I just came across this old post on Sun-Bin:http://sun-bin.blogspot.com/2008/10/john-mauldins-geopolitics-of-china.html, which I am sure most of you must have read, most of the points in that article are valid and verifiable, but there are two I believe to be particularly helpful in understanding the mindset of Chinese people and considerations of Chinese leaders in their policymaking:
- The statement “However — and this is the single most important fact about China — it has about one-third the arable land per person as the rest of the world. This pressure has defined modern Chinese history — both in terms of living with it and trying to move beyond it.” — understanding this will help one understand why the PRC leaders often talked about survival as one key elements of ‘human right”, they are serious about this, historically many people die (in fact, famine was commonplace in Chinese history) whenever there was upheaval (and vice versa).
- The geopolitical impreative that China needs to Maintain control of the buffer regions.(Mongolia, Xinjiang, Tibet, etc).
I would like to expand a little more on the two points, another thing you absolutely need to take into consideration when you’re studying China is: the war and peace between the Han and its neighbor ethnics is the one and ever recurrent theme of Chinese history. If you check the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wars_and_disasters_by_death_toll, the top 4 positions looked very interesting:
- World War II 80 million deaths
- An Shi Rebellion 30 million deaths (An Lushan, the rebel leader, is a Sogdian, one of the nomadic tribes).
- Mongol Invasions 30-60 million deaths(I think this should be in the 2nd position actually).
- Manchu Invasions 20-30 million deaths.
Besides the insurmountable WWII, positions 2-4 are all occupied by conflicts happening within China, in fact, wars claiming more than one quarter of Chinese lives happened approximately every 300 years after Qin’s first unification of China, that’s really horrdenous. And every conflict is closely related to the three factors stated above. And I am going to explain a number of phenomenons unique to China using the three factors.
- They could be used to explain why most of Chinese people placing the stability of their society above everything in their value system: the Chinese agriculture and social structure established upon it is a delicate system needs extremely careful maintenance, it’s historically proven that anything that destabilizing the society could potentially lead to unpredictable events that could wreak havocs on the agricultural production and distribution of living necessities, which could result in dreadful consequences.
- They could also be used to explain why Chinese people and elites in the society never considered a large-scale revolt or revolution against the government as a option to counter many of its repressive policies and the widespreading corruption. The pursuit of freedom of speech or political rights through violent means would destabilize the society to the extent that the cost becomes unaffordable.(The 109 years of wars and turmoils in China left nearly 100 million people dead unnaturally).
- These factors could also partly justify the government’s insistence on state-ownership of land:the government has drawn a redline for the minimum amount of farmland allowed in the whole country which could ensure a yearly output of grains not only able to satisfy the demand of the whole country, but also allow the government to store up to 40% of the total yearly output to be used as disaster relief during the years of natural disasters(drought, flood, etc). Completely free sales of land would motivate the farmers to repurpose their lands to be used in other businesses since the extra supply of grains on the market will make crop-planting unprofitable, thus undermining the government’s food reservation project. On the other hand, the perpetual extra supply of food on the market under current policies will lead to low prices of agricultural products, which is one great reason why China’s urban-rural gap is so big, and China’s Gini coefficient is so high.
- The many deadly wars between the Han and other ethnics in the history make the central government always highly suspicious of, and even hostile to a strong presence of any ethnic minority in the buffer zone area.
- The emperors’ interests with constructing the Great Wall is thus easily understandable, the loss of lives by overwork may be many, the investment may be huge, but the cost will seem acceptable if the Wall can really withstand the attack of the nomadic tribes.
- Once the nomads breached the Wall, the imperial government must be immediately informed of the situation, and relief troops must be sent as soon as possible, while a large army far away from the capital could become uncontrollable and may revolt against the government. With these considerations, Beijing is chosen as the capital in spite of its harsh natural conditions after the fall of the Song Dynasty, which comes as a direct result of 16 prefectures in the Youyun, including Beijing, being ceded to Liao, a country established by a nomadic tribe.
My conclusion is that the lack of arable land, the need to establish buffer zone against foreign forces and the relationship between Han and other ethnics are three important factors shaping the historical development of China geopolitically, your ideas an suggestions?