even visited Shenzhen for a single day. But I had no burning interest in China. None whatsoever. That all changed when I watched a TED Talk.
Did you know that 90 per cent of the world’s population live in developing countries? Seventy per cent are under the age of 25?
Economist Martin Jacques once said that the west is rapidly losing influence. The world will be an increasingly unfamiliar place to those not conversant with the changes that are taking place.
China has 1.3 billion people.
In 2050, China is predicted to be more than double the size of the United States. It isn’t just the economic influence of China, which is already been felt. It is the political and cultural influence.
China is distinctly Chinese. China isn’t becoming westernised as it grows larger, the rest of the world is becoming more and more like China.
Some predictions of Chinese growth indicated it would reach the same size as the United States by GDP in 2020 with an economy worth 18,000 billion dollars. That was before COVID-19 which was given the unfortunate monniker ‘the China virus’ in the early days.
The Cultural Difference
The fact that it is very different kind of civilisation should not be taken for granted.
China is different from the west in three key ways:
The Civilisation State
The Civilisation State is borne by concepts of Confucianism and collectivism. According to Jacques, “It is a widespread assumption that as a country modernises, it westernises. China is not like the west and it will not become like the west,” he argues. “The Chinese identity does not come from the last hundred years. It comes from thousands of years.”
The most important political value of the Chinese is unity. This is grossly at odds with the west.
Notion of ‘Race’
The Chinese also have a different notion of race. The majority of the population live in Eastern China and identify as Han. It is the most monoracial place in the world. The Han identity has held the country together and is considered to be superior to other races.
Nature of ‘The State’
“The Chinese state enjoys more legitimacy and authority than any other”, says Jacques. The State is an almost spiritual representation and embodiment of the civilisation. It is the guardian of the civilisation.
Whereas in the West we view the state as ‘an intruder’, in China, the state is viewed as an intimate. Not just a member of the family, but the patriarch. The state is completely embedded in society.
Jacques argues that if we look at it through western eyes and draw on an only western experience we will never understand China.
Soon, China will have many cities of over 20 million people. To accommodate their needs, the Chinese government is investing in huge infrastructure projects the like of which have never been seen in the west. They include visionary and futuristic high-speed rail transportation systems, the three gorges dam, as well as the Grand Canal – the longest artificial river in the world – that commenced in 542 BC and was completed in 700 AD.
It is striking when you consider how difficult it is for Australia to achieve bipartisanship to create valuable investments for the future as relatively small in scale as the National Broadband Network or high-speed rail.
It is fascinating to hear how advanced China is in so many ways. The innovations are things I can’t see ever happening here, because of the profound disunity and political point-scoring. Politicians are risk-averse to the extreme that they rarely do anything these days except block, cut and veto.
To the west, the concept of having a non-democratic country at the helm is scary. No question.
I certainly don’t think China excels in human rights. The colonisation of Tibet and decrees of sovereignty over Taiwan are evidence enough.
But what this massive global shift in power does represent is democratisation. China, India and Malaysia combined comprise 38 per cent of the world’s population. Why shouldn’t they take their turn and rise?