Tsinghua University Professor, Yan Xuetong: “The Rise of China in Chinese Eyes”
Tsinghua University Professor, Yan Xuetong, published an essay in the Journal of Contemporary China in 2001 entitled, “The Rise of China in Chinese Eyes.” It is rare to find something in the English language that articulates so well the Chinese perspective on such a big topic. He addressed all key concerns related to this rise. He also offers a view from the Chinese leaders. China has a very long history and has developed a lot of wisdom, and Professor Yan also explains for us how a rising China with the Chinese way of looking at things could benefit the world. This essay is a must read. I have highlighted some some excerpts:
Regaining a lost status
First, the Chinese regard their rise as regaining China’s lost international status rather than as obtaining something new. This psychological feeling results in the Chinese being continuously dissatisfied with their economic achievements until China resumes its superpower status. Second, the Chinese consider the rise of China as a restoration of fairness rather than as gaining advantages over others. With this concept, the Chinese people take the rise of their nation for granted. They never concern themselves with the question of why China should be more advanced than other nations, but rather frequently ask themselves the question of why China is not the number one nation in the world.
Furthermore, since the Opium Wars until the end of WW2, Chinese peoples lives were miserable because of foreign aggression. They see a strong China as the only way to guard against foreign aggression and misery.
Leadership with longer term view
The Chinese Government developed not only five-year development plans but also plans for 20 years. At the 12th Party Congress of 1982, and at the 15th Party Congress of 1995, the Chinese Government suggested two, 20-year development plans. At the 13th Party Congress of 1987, Chinese leaders even suggested a 63-year plan for modernization.
These long-term development plans illustrate both Chinese rationality and their patience about the rejuvenation of their nation. Deng Xiaoping frequently told the Chinese people to be very cautious and modest like a dog with its tail between its legs. Chinese leaders no longer expected to see China as a superpower within their lifetimes. Rather, they did their work to lay a better foundation for future generations to achieve that target. Since the rise of China is known as a long-term process, China has adopted a moderate foreign policy. Deng told Chinese leaders that it was a national policy not to be the leader of the Third World.
In my view, this is a tremendous benefit that China enjoys. Comparing to the USA where the President is voted into office every four years, China can achieve goals that require a time-line longer than four years. In the U.S., for longer term projects for the nation, the chance of success is actually slim. With the Democrats and Republicans constantly at each other’s throats, politics actually rise above national priority.
Ordinary citizens see the advantages of Open Door Policy
Ordinary Chinese people, including politicians, may not be able to fully articulate the relationship between an open social system and economic achievements, but they are nevertheless convinced by China’s differing economic achievements before and after 1978. The closed system ruled by Mao Zedong severely impeded China’s growth, while the open policy adopted by Deng Xiaoping brought a long-term booming economy.
The population and the government are basically aligned in China’s quest to normalize relations with all countries on this planet.
China wants to avoid confrontation with the U.S.
Concerning its relations with the United States, most Chinese people do not anticipate that China and the United States will be very close but do expect that they can coexist peacefully. They are not looking to share international leadership with the United States, but rather hope to see less US intervention into their domestic affairs. The Chinese understand that the United States is the most powerful state, and is able to make difficulties for China’s modernization programs. For the sake of their national rejuvenation, the Chinese want to avoid confrontation with the United States.
Chinese values will help bring peace
The rise of China will make the world more civilized. Chinese written civilization is more than 4,000 years old, and its culture is so rich that it is admired by people all over the world. The core of Confucianism is ‘benevolence’ [ren]. This concept encourages Chinese rulers to adopt benevolent governance [wangdao] rather than hegemonic governance [badao]. In terms of foreign relations, Chinese strategists aspire to ‘associate with benevolent gentlemen and befriend good neighbors’ [qinren shanlin]. In the last two centuries, Western countries took the leading role in world affairs. The strength and advance of Western countries created a political culture that emphasized power rather than morality, which has had a worldwide impact. As China rises, its economic achievement will make its political culture popular throughout the world. The Chinese concept of ‘benevolence’ will influence international norms and make international society more civilized.
George Kennan, architect of U.S.’s strategy of containment against the Soviet Union had something to say about China
The practice of new interventionism after the Cold War strengthened power politics and caused many military conflicts. During an interview this year, George Kennan reminded people: ‘[I]t really is in ill grace for us to be talking down to them [Chinese] and saying, by implication, that “you ought to learn to govern yourselves as we do”. … But purely military power, even in its greatest dimensions of superiority, can produce only short-term successes … I can say without hesitation that this planet is never going to be ruled from any single political center, whatever its military power’.