China: Which way? Which model?

At the end of January, the champagne was beginning to celebrate the Chinese disaster in the Washington offices. It was clear that it was not 104 cases of COVID and the three deaths announced in Wuhan on January 22 by the Health Commission Hubei that motivated the next day the lockdown of Wuhan’s city with more than 11 million inhabitants. Rather a hecatomb! But the wheel has turned, the virus has come, the West has shown unpreparedness and disastrous management for the most part. China, for its part, managed rather well afterward. The few barkers in the official media did not need much more to advocate adopting the Chinese health model. At the end of March, the inarguable Global Times urged other countries to follow the Chinese model, the only model that has shown success in the fight against COVID. The appeal convinced those who wanted to be convinced. One only had to look at the Asian neighbors, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Vietnam, to see that other systems prevented the catastrophe. On the strength of the victory against the epidemic, the same circles took the opportunity to return to the more political terrain to celebrate the political model’s greatness, the Chinese model.
It is interesting to look at this so-called Chinese model and to get rid of political imprecations in the official media or blame against the West to rally the troops, even if it goes back to the President of the Supreme Court who instructed his flock to “draw a line with the separation of powers, judicial independence and other Western misconceptions 要坚决与 “三权分立, 司法独立 “等西方错误思潮划清界线.
Many intellectuals have attempted to reflect on the path China should take over the past two decades. Xu Jilin 许纪霖, professor of history at the Huadong Normal University in Shanghai, wrote a text in 2013 that reflects the issue.
First, he describes modernity and makes the difference between modernity and civilization. China has arrived in modernity but has yet to find its way into civilization. It then represents the debates between the resistance fighters, supporters, and promoters of today’s dominant civilization while recalling the gap between universal values and the Chinese model. Then, he thinks that China should find a middle way between the two conceptions. Below is a summary of his text, 中国梦之何种文明:十字路口的抉择, Type of civilization for the Chinese dream: choice at a crossroads.

Historian in China

I. Modernity, a new axis of civilization

The crisis of civilization in China, which has lasted a century and a half, has not yet been resolved, although China has become rich and powerful. It is facing modernity. What is modernity? According to the Israeli sociologist Eisenstadt, since the 16th century, a new axis of civilization has gradually emerged in Western Europe, namely modern civilization.

Modernity and civilization

What exactly is modern civilization? There have been many studies and interpretations on this subject. Here, we would like to distinguish between two significant levels of contemporary civilization: modernity, which is value-neutral, and civilization, which has a definite value orientation. The first concerns wealth and power, the second a set of values and the corresponding institutional frameworks.
The so-called modernity of wealth and power today has several different concepts to express it: modernization, rationalization, secularization, globalization, capitalism. Although the ideas are different, there is a common characteristic that refers to a value-neutral capacity and order, which can be associated with varying axes of civilization and ideology, thus generating multiple pluralist modernities. More specifically, modernity in the sense of affluence can be divided into three levels, 1.the first being science and technology at the instrumental level, where the wealth and domination created by the scientific revolution in Europe from the sixteenth century and the industrial revolution from the eighteenth century onwards. In the twentieth century, it took on new forms such as the information technology revolution, the revolution in new energy technologies, and the biotechnology revolution, which continued to advance humanity’s ability to transform and control nature and itself. 2. The second dimension of modernity is the rationalized order, what Max Weber called rationalized capitalism, depersonalized sectoral management systems, accounting systems that account for inputs and outputs, etc. This modern business management system, which is becoming more and more widespread, has succeeded in colonizing the whole of society and has become the universal law of order in the economic, cultural, political, and even everyday life. 3. The third dimension of modernity is a secularized spiritual quest, Goethe’s Faust’s spirit, embodied in the great liberation and pursuit of human desires and the resulting spirit of adventure and enterprise, the insatiable quest for money and wealth, and the work ethic of economy and diligence. This capitalist spirit, which has no values, religion, or soul, has its own rules of survival, believing in the survival of the strongest and the weakest’s survival. Competition in the market and the most substantial victory will contribute significantly to the advancement of human society.
This technical ensemble of modernity, which aims at wealth and power, has become the universal force in today’s world, with an ambiguous face and no belief in the gods, but worships only its durable power. It can be combined with various secularized axial civilizations, which, in addition to the original form of Christian capitalism, have now branched out into Confucian capitalism, Islamic capitalism, Hindu capitalism. On the other hand, it can be combined with various contemporary ideologies, developing liberal modernity, socialist modernity, authoritarian modernity.


In addition to modernity, which focuses on wealth and power, there is another higher level of modern civilization, namely civilization, “freedom as a body, democracy as a use.” The “body of civilization” is a set of values of the modern enlightenment, the core of which is respect for freedom and human dignity, and which has developed a set of values of contemporary civilization comparable to those of ancient religions: liberty, equality, fraternity, democracy, the rule of law. This enlightenment discourse has a conceptual form and a corresponding institutional framework, what Fukuyama calls the three elements of the modern political order: the state, the rule of law, and responsible government. Modern Western civilization has been able to conquer the world through the material and rational forces of modernity and a more robust civilizational discourse and system of public order.
However, modern civilization is not monolithic and is full of contradictions and tensions: rationalism versus romanticism, humanism versus technological supremacy, the supremacy of the nation state versus the dignity of individual rights, development versus social harmony, infinite enterprise versus leisure and moderation. The split into different ideologies within the civilization of modernity occurred after the nineteenth century, the enlightenment in the eighteenth century and the French Revolution, which laid the foundations for the civilization of modernity, this homogeneous modern civilization split into different ideologies within it in the nineteenth century: liberalism, socialism, and conservatism. After two centuries of conflict and struggle, these three political ideologies became internalized and merged to form today three exemplary models: American-style liberalism, European-style social democracy, and Russian or East Asian authoritarianism, in addition to more complex hybrid forms. The twentieth century’s history also saw the emergence of several failed “anti-modernities”: German fascism, Soviet totalitarianism, Mao Zedong’s agrarian socialism.
Western civilization did not completely conquer the world in the twentieth century, the ancient civilizations, whether Islamic, Hindu, or Confucian. On the contrary, wherever Western civilization has gone, it has provoked fierce resistance from the civilizations of the major axis, conquest, and counter-conquest, assimilation and counter-assimilation have coincided at the meeting of civilizations, with modern Western civilization transforming the civilization of the ancient axis, Forcing it to secularise and converge towards Europe, Britain and America are more focused on freedom and the rule of law, the European continent emphasizes equality, democracy, and social welfare, and East Asia focuses on development and prosperity. So what kind of modernity is symbolized by the rise of China?

II. Resistance fighters, supporters, or promoters of the dominant civilization?

China’s rise to power after 2008 has become a globally recognized fact. The question is, what is the nature of the increase and the modernity it brings. Yan Fu and Liang Qichao, from the end of the Qing Dynasty, discovered that there were two secrets behind the rise of the West: wealth, power, and civilization. However, in the eyes of generations of Chinese, wealth and power are of paramount importance, while civilization may be lagging. For a long time, wealth and power have prevailed over civilization. The Chinese attitude towards modern civilization has been more concerned not with the values of universal civilization and its corresponding legal and political systems, but with technical, unvalued technology, rational order, and its capitalist spirit. After a century and a half of hard work, the Chinese dream has finally come true. But this dream is only half-realized, a paralyzed modernity where the rich and powerful have risen, and civilization is still in limbo!

Power but no civilization

The secret of China’s rise, from a civilizational point of view, is to “learn from the best and use the skills of the barbarians to control the barbarians,” combining the laws of rationalization, competitive skills, and the thrift and diligence of Protestant Christianity, now in decline in Europe, with the age-old tradition of Chinese Confucianism of “making use of the knowledge of the world. Contemporary Chinese are more Western than Europeans, with a Faustian spirit of relentless progress. The laws of competition of modern civilization have shifted from Europe to the East. Today, even more than in Europe, the Chinese people resemble more the Europeans of the nineteenth century than the Europeans of today: ambitious, hard-working and moderate, full of greed and covetousness, believing in the law of the jungle and the survival of the fittest, and very different from the traditional Chinese who favored justice over profit and harmony. What kind of victory is this? Is it the triumph of Chinese civilization, or the triumph of the Western spirit? Even if one day soon China surpasses the United States as a global, national power and becomes the leading world power, the West will laugh: you have conquered us in strength, but you have been captured by our civilization, by the old spirit, the worst of the 19th century! Although China rules the world, the ultimate spiritual winner remains the West. If it were to triumph Chinese civilization, it would not be refined Confucianism, but rather the French obsession with wealth and military power.

Universal values/Chinese model

As China’s overall national power is growing more durable and more reliable, the nation’s fundamental values are being lost, the ethical order of society is being disrupted, the legitimacy of the political system is being questioned, the authority and credibility of the government are being lost, and the rule of law is useless. The crisis of civilization and the country’s wealth and power provides a somewhat ironic and striking contrast. All this means that China’s ascent has been only the ascent of the rich and powerful, and not yet the rise of civilization.
Faced with this reality in China, there are two extreme views within the Chinese ideological community: the “universal value” theory and the other is the “Chinese model” theory. According to the universal value theorist, there is only one way to modernize the world, which the West demonstrated and proved to be the only correct way to modernize since the 16th century. Opposing theorists of the “Chinese model” argue that China’s success proves precisely that there is no need to imitate the West, that China can have its path of modernization, its civilizational values, and its unique political system adapted to China’s national conditions, and that China’s rise will provide a model for the underdeveloped countries of the world, even if they abandon Western civilization. We can attain national wealth and power. Thus, an unusually acute question has been asked: in the face of today’s modern civilization, does China want to be a rival or a follower of the dominant civilization? Or is there a third way?

Dram china Xi Jinping

Civilization and culture

To answer this question, we must first distinguish between the two concepts of civilization and culture. In the same vein, we must distinguish between the two concepts of culture and civilization: “culture and civilization constitute two poles: the word culture represents uniqueness, subjectivity, individuality; on the other hand, the word civilization represents transmissibility, objectivity, universality.” For example, in Europe, European culture and civilization are different: “European culture has its distinctive Judeo-Christian, Greek and Roman roots, while European civilization, characterized by humanism, science, and technology, has spread to Europe and is rooted in a completely different cultural context.” In other words, civilizations are values or essences common to all human beings, while cultures emphasize differences between peoples and ethnic identities. On the other hand, culture must be a spiritual form, referring not to the abstract value of human existence, but the values created by specific national or ethnic groups. Obviously, for civilization and culture, the theory of “universal values” and the “Chinese model” doctrine wage war between a universal civilization and a specific culture. A typical example is given by Germany trying to use the distinctive German culture to resist the universal British and French civilization.

Germany/ British and French universal civilization

When Anglo-French ideas spread in Germany in the early 19th century, the German intellectual elite used German culture to resist Anglo-French civilization. However, Germany’s unique path against the dominant European civilization was a dead-end road to war and unsustainability. After World War II, the Germans learned their lesson. The entire nation decided to merge into the stream of world civilization, fusing Anglo-Saxon political civilization with Germany’s Protestant Lutheran tradition and the social democratic traditions of modern times.

Which way?

Germany’s history has taught us that confrontation with the world’s dominant civilization is by no means the right path, but the wrong way of self-destruction. If those who believe in the “Chinese model” are prepared to imitate the West only in terms of wealth and power, while clinging to their own “unique” culture in terms of civilizational values and institutions, they will create a unique “Chinese way.” Is this a new version of Chinese civilization 2.0, or another fashionable Mongolian empire with only material conquests and a lack of spiritual creativity? In the 13th and 14th centuries, the Mongols conquered the north and south of the Yangtze River. They crossed Central Asia and Eastern Europe, becoming a vast empire extending across the Eurasian continent. However, the Mongolian conquerors, who only knew how to bend the bow, lacked civilization, and the empire that and supported by a spiritual charisma and an advanced system could not survive, and in a hundred years, the once unbeatable Mongolian Yuan Empire collapsed and disappeared. Hegel said in The Philosophy of History: “The position a nation occupies in the stage of development of world history does not depend on the external. Inmates of the nation, but on the spirit embodied in the nation. This world spirit is the mainstream of modern civilization. What China wants to pursue is not a single model confronting the world spirit, but precisely a universal path that is in tune with the dominant civilization and can be carried to new spiritual heights. China is not an ordinary nation, but a world nation with the historical tradition of an axial civilization, as Hegel said. Such a nation should take responsibility for the world spirit, and its actions should be measured from the perspective of a universal civilization.

The Turkish example

Like the theorists of “universal value,” can we follow the West’s example and make China a completely Europeanized country? In this respect, Turkey is another example of civilization replacing the culture, unlike Germany. The opposite of Germany is the path of modern Turkey. Turkey, which has its origins in the Ottoman Empire, embarked on the path of total Europeanisation at the beginning of the 20th century with Kemal’s Turkish revolution. There was a separation of church and state, but it was also completely secularised, with the formerly dominant religion of Muslims being expelled from all public spaces and existing only as personal faith. This process of replacing culture with civilization lasted almost 100 years. Turkey, despite its modernization, has never been able to regain the grandeur of the Ottoman Empire, and Huntington argues that Turkey has become a country torn apart, at-risk – fractured between a modern civilization system at the top, similar to that of Western Europe, and a Muslim culture that is still unbeatable at the bottom. In other words, civilization has not been able to defeat culture and has instead torn the country apart.
In the twenty-first century, Turkey has started to try to get out of this modern dilemma, with the moderate Islamic party in power, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), experimenting with the way of intrinsically combining the universal modern civilization with the Turkish culture and Islamic civilization peculiar to Turkey. While continuing the modern tradition of secularism, Islam has returned to society’s centre to save the souls of individuals “Religion of the heart” and a “Religion of order” that integrates social ethics and the human heart. In this process, Gökalp, a thinker from the end of the Ottoman Empire, was revisited. Gökalp’s question was how Turkey could, on the one hand, accept modern civilization and, on the other hand, maintain its cultural identity in a period of great historical transition. With the advent of modernity, the original Islamic civilization has stepped back and become a specific national culture. Still, a universal civilization cannot replace or abolish a particular national culture. The universal civilization constitutes the state’s legal and political system, while the specific culture is the ethical, religious, and spiritual identity shared by the people. Today’s Turkey is a manifestation of Gökalp’s idea of a new living cultural tradition in line with the dominant civilization.

A middle way

The history of Germany and Turkey leads to the conclusion that neither using culture to resist civilization nor using civilization to replace it is the right path to national rebirth, and that China should follow the middle way between these two extremes, not as a confrontation with or mere follower of the world’s dominant civilization, but as a developer of modern civilization, responding to global trends and at the same time using its cultural traditions to contribute to the development of universal civilization. Growth and progress make their contribution. And to do so, to return to the ranks of the nations of the world, we must first move from the rise of the rich and powerful to the rise of civilization, and navigate out of the traditional trinity in the construction of civilizational values and institutions.

3. The Three Units, Civil Religion, and Constitutional Patriotism

There are three important cultural traditions in China today: the traditions of ancient Chinese civilization, with Confucianism at its heart; the traditions of modern civilization, marked by the Enlightenment since May 4; and the traditions of socialism in the last century.
Within modern civilization, even on both sides of the Atlantic, the American model is very different from the European model.
Because of the complexities and divergences within ancient civilization, modern civilization, and the socialist tradition, the question is not whether to “unite the three units,” but what kind of “three units” should be united? It is like a bartender’s contest, a modern cocktail made of different mixtures, with very different tastes. If we take the old French model, a prosperous nation with a strong army, the capitalist wealth and power of Western modernity and the authoritarian traditions of Eastern socialism, then the monster that will emerge from this “unification of the three” will be a kind of state elite capitalism or bureaucratic, legalistic socialism. Suppose we combine the Confucian tradition of the people with the humanist tradition. In that case, the liberal ideal of freedom, the rule of law, and democracy with the socialist ideal of equality, then the ‘Three Unifications’ will combine the wisdom and essence of all civilizations at all ages and in all places, opening up another landscape.

From the United States to Europe

In a sense, China’s rise is also the result of a certain version of the three units, but it is an unsustainable and bad unit. At the juncture of the transition from wealth and power to civilization, we need to change the formula of the “unification of the three”, from the rich nation and the strong army of legalism to the human centrality of Confucianism, from the rationalization of modernity to the rule of law and the democracy of civilization, and from the authoritarian traditions of Eastern socialism to respect for the freedom and equality of the ideals of the early Marxist classics. Even if we learn from the West, our gaze must shift from America’s study to Europe’s study. China and the European continent have more points of comparison. For example, China, like Europe, has an ancient axial civilization with a complex pluralism within its civilization; China, like France, has a strong tradition of a bureaucratic state and, like Germany, was once backward, faced with the economic overtaking of advanced countries and a tense clash between civilizations and cultures; China, like Europe, is also deeply influenced by Marxism and the less religious, rather deeply secularized socialist traditions. In developing a country’s civilization, it is impossible to erase existing traditions and start all over again. Therefore, China should shift its vision from the United States to Europe, draw more wisdom from Europe’s historical experience and rebuild a new Chinese civilization by merging ancient civilization, modern enlightenment and socialist traditions.

Marxism in China

Constitutional Patriotism and Civic Religion

Civilization is both a system of law and order and a public culture. Values are divided into two dimensions, political and religious values, which are expressed in two different forms: constitutional patriotism and civic religion*. Constitutional patriotism is the thinnest national identification with the political values and public political culture represented by the Constitution, while civic religion is much thicker and includes the historical and cultural traditions and moral and ethical values shared by the entire nation as the understanding of transcendent sources.
Culture, ethics, and religion must allow adequate space for the autonomy of communities of different faiths. Public identity as a national community can only be a limited identity of political values, i.e., constitutional patriotism, the fundamental political values on which political communities are based: freedom, equality, the rule of law, constitutional government, separation of church and state, and responsible government. This is not the “good” of religion and ethics, but only the public political culture that governs “right” in the political sphere, which is above religions. It is also clearly stipulated in a country’s constitution, providing institutional recognition and legal guarantees.

Religion of the heart and religion of the order

Constitutional patriotism is a political identity that has nothing to do with cultural identity and is confined to the public sphere of politics. However, in addition to the political area, citizens’ public life also includes the social and cultural spheres, what Habermas calls the “world of life” outside the “systemic world.” In the social and cultural public world, there is a need for a civic religion that is more valued in terms of political values and ethical, moral, and even religious values shaped by shared historical and cultural experiences. Two different religions should be distinguished here: the “religion of the heart” and the “religion of order.” The “religion of the heart” saves the human soul and provides the faithful with a sense of belonging and meaning to life.
In contrast, the “religion of order” provides only basic moral and ethical norms for society’s public life, although it also has a set of transcendent sources behind it. The civic religion referred to here is not the “religion of the heart” linked to the individual spiritual order, but the “religion of order” that supports society’s public order. In Europe, where secularization is relatively complete, the concept of civic religion is rather weak, but in the United States, which has a strong religious tradition, what Robert Bellah called civil religion has existed since the founding of the country. The American values of freedom and equality, supported by the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, both have a transcendent source, stemming from the will of the Creator. Civic religion is concerned with not worshiping the state, but belief in the values to which the state adheres, nor worship of specific deities, but adherence to the communal values they symbolize. While in the private sphere, each individual may have different religious beliefs, in the public field of the nation-state community, there are civic religions – public political and ethical values, and thus embodied in the fundamental values of a nation. Civic religion is a religion of enlightenment, not a religion of religion. It is not a state religion, but it is one with the nation; it is separate from the political order, but the state recognizes it. Civil religion is a historical experience, a shared national culture, and a standard set of values that all members of a nation live together. However, it may come from different deities or moral philosophies.

So, what form will civil religion take in China in the future? Is it liberalism, or traditional Confucianism, or a synthesis of Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, and other modern ideologies such as liberalism and socialism in a new public culture? This is a question that deserves serious consideration. The possibility of the Chinese nation becoming a unified nation and achieving Chinese nation-building depends on the possibility of China emerging from its vacuum of fundamental values and forming a civil religion recognized by the entire Chinese people. This civic religion must conform to the dominant civilization and embody all humankind’s universal values and have its own historical and cultural origins in China. It can be said that when China’s civil religion is formed, that will be the day when Chinese civilization is revived. This is a much more difficult civilizational transition than institution building.
It is a long road, and all we need to rebuild our civilization is patience and a clear vision of where we are going and not to take any more detours.

Xu Jilin’s text could have been entitled “China under construction.” Indeed, suppose the country has built an economy that allows us to get out of poverty and improve everyone’s life. In that case, it lacks, according to the intellectual, a shared value system to lead to civilization. China is, therefore, at a crossroads. Xu believes that rejection and resistance to the dominant civilization is not the right solution. He prefers a path between Chinese culture and Western contributions. Where will China go?

Text by Xu Jilin

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9 August 2020

Thank you? No, thank you!

Chinese habits are disconcerting when you land from your Western culture. The obligatory Good morning/Bonjour in some places is practically absent from the Chinese daily life. You greet each other differently; a nod is enough. Another phrase does the trick “You’re early today,” or you use the family relationship, the title or the name of the person followed by well: 爷爷好 (Grandfather well, literally). I spent eight years in a company with 100% Chinese employees and I never heard the famous ” 你好 nǐ hǎo”, which you learn from the first hours of Chinese… For the thank you 谢谢 xièxiè, the story is the same!

Thank you machine

A Chinese friend, who had just returned from four years of study in London, laughed and told me: “The English always say thank you, even for small things. I used to call them Thank you machine. We in China are not used to using thank you all day long”. I tried to understand the reasons for this difference, I never found a study on the subject. However, some leads exist to understand the issue of thanks.

Chinese character thank you 谢谢

Thank you. No need?

In Shanghai, I used to put 谢谢 at the end of my email when I requested the company’s employee. The sales manager would point out to me that it was useless. You don’t thank someone who’s just doing his job. “He has to do it, why thank him?” Richard E. Nisbett, in “The Geography of Thought, How Asians and Westeners Think Differently… and Why” discusses obligations within a group or community in East Asian countries, particularly China. His remarks are in line with the Director’s commentary. Each person has obvious obligations within a community and is just doing his or her job, whereas in the United States “Everyone is always thanking everyone else: ‘Thank you for setting the table’; ‘Thank you for getting the car washed’. In her country (Asian) everyone has clear obligations in a given context and you don’t thank people for carrying out their duties.” (Chapter “Living together vs. Going it alone”).

Low and high context

The difference between low-context and high-context countries provides a better understanding of this difference in the use of polite words. In high-context countries, relationships are meaningful and matter over time. Formality may prevail, but words do not tell the whole story. Context, expression, intonation, gestures will sometimes give meaning to the message. In low-context countries, communication will be more direct and the need for clarity will prevail. China, Korea, Japan are ranked in high-context countries while many Western countries, such as the United States, Germany, Scandinavian countries are in low-context. France is in between the two, but compared to China, it is low context.
As we have explained here, the unspoken and the implicit are omnipresent in China and thanks will not always be expressed verbally or directly. A praise or compliment will be used. Even saying thank you or apology between close people may seem odd. More than once, I have been told that a thank you is useless!

Of course, thank you is still used and when we are in more westernized environments, Thank you is more common. This type of article is not intended to give absolute rules, but to show differences and to launch tracks to understand better and to understand each other. The inhabitants of a low-context countries quickly qualify certain communication habits of high-context countries as hypocrites. In fact the modes of expression are different and sometimes telling a harsh truth can be considered as a lack of intelligence or politeness in a high-context country!

Thank you for reading the whole article!

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19 July 2020

Family and change in China

In an article in Chinese entitled “The modern Chinese family seeks more individual freedom, but the child remains the center,” the sociologist Xie Ning details the changes within the Chinese family. He believes that the family traditionally had the rank of religion. Has it retained its importance?

The family, a true religion

Traditional Chinese culture is based on three pillars: Confucian culture, the state bureaucratic system, and the traditional family. The family can be placed in the category of religions, with, for example, ancestors’ veneration. In many cases, the government did not exercise control, sociologists like to recall the expression, “皇权不下县, The power of the emperor does not descend in the county. “In the absence of a real rule of law, it was the family that settled matters such as marriage, property distribution, and support of parents. The family had a vital role. In the traditional culture, the family chose the studies, the teacher, the spouse, the work and the knowledge to attend. The family controlled life. 

家 family in China

Transformation of the population, towards more freedom

This stage corresponds to the transition from declining birth and death rates and the development of the economy. The individual seeks more freedom, which will bring contradictions with the family. He accepts less the constraints imposed by the family, it is a worldwide phenomenon that sees the decline in the age of marriage, the rise in divorce and the appearance of children of single parents. More and more children do not live with both parents in Western countries (25% in France). In China, this is still rare, as is the single-parent family. This means that Chinese couples fear divorce. Gender inequality within the couple has practically disappeared. The woman studies, works and can make choices, for example, about a late marriage and the spouse.

Everybody used to get married

The New China of 1949 strengthened the family culture and everyone got married in the first decades of that era. In 1981, with the new law requiring certification of the work unit, the number of marriages declined. The annulment of this document late saw a decline in the age of marriage, which is not expected to stop. In the past, people with a high level of education married later than those with a low education level. In the end, everyone got married.  

The economic factor

Today, the situation is different, 20% of low-income men are still single at 40. There are women with a high level of education who are not married at 40 and who may never be married.
For low-income men, the economic factor is important because it is considered that a man must have a home. In cities where the is high, it isn’t easy to acquire an apartment. Moreover, when comparing the price of real estate and the age of marriage, we notice that the higher the price per square metre, the higher the marriage age. Indeed, having a home is one of the conditions for getting married. A study shows that 80% of couples had an apartment before marriage.
The husband is sometimes older than the wife. Generally, if he has no capital, a man will work for a few years to save and acquire an apartment to get married. The position of the company and the economic situation count. Without income, without an apartment and without an urban hukou, it will be difficult for the woman to have a child. There is a homogeneity phenomenon in marriage where couples generally have the same level of education and income.

Low divorce rate

The sociologist says that one should not believe the divorce figures mentioned by the media because they give the divorce rate in relation to the population (粗离婚率). He estimates that the divorce rate is lower than in Japan (about 15%) and in Western countries. Why is this figure so low? In China, we think first of all of the family’s interests and especially of the child. We want to preserve marriage to protect it.

The child is the center

Indeed, it can be said that everything is child-centred. The child is the purpose of the marriage and the economic conditions are envisaged for the child. Children without marriage are very rare, and the child’s education is considered to be of the utmost importance. Parents invest a lot in education, even parents of a low cultural level think that education is vital. Korea, heavily influenced by Confucianism, is experiencing the same phenomenon.

The transformations of the population have thus seen the emergence of late marriage and celibacy. The number of single parents is expected to increase, but only by a small proportion. The phenomenon of the floating population with remoteness destroys family ties and is a factor that needs to be studied. The child has become the centre of the family. Despite the desire for greater freedom, the family has retained its importance, which is a characteristic of China.

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16 July 2020

Innovation and science in China

An article by Professor Wu Guosheng, head of the History of Science Department at Qinghua University in Beijing, highlights the real difference between China and the United States: technological innovation. He begins by detailing this difference, exposing the obstacles to innovation, and explaining why utilitarianism is harmful.

The turmoil of the trade war has distracted attention from a crucial issue for China: technological innovation. It allowed leaders to take the lead, England with the Industrial Revolution, Germany with its scientists, and the United States today. How does China compare with America in this respect?

1. The real differences between China and the United States

The real differences between the United States and China can be found in :
Basic research
Applied research
Development research for the market
The main discoveries of the 20th century are American: radio transmission, the computer, and the Internet. The National Science Foundation, founded in 1950, to support research and provide funding, has contributed to the country’s scientific development.
The importance of basic research
Why does the United States attach great importance to basic research? Because it determines the level of development of scientific research, decides whether early innovations can come into applied research and development. As a result, America’s scientific strength has grown day by day.
Basic research in China
China’s weakness lies in the lack of real knowledge in research disciplines and basic research.
Science is the search for truth, the development of individual creativity to discover the universe’s mysteries. Still, in our time, the word science is used more for other purposes to save the nation, for China’s rebirth and cultural intentions.
The utilitarian vision is still too present; the State has concentrated on large, highly “visible” works, such as high-speed trains and space navigation.
Fundamental research is lacking, technological innovation is too much based on other people’s technologies. It is necessary to go beyond the stage of improving a piece of the others. It is normal at first to imitate the best, but this stage must be temporary and to last in the long term and be healthy, we must be at the origin of technological innovations.
To progress, you have to get rid of the brakes on innovation.

Three factors hamper innovation

The spirit of freedom is the basis for innovation and creativity. The problem of freedom of spirit, in particular, comes from education, which does not give rise to it.
A. A model based on learning by heart and obedience must be reformed. Students coming out of such a system will not be able to become creative scientists. Education must allow for the development of individuality. From the earliest years, the child must obey and strictly follow the rules and when he does a doctorate, suddenly he must be creative.
B. Civil servants must not run institutions. Schools and cultural organizations have their own functioning. A school principal has a cultural position, which does not follow the same logic as a civil servant’s career.
C. Teachers still have too rigid and conservative conceptions of teaching. They need to be more open, especially at the elementary school level.
The State must allow a large number of private schools to open. Education is critical and has a long-term influence. Containing creativity is harmful and will lead to a decline in innovation and the nation’s IQ.
The scientific community
The scientific community must mobilize for scientific culture. This world is slowly becoming an administrative system.
Academics are the biggest beneficiaries of resources; they do not always manage to spend all the money allocated, while young scientists struggle to find subsidies. The system must be changed. Of course, the government is making changes, for example, by creating additional funds for science.
Society should be more supportive of the scientific world and believe in its potential.
Besides these three obstacles, Wu thinks that utilitarianism has a negative impact.

3. Utilitarianism is detrimental to scientific innovation.

Research and the discovery of innovation are, in fact, non-utilitarian. Going beyond a utilitarian attitude makes it possible to have an innovative mindset, one does not always have to think about immediate advantage and utility. When we think in terms of advantage, we rely on our experience, whereas innovation must go beyond constraints and open up new horizons. Too much utilitarianism is an obstacle. China has a strong utilitarian culture.

Professor Wu calls for more research resources, teaching that allows more freedom and is conducive to creativity, changes in the scientific world and support from society. The purely utilitarian vision must be less present to leave more room for science. These problems are not new and are almost normal.
It is easier to buy a machine, analyze it, and make it better than change a conservative thinking and teaching system that restricts initiative and does not promote originality and creativity. Wu probably sounds the alarm to get the lines moving. Will China move from being the best student in the world to being an innovator?

NB: When Wu asks for more freedom, he doesn’t talk about politics. He’s talking about the education system, which leaves the student too passive

12 July 2020

Daily, language and grammar in China (2)

In the survey on the influence of language on Chinese psychology and thought, it is useful to recall the differences in learning between European languages and Chinese.

Learning to draw

A Chinese child will learn to write and even draw characters, as early as the preparatory class. He will draw lines, learn to think differently. My daughter, who attended the first part of her schooling in a Chinese school of a Pekingese Hutong, spent more time writing and rewriting characters to memorize them than assimilating grammatical notions. The development of his mind was solicited differently than in the French school. For tree 木, she was “learning” an idea, an image that reminded her of a tree. When she met two trees 林, she had a wood, three trees 森, a forest. The same thing with the human character 人. With two men 从, she quickly associated ideas with the meaning follow, and with three men 众 with the crowd’s sense.

Left brain, right brain

Cyrille Javary, in his book “100 mots pour comprendre les Chinois,” shows the difference in the two ways of learning the word vivre. “To read it, our brain had to carry out a series of operations which habitually made us forget that it is primarily an arithmetic process. To read VIVRE, before perceiving the meaning of the word, we had to perform a whole series of literal additions: V + I = VI, then V+ R+ E = LIVE, and finally VI + VRE = vivre. This mental process is carried out by our left brain, the one that is skilled in arithmetic. To read an ideogram, the left brain is inoperative, simply because we cannot spell an ideogram. Even if it is composed of several elements which individually have a meaning of their own, its meaning does not result from their addition, but the qualitative leap produced by their association. Its reading involves the right hemisphere. »

Logic and analysis

The difference also in the study of grammar; my daughter doesn’t remember studying grammar during those five years, which is a sign that the courses on the subject must not have been significant. A European child will have to navigate through the labyrinth of tenses, modes, subordinates, concordances of time. The analysis of grammar and spelling train him to apprehend and analyze the world in another way with another logic. Remember that the Chinese did not feel the need to have a real grammar before 1889. Since then, Chinese grammar has become more conceptualized and is taught more systematically with the significant notions familiar to us, but the relative simplicity of Chinese grammar does not impose sophisticated rules (see article).

孔子 confucius

Thus, we can note that the brain is solicited differently in the learning of Chinese characters and that the study of a European language gives rise to a different and more consequent work of analysis and logic. Can we link this observation with the different fates of the science of logic in the Greek world and the world of Confucius? Indeed, but that is another story. It would be easy to make hasty deductions with beautiful theories to show the influence of language and characters, but this is only one factor, certainly an important one, among others in the formation and structure of thoughts. I will come back to this in future articles on related topics.

Articles on characters :

5 July 2020

The approximation’s going away!

With the country’s transformation and the changes in the economic system, some words no longer have the same life. 差不多, chàbùduō, illustrates the differences in behaviour.

The approximate is losing ground

In the 80s and even 90s, one of the words a stranger could often hear was 差不多, almost. The country was in the process of emerging from a state economic system in which the unit of work 单位 still encompassed the entire existence of the vast majority. So, accuracy, rigour, efficiency, profitability were not always the main concern in the work. Sometimes we were in the ballpark. Now, as a sign of the evolution of the system and of society, the approximation has taken back a more modest place, and the 差不多 is less present. The time is ripe for greater efficiency, private companies abound, and we cannot be satisfied with a rough cash flow. Rigour is gaining ground and is a sign of the times, 差不多 no longer shows approximate work.

差不多 almost

A bit of language

Of course, in everyday life, 差不多 has all its rights. I took notes on its use in 2016, and I can’t resist getting my notes out:
这两位老师年龄差不多, These two teachers are almost the same age. (En as an adjective, it is placed after the noun it qualifies).
As an adverb, it is placed before the adjective, the numeral adjective, or the verb :
离这里差不多三公里, From here, it’s about two miles.
你们差不多高, You are almost the same size.
我差不多跑了两个小时, I ran for nearly two hours.

3 July 2020

Daily life, language, and grammar in China

The Chinese language transports a Westerner into a radically different world. Characters take the place of the alphabet, and grammar does not get bogged down, for example, with complex tenses or modes. I don’t know if language determines thought (Sapir-Whorf hypothesis) and behavior. Nevertheless, it has an influence. 

German and French

Before leaving for Chinese, we can stop in front of a smaller gap: French and German. German often puts its verb at the end of the sentence (in the compound tenses) or the end of the subordinate so that we have to wait for the verb to understand the message. After the verb, there is nothing more to add. Is this why in Germany, we don’t get cut off that often? On the other hand, in French, you first put down the essential and then comes the accessory. French goes towards the details, whereas German goes the other way round. Mme de Staël, on a visit to Germany, regretted this French twittering when everyone was speaking at the same time. She had understood the differences: “By the very nature of her grammatical construction, the meaning is usually not understood until the end of the sentence. Thus the pleasure of interrupting, which makes the discussion so lively in France, and forces one to say so quickly what it is important to make heard, this pleasure cannot exist in Germany, because the beginnings of sentences mean nothing without the end, one must give everyone all the space he or she needs to take; this is better for the substance of things, it is also more civil, but less pungent. (From Germany ,1813) .
The German philosopher Heinz Wismann explains in “Think through Languages,” the diverse influence of German and French on thinking and behavior. Let’s not go any further; let’s go back to China.

Change and flexibility

When you start your life in China in the world of work, the gap is even more significant; several phenomena can strike: change, flexibility, and lack of clarity in a response.
A few years ago in Wuhan, I attended a training session where the speaker made about fifty managers think about the changes in management decisions: “You have a big problem with a customer, you go to your boss, propose several solutions, he chooses the first one. You’re happy it’s the one the customer will accept. As soon as you leave the office, you call the customer and tell him the good news. You hang up, get in your car, and your manager calls you to tell you that it is better not to make this proposal after some thought. Ouch! You’ve already announced the news. How do you make sure that such a misadventure doesn’t happen again in the future? “The answers were numerous, and this one prevailed: “Learn how to deal with the boss. Many company bosses are like that; nothing is fixed. A decision is not a decree; it is a statement of fact that remains open! ».

Grammar or habits?

These observations reminded me of conversations with my early Chinese teachers about grammar. Chinese grammar is simple, even one went as far as blasphemy: “There is no Chinese grammar, there are just habits! ».
We don’t bother with tense, present perfect, future, past simple, indicative, subjunctive, conditional moods. In English, it will be “Tomorrow I’ll go to the pool,” whereas in Chinese, as conjugation and tenses do not exist, it will be, “明天我去游泳池.” Context gives meaning; one can always add a word to express the future, but it is not completely indispensable. With tomorrow, why to bother with a future tense, tomorrow is the future! There is no need to put an article to be given according to the genre of the name like in French (à la piscine, au cinéma, à l’aéroport), the genre does not exist. 

Need some grammar?

By the way, the need for grammar did not exist for a long time. Only from the XIXth century, the Chinese in contact with foreign linguists wrote a Chinese grammar in 1889. Joël Belassen, in an email, told me: “The first grammars were written long before but by the Jesuits. The first one dates from 1652, written by Mr. Martini. The first rather reasoned and “scientific” grammar is that of a French Jesuit a little later… on the Chinese side, before, just the notions of “empty words” and “full words.” 

Panini had composed the first Sanskrit grammar in the 5th century BC. J.-C.; it must be said that Sanskrit has a very complex grammar (I suffered from Panini)!

Chinese grammar

Change, flexibility, and Chinese language

The Chinese rules do not confine the speaker to a strict framework where he must make agreements and respond to more or less sophisticated rules of concordance of times or agreements of the past participle. The flexibility of the Chinese language leaves room for maneuver.  It gives certain freedom and does not hinder movement within the sentence. 
With these words, my first teacher linked to change, flexibility, and the Chinese language.

Yes or no?

One can also link the lack of clarity and even implicitness in everyday life (see article here) with language that does not have a real yes or no. Of course, one can replace the yes and no with an answer that will mean yes or no, but is that really useful? My first Chinese partner explained to me after an unclear meeting with a client: “You know Yes and No don’t exist in Chinese, it’s useless because when a Chinese person says yes, it might be yes, it might be no, or nothing at all, he doesn’t know exactly what he wants. »

It is difficult to say to what extent the Chinese language influences thinking, psychology, and behavior. My practice in the country often gives me the impression that I read grammar in everyday life. Obviously, I have only touched on one aspect of the subject; it deserves multiple developments, the characters, and the imaginary, the unconscious, the world of signs, the yin yang. But there are other stories… to be told soon.

Related articles:
Subtlety in China

What does the boss mean?

2nd July 2020

What’s going on in China?

What’s happening in China? Sometimes, we don’t know, limited access to certain parts of the information dries up the sources. Information on the current floods is not overflowing from the official information sites. Journalist Wang Jian thinks the subject is China’s big problem right now.

Let the trains arrive on time!

Control over information reduces the knowledge of the country. Chinese journalists can’t talk about everything and must contribute to the harmony of society. We prefer trains that arrive on time. The Caixin site, in its paid edition, pushes the limit a little further. Foreign journalists, because of less developed networks, often have more difficulty getting information.
There are many foreign-based Chinese-language news sites and channels founded by people from China. They are usually very interesting because they include information not disclosed in China.
The problem is that some of them are not verifiable because of the lack of access to sources. Some of them are campaigning against the Beijing government; their passions blur the objectivity a bit. It is necessary to sort out and avoid the misinformation and risky speculation that abounds.
More open information would have prevented speculation about the origin of the virus and its spread in China. The international skies would be more serene.

Silence speaks

Floods have not been in the official media headlines in recent days; the subject is little discussed. For example, the very official website today on its homepage covers a meeting of the Political Bureau chaired by Xi Jinping, the government’s actions, and its Prime Minister. You have to search the site to find something, a picture of a grandmother on the back of a brave rescuer. Only today in the print edition, President Xi’s words at this meeting on the floods are reported.
Sometimes not mentioning information is information and indicates its sensitivity. It will be remembered that in late December and early January, COVID 19 was practically invisible on the official media; the data on the Wuhan Health Commission site was very light. That was all it took to understand that something important was going on, as Wang Jian, based in the United States, claimed at the time. Fascinating China: when you don’t talk about a subject, silence actually talks about it!
Other Chinese sites are very discreet on the subject. Only Caixin, in its paid version, tackles the subject of the flood with information that can be found in the Western media, which prefer trains that don’t arrive on time.

I am always very reserved when faced with people who claim to know everything about China, whether they are Westerners or Chinese. The formers are dependent on information that is often partial and biased. The latter cannot have access to all the information. I have Chinese friends who had confessed to me that they “discovered” another China when they came to live abroad!

Broadcast by Wang Jian

29 June 2020

The art of beautification in China

Embellish, my first Chinese teacher used to tell us, “Chinese people often embellish the other one in society. ” Students can see this when they say a few sentences in China to their interlocutor. They will often be remarked: “You speak Chinese very well, 你,中文说得很好 ! ». Even if three sentences later, they find themselves stuck! I’ve noticed this, especially in the business world.  Meals with business partners are sometimes quite playful. We toast and toast again.  The first glass tinkle often brings all the guests together at the table; then, the ceremony sometimes takes place in small groups or one-on-one. A salesperson will join a vital boss; the financial director will have attention to the supplier that he shakes all year round.  I learned the first rule.

drink in China

A little speech is necessary

It will be necessary to “embellish”, to raise the person that we invite to toast. Some people have become masters in this discourse. Our marketing director, little Liu, was a master at it. To show and praise the alleged skills of our manager in Wuhan, who does not have the highest position, she called him Professor Wang (王老师), saying that she had learned the whole job from him.  Using this clever tactic, she gave Wang face in front of the department store bosses and gave him credibility despite the bosses’ familiarity with the situation. Everyone accepted the game and approved of the praise and embellishment. When I told her that she was “coming on a little strong”, Liu liked to explain that a statement repeated over and over again became true over time and we had a great time!

Speak up then!

Sometimes I didn’t shine in this kind of operation. One evening, around a yellow wine in Jinan in Shandong province, I was sitting next to the boss of a group that was important to us. I raise the glass to toast, but perhaps a little tired from a busy day, I forget the rite. He looks at me and, after a few seconds, launches at me with a big smile: “你说啊!在中国,要说话!Parle then! In China, you have to talk! » 

In the beginning, this type of exercise didn’t amuse me much, but over time I learned the ropes and got a taste for these critical rituals. I keep an amused look on my face, like a child enjoying the world passing before his eyes. In society, conviviality and interpersonal skills are handled with great art and small strategies are put in place at mealtimes to bind or unbind alliances.  The positioning around the table, the face you have to give to this or that interlocutor, the number of times you toast with a person, but these are other stories, to be continued…

Articles about the company and its life in China, it’s here.

12 June 2020

In the land of the Zong 总

Being in contact with corporate and government leaders quickly taught me the importance of title and respect when speaking to a superior or simply a person in office.

So many Zongs

Working with a large group sometimes gives the impression that you are living in the land of the Zongs. Indeed the word zong 总 can be found in CEO, 总经理, Vice President, 副总经理 , and 总监, Supervisor (a position above department manager) – One of the meanings of 总 is principal, general.
And when you’re talking to one of these people, unless you’re really friends, you should use the title. When I went to a company in Hangzhou that had six vice presidents and a football team of supervisors, the word zong during meetings was flying around. Since there were several people named Wu in that meeting, it was decided to call the CEO, Great Wu Zong (大吴总), the marketing priestess Little Wu Zong (小吴总) and the head of the auditing department was renamed 总 for 局 in memory of his former position as 局长 office manager at the city hall. He was not bothered by being called zong; he did not have the long teeth of the intriguing marketing manager, who was fond of her zong and liked to be mistaken for the CEO when she was away on business.

title in china

Need Promotion

Sometimes even to give a manager a face and give him or her more clout in negotiations, a false promotion had to be made. He will be called zong on the outside and will even have an extra business card with the title of zong. 
Lu had come to my office on a Monday morning and explained the case to me. “I’m not 30 years old and I have to go and negotiate pitches with officials who can make it rain or shine. They are almost the age of my parents and have astronomical incomes. With my title of director, they barely look at me. If I am Lu Zong instead of Lu Jingli (director), I will carry more weight. I need it. »

Zong Tactics

Sometimes people would play with the word zong to send messages. For example, one director, who wanted to say “I am untouchable because of my supposedly special bond with the big chief”, pretended to make a one-time mistake by forgetting the word zong and showing more familiarity with the CEO. Many subtle scores on this theme in the nibbling of each other’s powers!

I was zong too and it took me a long time to get used to the title, me who had started Chinese at the age of 18 to read Lao Zi in the text! It’s not every day you turn 18.

Articles about enterprise in China

6 May 2020