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The real strength of the Chinese nation lies in the rejuvenability of her cultur
Why did Chinese Civilization endure through perennial challenges -- political and economic upheavals, foreign conquest and natural calamities -- and manage to survive intact? |
In other words, where is the real strength of the Chinese Nation that accounts for its recurrent ability to reinvent itself without irreparable discontinuity of its civilization?
Or: why does the Chinese nation always manage to arise like a phoenix after seemingly irreversible misfortunes in more than five millennia of her recorded history?
If you had lived in 1900 at the time of the Boxer Uprising, could you have imagined that barely a century later, China would be enjoying true respect again from her fellow passengers on Spaceship Earth, and literally basking in the glorious centerstage of world politics?
In essence, would you have been able to witness her soft power bearing fruit as a result of her just policies towards all nations -- big and small, rich and poor, black and white -- and her increasingly robust economic prospects?
Fair questions all, and I'll try to offer a concise explanation here by probing into the real strength of the nation -- a conclusion I have reached after many years of study and worldwide travel to OR actually living in fifty-six nations including all major political centers in the world, as well as having acquired more postgraduate degrees than I can count on the fingers of one hand:
Traditionally the Chinese people had always opted to direct their primary loyalty towards their families or the emperor rather than the state.
No modern concept of statehood existed until relatively recent times. After all, the idea of 'nationhood' itself did not come about even in Europe until the Treaty of Westphalia was signed in 1648 after four years' haggling amongst Sweden, France and Germany, effectively ending the Thirty Years' War.
Lack of centrifugal loyalty towards the state itself was one of the reasons why, apart from the intrinsic foibles of the Ming Dynasty, it took only 600,000 Manchurian cavalry to physically conquer China proper in 1644. By that time, the last Ming emperor had already hung himself from a tree when rebel forces under Li Zicheng entered Beijing, with virtually no royalty left to claim the throne or to act as a galvanizing force around which resistance could be effectively organized.
So the strength of familial bonds and not nationalism in China accounted for the longevity of the Chinese civilization precisely because Chinese cultural traits can be transmitted this way from generation to generation uninterrupted..
Why so many scholars find China's sudden ascendancy in all fields -- the Summer Olympics included -- so inexplicable is because many of them have held onto the anachronistic belief that "might" makes "right" and they are equating the power of a nation to the amount of destructive power it possesses, and they don't see a whole lot of this kind of hard power in China. It is thus difficult for them to explain away the soft power of China in the world fast eclipsing that of the hegemon because they are basing their analysis on the wrong parameters.
As is well known, both Western and Chinese scholars in the past had tried to rationalize the gross inadequacies of pre-1949 governments by characterizing Chinese society as a 'sheet of loose sand.'
Yet the same 'sheet of loose sand' that was responsible for the demise of the nation during the Opium Wars of 1839-42 is now part and parcel of the lauded 'Chinese-characteristics package' responsible for China's rise in the 21st century.
In my view, such ascendancy in a relatively short period of time must be explained on the basis of the unique characteristics of the Chinese family when compared with societal norms in other world civilizations.
To begin with, the fundamental social unit in China is the family and not the individual. In contrast, in the Western world the fundamental social unit IS the individual.
Let me give you one small example.
In the Fifties and Sixties, Gary Cooper in the Movie "High Noon" playing a sheriff who dared to confront a roving band of robbers even when the townsfolks were not helping him initially was their hero, so was Steve McQueen who came after him -- the man always played a loner fighting against overwhelming odds.
The familial structure of Chinese society can be likened to a molecule of triatomic water and the Chinese Nation is therefore akin to a huge collection of such molecules. The covalent hydroxyl bonds binding the individual water molecules together are extremely hard to break, and yet in its ionic form water is simply the best solvent available. Chinese civilization is this ionic form of ocean water capable of taking in and dissolving everything under the Sun.
You can throw any rock at the ocean -- even granite and meteors -- and the water will always 'yield' first. Yet the rock rather than the water will always end up disappearing.
Similarly, no matter how many battalions of enemy soldiers the invaders threw at the nation, the effect would just be like throwing rocks at the 'yielding' ocean -- the Civilization remained robust and survived reversals of fortune of the state.
In wartime China sometimes the people galvanized in time to stop the invaders in their track. During other times they failed and the hordes conquered the land. But the invaders always failed to realize that without conquering the Chinese Family, the Civilization will endure and the invaders will eventually be thrown out. It might take 89 years as in the case of the Mongols, or 267 years as in the case of the Manchus, but the Civilization never failed to endure because during hard times, the family stuck together and 'pulled' the Civilization through.
This allegiance to the family became deeply ingrained in the Chinese character not only because of Confucian teachings -- which many so-called Western scholars would ascribe to whenever they encounter anything puzzling about China -- but because of the penal code of "Lienzhuo," in which an entire family would be punished for the crime of one individual.
By and large this tended to bind a family in China much closer together than one in other societies. The corollary of this is that this familial trait is also the root of nepotism because just as punishment is dished out to the entire family on account of the sins of one individual during bad times, honor and economic privileges are bestowed upon members of the same family on account of the merits or social status of one individual during good times.
In the first post-1949 decades of the revolution, new institutions such as the Peoples' Communes were used in social engineering experiments to push the individual away from the family towards the state, with the authorities thinking that individual families was the root cause of China's backwardness.
No one knew at the time that the 'sheet of loose sand' they thought they saw was actually an ocean of water.
Trying to re-construct Chinese society using non-familial models was doomed to failure from the very beginning because of this mis-interpretation of the real problem.
It was like painting on a mosaic. When the rains came after the Cultural Revolution, all the paint was washed away.
The traditions of familial cohesion congealed by the policy of "lienzhuo" down the dynastic centuries die hard and a new model of rebuilding China through reinforcing the familial structure -- starting with the Family Responsibility System (Jiating baozhan daohu) in agriculture in Anhwei Province in 1977-8 -- proved that it was an economically viable model.
The rest of the huge success story based on this small beginning is now known to the entire world.
The irony is that as material prosperity is at an all-time high level, the familial structure in the nation is undergoing an unprecedented crisis.
There is an unhealthy trend today especially in big cities to blindly cherish the Western model of individualism. This can be seen in the way parents are treated by their only children. The ease of dissolution of marriage and the stress on hedonism is creating a society in which the highest bidder -- whether foreign or domestic -- will gain one's loyalty.
There are now even omnipresent commercials on cctv-4 urging young people to visit their old parents at home more frequently -- a fact which proves that the problem is snowballing as the pampered only-children-generation is unwittingly falling prey to Western-style individualism, all the while shirking their responsibility to give emotional, if not economic, support to their parents.
That's why it is imperative to promote honoring one's parents in society to reverse this unhealthy trend. Now that the incipient form of a new social security net is in place thanks to the new "better government" and "e ren wei ben" governmental policies, all that the children need to do is to give more emotional support to their parents.