The texts of the historian Qin Hui 秦辉, have always captivated me. His voice in China stands out from the official song and observes reality with a wish of objectivity. He wrote a very long 30,000-word text about the success and failure of the fight against the Covid-19 epidemic in China and worldwide. He does not fall into the usual binary trap, where everything is black or white in China or elsewhere, depending on one’s place on the political chessboard. He believes that China has taken advantage of its weak human rights advantage to apply a coercitive lockdown to society and effectively combat the epidemic. I would add that China’s populations and neighboring countries and territories (Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Vietnam) have a greater awareness of the epidemic phenomena, which are numerous in China. In January, I was in northern China, and there was concern about the plague outbreak. On the other hand, these countries have a better collective discipline, and one avoids anything in the name of supposed freedom that some Westerners think they have, see an article on the subject. Qin Hui added that its high human rights advantage had handicapped the West. This is something to give some grain to grind to the praise of the Chinese model. David Ownby organized the translation of this text into several languages. Its introduction and translation can be downloaded here.
“The facts of the epidemic in both China and the West show that it is not appropriate to shut down the whistle-blowers, but this is not adequate in and of itself. The Western experience in the West has shown that not shutting down whistle blower does not cause panic, which means that it unreasonable for China to use the prevention of panic as a reason for doing so. But the absence of panic does not in itself prevent epidemics. Suppressing the whistle-blowers indeed spread the coronavirus, but when that spread is a fait accompli, it doesn’t really matter what you do with whistle-blowers, it matters whether you can effectively lock down a city.”
“But what is sobering and frustrating is that, when a serious epidemic occurs, the soft-heartedness of democracies towards their citizens is not helpful in fighting the epidemic, while China’s ‘ruthlessness,’ the harsh quarantines and tracking, has proven to be effective. In fact, this is not difficult to understand. Logically speaking, there are only three ways for humans to deal with virulent infectious diseases: if you are already infected or are inevitably are going to be infected, you have to use antibiotics or other means to destroy the germs in your body, which is curing the disease; if you cannot eliminate the disease, you have to rely on a vaccine, so as to avoid infection even if you come in contact with the pathogens, which is preventing the disease; and if you do not have a vaccine, then cutting off the spread of the pathogens is the only way forward.”
“The fierce criticism of the early days of China’s ‘Wuhan lockdown’ has almost disappeared now that the effects have become clear. Knowing what we know now, if we could turn back the clock, I think European and American governments would have chosen to copy China’s ‘lesson’ at the beginning of the epidemic (of course, this in fact would have meant reviewing the ‘lesson’ from their own medieval experience). Whether the democratic system would allow them to do so is another question. But today, as the second wave of the coronavirus hits already devastated economies, the dilemma of choosing between ‘dying from the virus’ (where continued laxism worsens the still spreading disease) and ‘death by starvation’ (where renewed control leads to the collapse of an already weakened economy) is all the more painful.”
China’s public sector generates 40% of the national GDP, which does not prevent it from being at the forefront. By 2020, the world’s 500 largest companies globally include 92 Chinese state-owned enterprises and 30 private enterprises, three times as many public companies. A company’s strength can be reflected in its costs. A 2018 study shows that access to short-term credit is cheaper for state-owned enterprises. They benefited from rates ranging from 5.06% to 5.17%, while the private sector ranged from 6.05% to 6.14%. The spread is the same for long-term and bonds. The public sector is advantageous, as are most, but not all, of its employees. What is the paradox?
Salaries,+51% compared to the private sector … on average
The average wage of employees of state-owned enterprises, 91607 yuan, is lower than that of foreign-owned enterprises 106,180 (about 14% lower), slightly higher than that of Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwanese joint-stock and joint-stock companies (slightly higher) 90164, and higher than that of other private enterprises 60551 and thus higher than the national average, 75229. It is estimated that the average wage in state-owned firms is 51% higher than in private firms and 21% higher than in all sole proprietorships. Given the more stable positions in state-owned companies, the social and security aspects, it is not difficult to understand why students are now rushing into them.
No higher salaries for “political” leaders
The Chinese banking sector is very profitable; the salary and benefits are also high. Statistics produced by China Economic Net, based on the 2019 annual report, show that the salaries and benefits of employees of the six major state-owned commercial banks range from 267,800 yuan (Agricultural Bank of China) to 375,100 yuan (Bank of Communications). The presidents of the six banks’ annual salaries range from 469,900 yuan (ICBC Chen Siqing) to 779,300 yuan (Bank of Communications Ren Deqi). ICBC is the “largest bank in the universe” with a profit of 313.4 billion yuan in 2019, but the annual salary of its president is only 1.65 times the average annual salary of the bank’s employees (285,200 yuan). A state-owned enterprise in Chinese :
Among the Big Six banks, there is a “pay “rollover” between government-appointed “executives” with wage restraints and 1. executives from the labor market, and 2. branch managers with no wage restraints. These annual salaries (including those of financial, risk, audit, information manager, secretary of the board of directors, etc.) can exceed one million yuan. The annual salary of some provincial or foreign branch presidents is more than two million yuan. The salary levels of the chairmen, presidents, and vice-chairmen of China’s six largest state-owned commercial banks are significantly lower – three to four times less – than those of the ten largest joint-stock commercial banks (China Merchants, Pudong Development, CITIC, Everbright, Huaxia, Minsheng, Guangfa, Xingye, Ping An and Zheshang) If we compare the six largest Chinese commercial banks with their six foreign counterparts (JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citi, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and HSBC), the salaries of the president, chairman, and vice-chairman of the latter are 266 times, 225 times and 152 times higher, respectively.
The salary restrictions for government-appointed executives are probably politically motivated, to show that the state’s money is not being wasted and that it is properly managed? Is this a model of socialist management with Chinese characteristics? I don’t think so!
The name China, adopted by Westerners, derives from the first unifying emperor Qinshihuang 秦始皇 and the name of his dynasty Qin 秦, 221 to 206 BC. Many neighboring countries spoke of the land of Qin from the beginning of the Christian era. Thus came the word China adapted to each local language. Other interpretations bring together the words gold, 金 jin, and China or the word tartare for silk, serique, and China. Russia adopted Kitai, from the name of a Mongolian people, the Kitans.
And the Middle Kingdom?
中国 zhōng guó in Chinese refers to the country but has no relation to the term China or the first dynasty. It is composed of two characters 中 center and 国 country. The translation will give Middle Country or Middle Kingdom. But has China always called itself that?
The term had many meanings. The research is blurred by local political aspects that want to demonstrate the whole Chinese territory’s historical continuity. Nevertheless, the documents show that the main meanings of 中国 corresponded initially to the Shang dynasty’s territories, then to the states located in the center of China.
Names of the country
The country has had several appellations—华夏 huá xià de 华 splendor and 夏 first dynasty half legendary. A great Chinese bank, the Huaxia 华夏银行 took this name. People of Chinese origin living abroad with this 华 are called: 华人. Taiwan has taken back 华 in its name 中华民国, wrongly translated the Republic of China, but that’s another story. The People’s Republic of China has done the same with 中华人民共和国. Dynasties preferred to call the country by mentioning the name of the dynasty as the Ming (1368-1644), Grand Ming, 大明. Under the Qing, China was called the Great Land of Qing 大清国.
Are we Chinese?
Historian Shi Aidong reports the findings of a Portuguese merchant who experienced Chinese jails in the 16th century. He found it curious that “the Chinese (Zhongguoren) do not know that they are Chinese (Zhongguoren). He said: “We are used to calling this country China and its inhabitants the Chinese, but when a Chinese person is asked why they are so named, they say: ‘We don’t have that name, we never had that name. Very intrigued, Pereira insists: “What is the name of your country as a whole? When someone from elsewhere asks you about your country of origin, what is your answer? “For the Chinese, this question is very strange, but they end up answering: “In ancient times, there were many kingdoms. Now there is one man who rules them. But each state still uses its old name. These states are the provinces of today (sheng 省). The state as a whole is called the Great Ming (大明), and its inhabitants are the people of the Great Ming (大明人). “( Passage from the text of Dirlik)
Looking for a name
The official adoption of 中国 by the Chinese authorities is still quite recent; it appeared in contact with foreign countries. The term appeared for the first time in the Treaties of Nerchinsk with Russia in 1689. Chinese reformer Liang Qichao :
Some intellectuals of the Qing period, such as Zhang Deyi, initially complained that Westerners now use the term 中国 when the name was Da Qingguo. As the sinologist Arif Dirlik explains, thinkers such as the reformer Liang Qichao (1873-1929) did not want the term to be just a geographical name as Japanese imperialism would later claim. Liang played a pioneering role in constructing modern Chinese nationalism while providing the basis for the “concept” 中国. He lamented that his country did not have a name and that it had changed over time. One school sees in the term 中国, the appearance of a new idea to unite the Chinese under a banner (see Arif Dirlik’s text). This is another political story…
In fact, on the current passport, the English words “Republic of China” are confusing in some countries. Passport holders who are citizens of Taiwan are sometimes considered Chinese from the People’s Republic of China. When the COVID spread in the mainland, travelers were restricted as if they were from China. Taiwan had effective prevention of the epidemic very soon, as early as December 31, 2019. The island has only seven deaths. New passports are planned. The “Republic of China” of the old passport – on the left in the picture below – disappears on the new one. In the next version, which should be available at the beginning of 2021, only “Taiwan Passport” in English will remain.
Of course, it is easy to think of political signs too, Taiwan wants to free itself from China. In Chinese 中華民國 (translated as Republic of China) remains. Nevertheless, one cannot help but think of the signs that this change sends.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
The news in the Chinese and mainstream Western media does not abound on the discreet movement taking shape in China in recent years. The increasingly tight public control over large private companies in China, even nationalizations, and the forced and gradual distancing of certain big bosses from corporate control. Is Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, an example? Wealthy entrepreneurs have no interest in debating the state’s grip on their group publicly. You have to get the freer Chinese media information outside China, sort it out, and cross-check it with what you can glean on the ground through personal contacts.
Researcher Mary-Françoise Renard, in a December 2019 article, notes that “For several months now, we have also been witnessing a “nationalization” of many private companies that are partly bought by public firms, notably to benefit from the advantages of the latter, the distinction between private and public sometimes being unclear. “This groundswell reminds some people of the 1950s when the bad capitalists saw their companies’ nationalisation. In the beginning, the campaign was called “公私合营 Public-private partnership.” The private party, which saw its assets taken away, did not see the operation as a partnership!
The Princelings and the major groups
Journalist Wang Jian, like several Chinese intellectuals based abroad, considers the fate of Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, typical of the life of a great entrepreneur in China. Power and interest groups formed by the “Red Princes Party” and various sometimes enemy clans get their hands on key groups. Many business leaders try to have as little contact with the government to avoid complications, but they have no choice. Ma said about ten years ago that he loved the government, but that he did not want to marry it.
The New York Times announced on 7 September 2018, that Jack Ma, born in 1964, who is not an older man will retire in 2019. The next day, the Alibaba Group bought the South China Morning Post, an English-language newspaper in Hong Kong. On 10 September, the dynamic Jack Ma announced in a public letter that he would retire a year later. He has just announced the Ant Group’s IPO, the very lucrative financial and technology services branch. The flagship company with Ali Pay carries out 55% of online financial transactions in China; the application claims 1.3 billion users worldwide. The entity is valued at 200 billion dollars. According to journalist Wang Jian, Ant’s retirement and IPO are part of a negotiation with high-ranking figures representing various political and economic interest groups. The latter provided political protection for Ma. Disputes arose following various operations by Ma to protect himself so that his retirement was requested. He reportedly complied in exchange for listing the financial part of the Alibaba entity on the stock exchange. Although the businessman personally holds only 0.53% of the capital, he has more than 50% of the voting rights through the shareholder companies.
The French researcher recalls that the public sector owns 85% of the banking sector, most transport networks, telecommunications, services related to education, science and technology, and all public media. In Beijing, an expression that was in vogue in the 1950s is now starting to circulate again: “The State is moving forward, the private sector is moving backwards, 国进民退.” The most critical ones evoke a return to communism, the moderates to state control overall strategic and lucrative activities.
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.
Floods have not been in the official media headlines in recent days; the subject is little discussed. For example, the very official People.cn 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!
Some passages in the June 24 speech by Robert C. O’Brien, National Security Advisor to the White House, made me smile. A hawk among hawks, he came to replace Bolton, who is counting the millions of dollars in his account after the publication of his book, The Room Where it Happened. If we had wanted to understand China, “we wouldn’t be here? »
These lines remind me of that sweet Western optimism that often thinks it has understood everything in China and wants to teach China how to do it. O’Brien acknowledges American naivety toward China, the greatest failure in American foreign policy since 1930, and a misunderstanding of the true nature of the Chinese government.
Fast food and democracy
The United States thought that American democracy would be exported with economic openness. Yes, sir, exporting American-style democracy to China is not the same as developing a fast-food network! Let’s not laugh at the Americans; the Europeans are no more far-sighted. I will not repeat the rest of the speech, which is a charge in Pompeo and Pence’s line. Other propaganda, this time American, repeated dozens of times in recent months!
Willingness to understand?
Beyond the political aspect, this admission of failure reminds us of the Western difficulty in wanting to understand China. We come with our reading grid, our fantasies, and our desires, and we apply them to the country. We don’t try to put ourselves in the other’s shoes. There is this feeling of superiority, conscious or unconscious, a long legacy of our economic, cultural, and religious history. We thought we were civilized, and it was hard to imagine that there were better models outside; the missionaries had retained Saint Paul’s “Outside the Church, there is no salvation.” Of course, mentalities are changing; the flaws of the Western model of democracy force us to question ourselves. Exchanges with China and knowledge are increasing. Fortunately, everything is moving! But how much time is wasted because of a lack of humility and a genuine desire to understand!
“As China grew richer and stronger, we believed, the Chinese Communist Party would liberalize to meet the rising democratic aspirations of its people. This was a bold, quintessentially American idea, born of our innate optimism and by the experience of our triumph over Soviet Communism. Unfortunately, it turned out to be very naïve.
We could not have been more wrong—and this miscalculation is the greatest failure of American foreign policy since the 1930s. How did we make such a mistake? How did we fail to understand the nature of the Chinese Communist Party?
The answer is simple: because we did not pay heed to the CCP’s ideology. Instead of listening to what CCP leaders were saying and reading what they wrote in their key documents, we closed our ears and our eyes. We believed what we wanted to believe—that the Party members were communist in name only.”
The West has never liked to accept different civilizations. Like Christianity, it has often wanted to impose The Civilization. Beyond the potential future economical and even technological confrontation, the United States rejects China’s economical and political model. President Rabbit 兔主席 is a Chinese blogger, a Harvard graduate, who writes in various Chinese newspapers and on Weibo. In an article entitled “Chatting from the China-U.S. Institutional Challenge to Mr. De (Democracy) and Mr. Sai (Science) 闲聊：从中国对美国的制度挑战到 “德先生 “与 “赛先生,” he describes a fairly widespread Chinese position vis-à-vis the United States. Two to three decades ago, America was seen as the future. But times have changed, and China has become the rival that offers a different path rather than a threat, something the country of Trump, blinded by its vanity, does not understand. It is interesting to see the reflections of the “Rabbit.” Even if we do not share his ideas, they deserve more than just consideration because they are very representative of a part of the thinking of the Chinese elites.
Summary of the main parts of the Chairman’s text
America was powerful
20-30 years ago, the Chinese believed that the United States was the future, the beacon of the world. Why did they think so? America had a robust economy and a powerful army. One might ask, is it the superiority of the American system that has produced a strong America, or is it because America is strong that we think its system is superior? The United States dominated the 20th century, the USSR and Japan, in the end, were not able to bring in rival systems for long. Does the strength of the United States lie in the size of its population and natural resources? Did it take steps earlier than other countries to become dominant?
The only rival, China
The only country that can compete with the United States is China; its population is four times larger; the nationalities of the country and cultures have become homogenized. The cultural values of the society are united – the differences, for example, between the writer Fang Fang and the communist toy soldiers (小粉红), are nothing compared to American people’s divisions. The Chinese people are very hard-working; they can sacrifice for family, for society, they have a sense of community. State and society work together with a sense of order. We look towards savings and investing; we hope to accumulate wealth. Everyone attaches great importance to education, which is part of the cultural genes of the country. The society was formed on the Confucian system. Everyone has to fulfill his or her duties. The examination system ensured social mobility. The large size of the population provided high domestic demand and economies of scale. The political, cultural, and educational systems of the state and society inculcate and “internalize” these cultural values in each individual. Can such a country, such a society, create a strong economy and civilization?
China will go further than Japan
Japan, a veritable miracle of the 1980s, had become a challenge for the West. China will undoubtedly be able to overtake Japan. It has a larger population, more abundant resources, and a sizeable local market than Japan does not have. Second, nationalities and cultures are homogeneous, and China is more diverse, open, and tolerant than Japan, an island nation. With the revolution of the 20th century, China has eased the burden of the constraints and restrictions of feudal society. Gender equality in China is much more evident. China is closer to the West in terms of openness and freedom.
A different path
While China’s rise is gradual, America is declining. China does not want to overthrow the United States, but propose a different path from the United States and put an end to the “end of history.” Human civilizations have different ways of development.
Humility allows progress
One advantage China has over the United States is its relative humility. The Chinese see the power of the United States; they are very interested in that country, and still have a sense of wonder and always want to learn and integrate advanced experiences. On the other hand, China is not sufficiently aware of its advantages and strengths and does not have enough self-confidence. But this places China precisely in a more self-critical and reflective state of catch-up and can be a constant incentive to improve.
Its self-confidence limits the United States, and vanity can blind. They see the Chinese system as the product of an extremist political system from Europe; they cannot see China’s real success, the characteristics of Chinese history and civilization. As the proverb says, ” 知己知彼，百战不殆, If you know yourself and your enemy, you will not be in danger in a hundred battles*. ” The Chinese can read the United States, but the Americans cannot read China.
If China could integrate the strengths of the United States and the West and vice versa if the United States/West could integrate those of China, there would no longer be competition but complementarity. The political civilization of the 21st century will have to incorporate the elements of East and West. China is catching up; it is capable of humble introspection and learning. China, therefore, has the potential to build a higher civilization.
Cold War, Thinking Pattern
The power of the West (United States) makes him arrogant, with backward views, stuck in a pattern of Cold War mentalities with the US-USSR confrontation. For a long time, he did not understand where the threat came from. Marx, Lenin, Stalin, the old feudal systems, the early centralized states? China, with its red features, made him incomprehensible.
End of summary
Of course, one can make various objections to these assertions: “The homogenization of culture, nationalities and the State,” it is necessary to go and ask the question in certain regions, such as Tibet or Xinjiang. The United States does not understand China, which is a bit easy to say. You would have to understand China with the Zhongnanhai criteria, I suppose. To explain the power of the United States, the author could have mentioned the openness of the country, its investment in research and development, its attraction to highly qualified people, the creative drive (much less so in China), and many other things. Of course, this discourse is in line with the official line describing China’s renaissance, claiming its model that it would like to have recognized and even exported and regretted the lack of desire for understanding from abroad.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo left yesterday for Hawaii to meet a Chinese delegation led by Yang Jiechi. The discourse and language of the US administration have gradually changed in recent months. They use language elements worthy of the websites and Internet channels of US-based Chinese media, which are positioned in opposition to the Beijing government. They talk more about Chinese viruses or the Chinese Communist Party instead of COVID 19 or China. The channel 華爾街電視 and the Washington Times gave details this week about Pompeo’s China team. A small group, which wants to be realistic against China, has been formed. Three personalities stand out.
余茂春, Miles Yu
One very influential man is a professor in the history department of the American Naval Academy; his subject is China, Southeast Asia, diplomatic and military history. Of Chinese origin, Miles Yu, born in 1962, grew up in Chongqing, went through the Cultural Revolution as a child before studying in Tianjin, immigrating to the United States in 1985 and completing a Ph.D. at Berkeley. He was a great advocate for freedom and democracy in China after the Tiananmen protests in 1989. He is one of the architects of the new policy towards China. It allows this team to better decipher and read between the lines of the Chinese strategy and discourse.
General David Stilwell, Assistant to the Secretary of State for Southeast Asia and Pacific Affairs, is another important member of this group. He calls Yu a “National Treasure” for the quality of his contributions. Stilwell came to replace Susan Thornton in October 2018, who was not considered tough enough on China.
Pottinger is the National Security Advisor. This former Wall Street Journal journalist, who was stationed in Beijing in the early 2000s, is a sinologist and is considered to be the linchpin of this change in policy. A sinophone, he gave a political speech in excellent Mandarin on May 4, 2020, on the May 4, 1919 movement. He compared this popular movement to the one that led Trump to the White House. Of course, on the Beijing side, there was a lack of understanding of this patriotic event, which was opposed to feudalism and colonialism.
Trump made it clear that the former US presidents did not “do the job” with China by letting the great Asian rival catch up with America. He wants to rebalance the positions. Is the team in place going to be still so aggressive? What influence can Steve Bannon, a former Trump advisor and associate with China’s loudest dissident, Guo Wengui, have in an anti-communist crusade? Will the meeting in Hawaii mean a lull?