Wednesday, August 06, 2008

China, how to understand this country?

This is the second time I post outside of the theme of this blog. The first time is at May this year after Si Chuan earthquake had taken away the life of tens of thousands people. This time is right before the open of Beijing Olympics. Both posts are about China, where I was born.

Beijing Olympics is an important event to Chinese people. It is a demonstration of the rise of new China after a nearly two-century-long painful and humiliating history. As a Chinese myself, I feel happy and proud of the nation and especially of the Chinese people. At the time when we enjoy the games, there is, however, a question worth of thinking---where will the country go afterward?

China, still a nation of mystery in many western people's mind, how to understand this country properly?

History---a double-edged sword

History of ChinaWhen mentioning China, the first thought jumped into mind is probably its long history. China is the country in the world that keeps the longest continuous record of a single nation. Many other great ancient nations such as ancient Egypt, ancient Babylonia, ancient Assyria, ancient Persia, ancient Greece, ancient India, and even Rome and the Ottoman Empire, have disappeared in history. China is the only nation that continuously survives from the ancient time till now. Though there are several dynasties in Chinese history, it is mainly about a new emperor overthrowing an old one. The nation continuously preserves one culture, one race, and one tradition.

China has a glorious history of culture. Among the many, the most well known contribution of Chinese to the world are Confucianism (Chinese: 儒家; pinyin: Rújiā) and the Four Great Inventions of ancient China (Chinese: 四大发明; pinyin: sì dà fāmíng), which are compass, gunpowder, papermaking, and printing. We can say that the Four Great Inventions had built an essential part of the foundation that brought the entire human world into the modern age, while at the same time it is Confucianism that preserves the spirit of Chinese tradition and keeps the nation uniquely survives over thousands of years.

The ancient Chinese culture is also the foundation of the oriental culture. From Japan, Korea to Vietnam and other southeastern Asia countries, there are many marks of ancient Chinese culture intrinsically in any of these individual oriental cultural traditions. Informally, if the tradition of Rome represents the western culture, the tradition of China represents the eastern culture. By this mean, the history of China is truly a wealth for not only Chinese but also all human beings.

But history, especially long history, does not bring only positive effects. To China, its long history is also a burden.

For hundreds of years, Confucianism brings the country a comparatively harmonious public environment. By the instructions from Confucius (Chinese: 孔夫子; pinyin: Kǒng Fūzǐ), a harmonious society is the one that "master be like master, servant be like servant, father be like father, and son be like son. (Chinese: 君君、臣臣、父父、子子)" Confucius concluded that if in a society everybody just be the best of the role he is, it must be a stable and harmonious society. This theory thus becomes the foundation of governing in Chinese history till today. Because of the society-wide harmony and stability brought by the Confucianism, in short time period (with respect to history, i.e., several hundred years) Chinese people were able to live well and have the sufficient supplement for technological invention and business development. In this sense, Confucianism is the reason behind the glory of ancient Chinese culture.

However, does this philosophy continuously brings only the positive impact to the nation, even after thousands of years? Unfortunately, the answer is no.

In Confucius' harmonious theory, innovation is, however, generally discouraged since by essence any innovation is a rebel to the present tradition. Innovation theoretically contradicts to that "master be like master, servant be like servant, father be like father, and son be like son." On the contrary, innovation is to encourage servant to be master and to support son to be father. Due to this conflict, innovations, especially the technological innovations that are the momentum of culture evolution, gradually lost its driving force in Chinese culture. After two thousand years of Confucianism, the ability of innovation in China was nearly disappeared. Such a loss directly caused the misery of Chinese history in the nearest two centuries.

Now, ostensibly China is moving back to this old Chinese tradition after the painful Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in the last century. Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao have led the so-called Hu-Wen New Administration in order to bring China a new harmonious society (Chinese: 和谐社会; pinyin: héxié shèhuì). Has the new administration learned from the history and would be able to avoid the negative side of Confucianism so that China is entering another glorious period of time? We hope so and let the history itself tell.

Communist Party---where debates are

When talking about the modern China, we cannot avoid a sensitive topic---Chinese Communist Party (CCP). From the supporters' point, CCP is the savior of China from the hand of intruders as well as the hope to the future of China. From the adversaries' point, CCP is an ugly monster that humiliates its people, discards basic human rights, and is a factor of instability in the world. Chinese Communist Party, the term itself is where many troubles start. In order to understand New China, we must understand CCP, how this party governs the nation, why this party can continuously govern the nation, and how to look for the future.

Nearly from its beginning, Chinese Communist Party is not about the real communism invented by Marx and extended by Lenin. Chinese style communism is actually a modern-age Confucianism. The essence of Maoism (Chinese: 毛泽东思想; pinyin: Máo Zédōng Sīxiǎng) is class struggle, in which reflects Confucius' teaching that every class of people must willingly stay at its natural position. That is, the ruling class (originally the industrial workers) be like leading class, the auxiliary ruling class (originally the peasants) be like auxiliary ruling class, and the ruled class (originally the landlords and the capitalists) be like ruled class. United Front (Chinese: 统一战线; pinyin: tǒng yī zhàn xiàn) is the fundamental policy of CCP. This policy is very much different from the classless society asked by Marxism or Leninism.

Through United Front, CCP governs the nation. CCP is very good at uniting a greater percentage of allies to fight against "a small truck" (Chinese: 一小撮) of adversaries. In order to reach the state of United Front, CCP is negotiable at anything, even if the thing might be "fundamental" in communist theory because indeed nothing is more fundamental than United Front. This essential difference distinguishes CCP from many other communist parties, such as the former Soviet Union Communist Party. And this is why many other communist parties argue that CCP is not the real communism; and truly they are right! CCP is not really about standard Marxism. By contrast, Confucianism is its core while Marxism is just the cloth.

Using any method and prepared to make any compromise to collapse opponents' union so that our side outnumbers the enemy, this is the philosophy of United Front, and this is why CCP can continuously govern China. CCP is a true master of compromising and uniting (and this is also the spirit of Chinese culture). Western political analysts often say that there are millions of city workers out of their jobs and the Chinese government cannot last long in this situation. Millions of adversaries is enough to overthrow the government of any western country. But it is far less than enough to throw down CCP because the party has successfully united billions of Chinese peasants in the countryside into its United Front against the city adversaries. Why are the peasants in countryside willing to join the side of CCP? The tradition of Confucianism still works.

Believe it or not, or dislike it or not, CCP will keep on its dominating power at China in the predictable future. Hence no serious business or political decisions at present should count on the assumption that CCP would be out of the stage. The only thing that is countable is changes happening inside the party. When more and more Chinese learn from western culture and when the influence of Confucianism starts to decay, China will be better and better though it is still governed by the CCP.

Morality---the real crisis

The real crisis at the modern China is not CCP but the general lack of morality.

Though its origin is debating, morality is a fundamental element of human society. A society may engage wealthiness in short time period by immorality. Any sustainable growth of human society, however, can never be kept long without morality.

In order to preserve morality, people must believe in the existence of the absolute objective truth. Moreover, the absolute objective truth must have the power to suppress any evil. In the other words, people have to at least believe in the existence of God, no matter how the God may be defined in their mind. Atheism fundamentally contradicts to morality.

It is not hard to explain this contradiction. To real atheists, they trust nothing more than themselves. Even though some time they may admire somebody so much that they become the followers of the person, it is still they themselves who make the decision instead of the followed one being God (and hence the followers will have no other choices but to follow). Therefore, to the end what the atheists truly trust is only the judgments made by themselves. Atheists are the God of themselves. By being their own God, morality becomes private toy since everybody may have his own standard of it. Derived from the former statement, absolute objective morality does not exist.

Unfortunately, both Confucianism and communism belong to atheism. Confucianism tells that it is generally impossible to understand the absolute truth; hence we do not need to waste time on thinking of this mission impossible. By contrast, we only need to take care of the things we can handle and handle them properly. Confucianism is an implicit atheism. On the other hand, communism explicitly declares the nonexistence of God.

The coupling of Confucianism and communism is probably the worst combination ever in the world in terms of morality. Communism declares that God does not exist, and Confucianism forbids people to rethink whether God exists. Therefore, the atheism in modern China reaches its extreme. Individualism of morality is the most popular philosophy in modern China.

"I don't care if it's a white cat or a black cat. It's a good cat so long as it catches mice." The most well known quote by the former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping is a typical example of the modern Chinese philosophy. The value of anything is decided by its immediate consequence. The potential impact into the future is unimportant since we may "not be able to" predict.

The sustainable development of China is under serious question due to the gradual loss of public morality. This is the real crisis.

Censorship---a moral issue

Since Thinking Space is about World Wide Web, I contribute my last thought of China on the topic of Web content censorship.

The worst part of censorship is you cannot say what the worst part of censorship is under censorship.

Many people in western countries criticize the general Web content censorship policy in China. The Golden Shield Project (Chinese: 金盾工程; pinyin: jīndùn gōngchéng) is the name of the online content censorship plan. It actually blocks many popular western sites such as Wikipedia and Blogger (it means that my posts are generally outreached by the Chinese people, what a pity, and I learned it after I had started up this blog for more than a year, even more pity, sign... )

The purpose of content censorship is to filter out "bad content" so as to maintain the purity of the Web. You can say that it is quite a moral desire, especially when we just discussed the crisis of morality in China. The question is, however, which content is "bad"?

By enforcing the filtering of serious political critiques but overlooking the widespread of pornographic information in Chinese online environment, the original moral intuition has become totally an anti-moral action. By this mean, we must say against to this censorship policy.

The relationship between World Wide Web and morality is a very complicated issue. Censorship is just one of them. Should the Web be continued under no government? Should we allow ourselves, especially our children, be exposed under free attack from the true morally bad content? Do we indeed require any sort of public censorship in addition to the parent control button on individual Web browsers? They are big debatable questions. To the best of our expectation, we hope the Web will be more and more a healthy place for us to explore than a disgusting platform of trashes.


Unknown said...

Yihong, it's our responsibility.
Seek and explore.
Lead and change.


Terence R. Egan said...

Only people who believe in gods and devils and angels are moral? Too silly.

Yihong Ding said...


Once upon a time, I would say exactly the same as you have said. But if you have really experienced what the absolute materialism is, you would never say it again.

In short, when there is no god-like judgment beyond human's reach, morality become nothing but decoration. One may still be moral at certain sense (because of the human nature). But there would be no way to control the growth of immorality. Be aware, Law is not the way because immorality is always smarter than Law.