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The Chinese Order and Putin’s Comment on American Exceptionalism

As part of the interesting discussion between Black Pheonix, ersim, ho hon and others in this recent thread, Black Phoenix made this insightful comment:

Sun Tzu definitely wrote not so much about “just war”, as he admonished rulers against War, using costs of war as arguments.

Sun Tzu was not concerned with what would justify war. His solution was to end wars as expeditiously and with minimum cost as possible.

He was in a time, about 550 years of continuous warfare in China. There was serious debate in that time about what would be considered “just war”, but there were no good conclusions.

In the end, the only solution was “unification”, as the ultimate solution to end all wars.

Thus, I would argue that from China’s unification, the ONLY valid justification for war were to repel invasion or for unification (both are to protect China’s sovereignty).

Other moral justifications are simply excuses.

This is an insightful comment when viewed in context of how so many Westerners today mock China’s stance on unity and sovereignty.  Sovereignty and unity is deemed an excuse to skirt its moral obligations to (Western created and controlled) ideals such as human rights.  Both are  deemed as pretexts for the government to do things that are substandard by the West’s reckoning.  

But this is a perverted way of looking at things.  Unity and sovereignty – especially in light of the 500 or so years of Western imperialism and colonialism (still ongoing if you look at the military spending of the Western alliances vs. the rest) – should be among the most cherished ideals humanity should strive for.  In perhaps a uniquely Chinese model, peace, harmony and prosperity – the Chinese version of America’s “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” – have always been built on a strong centralized political order.  Note, I don’t mean a strong or big state or central government per se, only that authority is clearly vested in the central government, which is then free to rule and delegate as it deems to suit the times.  The notion of centralized order, when translated into modern parlance, unity and sovereignty, is intimately tied with Chinese notions of the good and just life.

As China gets more developed and stronger, we will surely see a clearer and more modern articulation of this ideal and worldview.  But for now, we live under and need to deal with a Western dominated world of human rights, democracy and freedom.  That’s why last week’s speech by Obama touting American exceptionalism and Russian President Putin’s response, written as an op-ed in the NY Times, is important.

In last weeks speech, Obama ended his speech on holding Syria accountable by appealing American exceptionalism.

Our ideals and principles, as well as our national security, are at stake in Syria, along with our leadership of a world where we seek to ensure that the worst weapons will never be used. America is not the world’s policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong. But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional.

With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.

Thank you. God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

Putin concluded his op-ed in NY Times opposing unilateral U.S. military action in Syria by noting:

My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.

It is important for the world to see that the West defined political ideals represents but one religion – one faith.  Humanity experience is too  diverse to think that we all must march to one song…  So Bravo to Putin for calling on an ideology and world perspective build on a blind smugness and dangerous sense of exceptionalism.

It is interesting to see that so many Chinese still rely on Russians to advance their worldview on the political stage (our frequent references to RT stories is but one facet; the reference to Putin’s op-ed here is another). The Chinese are still trying to find their voice on the international stage.  However as China rises, the incorporation of Chinese values and worldviews – now for the most part ignored, if not ridiculed – into international political discourse will surely come. The world will change for the better.

The Chinese perspective needs not be universal as China never saw its values and way of doing things ever to be universal for the world – even during the time of history when it occupied the undisputed epitome civilization in the world.   But it is an important, perhaps indispensable, perspective.  It is high time for the world to open itself to a new symphony of songs beyond the old tired chants to which we have become so accustomed.

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  1. ersim
    September 15th, 2013 at 10:43 | #1

    When both Obama and Putin invoke «god», we are in very deep trouble.

  2. ersim
    September 15th, 2013 at 10:45 | #2

    When both Obama and Putin invoke «god», we have a very long way to go.

  3. September 15th, 2013 at 11:06 | #3

    The western democracies are never about “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. They were still fighting for their empires, as recently as 1960s. UK, France, the Netherlands, even Belgium and Portugal fought very savage wars against many nations, their tactics were just as brutal as Nazi Germany and imperial Japan. Just read up the colonial wars in Indochina, Algeria, Angola, Nigeria, Indonesia etc. The sad thing is, these are the so-called benign powers of the west as after WWII, Germany, Italy, Japan etc were forced to give up all their conquered territories.

    The world was cowed into accepting communist Soviet Union as the biggest threat to the world after WWII which should be named the Great Imperialist War II. The USSR was said to have annexed Eastern Europe and dropping an iron curtain. Granted the Soviet imposition of its government model in Eastern Europe isn’t perfect. How does it compare to the western colonial powers attempt to imposed their rule again in Africa and Asia? In case you don’t know, they use illegal detention, torture against anybody who opposed their rule. Nelson Mandela is simply the most famous of the many who are tortured, imprisoned or killed.

    So what alternative do those aspiring patriots who want to free their nation and countrymen from slavery? The Soviet Union was that alternative and Mao, Kim, Ho, Mandela etc simply chose the lesser of two evil. The third world was simply the nations who got their independence and don’t want to get into the conflict between the two armed camp after the war. One side is one who preached freedom and democracy while trying to enslaved other nations, the other was one with a flawed economics model who talked about spreading their system through world revolution.

    It is under this backdrop that freedom and democracy became a catch phrase. Of course one could argue that it was first used in the first and second world war when used against the “bad German”. But like I have said, those two wars are more a war among imperial powers fighting for their spoils. Since western historian are the ones that get to name the event they are reconstructed as World War I and II. And basically the world order we live in is a continuation of what happened after WWII. The collapse of the Communist Blocs, convinced many of an American exceptionalism. Unfortunately, it is simply a repeat of a stale sales pitch.

    Under the surface of all the empty talks of ideals, it is still same old geopolitics. The US and its allies are just doing what they perceived to be in their interest. Russia is also trying to use moral high ground to justify their position. The US is using humanitarian pretext to push for the removal of the Assad government, while ignoring the possibility of the other side using chemical weapon. If this is indeed the case, would the US pushed for bombing the rebels?

  4. Black Pheonix
    September 15th, 2013 at 13:23 | #4

    On this Syrian issue, I think Putin is rightfully expressing a more rational point of view.

    Let’s face it, he is saying pretty much the same thing as many US politicians who oppose this intervention. Putin just has higher profile. He has his own NAVY to make a necessary point!

    Now, I would say, if Putin has not been quietly amassing his navy off the Syrian Coast, Obama may be more tempted to go in unilaterally.

    Yes, Putin is thumbing his nose at US on this one.

    Yes, Putin has his own domestic problems, like homosexual rights, etc..

    The fact that Putin (so full of his own problems) could embarrass the likes of McCain so easily, makes a point by itself, that US is so obviously wrong on this one.

    Hey, if McCain and others have such low opinions of Putin, why would they even bother to get mad?

    How can Putin embarrass the might USA?? With a mere Op-Ed piece?? Really??

    Which part was more embarrassing? That US was wrong? Or that US won’t back down on a wrong? Or that it took Putin to offer a rather silly exit out of the wrong??

    This is more fundamental than the morality question of “just war”.

    It is about the inability of Democracies to confront its own mistakes, to see through its own moral self-righteousness (yet again), and the intolerance of corrupted power.

    *True corruption is not about illicit money or influence. It’s about the Elite maintaining power, in the absence of merits to the greater public.

    And American Imperialism in the modern day, is precisely a form of true corruption of power in its worst, aimed to maintain American power, prestige, and dominance, regardless of harm to the World.

  5. September 15th, 2013 at 23:58 | #5

    I think Syria, Iran, and North Korea represent the very last few countries where the United States is about to topple, and in the minds of the Russians and Chinese, if happens would leave very little room before more aggressive meddling get directed at them.

  6. Black Pheonix
    September 16th, 2013 at 13:57 | #6


    Unfortunately, I do not believe US will “topple” any time soon.

    Its people, while began to feel wary under the weight of so many unsuccessful wars, the increasing economic disparity between the elite and the poor, the loss of cultural social energy, are not yet willing to totally abandon the facade of the “American identity”.

    It will take at least another century.

  7. ersim
    September 16th, 2013 at 13:58 | #7

    When it comes to North Korea, the U.S. thug will have to think more than twice because of the nuclear deterrence the North Koreans were able to develop thanks to more than 60 years of U.S. psychological warfare in the Korean peninsula.

  8. N.M.Cheung
    September 16th, 2013 at 19:12 | #8

    I have no problem with people thinking themselves being exceptional. It’s a way for self identification and being proud of their achievements. Chinese people like Jewish people also feel themselves being exceptional; proud of their histories and cultures. The problem with American exceptionalism is the aggressive nature of it, trying to export not only by way of Hollywood but military force to impose Pax-Americana. The world sees and admires American technological achievements and innovations, but they also sees its growing inequality and internal poverty. Their misadventure in Vietnam and Iraq. Their CIA inspired Coups from Guatemala, to Iran, to Chile. They inspired hatred not admiration. And they wonder why they are not loved by the world. I always love the TV series “Star Trek” in which the prime directive is the non-interference of other cultures which U.S. does not follow.

  9. Black Pheonix
    September 17th, 2013 at 06:48 | #9


    Of course, everyone thinks themselves as unique. That’s only natural.

    The insidious part of American “exceptionalism”, as similar to other previous Western “exceptionalism”, is that the uniqueness is vaguely used to justify why normal rules (some of their own) do not apply to themselves.

    It is the “Do as I say, not as I do” type of “exceptionalism”, as a logic of neo-colonialist behavior, which the world objects to.

    Take for example, Obama’s argument on why US should intervene in Syria.

    Because US is “exceptional” in that it must stand for something,

    Hence, he argues, it’s OK for US to go alone if necessary to wage war in far away nation, violate their sovereignty for the moral good.

    “Exceptionalism” of this type is often invoked to justify the devaluation of someone else’s sovereignty, self-determination, and their concerns for security and safety.

    The “moral good” according to US overrides the morality of others.

  10. Black Pheonix
    September 17th, 2013 at 13:00 | #10

    translated quotes of Sun Tzu on the costs of War:

    II. Waging War

    1. Sun Tzu said: In the operations of war, where there are in the field a thousand swift chariots, as many heavy chariots, and a hundred thousand mail-clad soldiers, with provisions enough to carry them a thousand li, the expenditure at home and at the front, including entertainment of guests, small items such as glue and paint, and sums spent on chariots and armor, will reach the total of a thousand ounces of silver per day. Such is the cost of raising an army of 100,000 men.

    2. When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, then men’s weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be damped. If you lay siege to a town, you will exhaust your strength.

    3. Again, if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State will not be equal to the strain.

    4. Now, when your weapons are dulled, your ardor damped, your strength exhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains will spring up to take advantage of your extremity. Then no man, however wise, will be able to avert the consequences that must ensue.

    5. Thus, though we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness has never been seen associated with long delays.

    6. There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.

    7. It is only one who is thoroughly acquainted with the evils of war that can thoroughly understand the profitable way of carrying it on.

    8. The skillful soldier does not raise a second levy, neither are his supply-wagons loaded more than twice.

    9. Bring war material with you from home, but forage on the enemy. Thus the army will have food enough for its needs.

    10. Poverty of the State exchequer causes an army to be maintained by contributions from a distance. Contributing to maintain an army at a distance causes the people to be impoverished.

    11. On the other hand, the proximity of an army causes prices to go up; and high prices cause the people’s substance to be drained away.

    12. When their substance is drained away, the peasantry will be afflicted by heavy exactions.

    13,14. With this loss of substance and exhaustion of strength, the homes of the people will be stripped bare, and three-tenths of their income will be dissipated; while government expenses for broken chariots, worn-out horses, breast-plates and helmets, bows and arrows, spears and shields, protective mantles, draught-oxen and heavy wagons, will amount to four-tenths of its total revenue.

    15. Hence a wise general makes a point of foraging on the enemy. One cartload of the enemy’s provisions is equivalent to twenty of one’s own, and likewise a single picul of his provender is equivalent to twenty from one’s own store.

    16. Now in order to kill the enemy, our men must be roused to anger; that there may be advantage from defeating the enemy, they must have their rewards.

    17. Therefore in chariot fighting, when ten or more chariots have been taken, those should be rewarded who took the first. Our own flags should be substituted for those of the enemy, and the chariots mingled and used in conjunction with ours. The captured soldiers should be kindly treated and kept.

    18. This is called, using the conquered foe to augment one’s own strength.

    19. In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns.

    20. Thus it may be known that the leader of armies is the arbiter of the people’s fate, the man on whom it depends whether the nation shall be in peace or in peril.

  11. ersim
    September 17th, 2013 at 15:08 | #11

    The problem with Western exceptionalism as a whole is that they never have the capacity of respecting anything that doesn’t fit their warped and distorted view of what they define as “the world”. They can’t even get along among themselves as long as they benefit at the expense of the other. The imperial wars a.k.a. “world wars I and II” are great examples of their “proud achievements.”

  12. September 19th, 2013 at 03:55 | #12

    Fully agree with you, though I’m sure they both are using it cynically and hypocritically to appeal to a bunch of religionists, using their language, manipulating their mind. No less disturbing nonetheless.

  13. September 19th, 2013 at 19:37 | #13

    @Black Pheonix
    The US exceptionalism is really warped. Basically their logic is this:

    US spying is good and justifiable.
    US attack on other countries is good and justifiable.
    US support of dictatorship is good and justifiable.

    Why? Because we are the good guys and they are the bad guys.

  14. pug_ster
    September 20th, 2013 at 04:40 | #14


    This course of events during the past few months have less to do with the ‘Chinese Order’ and has more to do with the decline of American Exceptionalism. I think the turning point of the American Exceptionalism is during the Snowden incident when Russia stood up against the American Bullies. From then on, it was basically a slippery slope for the US in terms of how the US handled the Syria problem. I thought this is an excellent article about this.


    The ‘Western Order’ is led by the US and now it seems that the Alliance between US and Europe is beginning to crumble in the Syria incident. As the result of the NSA Snooping countries like Brazil is going to link their undersea cables to Europe instead via the US. There’s a validation of how fragile the US economy is when it is dependent on Quantitative easing ($85 billion every month.)

    I don’t think that US is going to collapse as the US has alot of natural resources and maintain itself. Rather I think the US will fall out from its relevance over the decades, much like what happened to Great Britain from the beginning the 19th century to the end of WWII.

    I would not be surprised that the US has something underhanded in its sleeve though. Perhaps they will try to court China go to against Russia as we will probably see less China bashing from the US. I am pretty sure that US’ pacific pivot is coming to an end pretty soon.

  15. September 20th, 2013 at 12:34 | #15

    An excellent case study of US exceptionalism. In this case McCain says he is more pro-Russian than even the Russian president Putin. LOL


  16. ersim
    September 20th, 2013 at 17:58 | #16

    And to think that it took the fall of the Roman Empire to create these different factions within the continent of Europe to be at each others throats throughout the ages to dominate the continent just to end up spreading their vicious violent behavior throughout the world for the past 500+ years to end up creating the worse “re-encarnation” of the Roman Empire, the U.S.

  17. ho hon
    September 23rd, 2013 at 17:12 | #17


    > The Chinese perspective needs not be universal as China never saw its values and way of doing things ever to be universal for the world – even during the time of history when it occupied the undisputed epitome civilization in the world.

    IMHO, one of the reasons why Chinese’ worldview is being ignored, is because it is far too advance. If you don’t mind, let me quote another Chinese text. I am not capable to translate it right.

    “君子和而不同” (the decent seeks harmony but not uniformity)

    To a certain extent it is saying that a world of harmony accepts uniqueness and differences. Ever since Aristotle a “universal” is concept – a subcategory of beings with the same set of properties. When we spoke (esp in English), concepts are tainted with such categorical A or NOT A reasoning. The dialectical structure in the Chinese quotation above will be considered mysticism to most in the West. For Chinese, it is not at all mysterious. It is the way of the Universe, well summarized in one single character “和”.

    Just a brief comment. I agree with direction but I also see that Chinese offers a universal worldview.

  18. ho hon
    September 24th, 2013 at 01:04 | #18


    To a certain extent this logic resembles a very important statement in protestant church “justified by faith alone.” One is a just person by faith alone, and his action is therefore just. Catholic is against this position, and their proposition is that justification is by works (i.e. action). In politics a lot of stuff have their root in theology.

  19. Black Pheonix
    September 24th, 2013 at 17:38 | #19

    @ho hon

    “seeks harmony but not uniformity.”

    That’s a very good point.

    Chinese concept of harmony is very different than the Western version.

  20. ho hon
    September 25th, 2013 at 02:45 | #20

    @Black Pheonix

    I just see that this blog is called “Hidden Harmonies China Blog”.

  21. ersim
    September 27th, 2013 at 08:10 | #21

    @ho hon
    I have to agree. The West with it’s fictitious separation of church and state, in particular, the U.S., has very deep theological roots when it comes to the “individual rights” that started from the Protestant Reform. I feel the U.S. “brand” of Protestantism is Calvinism, one of the most reactionary of the different “denominations” within Protestantism. They eventually “secularized” their belief system. That is how, I think this concept of “Manifest Destiny” and “American Expectionalism” evolved.

  22. ho hon
    September 28th, 2013 at 20:01 | #22


    Yes, lots of puritans went to America. The tragedy is that the religious zeal had then been degenerating into an unscrupulous lust for wealth.

    In religion perspective the root went deeper beyond protestant reformation. For example, early in 1st-2nd century, Marcion loved Jesus personally, so much, that he tried to dispute the authority of the Old Testament. Religion in German areas in middle age (esp during suppression period) had strong tendency of personal mystical spiritual communication with God bypassing the Church (in secret). Another reference was St Teresa Margaret (an Italian). It is the undercurrent that is most fascinating. All the visible political and philosophical concepts are only the visible surface waves. They are fabricated, they come, and they go.

    I rarely take “separation of church and state” serious, by the way.

  23. ersim
    September 30th, 2013 at 09:02 | #23

    Another thought came to mind. Was thinkiing if the Calvinist doctrine of “predestination” has something to do with the delusional concept of American Exceptionalism? Wouldn’t be surprised, if it’s the case.

  24. ho hon
    October 1st, 2013 at 22:53 | #24

    I think this “original sin” has a simpler name, and has ancient root beyond Calvin – “arrogance”.

  25. Zack
    October 24th, 2013 at 20:37 | #25

    excellent piece on American hypocrisy, AKA ‘American Exceptionalism’ by foreignaffairs:

    see, the real reason the American Elites are so pissed off about the entire Snowden saga is because their propaganda advantage of being able to claim the moral high ground has been eroded; now, it’s readilyapparent to all and sundry that the Americans practice realpolitik like them evil russians and chinese, that their pundits so love to pillory.
    Let the humiliation continue, i say.

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