When China Rules The World, by Martin Jacques *
While there is much to comment on about this book, as it details the history of both east and West in regard to China, how it was and now is, that is not what I particularly want to record here. What I want to take from the writing is Martin Jacques’ view on why and in what way has China always been misconfigured by the West.
Jacques has it that while the changes that took place during the course of the Industrial Revolution in Europe – 1780 to 1840 are the years taken – were indeed rapid, the pace of change pales compared with what happened with the Asian Tigers, then China itself.
With Europe as the birthplace of today’s modernity, what took place internationally from 1750 for the next two hundred years has made an impression that still holds globally and what is European – now also North American – and what is modern is seen synonymous. But Jacques has it that though conceived in Europe modernity has nothing intrinsically European or North American about it. Further, that the modernity of the East is being shaped by its own history and culture.
A decisive period of change took place in the nineteenth century regarding Man and his institutions – as industrialisation swept across northwest Europe and the modern nation states were born.
Turning to East Asia, European (special case) supremacy was clearly established in Britain’s defeat of China in the first Opium War in 1839-42, this is according to most promulgated records but that might be only one way of looking at things.
Historian Kaoru Sugihara suggests – referenced in the book – another look, taking into consideration intensive use of labour and market-based growth and termed this an Industrious Revolution!
Japan’s agriculture also showed remarkable innovation long before the Meiji Restoration in 1868. While in China a good share of the Chinese harvest was marketed over long distances – as feudalism was absent in China allowing free enterprise though feudal systems were rampant in Europe then. Thus, in China grain, salt, copper were transported, to maintain order and for balanced development rather than for profit taking and industrialisation per se – no capitalistic intentions!
What was going on in China during the 1800s is hardly reckoned in the history books but looking at irrigation, textile weaving and dyeing, medicine and porcelain manufacturing, Europe was behind China. China’s textile machines were pretty good though the invention of the spinning jenny and flying shuttle allowed the European machines to quickly advance. Steam engines were in use in China at the time of the James Watt invention.
In Europe technology advances, its innovation, and capital availability and subsequent all around growth all helped heighten productivity. But it was not just that – coal was found as earlier energy resources dried up. But also importantly, Europe turned to Africa and the Caribbean for land and labour… and found new raw materials besides agricultural products – thus colonisation came into play.
Inter European wars honed the craft of war in those nations and that in turn granted imperialist expansion.
Speaking of overseas adventures, even in the epoch of General Zheng there seemed to be completely different intentions for his far flung exploits, more to show the flag than to extract wealth – though tributary gifts were accepted. Mainly it was exploration and trade.
Just like today in China the merchants were not allowed to become part of the governing power structure and had to depend on official patronage and support from government to achieve large-scale undertakings – the state enterprises.
Since ages ago China’s economy remained dynamic with the peasantry remarkably adaptive and innovative, though remaining within the confines of China’s territory. Martin Jacques mentions: “a crucial mechanism in the exercise of social control was the clans or lineages which were – and remain – far more important in China than in Europe.
Also, “The imperial state was mindful of the importance of good governance, intimately linked to the Confucian tradition with its stress on the moral responsibility of the rulers. The Mandate of Heaven (tian) always haunted the rulers. Heaven’s mandate might be conferred on any family morally worthy, telling of the rulers accountability to a supreme moral force.
The divine right of kings relied on birth in the West. Differently, the Mandate of Heaven established moral criteria for holding power, which enabled the Chinese to distance themselves from their rulers, and to speculate on their virtue and suitability – thus a series of natural disasters might lead the people to question the rulers ability to rule – as in the Taiping Uprising against the Qing – lack of protection against foreign powers.
Ths Mandate of Heaven also means such as a responsibility of ecological and economic questions besides that of the livelihood of the people. Grain distribution in the Qing and maintenance of Yellow River infrastructure to prevent flooding, this was taking place long before the Europeans governments started thinking socially. This base provided a very different platform for China to develop in a way so different from the West.
In Chapter Seven “A civilization State” we begin to learn why China needs to be seen as a civilization-state as different from a nation-state. Also, the long history where stability and unity were over-riding factors of governance which mind-set continues today – thus the episode of Tiananmen and its result and second priority of how the West viewed what happened by the Beijing government. Stability and social order rank far higher than civil and political freedoms.
The West speaks of universal suffrage and a multi-party system. In these terms the China system is certainly not democratic yet the State functions very well as the legitimate responsible authority and guardian of Chinese civilisation – as different to Europe where people have little good to say of the political institutions and factions – other than those of their own choice!
Viewed correctly, Confucianism does lend itself to its own way of democracy, though its reputation is more toward an authoritarian regime, but the matter of rights is countered with responsibilities on both administration and the people’s behalf, as reciprocity is an essential part of the Way of Confucius-Mencius.
In China, as in Korea and Japan, there is “a different sense of public order and behaviour compared with the norms of the West.” Also, importantly, shame rather than Christian guilt acts as a mechanism to standardise behaviour.
In the latter pages of the book eight differences that define China are described. First is the civilisation state issue; second is the tributary-state system which may come in handy with some form of revival in a more applicable today sense; third, the distinctive Chinese attitude to race and ethnicity – with the Han Chinese as the axis mundi now and forever more; fourth, the continental size of China; fifth, no power sharing by the state, today, the Communist Party; sixth, the speed of China’s transition into its own form of modernity; seventh, the phenomenon of longevity of the single party state; eighth, the combination of developed and developing characteristics – a ninth might be added… it’s economic prowess.
The conclusion is that China at the top will offer a very different future to the planet than what the West has so far given us… and that looks like a good thing!
* Penguin Books, Second Edition, 2012