Gu Suhua writes from Beijing: Yeah, yeah, I know it’s Monday and you probably want to read about something very light-weight, like which celebrity is bonking whom and which ones are getting hitched or divorced. But we at Stirring Trouble like to keep you abreast of things that go on around the world and that is why today we’ll talk about China. So here goes.
That man Wen Jiabao, Prime Minister until March 2013, has been spotted making speeches all over the place, stressing that the outside world has nothing to fear from the rise of China. He told those states that have territorial disputes with Beijing in the South China Sea that these can be resolved through diplomacy. Wen explained that the traditional culture of China stresses ‘love and humanity, community, harmony among different viewpoints and sharing the world in common’. This does not sound like a communist leader speaking or is he merely choosing the words that will have the maximum impact on his audience? In other words, his goal is to lull everyone to sleep so that Beijing can help itself to everything it desires. This would be a misreading of his message.
Western analysts look at China from their own cultural viewpoint. Since the goal of Western powers is to become the strongest and to defeat the weak, they presume that the same goals inspire Chinese policy. Rugged individualism holds sway. Great disparities of wealth are natural as the entrepreneurial and highly competitive dominate. However China looks at itself differently.
Classical Marxism-Leninism views the class struggle between workers and capitalists as the driving force of change in society. This struggle continues until the ‘oppressors’ have been eliminated. An era of harmony and happiness then descends on the earth, accoding to this perverted line of thinking.
The Communist Party of China now cliams tht it has abandoned this view of the world in 1992 when it adopted its strange form of a socialist free market economy. Every ruling party needs an ideology to inspire change and progress. So what replaced Marxism-Leninism? The teachings of Confucius. He did not found a religion but was a philosopher who expiated on morals, ethics and the way to a good and happy life. His Analects have sold more copies than the works of Mao Zedong. This underlines the fact that Confucian values are taught in every Chinese school and university. So in order to grasp the essence of current Chinese policy one needs a nodding acquaintance with the thoughts of Confucius.
There are four core values: benevolence, righteousness, propriety and wisdom. Confucius was not a socialist insisting on egalitarianism as the route to happiness. He envisaged the private ownership of land, natural resources and the means of production. In other words, capitalism is OK. The concept of benevolence embraces kindness, compassion, generosity and respect of others. The end goal is moral perfection which is achieved through rigorous self-discipline aiming at internalising Confucian values.
The Confucian state is a welfare state. Its aim is to be a guardian of justice, human rights, equal opportunities for all to develop personality and moral perfection. The ideal Confucian ruler loves his people and guides them towards moral improvement. The bureaucracy is meritocratic with the most able rising to the top. In other words, one’s family connections should not ensure promotion.
How far is China from the ideal state and society described above? A Western analyst would point to the cut throat capitalism, corruption, nepotism and disregard for the rights of the poor and conclude that there is still a long way to go. However Rome was not built in a day. It may take several generations to attain some of the above ideals.
Confucius thought that human beings are innately good. They are capable of self-improvement. This only ends when perfection is reached.
The next time there is a spat between Japan and China over islands, Tokyo could quote Confucius. After all, his teachings have deeply influenced the cultures of Japan, South Korea and Vietnam. The danger is that Beijing will react as a Western power would and demand to be acknowledged as the victor. Confucius knew that this is a recipe for strife and warfare. The more Beijing internalises Confucian values, the less strife there will be.