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Xiang explains the nature and depth of the legitimacy crisis facing the government of China, and why it is so frequently
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The Chinese have lived in single-extended-family courtyard houses in many parts of China for thousands of years. The earliest courtyard house found in China was during the Middle Neolithic period (5000-3000 BCE). The courtyard form signifies Chinese quest for harmony with nature and in social relationships. However, the 20th century was a significant turning point in the evolution of Chinese courtyard houses; this paper provides an overview of this transition. It starts by briefly introducing traditional Chinese courtyard houses and their decline since 1949, it then examines the emergence of new courtyard housing in Beijing and Suzhou since the 1990s, and then it evaluates the new development of Chinese-style courtyard garden villas in/around these two cities since the 2000s, such as Beijing Guantang and Suzhou Fuyuan villa estates. They are explorations of a new way to honor Chinese architectural history and philosophy, meanwhile, incorporating Western interior design principles to meet modern living requirements. This architectural acculturation represents Chinese sustained quest for harmony in their art of living. The paper finally proposes four designs of new courtyard garden houses for future practice. JOURNAL OF CONTEMPORARY URBAN AFFAIRS (2017) 1(2), 38-56. https://doi.org/10.25034/ijcua.2017.3647
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A close look at Woodrow Wilson's political thought and international diplomacy. In the widely acclaimed To End All
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Table of contents :
Introduction: Legitimacy – East and West
1 Legitimacy and state
Chinese “arcana imperii (secret of statecraft)”
The Rites Controversy and today’s world
2 Legitimacy and oriental despotism
The Montesquieuian Moment
The foundations of Chinese political thought
The Cold War variations
3 Fictional legitimacy
4 Presentation and representation: A republican dilemma
Republic without plebiscite
Legitimacy as presentation
Republic as representation
Republic as utopia
5 The deeds legitimacy: economic performance: State and economy
The Weberian moment
Legitimacy and monetary
6 Externalizing the Mandate of Heaven
China between Rome and Greece
The Neo-Enlightenment rhetoric on China
Concluding remarks: restarting cultural dialogue
The Quest for Legitimacy in Chinese Politics
Xiang explains the nature and depth of the legitimacy crisis facing the government of China, and why it is so frequently misunderstood in the West. Arguing that it is more helpful to understand the quest for legitimacy in China as an eternally dynamic process, rather than to seek resolutions in constitutionalism, Xiang examines the understanding of legitimacy in Chinese political philosophy. He posits that the current crisis is a consequence of the incompatibility of Confucian Republicanism and Soviet-inspired Bolshevism. The discourse on Chinese political reform tends to polarize between total Westernization, on the one hand, and the rejection of Western influence in all forms, on the other. Xiang points to a third solution – meeting Western democratic theories halfway, avoiding another round of violent revolution. This book provides valuable insights for scholars and students of China’s politics and political history. Lanxin Xiang is Professor of International History and Politics at The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva, Switzerland. He is also the former Henry Kissinger Chair at the Library of Congress.
Routledge Studies on Asia in the World
Routledge Studies on Asia in the World will be an authoritative source of knowledge on Asia studying a variety of cultural, economic, environmental, legal, political, religious, security and social questions, addressed from an Asian perspective. We aim to foster a deeper understanding of the domestic and regional complexities which accompany the dynamic shifts in the global economic, political and security landscape toward Asia and their repercussions for the world at large. We’re looking for scholars and practitioners – Asian and Western alike – from various social science disciplines and fields to engage in testing existing models which explain such dramatic transformation and to formulate new theories that can accommodate the specific political, cultural and developmental context of Asia’s diverse societies. We welcome both monographs and collective volumes which explore the new roles, rights and responsibilities of Asian nations in shaping today’s interconnected and globalized world in their own right. The Series is advised and edited by Matthias Vanhullebusch and Ji Weidong of Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Interpreting the Chinese Diaspora Identity, Socialisation, and Resilience According to Pierre Bourdieu Guanglun Michael Mu and Bonnie Pang Chinese Peace in Africa From Peacekeeper to Peacemaker Steven C.Y. Kuo The Quest for Legitimacy in Chinese Politics A New Interpretation Lanxin Xiang
Find the full list of books in the series here: https://www.routledge.com/ Routledge-Studies-on-Asia-in-the-World/book-series/RSOAW
The Quest for Legitimacy in Chinese Politics A New Interpretation
First published 2020 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN and by Routledge 52 Vanderbilt Avenue, New York, NY 10017 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2020 Lanxin Xiang The right of Lanxin Xiang to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A catalog record for this book has been requested ISBN: 978-0-367-33971-5 (hbk) ISBN: 978-0-429-32319-5 (ebk) Typeset in Galliard by codeMantra
To my mother, who symbolizes China’s modern history of interaction between the East and West. Growing up a devout Christian, a choir girl at an Espiscopal church in Shanghai, she joined Communist Party 80 years ago to fight the Japanese. Today, at the age of 100, her favorite hobby is singing Battle March of the Republic in English, “Glory, glory, Hallelujah…”…..”
Introduction: Legitimacy – East and West
1 Legitimacy and state Chinese “arcana imperii (secret of statecraft)” 9 The Rites Controversy and today’s world 19
2 Legitimacy and oriental despotism Raison d’etat 27 The Montesquieuian Moment 34 The foundations of Chinese political thought 38 The Cold War variations 46
3 Fictional legitimacy “Social contract” 53 Liberalism 67
4 Presentation and representation: A republican dilemma Republic without plebiscite 77 Legitimacy as presentation 82 Republic as representation 84 Republic as utopia 91 5 The deeds legitimacy: economic performance: State and economy The Weberian moment 100 Legitimacy and monetary 109
6 Externalizing the Mandate of Heaven Cognitive framework 119 China between Rome and Greece 127 The Neo-Enlightenment rhetoric on China 133
Concluding remarks: restarting cultural dialogue
Introduction Legitimacy – East and West
The fundamental dispute between China and the West focuses on the question of political legitimacy. No doubt, the People’s Republic of China has been facing the most serious legitimacy crisis since its founding in 1949. But the roots of this crisis are generally misinterpreted in the West, because the conceptual framework in describing China has lost its validity. The prevailing assumption is that any political problem in China would come from a single source, i.e., lack of “democratic legitimacy.” But this interpretation cannot explain why China’s legitimacy crisis has emerged during its most sustained period of economic boom in history. It is the contention of this book that there are twin sources of the current legitimacy crisis: on the one hand, there is the project of cultural restoration through which Chinese leader Xi Jinping attempts to restore “Confucian legitimacy” or the traditional “Mandate of Heaven”; on the other hand, Xi refuses to start any political reforms, because it is his top priority to preserve the existing political system, i.e., a ruling system derived mainly from an alien source, the Bolshevik Russia. The two objectives are totally incompatible and increasingly heading toward fatal clash. The communist rank and file, not to mention the population at large, has lost faith in this decision-making system.1 No one, not even the most hardened communist ideologue, can explain why such alien system should be preserved forever – now the nation is on the path of cultural revival to realize so-called China Dream. The prevailing scholarship in the West fails to comprehend the real Chinese legitimacy crisis, because it is deeply rooted in modern Western academic disciplines that are largely irrelevant to Chinese history and cultural tradition. The post-Enlightenment West has long interpreted politics in China through various disciplines of political “science,” political “philosophy” and, of course, the Eurocentric historiography. It has also created a language framework through which arbitrary judgment can only be sustained by political speech-acts.2 As Ludwig Wittgenstein famously put it, “Words are also deeds.”3 Modern Western political analysis is often aimed at hiding political speech-acts behind conceptual abstractions; no matter what they are called: “philosophy,” “science” or “universal values.” Therefore, the most challenging task in this study is to navigate carefully the conceptual and logical traps created by post-Enlightenment terminologies that deliberately obscure the political speech-acts when dealing
2 Introduction: legitimacy – East and West with China. Since it is written in a European language, I have to take extreme caution at dissecting most of the “master keywords” with interpretations drawn from the Chinese culture and history. Whether it succeeds in wading through the encirclement of conceptual landmines can only be judged by readers. This volume tackles a single master keyword in political discourse: legitimacy (Hefa, 合法性 in modern Chinese). It is part of the comprehensive study on four master keywords concerning modern and contemporary Chinese politics: legitimacy, republic, economy and foreign policy. In Western tradition, legitimacy means the popular acceptance of an authority. “Authority” means a specific position in an established government; hence, the term “legitimacy” denotes a system of governing structure. In Western democratic context, therefore, political legitimacy depends on a structural arrangement of power, i.e., how power is divided. This is considered a basic condition for governing, without which a government will have no legitimacy. In modern West, Max Weber was the original thinker of the question of political legitimacy. According to Weber in his famous essay “Politics as Vocation,” since the state is seen as the sole grantor of the ‘right’ to physical force, ‘politics’ in our case would mean the pursuit for a portion of power or for influencing the division of power whether it is between states, or between groups of people which the state encompasses. Hence, Weber argued for three kinds of authorities of political legitimacy: traditional, charisma and legal.4 In his rather perfunctory study of Confucian system, Weber advanced a view that the traditional Chinese system would not be sustainable, because it simply lacked progressive vision; charisma of a leader is a rare feature for an individual, and, thus, the only reliable and sustainable authority was legal and administrative one.5 In other words, of parliamentary politics, government must maintain under its own conditions power arrangements in order to sustain legitimacy. In law, the term “legitimacy” implies the legal status of the governing institutions and their actions with popular support. As the following chapters will show, since the very beginning of the Greco- Roman tradition, politics has always maintained a spatial conception, as reflected in the term polis (a city or city-state) under the assumption that political power can be “divided” mechanically into fixed and static sections. Chinese civilization, however, has never developed a spatial dimension in politics. The Confucian conception of politics is entirely temporal, based on the dynamic idea that legitimacy is determined by a ruler’s daily moral behavior. In other words, politics equates virtual quality. None of the popular definitions and descriptions of political legitimacy adopted in the Western world can explain this type of legitimacy. Of course, the foundation of any political legitimacy is that the population at large still has confidence in their government’s actions which are morally appropriate and executed by a legally constituted government. The Chinese
Introduction: legitimacy – East and West 3 term of legitimacy, or Hefa, contains two concepts, “fit” and “law” (合法), but here the term “law” does not reflect the same meaning, for it gives priority to, as we shall see in Chapter 3, morality rather than adjudication procedure. Moreover, China has never developed a political “philosophy,” except in the classic Greek sense of the term “philo Sophia,” wisdom. Western political philosophy is the study of generalized questions about power, justice, law, the rights and obligations of the citizen. Traditional China could never produce such kind of abstract and generalized study on politics, because politics and ethics are interlinked subjects, like “Yin and Yang” dynamics, and because both subjects discuss the question of what constitutes a good government and how people should live. Legitimacy of a ruler is considered deriving from a Mandate of Heaven (Tian Ming 天命), and that unjust rulers will lose the mandate and will, therefore, lose the right to rule. This unique Chinese vision of legitimacy is at the outset a dynamic “deeds-based” rather than “procedure-based” argument. The Mandate of Heaven, literally “heaven-decreed mandate to rule,” is an ancient Chinese belief that tiān (天 heaven, though not Christian Heaven or God) grants emperor the right to rule based on their moral quality and ability to govern well and fairly. If he does not fulfill his moral obligations as emperor, the Mandate would then transfer to the one who does. The Mandate of Heaven does not require a ruler to possess divine connection (as the Yamato dynasty in Japan), nor even noble blood (as common case in feudal Europe). A beggar or a monk could become emperor as well. The Mandate has no time limitations, depending instead on the just and able performance of the ruler and his heirs. The concept of the Mandate of Heaven was first used to support founding kings of the Zhou dynasty (1045–256 BC), and justify their overthrow of the despotic Shang dynasty (1600–1046 BC). This phrase has since been used to justify the legitimacy of rulers of the vast Chinese empire, including non-Han ethnic monarchs such as the Mongolian Yuan dynasty (1271–1368 AD) and the Manchu Qing dynasty (1644–1911 AD). The Mandate of Heaven has been a well-accepted idea among the people, since it advocates the removal of despots and compels rulers to rule well and justly. The concept has frequently been invoked by scholars in China as a way to fight against the abuse of power. Moreover, the Chinese view of history is cyclical, not linear; hence, it never aims at a predestined end. With this cyclical view, legitimacy is in fact a never-ending process of moral self-adjustment. Institutional arrangement cannot settle the question of legitimacy once for all. Although the Mandate of Heaven sounds superficially similar to the European concept of the “Divine Right of Kings,” in fact it operated quite differently. Before modern times in Europe, political legitimacy was defined by blood lineage in royal successions, and there was no alternative interpretation. Illegitimacy, or usurpation of power, could easily be identified under the circumstances. In the European model, God was said to have granted a particular family the right to rule a country for all time, regardless of the rulers’ behavior. Moreover, in the Christian era at least, the Divine Right was an assertion that God forbade rebellions – it was a sin to oppose the king. In contrast, the Mandate of Heaven
4 Introduction: legitimacy – East and West always justifies rebellion against a bad ruler. If a rebellion was successful in overthrowing an emperor, then it was a sign that he had already lost the Mandate and the rebel leader had gained it. Modern understanding of legitimacy is quite different. The early modern scholar John Locke (1632–1704) said that political legitimacy derives from explicit and implicit popular consent of the governed.6 The 20th-century German political philosopher, Dolf Sternberger (1907–1989), summarized Locke’s argument: “Legitimacy is the foundation of such governmental power as is exercised, both with a consciousness on the government’s part that it has a right to govern, and with some recognition by the governed of that right.”7 At the first glance, the idea of consent from the governed is also analogous to the Chinese Mandate of Heaven. But the fundamental difference between Europe and China on the question of legitimacy has been the absence of the interference in China from religion or a self-claimed higher (spiritual) authority over state power, primarily represented by “Papal legitimacy.” China has never developed a true religion in its original Latin sense of religio, i.e., belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator as well as governor of the universe. The Chinese have constructed neither a serious creation myth, nor a personified almighty God, but only a semi-secular Jade Emperor (玉皇大帝), who is supposed to live in heaven, but his power is hardly almighty and never truly divine. The world starts with wuji (无极, nothingness) according to the Chinese creation myth. The Jade Emperor is the merely head of the pantheon, but not responsible for creating the world at all. The politics of “church versus state” never existed. Without institutionalized religious authority to interfere in political power, the Chinese are able to create a dynamic conception of legitimacy through the secular authority of general will of the populace, and thus arriving at this idea without the help of any fictional political theory such as divine rights of humanity and “social contract.” For the sake of convenience, we retain the old English translation of Tian Ming (天命) as the Mandate of Heaven, with the caveat that this is no Christian Heaven, but the combination of man, nature and the undefined supreme authority. This “unrevealed” Chinese monotheism was aptly described by German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716) as “Chinese natural theology,” which is not in clash with the basic tenets of Christianity.8 Finally, the Mandate of Heaven as a key political term for legitimacy has nothing to do with territorially defined “empire.” In fact, the modern concept of “empire” (帝国) never existed in Chinese language until Meiji Japan, the first Westernized country in Asia, invented it by using two Chinese Kanjis (characters), di (帝, emperor) and guo (国, state), to create a term called tigoku 帝国 to denote a Western-style empire, typically with the possession of a multiethnic population and vast territories sprawling overseas. Many Western scholars consider the Mandate of Heaven an “imperial” concept designed for controlling vast territories, but the Chinese concept of legitimacy is purely a moral one. Acquiring overseas territories for population resettlement never occurred in Chinese history, and it does little to enhance legitimacy of the ruler.
Introduction: legitimacy – East and West 5 Since modern times, legitimacy has become a political “ideology” 9 because it has acquired a firmly established set of rules for divisions of power and procedural fairness in decision-making. Hence, legitimacy is commonly described as “the property that a regime’s procedures for making and enforcing laws are acceptable to its subjects.”10 It is not surprising that when legitimacy of a state is simply assessed by divisions of power, “democratic legitimacy” must be contrasted favorably with any nondemocratic system. Therefore, legitimizing one system has become a twin speech-act of delegitimizing another. But the alternative interpretation of legitimacy, such as the Mandate of Heaven, also has a clear implication that power is “given” and can be withdrawn. Does it imply popular democracy as some advocates of “Confucian democracy” claim?11 Of course not, because it does not require the twin speech-act of delegitimizing another political system, for it contains no element of “demos” or “polis” which, in ancient Greece, denotes physical sizes of a human community reflecting above all spatial and mathematical conception of politics. Moreover, Confucian political tradition, as an ideology, is a direct expression of the theme that people have rights to start rebellion against state authorities – a theory appeared much earlier than John Locke’s convoluted argument about popular rights to fight against tyranny.12 It was the European Enlightenment that began to dismiss the Mandate of Heaven as nothing but apology for “Oriental Despotism,” as we shall see in Chapter 2, thanks mainly to the works of Baron Charles Montesquieu (1689–1755).13 Debate over the nature of the Chinese system is not new. The first such debate in the West took place in the mid-17th century, known as the Chinese Rites Controversy.14 At that time in Europe, democratic ideology had not yet established itself as a rhetorical tool for the speech-act of disparaging other political systems, so whether the Chinese way of governance was legitimate was irrelevant. However, the Western dominance of the globe since the 18th century beyond Europe has created hegemony of Western thought. Premodern Europe’s rich interactions with the non-Western world are deliberately ignored by post-Enlightenment historians.15 A new orthodoxy promoting “progress” against “backwardness” and “civilization” against “barbarism” justified the “Whiteman’s Burden,” i.e., colonial expansion into all non-Western territories. Yet this orthodoxy obscured the relative position of the West itself during the tumultuous centuries of struggling for a position as a “rising” power and an “emerging” market on the world stage. During that era, its interactions with the non-West were characterized by competition rather than domination, accommodation rather than rejection and negotiation rather than hegemony. The irony is while modern “democratic legitimacy” as a concept can only work with the act of delegitimizing other types of political system, the theme Mandate of Heaven never contains an element of disparaging other models of governance. Hence, there is always conceptual room for systemic improvement within the Chinese vision of politics, while the opposite may be true for the rigid Western vision which considers democracy to have reached the pinnacle of political improvement for all human societies, or even at an “end of history” without any room for improvement (Fukuyama 1992).
6 Introduction: legitimacy – East and West It should be pointed out further that the superiority of “democratic legitimacy” has long been justified by two alleged advantages for Europeans, both allegedly rooted in culture: superior Christian ethics and exceptional talent for economic growth. Most Western scholars assume that democratic modernization and the accompanying economic progress can only take place in a Christian cultural context (or more precisely for Max Weber, a Protestant ethical context16). However, this “tradition versus modernity” paradigm has lost its validity in explaining contemporary China and many other “traditional states” on the rise again in the 21st century. The “self-evident” truth of a positive relationship between a democratic system and economic well-being of its citizens can no longer be taken for granted even within the Western world. Indeed, with the prospect of China’s GDP surpassing that of the United States in the next 10–20 years, a great debate has started in the West. But it is a wrong debate, for it is not a debate on how the meaning and context of political legitimacy may have to be enriched through renewed cultural interaction, but on the logic of great power rivalries – first promoted by Edward Gibbon, followed by Oswald Spengler and later revived by Arnold Toynbee, Paul Kennedy and, most recently, Graham Allison (the Thucydides Trap). Such discourse on the great power “rise and fall” phenomenon is a typical Western one, as the primary concern is over whether China will integrate into the existing (i.e., West-dominated) world order or seek to destroy it. As an undemocratic system, China is automatically considered an illegitimate state. The teleological fantasy that all regimes will at some point – no matter how slow they move – become liberal-democracies modeled after the West remains at the core of Western imaginations. In the West, especially in the United States, the ideological context of the Sino-West relations is cast as democracy versus communist despotism. That China is on the wrong side of history is never considered a question. Therefore, a peaceful and prosperous China must be a democratic China. This book raises a challenging question: “why China needs democracy?” The answer to this question will have a decisive impact on two practical issues: how would China start reforming its internal system and becoming a responsible member of the international community; and what could be the role of the United States and Europe in this process. As sociologist Amitai Etzioni pointed out, “Two generations ago, it was widely believed that the world progressed from tradition to modernity, this notion is currently viewed by many as naively optimistic.”17 The methodology of this study is conditioned on the fact that Chinese cultural tradition lacks ontology and teleology, which means that the Chinese language has no abstract nouns commonly used in Europe for metaphysical discourse, but only action-based gerunds. This is why the Chinese philosophers can never ask the typical Cartesian question “que est-ce que c’est (what is it)?” not to mention “cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am)”, but rather “where is the way (Tao 道)?” Life is a constant movement toward an unknown end, so finding a right way at a crossroad is the purpose for all human activities including political acts. Thus, the Chinese have never reached a conceptual position to search for
Introduction: legitimacy – East and West 7 “legitimacy” in its ontological context. The abstract philosophical language created by European Enlightenment cannot describe China. This study was originally intended for discussing four Chinese keywords concerning politics in a framework of Ludwig Wittgenstein. Starting with “legitimacy,” I have found out that, after 13 years of intellectual enquiry, these keywords require far more analytical scope than I originally envisioned. I have taken the sound advice from Professor Quentin Skinner to present each concept as a single volume rather than a single volume for all four concepts: these are “legitimacy,” “republicanism,” “economics” and “foreign relations,” and in this way the argument can be more consistent and focused. My approach differs from prevailing scholarships on Chinese politics in two fundamental ways. I refuse to follow the so-called “Neo-Confucianist” approach, which is popular among China scholars overseas. They try to bring Chinese traditional concepts into modern Western setting, creating ahistorical and syncretic illusion of universal validity of Confucian culture and values.18 Nor do I rely upon the analytical tools of Western political science or history to offer a grand narrative patterned after the Enlightenment orthodoxy. It is a genuine study of conceptual history, simply following the trajectory of a single concept as a speech-act, rather than abstract intellectual meditation, to describe its original meaning and its modern transformation. Since I start this book with a major event, a religious controversy in China almost four centuries ago, I also end up with Pope John Paul II who was prescient in stressing the need for reviving the Jesuit accommodatio (accommodationist) approach to deal with China. Now the Jesuit Pope Francis seems to have followed his lead. China and the Vatican finally had made a breakthrough in their relations on September 22, 2018.19 To do this, we have to restart the original debate in the 17th century. The current debate on China is mostly irrelevant precisely because it is largely ahistorical or pseudo-historical, and deeply rooted in a fixed conceptual framework, sustained by a whole set of semi-theological language on democracy. There is little room for serious dialogue anymore between Chinese civilization and that of the West.
Notes 1 Many data issued by China’s official sources have proved this point. Just one example, on April 15, 2013, People’s Forum, a bulletin board service on the website of People’s Daily, the lead party paper, published the results of what it called a “confidence, faith, and trust” survey in the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) ability to bring about political reforms. Of the more than 3,000 people who took the poll, 80% did not agree overall. The poll consisted of four questions; each had four possible answers: “totally agree,” “agree,” “don’t know” and “disagree.” The first question asked, “Do you agree that the CCP has enough courage and wisdom to accelerate reform?” 72.1% said, “disagree.” The second question was, “Do you agree with the statement ‘to uphold and develop socialism with Chinese characteristics is conducive to the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority in China?’” This time 82.1% chose “disagree.” For sources, please see www.chinainperspective.com/A rtShow. aspx?AID=20739.
8 Introduction: legitimacy – East and West It is true, however, that since Xi’s ascendance to power most such polls have been suppressed, but the official claim that majority of Chinese still hold faith with the system is just propaganda, totally unreliable. 2 An utterance that performs an act or creates a state of affairs not just describes facts but demonstrates the importance of how language is used to accomplish objectives within specific situations. 3 Wittgenstein Ludwig, Culture and Value, translated by Peter Winch, edited by G. H. von Wright. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984. 4 Weber’s Rationalism and Modern Society, translated and edited by Tony Waters and Dagmar Waters. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, p. 136–138. 5 Bendix, Reinhard, Max Weber: An Intellectual Portrait. University of California Press, 1977, pp. 99–100. 6 Ashcraft, Richard (ed.), John Locke: Critical Assessments. London: Routledge, 1991, p. 524. 7 Sternberger Dolf, “Legitimacy”, in International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, edited by D.L. Sills, Vol. 9. New York: Macmillan, 1968, p. 244. Sternberger also coined the term “constitutional patriotism.” The term refers to a situation whereby an individual or a group feels a political attachment to the norms, values and, indirectly, procedures of a liberal democratic constitution. 8 G. Leibniz, Discourse on the Natural Theology of the Chinese. University of Hawaii Press, 1977. 9 By ideology, it means the body of ideas reflecting the social needs and aspirations of an individual, group, class or culture, i.e., a set of doctrines or beliefs that form the basis of a political, economic or other system. 10 John Bowker, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Politics, edited by Iain McLean and Alistair McMillan. Oxford University Press, 1997. 11 For recent works on “Confucian democracy,” see Daniel Bell, and Li Chenyang (eds.), The East Asian Challenge for Democracy: Political Meritocracy in Comparative Perspective. Cambridge University Press, 2013; Tan Sor-Hoon, Confucian Democracy: A Deweyan Reconstruction. Albany: SUNY Press, 2003; Sunmoon Kim, Confucian Democracy in East Asia, Theory and Practice. Cambridge University Press, 2014. 12 John Locke, Two Treatises of Government, (1689.), Cambridge University Press; Student. 13 Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws started the tradition of attacking Chinese despotism. 14 Chinese Rites Controversy (1645–1742) is a bitter dispute within the Catholic Church over a fundamental question brought about by the Jesuit missionaries in China: whether Chinese can become Christians and at the same time be allowed to maintain their cultural tradition in daily ceremonies, such as ancestor worship and pray at Confucian temples. The Jesuits believed in the accommodationist approach, but most others disagree. After a century of debate, which was entwined with Church politics, the Vatican decided against the Jesuits in a papal Bull of 1742. 15 The leading Enlightenment scholars, such as Ernst Cassirer and Peter Gay, focused entirely on Europe; no reference was given to Confucius and China at all. This reflects the fact that the essence of Enlightenment was Eurocentric, and philosophes scholars never made real efforts to understand China, for they simply used China to support their cultural and political agenda. 16 Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism, translated by Peter Baehr and Gordon C. Wells. Penguin Books, 2002. 17 A. Etzioni, The New Golden Rule, Community and Morality in a Democratic Society. Basic Books, 1997, p. xvii. 18 See works by Tu Wei-Ming and many others. 19 See my analysis three months before the breakthrough, Lanxin Xiang, “China and the Vatican,” Survival, vol. 60, no. 3, June 2018, London.
1 Legitimacy and state
Chinese “arcana imperii (secret of statecraft)” Throughout the European history, the only genuine attempt at understanding China and its statecraft was made by the Jesuit missionaries at the beginning of the 17th century. This took place in a unique historical context of the early modern Christian civil wars. Today, premodern Europe’s rich interactions with the non-Western world are often dismissed and deliberately ignored by later Euro-centric historians. Democratic ideology as a new rhetorical form, together with an ethnocentric orthodoxy, only emerged in the late 18th-century Europe. They derived from Christian dichotomous worldview. Against the presumed “inferior” cultures of non-Western societies, many medieval Christian conceptual juxtapositions such as “black” versus “white” or “good” versus “evil” were reincarnated into liberal democratic ideology as modern conceptual pairs like “progress” versus “backwardness,” “civilization” versus “barbarism” and, above all, “democracy versus despotism.” The Catholic Church had suffered heavily under the explosive intellectual rebellions of the Protestant Reformation. The end of the unity within the Christian polity could not be tolerated anymore within the Church. Faced with a political and military stalemate on the home front in Europe, the Catholic Church of the early modern era tried desperately to reassert control upon those extra-European territories to strengthen what it perceived to be Christian orthodoxy. Although the core issue of the Protestant Reformation appeared to be theological, many other factors were real drivers, including the rise of national identity: the schism which eroded people’s faith in the Papacy, the corruption of the Curia and the new learning of the Renaissance which questioned much traditional thought. The Roman Catholic Church responded to Protestantism with a Counter- Reformation initiated by the Council of Trent (1545–1563). Against this historical background, the Society of Jesus was founded in 1540 by Ignatius of Loyola (1491–1556). Much hard work in battling Protestantism was done by this well-organized new order. From the beginning, these “Jesuits,” as they were called, were tasked with revitalizing the intellectual foundations of the Church and defending the Papacy as the legitimate head of a universal community founded by the Christ. They were fashioned to become the vanguard of a
10 Legitimacy and state revived Christianity and reformers of the far-flung networks of European settlers. Yet as they began working with the various cultural traditions of the non-West, the Jesuits recognized the vast potential for expanding the Christian community beyond European cultural spheres. Through rigorous training and strong human will, the Jesuits managed to learn the cultures, customs, languages, religious orientations and thought patterns of the many societies where they were operating. More remarkably, they were soon in a position to restructure the Christian theology to bring its basic tenets into local political orders and cultural systems. Finally unified under the common label of accommodatio, the Jesuits launched a major incursion into non-Christian world and prompted a rapid expansion of the world of Christianity. From the beginning, this Jesuit-led process of global cultural accommodation did not have any pretension of disparaging another culture by delegitimizing its governing system, because the prevailing political pattern in Europe itself was considered by the Jesuits to be utterly corrupt and illegitimate. When the Jesuits arrived in China at the end of the 16th century, the typical modern speech-act, i.e., the discourse on political legitimacy as a twin act of delegitimating another political culture, did not yet exist. This rhetorical pattern was to become commonplace only after the European Enlightenment. The Jesuits, therefore, merely tried to find out if Chinese “native religion” was compatible with the fundamental tenets of Christianity as they defined them. In dealing with the Chinese, the Jesuits did not rely upon an absolute sense of Western cultural superiority to the Chinese civilization, because the Confucian state they observed, though not a religious authority, was a good match to the Jesuit conception of a virtuous res publica perfecta. And more importantly, the idea of Chinese people belonging to an inferior “yellow” race (the so-called Mongoloid) had not even been invented “scientifically” until two centuries later.1 Theologically, the Jesuits were frustrated in Europe with problems caused by the vague distinction between spiritual and secular matters within and among the European societies, which often led to endless secular as well as religious wars. They wondered why Chinese rulers did not have this problem and how the Chinese people, state and religion seemed living in perpetual harmony. Eventually, they discovered with great delight a unique Chinese “secret of statecraft” (arcana imperii): that is, legitimizing the state only through ethics, which required constant moral and behavioral adjustment by the ruler to harmonize relationship between nature and the world unknown (天 Tian, or the heaven). The Jesuits preferred to describe this agnostic Chinese “heaven” as Christian God, of whom they managed to translate into the Chinese language, “Lord of the Heaven” (天主), and this became the Chinese name of Catholicism. In this way, the Jesuit missionaries initiated the first real cultural interaction between China and the West. But their great efforts were sadly to end up with the virtual demise of their organization in 1773.2 In the 17th-century Europe, the so-called Chinese Rites Controversy (1645–1742) was launched by European Christian missionaries allied with orthodox kings and aristocrats to destroy the Jesuits. This was a game-changing moment in the history of the Western
Legitimacy and state 11 relationship with China. It is also a typical example of how internecine conflict (religious as well as secular) in Europe disrupted a healthy cultural interaction between Europe and other civilizations. The debacle of the Jesuits in China and the consequences of the Rites Controversy not only endangered the existence of Catholicism in China, but also left a powerful cognitive framework, still prevailing to our day, for misunderstanding China. But this first debate on China in the West was not, and could not be, centered on Chinese regime’s legitimacy, as it is now the common focus of most discussions of China – no matter is it dressed in the modern costumes of human rights, democracy or other universal ideologies. Indeed, the Chinese concept of political legitimacy, the Mandate of Heaven, was considered by the Jesuits in the 17th century as a perfect conceptual solution to the myriad problems contained in the Western concept of “raison d’etat (reason of state),” because – given the dual structure of political power in Europe, secular and ecclesiastical – it was never clear why monarchy was the only way to organize a state. In China, monarch was presented as “son of heaven (天子),” as the man who possessed the heaven- granted mandate to rule. But the ruler knew that if he was morally corrupt, the mandate would be withdrawn by heaven in the form of popular revolt. This logic was very much compatible with the Jesuit political theory which stressed the absolute need for limited and moral government which all of the European states lacked at the time.3 Indeed, the defeat of the Jesuits in the C hinese Rites Controversy during 18th century through a 1742 papal bull abruptly ended their “accommodationist” approach to China, leading to a permanent tendency in the West to reject the legitimacy of Chinese statecraft in its entirety. In reality, the Rites Controversy was not only about issues little related to Chinese civilization, but between two rivals of the European religious schism: Catholic and Protestant churches. The Papal Bull of 1742 that rejected the Jesuit approach in China was mainly out of the fear of the protestant accusation of “idol worship” against the Catholic Church, because the ancestor worship ritual in China, tolerated by the Jesuits, did have an appearance of practicing “idol worship” (i.e., bowing to ancestors’ name tablets), though the tablet is not “idol” at all. China was thus unfortunately caught in the middle and victimized by the collateral impact of the Christian civil wars in that tumultuous era. Since this event is largely forgotten today, it is hard for us in the 21st century to imagine the extraordinary viciousness surrounding this controversy between Chinese culture and that of the Christian world. The controversy was initially the result of disagreements among European missionaries in China rooted in their deeply divided national, denominational and theological viewpoints. But in the long-winding process for over a century, this debate became deeply entangled with European politics of Reformation and Counter-Reformation, and, above all, national rivalries and the international power play. Although started as a harmless theological debate, it would soon move beyond a fight between churchmen on a battlefield for theologians and the ecclesiastical politicians. In fact, it dragged in three Popes, two Chinese (Manchu) emperors, hundreds of Christian missionaries and the entire theologian faculty
12 Legitimacy and state at the Sorbonne, the intellectual citadel of Counter-Reformation. Many scholars throughout Europe, including the best intellectual minds of the day, were engaged in this debate or stimulated by it. Top thinkers such as Leibniz, Kant, Goethe, Rousseau, Voltaire and Montesquieu, and lead political economists Francois Quesnay and Adam Smith were greatly influenced by this debate in their own intellectual development. Confucius was popular in Europe at the time. Some of these thinkers were even proud of being labeled “Confucius.” Goethe was once known in his day as “Confucius of Weimar,” while Quesnay occupied a happy niche as “Confucius of Europe.” The debate also reflected the conflict between the Renaissance humanists, represented by many Jesuit missionaries in China, and their archenemies, the conservative theologians of various denominations within the Catholic Church. The Jesuits and their immediate followers – including secular humanists during the early stage of the Enlightenment – chose China and Confucianism as their significant “Other,” or an inverse mirror to contrast with the backward, feudal and morally corrupt social and political order in Europe. Thus, the Rites Controversy was quickly entangled with Church and state politics. But around the second half of the 18th century, the prevailing political ideology produced by the late Enlightenment was turning drastically anti-Chinese, and the Jesuit model of virtuous governance, the philosopher king of the Confucian state, was suddenly turned into a symbol of evil empire. Labeling someone in Europe “Chinaman” or “Confucius” now became a speech-act of personal attack. For example, Friedrich Nietzsche was so disgusted by Emmanuel Kant’s rationalist philosophy as to call him the “Chinaman from Koenigsberg.” Even to our day, any esoteric statement is pejoratively labeled as “Confucius said” in popular Western parlance. The Rites Controversy started in the 1640s and raged at the end of the century and continued to flare well into the 18th century. The controversy can be seen from three dimensions: the rites, the terms and the locale for worshiping practice. The specific issues involved may seem quite esoteric today: whether Chinese Christian converts might or might not be allowed to continue performing traditional rites of honoring their ancestors and master Confucius (hence the “rites” controversy); how to render the key Christian terms, especially the word God (Deus) into Chinese language (hence the “terms” controversy); and, finally, whether Chinese Mandarin class (or scholar-gentry elite), if accepting the principles of Christianity, should be allowed to continue performing rituals as part of their regular state duties at a temple in honor of Confucius or to offer prayer for stopping flood or draught (thus the “locale” controversy, i.e., a temple is not a church). Clearly, the Rites Controversy involved no simple issues about Christian theology and liturgy, because it is also a three-dimensional debate over cultural tradition, thought pattern and state governance. According to Confucian thinking, “rites” (礼) are foundations of civilized culture; “terminology” is considered the first priority of setting correct order in human relations, and a particular “locale” can accept only one kind of worshiping act, not more. But the Confucian culture
Legitimacy and state 13 does not discriminate other “religious” acts. One can go to Buddhist and Taoist temples not only for worshiping, but also for practicing ancestral worship at home according to Confucian rites. It is not surprising that the real “religious” issues with high stakes for the Catholic Church were actually ignored during the Rites Controversy. For example, the Church always forbade the Christianized Mandarins to go to Buddhist or Taoist temples for worshiping. This demand had never become an issue in China, for the Chinese did not have a history of religious discrimination. For centuries Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism had lived in harmony. The critical question was of course whether the Confucian tradition should be considered a religion along with Buddhism and Taoism. In The Meaning & End of Religion, Wilfred Cantwell Smith contends that “religion” is a peculiarly European concept of recent origin. Practitioners of any given faith do not regard what they do as “religion” until they have formed collective perspective toward the outsider. Religion, in the modern sense of the word, is a product of identity politics: One’s own ‘religion’ may be piety & faith, obedience, worship & a vision of god. An alien ‘religion’ is a system of beliefs or rituals, an abstract & impersonal pattern of observables. … Religion as a systematic entity, as it emerged in the 17th & 18th centuries, is a concept of polemics & apologetics.4 China has no religion in the Western sense, because, up to the defeat during the Opium War and the subsequent sense of national crisis in the face of nonstop foreign invasion, which brought modern ethnic-nationalism to China, ordinary Chinese had never felt a spiritual need for a collective identity politics. Confucianism is a secular political thought pattern and certainly not a religion. Paradoxically, therefore, “whether or not Confucianism is a religion” is a question the Western observers will never be in a position to answer, while the Chinese will never be in a position to ask, as Cantwell Smith might have argued. However, in the 17th century, the Jesuit missionaries were not yet in a solid state of mind in believing in Western cultural (and racial) superiority over the culture of China and its people. Such sense of superiority was to become a common phenomenon only in the latter half of the 18th century, when modern racialist theory was developed in full swing. Hence, the Rites Controversy was started with an attitude of sincerity and a modest desire, on the part of the Jesuits at least, for understanding Chinese culture and its people, and for exploring opportunities to transplant Christianity to China on solid cultural footing. It is thus understandable that the Jesuit approach to China is labeled “accommodationist.” Typical debate in today’s West about China is pale in comparison even with the Rites Controversy, because it is at once condescending, patronizing and contemptuous in both attitude and action toward Chinese culture and its people, as if the final verdict is so well established that there is hardly any room for cultural accommodation at all. Although there is neither need to retell the twists and turns of this century- long dispute, nor to analyze in detail the underlying theological and liturgical
14 Legitimacy and state issues, it is useful for us to have a brief survey of what actually happened. The Jesuits were not the first group of foreigners living in China. The interaction between China and Europe goes back thousands of years. In the Middle Ages, Europeans, Persians and Arabs came to China along the ancient Silk Road. During Mongol reign over China, Franciscan missionaries from the West followed the Venetian merchant Marco Polo to China. They set up extensive networks to nurture close ties with the Mongol rulers. But the Franciscans were not interested in learning the language and Confucian classics, because they were content with the role of middlemen to help European merchants. With the Mongol reign collapsed in 1368, their mission also disappeared. More than 100 years later, St. Francis Xavier (1506–1552), one of the founders of the Society of Jesus, came to Asia. After staying in Japan for a while, he realized that the Japanese had a great respect for China on “philosophical” issues (i.e., Confucian values). This unique cultural link between China and Japan meant that the Church should give priority to Christian conversion of China. Xavier died before reaching China, however, and the task of opening of China was carried out by another Jesuit, Father Matteo Ricci (1552–1610), from Macerata, Italy. A quintessential Renaissance humanist, Ricci, had received extensive training under the direction of a German Jesuit scientist, Christopher Clavius (1538–1612), who was a revered friend of Galileo. Aside from theological training, Ricci also studied geometry, geography, and astronomy, the construction of astronomical and musical instruments. Ricci arrived in China in 1581. He soon discovered that the conditions there for Christian proselytizing effort were fundamentally different from those prevailing in other major theaters of the Jesuit operations (i.e., Japan, the Americas, Africa or India). After making enormous effort at learning and grasping the Chinese language and culture, he was able to report to Europe of a country with a brilliant civilization that surpassed Europe in many respects, and more remarkably, with a greater knowledge of its own antiquity. The most impressive fact was that the vast amount of existing written record of Chinese history directly challenged the biblical history. In particular, the meticulously recorded Chinese history preceded the generally accepted date for the Genesis Flood. The most perplexed question was thus posed for Europeans: how could an advanced civilization, outside of the biblical history of God’s interaction with man, be explained? After studying the Confucian classics, Ricci was the first foreign scholar to come to the view that the teachings of Confucius were compatible with the Christian idea of a First Cause and God the Creator. The first opposition to Ricci’s accommodation approach in China emerged from a faction among the missionaries composed of Franciscans, Dominicans and a few Jesuits as well. Six years after Ricci’s death in 1610, the Jesuit Father João Rodrigues (1561–1633), who worked for many years in the Japan mission, visited China with the intent of imposing a prohibition against missionaries teaching mathematics or science to the locals. Rodrigues denounced Ricci’s intellectual collaboration with China’s literati, insisting that the correct method used by the Jesuit missionaries in Japan, i.e., total rejection of all “pagan beliefs
Legitimacy and state 15 and rituals” for Christian converts, must be applied to China as well. He argued that this was not only necessary theologically, but also very successful in the past.5 But his claim was soon undermined when the Japanese government under the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603–1867) launched brutal persecution of the Christians the following year. This first attempt at discrediting Father Ricci’s accommodationist approach thus aborted. Franciscans and Dominicans arrived in China only in the 1630s, mainly from Japan, the Philippines, Europe and the missions in the Americas. Franciscans and Dominicans asserted that their effort in the Americas to increase converts was a strong proof of their success with non-accommodation method, and they demanded total rejection of native pagan beliefs by all converts. The Jesuit counterargument was that their method could work in the Americas precisely because the native beliefs were really pagan, but Confucianism was not. Dominicans and Franciscans refused to accept this position. The leading opponent to Ricci’s method was the Franciscan Father Antonio de St. Marie. He arrived in China in 1633 from the Philippines, spending only three years in China before returning to Rome to argue against the Jesuits. In fact, Dominicans and Franciscans did not have the same in-depth knowledge about language and culture of China as the Jesuits had. St. Marie showed ignorance of the Chinese culture and history. He was to become the main target of criticism by philosopher Leibniz, in his vigorous defense of Ricci in a treatise published in French as Discours sur la Théologie Naturelle des Chinois, or Discourse on Natural Theology of China (1715). Thus, it is not surprising that, among all the rallying Dominicans against the Jesuits, one exception, and perhaps the only one, was the Dominican Bishop Gregory Lopez (Luo Wenzao, 1616–1691), who was the only native Chinese Christian prelate of the 17th century. Bishop Lopez agreed more with the views of Father Ricci than with the views of his own colleagues.6 Up until the end of the 17th century, the Rites Controversy remained largely a matter of theological debate. Efforts of several Ricci opponents to draw the Pontiff into the controversy were side-stepped by the Vatican. In 1644, the Ming dynasty collapsed and the successor rulers were of minority Manchu origin. During the second half of the Rites Controversy, China was run by an enlightened Manchu monarch, the great Kangxi Emperor (1654–1722). His interest in the outside world and tolerance of Christianity made him the object of reverence in Europe. On March 22, 1692, the Emperor issued his first edict of toleration of Christianity: The Europeans are very quiet; they do not excite any disturbances in the provinces, they do no harm to anyone, they commit no crimes, and their doctrine has nothing in common with that of the false sects in the empire, nor has it any tendency to excite sedition . . . We decide therefore that all temples dedicated to the Lord of heaven [i.e., the Christian God] in whatever place they may be found, ought to be preserved, and that it may be permitted to all who wish to worship this God to enter these temples, offer
16 Legitimacy and state him incense, and perform the ceremonies practiced according to ancient custom by the Christians. Therefore let no one henceforth offer them any opposition.7 It is important to point out that this edict derived from the premises that the Christian activities did not disturb China’s internal system, a political priority that has remained on top of the agenda of all Chinese regimes till our day. More significantly, the Emperor issued an edict granting all Christians the right to teach, preach and convert throughout the empire, subject only to one condition (the condition Ricci was willing to accommodate), i.e., civil servants (the Mandarins) must maintain moral allegiance to the Confucian principles and continue to perform the rites and ceremonies connected to their offices. What Kangxi Emperor was not aware at this time, the Reformation had undermined the extraordinary efforts to salvage the unity of Christianity. Suddenly, the Jesuits were under siege everywhere. In the Catholic Europe, the Jesuits were seen to have undermined the Church orthodoxy and authority by accommodating to pagan rites. In the anti-Catholic Europe, the strong public sentiments about this affair arose from accusations that the Jesuits had condoned “pagan” practices such as idol worship and perhaps misinterpreted crucial Chinese terms relative to Confucian views of God. Soon after Kangxi Emperor’s edict in 1692, the efforts to crush the Jesuit missions went into high gear. By the end of the century, official persecution of the Jesuit missionaries started. An inquisitional investigation of a book published by one of the returning missionaries, the Jesuit Father Louis Le Comte, was launched at the theologian school of the Sorbonne. The inquest was run by members of the Jansenist sect, followers of Cornelius Otto Jansen, whose “predestination” doctrine preached that all men were evil, with redemption only available through the grace of Christ, and only to a small number “chosen” in advance and destined to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The Renaissance humanism of the Jesuits became their primary target of attack, because they claimed that the Jesuits had alienated Christians from Jesus. The Jansenists had become extremely powerful at the Sorbonne, and in Rome. They led a general assault against the Jesuits, with the China question playing a pivotal role. Father Le Comte’s book, Nouveau mémoire sur l’état présent de la Chine (New Memoirs of Present State of China), published in Paris in 1696, was about the success story of the Jesuit China mission. It triggered the condemnation of Ricci’s view on the Chinese conception of God and morality. In response to the charge that the Chinese were pagans who had no knowledge of the true God, Father Le Comte asked, how could it be that “in an empire so vast, so enlightened, established so solidly, and so flourishing… in number of inhabitants and in invention of almost all the arts, the Divinity has never been acknowledged?”8 Finally, the protestant clash with the Vatican set the stage for the bloody Thirty Years’ War. As the political fight over Chinese culture intensified in Europe, the Jesuit mission in China began to seek countermeasures. They decided to
Legitimacy and state 17 propose to Emperor Kangxi that he should issue an edict clarifying the meaning of the key terms in question and the meaning of the Confucian rites honoring ancestors. The Emperor’s response was unambiguous, especially on the two crucial issues: there was, in Chinese philosophy, an omnipotent deity who created and ruled over the universe; and the rites of ancestor worship were without any superstitious beliefs in spirits in the tablets displayed for these ceremonies; thus, it was not idol worship.9 The anti-Jesuit agitations in Europe finally succeeded in persuading Pope Clement XI, in 1704, to issue a bull against Chinese Christian adherence to Confucian beliefs and rites, and a papal legate was sent to China for further investigation. At the first audience with the Emperor, the legate, Cardinal Charles Thomas Maillard de Tournon (1668–1710), was almost convinced of the Emperor’s position. However, in the second meeting, he brought along Msgr. Charles Maigrot (1652–1730), the Dominican Vicar Apostolic in Fujian, of the French Foreign Missions. Maigrot loathed Chinese culture and the Jesuits. For some 20 years in China, he had learned little about the Chinese language and history, yet in his meeting with Emperor Kangxi in 1705, he challenged the Manchu Emperor’s knowledge of some Chinese terms. Kangxi, a great scholar and calligrapher in Chinese literature and language, was disgusted with his arrogance. Maigrot at once exposed his linguistic weaknesses in Chinese while making his case. This led the emperor to question Maigrot’s competence in understanding the Chinese classics, which was at the core of the Rites Controversy. Maigrot was soon banished from China for his insolence. On March 19, 1715, Pope Clement XI announced in a papal bull, Ex Illa Die, formally rejecting the Jesuit approach of accommodation.10 When in 1721 Kangxi Emperor read the translation of the Papal Bull of 1715, Ex Illa Die, he reacted strongly: On reading this proclamation, I can only conclude that Westerners are small-minded…. Now I have seen the Legate’s proclamation, and it is just the same as Buddhist and Taoist heresies and superstitions. I have never seen such nonsense as this.11 The arrogant demand that the Chinese abandon Confucianism in order to become Christian converts meant that no scholar in any official position – including school teachers – could become a Christian without renouncing his cultural heritage, and hence no Christian could become a government official of any sort. To Emperor Kangxi, such a demand was tantamount to insisting that his officials no longer be accountable to the moral code that had guided the governing system for thousands of years, i.e., the Confucian ideological foundation of the society. Such Christian dogma, if allowed to be applied, would no doubt threaten the peace and stability of the Chinese state and society. Ironically, the Emperor sincerely believed that, adopting the new and presumed high moral standards of Christianity posed no particular problem to him – in fact, it was initially encouraged in the 1692 edict.
18 Legitimacy and state Emperor Kangxi quickly banned Christianity after his meeting with Tournon and Maigrot, but he soon softened his position and tried for years to negotiate a solution. However, by this time, the anti-Jesuit reaction in Europe had seized control of the entire process of the Rites Controversy. A year after Leibniz’s death in 1714, a new papal bull issued by Pope Clement XI reiterated the ban. Emperor Kangxi angrily asked the missionaries if they had failed to convey his views to the Pope: You have corrupted your teachings and disrupted the efforts of the former Westerners. This is definitely not the will of your God, for He leads men to good deeds. I have often heard from you Westerners that the devil leads men astray—this must be it.12 As late as 1720, the Emperor called a conference of all the missionaries and reiterated that for nearly 200 years the Christians had preached “without violating any laws of China.” He asked, how could Maigrot, “who did not even recognize the Chinese characters, presume to discuss the truth or falsehood of Chinese laws and principles?”13 But in 1721, after a second papal legation made no concessions in its trip to Beijing, the Emperor changed his perspective. He began to identify with irreconcilable position between East and West. By 1742, with yet another papal bull by Benedict XIV confirming the Ex Illa Die, any hope for saving the accommodationist alliance vanished. Christianity was completely banned in China, Westerners were expelled, and China was cut off from Western science and technology. In fact, this papal bull was not to be lifted until 1943. The emperors that followed, after Kangxi’s death in 1722, retained a few Jesuits in the service at the court, but they were reduced to the status of technical advisers, with little hope of reopening the teaching and conversion process of either the literati or the masses. Under the new Westphalian system, the Protestants seized more opportunities provided by the Chinese Rites Controversy to attack the Catholic Church. The mere fact that Catholics were even willing to discuss “pagan rites” greatly strengthened their cause, especially for the Lutherans, in their belief that Catholics always indulged in idolatry and by using tablets for ceremony, and the ritual of the Chinese ancestor worship provided precisely the best example. The Vatican became increasingly upset with the Jesuits. In 1773, the Pope disbanded the Society of Jesus, thus abruptly bringing the event to a close in Europe. Ironically, what eventually led to the complete severing of relations between China and the West was a debate that took place almost entirely in Europe. The Renaissance humanist effort to build ecumenical peace, represented by the Jesuits and philosopher Leibniz, failed miserably. Despite the tragic ending, the Society of Jesus was extraordinarily successful in penetrating China and serving at the Imperial court. Their humanist concern impressed the C hinese with their willingness to learn and accommodate Chinese culture and with the knowledge of European astronomy and mechanics; they in fact ran the
Legitimacy and state 19 Imperial Observatory. Their accurate methods allowed the emperors to successfully predict eclipses, one of his key imperial ritual duties. Other Jesuits functioned as leading court painters, among them, the famous Giuseppe Castiglione (1688–1766). The Jesuits in turn were impressed by the Chinese Confucian elite, and adapted to that lifestyle. More importantly, the Jesuits were also the first to introduce Confucianism into Europe in a serious manner. The primary goal of the Jesuits was of course to spread Catholicism, but here they had a problem: the Chinese intellectual elite were closely attached to Confucianism, while Buddhism and Taoism were mostly practiced by the common people and lower rank of the elite of this period. Despite this, all three “religions” in China provided the framework of both state and home life. Part of Confucian and Taoist common practices involved honoring one’s ancestors. A precursor to liberal education, the Jesuit plan of studies incorporated the classical teachings of Renaissance humanism into the scholastic structure of Catholic thought. Father Matteo Ricci started to report on the thoughts of Confucius. One of the most important works produced by the Jesuits was, Confucius Sinarum Philosophus (“Life and works of Confucius”), by Father Philippe Couplet (1623–1693) and Father Prospero Intorcetta (1626–1696), published in 1687. Such works had considerable impact on European thinkers of the period, particularly among the Christian Deists and other philosophical groups of the early Enlightenment who were especially interested in the integration of the system of morality of Confucius into Christianity. Despite his crucial ruling against the Jesuits, Pope Clement XI made it clear that, aside from ancestor worship, other Chinese customs and traditions could in no way be interpreted as heathen in nature, and they should be allowed to continue among Chinese Christian converts. When in 1742, Benedict XIV reaffirmed Clement XI’s Papal Bull Ex quo singulari of 1715. But the Pope also demanded that missionaries in China take an oath forbidding them to discuss the issue again.
The Rites Controversy and today’s world From the Chinese perspective, today’s Western debate on China is not only a strange déjà vu but also much inferior discourse to the original Rites Controversy, due to cultural and racial arrogance deeply entrenched in today’s Euro- centrism. In our 21st-century world, it seems to most Westerner observers that the language in the debate over the Chinese Rites was too esoteric to be relevant for a debate about such lofty topics as democracy and human rights. In sharp contrast, despite the Papal Bull of 1715 which condemned the Chinese Rites, Pope Clement XI was at least sincerely interested in understanding the Chinese culture and made his judgment based on what he considered valid theological arguments. Moreover, since democratic value is originated in the West, there could be no possibility for using Chinese traditional concepts to explain it. Hence, arbitrary or not, China must be judged by Western values and terminology. Thus, the
20 Legitimacy and state current debate over China has become a one-way street, and it must be conducted within Western conceptual framework and value systems. In other words, the so-called cultural “dialogue” between the West and China has to become what A.L. Austin called “perlocutionary” speech-act – admonishing, scaring and enlightening, on the part of the West performing upon China.14 But this attitude of culture superiority is nothing new, for this type of speech-act first appeared during the Rites Controversy. Indeed, this method of debate was perhaps invented by the Dominican Father Juan Baptista Morales (1597–1664), an ardent opponent of the Jesuits’ accommodationist policies, when he deliberately chose myriad Christian terminology to describe what he called the pagan cult of Confucius and the ancestors in China. He presented a long questionnaire addressed to the Vatican’s Propaganda Fide in 1643. The alleged pagan character of the Chinese Rites was explained in such Christian words as altare, sacrificium, genuflectio, templum and sacerdos.15 But from the Chinese perspective, the Rites Controversy remains totally relevant today. As pointed out earlier, the debate concerned three issues: whether Chinese Christian converts might or might not be allowed to continue performing traditional rituals of honoring their ancestors (hence the “ rites” controversy), how to render keywords such as Christian God (Deus) into Chinese language (thus the “terms” controversy) and whether Chinese Mandarins who had accepted Christianity should be allowed to perform official rituals as part of their routine duties at the temple in honor of Confucius (hence the “temple” controversy). If we replace these master keywords of the original debate with the concepts that reflect the post-Enlightenment orthodoxy of democracy and human rights, such as “inalienable rights,” “individualism,” “personal freedom” and “social contract,” one could easily detect the striking similarities and historical continuities. In today’s context, we may redefine the typical questions posed by the Western interlocutors in their discourse on China as follows: 1 Could the Chinese ever succeed in pursuing a strategy promoting well-being of its citizens without adopting the Western rituals of governance (i.e., democratic principles and political procedures, thus the “rites” controversy)? 2 How to render the alleged “universal value” such as “human rights” and “freedom” accurately into Chinese language, as the Chinese tradition recognizes no universalism of any kind? One corollary is: should the Chinese way of treating their own people be considered legitimate in view of the universal value about human rights, hence the “terms” controversy? 3 Key Chinese concepts concerning politics contain no element of space, for Confucian ethics cannot be dissected mechanically, hence the absence of constitutional tradition for divisions of power. China has not joined the post-Enlightenment new “Church of democracy.” Should their system deserve a unique status in the shrine of human history, as an alternative to democratic form of legitimacy, as long as it still holds the Mandate of Heaven, i.e., successfully serving its people’s well-being and safety? Thus, we have the “temple” controversy.
Legitimacy and state 21 So far the answers to the above questions in the West have been an emphatic “no” and there seems to be no political willingness on the part of the Western elite to allow any room for a revival of accommodationist approach. But it is worth noting that, after the original Rites Controversy, the Vatican still left a degree of flexible tone and some room for accommodation, even in the Papal Bull of 1742 in which Benedict XIV reaffirmed the Ex Illa Die of 1715. Since then, the Vatican’s attitude toward China has paradoxically been far more tolerant than the rigid democratic ideologies adopted by the Western political leaders. Throughout the next centuries, the Rites Controversy continued to hamper the Church efforts to gain converts in China. It was not until 1939, a few weeks after his election to the papacy, Pope Pius XII ordered the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples16 to relax certain aspects of Clement XI’s and Benedict XIV’s decrees. The Holy See released, on December 8, 1939, a new decree, known as Plane Compertum, stating that: Catholics are permitted to be present at ceremonies in honor of Confucius in Confucian temples or in schools; Erection of an image of Confucius or tablet with his name on is permitted in Catholic schools. Catholic magistrates and students are permitted to passively attend public ceremonies which have the appearance of superstition. It is licit and unobjectionable for head inclinations and other manifestations of civil observance before the deceased or their images.17 This meant that Chinese rites and customs were no longer considered superstitious, but were an honorable way of esteeming one’s ancestors and therefore permitted by Chinese Christians. Confucianism was also recognized as a philosophy and an integral part of Chinese culture rather than as a heathen religion in conflict with Catholicism. As a result, the Republican Government of China established diplomatic relations with the Vatican in 1943, within a short interval. The new papal decree changed the ecclesiastical situation in China in an almost revolutionary way. As the Church began to flourish in China again, Pius XII established a local ecclesiastical hierarchy, and, in 1946, received Archbishop Tien Ken-sin (1890–1967), SVD, as the first Chinese national in the College of Cardinals. The Catholic Church was courageous in correcting its own historical mistakes, to the extent that the secular governments in the West still cannot do today. Unlike the Jesuits 400 years ago, today’s Western elite believe that the Chinese political system must be identified as oriental despotism, so there is hardly any new controversy to begin with and little room for cultural debate over politics, not to mention accommodation. They prefer to ignore the fact that the contemporary Chinese communist system can succeed in creating a new arcana imperii. The post-Enlightenment political theology on democracy (I would call it “Gothic theory of democracy”) has been built upon the teleological view of human history, for it presupposes the ultimate triumph of the
22 Legitimacy and state Western civilization in the whole world. But the rise of the old civilizations such as China challenges this fundamental assumption. They reject continued cultural tutelage from the West. Thus, a meaningful way to restart cultural dialogue and to reset the relationship between China and the West is to return to the “Chinese Rites Controversy” in the 17th and 18th centuries. A crucial condition that has been missing for resuming true debate on China is the Western willingness to recognize that the habit of admonishing that country is essentially “political,” and hence, is closely linked to international power politics. Given the existence of a new church of democracy, a key question has to be answered before determining whether the West should tolerate or condemn the Chinese “pagan rites” of internal governance: that is, whether the issue belongs to “culture” or “religion.” It must be noted that for both camps in the original Rites Controversy, the distinction between acts of “religion” and acts that are merely “civil and political” was made clear at the time. There was no conceptual confusion. Today, the two are conflated. Hence, China is now considered “pagan” on both counts, that is to say, culturally as well as spiritually alienated from a “universal” (or divine) truth represented by the post-Enlightenment Western political theology in its entirety. The Popes in the 17th and 18th centuries seemed honest in comparison to current Western leaders. The initial understanding of the Chinese Rites question at the Vatican was that the only issue to settle was whether the Chinese Rites were culture or religion. When the term “political” was used in 1704, the Holy Office in its answers to ancestral worship in China stated that these practices were not opposed to other things being performed in honor of the dead if they are in keeping with the culture of these pagans, if they are not really superstitious, and not look superstitious but are within the limits of civil and political rites. (intra limites obsequii civilis et politici, italics added) Indeed, the Vatican was sincere in cultural dialogues with China. By using the all-important phrase “within the bounds of political compliance” to explain ancestral worship, it demonstrated the Holy Office’s awareness of the distinction between religion and culture.18 In this context, the problem had become a relatively simple: how and who can best decide this question – the missionaries, the political authorities or the ordinary people? The Vatican was open-minded and in fact allowed all three to contribute their views. Certainly, missionaries never hesitated to express their opinions, but they did so either after a study of the Chinese classics, or by means of personal observation of these rites in action, or with pure imagination. Their drastically different judgment on the character of the Chinese Rites – either theologically neutral customs or superstition and idolatry – was no doubt colored by rivalries among religious orders and political allegiances to the divided 17th-century patronage system.
Legitimacy and state 23 In our time, the typical attitude of the Western pundits on China and its internal and external behaviors is totally rigid, for they argue from a superior moral position of having created “universal” values and firmly believe in their absolute authority to interpret China with a modern democratic theory on the question of state legitimacy. This is largely because the new global patronage system is dominated by the West alone, led by the only superpower, the Protestant United States. The intellectual circles of studying China reflect a global patronage system denominated by capitalist financial and political power, though often disguised in categories of selfclaimed universal values, such as democracy, liberty, free market and human rights. In the original Rites debate, political authorities, too, were consulted and their official declarations were taken seriously by Church authorities. In 1700, Emperor Kangxi agreed with the statement of four Jesuits of Beijing that “it is not true that he (Confucius) is worshiped in order to pray for official rank or salary” and that “performance of the ceremony of the sacrifice to the dead is a means of showing sincere affection for members of the family and thankful devotion to ancestors of the clan.”19 In 1932, 230 years later, after some Christian students of Sophia University in Tokyo refused to bow in front of the Yasukuni Shrine to honor the dead soldiers, the Ministry of Education of Japan, in response to Archbishop Jean Alexis Chambon’s question whether the “inclination of the head (bowing) has a patriotic and in no way a religious meaning,” declared that “the bow has no other purpose than that of manifesting the sentiments of patriotism and loyalty.”20 Finally, in 1935, the Japanese were eager to make Confucianism, which they called the “Royal Way 王道,” the basis for the unity of the precarious puppet state of Manchukuo. But many Chinese Catholics, who were constrained by previous papal bulls during the Rites Controversy, could not participate in the act of worshiping Confucius. The Japanese Ministry of Education sent a letter to Archbishop Augustin Ernest Gaspais that “the ceremonies in honor of Confucius have as their sole objective the exterior manifestation of the veneration which we have for him, but they do not have at all any religious character.”21 These J apanese official statements, though with clear imperialist motivation, did sway the Vatican toward revoking the Papal Bull of 1742. This basic distinction between acts of religious nature and acts of civil and political significance ultimately served as the decisive criterion for the Propaganda Fide’s policy of tolerance of the Chinese Rites with the approval of Pope Pius XII (Plane compertum est of 1939).22 In the context of democratic politics, of course, the question of how and who can best decide the issue of religion-culture distinction must be answered by the people. But, hardly anyone in the today’s Western world knows the original Chinese Rites Controversy. Thus, the complete absence of public passion on the question of global cultural rebalancing and accommodation hinders the process of resuming the genuine cultural dialogue with China. But a fundamental issue remains: who can best answer the question whether the Chinese “rites” of internal governance should be seen as a civil or religious performance? Should they be nongovernmental advocates of democracy and human rights in the West, the governments of the sovereign nation-states (including the Chinese government) or the Chinese people themselves?
24 Legitimacy and state What has often been forgotten is the fact that China was the first civilization discovered by Westerners that could be neither ignored nor destroyed. At almost the same time, the discovery of China’s arcana imperii challenged the cultural and political identities of all European intellectual elite. From the very beginning of Europe’s encounter with the Middle Kingdom, it was recognized that China could never be integrated in Europe’s cultural identity. More shocking challenges were brought about when an influx of information from China via the Jesuits and other Christian missionaries had to be absorbed by so many fields of study, from arts, philosophy, politics, theology to biblical as well as historiography. But the Reformation, that “half-German, half-Christian” affair, as Nietzsche would ridicule later in Beyond Good and Evil, destroyed the early modern cultural openness. Up until the Enlightenment, the integration of human knowledge into Europe was built upon the foundation of normative texts of the Bible; the theological literature and the classics ranged from Aristotle to Tacitus. Reading the texts, helped by exegesis and commentary, has long guided the general interpretations of the human world. But reports from China refused to be integrated by any of these textual tools, since they offered neither rationale for the existence of Europe itself, nor an interpretation of European history. As a distant land for China, Europe simply did not figure at all throughout its history. But China had by the 17th and 18th centuries become a normative model for Europe only because it became instrumental in helping the Renaissance and early Enlightenment intellectuals liberate themselves from the traditional and stifling social and political systems. As a result, the discussion of “natural religion” of China as opposed to an “unnatural Church” became a powerful rhetorical weapon against the Catholic hierarchy as well as political autocracy. More importantly, the introduction and discussion of the Chinese laisser-faire (i.e., 无为Wu Wei) approach to economic and social governance were most effective in undermining the raison d’etre of Europe’s aristocratic system of social and economic injustice. Furthermore, the description of an “enlightened despot,” or a “sage king” in China, personified in the great Kangxi Emperor, made European princes and kings look pale, if not utterly ridiculous. After the trauma and savagery in the Thirty Years’ War, many Europeans imagined China as a world infinitely better and more civilized than their own. There is no doubt that most Enlightenment intellectuals used China for their contingent purposes in the fight against the contemporary political rulers and systems. China just offered what early modern Europe did not have: a strong centralized government that acted in line with rational criteria. Hence, a certain type of natural law theory became yardstick for measuring Europe’s state system in ethics and politics inspired by the Confucian political philosophy. But in the writings of many Enlightenment scholars, China also became a tailor-made intellectual tool serving their intensified “politicking” activities, and many Confucian ideas were incorrectly treated as universal values which the Chinese themselves had never promoted in any alien cultural context. Not only the Enlightenment philosophies of history and politics, but also the style of rhetoric led to the serious distortions of the Chinese way of governance.
Legitimacy and state 25 Indeed, if we discard the un-Chinese contents in most of the Philosophes writings, i.e., those “universal values” wrongly attributed to Chinese tradition, we could easily detect the real meaning and context in their texts. The actions of these pseudo-Sinophiles were, just like other political activists, lobbying for political gains for their social status. The “contingent” nature of modern political philosophies in Europe was most eloquently proved by Quentin Skinner in his great book Foundations of Modern Political Thought (1978). It is not surprising then, once the Enlightenment scholars succeeded in turning the table against their enemies in real politics, the positive image of China was no longer useful. As soon as the task of sabotaging the ancien regime was successful, the new task was to consolidate their recently gained power in a bourgeois culture and a social structure. And for this purpose, they must reconstruct a new universal historiography that would help place the invented “Greco-Roman civilization” at the center of the world history. Not surprisingly, after the French Revolution of 1789, the triumphant Enlightenment scholars also began to construct a coherent political theology for modern democracy, which must acquire the same quality of having universal significance and application as any Christian theology had possessed before.
Notes 1 For a brilliant recent study on how the Chinese being made “yellow” and eventually a “peril”, see Michael Keevak, Becoming Yellow: A Short History of Racial Thinking. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011. 2 Cries against the Jesuits rose louder and louder until on this day July 21, 1773, Pope Clement XIV dissolved the order completely. 3 For a detailed discussion of Jesuit political thought, see Harro Hoepfli, Jesuit Political Thought, especially chapters 5 and 6. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004. 4 Wilfred Cantwell Smith, The Meaning and End of Religion. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1959, 1991, paperback, p. 43. 5 Q11: add, Chan, Albert (1976), “João Rodrígues”, Dictionary of Ming Biography, 1368–1644, Vol. II: M–Z, New York: Columbia University Press, pp. 1145–47. 6 Luo Wenzao (罗文藻) (1616–1691) became the first Chinese priest in 1656 and the first Chinese Bishop in 1685. He was also known as George Lopez (Spanish: Gregorio Lopez) in the Philippines. 7 Claudia von Collani, “A Note on 300 Years Anniversary of the Kangxi Emperor’s Edict of Toleration”, Sino-Western Relations Journal, vol. 14, 1992, pp. 62–63. 8 Quoted in Alan Charles Kors, Atheism in France, 1650–1729: The Orthodox Sources of Disbelief. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990, pp. 171–172. 9 Ibid, note 8, Collani. 10 Dan. J. Li, trans., China in Transition, 1517–1911. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1969, pp. 22–24. 11 Forbidden Place Museum ed., Kangxi and the Correspondences with Papal Envoys from Rome, in Chinese. Beijing, Forbidden City Museum, 1932, pp. 41–42. 12 Quoted in Louis K. Ho, The Dragon and the Cross: Why European Christianity Failed to Take Roots in China. www.Xulon.Press, p. 222. 13 Forbidden Place Museum ed., Kangxi and the Correspondences with Papal Envoys from Rome, in Chinese. Beijing, 1932, p. 13–14.
26 Legitimacy and state 14 Austin, John L., How to Do Things with Words. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962, p. 101. 15 Morales, J.B., “Quaesta xvii a Fr. J.B. de Moralez, missionum sinarum procuratore, proposita Romae 1643 S. Congreg. de Prop. Fide” (Rome, 1645). 16 The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (CEP) was established by Pope Gregory XV with the publication of the Papal Bull Inscrutabili Divinae Providnetiae (June 22, 1622). Soon after, other foundational papal documents followed: Romanum decet (published on the same day), Cum inter multiplices (December 14, 1622), Cum nuper (June 13, 1623) and Immortalis Dei (August 1, 1627). Until 1982, it was known as The Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith or Propaganda Fide. 17 S.C. Propaganda Fide, 8 December 1939, AAS 32–24. 18 From 1645 to 1704, the Vatican issued various encyclicals and edicts concerning the rites controversy, with rather equivocal results – with their respective contents often depending entirely upon whether they had most recently been petitioned by a Dominican or a Jesuit. In 1704, Clement XI decided against the Jesuit position. 19 Jonathan Spence, Emperor of China a Self-portrait of Kang Hsi. New York City, V intage Reissue Edition, 1988, p. 211. 20 Father George Minamiki, The Chinese Rites Controversy from Its Beginning to Modern Times. Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1985, p. 145. 21 Ibid., p. 177. 22 Ibid., p. 197.
2 Legitimacy and oriental despotism
Raison d’etat One fundamental concern of the Enlightenment scholars, especially the Philosophes scholars, was the question of “raison d’etat (the reason of state).” The early Enlightenment scholars in the 17th century treated China as a rational and moral exemplar state system, but their successors in the 18th century ended the Enlightenment with total rejection of the Chinese raison d’etat reflected in the concept of the Mandate of Heaven. In today’s Western dictionaries, the meaning of the Mandate of Heaven is very much inaccurate, thanks mainly to the Enlightenment-inspired democratic theories. A typical English entry defines it thus: “a political theory of ancient China in which those in power were given the right to rule from a divine (italic added) source.” In other words, this concept is claimed to be akin to the premodern Europe’s doctrine of “divine rights of the kings.”1 The Confucian vision of “politics as virtual and morality” completely disappears. The Mandate of Heaven postulates that heaven (Tian) would not only bless the authority of a ruler who possessed the morals defined by Confucius, but would also be displeased with an amoral and despotic ruler and withdraw its mandate, or offer moral sanction by popular rebellion. Ironically, the popular rights to rebel against a bad ruler did not find firm moral and logical support in Europe until the appearance of the writings of John Locke in the 17th century. Indeed, by “modern” standard, the Mandate of Heaven is a highly “advanced” political theory that forms the foundation of Chinese politics for more than three millennia. Moreover, the original Rites Controversy was never intended by the participants to debate over the legitimacy of the Chinese state, precisely because there was no “raison d’etat” problem for the Vatican to deal with in its relations with China. In Europe, the concept of raison d’etat was a direct challenge to the Papal authority in the modern state system of the 17th century. It usually means that there may be reasons for state action – normally in foreign policy, less usually in domestic policy – which simply overrides all other considerations of legal or moral actions. Raison d’etat thus ripped apart the myth of Papal supremacy and paved the way for the Enlightenment and the emergence of a theory of modern liberal democracy.
28 Legitimacy and oriental despotism German philosopher Leibniz was deeply concerned with the issue of revitalizing the secular form of Roman universality after the Christian schism and bloody civil wars. Much like leading European integration thinkers of our time, he dreamed of creating a common European state of “republic of letters.” This humanist concern led him to look at the vast materials about China with sharp intellectual eyes. China’s sophisticated “natural theology” and “practical philosophy” could create a new arcana imperii in Europe to allow the emergence of Plato’s ideal philosopher kings. But Leibniz did not make his point through provocative Christian heresies, but started with the modest question: “is Confucianism consistent with Christianity?” Leibniz lived through most part of the Chinese Rites Controversy, and he was not hesitant to challenge the powerful anti-Jesuit clique. For him, the strongest argument against the Jesuits was centered on the idea that the Chinese culture lacked monotheist foundation. Therefore, all the rites practiced by the Chinese would represent “idol worship” just as in many other pagan cultures. The Jesuits, on the contrary, had insisted on the inherent monotheist element in Chinese Classics, but it was not convincing as few in the West had read these texts in the original, and their understanding was built on selected translations of Chinese texts by the missionaries. By carefully comparing the anti-accommodationist arguments and those of the Jesuits, Leibniz managed to undermine the former through textual study and philosophical reasoning. He concluded that the Chinese culture was essentially built on a monotheist foundation, but not yet accepting a revealed theology due to a tradition of natural theology. He was thus convinced that joining the “revealed” religion of Europe to the ethics of China would allow for a higher form of knowledge and moral standard. Europe had the superior Christian faith and logical philosophy, while China had the superior civil organization and practical philosophy. He pointed out further that the Chinese worshiped the “Will of Heaven,” as reflected by the concept of the Mandate of Heaven, but such worship depended not so much on rites as on feelings.2 He offered an extraordinary insight on a critical point of contention: the Chinese indeed worship many spirits, but such behavior should not be construed as practicing polytheism or pantheism. For two reasons the Chinese can be considered monotheists: first of all, there is a clear hierarchy as to all spiritual beings. The lower on the hierarchy have proper names, either ancestors or spirits, and they also have specifically defined functions, such as gate guarding god, kitchen god, earth god, river god, etc., but only the supreme being has no proper name, and is merely called “heaven”; second, in official rites for worship, the rules were clearly set: officials and ordinary people could participate only in the rites worshiping lower spirits and gods than “heaven,” because the emperor was the only person who could perform that supreme duty. Leibniz’s insight on this “theological” issue is penetrating and is compatible with Confucius’s own attitude toward the superior cosmo force which does not have a name except for a short-hand Chinese expression of heaven (Tian), which means physical sky as well as unknown superior force above the earth.
Legitimacy and oriental despotism 29 Leibniz considered this as a “natural theology”, similar to the views from Zarathustra, Plato and Aquinas. Confucianism is therefore a “pagan” monotheism par excellence. Leibniz thus concluded, There is in China in certain regards an admirable public morality conjoined to a philosophical doctrine, or rather a doctrine of natural theology, venerable by its antiquity, established and authorized for about 3,000 years, long before the philosophy of the classic Greeks.3 Indeed, through ancestral worship, the Chinese are actually worshiping human reason; hence, they must be monotheists in a way much like Christian Deists, who believe in moral teachings but not in the divinity of Jesus, and this unique version of monotheism made them among the most virtuous. Leibniz also believed that this reason-oriented moral system could be an effective cure of man’s sin. His goal was to develop harmonious relations between Europe and Asia through a process of cultural exchange. To achieve this he must be able to demonstrate the compatibility of Confucian and Christian ethics. Leibniz clearly grasped the gist of the Confucian view on deity. Confucius always avoided the subject of defining Tian, or heaven, but at the same time admonished his students to “treat gods and spirits in awe, yet keeping a respectful distance from them as well” (敬鬼神而远之).4 Moreover, China has never developed a powerful institution of clergy like in the Catholic Church; to the Chinese, it makes no intuitive sense of the famous Jesus quote in the Bible: “… render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22.21). In the Enlightenment Europe, many anticlerical scholars built their secular state theory precisely on this Jesus quote, with a clear attempt to elevate the secular state system on a par, if not higher, with Church’s position. But the Confucian state system had never been disturbed by religion, and the question of separation of religious institution – the Buddhist organization, for example – from the state system never became a serious political issue, as the two institutions were not rivals in the first place. Furthermore, the Chinese emperors had no real divine status and they knew this. The maximal title invented for emperor was “Son of Heaven,” but never himself the “heaven” or “god in heaven.” Unlike the Yamato emperors of the Imperial Japan who were considered having divine origins, the Chinese emperors were never qualified for divinity, and such status was not even attempted by the most despotic ones such as the first emperor (Qin Shi Huang, enthroned in 221 BC) who unified China. In fact, his brutal and short reign has always been officially recorded as an antithesis to Confucian values. Even so, the most excessive act this tyrannical emperor could try was to search for elixir to perpetuate his this-worldly life by squandering resources and human lives. How is China related to the Enlightenment? China as a civilization played an important role in inspiring this movement, but ended up its cultural villain. The Enlightenment was less a set of ideas than it was a set of contingent values. At its
30 Legitimacy and oriental despotism core was the political act of a critical questioning of traditional institutions, customs and morals, and a strong belief in rationality and science. Even though the Chinese intellectual elite at the time knew nothing about the Enlightenment, the top intellectuals in Europe had already acquired substantial knowledge about China via the missionaries. From the mid-17th to mid-19th centuries, there were three images of China created by the Enlightenment scholars: first, the image of a “pagan” but essentially benign China whose value system – including an “unrevealed,” natural theology of monotheism – was morally akin to the tenets of Christianity. This image, originated from the Jesuit missionaries in China, was warmly embraced by scholars such as Leibniz, Quesnay, Wolff and Voltaire; second, the Rococo image of the exotic but still benign China, reflected mainly in arts and architecture; and third, the late Enlightenment image of corrupt model of oriental despotism, represented primarily by the works of Baron Montesquieu. During the Enlightenment period, the Rites Controversy and the consequent ban on Christianity discouraged the Chinese elite to maintain their curiosity about Western ideas. They were not at all aware of the fact that, as result of the Rites Controversy, China’s image was fatally damaged and China had even become a bogeyman for Europe’s problems and a favorite target of intellectual rhetoric. It was precisely during the later Enlightenment – the second half of the 18th century – that the complete shift of views on China began to lay the foundation of Western misinterpretation of Chinese politics till our present day. The shifting images of China were contingent processes, determined by political expediencies in Europe. The early Enlightenment thinkers still considered China to be a crucial debating asset in their ideological battles against bad monarchies, for they needed China as a sharp rhetorical weapon against their own feudal political and social order at home. But as the new bourgeois ideology began to win the day in late 18th-century Europe, leading to the French Revolution, the Enlightenment intellectuals also realized that a positive image of China, propagated by the Jesuits, was becoming a political liability, for it challenged their objective of inventing a new ideology taken to be uniquely European but with universal applications as well. The Rococo image of China was superficial, but it functioned as a pathway between the two totally opposite images of China, in which Chinese sage kings were transformed into corrupt oriental despots. “Rococo China” helped generate a number of influential Sinophiles, Voltaire, in particular, during later Enlightenment. None of these authors knew Chinese language, and their works did more harm than good to the understanding of the Chinese culture. As British Industrial Revolution, along with a new philosophy of “utilitarianism,” began to prevail in the early 18th century, serious intellectual inquiry about China ebbed. But in France, the intellectual curiosity about China survived longer, mostly among lovers of visual arts. A relaxation of style is the characteristic of the Rococo. This form of art was a reaction against the rein of Louis XIV, during which thought, creativity and human conduct had been straitjacketed according to many artists. The initial form of Rococo was known as Bizarre, lacking in symmetry and firm clearness of color and light as in Baroque art. But it was the
Legitimacy and oriental despotism 31 introduction of the elegance and the supreme balance in Chinese porcelain art that changed the direction of the Rococo movement. Delicate, fragile and radiant in its own shimmering light, Chinese porcelain revealed an extremely serene level of harmonious society and happy life that the Europeans could only dream of at the time. Hence, Rococo is characterized by the use of fanciful imagery of China, by asymmetry in format and whimsical contrasts of scale and by the attempts to imitate Chinese porcelain and the use of lacquer like materials and decoration. This was the harbinger of modern arts. If we consider Rococo to be poetry, the Enlightenment was computation, whose soul was mathematics. What is important is the fact that Rococo, despite its distortion of Chinese art form, thinks creatively, while the Enlightenment sees its object of study in the light of preconceived principles.5 By the late 18th century, the Jesuits as cultural interlocutors were driven off the debating stage; hence, serious intellectual dialogue between China and Europe was abruptly terminated. The Enlightenment scholars were taking over the East-West dialogue. But many Enlightenment scholars were also anticlerical. Their idealized China as a “pagan” model of human rationalism was another deviation from the Jesuits’ understanding of the Chinese culture. The Jesuits did not attach much significance to the “pagan” dimension of the Chinese civilization, for the incessant political conflict between religion and state had never arisen in the Chinese context. But the late Enlightenment scholars were usually not anticlerical, Montesquieu, in particular, and they were more than willing to portrait a real “pagan China” or a barbarian culture because they wanted to create a new and abstract social and political model to replace the feudal hierarchy in their own countries. They ignored the cultural affinity between premodern Europe and traditional China in religious sphere, for China does have a monotheist sentiment rooted in “natural theology.” Ironically, the early Enlightenment scholars, just like the anti-Jesuit missionaries during the Rites Controversy, also shut the door to any possibility of cultural accommodation between China and Europe, because for them the “Barbarian” culture was really located in Europe. Thus, their praise of China’s culture and its universal applicability had actually blocked the way for future cultural dialogue, because this exaggerated assessment is not sustainable. Worse still, this type of Sinophilia had contributed to the establishment of a dualist method of modern political discourse: legitimizing one political system must be sustained by delegitimizing another. Hence, modern political rhetoric style was born and it was essentially a revival of the typical medieval rhetoric based on conceptual dichotomies – such as good versus evil, black versus white, or light versus darkness – in order to help universalize their new and bourgeois orthodoxy of democratic theories. This dichotomous method has no cultural root in China at all. But this superficial view of China, passionately adopted by Sinophiles such as Voltaire and his close friend Frederick the Great of Prussia, cannot be explained simply by their limited access to original sources. Leibniz had worked out a
32 Legitimacy and oriental despotism profound understanding of China from the same sources. The fact is, the essence of the Enlightenment was to create a new Eurocentric universal truth, and the philosophes scholars, either the Sinophiles or the Sinophobes, had never made real efforts to understand China, for they simply used China to support their cultural and political agendas. Voltaire’s role was unique. He lived a long life (1694–1778); hence, he witnessed the radical transformation of China’s image during the entire Enlightenment from good to evil and, indeed, he in practice personified that transition. The Rococo style of art is also known as le chinoiserie. Voltaire’s plays and other writings reflected strong influence from le chinoiserie. Basically it was associated with decorative arts during the late 17th and early 18th centuries. The Chinese cultural concepts were primary movers behind this movement. Since it was invented for decoration and theatrical designs, deep understanding of the Chinese culture and society became less essential and even necessary. The many “Chinese” plays written by Voltaire were as politically subversive to the ancient regime as artistically Bizarre to the ordinary audience. Starting as a China fanatic, he somehow ended up a China skeptic. Voltaire propagated his deistic message in L’Orphelin de Chine (The Orphan of China). This play of poetic tragedy was first staged in Paris on August 20, 1755. In Voltaire’s script, the hero was actually called Genghis Khan, who was supposed to be converted from a symbol of raw power into a virtuous Confucian leader! Voltaire’s fanciful thesis was that reason has a natural superiority over blind force and barbarism, even for Genghis Khan, the brutal Mongol conqueror. Such magnificent triumph of the Confucian virtues over evil human behavior was further celebrated in his philosophical opus, Essay on Morals (1756). Voltaire appropriated Chinese culture mainly for attacking the raison d’etat of the corrupted European states. It is no surprise that once the positive image of China became useless as ancient regime began to crumble near the end of his long life, he would end his Sinophile career with a total disgust over the views of the German philosopher Leibniz. His scandalous novella Candide (1759) satirized many philosophical and religious theories. But primary among these was “Leibnizian optimism” (sometimes called Panglossianism after its fictional character, Professor Pangloss). Against Leibnizian ecumenical humanism, Voltaire the pseudo-Sinophile launched unrelenting attack on Leibniz, the genuine Sinophile. In the same vein, Voltaire’s intimate friend, the Protestant ruler, Frederick the Great of Prussia, also used the same style to attack the Catholic Church. He contrasted the alleged intolerant and ruthless morality of the Roman Catholic Church with China’s presumed rational attitude toward religion. His anonymous work, Report of Phihihu (1760), contained fictitious letters from a “Chinese ambassador” in Europe, reporting to the emperor of China. The ambassador, a pagan whose moral value relied simply on natural theology, was the total opposite to the Catholic Church relying on divine revelation. The Chinese ambassador, Mr. Phihihu, offered a sharp critique on the conditions of Christendom focused on the contradiction of the religious belief of the European rulers
Legitimacy and oriental despotism 33 and their debauchery lifestyles. It is worth noting that the Rococo China had created a new genre of writing for it also inspired many fictitious and superficial travelogues that evoked Plato’s philosopher king in China. For example, French scholar Pierre Poivre (1719–1786), the author of the highly popular book, The Travels of a Philosopher (1768), distilled the essence of the enlightened government of the Chinese emperor into such a remarkable phrase: “The Chinese emperor is worshiped by his grateful people like a god” because “he is behaving like a human.”6 But the world of 18th century was changing rapidly. Economic interests began to thrust themselves almost exclusively to the foreground in the second half of the 18th century. Riding the wave of the British Industrial Revolution, a cultural defamation campaign against the Chinese civilization was first launched by free trade advocates and the “utilitarians.” In The Wealth of Nations, Smith believed that China had made no progress in its economy since the 12th century, as he stated, China has been long one of the richest, that is, one of the most fertile, best cultivated, most industrious, and most populous countries in the world. It seems, however, to have been long stationary. Marco Polo, who visited it more than five hundred years ago, describes its cultivation, industry, and populousness, almost in the same terms in which they are described by travelers in the present times.7 The so-called “utilitarians,” led by Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832) and John S. Mill (1806–1873), were at the forefront of this new attack on China. Utilitarianism is a theory holding that the proper course of action is the one that maximizes utility. Bentham and Mill believed that a utilitarian government was achievable only through adopting democratic values. Thus, the British influence led to the greatly narrowed view of China as a first-rate world market, but nothing more than that, because China was not qualified to be a utilitarian state, but just a closed, despotic society. This became the main thrust of the standard view on China in Europe. It is not surprising that leading scholars on the Enlightenment movement in the 20th century – notably Ernst Cassirer (1874–1945) and Peter Gay (1923–) – were even able to interpret the Enlightenment entirely in the context of Europe for in the 20th-century world completely dominated by the West, they could totally ignore China’s real influence on the 18th-century Europe. In their writings hardly any reference was given to Confucius and China. And more ironic is the fact that Gay’s first book was about Sinophile Voltaire, when he began his long career of reinterpreting the Enlightenment, with a title Voltaire’s Politics: The Poet as Realist (1959). Finally, the Enlightenment period witnessed significant geographical power shifts in Europe as well. After centuries of struggle, the center of political gravity had shifted from Latin Europe to north and to central European powers. It is no surprise that the Enlightenment scholars who transformed China from a
34 Legitimacy and oriental despotism philosopher-king paradise into an evil and miserable state were mostly active after Leibniz’s time and in the Protestant northern Europe. Christian Wolff, an early 18th-century German philosopher, and a disciple of Leibniz, even suffered persecution because of his public admiration for China. In a lecture delivered at the University of Halle in 1721, he maintained that Confucianism as a way of life had no real conflict with Christianity. For these statements he was immediately accused of atheism, and was forced to give up his teaching position in the university and fled the city of Halle.
The Montesquieuian Moment As we mentioned earlier, the Enlightenment Sinophobia was within the same conceptual framework of Sinophilia expressed by the Rococo visual arts because both served particular political purpose in fighting against the raison d’etat of the European ancien regimes, during the period of the fundamental changes in Europe, secular as well as ecclesiastical. Thus, Rococo and Sinophobia of the later Enlightenment were curiously united in creating a conceptual Chinese world open to any new cultural indictments, despite the fact that they were philosophically opposed to each other. Both got China wrong, but Rococo distorted China’s image in a benign manner of exaggeration, while the later Enlightenment did it in a nasty fashion of cultural slandering. We can argue that if the Jesuits, Leibniz, Quesnay, Voltaire, Frederick the Great and Christian Wolff may all have exaggerated the Chinese reality with benevolent desire, Montesquieu, Smith, Diderot, Herder, and Hegel and, of course, Karl Marx must belong to the group of Sinophobes with malign intentions. With the triumph of the Enlightenment, Europe was finally in a position to claim originality and divine predestination by eliminating its heavy intellectual debt from China and was ready to invent a grand narrative to turn its own local history into the universal world history. Just as the intriguing politics of Renaissance Florence provided conditions for a first modern political thinker to emerge – as J. G. A. Pocock called it “the Machiavellian Moment” (1975)8 – the chaotic conditions after the religious civil wars during the European Enlightenment gave rise to an urge for a new and unifying intellectual order. Creating a universal theory of politics now became a key priority; this time the lead protagonist on stage was from France. By that time, the Rococo China had already begun to lose its political allure for the Enlightenment intellectuals, because the context of European battle of ideas was entirely different. Gone were the concerns about the restoration of Catholic universalism, as the split of the Christendom into two camps now appeared settled, irreversible and institutionalized by the ideas created by the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648. During the healing period of the Western Christendom, a new type of political philosophy was badly needed for the unity of Christian Europe. The most influential political theologian rose to the occasion was no doubt the French man, also a devout Catholic, Baron Charles-Louis de Secondat Montesquieu (1689–1755). Montesquieu is well known for inspiring the original
Legitimacy and oriental despotism 35 American constitutionalism with his theory of “three governments.” Thanks to him, it has now been generally established in the West that division of power is the superior form of governance in any human society. In his many writings, Montesquieu relentlessly attacked the Chinese system of internal governance based on the logic of the Mandate of Heaven. Montesquieu was hostile to anticlerical positions and partial to political liberalism, and this unique combination allowed him to look at China from an apathetic perspective. In Montesquieu’s time, the intellectual obsession with the flaws of the Catholic Church was no longer fashionable and hardly an urgent political necessity, because the political struggle had now turned against the idealization of the post-Westphalian absolutist state. Thus, it is not surprising that his grand opus The Spirit of the Laws (L’espprit de Lois, 1748) was to become a major antithesis to the Confucian political vision. He articulated a legalist critique on China that was hugely influential, undermining the Leibnizian assessment of the Chinese system, providing critical guidance to the emerging methodology of the “grand narratives” of history and political philosophy, represented above all by German philosophers such as Herder (1744–1803) and Hegel (1770–1831). In their writings on the Middle Kingdom, both Herder and Hegel tried to invent a highly imaginative, Eurocentric, but purportedly universal “philosophy of history,” and they managed to create a teleological account of all past human experiences and the predestination of the entire human society. According to Hegel, the lack of the development of an awareness of the spirit (i.e., human freedom) doomed China, and the entire East Asia, to stasis and slavery: Given this abstract definition, we can say that world history is the record of the spirit’s efforts to attain knowledge of what it is in itself. The Orientals do not know that the spirit or man as such are free in themselves. And because they do not know this, they are not themselves free. They only know that One is free; but for this very reason, such freedom is mere arbitrariness, savagery, and brutal passion, or a milder and tamer version of this which is itself only an accident of nature, and equally arbitrary. This One is therefore merely a despot, not a free man and a human being.9 One must note that, except for dissenting famously on the historical role of “spirit” in human history, Karl Marx accepted this Hegelian vision of Asian history without questions.10 Moreover, China was, for Montesquieu, a crucial case for his constitutionalist thinking: all absolutist order leads to despotism. Thus, the intellectual impact of the “Jesuit China” – the source of the European Sinophilia – must be destroyed. Hence, China was attacked whenever possible in Montesquieu’s works. Against the Jesuits who enthusiastically embraced “enlightened despotism,” Montesquieu contended that China was a barbarian version of despotism. He famously concluded, “China is despotic state whose principle is fear.”11 But how does one explain the obvious existence of a well-ordered Chinese society for many centuries? Montesquieu had to defend his attack in a meek way by raising
36 Legitimacy and oriental despotism a rhetorical question, “Could it not be that the missionaries were deceived by an appearance of order?” Having followed closely the writings on China by the French Jesuit father Jean-Baptiste du Halde, especially his massive four-volume work Description geographique (Geographical Descriptions, 1735), Montesquieu knew well enough that China did not fit squarely into his despotic theory, but apparently chose to ignore what he had already known in order to make his legalist points sustainable. More lamely, Montesquieu derived China’s alleged despotism from very shaky “scientific” evidences in addition to its racial makeup, such as its agrarian, economic and demographic conditions. He also missed the essential point of the Confucian political vision; that is, as we shall see in the next chapter, political customs and rites (or ceremonial conventions and rules) could not be separated into different categories, due to not only the absence of true religion in China, but also the fact that ethics and politics are essentially two sides of one coin. For Montesquieu, the basic intellectual flaw in the Chinese model of governance is the legal rule of customs (moeurs) and rites (manières). This view was in sharp contrast to Voltaire’s masterpiece published a few years later, Essai sur les moeurs et esprit des nations (Essay on Morality and the Spirit of Nations, 1756).12 Montesquieu’s argument was essentially that customs govern the actions of human beings, while laws govern the actions of citizens. To him, religion, customs, rites and laws are distinct concepts and action categories, but they are conflated in the traditional Chinese moral law and its prescriptions of rites. For him, rites are simple empirical rules that concerned more the senses than understanding. Such argument against the Confucian rites, as we showed in the last chapter, was completely off base. Hence, Montesquieu wrongly concluded that Confucian ethics is vastly inferior to, and cannot even be compared with, European ethics. Such view was powerfully refuted by Leibniz, based on his insightful reading of Confucius, because rites in China represent rules that must be combined with participatory process, not empirical rules alone. Confucius once said, “If I myself do not participate in the (rites) of sacrifice, it is as though I have not sacrificed at all.”13 As a result of this fundamental misunderstanding, Montesquieu rejected vehemently what he considered the ethical Sinophilia articulated by Leibniz, Wolff and the Jesuits. In the end, his discussions of the evil features of Chinese despotism had to be constructed, above all, upon the deceitful nature of the Chinese as a people, creating a pejorative image of the Chinese “race” hitherto absent in mainstream writings in Europe. Of course, the Montesquieuian Moment came at the perfect time when two new phenomena began to emerge in the cognitive world in Europe: first, the world of politics began to be analyzed in modern “scientific” terms, especially with the spatial and mechanical tools to describe the “divisions of the power.” At the same time, history was increasingly interpreted in “biological” terms, through newly invented racialist theories. This “scientific turn” on political discourse actually began to “depoliticize” political analysis, for the contingent nature of political speech-act was now disguised by pseudo- “science.” It was no accident that the Chinese were suddenly in the process of “becoming yellow”
Legitimacy and oriental despotism 37 and an inferior race at the time when The Spirits of the Laws was published, which greatly helped establish the primary cause of expediting defamation of China and its culture. Montesquieu was among the first group of the Enlightenment scholars who started the tradition of dividing humans into different and hierarchical categories, i.e., the “races.” Thus, “scientific racialism” developed later on greatly helped popularizing the Montesquieuian Moment in disparaging China and the Chinese “race.” Michael Keevak in his wonderful book, Becoming Yellow: A Short History of Racial Thinking,14 explored how the history of the Western thinking of the East Asian race evolved – from considering them to be honorary “white” to benign “yellow” and nasty “yellow” and finally ended with a frightening “Yellow peril” frenzy. In the beginning of the European “age of exploration” of the 15th century, East Asian peoples were almost uniformly described as white. Through this positive description, the wealth and sophistication of the East Asians could be explained and they were assumed to be the best candidates for Christianization. But why they were suddenly turned into “yellow”? According to Keevak, “yellow” was invented in the 18th century to support “scientifically validated prejudices and normative claims about higher and lower forms of human culture.” Not only the “white” Chinese and Japanese were turned into “yellow,” though initially a benign one, but later on also into a much inferior category of human sapiens called “Mongolian race.” In the late 18th century, a new type of “universalist” historians such as Herder began to theorize that “Mongol” barbarism had characterized all the peoples on the “Asiatic ridge of the earth”; henceforth, the Europeans started to lump together the Mongolian nomadic culture with a destructive trait of conquering other cultures with the highly advanced agriculture civilization of China and Japan.15 Not surprisingly, after the middle of the 18th century, racialist argument began to infuse the negative assessment of the Chinese people and their culture. According to German historian Walter Demel, skin color was not even a topic in the European reflection and debate over China until the mid-18th century, and then the Chinese skin suddenly “turned yellow.” Herder, the German social philosopher, went so far as to suggest that the Chinese descended from predatory “vultures” because they have eyes, teeth, ears, neck and the forehead similar to eagles. Such racialist image of political despotism, moral inferiority and economic stagnation about China was built upon a new and more solid foundation of the white man’s superiority. Demel quoted the 18th-century British utilitarian philosopher David Hume (1717–1776), who typically opined at the time, I am apt to suspect the Negroes, and in general all the other species of men (for there are four or five different kinds) to be naturally inferior to the whites. There never was a civilized nation of any other complexion than white.16 But why was this racial classification quickly metamorphosed into the sensationalized Yellow Peril? The historical logic is clear here. Because of the horror
38 Legitimacy and oriental despotism memory and history of the Mongol conquest, the East Asian race was now considered an inherently destructive racial type. Edward Gibbon’s great opus, The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, commented on the “uncivilized” northeastern “pastoral nations” as one of the main causes of the collapse of the Roman Empire.17 The phrase “Yellow Peril” was invented around 1895 in Germany, reflecting multifarious European anxieties about East Asian military power and economic competition (especially the rising Japanese empire at this stage). The Asian challenge to the Western people was now perceived as a long and continuous historical process since the invasions of Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan. But ironically, even these racial “perils” were actually not considered “yellow” until the late 19th century. The most iconic expression of the Yellow Peril theme was a popular poster with Kaiser Wilhelm II’s inscription “Nations of Europe, defend your holiest possessions!” This painting by Hermann Knackfuss shows a distant Buddha-like figure sitting in an approaching firestorm while an Aryan messenger warns the panic womenfolk of various European countries of their impending doom. Everywhere in Europe since the end of the 18th century, feudalism and despotism were under siege; democracy had triumphed after the collapse of the old order. Since East Asians suddenly became “yellow” and absolutely inferior, European local history had naturally assumed the position as world history, and the only history of civilized peoples. Thanks to the grand narratives of Hegel and many others, it was no longer easy for Western scholars to use the language of common sense to interpret Chinese culture and its political system; hence, a new “logocentrism”18 of Western superiority was born – to use Jacques Derrida’s famous term, and it has been firmly established in the Western framework for political discourse. After all, the Enlightenment scholars had intended to search for an ultimate and the “best” political system. They finally succeeded by creating a political theology to coexist peacefully with Christian theology, so as to impose a new universalism by repressing and excluding all different types of race and their political cultures. Because of its economic and military superiority, the West has finally become a Holy Roman Empire, but with sharp teeth, monopolizing the world of politics, economy and ideology.
The foundations of Chinese political thought The term “despotism” usually implies tyrannical rule. Despotism can mean tyranny, i.e., dominance through threat of punishment and violence. It is also called dictatorship, a form of government in which the ruler is not constrained by a constitution, laws or opposition. The concept of oriental despotism has shaped the European interpretation of Asiatic governments and societies for more than two centuries. During the Age of Enlightenment, despotism was a particularly important idea. Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws has led to the view that the existence of an entirely different political model in the East is built upon cultural and racial inferiority. Such view played a significant role in Hegel’s thought as well as in Marx’s writings when he turned toward the “Asiatic mode
Legitimacy and oriental despotism 39 of production” theory. Finally, the concept reappeared both in Max Weber’s thought and, finally, in the 20th century, in a book Oriental Despotism, written by Karl Wittfogel (1896–1988) who took Marxism as a starting point and applied it to non-Western societies. The key argument of oriental despotism as applied to contemporary China is the perpetual conflict within Chinese political system caused by the lack of “democratic legitimacy” and the suppression of individual freedom. But this is based on the ignorance of Chinese political history. For thousands years in China, a dynasty’s rise and fall is determined by contingent performance of its leadership, rather than by a particular decision-making mechanism. Politics in Chinese context remains ethical human action, which is unrelated to artificial division of political space. Power can never be separated from human character and behavior. How could it be made into three or more “divisions” as Montesquieu suggested? But democratic argument against China became such a crucial building block for Montesquieu’s theoretical construction that if he were willing to accept any rational alternative to his theoretical model to his rather mechanically designed scheme of “three governments,” he would have to give up the idea of using China to criticize post-Westphalian political absolutism, as Voltaire and Rousseau had done. Montesquieu was among the first to label the Chinese system tyrannical and depended on fear. In the later Enlightenment period, using China as a negative model against tyranny became popular for European scholars to attack contemporary European reality. But even Montesquieu could not ignore the unique feature of the Chinese political culture, which contained a built-in dynamic of self-correction against tyranny, legitimating popular revolt to change regimes. Yet, whether the Chinese system had its own inner merits was never a concern to him and many of his contemporaries. Montesquieu absurdly attributed to natural conditions under which popular rebellions were triggered in Chinese history, “Despite tyranny, China, because of its climate, will always populate itself and will triumph over tyranny.”19 Traditional Chinese political thought defines politics as a moral issue, and ruling by virtuous example is the very foundation of social stability of dynasties in the past as well as in present day. Confucius, far from being a political conservative, was the pioneer in this political theory of legitimating revolt and revolution. But, such moral position can hardly be explained by traditional European theory of tyrannicide. According to Christian tradition, if a popular rebellion is defined as against tyranny, it is merely an act of tyrannicide. In his Persian Letters, Montesquieu advocated the popular right of conducting tyrannicide (Montesquieu: 10: 430). But as an analytic tool, tyrannicide is largely irrelevant to Chinese political history. Popular revolt against a regime is consistently defined as a legitimate act when a ruler lost trust in the people. In European history, Church theologians always found this topic technically difficult, and they were fully aware of contradiction between opinions in favor of tyrannicide from antiquity and political legitimacy defined by royal blood-line. Support for tyrannicide can be found in Plutarch’s Lives, Cicero’s De Officiis and Thomas Aquinas’s commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard. The Jesuits
40 Legitimacy and oriental despotism had engaged most actively in such debate. The Monarchomachs (the movement of fight against monarchs in the 16th century) were the precursors of the idea of “social contract,” and they developed a theory of tyrannicide, with Jesuit scholar Juan de Mariana describing most eloquently this view in the 1598 work, De rege et regis institutione. Mariana tried to distinguish between power usurpers whose killing can be justified, and legitimate ruler who is behaving tyrannically, whose killing is not easy to defend on moral ground. In the end, Mariana offered a concept of “public enemy” to justify removing tyrannical but legitimate ruler, but how this can be done is never clear.20 However, the Confucian theory of popular rebellion was not tyrannicide, and hardly an endorsement of anarchy or assassination of a specific bad ruler. On the contrary, the Mandate of Heaven is designed against every bad ruler, but whose overthrow must be staged via mass mobilization by rebel leaders who are capable of establishing a new moral authority. Whether the ruler is an alien invader or a power usurper does not automatically provide a moral base for judging him or her to be a tyrant. Thus, the Mongol conquest (1276 AD) and the Manchu conquest (1644 AD) were initially resisted but eventually accepted by the Chinese people, not because they represented a superior alien culture to the Chinese civilization, but because these alien invaders not only overthrew bad dynasties, but also decided, for the purpose of consolidating power, to assimilate themselves into the Chinese culture, adopting Confucian ethics as governing principles. In Father Matteo Ricci’s observation of the Chinese government system, the issue of tyrannicide never seemed to him a technical problem that would make Christian tenets more difficult to be introduced to China, precisely because popular rebellion against bad ruler had been accepted as moral duty by all the Chinese, intellectual elite as well as the ordinary people. It is historically inaccurate, therefore, that the theory of popular rights of rebellion against bad ruler is a unique European contribution to the history of political ideas, while in fact it was not invented in the West until John Locke in the 17th century. It would thus be a great Western misconception in depicting the Chinese society as “collective,” “docile” and readily subject to the abuse by authorities. This is an idea started by Montesquieu, who never understood, as many Jesuit missionaries did, that Chinese politics cannot be defined by compartmentalized spatial concepts of constitutionalism. To use a current expression by the Chinese elite, legitimacy is always based on “deeds” (Zhengji hefahua政绩 合法化) rather than “procedures” (Chengxu hefahua程序合法化). China is a civilization in its own right; it is unlikely that China will behave in the 21st century world on Western terms alone without contributing to the meaning and context of globalization itself. A leading American school of studying modern China, known as the Fairbank School 21 of “impact-response paradigm,” places China in the category of passive reactor and player; thus, China has to be stimulated perpetually by Western impact in order to achieve social and political progress.22 A careful analysis of China’s intellectual past may undermine this approach entirely, because Chinese traditional political thought is far more dynamic than many in the West have believed.
Legitimacy and oriental despotism 41 First of all, the Chinese traditionally never ask the “what it is” question in the Cartesian ontological sense, for it never has a true religion. Their questions always involve “why” and “where” instead of “what.” Thus, the real Chinese question for our analysis should be: why China needs democracy? This has never been a question for a typical Western mind since modern times. A prevailing philosophical method developed since the Enlightenment has hindered further investigation on this real question of why. It may be argued that the complete lack of interest in the “why” question about the relationship between democracy and China is reflected by a short public debate between two Viennese thinkers in 1946 on the campus of University of Cambridge: Karl Popper (1902–1994), who considered himself a leading modern philosopher; and Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951), who refused to take the academic discipline of philosophy seriously. It is important to note that Popper alone sensationalized the dramatic side of this event, but Wittgenstein was not even aware of it. They met each other only once at the Cambridge Moral Science Club in October 1946. They debated on the topic “Are there philosophical problems?” They argued for about ten minutes before Wittgenstein left the room thinking the dispute not worthy of his energy. But it became a legendary moment of the 20th-century intellectual history because Popper, who outlived his intellectual opponent by 43 years, created the sensational story that Wittgenstein, while losing an argument, threatened him with a red-hot poker taken from a fireplace. Nothing like this seems to have happened.23 At the end of his life in the 1990s, Popper was much complacent with the thought that his “Open Society” had finally defeated its enemies, 24 as evidenced by the collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War. His much valued claim of defeating Wittgenstein philosophically remains, however, totally elusive. In an intellectual context, this dispute typified the schism in the 20th-century Western philosophy over the significance of culture and language: a division between those who believe traditional philosophical problems as nothing more than Western linguistic entanglements (Wittgenstein), and those who insist that these problems transcend any language and have permanent (i.e., universal) values (Popper). An important result of this debate is that their diagonally different approaches to philosophy have decisively influenced investigations into politics in the West. Popper’s approach clearly leads to a “value-free” direction, while Wittgenstein’s argument destroys all scientific and universalist pretensions. Nevertheless, the methods of mechanical dissection in political analysis, often labeled “political science,” have gradually gained the dominant position in the academic discipline of studying politics. While there are plenty of Popperian studies on “what” is Chinese political system, based on “open society” versus “closed society” dichotomy, hardly any Wittgensteinian study on the question of “why” has even been attempted. The state in a Popperian “open society” would be a nonauthoritarian society in which all are trusted with the knowledge of all. Political freedoms and human rights are claimed as the foundation of an open society. The absolute superiority
42 Legitimacy and oriental despotism in mechanical design and the function of the open society to the organic but closed political system of China seem unquestionable, for China is a quintessential model of the “despotism”; hence, democratization is its only path to national salvation. However, if we follow Wittgenstein’s thinking, the phrase “democratization of China” has no real meaning other than a political speech-act, a statement preaching “self-evident” truth that does not exist. This is a typical example of what historian Quentin Skinner called “mythology of parochialism,”25 for the alternative and more accurate way of expressing this idea should be the “westernization of China,” which, although unlikely to happen, at least does not intend to hide a parochial cultural prejudice. How could this apparent cultural parochialism remain undetected by most political theorists? The reason is simple: the fallacy of the phrase “democratization of China” has been carefully hidden from our view, for it is draped by the spiritual as well as the material claims of superiority, i.e., universal values and “scientific” methods, thanks to the European Enlightenment. This phrase is therefore totally ahistorical. To answer the question why China needs democracy, one must first of all look at the relationship between politics and history. To begin with, what is the difference between the Western and the Chinese conceptions of politics? Superficial observers of comparative history would start to argue that since there was no “polis” in ancient China, the Chinese have made no contribution to the concept of politics at all. A leading political scientist Kenneth Minogue made it clear, “Despots do not belong in politics.”26 Political scientists are often ignorant of the conceptual history of the word “politics.” While its Greek origin is indisputable, the modern transformation of the term, dictated mainly by political expediencies or speech-acts throughout history, has received little attention. One fact that is not obvious today but is historically accurate is that most early human societies did not raise the question whether the relationship of power and authority they were accustomed to is the best way of organizing the society. Even though the ancient Greeks were exceptionally active in raising this question, they came up with very different answers about the strengths and weaknesses of different political models, including the utopian ideals. Never in human history has political debate become so sterile as in today’s world that only one model is considered superior to all and no alternatives are allowed.27 The classical Chinese intellectuals, Confucius (551–479 BC) among them, were the other prominent human group to have raised the question, albeit in a very different political environment. Unlike in ancient Greece, the active political debates in classical China, known as the “Hundred-Flower” period (480–221 BC), ended up with a general consensus: politics and the moral quality of the ruler were inseparable. Such consensus reflected the trend of an empire moving toward a new order as much as the perpetual disunity in ancient Greece reflected the constant political chaos. The Greeks themselves could never unify their world. Once a non-Greek ruler, Alexander the Great, began to sweep through the entire Hellenic world and beyond, he did not really have to heed the convoluted theories offered by his former tutor Aristotle’s political teachings.
Legitimacy and oriental despotism 43 The Greek philosophers may have succeeded in turning their musings on the polis into an abstract and metaphysical discipline for study, known as “politics,” but they certainly failed to connect politics directly to history, because this study offered ideals but no practical solution. From the Confucian point of view, politics and history could never be isolated from each other, because political writings were always for practical human purposes. The Chinese is not an alphabetic language, and there is no religious tradition; hence, it is not possible for Chinese intellectuals to explain any political concept in ontological discourse as Plato and Aristotle could. Thus, they cannot raise the Cartesian ontological question of “what it is?” but only “where is the way (道Tao),” suggesting a never-ending process that requires further action. Moreover, history books are considered totally relevant to contemporary political activities. It would be absurd to argue that the Chinese style of advice-book writing is definitely inferior to the Greek philosophical meditation in antisocial solitude.28 The classical intellectuals in China often consciously produced advice books for rulers to choose. It took many centuries for the West to produce a similar type of scholar named Nicolo Machiavelli to start a serious political advice-book tradition, especially the “mirror-for-princes” genre. In today’s West, Machiavelli’s innovative writings are commonly hailed as the “dawn of the modern era,” for he brought the study of politics back to history and human reality.29 It would be very hard to argue that the classic Chinese political thinkers were not precursors of this modern world or at least were in any way “anti-modern.” Unlike the Greeks, traditional China was never in a position to raise metaphysical political questions, because Confucius always made man the center of all political activities. Throughout Chinese history, there has been but one consistent definition of politics, Zheng (政), which originally means “govern by proper behavior.”30 It has two extended meanings. On the one hand, it is functionally equivalent to “governing.” On the other, it means “righteous human act.” Hence, an interdependent relationship between man and politics was established from the very beginning. Zheng is not only to govern, but also to govern properly according to correct moral standard. All other descriptions of politics Confucius had offered are centered on the same logic and analogy. One ruler asked Confucius about how to govern effectively. His answer is “Governing effectively is doing what is proper. If you, Sir, lead by doing what is proper, who would dare to do otherwise?” (Analects, 12:17). Another example, in Analects 2.2.1, is: “The master said, ‘Governing with virtue can be compared to being the North Star: the North Star dwells in its (proper) place, and all the multitude of stars pay it tribute’.”31 Since the personal character is the sole criterion for judging good or bad governance, the Chinese concept of politics is an integration of infinite space and time, or “heaven and the earth,” and hence derived the idea of the Mandate of Heaven. The functional aspects of the government administration were not politics (Zheng政), but statecraft (zhi治), which is related to the traditional Chinese medical concept of “healing.” Zhi itself is a word derived from the concept of effective flood control, implying that the best statecraft should follow the society’s
44 Legitimacy and oriental despotism natural disposition; there is no need for over-governing. Confucian and Taoist thinking of statecraft are similar, as Taoist master Lao Zi famously said, “Governing a big country is like cooking a small fish,” one should never overdo it.32 More importantly, there is no basis for demarcating spatial relationship (or divisions of labor) in this conception of politics. Although modern Chinese qualified the term “politics into a combination of these two concepts Zheng and Zhi (政治),” the origin of this rather misleading conceptual transformation came from Meiji Japan, not China, because this hybrid form for politics was coined by Japanese scholars during the Meiji Reform in the 1870s, who used these two Chinese characters to depict something that has a spatial relationship in political activities, typical of the Western political phenomenon.33 But in theory and practice, Chinese themselves could never dissect the political sphere into sections for “value-free” and “scientific” analysis, because politics remains organic, not mechanic. The key point is that the Chinese “pagan” monotheism (or natural theology for Leibniz) never separates heaven from the earth, so there is no Christian dichotomy of nature versus culture. But the fact that the traditional Chinese political thought could never reach metaphysical level has turned out to be an advantage in practice, for it helps maintain political order and stability and promoting economic development, much more effective than the cultures with strong metaphysical political theories for many centuries. The effective Chinese statecraft was also brought out by a unique civil service system of meritocracy. It is a well-known fact that Chinese emperors institutionalized the Confucian education since the Han dynasty (206 BC to 220 AD) for the purpose of choosing best possible government administrators. The official recruiting process established by the Sui dynasty (581–619 AD) is known as the Imperial Examination System, which was remarkably open and competitive, making pale in comparison the unfair norms of recruiting civil servants in feudal Europe. In the 20th-century China, this system was widely maligned as the source of all evil, which is the characteristic of a bad political system.34 But the Confucian education was often attacked for wrong reasons: the alleged “backward” and “anti-modern” (i.e., nonscientific) subjects of study. But the fair and open nature of the process was completely neglected, especially from the perspective of social equality and relative efficiency of government, compared with the Western world during the same historical periods. Indeed, all political studies always require interdisciplinary skills. The Imperial Examination System places China’s traditional education system beyond “modern” and even quite “postmodern,” because its academic curriculum was never tempted by the idea of developing a single academic discipline called “political science.” The four disciplines of the classical Confucian education: ethics, statecraft, rites and language – all concerned politics. Politics, in classic Confucian mind-set, must be an “interdisciplinary” subject to begin with, encompassing history, culture and language. The Confucian teaching of “statecraft” was, for example, focused on historical events. Thus, Confucian politics was studied as a subject of human activity, centering on rulers’ (and administrators’)
Legitimacy and oriental despotism 45 self-cultivation, moral character, knowledge and administrative skills. History serves as a most reliable mirror of the right and wrong for the present ruler to learn and to modify his behavior. In a word, the Chinese always view politics as a dynamic process of action rather than a discipline based on human meditation built on abstractions of metaphysics. Therefore, to a great extent, the Confucian teaching of politics has a strong affinity to what is now called “postmodern” political analysis, which is essentially interdisciplinary, leading back to the Renaissance humanist tradition of the Jesuits and its true heir, the English Romantics in the 19th century. This approach was adopted by Niccolo Machiavelli (1469–1527) as well as by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834). As a result, state affairs in China were never defined by geographical boundaries, and are simply called “all affairs under the heaven” (Tianxia天下大事). In the West, the evolution of the concept of politics has had a different trajectory. The ancient Greek word polis offered a basic vocabulary. The original meaning of politike, like the Chinese concept of Zheng, did have a moral dimension, for it also meant ethike at least for a brief period. All European languages have adopted “politics” as a master keyword since the 12th century, not because of its roots related to the archaic moral dimension, but due to the fact that, despite the big differences between the Greek polis, the Roman civitas and medieval kingdoms, politics is an analogy of spatially limited base, reflecting a political Europe that was always fragmented geographically, culturally and linguistically. Aside from the Roman Empire in its heyday, there has been no unified “Western” cultural or a homogeneous empire of the Chinese scale. Therefore, “politics” could not be used for designating state affairs as matters “all under the heaven,” which is a unique Chinese expression that implied exclusively the moral character of politics. Moreover, before modern times in Europe, “politics” was normally referred to as a discipline of study, invented by classic Greeks. In Church parlance, however, “political” affairs were simply equivalent to “secular,” civil or non-ecclesiastical affairs. Politics was transformed in the late 18th century, thanks to the Enlightenment, from a discipline describing a particular sphere of activities to the ongoing activity itself. But, as a new democratic theology was firmly established in the Western world, those who were accustomed to holding the term “politics” exclusively to be a discipline of study could hardly understand the late 19th-century parlance “practical politics,” as opposed to academic studies of politics. Moreover, sectors of Western society concerning daily politics and the scope of political activities also started expanding rapidly ever since. There emerged, aside from politics within the royal palace, judicial politics, parliamentary politics, labor politics, gender politics or even “academic” politics. The irony is as daily political activities became diversified, dynamic and humanistic as the result of the post-Enlightenment development of the Western societies, the expediency of international politics gradually drove the concept of politics back to abstract, i.e., metaphysical and rigid ideological basis. The 19th-century global politics was pioneered by colonial conquest of the non-Western world. Conquering vast human space needed to be sustained
46 Legitimacy and oriental despotism by a spatially defined ideology to divide the humans into inferior and superior opposites, typically disguised by conceptual pairs such as progress versus backwardness, or democracy versus despotism. Consequently, the language of international politics became increasingly universalistic and dogmatic (akin to Christian theology), culminating in the great divide between communism and capitalism of the 20th century. It also helped the rise of “scientific” studies of politics – behaviorism, in particular. Consequently, as a leading German scholar of conceptual history, Reinhart Koselleck, famously pointed out in the 1950s, the “modern” understanding of politics had in fact become dangerously depoliticized.35 The reason for the rapid success of the “value-free” political science in the 20th century has to do with the newly created “biblical” dichotomy of political theories that emerged in the form of liberal democracy versus totalitarianism. The high point was, of course, the Cold War, during which a man-made ideological divide had even replaced traditional cultural and ethnic boundaries. Not only China remained an Eastern despotic power, but Czechoslovakia or Poland also became part of the ideological East.
The Cold War variations The Western rhetoric on the question of legitimacy regarding the Chinese state, now happens to be under a communist regime, is a continuation of the Enlightenment battle of ideas which had reached the peak during the global ideological confrontation, the Cold War. Indeed, the Cold War may be viewed as a second “religious” civil war in the West, because rival ideologies on both sides derived from European culture and history. Just as the European Renaissance paved the way for the first religious civil war that permanently split Christianity after the 16th century, so did the intellectual movement of the Enlightenment in the 18th century prepare the ground for a second “religious” schism, during the 19th and 20th centuries, culminating in the Cold War. The Cold War had key characters of a theological conflict between two dogmatic faiths. A common feature of any interstate religious civil war is the deliberate exclusion of natural law morality36 from international politics. In Western tradition, the natural law theory presumes initial moral conscience of men during the stage of signing a “social contract” that eventually leads to the formation of the state. Hence, rival sides of an interstate religious civil war always intend to suppress this moral conscience and reestablish supra-sectarian order through languages most familiar in theological debates, that is to say, concepts that must have “timeless” or “universal” value. The Cold War can thus be considered another religious civil war in the West, because no moral claim can be made for a global social contract among the nation-states; the rival sides did not need to take moral conscience into serious consideration. Of course, due to its unique nature of militarization by nuclear weapons, the Cold War appears to have been less theological and metaphysical than the battle over Reformation and Counter-Reformation did. This does not mean that the
Legitimacy and oriental despotism 47 Cold War battle of ideas was any less intense and doctrinal. It was less metaphysical only because the military character behind the dispute is different. During the first religious civil war, there existed no perpetual military stalemate similar to the nuclear “balance of terror.” The Cold War military reality in which neither side was expected to win did not allow the political language to reach the pinnacle of metaphysical level of “good versus evil” without leaving any door open for compromises and practical concessions. In a nuclear arms-control process, for example, neither side would evoke moral superiority, but simply dealing with the dangerous reality. Nevertheless, the first religious civil war in early modern Europe resulted in the orthodoxy of national sovereignty and political absolutism, while leaving ecclesiastical matters to the states (The Treaty of Westphalia, 1648). The Western “victory” in the second religious war – the Cold War, in the early 1990s – produced the triumphalist orthodoxy of liberal democracy and neoliberal economics. During the Cold War, the new “East-West” conflict had lost geographical and cultural connotations, for it was considered an ultimate battle over the choice between two absolute truths: communism or liberal democracy. As democratic ideology finally defeated the Soviet communism, it has seemingly acquired a divine status. This once again provides the concept of politics with a unique space of its own, because the leading alternative model seems to have disappeared. Western scholars, more than ever, are able to explore politics “scientifically.” Most of these studies have become even more “value-free” or “depoliticized” because of the unshakable belief that the political model of democracy is superior not only to despotism, but also to any other alternatives. Liberal democracy is said to be representing the highest stage of political development of all human societies, or in the words of the most famous post-Cold War “metaphysician” of international politics, Francis Fukuyama, we have indeed reached “the end of History.” Democracy is a system that cannot be improved. In fact, any claim of superiority of a political system would show how close the claim of “value-freedom” of the ideology of liberal democracy is to a contradiction in terms.37 To begin with, the Cold War orthodoxy is not without conceptual challengers. It was Ludwig Wittgenstein who revolutionized the study of the history of ideas. His new approach enlightened us to focus on the temporal, rather than the spatial, relationship between theory and practice and between history and politics. As Wittgenstein famously put it, “Words are also deeds.” If political theory is nothing but political action, the spatial concept of politics cannot sustain itself without reintegrating with the temporal dimension of politics. Karl Popper, on the other hand, simply flourished on the Enlightenment approach to uncover the so-called perennial questions of the human society. What exactly does the Wittgensteinian approach enable us to grasp about the classical political texts that we cannot grasp simply by reading them repeatedly, as many theorists had recommended.38 Historian Quentin Skinner pointed out that one has “to characterize what these authors were doing in writing them.”39 This is indeed a Wittgensteinian answer par excellence. One should not be misled into believing that conventional biographical studies are sufficient, because no
48 Legitimacy and oriental despotism biographer could truly enter the contingent thought process of the author in question. In the end, one could only adopt an archaeological approach, uncovering the hidden contents in linguistic and rhetorical context of political discourse at particular time so as to bring political theories back to real and living history. Politics after all is no science, political theories do not have perennial questions to answer and, more often than not, political theorists themselves are doing the speech-act of “politicking” when writing about their subjects. In contemporary China, most terms relating to politics and democracy were imported. Their meanings have been twisted and transformed repeatedly. Hence, one must approach the use of these terms with extreme care. We shall explore the hidden meanings of key political concepts in contemporary China in the next chapter, but let us now start examining a common myth that China has contributed nothing to the “modern” evolution of the concept of state. To begin with, the Wittgensteinian thought pattern has analogous roots in Chinese tradition, and it provides a common ground between the consistent belief in contingent nature of political writings and the similar view of the postmodern West. The modern Western state started from the period between the 13th and 16th centuries when a crucial transition took place from the idea of ruler with divine rights for “maintaining his state” – where this simply meant upholding his own position – to the idea that there is a separate legal and constitutional order, that of the state, which the ruler has a duty to maintain. The result of this mental transition was that institutional power of the state, rather than that of the ruler, came to be envisioned as the basis of government, hence the Magna Carta and so on followed. And it further enabled the state to be conceptualized as the sole source of law and legitimate force within its own territory, and hence the birth of modern state theories. The prevailing Western method of explaining this conceptual transition is the “classical texts” approach: tracing the ways of the term “state” and its related concepts being used by political theorists, often not historians. This “textualist approach,” advocated by the majority of scholars – notably American Neo-conservative guru Leo Strauss (1899–1973) and his disciples – has produced a large body of interpretive works that claim to be real histories of political thought. The Straussian method calls for its practitioners to have a close reading of the Great Books of political thought; they are unconcerned with questions about the historical context of, or influences on, a given author, while promoting the idea that they could uncover something timelessly true but hidden in a Great Book. In fact, what these works have produced is a set of highly abstract theories deduced and constructed from the texts without surrounding them with historical and rhetorical context. In other words, they have not been written as genuine history of how political theories have evolved. There is hardly anything in the textualist approach that indicates a necessary connection between theory and author’s intentions at the time these theories were formulated, because the textualist theorists believe that the classical authors, or “great thinkers,” were addressing the same “perennial questions” existed since antiquity, albeit with different understandings according to their intellectual abilities.
Legitimacy and oriental despotism 49 In state theory, China has experienced no such conceptual transition at all, nor has it been necessary. “Politics as virtue” means the ruler has moral duty to rule well. Thus, as we will thoroughly analyze in the next chapter, the idea of state as personal ficta (fictional persona) – such as the Hobbes’s “Leviathan,” or the signatories of “social contract” imagined by Locke and Rousseau – makes no sense, because the Chinese state is represented by a real person who has no claim of divine origin (unlike the Japanese royal family who does claim divine roots). The Confucian ethics has acquired a permanent status in the Chinese state theory from the very beginning of state building, precisely, because it prevented the separation of heaven from the earth, man from politics and theory from practice. In practical terms, an important insight on politics arises that any actor anxious to engage in a particular course of action must also be anxious to exhibit the act as legitimate. He must make sure that his behavior can plausibly be described in terms of a vocabulary already normative within the society, a vocabulary that is capable of legitimating and at the same time describing what he has done. After the Cold War, another battle of ideas has been shimmering. We may recall that China did not play an active role in initiating both religious civil wars in the West. However, China’s role during the coming battle of ideas of the 21st century will be different and it depends in part on how the Western powers engage China. A brief return to the Jesuits is necessary. It is not popularly known in today’s Western society that China had played a passive, accidental but important role in Europe’s first religious civil war during the Rites Controversy. But China was drawn into this European civil war neither by necessity nor by choice. The Reformation and the Counter-Reformation centered on political as well as theological disputes. It was the Jesuit missionaries in the 17th century that inadvertently brought China on the side of the Counter-Reformation. Through the Jesuits, Europe not just discovered a unique and respectable culture in the East, but also used Chinese civilization to help define and consolidate the identity of a cultural Occident vis-à-vis the Orient. Unfortunately, this first encounter between China and the West ended in bitter cultural hostility. The Rites Controversy remains a living history for China, but not for Europe anymore, thanks to the Enlightenment. From the Chinese perspective, the second “religious” civil war in the West, the Cold War, can be seen as a continuation of the previous religious civil war of the 17th century. But again China was inadvertently dragged into this war by Soviet communism against China’s national interest. Like the first religious civil war, the two opposing camps during the Cold War came from similar intellectual roots. Marxism and modern liberal democracy have the same cultural as well as geographical origins. Moreover, the methods were also similar: both sides intended to impose a supra-sectarian order on the world and both held that they represented the highest stage of human development. One thing is certain that both ideologies are alien to Chinese tradition and culture. Thus, China quickly defected from the Soviet bloc, as it was reflected by the collapse of the Socialist camp brought out by Sino-Soviet split in the early 1960s. It is evident that Communist theology itself played little part in national rivalries during this bitter split.
50 Legitimacy and oriental despotism More importantly, unlike the first battle where domestic and international politics were entangled, the Cold War was fought almost exclusively on international arena. This thought pattern was possible only if a conceptual separation of internal from external affairs took place. A key legacy of the Enlightenment was modern ethnic-nationalism. It created a new raison d’etat that took internal unity for granted, enemies only came from without.
Notes 1 John Bowker, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. Oxford University Press, 1997. 2 Gottfried W. Leibniz, Novissime Sinica. University Press of Hawaii, p. 47. 3 Ibid. 4 Confucius, Analects, Book 6, chapter 6. 5 One of the best studies of Rococo and China is Adolf Reichwein’s China and Europe: Intellectual and Artistic Contacts in the Eighteenth Century, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., ltd., 1925. 6 Pierre Poivre, Voyages d’un philosophe ou observations sur les moeurs et les arts des peuples de l’Afrique, de l’Asie et de l’Amérique, Fortuné-Barthélemy de Félice, 1769, p. 23. 7 Adam Smith (Author), Edwin Cannan (Editor), George J. Stigler (Preface), An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, vol. I, chapter 8, p. 24. Paperback, University of Chicago Press, 1977. 8 The Machiavellian Moment is a work of intellectual history by J. G. A. Pocock, Princeton University Press, 1975. It argues for a connection between republican thought in early 16th-century Florence, English Civil War and American Revolution. A “Machiavellian moment” is a moment when a new republic encounters the problem of stability and of its ideals and institutions. Machiavelli believed in a series of crises facing early 16th-century Florence in which a virtuous state was on the verge of collapse. In response, Machiavelli sought to revive classical republican ideals. The Machiavellian Moment inspired the idea that America was born with a fear of corruption and a desire to promote classical virtue. 9 Georg W.F. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, translated by Hugh Barr Nisbet. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975, p. 54. 10 Three sources of the writings of Karl Marx reflect the fact that Marxism was part and parcel of Orientalism: The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, The British Rule in India and The Further Results of British Rule in India. 11 Montesquieu Charles-Louis, The Spirit of the Laws. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989, p. 128. 12 Voltaire’s Essai sur les mœurs et l’esprit des nations changed the face of Western historiography. His aim is to tell the story of human progress, in particular the progress of human reason. 13 Confucius, Analects, 3:12, translated by Roger Ames and Henry Rosemont. New York, 1998, p. 83. 14 Michael Keevak, Becoming Yellow: A Short History of Racial Thinking. Princeton University Press, 2011. 15 Ibid., pp. 76–78. 16 Quoted by Walter Demel, Als Fremde in China: Das Reich der Mitte im Spiegel fruehneuzaitlicher Reiseberichte. Munich, 1992, p. 652. 17 Rolando Minuti, “Gobbon and the Asiatic Barbarians: Notes on the French Sources of the Decline and Fall”, in David Womersley edited, Edward Gibbon, Bicentenary Essays, p. 22, Oxford University Press, 1997. 18 logocentrism, the term used by Jacques Derrida and other exponents of deconstructionism to designate the desire for a center or original guarantee of all meanings,
Legitimacy and oriental despotism 51
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
29 30 31 32 33
34 35 36 37
which in Derrida’s view has characterized Western philosophy since Plato. The Greek word logos can just mean “word”, but in philosophy it often denotes an ultimate principle of truth or reason, while in Christian theology it refers to the Word of God as the origin and foundation of all things. Derrida’s critique of logocentric thinking shows how it attempts to repress difference in favor of identity and presence: the philosophical “metaphysics of presence” craves a “transcendental signified” or ultimately self-sufficient meaning (e.g. God, Man, Truth). Ibid., p. 132. For detailed discussion of the Jesuit view on tyrannicide, see Harro Hoepfl, Jesuit Political Thought, chapter 13, Tyrannicide and Allegiance. Cambridge University Press, 2004, pp. 314–338. See also, An English Translation of Book I of Juan de Mariana’s De Rege Et Regis Institutione, translated by George Albert Moore. Georgetown University Press, 1947. Represented by John Kong Fairbank, the late Harvard guru of modern China studies, see Paul A. Cohen, Discovering History in China—Historical Writing on the Recent Chinese Past. Columbia University Press, 2010. See Paul A. Cohen, Discovering History in China: American Historical Writing on the Recent Chinese Past. Columbia University Press, 1984. For a controversial book on the Popper-Wittgenstein controversy, see David E dmonds and John Eidinow, Wittgenstein’s Poker. HarperCollins, 2001. There remain some disagreements on the details, of course. Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies. London, 1946. Quentin Skinner, “Meaning and Understanding in the History of Ideas”, in History and Theory, vol. 8, 1969, p. 125. Kenneth Minogue, A Very Short History of Politics. Oxford, 2000, p. 1. For a fascinating book on the comparison between ancient Greece and China, see Geoffrey Lloyd, Ancient Worlds, Modern Reflections—Philosophical Perspectives on Greek and Chinese Science and Culture. Oxford, 2004, especially chapter 12, “A critique of Democracy”. One recent example, the Cambridge History of Ancient China criticizes the classic Chinese political writing this way, “This concern never leads toward any resemblance of democracy: it is always taken for granted that the only way to be effective is to gain the ear and the confidence of a lord.” See Cambridge History, Cambridge University Press, 1999, pp. 748–749. David Hawkes, Ideology, 2nd Edition. London: Routledge, p. 28. Confucius, Analects 12:12, “Zheng zhe zheng ye (governing effectively is doing what is proper, if you lead by doing what is proper, who would dare do otherwise?).” Confucius, Analects, translated by Roger Ames and Henry Rosemont Jr. New York: Ballantine Book, 1998. Throughout this study I use their translation which I considered best and most accurate. Lao Zi, Tao Te Jing, chapter 60. As late as in the early 20th century, during a debate about whether “politics” should be translated in the Japanese way, i.e., zheng zhi, the founding father of the Chinese republic, Dr. Sun Yat-sen, argued forcefully it should. See selected works of Sun Yat-sen (in Chinese), vll. II, p. 661, Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 1981. A most influential modern writer, Lu Xun, called the Chinese tradition a “man- eating” culture. See his famous short story published in 1918, “Madman’s Diary”, Lu Xun Collective Works, vol. 1. Shanghai, 1984. Koselleck, Reinhart, Kritik und krise. Eine Studie zur Pathogenese, Freiburg/Munchen. 1959, chapter 1, Munchen: Surkamp Verlag, 1973 edition. Natural law is a system of law that is determined by nature, and so is universal. Classically, natural law refers to the use of reason to analyze human nature – both social and personal – and deduce binding rules of moral behavior from it. Sir Geoffrey Lloyd of Cambridge University pointed this out brilliantly to me in his response to my draft speech at the Library of Congress on July 7, 2004.
52 Legitimacy and oriental despotism 38 Strauss distinguished “scholars” from “great thinkers”, identifying himself as a scholar. He wrote that most self-described philosophers are in actuality scholars, cautious and methodical. Great thinkers, in contrast, boldly and creatively address big problems. Scholars deal with these problems only indirectly by reasoning about the great thinkers’ differences. See Leo Strauss, “An Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism”, in The Rebirth of Classical Political Rationalism, edited by Thomas L. Pangle. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989, pp. 29–30. 39 Quentin Skinner, The Foundation of Modern Political Thought, Vol. 1, The Renaissance. Cambridge, 1976, p. xiii.
3 Fictional legitimacy
“Social contract” Analyzing legitimacy through fictional tools is a unique Western invention in modern political discourse. But it does not do much to explain Chinese tradition, because Chinese culture neither considers state to be a persona ficta, nor imagines human society to have been formed by a prehistorical deal. Since the late 19th century, the West has been obsessed with the idea of democratizing China; hence, the theory of “social contract” has become one of the most powerful intellectual weapons against its traditional political values. The record of success in this effort is, however, dismal. To begin with, China does not have ontological tradition. The Chinese always believe history and politics to have a temporal relationship, and there is no perennial question to answer other than to learn the lessons from the rising and ebbing of human societies of the past. Indeed, the Chinese language itself has never developed “master noun” commonly used for metaphysics and philosophy. The character equivalent to English “name” or noun (名, ming) is composed of two ideographical elements: human mouth and the moon (口 and 夕), meaning that one has to call out to the person in the dark (under dim moonlight), so as to identify who he is. A closest version of Western-style master noun (or abstract noun) can only be found in traditional Chinese language when it resembles gerund rather than an ontological concept, and it can usually be used as verb as well. Therefore, all existing master nouns for discussing the Cartesian ontological questions, such as in “what it is” question, in modern Chinese language, are imported mostly from Meiji Japan.1 Hence, the question “what is politics” could only draw a typical Confucian response as “setting a virtuous example as ruler and administrator.” As we mentioned in the last chapter, constrained by a Christian teleological tradition, Western thinkers on politics are never able to answer the question – “why there is a need for democratizing China” – without reference to “universal values” (or timeless truths), because it is assumed that democratization is a predestined end, designed by God for all humans and societies. The perpetual lack of interest in the question of “why” can also be justified by three analytical tools rooted in Western intellectual tradition: the first is the alleged “scientific” approach of modern political investigations. The second is
54 Fictional legitimacy unilinear vision of “world history.” And the third and very powerful one is the fictional narrative of legitimacy – the social contract theory. This method for modern political analysis can be traced to the European scholasticism, which was revived in the later part of the Enlightenment. The scholastics would choose a book by a renowned scholar, auctor (author), as a subject for investigation. By reading it repeatedly, the students were supposed to learn how to appreciate the hidden brilliance of the author. Once the textual sources and points of disagreement had been laid out through a series of dialectics, the two sides of an argument would be made whole so that they would be found to be in agreement and not contradictory. This method was fully developed by Hegel into a dialectic process of thesis versus antithesis, which tends to be resolved by synthesis. Through this method of textual analysis, most Western scholars are easily convinced that China has neither a political tradition nor a cultural resource for generating a good political system without democratization. Moreover, since Chinese classics show no equivalent key concepts to those most frequently used to define democracy, such as “individualism,” “liberty,” “equality” and ”divine rights,” it is difficult for the Chinese people even to comprehend democratic ideas, not to mention the use of them as guiding principles in their political actions. Hence, the driving force for the democratization of China, considered as Chinese people’s only chance of salvation, has to come from outside. As political scientist Samuel Huntington typically stated, “Confucian democracy is clearly a contradiction in terms.”2 Modern historical approach helped create the theory of social contract. The father of Western political “science,” Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679), relied heavily on social contract for his argument. In Leviathan, Hobbes set out his doctrine of the foundation of states and legitimacy of governments – both giving rise to social contract theory. Beginning from a mechanistic understanding of human beings and the passions, Hobbes imagined what life would be like without government, a condition which he called the state of nature. In that state, each person would have a right, or license, to everything in the world. This, Hobbes argued, would lead to a “war of all against all” (bellum omnium contra omnes).3 This description of the origins of state laid the foundation for unilinear political history of Europe to be applied to all human societies. By discussing the origins of human society in the context of a social contract and the state of nature, Hobbes assumed that human nature was a fixed entity. In other words, he assumed that men living in state of nature, that is, before civil government, had mental powers and their outlooks were essentially the same as men of the 17th century. Hobbes’s ahistorical discussion of state of nature makes little sense. It must be noted that a cyclical view of history existed not only in China but in ancient Greece as well, and was maintained by a few European scholars, most notably Giambattista Vico (1668–1744). Vico criticized Hobbes and argued that to introduce “geometrical method” into practical human life is “like trying to go mad with the rules of reason, attempting to proceed by a straight line among the tortuosities of life,” as though human affairs were not ruled by “capriciousness, temerity, opportunity, and chance.”4
Fictional legitimacy 55 Vico was rediscovered by the German historians and English Romantics in the 19th century as the intellectual precursor to a far more genuine historical vision of human progress. After R. G. Collingwood’s great opus on the idea of history, few can continue to claim the validity of unilinear view.5 In China there is no linear and teleological thought pattern about human history. History and politics are therefore conjoined as a cyclical and never-ending process of legitimation and counter-legitimation. Dynastic change and revolution are not indications of teleological “progress” but a new beginning of a cyclical history. Thus, all political discourses are contingent by nature; “state” (国) as a concept has never been turned into a “master noun” of political debate in Chinese history. With postmodernism, the conceptual crisis of unilinear history is also taking place in the West, coinciding with the revival of cyclical approach in China that has already abandoned the Hegelian-Marxian teleology and dialectics since the 1980s. Cyclical history, though never intended to be applied to histories of other peoples, was born more than 2,000 years ago. The word “history” (shi 史) is an ideograph, depicting a hand holding a balance, signaling the “unbiased” attitude while recording things past. Cyclical vision of history was very much discredited during the European Enlightenment, because it was considered a “backward-looking” historical vision. This flawed reasoning is rooted in teleological assumption of forward-looking “progressive” history in the world.6 For most Westerners living in the Christian world, history started from the Greco-Roman “antiquity,” progressing by stages through “Middle Ages” to the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, and finally to the “modern” world. In this history of unilinear “progress,” those who were left out, such as the Chinese, are considered “backward,” “traditional” and “anti-modern.” However, this Christian view of single route to human salvation has long been under scholarly scrutiny. To start with, historical evidence does not seem to offer much support for Western Europe to monopolize even the cultural legacy of the ancient Greece. Europe’s link to the Classic Greece is as tenuous as, if not more, it is to the oriental world. Indeed, whether the Classical Greece was “a westernmost cultural extension of the East or the easternmost extension of the West” remains a serious question. Evidence seems to support the former.7 More important is the fact that Europe’s self-consciousness of its own unilinear history appeared sometime between 1750 and 1880, much later than it was claimed during the Enlightenment. The new Hegelian approach of grand narrative of world history was invented, obviously contingent upon the rise of economic and military power of the bourgeois Europe, for providing a license for laying intellectual claim to the cultural heritage of the entire world. One obvious paradox is that although China has maintained an unbroken and detailed record of political history, the Western vision of history, built on much sketchier, poorly recorded and preserved historical materials, has managed to occupy a dominant position in explaining the experience of all human societies. Even before the invention of paper in China, the ancient Chinese kept their records on bamboo and bronze – materials far superior to papyrus or sheep skins used in the West. But “papyrus history” defeated “bamboo history” only in modern times.
56 Fictional legitimacy It is the Enlightenment view that the Chinese vision of history is fundamentally flawed for it does not contain the element of social “progress.” Hegel went so far as to announce that the Chinese do not really have history. For him, the historical development of the Chinese culture is actually prehistorical or unhistorical in nature, for there is no progress to freedom. To Hegel, cyclical history could never fit into his favorite notion of rational history of the Geist.8 Today, unilinear view of history that had greatly influenced the Chinese elite in the last century has run its course. Equating “cyclical history” with static social and economic development is no longer considered historically accurate and conceptually valid.9 In the Age of Enlightenment, “social contract” was designed for demonstrating human “progress.” It quickly became one of the most useful tools for addressing the legitimacy of state authority. Social contract arguments typically posit that individuals have consented, either explicitly or tacitly, to surrender some of their freedoms and submit to the authority of the ruler in exchange for protection of their remaining rights. But “social contract” does not exist in Chinese tradition, for this is too absurd a notion that a contract between persons in a prestate conditions could specify the modern rational terms upon which they were prepared to agree upon and enter by submitting themselves to political authority. This is a notion as incomprehensible as, in a typical Chinese mind, the Christian myth of a Jesus who has no earthly father, but was somehow born to a mother who remained a virgin. Even more strange is the pretension held by many leading Western authors (Hobbes and Rousseau, in particular) that social contract has somehow “explained” or illuminated a transition from a “state of nature” to a social and/or political existence. Social contract theories are fundamentally a-historical through delinking history and political analysis, because their adherents need not suppose the historical reality of the agreement, and they are interested only in exploring the limits of political obligation to what a rational actor would be prepared to agree to. But even if such theories are used for rhetorical figure of speech, the Chinese obsession with family history, reflected above all by the tradition of ancestor worship, would prevent them from taking seriously any political theory that does not possess even a thread of historical evidence. Logically, the “terms” of any social contract depend upon the depiction of the gains and losses during such a transition, and, thus, upon the plausibility of the depiction of what is the state of nature. In Chinese tradition, a rational human individual does not exist in the state of nature, for only a social person, that is, a person with social relations, can qualify for real human individual or a rational actor. “State of nature or 蛮荒世界” in Chinese conception means an animal world of savagery operated on the logic of all against all. More importantly, modern and contemporary variations of social contract theory are often ideological speech-acts for they can be easily used as a powerful tool for domestic politics and foreign policy, discrediting either a political enemy at home or a rival country abroad. It can be used for imposing more international obligations upon a state than it is ready to take. It is particularly useful for denying political legitimacy to undemocratic states such as China. As long as the
Fictional legitimacy 57 current international system remains dominated by Western values and the rules of the game, the power of defining political legitimacy, global “common goods” and international obligations will be vested in the West, rather than with a real “contract” between majority of the world population and a global authority such as the United Nations. Social contract theory can thus be a perfect cover for naked power play in international politics. It must be pointed further that, after the Opium War, the key concepts in China for investigating politics were borrowed from Meiji Japan and they were created during the “Gothic” period of theory-building in the 19th-century Europe. Many of these concepts had deviated even from the “classical” Western tradition. It is not surprising that the meaning and context of Chinese political system has suffered a double distortion by these theories. On the one hand, the post-19th-century interpretation of Chinese history is predicated on the claim that China has played a marginal part in global economic and political progress. What has been obscured by this claim is the fact that, for centuries before the Opium War, the Chinese system had been far more open, just and free than the coeval European monarchies. For example, the abolishing of the feudal system in China took place around 221 BC, before the birth of Jesus. Moreover, China’s economic development had long occupied a leading position in the world until the mid-19th century and it was conveniently forgotten that China had also created the first large-scale market economy of global reach, the so-called Silk Road, in human history. China also succeeded in creating a most dynamic domestic economy which as late as in the early 19th century remained a leading single national economy in the world, with 32.9% of the global GDP.10 On the other hand, the modern concepts of democracy that the Chinese had imported during the 20th century, such as liberty, individual rights and equality, were different in meaning from those of the original Greco-Roman tradition. It never occurred to the modern Chinese in the 20th century, especially the cultural iconoclasts in Republican China, that some key elements of the classical democratic theories are in fact compatible with the Confucian political philosophy, as the Jesuits discovered long ago, such as the emphasis on the importance of virtue, self-cultivation and education, and the delimitation of proper boundaries between individual and community rights. Furthermore, the theory of liberal democracy, inspired in part by social contract theories, could not have penetrated the minds of the modern Chinese intellectual elite, but for some accidental reasons. An overlooked question is, what conceptual vehicle through which the Confucian value system was suddenly cracked in the early 20th century? Ever since the Jesuit fathers landed in China in the 16th century, many attempts had been made to introduce Western ideas to the Chinese intellectual elite, via subjects such as Christian theology, geometry, astrology, mathematics, ancient Greek ethics and philosophy. But no Western ideas had been able to penetrate the mainstream intellectual environment. But this was not because the dynastic China forbade foreign ideas. In fact, unlike the self-isolation (Sakoku) policy adopted by Tokugawa Japan (1600–1868), China never applied strict ban to Western ideas.
58 Fictional legitimacy Paradoxically, it is not social contract, but a rather sinister social theory, Social Darwinism, that managed to make incursion deep into the late 19th-century China. It also led to the anti-Confucianism and cultural self-negation pioneered by the May Fourth Movement in 1919. Social Darwinist thought was first introduced into China in 1898, during one of the most tumultuous political crises of the Manchu dynasty. In 1894–1895, China was completely knocked out by another foreign power during a large-scale war. But this time the enemies were not the Western “Barbarians” who were in Confucian elite’s mind, “inaccessible to reasons” anyways, but China’s tiny island neighbor of Japan. This defeat, unlike a series of defeats since the 1840s, shook the foundation of the self-confidence of the Chinese elite, because Japan’s cultural affiliation with China was very close and its economic development level much lower at the time. Yet Japan defeated the Middle Kingdom after having launched successful reforms during the Meiji Restoration. The Manchu dynasty began to totter and the young Emperor Guangxu, who did not hold real power, was urged by his radical advisors to start sweeping reforms modeling after the Meiji Japan some 30 years ago. But it was too late. This so-called One-Hundred-Day Reform ended in a coup d’etat and its utter failure led to the emperor’s life detention.11 Facing one of the most severe legitimacy crises since its founding in the 17th century, the dynasty’s elite were desperate. They could not find answers to the reasons for China’s perpetual weakness and the ominous trend toward self- extinction in the international community. Yan Fu, a British-educated naval officer and classic scholar, felt inspired by an English book On Evolution and Ethics (1894). Written by Thomas Huxley (1825–1895), the self-proclaimed “Darwinist Bulldog,” Yan was fascinated by its passionate argument and managed to translate it into Chinese with a beautiful classical style. Its publication in 1898 was a monumental event, truly at the right time in a right place, and to a right audience. It provided an eye-opening and intoxicating interpretation of China’s weakness. This book directly led to the birth of modern Chinese nationalism. Huxley offered the modern “scientific” arguments of the evolution of animals and human races, and it quickly shattered the Chinese confidence in their vision of history and self-centered cultural tradition. The Darwinist biological and racial categorizations led naturally to ethnic nationalism, a concept that had hitherto occupied no place in Chinese tradition. Indeed, On Evolution and Ethics was the first Western book that gained a wide audience. Although Huxley was not so strong a Social Darwinist as was his contemporary Herbert Spencer (1820–1903), he nevertheless dismissed the idea that all men are equal, “The doctrine that all men are, in any sense, or have been, at any time, free and equal, is an utterly baseless fiction.”12 The Chinese intellectuals were entranced with the domestic and international implications of Social Darwinism, because it offered a brand new perspective to explain China’s national crisis brought about by repeated military defeats since the Opium War. According to the Social Darwinism, China could not survive in the world where only the “fittest” could. Indeed, this logic began to undermine the Chinese elite’s faith in Confucian “politics as virtue,” which does not take into account ethnic makeup.
Fictional legitimacy 59 The confidence crisis about tradition had already started after the Opium War of 1840s, but it was not so much caused by self-doubts over Confucian values as by the naked force demonstrated by Western imperialism. Most reforms launched by the Manchu regime before the radical Hundred-Day Reform of 1898 were primarily aimed at strengthening China’s military capabilities. The national crisis at the end of the 19th century defied any traditional interpretations, but it could be coherently explained by Social Darwinism: China was simply not “fitted” for national survival in international politics. For Chinese living under the Manchu dynasty, China’s problems also became clear, since it was ruled by an inferior ethnic minority, the Manchus. Huxley thus took China by storm because he convincingly introduced simplistic jungle laws to China by delinking biological evolution to human ethics, and the latter happened to be the only familiar territory for Confucian scholars in their traditional discourses. To survive in a world where no country respects moral behavior, China must adapt itself to the jungle laws as well. Thus, a fatal flaw of Confucianism was exposed for it did not justify the use of force without moral support, but Westerners regularly did it with no moral qualms at all. Not surprisingly, Social Darwinism provided a most powerful call for radical reforms of the entire Chinese system. One of the most influential cultural iconoclasts in the 20th-century China, Lu Xun (1881–1936) recalled the ecstasy for him as a young man at the time, So it became popular to read new books. And I learnt that China had a book called “Tian Yan Lun” [Yan Fu’s translation of Huxley’s book title, literally, On the Heaven-driven Evolution]. On Sunday I ran down to the southern section of the city and bought a copy, a thick lithographed copy on white paper, for exactly 500 copper. I opened it and took a look. It was written in excellent Chinese characters and the first lines read: ‘Huxley sat alone in his house in southern England, with mountains behind him and fields before, the scenery outside his window was as clear as if at his fingertips, and he wondered what had been there two thousand years ago, before even Rome’s great general, Caesar, had arrived. And he guessed there had been only wilderness, created by nature.’ – Wow, so the world has a Huxley, thinking like that in his study, and thinking so freshly! I read on without stopping, and I came upon “the struggle for existence” and “natural selection”, and I came upon Socrates, and Plato, and the Stoics.13 Lu Xun would become a beacon light of the May Fourth generation. Social Darwinism prepared for the most radical intellectual rebellion, the May Fourth Movement14 of 1919, also known as a movement of national salvation which was triggered by the Versailles Powers’ reluctance to return to China the city of Qingdao, the German colony in Shandong province. Social Darwinism thus succeeded in creating the modern Chinese nationalism. The anti-Manchu revolution at the beginning of the 20th century was the first popular rebellion in the long history of dynastic changes that was motivated by racist argument, because
60 Fictional legitimacy an ethnic minority could no longer be accepted as legitimate ruler. The Manchu emperor lost the Mandate of Heaven simply because of his alleged inferiority of racial makeup.15 As a result of this new perspective, Chinese intellectual elite in the 20th century faced a terrible dilemma. On the one hand, nationalism must be built on self-confidence in national culture. But the iconoclasts, like Lu Xun or future communist leader Mao Zedong (1893–1976), attacked the entire Confucian value system, leaving the population with no cultural resources to fall back on. They argued that what China needed was a clean break with its past, but provided no alternatives to a wholesale import of Western values. Hence, for the first time in history, Chinese tradition and the Western culture had been made totally incompatible, and worse still, this incompatibility was presented in a rhetorical framework of absolutism, using typical Western dichotomies, such as black versus white and good versus evil. There was no doubt that the May Fourth Movement led to a radicalism that destructed China’s traditional cultural openness to external ideas.
Fiction or reality? Contrary to the modern progressive vision, respecting tradition also implies a fundamental “democratic” attitude. As the noted English writer and the “prince of paradox,” G. K. Chesterton (1874–1936), famously stated: “The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.”16 On another occasion, he made a brilliant argument about tradition, Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death.17 After rejecting the traditional concept of legitimacy, Chinese intellectuals have so far failed to produce any new ideas except for echoing fictional legitimacy based on social contract. The Republican Revolution of 1911 finally put an end to the dynastic system, but the Confucian tradition continued to permeate through every aspect of Chinese life. The imported Republican system quickly proved too weak to overcome political instability. In fact, the new “Republic” of China immediately degenerated into warlordism, political chaos and social disorder, making many nostalgic about the stable system in the dynastic past. China is the only surviving historical “empire” for it has retained, more or less, the same people, the same culture, the same geographic location and a unique state system for over two millennia. Confucian tradition was able to maintain – in comparison to the rest of the world – a relatively stable and harmonious society
Fictional legitimacy 61 where its citizens could enjoy a good life and receive just treatment. The merit of such tradition cannot be dismissed and nor should it be. A comprehensive reevaluation of the Chinese political tradition thus acquires a sense of urgency.18 Superficial comparison between China and the West will not yield significant results. We must start with the basic concepts and language. This is a significant task today because China is on the path of launching a cultural project of national restoration, as President Xi Jinping publicly declared.19 No doubt did fictional legitimacy play a crucial role in producing the modern theory of liberal democracy. But, ranking human races has also been a precondition for this democratic argument. Man’s skin color acquired a rhetorical importance and gave a moral advantage to the Western intellectuals to disparage “nonwhite” culture and people. The concept of social contract, from the onset, meant to be applied only to Europeans. Hegel anticipated such new trend of thinking. In Philosophy of History, he claimed, …the Eastern nations knew only that one is free; the Greek and Roman world only that some are free; whilst we know that all men absolutely (man as man) are free — supplies us with the natural division of Universal History, and suggests the mode of its discussion.20 Max Weber made a distinction between the “advanced” Judeo-Christian culture and the “backward” Confucian or Indian culture.21 In sharp contrast, the Chinese conception of state legitimacy is entirely autonomous, with no cultural or racial biases. The Confucian idea of virtuous politics can only be maintained by the commitments of most members of the community. Another important point is that because Confucianism sanctions popular rights of rebellion against bad rulers, the traditional dynastic system had never obtained absolute power, or was never totally free from popular accountability. 281 years ago, French Jesuit historian Jean-Baptiste du Halde (1674–1743), author of Description geographique, historique, chronologique et politique de l’empire de la chine (Geographic, historical, chronological and political descriptions of the Chinese Empire, 1735), summarized the following characteristics of the Chinese political system: 1 While a Chinese emperor may enjoy absolute power, his authority and power are limited by his concern for his public image, and judgment by history; by the ideology of paternalism in which he had to respect his father; by an independent bureaucratic institution of censorship, which could criticize emperor’s behavior and a long tradition of popular rebellion against bad governance. 2 The majority of the government officials have passed imperial examinations, which produce a high-quality and competent bureaucracy. This bureaucracy exercises an absolute power in civil jurisdiction, but the officials are constrained by their performance, because any local unrest would be their fault.22
62 Fictional legitimacy No doubt, du Halde captured the contingent nature of the Chinese conception of political legitimacy. Because of this unique character, the normative concepts about politics in Chinese language have never changed until present day. One may argue that of all the concepts created by Western political theorists describing authority of state power – such as government, nation, power and sovereignty – or the fictional ones – like social contract or Leviathan, etc. – only one medieval European concept fits the Confucian model, “body politic,”23 for it likens state to human body. A body politic comprises all the people in a country considered as a single group. In the medieval Europe, a king as a “head” of state was supposed to have “two bodies,” theological and political. Chinese emperor had only one political body, as “son of heaven.” Since the establishment of a centralized state system in 221 BC, Chinese politics has always been this-worldly affair; long before this simple truth is assumed to have been “rediscovered” during the Italian Renaissance by writers such as Nicolo Machiavelli. Hence, the ancient Greek thinkers could derive their abstract political theories from a detached position when observing a variety of polis, because they were never in a position to participate in political activities and there never existed a unified Hellenic “body politic” through which they could generalize the phenomenon of politics. The ancient Chinese sage thinkers participated directly in state affairs both in executive and advisory function. Confucius himself held the position of the Minister of Law (大司寇) of the Kingdom of Lu. And he attributed the intellectual roots of his own thought to the ancient sage Duke of Zhou, the originator of the concept of the Mandate of Heaven, who, as the regent at the imperial court, was an active politician and key policy maker. The dazzling variety of political patterns in Hellenic world prevented the Greek thinkers from drawing conclusions from any single model that could be applied to politics. Democracy was but one of the models, and was hardly the most desired one.24 In China, an imperial state (Zhou dynasty, 1066–256 BC) already existed at the time Plato began his musings in solitude about the nature of city-state politics in Athens. It is surprise that humanist thinking about unified “imperial body politic” could rise to the occasion in China, but not in ancient Greece. Under the circumstances, the normative political language in China has been remarkably consistent. Virtue remains at the core of the Chinese political discourse; not even Communism has been able to eradicate this cultural heritage both in theory and in practice. Episodes under the rule of tyranny existed, but were aberrations in more than 2,000 years history of the unified state system. The dynasty of the notorious despot, the Emperor of Qin, lasted merely 14 years, and his rule had been viewed as the worst example of unethical politics in officially compiled histories ever since. According to strict Confucian teaching, making a virtuous ruler usually follows through several distinctive stages. In one of the Confucian classics, Great Learning (大学), human affairs are ordered thus: “cultivate oneself, put one’s family in order, govern the state effectively, bring peace to all-under-Heaven (修, 齐, 治, 平).”
Fictional legitimacy 63 In fact, the concept of state (国 guo) was established much earlier in China than in the West. The Western word state and its cognates in some other European languages (stato in Italian, estado in Spanish, état in French, Staat in German) derive from the Latin word status, meaning “condition” of a political regime. With the revival of the Roman law in 14th-century Europe, this Latin term came to refer to the legal standing of persons (such as the various “estates of the realm” – noble, common and clerical) and in particular the special status of the king. From the beginning of recorded history in China, the Chinese character “kingdom, or guo国” did have a spatial connotation as being a city with a wall, but Confucianism transformed this concept by de-emphasis on spatial aspect of state, focusing instead on morality. This development is reflected by the oft-misunderstood concept of “all under Heaven” (天下) which, despite the appearance of showing the imperial arrogance, lacked serious territorial drive throughout Chinese history. “Geopolitics” and the Chinese tradition is in fact a contradiction in terms. Territorial conquest for colonial resettlement, typical of the Europeans, has never been a political instrument for the maintenance of the state legitimacy, and, more importantly, there has been no “religious” fervor whatsoever for seeking “Promised Land” either. As Henry Kissinger pointed out recently, “The Promised Land is China and the Chinese are already there.”25 China has never launched any crusade against the “infidels,” nor developed any missionary passion for converting foreign population to Confucianism. What is unique about Chinese political tradition is, family (家 jia) is always considered the foundation of state. Hence, the state is often called “guo jia (国家 state-family).” Thus, the state is the amplified form of family in which mutual support, dependency and hierarchy (seniority principle) are deemed natural and necessary. The art of politics therefore reflects ruler’s ability to maintain harmony within the family structure of the state. Justice and equality must be enhanced through tackling factual inequality among the people, not through the pre-assumption that men are “created equal,” which is a typical Christian conception. This point is critically important to understand the ethical vision of Confucius on how to reduce social inequality. The principle is known as “Equality via Apparently Unequal Treatment” (维齐非齐), reducing social inequality through stabilizing natural hierarchy in a family structure. In the West, the original meaning of politics derived from the Greek metaphor of polis, a city-state, and its spatial connotation has never disappeared. Hence, the subsequent Western metaphors of politics are metonymically anchored to space. Politics has been seen as “area,” “domain,” “field,” “sector,” “sphere,” “arena,” “stage” or even a “scene” – much like stage settings in a Rococo theater. There is little doubt that the idea of separation of powers derived above all from this conception of politics. Traditional China simply excluded space in political discourse. Even the Communist ruling elite prefer to anchor politics to the context of action and morality. For example, the contemporary communist rhetoric often uses terms that are related to ongoing process, such as “line of thought,”
64 Fictional legitimacy “political consciousness,” “relationship,” “tendency,” etc. This language is not just banal Stalinist propaganda. Before getting into further analysis of the fundamental difference between China and the West, we may pause here to think about actual implications of the long-standing Western theme about “democratizing” China’s future. To “democratize” China, one must take into consideration two additional factors that are not commonly recognized in the Western debates. First, the Chinese would have to abandon the humanist concept of political legitimacy, the Mandate of Heaven, through separating heaven from the earth in order to accept metaphysical and spatial concepts of politics. Only then the mechanical separation of powers can become logically possible. Put it another way, the Chinese must accept universal values via a revealed foreign religion and a theory of liberal democracy at the same time. Second, the Chinese acceptance of a spatial concept of politics, such as “divisions of power,” also means that they would come to think territorially. Liberal democracy has never prevented Western states from expanding territorial boundaries. Colonialism and free trade empires are not considered obstacles to democratic progress of the mother countries. A democratic and economically rising China with a serious territorial expansion agenda is not incompatible, at least in theory, with liberal democratic tradition. And, a corollary will appear that if China promotes a cultural mission, a global “Yellowmen’s Burden” project, it is totally justifiable and even necessary. The crucial question then is whether the West decides to encourage Chinese state to stay with the Confucian character or to behave like the expansionist young and assertive American republic in the 18th and 19th centuries. If it is the latter option, China may be encouraged to imitate the old colonial states of Europe in pursuing a policy of imperialism. The world is fortunate that the Chinese have so far rejected the wholesale Westernization and fiercely defended a position of building a modern and peaceful republic. In sum, the reliance upon Western classics to explain state action of China, i.e., the “textualist approach,” is no longer adequate, because politics by nature is “contextual.” But the tendency to fall back on the Western textualist approach is so strong that we must first overcome it by looking at history of ideas from an “inter-contextual” perspective. As we mentioned before, the textualist approach could easily exclude the Chinese contribution to the development of state theories, simply, because it has never embraced a spatial vision rooted in the Greek polis. When “familiarity with the past” has become an easy habit, thanks to the Enlightenment orthodoxy, Quentin Skinner offers a straightforward advice that we must treat the past as “unfamiliar” and “strange.”26 Working in an entirely different cultural context from that of Europe, one could discover even more surprising results. We may start with exploring the meanings hidden in three master keywords of liberal democracy, namely, individualism, liberalism and rule of law. One must point out at the outset, although these concepts have long-sustained democratic legitimacy theory, their Chinese translations remain the source of utter confusion.
Fictional legitimacy 65 Individualism (个人主义): East and West One building block of liberal democracy is the concept of individualism. In modern Western context, individualism is uniformly considered a positive and important trait of human society. It is assumed that individualism makes the individual its focus and “with the fundamental premise that the human individual is of primary importance in the struggle for liberation.”27 Liberalism, existentialism and anarchism are examples of movements that take the human individual as a center of analysis. Individualism thus involves “the right of the individual to freedom and self-realization.”28 In Chinese language, however, the term “individualism” defies accurate translation, and there is no way to render it a term without negative connotations such as selfish or self- centered. In studying individualism, one must first of all look at the Chinese cultural context: what is “self (己)”? The popular notion that the Chinese society is “docile” and “collectivist” is misleading, for it has completely ignored the question: what is “self”? There is a clear distinction between the Chinese and the Western conceptions of “self,” for the fundamental feature of “self” in the West has entirely different origins from that of China. In the Western tradition, human beings have a self – that is, they are able to look back on themselves as both subjects and objects in the universe. There is also a religious distinction between “inner self” and “outer self.” The former is said to be a person’s “true” or internal mind, or nature. The latter is the physical part of self, human body. Traditions such as Buddhism see the attachment to self is an illusion that serves as the main cause of suffering and unhappiness. Christianity, however, makes a distinction between the true self and the false self, and sees the false self negatively, for it deviates from true self through original sin. Ironically, Western individuals are obsessed with the desire for emphasizing differences of physical “outer self” from each other, in attire, for example, because they know they remain inherently the same. According to Christianity, all humans are “created equal,” in the sense of both “inner (soul)” self and “outer (body)” self, by God. Thus, the Western conception of self leads logically to absolute equality before all divine, natural and juridical laws. In a nonreligious context, we may say that Chinese individuals are different from each other not only in “outer” self, but also in “inner” self. Indeed, the two selves cannot even be truly separated. A soul independent of human body does not exist. Another irony is, a Western individual often claims self to be “autonomous,” but he can never be truly “autonomous,” being blessed and monitored by God all the time. A Chinese is supposed to be docile and collectivist, lacking individual character, but the absence of the “creation myth” in Chinese tradition ensures that each individual is genuinely unique, self-centered and very individualistic. Thus, for example, a fundamental error of the Western criticism of China’s human rights practice derives from the failure to make this distinction, for it is reflected by the desire of imposing upon China the Christian view that an autonomous Chinese “self” exists first (i.e., the creation myth), before it is sacrificed (or martyred) for some higher public or collective interest. This way
66 Fictional legitimacy of thinking about the Chinese tradition has precisely given rise to the myth of “Oriental Despotism” as it was propagated by Montesquieu and the others, because the long-lasting Chinese despotism, in the Enlightenment reasoning, must have been buttressed by a perpetually docile population who possesses no trace of individualism and spirit of rebellion, just a faceless, emotionless and “inscrutable” crowd. But the Confucian model of “self 己” is a social and contextual self. An individual starts not as autonomous creation by God, but as a shared consciousness of one’s family heritage, social relationships and specific role to play. In the absence of a true religion, there is no such concept of an independent spiritual life on par with the Christian “soul.” One’s “inner” and “outer” selves can no more be separated, as it is in the West, than body and mind can. Throughout history, a consistent Chinese expression of mental action is “heart thinks (心想).” The character “heart” (心) is a picture of aorta, which can think; thus, this ideograph depicts both heart and mind. As Roger Ames rightly points out, to separate mind from the heart – via Western tradition of body-mind dichotomy – would mean return to Western metaphysical realm, which is absent in China, because the cognitive (mind) and the affective (heart) cannot be divorced so as to embrace an a-historical and a-cultural concept of the Kantian “pure” reason and rationality. Thus, for the Chinese, the locus of self-consciousness is never in the “I” detached from “me.”29 Moreover, the Western preoccupation with “free speech” – the absolute (also known as inalienable) individual rights of uttering personal opinions – is precisely grounded on the alleged separation of a person’s physical action from mental action. But it remains a conceptual puzzle in Chinese tradition. Nietzsche was acutely sensitive to typical Chinese expressions regarding this heart-mind connection. In Beyond Good and Evil, he noted how unique a Chinese mother teaches her child to be prudent and careful in life, because her expression of “carefulness” combines both the cognitive and the affective: “make your heart small (xiao xin小心)!”30 Indeed, as we repeated many times, Wittgenstein’s famous dictum “Words are also deeds” is akin to the Chinese way of thinking and reasoning. The Chinese language in fact has never delinked words from action. Even Ferdinand de Saussure (1857–1913), father of modern semiotics, could not succeed in creating a relationship between the “signified” and the “signifier”31 in languages that are not alphabetic by nature. Every Chinese character has an original meaning, sometimes even multiple meanings, for it represents a logical expression from an ideograph, a picture. More importantly, the Chinese “individualism” is firmly sustained by memory of each family’s unique kinship tree, which is recorded and maintained meticulously. Family history registers the past and at the same time points toward the future. Each person has a unique place in this continuous procession of life. Indeed, the Chinese “this-worldliness” allows them to define the term “world” as “generational boundary (世界shi jie).”32 In other words, the world is not a concept of space, but of time, and each individual functions as a social link between the past and the future. Here comes China’s unique ancestor-worship tradition
Fictional legitimacy 67 which, unfortunately, dragged to the center stage of the Rites Controversy more than 300 years ago, and excludes the possibility of creating either a Hobbesian human life of “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short,” or an autonomous human self in the “state of nature” without social relationships. At the same time, the Chinese emphasis of secular humanity without creation myth protects true individuality of each member of the society. As a result, it is not surprising that the Chinese tradition has never produced the abstract concept “individualism,” but this hardly means that the Chinese are any less “individualistic,” in the sense of self-realization, pursuit of individual aims and maximization of individual capacity within the social context.33 In fact, the Chinese are among the most individualistic by nature. Another problem in the Western concept of individualism is that it has never been logically consistent, because it contains insoluble conceptual problems. The perennial debate over abortion rights is a perfect illustration of a hopeless endeavor to reconcile “rights-bearing” women and the “rights-bearing fetus,” for both are created by God. Ancient Greece never encountered such problem, which was created by Christian theology alone. Neither is China’s family-planning policy, however brutal it was, troubled by this as a conceptual problem. Nietzsche tackled such conceptual dilemma of Christianity well when he questioned God’s existence as Divine Will that actually undermines human existence as a project of individual will. Thus, God must die so that human beings can achieve “authenticity.”34 By sharp contrast, the Chinese notion of individual rights in a social context has been remarkably consistent for several millennia. One may ask the question which notion works better for any organized rational society in any historical period, not necessarily confined to the period of modern capitalism, and which notion better helps human beings to achieve what Nietzsche called “authenticity”?
Liberalism Liberalism is another keyword that Chinese classics do not possess. Like the absence of individualism, this hardly proves that the Chinese have enjoyed no liberty in the classical sense even in Western history. In the Greco-Roman tradition, the concept of liberty is older than the concept of liberalism, and the original and classical meaning of liberty, which in politics, consists of the social and political freedom guaranteed to all citizens. In Christian theology, liberty is freedom from the bondage of sin. Thus, the original concept of liberty is much closer to the traditional Chinese view: how to build the proper relationship between the political authorities and individual rights. The classic Greco-Roman view never separates liberty from coercive power represented by state, the enforcer of laws. No individual is supposed to enjoy absolute liberty. Aristotle once said that in a household the free (as in contrast to slaves) are least at liberty to act at random.35 Liberty is usually understood in the Western classical terms as a “negative” phenomenon – the absence of arbitrary constraints. At the end of 19th century, however, the concept
68 Fictional legitimacy of liberalism emerged and quickly discredited the classic understanding of liberty being the phenomenon “where law ends, liberty begins.” Liberty as it is presented by the post-Enlightenment notion of liberalism has since become the pet concept played by many theorists into social contractual variations of justice and equality. According to their a-historical interpretations, there are not only “negative” but also “positive” dimensions of liberty in the sense of individual self-realization, living the life a rational person would choose to live. The foundation of this new argument is the claim that a human individual already was endowed with “inalienable” rights in the pre-contractual state of nature. Thus, human rights have since been elevated, rather absurdly, to an “ontological” and even divine status. Negative liberty is the freedom “from” something. In the case of American law, it was supposed to be the freedom from government interference in our lives – hence, the 9th and 10th amendments. Positive freedom is “the right to a meal” and the “right” to a place to sleep; in other words, it is entitlement. But from the classical Chinese perspective, this fictitious idea of “contractual” rights seems historically absurd and morally incoherent. Even if one invokes the idea of a “state of nature” not to work out the historical origins of rights and society or obligations of governments and individuals, but to simply demonstrate the idea of the moral equality of individuals, as Ronald Dworkin famously argued,36 there is still no justification for the state to give top priority to protecting individual freedom, especially the “positive” one. The state must give its priority to maintaining law and order and promoting collective interests. Another dimension of the classical liberty in the West simply concerns “free state” (civitas libera), which provided the theoretical foundation of Roman Republicanism. Civitas libera originally means free city, which was a self-governed city during the Hellenistic and Roman Imperial eras. This status was granted by a king or an emperor, who nevertheless supervised the city’s affairs indirectly through his epistates or curators, respectively. This form of government provided the ultimate theoretical weapons to Machiavelli for defending city-state freedom as much as the 13 American colonies for declaring independence in 1776. But after the 18th century, the original meaning of “libertas” has been gradually distorted by liberalism, particularly in the Anglophone political philosophies written by John Locke, Thomas Paine, etc. Since the term “liberalism” was created, the original civitas libera (free city-state) has been transformed via utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham into “civil society,” a concept that is designed for creating a moral space between the ruler and the ruled within state boundary. It is this distortion that has given rise to a whole school of modern “liberals” from John Stuart Mill down to Isaiah Berlin and John Rawls. According to this new interpretation, since individual person is “born free” in the state of nature, perhaps being the image of God himself, the state, being the product of a “social contract,” should function as protector of this “natural freedom,” thus the beginning of the legitimation of confrontational relationship of individual liberty against state authority. The implication is that the government is always bad and the people always good. From the perspective of Christian
Fictional legitimacy 69 theology (especially the concept of the Original Sin combined with English utilitarianism), the Chinese logic of political legitimacy or “rule by virtue” becomes impossible, if not utterly deceitful. Politics is also described as a zero-sum game, since “civil liberty”37 can only be expanded at the expense of the state power. Of course, this conceptual transformation reflects the rising power of the bourgeois state in the Western European societies. In reality, however, the conceptual problem of the natural-born individual liberty remains insoluble, for the dividing line between common liberty, i.e., the liberty of the community, and the state, and the liberty of the individual can never be clearly defined if the relationship is considered a zero-sum game. The real dilemma is, one cannot be free without residing in a “free state”; however, accepting some personal restraints from the state power is said to be the precondition to become a free citizen in the sense of not being ruled by foreigners. There is a further moral dilemma. A “free state” in this new conception is a community in which the actions of the body politic are determined by the will of the members as a whole. Since perfect consensus is never possible, majority rule can become the coercive power against civil liberties of a minority. Thus, the extent of a person’s liberty is always constrained by the coercive force of law. But what matters is not who makes the law, but what laws are made. In other words, the particular forms of political system have no necessary connection to how much freedom one enjoys in a society. Classical liberty is essentially a “negative one” – in the absence of constraints, there is no reason for us to believe that even an absolute form of government always leaves people totally unfree.38 But no personal freedom is precisely the common reading of China’s political system. Finally, the coercive power that constrains freedom is not exercised just by force; there are many other forms of coercion – economic, social and cultural – that create different levels of dependency or even domination, threatening individual liberty.39 Therefore, the original conception of liberty before liberalism, Skinner called it “neo-Roman” view, comes much closer to the traditional Chinese view of a balanced and self-adjustable relationship between the individual rights and collective obligations, between individual and state laws and between state responsibility to protect its citizens and the individual power of resistance against the state. Indeed, when modern scholar Yan Fu, who brought Social Darwinism to China, first introduced the concept of “liberty” to Chinese elite at the end of the 19th century, his choice for translation was John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty. But he immediately found the title impossible to be rendered into Chinese, for the book betrayed an ontological discourse on liberty, a mind-set unfamiliar to the Chinese elite. Hierarchical relationships, dependency and interdependency are considered social norm as well as a natural state of order. When Mill’s On Liberty was finally published in 1903, he managed to retain the original meaning of Western classical liberty before the birth of liberalism. After agonizing for a long time, Yan decided to translate the simple title as “On the Boundaries of the Rights of the Society and that of the Individual (群己权界论),” a perfect rendition of neo-Roman as well as Chinese views on liberty.
70 Fictional legitimacy So the Chinese did not need to build a state theory via fictional legitimacy, as did the West in the 17th century, by a conceptual transfer of power from the ruler to the “artificial person” – a fictional state or Hobbes’s “Leviathan.” In China, the state is no Leviathan and there are no theoretical confusions about the conception of state to begin with. The state is embodied by a real, not artificial, person who alone is in the position of communicating with the superior force known as Tian (heaven). Although the Chinese, including the emperor, are generally agnostics as to the nature of heaven, the person occupying the imperial throne must behave correctly in “this world” in order to keep the allegedly sacred mandate to communicate with the superior being. This unique moral arrangement of state power compels Chinese government to function rationally, out of its own self-interest, as a guarantor of social stability and political order, a promoter of economic prosperity and a defender of the territory that is not subject to domination from the outside world. Since modern times, defending national sovereignty takes top priority precisely because China as a “free state” hardly existed after the Opium War of the 1840s. It was only restored by the Communist takeover in 1949. Finally, China has the longest tradition of legitimating popular revolt against bad ruler. In the West, the rebellion against established authorities, either secular or ecclesiastical, had never acquired the status of being fundamental human rights until the appearance of a coherent theory established by John Locke in the 17th century. In China, the population has always understood that the ultimate coercive power that constrains the freedom of the ruler is the popular rights of rebellion. The ruler did not need to evoke a fictional “social contract” to justify his rule. With Mandate of Heaven intact, a ruler alone is the super-mediator between heaven and the earth. In effect, the Chinese ruler performs the secular function of what Jesus does for the Holy, but he possesses no divine quality. Indeed, the vast body of official histories written and compiled by all dynasties in China focused on the theme of how a wise ruler should manage to avoid popular rebellion. These history books tried to answer the question about statecraft through not only facts, but also careful analysis, providing suggestions of correcting future ruler’s behavior. The criterion for judging a ruler’s behavior is, of course, the Confucian morality. In modern democracy, voting rights have acquired a sacred status, but many nonviolent coercive instruments during the election process, such as money and manipulation of public opinions, render the democratic participation much less impressive than it appears. The size of body politic also matters. The participatory, not representative, democracy has only worked in small political entities such as Greek city-states or modern Switzerland where knowledge and information are easy to obtain. It must be a shock to the ancient Greek thinkers how common knowledge and information are disseminated so widely as to sustain a political consensus in a large-scale body politic such as China. A common written language and moral standardization by Confucianism are responsible for this unique phenomenon.40 The ruling class was also qualified as scholars, greatly facilitating the dissemination of knowledge and information throughout the vast territory.
Fictional legitimacy 71 Therefore, the secret of the Chinese success in governance lies in two areas: on the one hand, the Confucian ethics are widely accepted by the population; on the other, the Imperial Examination System opened a path for any educated man to “participate” directly in politics. The Chinese young men had access to participatory politics from very tender age when the Confucian education began. There were no social and income discriminations for them to take imperial examinations. This system hardly resembled “Oriental Despotism,” and was certainly superior to feudalism in Europe. Through an open system for elite education, the consensus over the norm of politics has itself become a matter of common knowledge because everyone is in a position to see whether the conditions of the Mandate of Heaven are fulfilled, and, at the same time, to know that everyone else is in a position to see that they are fulfilled. Neither classical Greek political theorists such as Plato and Aristotle, nor the Roman thinkers such as Cicero would have disapproved this unique system that compelled the ruler to govern effectively on correct moral ground. Furthermore, as we mentioned above, the cornerstone of the state is the family system; hence, the priority of the Chinese state is no doubt given to community interests, while individual interest is mainly taken care of by the family. In sharp contrast, the modern conception of liberty as a natural right, coercion as the antonym of liberty and the maximization of liberty as the chief duty of an enlightened government is incompatible with classical Greco-Roman conception of liberty and farther away from the Chinese tradition.41 This theory, represented by contemporary liberal scholars such as John Rawls, is indeed an extreme version of “Gothic” theory of liberal democracy. Moreover, the Chinese tradition is aimed at maintaining balance between the rights of the individual and the rights of the state. There is, in principle, no confrontational moral space (in the form of the modern “civil society”) between the people and the state. If in the eyes of the people, a ruler had lost the Mandate of Heaven, the popular rebellion is more directed against emperor in person than state itself. Thus, while popular rebellions brought out regime changes, the Confucian state structure has always survived. In other words, dynastic revolution is assumed to have been caused by human failure rather than system dysfunction. Even the communist regime today retains many key features of the state system designed by the first unifying emperor in 221 BC, such as centralization of power. But “civil society” has practical merits in modern politics. Most political battles in today’s West are cushioned from violence because, in part, of the existence of the “civil society.” The real issue in modern China’s political reform is therefore to find a way to bid farewell to the recurrent phenomenon of violent regime changes. Whether some form of a civil society is necessary needs to be experimented. In view of maintaining political and social order, some issues, such as protest against environmental degradation or civil rights violations, are better handled in the context of civil society than direct political confrontation. But one should not construe that the Chinese have enjoyed no rights of rebellion against the political authority.
72 Fictional legitimacy The Rule of Law Law is a key aspect of the political ontology in the Western world. The People’s Republic of China has often been seen as a law breaker in chief; meanwhile, the West has secured a solid position as chief law enforcer in the world. The common idea that China has no “Rule of Law (法治)” presents another myth. Moreover, it has become such a fashionable notion among liberal intellectuals both in China and in the West that rule of law is the only realistic solution for problems in the contemporary Chinese system. Due to the strong resistance to Western-style political reforms by leaders of China, the concept of rule of law is considered the second best, pragmatic and the most promising approach to the project of “democratization” of China. Moreover, due to the absence of master keywords such as “justice,” “individualism” and “liberty” in Chinese tradition, they advocate a gradualist approach to political reform, hoping such “realist” idea may even appeal to leaders obsessed with political stability. However, this idea is misleading and full of hidden conceptual pitfalls. To begin with, it is common in the West to consider the Chinese legal system as “rule of man,” which by definition means “injustice” and “despotism.” But since the Chinese traditional social order is construed as harmony achieved through personal participation in a ritual-bound social activities, appeals to law for maintaining social order are far from being respected as a legitimate recourse for adjudicating social conflict, but are seen as an open admission of communal and moral failure. The sources of law are different. The Western concept of “rule of law” is based on atomistic individual rights; law is the ultimate protection for these rights against the state. In traditional China, law (法) was created as supplement to social rites, aiming at articulating administrative duties to overcome deficiencies of those rites in keeping social stability. Thus, “the evolution of law in China may be described as devolution of the ritual (li礼) into law (fa法) and of law into punishment (xing刑).”42 That is to say, only the failure of social morality calls for law, and the failure of law as deterrence to crimes leads to punishment. Institutionally, traditional Chinese state had never developed a ministry of “justice,” but only one of “punishment” (刑部), which, by definition, was inferior in prestige to the ministry of “rites”(礼部). Confucius always stressed the principle of “shame” in his legal thought: Lead the people with administrative injunctions and keep them orderly with penal law, and they will avoid punishments but will be without a sense of shame. Lead them with excellence [i.e., virtue] and keep them orderly through observing ritual propriety and they will develop a sense of shame, and moreover, will order themselves.43 Since the modern Western concept of law derived from the fictional “social contract,” it hardly makes sense in the traditional Chinese legal setting. Nevertheless, after the revolution of 1911, the republican China adopted a continental (Napoleonic) system for legal activities. Today’s China is also active
Fictional legitimacy 73 in issues related to international public and private laws. Certain level of “westernization” in legal arena is inevitable, especially concerning the “due procedures.” Admittedly, the absence of clearly defined space between private and public spheres, or what the Westerner would call the civil society, would render the task of establishing modern legal “due process” difficult. It is here China must be open to the idea of creating legal processes that would abide by international norms and customs. But the rule of ritual is culturally specific; the rule of law cannot replace it. It may only supplement it. An economically prosperous China must understand the theory and practice of international laws originated in the Western world for practical trading actions, but this fact has no conceptual connection to the absolute need for transforming China’s Confucian legal tradition, which focuses on maintenance of general social morals into a profit-driven legal business, nowhere more evident than in the United States. It is impossible for the Chinese to accept that more lawyers and litigations would indicate the right direction toward social stability and justice rather than the symptom of social chaos and general moral decay. Indeed, Confucius once served the position as a minister of law in Dukedom of Lu, and he left this famous comment: “In hearing legal cases, I am the same as anyone. What we must strive to do is to rid the courts of cases altogether.”44 In the area of constitutional law, the gap between China and the modern West, especially the United States, could not be wider. The United States is the first human society having a written constitution that was conceived from the idea of priority given to protecting individual rights, despite the fact that a worst kind of de jure inequality(slavery) existed at the time its first constitution was born and this continues to exist well into the 20th century. A constitution is designed to fix a boundary on the enactment of laws. The theoretical foundation for such constitution has to be contractual. In our time, a constitution is a set of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or other organization is governed. In contractual theory, however, it is supposed to have a permanent function. Many scholars tend to ridicule Chinese constitution as functioning like American party platforms, lacking bounding power and credibility. It is true that the 20th-century China had produced 15 different constitutions. But, the Chinese constitution is social rather than political document, and its aim is to promote social harmony and political stability. Since state legitimacy is based on contingent performance of the ruling class, it is not surprising that the Chinese conception of constitution is dynamic for the purpose of codifying the existing practices that seem to be able to maintain social harmony. If not, changes are required in the same manner as the French did after the 1789 Revolution. The French after all have so far produced 17 constitutions since the ancien regime collapsed. The Americans prefer to change constitution by “amendments.” The logic is the same. The problem is that the leadership could abuse power by ignoring the written constitutions. Mao had done so when launching the Cultural Revolution in 1966. This is brought out by the dictatorial tendency of the imported Stalinist
74 Fictional legitimacy Politburo system. But, in principle, the constitution is always the end result of a very long and complicated bargaining process; it did not happen very often that personal will of the ruler could dictate it without making any political concessions.45
Notes 1 See An Etymological Glossary of Selected Modern Chinese Words, Chinese Language Society of Hong Kong, Shanghai, 2001. 2 Samuel Huntington, The Third Wave. University of Oklahoma Press, 1991, p. 307. 3 “Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time or war where every man is enemy to every man, the same is consequent to the time wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain, and consequently no culture of the earth, no navigation nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea, no commodious building, no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force, no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time, no arts, no letters, no society, and, which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, chapter XIII: Of the Natural Condition of Mankind as Concerning Their Felicity and Misery, p. 89, Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought, edited by Richard Tuck. Cambridge University Press, 2000. 4 For this famous Vico quote, see Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, https://plato. stanford.edu/entries/vico/. 5 Robin George Collingwood, The Idea of History, 1946 edition. London: Martino Fine Books, 2014. Collingwood thought that history cannot be studied in the same way as natural science because the internal thought processes of historical persons cannot be perceived with the physical senses, and past historical events cannot be directly observed. He suggested that a historian must “reconstruct” history by using “historical imagination” to “reenact” the thought processes of historical persons based on information and evidence from historical sources. 6 Unilineal evolution (also referred to as classical social evolution) is a 19th-century social theory about the evolution of societies and cultures. It was composed of many competing theories by those who believed that Western culture is the contemporary pinnacle of social evolution. Different social status is aligned in a single line that moves from most primitive to most civilized. This theory is now generally considered obsolete in academic circles. 7 See Oswyn Murray, Early Greece. Sussex, 1980, Moses Finley, The Use and Abuse of History. London, 1980; Ancient History: Evidence and Models. London, 1986 and Phyllis Culham and Lowell Edmonds (eds.), Classics: A Discipline and Profession in Crisis. New York and London, 1989. See also Charles Freeman’s brilliant summary of the recent scholarship on this issue in Egypt, Greece and Rome, chapter 1. Oxford, 1996. 8 Georg W.F. Hegel, The Philosophy of History, translated by John Sibree. New York: Dover, 1956, Part I, The Oriental World, pp. 17–18. 9 For an earlier expose on this point, see Xiang Lanxin, Tradition and Foreign Relations (传统与对外关系). Beijing: Sanlian Press, 2008. 10 Maddison Angus, Chinese Economic Performance in the Long Run, 960–2030 AD. OECD, 2007, p. 44. 11 For politics and foreign relations of China, see Lanxin Xiang, The Origins of the Boxer War, a Multinational Study. London: Taylor Francis, 2003, especially chapters 1–4. 12 Huxley Thomas, 1900, vol. 2, p. 285.
Fictional legitimacy 75 13 Complete Works of Lu Xun, People’s Press for Literature, vol. 2. Beijing, 1981, p. 296. 14 The May Fourth Movement is the most important anti-tradition intellectual movement in China’s modern history. See Chow Tse-tsung, The May Fourth Movement. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1960. 15 From today’s point of view, the revolutionary leader Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s famous slogan, “Driving out the slavery Tartars and restoring China,” is a racist argument. 16 Gilbert K. Chestertom, “The Blunders of Our Parties”, Illustrated London News, 1924. 17 Gilbert K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, chapter 4, The Ethics of Elfland. 18 This author has made a contribution to this effort; see Xiang, Lanxin, Chuantong yu Duiwai Guanxi (Tradition and External Relations of China). Beijing: Sanlian Press, 2007. 19 Xi Jinping, speech made when visiting the exhibition, “The Road to Rejuvenation” on November 29, 2012 in Beijing History Museum. See, Xi Jinping, The Governance of China. Beijing, China: Foreign Languages Press Co., Ltd, 2014, pp. 37, 39. 20 Hegel, The Philosophy of History, Part I. The Oriental World, 1956, p. 22. 21 See Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Penguin, 2003 and Sociology of Religion, Beacon Press, 1993; and Seymour Martin Lipset, Political Man: The Social Bases of Politics. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981. More discussion on legitimacy and economic development, see Chapter 5. 22 Du Halde, Description geographique, vol. 1, pp. 120–122, 4 volumes, 1735, Paris. 23 The metaphor developed in Renaissance times, as the medical knowledge of human body based upon the classical work of Galen was being challenged by new thinkers such as William Harvey. 24 According to Plato, the principles of Athenian democracy (as it existed in his day) must be rejected as only a few are fit to rule. “I suspect, for the human race, either philosophers become kings in our cities, or the people who are now called kings and rulers become… philosophers.” Plato, The Republic, 473c–d, p. 175, Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought, edited by Giovanni R.F. Ferrari. Cambridge University Press, 2000. 25 Henry Kissinger, On China. London and New York: Allen Lane, 2011, p. 31. 26 Skinner, Quentin, “The Danger that the Historian May Conceptualize an Argument in Such a Way That Its Alien Elements Dissolve into a Misleading Familiarity”, Visions of Politics, vol. I, Cambridge University Press, 2002, p. 76. 27 L. Susan Brown. The Politics of Individualism: Liberalism, Liberal Feminism, and Anarchism. Black Rose Book, Ltd., 1993, p. 2. 28 Ellen Meiksins Wood, Mind and Politics: An Approach to the Meaning of Liberal and Socialist Individualism. University of California Press, 1972, pp. 6–7. 29 Roger Ames and Henry Rosemont, The Analects of Confucius, A Philosophical Translation. New York: The Ballantine Books, 1998, p. 56. 30 Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, edited by Walter Kaufmann, vol. 9. New York: Vintage, 1966, p. 267. 31 In the tradition of semiotics developed by Ferdinand de Saussure the sign relation is dyadic, consisting only of a form of the sign (the signifier) and its meaning (the signified). Saussure saw this relation as being essentially arbitrary motivated only by social convention. Saussure’s theory has been particularly influential in the study of linguistic signs. 32 The origin of this term comes from the Sanskrit term Loka Dhatu (cosmos), which Chinese Buddhist monks’ translated into Shijie (generational boundaries). 33 In a private conversation with Henry Kissinger in 2004, I explained this Chinese conception of individual and the difficulty for democracy to function well there; Kissinger agreed, “You have too many individuals!” 34 Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, p. 34. 35 Aristotle, Metaphysics, 2nd edition, translated by Joe Sachs. Green Lion Press, 2002, p. 1075a.
76 Fictional legitimacy 36 Ronald Dworkin, Taking Rights Seriously. London: Duckworth, 1977, p. 152. 37 Usually refers to the right of people to do or say things that are not illegal without being stopped or interrupted by the government. 38 Isaiah Berlin made this point brilliantly, but his “positive liberty” of self-realization is based on a misunderstanding of the classic liberal theory. 39 The best work on various meanings of liberty and its relations to liberalism is Quentin Skinner’s Liberty before Liberalism. Cambridge University Press, 1998. 40 One may argue that in the internet age, the rapid information and knowledge dissemination could also pose ever deadlier threat to the Chinese state if it misbehaves morally. 41 John Rawls, A Theory of Justice. Cambridge: Harvard, 1973. 4 2 Julia Ching, “Human Rights: A Valid Chinese Concept”, in Confucianism and Human Rights, edited by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Tu Wei-ming. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998, p. 277. 43 Confucius, Analects, 2.3, Ames and Rosemont trans., p. 76. 4 4 Ibid., 12.13, p. 157. 45 For this discussion, I learnt a lot from David Hall and Roger Ames, in their book Democracy of the Dead: Dewey, Confucius and Hope for Democracy in China. Chicago: Open Court, 1999.
4 Presentation and representation A republican dilemma
Republic without plebiscite In Confucian tradition, political presentation or public demonstration of rituals is called Li (rites 礼), which occupies a prominent role in legitimating imperial rule. Confucian principle of Li (礼) or ritual propriety considers bad presentation as public admission of decaying moral standard. Bad political presentation may signal the system soon to crack at the seams, because, as we mentioned in the last chapter, a common language and a moral standard developed throughout Chinese history means that everyone is in a similar position to see bad presentation as moral decline of the ruler. In a monarchy, an ostentatious display of ceremonial grandeur, known as “pomp and circumstance,” often strengthens the royal authority. But royal legitimacy is usually solidly established by blood-line, without serious challengers. A modern republic does not enjoy such luxury, for the question who should occupy the ruling position of the country is contested through a system of competitive political representation. A republic without popular representation always produces ugly image to the public. Legitimacy cannot be solidly established if a modern regime’s political presentation consistently looks bad. Since 1911, China has become “modern” in the sense of establishing a foreign system, i.e., a republic, bidding farewell to thousands-year-old dynastic system. Without Confucian legitimacy, Chinese elite have been struggling to reach political consensus on an alternative logic of legitimacy. Democracy is a favorite candidate, but aside from Taiwan – a small island regime which called itself “Republic of China” – most of the greater Chinese area, including Hong Kong and Singapore, has failed to stage democratic transition. In today’s China, the legitimacy problem is accentuated by a hybrid system – a modern state modeled after the Russian Bolshevism – that is neither traditional, nor liberal democratic. A hybrid system works only if two different political cultures could produce a better combination, marrying justice with morality. The Bolshevik model could not deliver this. China is a Western-style “republic,” but not backed by a plebiscite. Thus, political presentation becomes a critical factor for a “people’s republic” to survive. In its narrowest sense, a republic means a political order whose head of state is not monarch. In its broadest sense, it is a political order in which the supreme
78 A republican dilemma power lies in a body of citizens who are entitled to voting for leaders and representatives responsible to them. In either sense, republicanism stresses politics by representation, believing that representative politics makes better and more convincing political presentation. Every political system has some form of representation, even with a monarchy. Every constitution produced after 1911 declares China to be a republic in the broadest sense. Unfortunately, republicanism as a concept of institutional arrangement never has much appeal in modern China, because of the persistence of Confucian moral concept of legitimacy. More importantly, in justifying legitimacy, a republic without plebiscite is much inferior even to blood-line-based dynasties, because a ruler in Confucian tradition embodies the moral center of the state. But, unlike the Bolshevik model, Confucian tradition also stresses that the power center itself is not the ultimate source of self-legitimating, because the ruler should be an exemplary model of morality acceptable to the majority of the population. Indeed, typical debate on republican ideals in modern China, from the very beginning, has centered around the question of who, in the absence of royal legitimacy, represents the moral center and what kind of qualifications the new moral center should possess. Even in the dynasty period, such qualifications were not considered hereditary, because they were changing all the time, depending upon rulers’ behavior. These are fundamental questions about republican politics in a modern Chinese context. How did republicanism take root in China? Before the Western concept of “republicanism” entered China in the late 19th century, the scholar-gentry class was the chief interpreter of the behavior of the state. It was the only social and political elite group obliged to reporting the moral status of the Mandate of Heaven. Its opinion was crucial for maintaining domestic stability or for rallying the population against bad rulers during revolutionary agitations. Max Weber made a misleading analysis of the role played by the scholar-gentry class in his book, The Religion of China: Confucianism and Taoism (1915), arguing that “their vest interests were in preserving the status quo, opposing any reforms or changes, particularly on governmental level.”1 This is clearly wrong about the scholar-gentry’s character and its real functions. Unlike most Western political concepts introduced into China at the end of the 19th century, “republicanism” penetrated the elite circle quickly during the national crisis triggered by the catastrophic Sino-Japanese War. Social Darwinism, as we mentioned in the last chapter, not only explained the humiliating defeat, but also provided an outlet for anti-dynastic rebels to vent their ethnic- nationalistic sentiment. During the 1911 revolution, the rallying call was that the Manchus who ruled China for 267 years was an uncivilized ethnic minority; hence, there is a need for the return to a Chinese alternative. The revolutionary leaders openly claimed that this dynasty failed because it was led by an inferior race of Tartar origin, even though it had produced brilliant emperors such as Kangxi and Qianlong who were seen by scholar-gentry elite at the time morally on par with sage rulers in ancient Chinese history. The founding father of the Chinese republic, Dr. Sun Yat-sen (1866–1925), created a powerful slogan for his movement: “expel the northern barbarians [i.e., the Manchus] to revive China;
A republican dilemma 79 establish a republic, and distribute land equally among the people.”2 Thanks to the introduction of Social Darwinism and racialist theory from Europe, the Manchus were suddenly turned into a “barbarian race.” Thus, republicanism in modern China flourished as a political tool to delegitimize the Manchu minority rule. In the summer of 1911, the 3,000-year-old dynastic system in China suddenly collapsed. But almost immediately, the new republican state began to fail in keeping internal order and stability. Compared to the dynastic system, republicanism as a tool for keeping law and order seems, from the outset, much inferior, despite divisions of power were established by a constitution. One fundamental problem of the new republican system is not the absence of political representation, but the perpetually bad political presentation in public. The Confucian ritual-bound Chinese population could never tolerate ugly public images of their rulers. We should take a look at the original meaning and context of “republic” in China. In the late 19th century when the Western concept of “republic” came, it was translated into an ancient phrase “Gonghe” (共和, literally “common harmony”). But this translation, like many master keywords in modern China, was imported from Meiji Japan where the Samurai reformers managed to twist the archaic concept of Gonghe into something entirely different, depicting simply a non-monarchical system to contrast Japan’s royal house.3 The original Gonghe derived from the Zhou dynasty (1046–256 BC), when a baby emperor was too young to govern the vast empire, and the power was relegated to and executed by his uncle, the Duke of Zhou, who is said possessing superior virtue and his policies that were good for the people. Throughout history, the Duke’s exemplary personality was viewed as representing the highest moral standard. But from the outset, Gonghe did not concern power structure and least of all power-sharing by fixed procedure. Evaluating how the Duke exercised power at the court, Confucius came to the conclusion that to achieve Gonghe (or common harmony) in a state, personal virtue of a ruler would be decisive. Specific form of government itself is not relevant. Gonghe has a very different meaning from the modern concept of “republic” as a representative government. Modern republic, in contrast to that of the republican Rome, is simply a unique power-sharing arrangement, while de-emphasizing the original meaning in the Latin phrase “res publica,” whose focus is on creating and maintaining a sphere of public good and social harmony. Moreover, Gonghe also means human action for building consensus and collaboration. Modern Chinese intellectual elite usually ignore the original meaning of Roman republicanism, because republic is automatically assumed to be a better system than dynasty for maintaining domestic peace and stability, and at the same time more effective in repelling foreign domination. The 1911 revolution, however, achieved nothing on either front. And most embarrassingly, the modernizing Japanese elite managed to achieve both objectives brilliantly without ever attempting at eliminating the Yamato monarchy. Even though the Japanese invented the term Kyowa (modern Japanese for Gonghe), a republic, they have never wavered in esteeming their dynastic system.
80 A republican dilemma Past dynasties at least were able to avoid major civil wars for an average 200year interval. From 1911 to the establishment of the People’s Republic in 1949, China witnessed civil wars with a highest frequency in history, about every five years. Foreign invasions had also become larger and larger in scale and much more damaging in scope. This phenomenon proves the point made by scholars on civil wars that the most obvious commonality to civil wars is that they occur most frequently in fragile states.4 Serious intellectual debate over republicanism is rare in China. The focus is often on the practical function of republic rather than its conceptual meaning, which is in sharp contrast to the tradition of debates over Roman republicanism from Cicero to Machiavelli. One interesting idea emerged from the early 20th-century debate was about how the new republic should be effectively organized, not as a “democracy,” but as “self-governance” (自治 zi zhi). In his famous essay “On Self-Governance” (论自治 Lun zi zhi), Liang Qichao ( 1873–1929), an influential intellectual leader, defined republicanism as “the absence of disorder,” and asserted this is equivalent to the principle of self-governance, true on both personal and political levels. To maintain order, one must ensure that the forces of chaos do not make a comeback. This interpretation of republicanism, rooted deeply in Confucian tradition, led to the idea of creating a group of self-governed persons who will obey rules of the society without being forced by any external power of coercion. Part of this “self-governance” involves externalizing the shared moral standard. Otherwise, Liang argued, China would end up being governed by foreigners.5 Perhaps only a thinker like Liang, a Confucian scholar with modern perspective and knowledge of the outside world could come up with this idea. Obviously, this interpretation of republicanism via self-governance calls for reform rather than revolution. Thus, it is a type of Burkean political conservatism that comes close to what Quentin Skinner called “Neo-Roman” vision of republicanism, “freedom as non-domination,” both internal and external.6 Self-governance of a nation-state is now called “national sovereignty”, which used to be an alien concept to China. But self-governance involves an ethical code of conduct, which is totally compatible with Confucian political tradition. Liang’s impact seems enduring, because his “republicanism as self-governance” continues to produce more variations in real politics. Liang’s agenda was to preserve the scholar-gentry elite and its political function even in a republic to ensure correct political presentation. What he did not expect was that political players have also changed rapidly after 1911. The agents advocating the republican rule in China have now become modern political parties: the Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Communist Party (CPC), among others. The scope of debate about who possess the best qualifications for “self-governance” can be easily expanded because what knowledge base is most useful and suitable for governing China is determined by specific historical contexts, fitting well with the traditional pattern about politics as a contingent phenomenon. In the late 19th century, for example, foreign language, science and technology, which had never been part of the classic Confucian curriculum, were
A republican dilemma 81 included for the first time by leading intellectual reformers. Liang himself was a key figure of the 100-Day Reform in 1898 at the imperial court. In the 20th century, Western constitutional theory and social reform theories were avidly embraced during the first republican period (1911–1949). Therefore, the debate about the flaws of republic usually ended up with the nostalgia about the dynastic efficiency. Therefore, political discourse during the republican era has typically focused on maintaining order rather than system design. During Mao’s era of the People’s Republic (1949–1976), “knowledge about the masses” became important for determining qualities of political elite. Stalin was severely criticized by Mao for having no faith in the masses, and relying too heavily upon the Soviet apparatchiks as “transmission belt” for power with ugly political presentation. Mao’s “mass-line” strategy, however brutal it may be, was highly effective for rallying support for his Cultural Revolution. In post-Mao China, economy is opened up to the world. Hence, the knowledge of market mechanism and global trade rules become a top criterion for selecting policy elite. Yet Confucian politics persists in Chinese political culture. There is little faith in system design alone. In fact, the concept of self-governance has managed to bring Confucian politics into modern context. As a result, the idea of state becomes a psychological one, because state exists primarily as an idea in the minds of its citizens. A state is essentially viewed not so much as territory or governing institutions, but as a partnership of loyal citizens. The emphasis on social order rather than power-sharing mechanism helps strong leaders such as Chiang Kaishek, Mao Zedong as well as Xi Jinping in their rising to emperor-like status. State is not built by abstract universal values. It is interesting to note that this idea of state exhibits certain affinity to the vision of state by English Romantic movement, which was a brief but powerful counter-Enlightenment current. It was also a true intellectual heir to Renaissance humanism that China first encountered in the 16th century via the Jesuits. It is no accident that Liang carefully studied English Romanticism. According to him, romanticism “repudiated imitation to revere creation, broke down accepted formality to give a free rein to emotion.”7 In the next chapter, we shall explain further this intellectual affinity. Suffice to say for now, leading Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834) was so suspicious of universal values that he fought especially hard against any abstract concept of individualism as foundation of modern state, while the Enlightenment vision of state was precisely centered on the abstraction of reason and freedom. But in any post-monarchy period, the role of a single ruler is bound to be conceptually downgraded. China is no exception. In the past dynasties, state’s performance was determined by ongoing conditions or occurrences not fully established. Liang’s concept of self-governance assigns new importance to learning; hence, the role of the ruler is de-emphasized as the sole mediator between the heaven and the earth (or in republican period, the people and their living space) to resolve conflict between them. But, unlike the traditional vision, the self-governance principle cannot justify popular rebellion against bad rulers,
82 A republican dilemma because if an electoral system is functioning, traditional mechanism for violent regime changes breaks down. Republican politics in China has so far failed to create a new ideology to replace the Mandate of Heaven. An alien ideology, the Bolshevik communism, rose to the occasion to fill this conceptual gap. Chinese communism can claim political legitimacy mainly in relation to external self-governance, i.e., maintaining national sovereignty. When the task of gaining national sovereignty is completed in 1949, and the first-generation revolutionary veterans began to fade from the scene in the 1970s and 1980s, the traditional Mandate of Heaven comes back and the Chinese society is always ready to fall back on Confucian ethics to judge the regime’s deeds. The new generation of communist elite could not claim any credit for founding the republic, and they would find it increasingly hard to justify the claim for one party’s perpetual hold to power.
Legitimacy as presentation There is no question that democratic election does better job than any form of dictatorship in political presentation. No one in today’s China, not even the top communist ideologues, can justify why a modern republic should be monopolized by a single political party. Modern Chinese republicanism can never survive unless serious political reforms are carried out without failure. Unfortunately, China is run by an alien, awkward and most unnatural system of power monopoly, for the almighty politburo is too ugly to be left in natural habitat, not to mention put to a test by public scrutiny in our digital age. Confucius paid enormous attention to Li or rites. For him, Li had four significant functions for the state: “Rites is what determines the closeness or distance in relationships, clarifies ambiguities, distinguishes common features and differences, and tells what is right from what is wrong.” He envisioned that proper government must be guided by the proper principles of Li.8 Confucian scholars and politicians in traditional China believed that wise governments should place more emphasis on Li and rely much less on Xing 刑or penal punishment. Confucius even regarded non-Chinese feudal lords who adopted the proper rites as being just rulers. Contrarily, Chinese feudal lords who did not adopt these rites were considered uncivilized, not worthy of being considered Chinese. Moreover, since the emperor did not have, or dare to clamor for, divine power, Chinese rites were more important as a process than a written code. Confucius stressed the uttermost importance of ritual procedure as fundamental to proper governmental leadership. Li should be practiced by all members of the society. Above all, Li involves the superior treating the inferior with propriety and respect. As Confucius once said, “A prince should employ his minister according to the rules of ritual propriety; ministers should serve their prince with loyalty” (Analects, 3:19). The public fanfares in republican periods, such as military parade or party congress, either demonstrate opaque procedure or parade poker faces of leaders on stage. This kind of presentation, according to Confucianism, of course, treats people with utter disdain.
A republican dilemma 83 By sharp contrast, in traditional China, political presentation was very effective. Emperors were obliged to lead court officials to perform annual rites to worship the supreme-being (heaven) at the Temple of Heaven. The emperor’s purpose was presented clearly as a duty to ensure that the society would be blessed and allowed to express its natural order. The emperor also worshipped his own ancestors on regular basis, adhering to the Confucian ethics of filial piety, which was an obligation that all Chinese in any social position must honor. The proceedings strictly stayed within the stipulations set out by the ancient Confucian classic, The Book of Rites.9 At the level of bureaucratic class, political presentation was equally important. After a highly competitive recruitment process through the imperial examination system, the scholar-gentry elite would automatically receive a mandate to perform official rituals on behalf of the emperor, and, at the same time, functioning as a barometer of public opinion, because, as the most knowledgeable social class, the scholars were assumed to represent the moral standard, and behave according to exemplary virtue taught by the Confucian classics. In the post-dynasty period, no republican regime has succeeded in creating effective political presentation. In the first republican period (1911–1949), Confucian tradition persisted. Despite relentless and vicious assault from Westernized radical intellectuals, the population continued to treat politics as an issue of morality, rather than system design. The Republican China did set up a parliamentary system, and started election practice, but it had never been able to prevent strongman rule and to build effective political presentation, allowing the regime to combine good moral behavior with sound governance. The result was the emergence of modern military dictatorships led first by the warlords, and later by the Nationalist Party (the KMT) under General Chiang Kai-shek. The years of the 1920s degenerated into civil wars. Both the warlords and the Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek only placed great stress on personal loyalty. Promotion within the armies had less to do with competence than with the desire to create an interlocking network of familial, institutional, regional and master-pupil relationships, similar to membership in sworn brotherhoods and secret societies within the officer corps. In such a system, loyalty counted far more than did military performance. Official rituals in public were therefore demonstration of personal cult to the leaders. But during the second republican period (1949–), the Chinese communist system destroyed parliament and popular election altogether and replaced them with a worse institution of the Bolshevik politburo. The concentration of all power at this least transparent organ continues to throttle any improvement in political presentation. When performing public rituals, therefore, the leadership has to keep an image of secretiveness and aloofness, violating the Confucian principle of interactive participation by all citizens in the imperial process of performing Li. To change the party’s image badly alienated from the people, China must undo the Politburo system. If traditional regime change by violent revolution, as it was a norm in the dynastic period, is considered no longer an option, where would one
84 A republican dilemma start the reform? The party elite clearly have no incentive of giving up monopoly power. The push for political reform from external sources is often considered foreign interference in China’s internal affairs. Local protest and organized opposition are, of course, dealt with as treason. There seems to be a dead end for serious political reforms. Within the liberal-minded party elite, intraparty democracy (or the so-called incremental democracy) has long been considered a preferred first step, for it can at least serve as a “decompression valve” against political chaos and social instability, for the idea is to give some power to more than 100 million party members who are supposed to function as the traditional scholar-gentry class. But even this project has failed to emerge, despite some limited measures of electing the members of the top party leadership during power transition. Politburo emerged from the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 as a “war cabinet.” Maintaining a war cabinet in peace time is in conflict with China’s economic and social liberalization. Not even the Russians keep this relic institution anymore. Moreover, in sharp contrast to dynastic system where the sole responsibility of state failure rests with emperor alone, the Politburo is easily put itself in trouble, because the extreme secrecy of the system means that each of its members, whether clean or corrupt, shares a collective guilt for whatever that goes wrong with the system. None of its members is safe from becoming a target of popular anger. Furthermore, the ubiquity of the internet use in China means that no political scandal can long escape public scrutiny. If the people cannot vote by ballot, they will vote by tapping fingers on a computer keyboard. The national consensus on any issue is usually achieved by netizens. Any attempt to clamp down on this form of popular expression works against Confucian values and always proves counterproductive: as an ancient Confucian saying goes, “Preventing popular expression is worse than dealing with a flood after the dam has burst.”10 There is, in short, no historical or cultural reason for China in the 21st century to maintain an alien war-cabinet system created a century ago. Hence, reviving the topic of republicanism may become both relevant and pragmatic, for a gradualist approach toward a power-sharing system based on republican principles could help ease the way for a peaceful transition in China. There is little dispute that the current one-party system in the People’s Republic is responsible for the outstanding economic success in the past decades. Yet the ruling party still has to compete with alternative interpretations about who represents the moral center. In political presentation, the People’s Republic resembles neither a republic nor a traditional dynasty. We must bring republicanism back to the Chinese political discourse and design a new constitutional order that can liberate China from an alien system originated from the a dead regime, the Soviet Union. In sum, the question of what kind of republic China needs is far from being settled.
Republic as representation Restarting the debate about modern China’s republicanism may help prepare for a safe passage to end the current political dilemma. If we assume that the abrupt ending of the one-party system in China is not desirable or even realistic for
A republican dilemma 85 national unity and stability, the only way to improve the party image is through changes in political representation. Representation and presentation are closely connected in politics. It concerns all political systems and is not monopolized by Western democracy. We tend to describe Western political system as representative democracy. Democracy, in the sense of government by the people, is found in classical Athens. But classical democracy was a direct democracy, which left no room for representation. Representation is in fact a medieval notion in Europe: for example, in the assemblies of the three estates that kings summoned occasionally – the nobility, the clergy and the “third estate.” But this system was by no means a self-conscious medieval experiment in democracy. Therefore, democracy has no intrinsic link with representation, and representation has no intrinsic link with democracy. Nondemocratic state could establish some form of political representation as well. But, as Frank Ankersmit pointed out, the key issue is not so much whether democracy owns representation, which it does not, but whether the aesthetical value of democratic representation is superior to other forms of political representation in healing social dissent, cleavages and injustice – problems every society has its own shares.11 Political representation of the Chinese state has been fundamentally transformed during the republican period after 1911. In the dynastic system, the political representation was on a much solid basis because the Mandate of Heaven was built upon a clearly defined scheme and was easily recognizable: the blood-line royal legitimacy at the top and the imperial power delegated to the scholar-gentry to administer state affairs, because the latter was strictly selected group possessing high moral authority. At the same time, the Mandate created a self-adjustable mechanism for correcting bad governing practices. The emperor in practice must perform a double mandate: pray for blessing his people from the unknown supreme authority, the heaven, and deliver good governance via scholar-gentry class to ensure the well-being of his citizens. If he fails to deliver either, he would be considered losing the Mandate and the people would have inherent rights to rebel against him, thus triggering regime change process. This traditional system of representation is logically sound and aesthetically fine. As a Chinese saying goes, “heaven is high and the emperor is far-away,” China has vast territorial space, but political control has never been easy. For the population, as long as the Mandate generally stands, imperial authority could be better discerned from a healthy distance, much like appreciating a Chinese ink brush-painting. But in the meantime, the ordinary people were in daily contact with the scholar-gentry class who runs the state affairs on the basis of royal legitimacy. The moral quality and efficiency this class brought to governance mattered most for the people. Even though the government officials must go through rigorous training on Confucian moral values in order to pass the civil service exams, a level of power abuse and corruption are inevitable. But as long as the emperor did not lose his own Mandate, the abuse of power by some bureaucrats would be widely perceived correctible and politically tolerable. In the republican period, it is the new political animal – political parties that clamored for this Mandate. “Party” (党, dang), in a traditional Chinese
86 A republican dilemma language, contains no positive connotation, as it always refers to a conspiring clique, usually against the interests of the state and the people. Political representation and partisan interest have become the same thing, very much blurred in the eyes of the ordinary people after 1911. But no party or individual seems to have indisputable legitimacy, not to mention moral authority. In other words, the republican system and political representation have turned out to be incompatible in China, in sharp contrast with the Western world. Because, Western representative democracy has succeeded in combining two completely different concepts – marrying classic Athens to medieval Europe – in an extremely creative way. The best way of understanding what occurred, and also what China’s present options are, is by reference to arts and aesthetics. And an aesthetic understanding of, or a creative approach to, politics can be conducive to political stability and social peace. To begin with, as Ankersmit cogently argued, “representation” is a notion borrowed from aesthetics. Two theories about the nature of aesthetic representation need to be taken into account in the present context: the theory of “representation as resemblance” and the theory of “representation as substitution.” According to the former theory, a representation should resemble what it “re-presents.” There are three basic problems with this theory. First, no generally accepted criteria of resemblance can be given, as is demonstrated by the history of visual arts. For each style in history of art could be seen as the definition of a new set of such criteria. Second, the resemblance theory can result in absurdities.12 Suppose we have (1) Forbidden Palace, (2) a painting of the palace and (3) a portrait of Emperor Kangxi; the resemblance theory would urge us to see (2) as a re-presentation of (1) rather than of (3). But paintings resemble each other more closely by nature than they resemble what they represent: one piece of canvas with dots of paint on it resembles another such piece of canvas far more than it resembles some huge buildings in Beijing. Third, as Ankersmit pointed out further, since words and sentences cannot be said to resemble what they are about, the resemblance theory cannot be applied to language as a medium for representing reality; therefore, we cannot even speak, for example, of “historical representations of the past.” But according to the substitution theory, advocated by Edmund Burke (the famous British political conservative), (Re)presentation is making present (again) of what is (now) absent. More formally, A is a representation of B when A can take B’s place; hence, when A can function as B’s substitute or as B’s replacement in its absence. Words and texts present no problems for this theory: we could well say that history writing compensates for the absence of past realities, and substitutes for them. Neither do we need to worry much about criteria of resemblance, since the substitution theory does not require that a representation resembles what it represents.13 Transposing these conclusions to political representation in China is not difficult. In traditional China, people would only be content with the theory of substitution because the scholar-gentry class was generally considered more competent and morally correct than ordinary people. And every family’s top
A republican dilemma 87 desire is to produce descendants qualified for this elite group. Moreover, since the recruitment for this political class was an open system, ordinary people had opportunity to join the elite. In the republican period, with the exception of Taiwan after the 1980s, it is the resemblance theory of political representation that prevails, for it is one that the people in China are forced to accept, because ruling parties always claim it represents the best interest of the people and they are also part of the people. According to this idea, therefore, the opinions of the representatives should be the same as those of the population itself. In today’s China, the people’s representatives of the National Congress are supposed to resemble those who allegedly elected them. They are the “signifier” and the people are the “signified,” to use Ferdinand de Saussure’s semiotics terminology. According to this logic, however, the people could demand that those who are appointed (not by election) in the two houses of political representation in Beijing must possess their sentiments and feelings, and be governed by their interests. The one-party dominance means no real election, and, therefore, the two “representative” houses – the People’s Congress and the Political Consultative Committee – have no aesthetic value of political representation at all. The best claim the communist party has made so far is that the concentration of power makes decision-making far more efficient than a chaotic Western parliamentary system. But this lame argument is clearly based on the substitution theory of representation, rather than the resemblance theory. Thus, there exists a huge aesthetic gap between the justification of political legitimacy with a theory of resemblance and the justification of power monopoly by a theory of substitution. As a consequence of this conceptual inconsistency, the notion of a “people’s republic” where the ruler and the ruled resemble each other in outlook and self-interest is not inherently stable and credible, either logically or in practice. Worse still, the current legitimacy crisis in China comes mainly from the bad moral behavior of the ruling elite, exposed by widespread corruption and huge income discrepancy between the “representatives” who have used their power to amass huge personal fortune, and the “represented” whose income and standard of living lag far behind that of the former. Thus, the assumption that the communist party’s political legitimacy derives from explicit and implicit consent of the governed cannot sustain itself for long. Even within the party, representation at the party congress which is held every five years does not demonstrate any aesthetic value either. Officially, the party congress produces the leadership. But in reality, it is the party leadership that decides the next leadership, thanks to the politburo system. In other words, the transition to a new leadership is determined by the result of power struggles within the incumbent leadership. It is not surprising that, in the eyes of the most party members, not to mention population at large, such opaque way of transferring power has no legitimate basis, especially because the succession struggles can easily turn violent. Coup d’etat has more often than not been the de facto means of power transition. In the 70 years of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) history, we have seen only two peaceful transfers of power in 2003 and 2012.
88 A republican dilemma In view of institutions and decision-making process, the tension between Confucian tradition and modern party politics is most visible at the top. Traditional Chinese system also had institutional conflation problems, for imperial power was usually built around the royal household run by eunuchs, yet the executive powers resided elsewhere within the bureaucratic system, run by the scholar-gentlemen. But compared with today’s decision-making mechanism, such problems were of different and manageable nature during dynastic period because blood-line legitimacy was solid in cases of arbitration over institutional responsibilities. One example is the effort to improve top decision-making in 1729 by the Yongzheng Emperor (1678–1735) to create an ad hoc office known as “Secret Military Affairs Office” (军机处), often inaccurately translated in English as “Grand Council.” Before its creation, the formal decision-making power of the Manchu dynasty was shared by emperor and his cabinet (内阁), usually translated in English as “Grand Secretariat.” The latter had far more officials and formal procedures than the former in the decision-making process. The Yongzheng Emperor changed the system entirely. Taking advantage of a war with the Mongols, he set up a “war cabinet” for conducting military affairs. The imperial power was thus concentrated into the hands of a small group of officials at the Grand Council who were trusted by the emperor. The Grand Secretariat, the formal cabinet, was thus gradually eclipsed. So far as legitimacy was concerned, the Yongzheng Emperor did not overstep his imperial prerogative, because, with blood-line legitimacy, there was no identity conflation of the two institutions. Although this innovation was criticized by some at the court after Yongzheng’s death for deviation from “ancestral ways” of governance, the Grand Council system was only suspended for three years under Emperor Qianlong (the son of Yongzheng, on the throne from 1735 to 1799). It was maintained throughout the remaining years of the Manchu rule. The Grand Council was able to remain predominant till the end of the dynasty. Most important decisions on war or peace, domestic governance and external relations were made under the decisive influence of this institution. Sustaining the legitimate power of the imperial court was the scholar-gentry class, who not only ran state affairs but also acted as an interlocutor between the emperor and the people. More importantly, emperors were not above the moral standard of the society, for their behavior was highly sensitive to a unique form that generated public opinion. Permissible at the court, a form of debate known as “principled criticism” (or Qingyi 清议 in Chinese) could filter through the entire scholar-gentry class and then permeating nationwide by word of mouth and more so by scholarly writings. As we mentioned in Chapter 3, China had long developed the tradition of political writings serving as advisory manuals for the rulers. These books were influential in forming public opinion because they were circulated quickly among the educated elite and especially for those aspiring to join the elite. For practical purposes, those who were preparing for imperial examinations were more than eager to know the current political trend at the court in order to write good essays. Moreover, at the imperial court, a particular type
A republican dilemma 89 of officials known as “censors (御史)” were given a mandate for criticizing government policies or impeaching misbehaved officials. Indeed, there were many checks and balances within the system. In communist China today, a similar and paralleling system of Grand Council versus Grand Secretariat is somehow retained, the Politburo and the Party Secretariat. But principled criticism hardly exists. As a result, the first signs of political instability of the country are usually reflected by the precarious relationship between these two top institutions. While the Politburo is the formal organ of top decision-making, functioning like the cabinet (the Grand Secretariat) for the party, the Party Secretariat is often a real decision-making organ like the traditional Grand Council. The Politburo is “elected” by a sham procedure within the party central committee; it has a formal structure and fixed term. But the Secretariat is not elected and does not have a formal structure. It is not surprising that traditional political tensions which the Yongzheng Emperor tried to resolve have reappeared at the top decision-making level, for the two organs have never lived together in harmony in the history of the People’s Republic. Of course, when strongman dictatorship prevails, neither organs have real power. Mao, for example, simply abolished the Party Secretariat and dictated the entire Politburo. But this decision-making structure of the party tends to diminish its own capacity to rule and even undermines the unique idea of “republic as self-governance” – an idea that has, as we discussed above, established the only point of consensus in Chinese intellectual debate over republicanism. Most Chinese do not know anything about the history of Politburo, literally the “bureau in charge of politics.” It was actually set up as an ad hoc action committee for directing the seizure of power during the October Revolution in 1917. But somehow it survived to become the head organ for all communist parties in the 20th century. Even from an aesthetic perspective, it seems to be a totally redundant organ; since state is dominated by the party, why is there need for a “bureau of politics”? Karl Marx considered state as an ephemeral feature of class society that would be used by working class to bring about the transfer of power and then to be abolished. Lenin revised Marxism, however, for he saw state to be a permanent feature for socialism. Therefore, China is a “Leninist state with Chinese characteristics.” The irony is that, within this power structure, the terminology of politics becomes weird and incomprehensive. The transformation of formal titles of top rulers and institutions is illuminating. In the past the emperor simply addressed himself with one character “Zhen” (朕 or body politic, which is translated into English as the “Royal We”). The Chinese communist party invented a new “Royal We” in the title of “Chairman.” During the first Chinese Communist Party Congress held in 1921, the 13 party delegates decided to use a least impressive title for the top leader, calling him “general secretary” (shuji, 总书记, literally “head note-takers”) in order to distinguish the party of the proletariat from a typical state bureaucracy.14 But the “note-taker” eventually became the most powerful personality. Nominally, the party Secretariat (literally “Division of note-takers” 书记处) is placed under the Politburo. But this “division of note-takers” is in charge of party’s day-to-day affairs.
90 A republican dilemma It was under Mao Zedong; however, a “chairman” title was permanently established. “Chairman” (主席 literally, one who presides) is above both the Politburo and the Secretariat, thus acquiring a political status unrestrained by the internal party procedure. In this way, Mao was made a de facto, if not de jure emperor. But even under Mao the Emperor, the Party Secretariat (equivalent to a Grand Council) exercised far more power than the Politburo (essentially a cabinet for the party). Before 1949, “Chairman” Mao himself was concurrently the head of the five-member party secretariat (Mao Zedong, Liu Shaoqi, Zhu De, Zhou Enlai and Ren Bishi) created during the Civil War, which in the late 1940s acted as supreme command of all military, political and economic affairs. After revolution, the contingent nature of Chinese politics continues to reinforce the power of this tiny organ (usually less than ten persons) in charge of daily activities of both party and the state. Mr. Deng Xiaoping himself had served as the head of the Secretariat for ten years (1956–1966), but he was often frustrated by the limits to his power, because of the unique status enjoyed by Chairman Mao as a virtual dictator. Deng did not become a paramount leader until after Mao’s death. During the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), Mao purged him and officially dismantled the Secretariat. Thus, it is no surprise that one of the first decisions Deng made after returning to power in the late 1970s was to abolish the chairman title forever, and restore the Secretariat. Since 1980, the Secretariat has regained its full power and remains the center of decision-making. The party leader’s current title is General Secretary, which makes him the de jure head of the Politburo as well as the Secretariat, but not above it. Until Xi Jinping came to power, no one had enjoyed the supreme status as the first-generation veterans could. Xi is apparently attempting make himself a new emperor. Today, few Chinese disagree that the system needs serious reform and the top priority is to restore party’s moral image. In the dynastic era, the emperor was “son of heaven,” but his “holy” charisma had to be proven by the welfare of his subjects and his ability to guarantee order and harmony. But revolutionary credit accrued from the previous dynastic change normally lasted no more than two generations. After 98 years since its founding, the party’s fifth-generation leaders, also known as communist princelings, are still attempting to claim revolutionary credit via blood-line and a failed ideology. But this is a huge mistake, because China is facing traditional social problems and any effort to revive the revolutionary spirit has little chance to succeed. The Chinese have lost faith in communist ideology, and revolutionary idealism is a thing of the past. More importantly, the effort to invoke revolutionary heroes has only deepened popular distrust of the system as the princelings’ arrogant behavior and luxury life style are in sharp contrast to the almost ascetic revolutionary heroes including many of their parents. In today’s China, politically controlled capitalism, or crony capitalism, has prevailed along with office usury, profits from wholesale trade, resource industries and manipulation of the state-owned banking system, especially the ability to attract private investment funds through offshore operations. When personal wealth comes mainly from bureaucratic offices, the
A republican dilemma 91 extraordinarily acquisitive behavior of the party elite alone may not lead to reforms that elicit modern capitalism. Such is the true nature of “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” If at some point all dimensions of political legitimacy – representation, presentation, performance and morality – are challenged at the same time, we could envision a widespread social protest that may bring about a perfect storm in rapid sequence. It would trigger regime change process in the traditional style. Establishing democratic legitimacy is still far from realistic. To maintain the stability of the system, Chinese reformers could at least use the Neo-Roman vision of republicanism as guidance for restoring traditional legitimacy. To do so, one has to start with the idea of creating a guarantee of citizen’s “liberty as non-domination.” Because the current system has lost traditional legitimacy defined by moral authority, the leaders have to continuously deliver concrete results to enhance people’s welfare. But no economic growth pattern can last forever. Any sharp disruption of the growth could place China in serious legitimacy crisis. It may be counterintuitive, at the first glance, because the Chinese Communist Party has, after all, been very successful in economic development. But so far, no one seems to have any creative idea on what system can avoid during a major legitimacy crisis. Under the circumstances, the leadership under Xi Jinping has to resort to, in a pathetic manner, the old trick of invoking Communist utopia.15
Republic as utopia Failing to launch any political reforms, the image of the leadership could no longer gain traction among the people, especially the young people who grew up in a digital age. One instrument in the communist tool box for rallying popular support is utopian ideology. During the revolution period, this tool proved extremely effective. Today, however, Communist ideology is moribund in China. To begin with, the Marxist claim that the world will definitely move toward a teleological end has no cultural roots in Chinese civilization, even though some utopian ideas did exist in Chinese classics and literature.16 In Chinese history, utopia was usually associated with Taoist and Buddhist monks, whose emphasis was, however, on how to withdraw from the society. It could hardly help strengthen legitimacy of the state. Communism by definition is socially proactive; Chinese utopian tradition would not work for it. Confucian politics is contingent by nature, which means that any event or condition may be likely but not inevitable. And teleological utopia gets nowhere either in this context. Most Western observers believe that the PRC political system is a wholesale Soviet-style state. Little attention has been paid to a unique problem in China – the conceptual conflict between traditional moral politics and an alien ideology. To begin with, the Bolshevik system is also a space-based political model, and the virtue of the ruler is automatically considered superior; therefore, there is no room for improvement. Indeed, the conception that politics can be confined to an office space, a “bureau” of politics, is as alien as mechanical divisions of power to Chinese culture. The tension
92 A republican dilemma between traditional state legitimacy and that of the modern political party is thus heightened by the fact that the current Chinese system inherits a legacy from an alien culture, Bolshevism. The communist party always claims that the legitimacy problem has long been solved by the logic of “proletarian dictatorship,” which is said to be able to lead the country toward a utopia of equal and fair society. Under this dictatorship, Lenin even created a “vanguard theory” to help justify the full vertical concentration of power and the tightest horizontal control over the entire society through “red terror.” In reality, the Chinese communist party knows that it can only sustain its rule through traditional model of deeds-based legitimacy. But during the past four decades of economic opening up, too much emphasis has been on the sustained GDP growth, and this narrow standard for assessing “deeds” has led to economic determinism, which has backfired on its ruling elite, because any economic slowdown, not to mention recession, will call for an alternative Mandate of Heaven to emerge. Bringing utopia back to enhance power and control will not work. Another mistake is the leadership’s desire to evoke Confucianism together with Marxist communist utopia. By doing so, the endgame of the communist rule may be triggered, because, on the one hand, the party that is so corrupt cannot pass the popular test in morality. Marxism, on the other hand, attacks the question of inequality resulting from brutal exploitation of the working class. When the two ideologies are combined, it will produce a most combustible social bomb. In fact, many top elite members have already realized this scenario and tried to exit the country with their wealth and families. Since 1911, Republicanism has been accepted by the population, because most Chinese are not keen on restoring dynastic system.17 This should provide China with a conceptual room for designing political reforms. Only an improved republican system may bring out better image and efficiency of the ruling elite. Although Chinese politics cannot be improved by procedure-based concept of legitimacy alone, the combination of ethics and the need for procedural reforms are equally crucial, especially when the image of the ruling party becomes so ugly that a single spark may start a prairie fire in the society. Unfortunately, in fear of losing control, the leadership always makes republicanism a taboo topic in China. Even during Deng Xiaoping’s period, the party imposed the ban on a 2003 TV drama about early republican history at the turn of the last century. This popular TV epic of 60 episodes is titled “For the Sake of the Republic (走向共和)” and it touched upon many sensitive issues in the current Chinese political system. But the ruling elite can no longer deny the fact that China has already become a partial Western system, a “republic.” Here, the fundamental weakness of the current system is evident: as a republic, it has no plebiscite; but as an absolutist state, it is without blood-line legitimacy. The foundation of the system is much weaker than the traditional dynasty. Of course, the communist state, as it was established in 1949, is a republic only in one sense: the abolition of the blood-line succession of the top leader, but now the red princelings led by Xi seem to try restoring it through unlimited ruling terms. However, the popular support for this attempt hardly exists.
A republican dilemma 93 More dangerously, utopian visions may help rally a political opposition to the communist party. Any utopia is inspiring for dreamers of a new society and encouraging revolutionary spirit. Stifling and repressive regime always inspires opposition. Without political reforms, the emergence of popular resistance in China is inevitable. The one-party rule in a country that has a long ideological preference for imperial unity can only be justified by its success in overthrowing the previous regime. But the new regime itself has now become an “ancien regime,” as China’s most fearful and former anticorruption Czar, Vice President Wang Qishan, readily admitted when he recommended the elite to read Alexis de Tocqueville’s Ancien Regime et la Revolution (1854).18 However, like many peasant rebellions in the past, utopian ideas during revolution cannot guarantee that fundamental divisions of views in the society would not occur again. The decline of the communist party’s moral reputation is certainly not helped by the ugly image of the political presentation and representation. Everyone knows in China that the type of communist utopia, a “people’s republic,” needs only sham political representations, a fake “parliament” just for showcasing alleged popular sovereignty or a party congress for demonstrating intraparty “democracy.” In practice, as we see from the experience of many collapsing communist regimes at the end of the Cold War, when internal crisis comes, these sham representative institutions will be useless for they cannot even be enlisted either as a decompression valve of popular anger or as a scapegoat to conceal the regime’s failures. In Chinese society, knowledge and information are always disseminated widely to create a popular consensus. A common written language and moral standardization by Confucianism are responsible for this unique social phenomenon; everyone in the Confucian society knows where the power center is and who are in charge and everyone is also aware that others are in the same moral position to observe the deeds of the ruling elite. In other words, the almighty seven-member politburo standing committee actually is a pinpointed target for the 1.4 billion people to vent their anger, and the system is under much higher pressure from the population than the imperial system was, because the communist party makes itself the sole source of state power and the center of self-legitimation – a practice that is not compatible with tradition, and it is not culturally sustainable in the long run. An efficient government that serves the interest of the people may justify the rule by a single royal family, but it cannot justify the rule by a single political party. The two representative houses, the People’s Congress and the Political Consultative Committee, are nothing more than rubber stamps. This type of political representation has a huge “aesthetic” deficit. Legitimacy of a royal house may be enhanced by ceremony of the pomp and circumstance, witnessing the British crown, but it cannot work for a single-party dictatorship, unless extreme nationalism takes over, as in Nazi Germany. In a culture where public sentiment about the government can only be expressed through rebellious behavior rather than public debate, bad political representation always threatens to trigger revolutionary conditions more easily and frequently.
94 A republican dilemma Tight media and opinion control also begins to crumble. Unlike the dynastic days, there is no longer a distinction between a hard notion of legitimacy (i.e., blood-line legitimacy) which does not need maintenance every day, and the soft notion of legitimacy that does need maintenance through daily performance of the ruler. The digital age brings terrible news to any authoritarian regime, because legitimacy and daily performance are completely blurred. Raising doubt about one leads quickly to the other. The legitimacy of the communist rule has thus become more fragile. Reaching consensus through compromises is the only way to guarantee the execution of daily decisions. Under Xi, who chooses not to launch political reforms at all, the leadership is determined to build absolute consensus; thus, coercive power is prevailing over rational arguments. It is not surprising that public debate is suppressed so hard and the political scene in Beijing looks increasingly Rasputinesque, with charlatans and sycophants running amuck, just as Nicolas II’s St. Petersburg in the last days of the Romanov Empire. In conclusion, the real problem for China today is an increasing clash between the project of restoring “Confucian legitimacy,” and the existing ruling machine built on an alien ideology. Xi Jinping tries to appropriate traditional values to gain popular support, but he does not seem to have historical depth to see the writing on the wall as soon as traditional culture is revived. As Xi’s cultural restoration project unfolding, the politburo system, a devilish alien organ will surely be rejected by the revived Confucian consensus on moral preeminence of the state. It may also be ejected, much sooner rather than later, from the Chinese society because of rapid economic and social changes. Popular rebellion against autocracy has been the norm rather than exception in Chinese history. Xi’s missteps in handling this cultural restoration project – such as the ultranationalist “China Dream” campaign, the anti-West ideological campaign and the power-grabbing anticorruption campaign – may trigger a perfect storm, which could cause another popular convulsion.
Notes 1 Bendix Reinhard, Max Weber: An Intellectual Portrait. University of California Press, 1977, p. 103. 2 Sun Yat-sen, Collected Works of Sun Yat-sen (国父全集), vol. 1, ebook collection, Taiwan: Sun Yat-sen Studies Database, p. 233, http://sunology.culture.tw/cgi-bin/ gs32/s1gsweb.cgi?o=dcorpus&s=id=%22ES0000000001%22.&searchmode=basic. 3 See Jin Guantao, and Liu Qingfeng, “From ‘Republicanism’ to ‘Democracy’: China’s Selective Absorption and Reconstruction of Modern Western Political Concepts (1840–1924)”, History of Political Thought, vol. 26, no. 3, 2005, pp. 487–501. 4 Hironaka Ann, Neverending Wars: The International Community, Weak States, and the Perpetuation of Civil War. Harvard University Press, 2005. 5 Ibid., p. 55. 6 Quentin Skinner, Liberty before Liberalism. Cambridge University Press, 2012. 7 Tang, Xiaobing, Global Space and the Nationalist Discourse of Modernity: The Historical Thinking of Liang Qichao. Stanford University Press, 1996, p. 185. 8 See Confucian classic, Book of Rites 禮記•曲禮上》:“夫禮者, 所以定親疏, 決嫌疑, 別同異，明是非也.” Book of Rites (礼记), Thirteen Classics (十三经注疏), vol. I. Hangzhou. China: Zhejiang Publishing House for Classics, 1997, p. 1231.
A republican dilemma 95 9 The Book of Rites or Liji is a collection of texts describing the social forms, administration and ceremonial rites of the Zhou dynasty as they were understood in the Warring States and the early Han periods. The Book of Rites, along with the Rites of Zhou (Zhouli) and the Book of Etiquette and Rites (Yili), which are together known as the “Three Li (San li),” constitute the ritual (li) section of the Five Classics which lay at the core of the traditional Confucian canon (each of the “five” classics is a group of works rather than a single text.) as a core text of the Confucian canon. 10 See Guo Yu, Zhou Dynasty (国语.周语). Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju, 1984, p. 35. Translation by the author. 11 Frank Ankersmit, Political Representation. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002, p. 43. 12 Ibid., p. 55. 13 Ibid., p. 64. 14 See People’s Daily website, “the Origins and the Power of the CCP Secretariat” http://cpc.people.com.cn/GB/68742/69118/69658/4835911.html. 15 On April 30, 2019, Xi made a public speech to celebrate the 100th-year anniversary of the May Fourth Movement. While this long speech is completely void of substance, it focuses only on communist utopia and patriotism. For the whole text, see, www. xinhuanet.com/politics/leaders/2019-04/30/c_1124440193.htm. 16 The Great Unity (Chinese: 大同, datong) is a Chinese concept referring to a utopian vision of the world in which everyone and everything is at peace. It is found in classical Chinese philosophy which has been invoked many times in modern Chinese history. The concept was used by Kang Youwei in his visionary utopian treatise, The Book of Great Unity (大同书). 17 The clear examples are the humiliating defeats of every dynastic restoration attempt in early republican period, especially those by Generals Yuan Shikai and Zhang Xun in 1915 and 1917. The former lasted over 100 days, and the latter only 12. 18 For early analysis on Wang’s reading or misreading of de Tocqueville, see Lanxin Xiang (相蓝欣), “Anticorruption Campaign Must Be a Forward-Looking Rather Than Backward-Looking”(反腐应向前看而非向后看), Global Times (环球时报), December 14, 2012, p. 7.
5 The deeds legitimacy: economic performance State and economy
No one foresaw that the “socialist modernization” that the post-Mao Chinese leaders launched would in 40 years turn into a real economic miracle. How the actions of Chinese peasants, workers, scholars and policy makers coalesce in this great transformation story? Today, we don’t need to present any statistical data to make a convincing case about the dramatic rise of the Chinese economy. No doubt, China still faces enormous challenges ahead. Many Chinese are still poor, fewer Chinese have access to clean air and water than to cell phones and they still struggle to protect their individual rights. Nonetheless, China has been transformed beyond recognition over the past 40 years. But how this story of our time is to be interpreted? Is China’s success indebted more to the West-led world economic system or to its own cultural resources? A common theme of economic development in the West is that rapid economic growth can only be possible in a democratic system. But the one-party system of China has been successful in economic development in the past four decades. This provides a strong deeds-based argument for legitimacy. How to explain this unique phenomenon? For any human society, economic well-being is the leading yardstick for judging state’s performance. Since the European Enlightenment, Confucianism has been seen as a major impediment to economic performance in China. After World War II, modernization specialists such as the Harvard University sociologist Talcott Parsons and his disciple John K. Fairbank, the founder of modern China studies in the United States, elaborated this view in much detail.1 But one of Fairbank’s top students, Roderick Macfarquhar, wrote a dissenting essay in The Economist (February 9, 1980) entitled “The Post-Confucian Challenge.” Like other social scientists, witnessing the phenomenal economic growth in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea by the end of the 1970s, he accepted that there was some positive connection between Confucianism and economic growth. Indeed, the thesis “Confucianism as stimulus to economic growth” had somehow become a new fashion by the late 20th century among social scientists and historians eager to explain the success of East Asian economic “miracles” in the 1980s and 1990s. But these theories are off mark, for they usually focus on the surface, the alleged “core” Confucian values of hard
The deeds legitimacy: economic performance 97 work and thrift – the so-called “Confucian ethics,” the real “core” value, the Confucian vision of state and its relations to economy are often neglected. The irony is while the West is now obsessed with the so-called “rise of China,” the Chinese are thinking about their national “restoration.” Until recently, China’s humiliating fall from top power status after the Opium War was considered irreversible. No one anticipated 40 years ago China’s rapid rise from one of the poorest nations to the number two economy in the world. Even with tangible evidence that this might happen, Western observers remained skeptical. As late as in 2006, historian David Landes, the leading advocate for the supremacy of the Western economic system, still tried to debunk the “Asian economic miracle,” claiming it never happened and was at most insignificant.2 The study of world power shift has long been blighted by Eurocentric historians who have ignored the dominant role China played in the world economy between 1100 and 1800 AD. Until the late Angus Maddison produced Chinese Economic Performance in the Long Run, published in 1998, no one had tracked carefully the history of Chinese growth story since 960 AD. This study demonstrated that China’s recent “rise” was merely a return to economic superpowerdom, as the Middle Kingdom had the experience of dominating the world economy for many centuries.3 The market economic system was established in China as early as 300 BC in the period of Warring States. Such a system included private ownership and free transaction of land, highly specialized and mobile labor, and highly developed product and factor markets. As early as in the Ming dynasty (the 14th century), China had acquired all the major elements that were essential for the British Industrial Revolution in the 18th century. However, industrial revolution occurred in Britain and Chinese economy lagged behind that of Europe for a long time. A question that has caught imaginations of many intellectuals in both China and the West is: why did the industrial revolution not originate from China, the place that first acquired all the major conditions? This question was first raised by Max Weber (1864–1920), the German sociologist in his book on “religion” of China,4 but was popularized by a great English scholar of the history of Chinese science and technology, Joseph Needham (1900–1995). It is thus labeled the “Needham Puzzle.” The original Weber question was introduced to the English world by Needham in the following paradox: first, at the time of the British Industrial Revolution, why had China been so far in advance of other civilizations? Second, why is not China now ahead of the rest of the world?5 Many theorists have attempted at answering these questions, but without much success. The methodological difficulty lies in the counterfactual nature of this question. Scholars assert there is either a lack of cultural roots for modern industrialism and capitalism (Weber), or a lack of technical innovation, which could only result from large disequilibrium between supply and demand in the economy (Mark Elvin). Weber’s thesis is well known and we will treat it in some detail later. According to Elvin’s interpretation, however, Chinese economy at the time of British Industrial Revolution in the mid-18th century was
98 The deeds legitimacy: economic performance too stable and largely in equilibrium. Elvin labeled this “the high-level equilibrium trap” and claimed that the Chinese preindustrial economy had reached an equilibrium point where supply and demand were well balanced. The Middle Kingdom’s production methods and trade networks were so efficient and labor was so cheap that investment in capital to improve efficiency would not be profitable.6 But no one seems to have asked a real Chinese question: why traditional China needed industrial revolution at all? This question is not a counterfactual one, for it concerns the long-established Confucian vision of state and its relation to economy. China’s rapid rise today has already led to the question of how far China may challenge the basic principles of Western economics, especially the long-established assumptions on the merits of individualism and self-interest by Adam Smith. To begin with, it is often ignored that a Chinese economic model was very influential during the early period of the European Enlightenment. Confucian economic thinking was introduced by the Jesuits to Europe, and some Chinese ideas such as laisser-faire principle led to free-trade philosophy, via the French school of physiocracy. Confucian economic thinking demonstrated a positive relationship between a good government and a market economy. Chinese economic history reveals a strong role of markets in the context of informal institutions, and thereby explains the strong performance of the Chinese economy in preindustrial revolution times. This also explains why was there no inherent need for Chinese state to launch industrial revolution and to establish liberal international economic order via free trade, because, unlike Britain the island nation, external economic relations had played only a marginal part in overall economy and in political legitimating process. More importantly, the traditional Chinese view of state is against the basic rationale of industrial revolution, for its mass production method is aimed at conquering not just domestic market but outside territories, and thereby establishing new order of the global economy and politics. Interestingly, Adam Smith started his career as a moral philosopher, trying to work out a Christian morality in favor of free trade. In Christian world of the 18th century, the idea of a new universal order built on global free trade was compatible with the need for spreading universal Christian doctrines. Free trade is often seen as being prompted by a divine call, or an “invisible hand” of God. St. Augustine saw two world orders – the divine and the political. As the heavenly city and the earthly city, the two orders were essentially in disharmony. Free trade, according to Smith, could correct this disharmony. For Thomas Aquinas, the order of the physical world was put in place by God; therefore, it reflected God’s will. Legitimate government must adjust itself to a new moral standard that conforms to this divine call. If we compare Confucian economic principles with the moral theory of Adam Smith in his work The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), one may end up with a number of conceptual resemblances between the two, as both stressed moral dimensions. The ideological foundation for Smith’s later grand opus, The Wealth of Nations (1776), began to veer toward individualistic liberalism, while Confucius never wavered from a position against individualism, for the role of economy
The deeds legitimacy: economic performance 99 is to “enrich people” as a whole, not specific individuals. As a sharp observer, British economist John Maynard Keynes noted in 1912, Confucius once observed: “How numerous are the people!” Jan [Ran You, a leading disciple of Confucius] said, “Since they are thus numerous, what more shall be done for them?” “Enrich them,” was the reply. … This is the character of the Economic Principles of Confucius.7 “Scientific” study of economy has had a short history. Quantified data representing economic performance are totally a modern element that serves to justify and sustain a state’s political legitimacy. Only in the 20th century, something called “GDP (gross national product)” became a standard measure of national economic performance. The concept of GDP was first developed by Simon Kuznets (1901–1985) for a US Congress report in 1934. After the Bretton Woods international economic conference in 1944, GDP became the main tool for measuring a country’s economic profile. Indeed, nowhere than the economic arena that the Enlightenment orthodoxy of universal principles can be readily applied to. “Economics” has become a shorter term for “economic science.” It used to be called “political economics” in Adam Smith’s time and for Karl Marx. But the increased use of mathematics has helped to have it accepted as pure and respected science. In modern economics, therefore, the genuine conversation between the West and China hardly exists from the outset, since the post-Enlightenment West has been absolutely confident about its sole possession of the “universal truth” and secret in economic development, which has allegedly been denied to the rest of the world. Europe is the only “unbound Prometheus,” as David Landes proudly declared decades ago.8 If modern Western economic theories offer no clue to the Needham Puzzle, one may see it from a different angle. Traditional state in China was totally rational in rejecting the idea of industrial revolution, for there was no political incentive to create a sector of mass-produced consumer goods to flood domestic market, because its economy at home was in equilibrium, and there had never been an urge for colonial expansion in history. Hence, political stability could already be maintained without industrial revolution. Moreover, the three top products – silk, porcelain and tea that allowed China to dominate international trade for centuries – had encountered no competitors before the Opium War. Thus, both the Weber Question and the Needham Puzzle focus on a wrong question about an allegedly “missed” historical opportunity for China that never really existed. The first meaningful question should be, “What does economy mean for China?” “Economy,” (jingji, 经济) in Chinese language, is an abbreviated term of two characters describing neither pure economic nor even commercial activities. It simply means “managing everyday life of the society and providing sufficient resources for the state” (经世济国). In this conception, politics and economy can never be separated into two mechanical spheres. The body politic and the body economic are organically connected. Also, maintaining a balance
100 The deeds legitimacy: economic performance between internal market demand and supply is considered the top priority for state to manage economy. External economic relations, despite China’s active trade since the time of the ancient “Silk Road,” were never considered capable of playing a key role for the health of the overall economy and the well-being of the people. And the idea for sustained GDP growth is a recently imported concept, as late as in the 1980s. This is a vision that has to be supported by a predatory national psychology in dealing with foreign economies.
The Weberian moment It has long been a dominant theme in the West that economic prosperity is the foundation for political legitimacy, but sustained economic development can only take place in the Judeo-Christian cultural context in which modern democratic societies are created. Max Weber pioneered cultural interpretations of economic backwardness, providing a powerful conceptual tool to help the West monopolize the legitimacy debate. With no first-hand knowledge of Chinese culture and language, Weber somehow managed to come up with what he considered ultimate cultural answers to the question why capitalism could not develop in China. He insisted that Confucianism lacked the necessary tension – for it emphasized only equality, harmony, decency, virtue and pacifism – so that it was impossible for China to develop competitive capitalist spirit. Furthermore, Confucianism prevented the development of individualism and, therefore, capitalist instinct among the Chinese, because they despised profit motive which was the real foundation for capitalist competition.9 There is little doubt that such argument opened the door for a general theory of economic “backwardness” (Gerschinkron, for example) and allowed it to expand and acquire endless new features,10 for it could be relocated in the context of geography, religion, culture, history, politics and especially racial makeup. During the 20th century, “backwardness” and “progress” became two opposing philosophical propositions on social and economic development. Europe, of course, represented a “forward-looking,” hence “progressive,” civilization, while China became the quintessential model of a “backward-looking” society and static economy. But China’s developmental performance in the past decades surprises even the most hardened Weberian theorists, and raises serious questions about the prevailing Euro-centric modernization theory in its entirety. Economic historian Angus Maddison produced a well-established statistical study about the world economy for over a millennium, and it indicates that as late as the 1820s, Chinese economy remained the largest single economy in the world, even though international trade was never a crucial element in Chinese economy until the end of the 20th century.11 Therefore, the conception of China as a typical “backward” economic model was a 20th-century invention built upon the imagination of Western cultural and racial superiority, rather than historical reality. Moreover, the idea of “backward-looking” as a human habit was actually not established in Europe until the French Revolution of 1789. Before that, the
The deeds legitimacy: economic performance 101 concept “revolution” had always retained a dimension of cyclical, rather than “progressive” – i.e., linear, historical perspective. The original meaning of revolution (from the Latin word revolutio, “a turn-around”) contains no element of social progress, for it refers to a fundamental change in political power or organizational structures that take place when the population rises up in revolt against the current authorities. The Weberian theory on China continues to exercise huge impact on modern sociology and many developmental economic theories. As one of Weber’s leading disciples, Seymour Martin Lipset, asserted, Since most countries which lack an enduring tradition of political democracy lie in the underdeveloped sections of the world, Weber may have been right when he suggested that modern democracy in its clearest form can occur only under capitalist industrialization.12 But Weber and Lipset seem to share a belief that only Judeo-Christian culture could allow capitalist industrialization to take place and produce sustained economic development. But this view is in fact a self-serving tautology: democratic political systems are the preconditions for a country’s economic takeoff as well as for its sustainability, and at the same time, the best and most rational political system, democracy, can only appear in Western cultural environment that produced capitalism. But the extraordinary Chinese economic performance under an authoritarian one-party system seems to have broken the backbone of this argument. The Weber-Lipset theory is historically flawed because, first of all, it assumes that it is the West that invented the doctrine of free market economy, or the laisser-faire principle. But nothing could be farther from the truth. The laisser- faire concept was first used by French physiocrat François Quesnay, founder of modern economics, and a forerunner of Adam Smith’s alleged invention of the invisible hand philosophy. Quesnay was in his lifetime known as “the European Confucius.” His book Le Despotisme de la Chine (Despotism of China), written in 1767, nine years before Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, described his views of the Chinese enlightened imperial system. He was supportive of the meritocratic concept of giving scholars political power, without the cumbersome aristocracy that characterized French politics, and the importance of agriculture to the welfare of a nation as a whole. The phrase laissez-faire, coined by fellow physiocrat Vincent de Gournay, was postulated to have come from Quesnay’s teachings on China.13 The doctrine and even the phrase of “laisser-faire” had been directly inspired by the Taoist concept of Wu Wei (无为), translated as “nonaction.”14 But de Gournay’s translation of this concept is not accurate, because, for him, laisser-faire merely means “non-interference, or let things go,” hence “laisser-faire, laisser-passer.” This may have been a misconstrual of the yin-yang dynamic of Taoist term, for Wu Wei actually means more than “let things go,” but “create more action through nonaction.” In terms of managing economy, it should mean “creating more economic action without government intervention in every aspect of market.”
102 The deeds legitimacy: economic performance Adam Smith, deeply influenced by Quesnay whom he had met in Paris for learning this laisser-faire philosophy, may have got right the meaning of Wu Wei with his invention of “invisible hand,” suggesting a proactive rather than passive economic system, and keeping the Christian theological dimension aside. Thus, the best way to create wealth of nations is active “free trade.” The rapid decline of the Chinese state power and the dismal economic record since the Opium War of 1840s had been the Achilles Heel of political legitimacy of every Chinese government until recent economic “miracle”; hence, the Chinese never had a chance in the past 170 years to have a serious voice in debates over economic development and its link to political legitimacy. Among many post-World War II theories of economic development, a popular theory that dismissed the possibility of China taking off economically in the modern era is the “modernization theory.” It is a theory that states that economic development can only be achieved through the processes experienced in the past by the currently developed economies. Scholars such as Walt Rostow and A. F. K. Organski even postulated clear-cut stages of development that can be applied to every country.20 Rostow saw five stages of economic development; the first and most difficult one to surpass is the stage of so-called traditional society. Organski saw four stages of political and economic development: the politics of primitive unification, the politics of industrialization, the politics of national welfare and the politics of abundance. In view of history then, these scholars are able to lump together traditional societies into one category, i.e., the dynasties in China, the civilization of the Middle East and the Mediterranean, and the medieval Europe. They offered a set of powerful propositions, asserting that the lesser developed countries could grow faster than developed countries and catch up, only if their political systems can be transformed into similar ones to the developed countries (i.e., democracy). The Chinese state-building experience of the past three decades has refuted the modernization theory and proved that the Westernization of the internal system of governance is not a precondition for a country’s economic success. But the opposing theories to modernization theory can hardly explain today’s China either. Let us take the popular dependencia theory as an example. While modernization theory understands development and underdevelopment as a result of internal conditions, dependency theory asserts a world where nations are divided into a core of wealthy nations that dominate a periphery of poor nations whose main function in the system is to provide cheap labor and raw materials to the core. A key policy suggestion of the dependency theory is that, for underdeveloped nations to develop, they must break their ties with developed nations and pursue internal growth, through policy such as “import substitution.” But the recent Chinese success in economic development is due to its rejection of the dependency theory and the “import substitution” strategy from the outset of the reform. Chinese leaders instead adopted what is known as the “Asian model” of development, which switched the national economy immediately to the path of export-led growth.
The deeds legitimacy: economic performance 103 Another more complicated theory focuses on the world systems, arguing that the world system consists of the core, semi-periphery and periphery. In this system, the semi-periphery lies between the core and periphery; it is exploited by the core. This conceptual division aims to explain the industrialization within lesser developed countries. Initiated by Immanuel Wallerstein, this theory examines changes in the global capitalist system. It encourages anti-systemic periphery to reverse the conditions of the existing system. At the heart of this theory is the assumption of nation-state in retreat. Once again, the Chinese economic success of the past decades proves the world systems theory wrong. The remarkable growth rate in Chinese GDP is driven by the popular confidence in the efficacy of the state power and its policy elite. The state has played a decisive role not only in design but also in guidance of the national economy. From the Chinese perspective, the idea of “nation- state in retreat” is as absurd as Francis Fukuyama’s “End of History” or Thomas Friedman’s “flat world.”23 In response to the distrust of the state in world systems theory, state theory believes that a developmental state must take control of the development process. At first glance, this theory may provide us with some analytical framework for interpreting the recent Chinese economic miracle, but its focus is on a different agenda. State theory emphasizes the effects of class relations and the strength and autonomy of the state on historical outcomes. The Chinese state, however, has not focused on class relations at all (only Mao tried to do it and failed), for the guiding principle is to build a “socialism with C hinese characteristics” beyond social classes. Class struggle theory, as a political instrument for internal control during the period of Mao, has been largely abandoned. None of the above theories, therefore, seems able to explain the rapid growth of the Chinese economy under a one-party rule, for these theories are all “modern” inventions and such modern vocabulary was nonexistent when Europe first encountered China some 400 years ago. The Confucian economic model, as understood by John Maynard Keynes, had been successful precisely due to its consistent effort of combining social collectivism with laisser-faire market system, creating enormous economic action through “nonaction” on the part of government. It is fundamentally incompatible with individualism, mass consumption and production, and especially predatory international trade, because territorial conquest for colonial resettlement has never been part of the Chinese cultural legacy. During the 16th and 17th centuries, many Europeans believed that the Chinese economic development level was much higher than that in Europe. But within less than a century, there emerged a set of dichotomous concepts, such as backwardness versus progress, civilization versus barbarism and democracy versus autocracy. At the high point of the Enlightenment, Europeans began to identify themselves as being the sole engine of the world economic development, because they saw themselves as the only progressive and civilized people of the world, while applying all the opposite and negative features to
104 The deeds legitimacy: economic performance China and elsewhere. Leading scholars such as political economist John Stuart Mill and philosopher Georg F. Hegel15 even began to promote a fatalistic view that China’s backwardness was inevitable and irreversible, for it derived from a “flawed” civilization and until recently many Western scholars continue to assert that the rapid decline of Chinese economy since the 19th century was due to its failure to adopt a European model of industrialization. Before elaborating Confucian economic principles in detail, it would be useful to examine a dissenting perspective to the Enlightenment represented by the English Romanticism, which is, as we mentioned before, an intellectual soulmate to Confucian vision of state and economy, because it dismissed divine guidance from universal truth in politics and economy, for the two should never be separated. Romanticism arose as a reaction to the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. Instead of searching for universal rules governing nature and human beings, the Romantics searched for a direct communication with nature and treated humans as unique individuals not subject to cold scientific analysis. The Confucian tradition stresses moral adjustment to the world, but never rational domination of the world. Thus, the English Romantics and the Chinese seem to share a vision of politics: every political system acquires its own legitimacy only through a never-ending process based on moral adjustment to the society and nature in order to reach and maintain consensus and cooperation. Supporting one type of political legitimacy does not need to delegitimate another political system. For the Romantics and the Chinese, what is beyond dispute is that not everyone would agree with the ideals of rationality, universality and national autonomy. Moreover, the Chinese tradition of understanding truth in human affairs matches the English Romantic temperament: truth can only be accessed as much as possible, but human beings can never obtain the absolute truth. Ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Zi once stated, “He who knows does not speak, he who speaks does not know.”16 Romantic poets such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth (1770–1850) would surely agree with the Chinese nature poets of the Tang dynasty (618–907 AD) that it is always futile to strive for a verbal exposition of the deeper meaning residing in the interplay between the poet and the natural scene. The untamable nature of reality proves detrimental to the Enlightenment and to its demonian fantasy of controlling the world.17 The assumption that the world was clear, or could be made crystal clear, by compartmentalized, empirical investigation, and the assumption that human reason, being the same everywhere, could bring about harmony and agreement among people are both flawed. Therefore, the visions and methods of English Romanticism challenge the prevailing Western judgment on modern Chinese politics and economy through the Enlightenment ideology and democratic theories. The chief contribution of the Romantics to political theory is to remove mechanical psychology of Hobbes and Locke and develop an adequate psychology of consensus and hence a much richer view of the state. But economists often miss the essential point about
The deeds legitimacy: economic performance 105 economy and especially monetary issues. As Coleridge scholar David Calleo pointed out, Abstracting the manifold phenomena of economic life out of full stream of human affairs inevitably distorts the significance of these phenomena. Economic theory, when heedless of the political dimension, tends to be either irrelevant or else a self-serving ideology of power.18 Today, the building blocks of the economics become extremely technical. Romanticism questioned the claim that economic laws act independently of historical and social circumstances. Romanticism was not concerned to define abstract laws of motion in economy. Thus, Anglo-American positivism, which dominates the field of economics, had to dismiss Romanticism as the counterpart of Enlightenment. The picture of Romanticism as anti-modernity excludes it from the domain of economics. This is why Romanticism often comes under attack by modern economists.19 Not surprisingly, Romantics like Coleridge, Wordsworth, Shelley and Southy all disagreed with Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus and other “liberal political economists” on economic, demographic and monetary matters.20 The work that is usually regarded as the summation of Coleridge’s social and political thought, On the Constitution of Church and State (1830), made him a preeminent Romantic critic of economic modernity and its intellectual underpinnings. Coleridge criticized sharply that what “the sect of Economists” called economic system was in fact “a self-regulating economic machine,” justifying actual human suffering in the name of healthy “body politic.”21 Economic liberalism was after all the most representative product of the Enlightenment in its emphasis on universal laws governing societies and affirmation of individual self-interest. Thus, without a resurrection of the Romantic vision in the West, it is almost impossible for the contemporary West to find an alternative perspective to comprehend the Chinese vision of politics and the state’s relationship with economy.
Legitimacy and income distribution Another analytical tool sustaining the Weberian attack on countries of “backwardness” is the emphasis on income level and its distribution. Aristotle famously stated in Politics, “When one set of the people possesses a great deal and the other nothing, the result is either an extreme version democracy (mob rule) or the unmixed oligarchy or a tyranny due to the excesses of the other two”(1962: 173). It has been commonly assumed in the West that authoritarian regimes in the Third World can indefinitely pursue policies that benefit a minority at the expense of the majority, because there is no political mechanism that holds them accountable to the majority. The implied idea that poor countries pay less attention to income distribution is culturally biased. Throughout Chinese history, the importance of income level and distribution are taken most seriously by
106 The deeds legitimacy: economic performance Confucian scholars and rulers. A huge gap in income distribution is considered one of the biggest threats to the Mandate of Heaven. Confucius made his point forcefully that, for the ruler of a state, (he usually) “does not worry that his people are poor, but that wealth is inequitably distributed; he does not worry that his people are too few in number, but that they are disharmonious; he does not worry that his people are unstable, but that they are insecure.”22 Throughout the history of Chinese peasant revolutions, notably during the communist revolution of the 20th century, demand for “income equality” (均贫富) had been the most effective rallying call. The current Chinese regime is facing a severe legitimacy crisis, because economic growth has had enormous wealth-creation effect, but the income distribution gap in the past four decades has been rapidly widening. According to the most recent statistics, the “Gini coefficient,” which is an internationally recognized measure of the inequality of a distribution (a value of 0 expressing total equality and a value of 1 maximal inequality), has reached 0.6123 in China, well above the danger zone of 0.44 for social stability. Does the Chinese leadership see the writing on the wall? Of course, it does. In fact, no serious rulers in Chinese history dared to ignore this problem. The irony is even though the Chinese leadership has been keenly aware of the dire consequences of official corruption and the seemingly unstoppable trend of widening income gap, no one seems to be able to remove the structural factors that are still driving this gap toward a socially explosive end. They have actively promoted the idea of building a “harmonious society,” but it has so far failed to tackle the issue that causes most disharmonies in China. Despite a tough anti-corruption campaign in recent years, they have failed in addressing this question effectively, for the problem is deeply rooted in China’s political system. Everyone in China knows that the primary driver for income inequality is political power play, rather than market forces, and maintaining such a huge income distribution gap has sustained the party elite’s enthusiasm for continued economic development. Corruption therefore structurally sustains and, at same time, is sustained by the one-party system. A popular consensus in China is that the party is neither Marxist nor capitalist, and its moral standard has little to do with the Confucian value system. Since the party has become ostentatiously a wealth-grabbing interest group, its Mandate of Heaven has been severely damaged. The official party newspaper the People’s Daily argued that, in order to build a good market economy, it was necessary to promote “the rule of virtue while developing the rule of law.”24 At the same time, the party does not intend to abandon Marxism as an official ideology. But an idea of marrying Marxism and Confucianism is too dangerous, being promoted by the leadership as a new ideology to salvage the party’s legitimacy. It is clear that Confucius stressed virtual as politics, while Marx exposed the dark side of market economy – the ruthless class exploitations through cheating the labor out of its “surplus value.” Therefore, the huge gap of income in a socialist society like China can be best attacked by the combined moral philosophy of Confucius and communist ideology of Marx. The ruling foundation will be fatally destructed.
The deeds legitimacy: economic performance 107 Even compared with traditional system, a huge income gap is far more dangerous for the regime. In the dynastic days, the court elite’s obsession with extreme secrecy could help maintain stability by creating a halo of mystic power, sustained by unquestionable blood-line, but the people knew who would be responsible, should things go terribly wrong for the country. In the republican period, the rights to rule can no longer be taken for granted upon those who do not have “royal” lineage, not constitutionally at least; thus, the popular anti-elite sentiment is bound to grow strong, especially since today’s communist princelings have garnered huge wealth without any convincing reason other than their “illegitimate” access to public resources. What is the key factor behind the widening income gap? The short answer, by the Confucian standard, is moral decay of the ruling elite whose appetite for wealth accumulation knows no bounds and legal limits. But one must also answer the question why severe moral decay of the elite has occurred during this seemingly most dynamic phase of the communist regime’s performance? If we dissect the decision-making system in China today, we can easily find answers to the income gap question. It is the high concentration of power that has created the problem. Power monopoly not only creates mass wealth transfer to a tiny section of the society, but also leads to a vicious cycle of what is known as the “Mathew Effect” – the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. No political system, especially a self-claimed “socialist” one, can withstand the social pressure that is continuously generated by the Mathew Effect. The architect of the reform, Deng Xiaoping, once said in the 1980s, “If our reform should produce bipolarization of income distribution, it would mean the failure of the reform.”25 But Deng’s own family has since become one of the richest in the country. Thus, the fundamental flaws of China’s wealth distribution lie in a system that guarantees a structural process of unfair (and illegal) wealth transfer, from the people who contribute labor to the production of the wealth to the people who do not. Three interrelated power monopolies make it well-nigh impossible for the system to eliminate this problem. All three reinforce each other, creating one of largest-scale wealth transfer schemes in modern Chinese history. First, there is the administrative monopoly over banking, land ownership and its legal usage. Such monopoly is the primary reason behind real estate speculation and the accompanying official corruption. There is hardly any corrupt official who does not play the real estate game; second, there is the state monopoly of natural resources and their market prices. A huge income gap occurs between those who have access to resources and those who do not; third, and the most common, there are too many opportunities for rent- seeking due to power monopoly. Anything can be put on sale to create a price, ranking from personal promotion to government policy favors to a company, a city, an economic sector or even a military unit; it is thus clear that the income gap can never be corrected by cosmetic reforms of income distribution process itself, such as increasing social welfare funding or launching anti-corruption campaigns.
108 The deeds legitimacy: economic performance At the social level, the monopoly of administrative power ensures that the society is effectively divided into two classes of citizenship – the city residents and those dwell in the countryside. While farmland can be easily converted into commercial land by developers from the cities, it is hardly possible for farmers to initiate such conversion by themselves. The result is that when cheap farmland is turned into residential property, the rapidly increased land value is not shared by farmers who used to control the land. Moreover, the farmer cannot afford to buy the new residential property since the compensation for his land is based on the original, predevelopment price; thus, the country citizens lose twice in this blatant wealth transfer process. The resources monopoly creates even a bigger income gap. Theoretically, natural resources are public property. But huge wealth transfer occurs from the nominal public ownership to private businessmen who have access to power that issues licenses of exploration, production and selling. The last but not least, the power monopoly creates three direct channels for power holders to accumulate wealth. The simplest way is through bribery. Power holders have easy access to bribery, in the form of either kickbacks or simple fees for approving certain economic activities. Since key sectors of the Chinese economy remain controlled by the government, such as banking, transportation systems, resource and energy industry and production and selling of other strategic materials, the transaction cost for transforming power into personal wealth in the state-owned enterprises (SOEs) is very low and the speed for personal wealth accumulation very high. Deviation from Confucian traditional values explains the roots of the income distribution problem in China better than the Weberian theories which tried to establish a clear linkage between democracy and fair income distribution. Reducing inequalities in political power does not automatically reduce inequalities in wealth and status as many democratic societies demonstrate. At the same time, extreme inequalities in wealth and status do undermine any political system, including democracy. Aristotle in fact did not see that inequality and democracy had any meaningful bearing on each other, except for destabilizing the city-state if the poor are too numerous. In his discussion of different types of constitutions, Aristotle asserts that aristocratic constitutions are chosen with the aim of creating the best laws, oligarchic constitutions are selected so that the government might benefit the wealthiest and democratic constitutions are picked when the political community wants to maximize political freedom.26 Confucius always insisted on the principle of human equality, but his notion is that one should find the cause of one’s personal success or failure in oneself, not to be measured by wealth at all. Confucius also believed that wealth, ethically considered, was not a source of temptation but a means to promote morals. Therefore, the final goal of Confucianism is the widest distribution of wealth in the interest of the social harmony and political stability. Without income redistribution, the current anti-corruption campaign in the name of cultural revival is a fraud. The most serious problem is, transferring wealth guaranteed by the power monopoly in China is a geometrical process; the ordinary citizens’ income also rises, but only in arithmetical progression. The result is the high-speed price
The deeds legitimacy: economic performance 109 inflation and real suppression of the effective demand and consumption in the society as a whole. In China, the number of so-called “mass incidences” (群体 事件) – strikes, protests, riots – doubled to 180,000 a year in the period from 2006 to 2010.27 Many social problems today are related to income gaps. Public trust and confidence in the government has been jeopardized. If the leaders want to rebuild trust and confidence, it must deliver something real in closing the income gap. A game-changing moment has indeed arrived: the communist party must find a way to rejuvenate itself by eradicating the root cause of official corruption in order to lead the people toward sustained economic development and political peace.
Legitimacy and monetary One ill-understood aspect in economic history is China’s state finance and management of money. China’s re-emergence as a world economic powerhouse raises important questions about what we can learn from its recent rise and what challenges it faces today. Most Western economic historians (liberal, conservative and Marxist) have long presented historical China as a stagnant, backward, parochial society, a typical profile for “oriental despotism.” It is important to emphasize how China, the world technological powerhouse between 1100 and 1800, also made Europe’s rise possible. The brilliant studies by Joseph Needham and John Hobson provide plenty of empirical data, making the case for China’s economic and technological superiority over Western civilization for a millennium prior to its rapid decline since the 18th century.28 But little attention is given to the question of money. In traditional China, money occupied an important position and played a generally positive role in managing national economy. A brief discussion of the conceptual history of Chinese view of money and banking is necessary. In the early stage of history, the Chinese knew that money is no ordinary commodity, for it circulates as a valuable, acquires a nature of fluidity and moves in unexpected ways, but it can never be cut off from its origins (however defined, gold, silver, copper or real economy). Traditional China always maintained a specie standard and there was little faith in fiat money and its function in real economy. A “bank” is a modern institution emerged in Renaissance Florence. Its business is usury, taking deposits and making credits to earn profit. In Chinese language, bank is called a “Silver Shop” (银行 Yin Hang), stressing the character of a particular type of commodity for transaction, but never the “banca” in its original sense denoting a specific place (a bench) for transactions of all kind of monetary assets including the fiat money. The Chinese are credited with the original idea of establishing the basic principles of specie standard in the 10th century, because they had long understood the principle similar to the so-called Gresham’s Law (bad money drives out good if their exchange rate is set by law), well before Sir Thomas Gresham (1519– 1579) formally invented it. In Chinese history, there were a number of very perceptive economists who saw the futility of government regulation of prices
110 The deeds legitimacy: economic performance as a means of controlling inflation. In fact, they placed the blame for high prices squarely on the shoulders of the government itself. The Song dynasty economist Ye Shi (AD 1150–1223), for instance, anticipated by several centuries the principle of Gresham’s Law. “The men who do not inquire into the fundamental cause,” he wrote, simply think that paper should be used when money is scarce. But as soon as paper is employed, money becomes still less. Therefore, it is not only that the sufficiency of goods cannot be seen, but also that the sufficiency of money cannot be seen.29 Another prominent economist of about the same time, Yuan Xie (AD 1144– 1224), saw the principle even more clearly: Now, the officials are anxious to increase wealth, and want to put both iron money and copper money in circulation. If money were suddenly made abundant during a period of scarcity, it should be very good. But the fact never can be so. Formerly, because the paper money was too much, the copper money became less…. Where paper and money are both employed, paper is super-abundant, but money is always insufficient. Where the copper money is the only currency without any other money, money is usually abundant.30 Looking back at what we now know to be the often failed government attempts to control inflation by regulating prices and wages, it is clear that these two Chinese economists of 8th centuries ago were fully aware of a law of economics that many political leaders have not yet learned to this day. Monetary issue is not just as a question for economic but political inquiry. In modern time, international monetary politics has been an engine for the rise and decline of great powers. Of course, “international” monetary policy is a relatively new element for Chinese body politic. Holding huge amount of the paper currency of another state as the main part of central bank reserve is a fresh but odd experience.31 Although an international monetary system is new to the modern Chinese, it is China that had contributed a great deal to the creation of the first modern international monetary system, the British-led Gold Standard, which was born in the English Romantic period of the 1790s. The reason is simple: gold standard was a reaction to China’s silver standard and its strong trading position which was responsible for accumulating huge quantity of global hard currencies and hence causing “global economic imbalance” at that time. The same theme seems to have made a comeback lately. China’s persistent trade surplus in history was considered a major cause for the crisis of silver currency and bank notes (1750–1870) in Britain. In the late 18th century, wars within Europe as well as an ongoing trade deficit with China (which sold goods to Europe but had little use for European goods) drained silver from the economies of Britain, Western Europe and the United States.
The deeds legitimacy: economic performance 111 In 1844 the Bank Charter Act established that notes of Bank of England, fully backed by gold, were the legal standard. But for China, international trade was never a crucial element in Chinese economy until the 21st century. Chinese traditional monetary system was essentially based on domestic economic needs, and its long-standing silver standard was also an internal system. The modern concept of “monetary nationalism” in Friedrich von Hayek’s formulation32 is as alien to the Chinese today as was in the past. But since the Opium War, China had been forced to cope with, for the first time, an international dimension of its monetary policy, hence the need for creating a Western-style banking system. But after the defeat by the British in 1842, the Chinese economy started declining so rapidly that it occupied a trivial position in global economy for over 150 years. The Chinese share of global GDP which was 32.9% before the Opium War went down to less than 5% in 1949.33 Thus, modern China’s monetary policy did not matter much for the international monetary system till its recent economic takeoff. Today, even if the Chinese currency is not yet convertible, China’s monetary move causes concerns and disturbances all over the world. Hence, we are hearing the familiar outcry that Chinese economy is once again causing “global economic imbalance.” At the beginning of the 2008 global financial crisis, the Economist magazine pinned the blame squarely on Beijing with a featured comment on the “savings glut”; this report was also illustrated with a cartoon of a giant Chinese dragon sucking in a flood of greenbacks.34 Such an accusation had justified the Opium War in 1840 as well as Donald Trump’s trade war. For China, it seems such an eerie deja vu. In reality, the excessive amount of US dollars accumulated by the Chinese Central Bank revealed ignorance rather than knowledge and prescience about political function of dollar’s status as reserve currency. In fact, modern Chinese policy elite have had little experience in international banking, for the economy of the 20th-century China had been too weak for its central banks to play its own currencies in international arena. The Nationalist Republic of China (1927–1949) was a founding member of the postwar international monetary system known as the “Bretton Woods System.” But the Communist China (the People’s Republic of China (PRC)) did not participate in or contributed anything to its activities until 1981. During the reform period, the Chinese banking elite have acquired some knowledge about politics behind the international monetary operations. However, they are often muddle-headed with the question, how do currencies and central banks relate to the concept of national identity? The English Romantic poet Coleridge once bantered that “abstract and unfeeling science” reduced all human behavior into “debtor and creditor accounts on the ledgers of self-love.”35 Like the Romantics, modern Chinese have never fully come to terms with political symbolism of money. Surely Western countries have already provided us with a ready interpretation with the concept of banal nationalism. For example, the importance of cultural and symbolic components of communities has been stressed by Anthony D. Smith’s ethno-symbolic approach to nationalism. According to Smith, ethnic myths and symbols of community are particularly important elements in the construction of modern
112 The deeds legitimacy: economic performance nations. These symbols – which include flags, totems, hymns, anthems and, most notably, coins and money bills – are potentially invested with meaning and significance, and they serve as powerful motifs of nationalism that sustain the unity of a national community.36 Through its natural permeation of everyday life, a currency as a national symbol reinforces a collective feeling of national identity. Thus in the West, state elites are obsessed with monopolizing the use of such powerful symbols in an effort to dictate how they are used. The lack of understanding of such type of money as power symbol is rooted in Chinese culture. Chinese elite are never in a position to truly comprehend Ferdinand de Saussure – father of postmodern linguistics who made the revolutionary discovery of a power relation between two linguistic symbols, a “signifier” and a “signified,” because, as we mentioned in Chapter 2, this distinction only makes sense in alphabetic languages. In an ideographic language, these are merely two sides of one coin, not a power relationship, but better described as yin and yang relationship. (That is why de Saussure was never willing to include the non- alphabetic Chinese and Japanese in his brilliant semiotics discussions.) Money as a political power is a “signifier,” which denotes an arbitrary relationship between the real world and the signified. For example, money as a political symbol has been used as an instrument of nation-building to create a national identity. Thus, the power symbolism of the international monetary system has, for decades, been very much embodied in US dollar as the “key currency,” a status granting the US government with many political and economic privileges that are not available for other nations. Given its economic and military superpower status, only the US central bank – the Federal Reserve – is placed in a unique position to manipulate exchange rates of its own national currency, with easy or tight monetary policies to benefit national economic performance. But China has never had an urge for money symbolism to help create collective identity, which already exists on solid cultural foundations for at least two millennia. And the Chinese historically had little experience in managing fiat money and national economy dominated by paper currency, because its economy had never cut ties with a specie standard (silver and gold). Only the communist regime dared to end the specie standard and managed a fiat currency, the “People’s Money (or RMB).” Previous republican regimes did not succeed in replacing specie standard with paper money, because such a move always caused inflation and political turmoil. In fact, the Chiang Kai-shek government was doomed not only in the military battlefield, but also by the hyperinflation of historic proportion in 1948. Ostensibly, the government legally made paper currency convertible to gold by issuing the “Gold Yuan” (Gold Standard Script 金圓券) in 1948, but its real intention was to print large quantity of paper money for civil war spending. It was a fraud to swindle the population for turning in their gold holdings. But few had confidence in this new paper currency. It caused the panic bank run, and a private ownership of gold, silver and foreign exchange had to be outlawed, leading to further panic and economic collapse. The new “gold” script became worthless in only ten months; hence, popular support for the government also collapsed.
The deeds legitimacy: economic performance 113 After the communist takeover, Chinese economy was transformed into a talinist planning system, which was essentially an economic autarchy. The paS per currency was created; the Renminbi (RMB) was stable because of the autarchy. Therefore, from 1949 to 1980, the People’s Bank of China (central bank) was nothing but a “super-cashier” for the state. In the entire banking sector, there was no commercial banking, not to mention international banking. Up until Deng Xiaoping’s reform launched in the early 1980s, the Chinese banking system had experienced little exposure to the disturbances of the international monetary system – immune from the tumultuous events since the fall of the Bretton Woods system in 1972 or the Oil Shock. Most members of the generation of the banking elite during Deng Xiaoping’s reform period were sent to the United States to be trained mainly by the members of the “Chicago School,” i.e., the advocates of the quantity theory of money, and the idea that general prices are determined by money supply. Thus, a majority of the new banking elite are actually believers in the Washington Consensus and neoliberalism. Neoliberalism or the Chicago school usually downplays or simply ignores politics. Beyond vague appeals for “good governance,” neoliberalism focuses on “best practices” that could apply uniformly to all countries, dismissing how political contexts shape and constrain economic policymaking. Under this influence, the new Chinese banking elite failed to realize that paper currency may serve as political tools helping the wealth accumulation to the owner of a powerful currency, the US dollar. And at the same time, they were not convinced till 2008 that Chinese monetary policy could serve its geopolitical and foreign policy purposes. During the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, for example, they began to feel, for the first time, the turbulent effect of international money movements. But China’s currency was neither convertible nor pegged with the dollar; hence, it experienced little panic of capital outflow. As a result, the only lesson that the banking elite had learnt from this crisis was the need for accumulating as much US dollar as possible in reserves, as a firewall against future capital outflow. This was a wrong-headed and neoliberal response to capital outflow. But such a view has proved mistaken during the 2008 world economic crisis. Now, it has finally dawned upon them that it is not necessarily a good thing to hold another nation’s paper currency on such a large scale, more than two trillions. And it is clear that the Chinese have placed too much confidence in the dollar standard, and the central bank of China has become, in effect, a financial hostage to the Federal Reserve. It should be pointed that a “central bank” as a key Chinese government institution did not come into legal existence until 1995 when the first Bank Law was adopted, for the People’s Bank was a division under the Ministry of Finance, with no autonomous policymaking power, not even for managing foreign currency reserves. Its lack of global experience can somehow shield it away from the popular criticism of technical incompetence after the 1997 financial crisis. But during the 2008 financial crisis, for the first time in the history of the People’s Republic, the banking elite and monetary policy began to affect political legitimacy. When the global financial crisis broke out in 2008, this author was the first to launch public attacks on Chinese banking elite through a series of columns at
114 The deeds legitimacy: economic performance the Chinese popular paper The Global Times, criticizing the central bank for its ignorance of international political economy and its mistake of accumulating the excessive amount of US debts, falling into a debt trap of huge scale. The leading official media the Xinhua News felt obliged to react and it initiated a debate over whether the foreign exchange holdings of central bank are in fact Chinese people’s “sweat and blood money.” The launching of this debate is a panic reaction to the surprising level of criticism in China; it was aimed at diffusing the popular anger over mismanagement of China’s huge foreign exchange reserves. Pathetically, the government invited several “authoritative” central bankers and their intellectual cohorts to explain why the foreign exchange reserves are not “sweat and blood money” generated by the people and more shockingly argued that they do not even belong to the population at large due to the prior “ownership transfer” from the people to the government. The government elite offered three main arguments against my analysis. The first argument is: foreign exchange reserves are the property of the central bank; thus, they cannot be used by the people for free. Why so? The argument goes, “the central bank has already ‘purchased’ these foreign exchanges from the people by issuing RMB to them.” Here, the conceptual trick is to confuse Chinese entrepreneurs in export business, who are mostly government-related SOEs and who represent a tiny portion of the population, with ordinary citizens who not only have to exchange their sweat and blood for low wages, but also can only exchange a fixed annual amount ($USD 5,000) of foreign currency for personal use. The second argument is: foreign direct investment in China, i.e., the amount of foreign exchanges that must be converted into Chinese currency in investment projects, has nothing to do with Chinese export earnings, so they are not even related to the “sweat and blood money.” Despite being the most Westernized elite group in China, these monetary experts choose to ignore the basics of the Western macroeconomics about a country’s balance of payments sheet. A country’s ability to attract foreign direct investment and its ability to maintain strong export position are positively related and their attempt at delinking the two reflects a desperate desire of reducing their responsibilities of mismanaging national wealth wherever possible. The third argument seems to be the most ridiculous: since the majority of the population does not have access to large amount of foreign exchanges and hence to participate in currency speculations at the international money market, the government authorities have to play the foreign currency game for the entire citizenry. As this author argued at the same debate, any monetary management should have basic requirement of gaining or at least not losing value. The reality is that the State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE) has been the least “safe” in guarding the public assets for it has been losing money on a large scale, and that it is never willing to publish exact figures. Aside from losing big on the US Treasury Bills (TBs), the government’s other speculative activities – such as huge losing bet on bad American business enterprises such as Goldman Sachs, Blackstone, Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae – have fared much worse, and these failures are irresponsibly labeled normal occurrence in “pure market operations.”
The deeds legitimacy: economic performance 115 The central bank elite neglected the truth that, in a real market economy, individuals can freely exchange their cash assets into foreign exchanges and they are also responsible for whatever losses or gains in the speculative activities if they engage themselves in. The state monopoly in managing foreign exchanges means that the individuals in China could lose twice if they dare to hold foreign currencies. The Chinese have to sell cheap labor to subsidize American consumer prices in exchanging for expensive dollars, and then to use their RMB holdings to exchange for even more costly foreign currencies. The SAFE operations are in fact not accountable to the citizenry in the country. Under the circumstances, despite the convoluted technical jargons employed by the central bank apologizers, the logic of their argument appears crystal clear to the ordinary citizen: the foreign exchange reserve question is none of your business, but the earning of them are your duty! This is a politically explosive logic, triggering anger as well as widespread suspicions on the ulterior motives of the monetary elite in Beijing. First of all, the central bankers cannot explain why customary behavior of diversifying reserve holdings has been talked about for years, but never realized. Who are blocking it? Second, the central bank’s consistent rejection of increasing gold reserves over the years now appears very dubious – especially the central bankers have admitted no misjudgment by sticking to the claim that is not realistic to purchase gold on a large scale, but only after the gold price has skyrocketed after 2008. In reality, many proposals have been made over the years, urging the central bank to do so. For example, as early as in 2007, this author had made a strong recommendation in a book published in Beijing, for Chinese monetary authorities to drastically diversify reserves in other currencies, and increase gold holdings, since it is too dangerous and unnatural that our gold reserve is below the level of that of Italian central bank.37 The People’s Bank only started in fast pace accumulating gold in the past few years, as a measure of increasing its power in commodity pricing. Third, China owns so many US government bonds and yet the central bankers have always discouraged the government to entertain any thought of using this as a diplomatic leverage in dealing with Washington. Throughout modern world history, using monetary instrument to achieve diplomatic aims is norm rather than exception. States have frequently utilized it for political purposes. Indeed, holding US assets does not exercise any leverage to prevent Washington from launching containment policy and trade war, because China holds too many another country’s paper currency and it has become a hostage, rather than the other way round. It is thus not surprising that population in China has increasingly come to the belief that the central bank’s obsession with the US dollar assets must have been motivated by reasons beyond national interests. Official corruption is the first thing coming to head. Are there kickbacks involved for purchasing foreign bonds? In fact, the historical trajectory of official corruption is revealing, for it shifts over time from one sector to another. In the 1980s when reforms just started, obtaining and selling government import licenses was the key means of
116 The deeds legitimacy: economic performance becoming overnight parvenus; in the 1990s during the so-called state company “marketization” process, acquiring stock shares of the state enterprises proved most effective way of accumulating quick fortune. Now, we have reached a stage where huge windfall profits can be made more easily, quickly and secretly collected through the least transparent state sector, the banking system. It is no surprise that the elite and their family members have flocked to the financial sector in recent years. Despite rapid economic growth in the past decades, the banking sector remains far from efficient and competitive. This is because of the state monopoly. The government in recent years has tried to reform this sector, but the results are not impressive, because the reforms of the banking sector have so far stuck in a terrible dilemma: on the one hand, greater efficiency in the banking sector requires competition, which would mean more privatization of the sector; but the state still preserves majority ownership and uses banks as a means to implement social policies to sustain political stability. It seems that, without outside pressure, banking reform will go nowhere, or will move slowly. President Donald Trump launched trade war with China in April 2018. The weapon he used is archaic but has a strong impact on Chinese manufacturing sector. Trade war in the long run will have a salutary effect on China’s banking reforms. State banks and enterprises are among the least disciplined in aggressive overseas investment, especially in real estate, energy and brand name consumer sectors. China’s influence on world markets far outweighs the degree of integration of its own banks and financial markets with the rest of the world. China’s financial market has to open wider to push state banks into a more competitive environment. Realizing its vulnerability to changes in foreign demand for cheap consumer goods, China is now determined to make its economy fundamentally domestically driven. To do this, China must increase its minimum wage, pension and healthcare assistance in an attempt to encourage Chinese citizens to spend more money. China may also make its economy more efficient as its currency appreciate, which would give Chinese citizens more purchasing power and thereby increase domestic demand for Chinese products. All these are unfamiliar territories for the complacent banking elite. We have to wait and see if the reforms can work.
Notes 1 John K. Fairbank, The United States and China, 4th Edition. Harvard University Press, 1983. 2 David S. Landes, “Why Europe and the West, Why Not China?”, Journal of Economic Perspectives, vol. 20, No. 2, 2006, pp. 3–22; for his earlier work, see The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor. W. W. Norton & Company, New York 1998. 3 Angus Maddison, Chinese Economic Performance in the Long Run. 960–2030 AD. Center for Development Studies, OECD, 2007. 4 Weber argued that while several factors were good for the development of a capitalist economy (long periods of peace, improved control of rivers, population growth, freedom to acquire land and move outside of native community, freedom of choosing the occupation), they were outweighed by others (mostly stemming from religion)
The deeds legitimacy: economic performance 117 in China. See Reinhard Bendix, Max Weber: An Intellectual Portrait. University of California Press, 1977, p. 116. 5 Joseph Needham, The Grand Tradition: Science and Society in East and West, Routledge,  2013. 6 Mark Elvin, “The High-Level Equilibrium Trap: The Causes of the Decline of I nvention in the Traditional Chinese Textile Industries”, in Economic Organization in Chinese Society, edited by W. E. Willmott. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1972, pp. 137–140. 7 John Maynard Keynes, book review of The Economic Principles of Confucius and His School, by Chen Huan-chang. Columbia University Studies, New York: Longmans, 1911. The Economic Journal, Vol. 22, No. 88, Dec. 1912, p. 584. The quote of Confucius comment is from Analects:13.9. 8 David Landes, The Unbound Prometheus: Technological Change and Industrial Development in Western Europe from 1750 to the Present, 2nd edition. Cambridge University Press, July 14, 2003. 9 Max Weber, The Religion of China, translated by Hans H. Gerth. New York: Free Press; Collier-Macmillan, 1951, pp. 149–150. 10 See, for example, Thorstein Veblen, Imperial Germany and the Industrial Revolution. New York: MacMillan, 1915, and Alexander Gerschenkron, Economic Backwardness in Historical Perspective, a Book of Essays. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1962. 11 See Angus Maddison, Chinese Economic Performance in the Long Run, 960–2030 AD. OECD, 2007, p. 44. 12 Seymour Martin Lipset, Political Man, the Social Basis of Politics, 4th printing. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981, p. 28. 13 Murray Newton Rothbard, Economic Thought before Adam Smith. Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd, 1995, p. 386. 14 John James Clarke, Oriental Enlightenment: The Encounter between Asian and Western Thought. Routledge, 1997, p. 50, and Baghdiantz McCabe, Orientalism in Early Modern France: Eurasian Trade Exoticism and the Ancien Regime. London: Berg Publishers, 2008, pp. 271–272. 15 See John S. Mill, On Liberty, especially chapter 2 and Georg F. Hegel, Philosophy of History. 16 Tzu Lao, Tao Te Ching, chapter 56, translated by Victor H. Mair, Bantam, 1990. 17 See James Miller, “English Romanticism and Chinese Nature Poetry”, Comparative Literature, Vol. 24, No. 3, Summer 1972, pp. 223–224. 18 David Calleo, and Benjamin Rowland, America and World Political Economy. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1973, p. 254. 19 Bronk, Richard, The Romantic Economist: Imagination in Economics. Cambridge University Press, 2009. 20 Kathrine Gallagher, The Body Economic: Life, Death, and Sensation in Political Economy and the Victorian Novel, especially chapter 1, Romantics and the Political Economists, Princeton University Press, 2009. 21 Ibid., p. 21. 22 Confucius, Analects, 16.1. 23 China’s Family Income Gini Index Reaches 0.61, see official report at Global Times, December 10, 2012. http://finance.huanqiu.com/china/2012-12/3361155.html. 24 February 1, 2001, The People’s Daily, Beijing. 25 Deng Xiaoping, Selected Work of Deng Xiaoping (邓小平文选), Vol. 3. Beijing: P eople’s Publishing House, 1993, p. 139. 26 Reeve, Aristotle: Politics, op. cit., p. IV.7. 27 China’s Wealthiest Discreetly Stay Away at Party Congress, Bloomberg News, October 1, 2012, www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-09-30/absent-china-billionairesshow-wealth-limited-at-party-congress.html.
118 The deeds legitimacy: economic performance 28 John M. Hobson, The Eastern Origins of Western Civilisation. Cambridge University Press, 2004. 29 Huan-Chang Chen, The Economic Principles of Confucius and His School. New York: Longmans, 1911, p. 444. 30 Ibid., p. 445. 31 Calleo and Rowland, America and World Political Economy, 1973, p. 254. 32 F.A. Hayek, Monetary Nationalism and International Stability. London: Longmans, Green-Graduate Institute of International Studies, Geneva, Publication Number 18, 1937. Hayek defines monetary nationalism thus, By Monetary Nationalism I mean the doctrine that a country’s share in the world’s supply of money should not be left to be determined by the same principles and the same mechanism as those which determine the relative amounts of money in its different regions or localities. p. 3 33 See Angus Maddison, Chinese Economic Performance in the Long Run, 960–2030 AD, OECD, Table 2.2a: Shares of World GDP, 1700–2030 AD, 2007, p. 44. 34 A typical comment was offered by The Economist on January 22, 2009, “Global Economic Imbalance.” 35 Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Statesman’s Manual, 1816, in Lay Sermons, edited by R.J. White, London and Princeton, 1972, p. 76. 36 Anthony D. Smith, Theories of Nationalism. New York, 2005, p. 28. 37 See Lanxin Xiang, Tradition and Foreign Relations (传统与对外关系), Beijing: Sanlian Press, Chapter 8: The Ideological Context of International Economy, 2007.
6 Externalizing the Mandate of Heaven
Cognitive framework Despite volumes of books on Chinese foreign policy, serious study of the conceptual history of China’s foreign relations has barely begun. In this chapter, we stick to a similar argument: the meaning of Chinese foreign relations can only be grasped in specific Chinese context of political legitimacy, not through some universal principles that allegedly guide state’s international behavior. Confucian culture stresses endogenous factors for the rise and decay of a state system, based purely on moral standard. Ironically, China has the longest history of a state system, but one of shortest memories for “foreign policies.” For millennia, China had not even established a specialized state institution for handling foreign relations, except for an Office of Managing Barbarian Affairs (理藩院). The first government institution resembling a modern Foreign Office appeared in 1862.1 Traditionally, Chinese do not believe that a regime’s legitimacy could be enhanced through expanding the Mandate of Heaven into an outer sphere beyond Chinese culture, through conquering either outlying territories, or legitimate states inhabited by non-Chinese. Colonialism has never reared its ugly head in Chinese history. Foreign adventure and territorial expansion for resettlement purposes had never occurred to Chinese rulers as an effective medicine to cure immanent moral illness that inevitably gave rise to political chaos at home. This is why the expansionist regimes in Chinese history were those run by the Mongols and the Manchus – both nomadic peoples who had little psychological and practical attachment to land and agricultural economy. The non-expanisionist attitude contrasts sharply with the persistent missionary zeal in the Christian West, at least from the Crusades onward, for “spiritual” promotion (today it is also called “democratic promotion”) in faraway foreign lands, often with military force. Moreover, despite a hierarchical system at home, Chinese culture is fundamentally anti-hegemony. The concepts of hierarchy and hegemony should not be confused. Hierarchy is a categorization of a group of people according to seniority, ability or status, but hegemony is an indirect form of government, and of imperial dominance in which the hegemon (leader state) rules subordinate states by the implied means of power, the threat of force, backed by direct military capability. The Chinese tradition stresses that a good government does not merely mean harmonization of diverse interests
120 Externalizing the Mandate of Heaven in the society. Rather, it also involves proper cultivation of a select group of individuals endowed with exemplary moral strength. This way of depicting the process of domestic rule has a direct impact on the Chinese vision of external relations, similar to modern Chinese debate over republicanism, which represents the “moral center,” at home as well as in the world. A traditional consensus is that if a morally corrupted system does not undergo serious reforms, it will not be able to sustain itself for long. Even though little morality has been demonstrated by recent foreign policies of the United States under Donald Trump, not many in Washington would be willing to admit that the United States as an exemplary moral leader faces crisis. The existing global system, long characterized by a benign US hegemonic control, is in need of fundamental reforms. Thus, it is ironic that China may have a better chance to help improve global system than does the United States. Immediately after the Cold War, Western commentators were obsessed with the triumphalist question of how far Western ideas could spread in a world at “the end of history.”2 Almost three decades later the attention has shifted to how far Chinese ideas may spread in a world not dominated by the West. Such a psychological shift reflects both the fundamental changes in international relations (IR) and the transformative power of Chinese role in global affairs. Even for China itself, never before has foreign policy played such an important part in justifying political legitimacy. How can we comprehend Chinese foreign relations today? Once again we must start with cognitive frameworks. Like political science and economics, Western IR theories are typical products of the Enlightenment, for their proponents claim the universal applicability of their ideas. However, they have failed to explain China in the 21st-century world. The problem is, these theories shed no lights on the possible end of the Cold War and the “rise” of non-Western actors. Yet leading theorists in the West are not willing to abandon the self-claimed “universalist” nature of their field. They insist that IR theory is in and of itself not inherently Western, but is an open domain into which it is not unreasonable to expect non-Westerners to make a contribution at least proportional to the degree that they are involved in its practice.3 But the attempt by Asian theorists to apply these ideas to IR in Asia has yielded little result. For example, Chinese intellectual cohorts’ efforts to establish a “Chinese school of International Relations theory” have failed miserably.4 Some theorists wish to introduce non-Western (basically Asian) IR traditions to a Western audience and at the same time encourage non-Western IR thinkers to challenge the dominance of Western theory. But this double purpose seems contradictory, because the traditional Asia is absent of abstract grand-theory building. Such effort seems to negate the long-established assertion that theories are not ivory tower exercise, but they can be useful for practical policies, or designed for influencing particular purpose. As we have mentioned before, all theories
Externalizing the Mandate of Heaven 121 are speech-acts. In Chinese tradition, every theory serves a particular political purpose. Even in the West, different schools of IR theories do the same. Realism speaks for the status quo and the maintenance of the current international system dominated by the West, liberalism speaks for capitalism and Marxism speaks for marginalized or excluded country groups. But the most relevant question should be “why Asia needs IR theories at all”? A leading Chinese IR theorist Qin Yaqing makes an effort to explain why there is no Chinese IR theory. According to him, the Chinese lack an awareness of “intentional-ness”: “there was no existence of a structure in which the ego stands against the other.” His assumption is that since China’s traditional ideology, Confucianism, was defeated in the 20th century, Chinese intellectuals have not been able to find a new conceptual space in which to develop their original thinking about contemporary IR. He further offers a third and quite strange answer to his own question, arguing that the IR field in China lacks a “theoretical core” in the ontological sense. He suggests that China needs to identify a key problem in order to discover the “metaphysical component” of this theoretical core. Having failed to offer any meaningful suggestions about what form this core could take, Qin argues that the key problem for study will most likely to be the relationship between China and international society.5 But this problematic can be easily established through common sense and without any sort of metaphysical meditations he suggests. In fact, the thrust of Qin’s rather convoluted argument seems to be that China may need IR theory to justify its policies on moral ground, such as its slogan of “peaceful rise.” This is a far cry from the grand theory-building implied. A similar argument can be found in Japanese authors. Takashi Inoguchi makes his point far more straightforward than does Qin. After examining four major currents in Japan’s IR field, Inoguchi finds that the Japanese theorists are “interested in policy rather than theory.”6 But interestingly, he also qualifies his answer by asserting that the Japanese have already identified their “core” problems since World War II: i.e., “what went wrong for Japan in the past and how to secure peace.” Thus, Inoguchi is able to identify several authors who have engaged in a kind of proto-theory-building, especially in the areas of constructivism and international law. In presenting the Korean perspective, Chaesun Chun laments that “IR theory in Korea is very underdeveloped.”7 One reason for this, he says, is the wholesale import of Western theories, an experience all too familiar in China and Japan as well. Chun’s critique that Western IR theories actually marginalize the position and history of the Third World is far more penetrating than the contributions of his Chinese and Japanese colleagues. He points out that “what is important here is not that equality and emancipation is more important than order and stability. What is important is that there should be concerns about meta-ethical judgment to evaluate the relative importance of competing ethical norms.”8 Thus, Chun’s position becomes unequivocally anti-universalist. He thus asks the right question: “why do we need non-Western IR theories to explain the reality of the non-Western world?” 9 (italic added). His conclusion: we don’t. The challenge for
122 Externalizing the Mandate of Heaven non-Western academics, he writes, is “contribute to the making of postmodern IR theory, or postmodern global political theory,”10 instead of strengthening the existing and modern ones. Of course, postmodernism has always been at the forefront of the fight against any meta-theory building in the first place. Postmodernism will fundamentally undermine the IR theory as an academic discipline as we know it. Therefore, we must first of all discard the Western IR theory all together in order to understand China’s external behavior. Looking from whatever perspective, Beijing’s external policies have raised the specter of a meaningful alternative to various Western models of international order, for the first time in three centuries. But the debates over whether China is going to comply with established (Western) rules of the current liberal international order miss the point, because it encounters at least two cognitive problems. The first problem is the intellectual habit, in both moral and practical senses, of applying Western standards for assessing the “proper” international behavior of a non-Western actor. Here, the difficulty is for the West to recognize the legitimacy of any alternative model of conducting global affairs based on an entirely different system of domestic governance. Let’s start with a fundamental difference between the West and China on the concept of world order. While the West, the United States in particular, sees order to be the opposite of chaos, the Confucian conception of order contrasts chaos with harmony. This distinction reflects the centrality of immanence rather than transcendence in Chinese political thought. In other words, chaos and harmony are not in a black and white opposition. Disorder is defined as Luan 乱, which originally means entangled silk threads, or a state of chaos; and order is defined as Zhi 治, which means flood control. The best way of controlling flood is not to strengthen and build high dams, but to let water find natural outlets without causing harms to people and their livelihood. The traditional Chinese medicine uses the same word Zhi to mean “healing” process. For example, acupuncture is based on the idea of mobilizing one’s own internal elements of resistance to illness to help the healing. Luan and Zhi are thus not assumed to be absolute opposites, but having an interdependent relationship. There is no mental paradigm of “divine order versus chaos,” or good versus evil in a battle of Armageddon. Moreover, this Western mental paradigm is naturally obsessed with the question of international power distribution; hence, there is a need for establishing a mechanical power hierarchy to keep stability, defined either by hegemony or by “balance of power.” In Chinese conception, however, permanent existence of hegemonic power in any world system cannot be sustained, as the hegemon will inevitably start to misbehave. For some 300 years, the rivalry over leadership in world politics has been the game only for Western actors. The so-called Third World has been the theater rather than actor in this power play. China has long been considered passive recipient of the Western rules or helps. Now China’s new power status begins to demonstrate that a non-Western actor can perform well on the global stage. In this respect, the acknowledgment of China’s legitimate role as an international actor implies the treatment of Beijing as an equal partner in managing the international system hitherto dominated by the West.
Externalizing the Mandate of Heaven 123 The second cognitive problem is the lack of analytic tools or indeed right language to explain this new development in international order. To begin with, China does not consider itself to be on the “rise,” but on a historic process of “national restoration” (民族复兴). That means, as Henry Kissinger stated in his book On China, “the Chinese DNA has reasserted itself” which explains why so much interest has been accorded to Beijing’s foreign policies, “Confronting the new challenges of the twenty-first century, and in a world where Leninism has collapsed, Hu [Jintao] and Wen [Jiabao] turned to traditional wisdom.”11 Thus, to understand China in the international system of the 21st century, one has to start, as the Jesuit missionaries did in the late 16th century, with the learning process about the Chinese DNA and its link to foreign relations. A major conceptual error in the West is the teleological assumption that all non-Western actors are going to “become like us” or “fight us.” But what if China is moving in a totally different direction, neither assimilation nor confrontation, as the Chinese had done before modern times and are apparently trying to achieve now with its “peaceful rise”? In that case, the prevailing Euro-centric language of the entire academic discipline on global affairs would lose interpretive power. This cognitive challenge has left Western observers frustrated and they have to elicit allegories of animals to help interpret China’s external behavior, ranging from a cute and cuddling “panda” to a terrifying, fire-emitting “dragon.” In the Unites States, for example, pro-Beijing policy elite are labeled “Panda Huggers,” while those opposing China’s foreign policy are known as “Dragon Slayers.” But the question remains: do these allegorical images clarify or obfuscate the understanding of China’s foreign relations? A recent study noticed, “One possible response to these queries is that such animal allegories confirm that thinking about Chinese foreign policy seems to gravitate easily towards the realms of fiction and fantasy.”12
Peace and war In premodern times, Chinese foreign relations were built upon the idea that the Chinese Empire was the center of world civilization, and the emperor of China was the leader of the civilized world. Chinese foreign policy always appeared isolationist, because the rest of the world was considered too backward to offer China anything important. This historical vision collapsed after the foreign encroachment in the 1840s. Succeeding Chinese rulers began to face serious challenges on how to regain China’s historical position in world economy, and how to build an identity as a modern nation-state. The first challenge is fundamental. Before the Opium War, the Chinese economy boasted 32.9% of global GDP. After the 1840s, China was repeatedly forced to grant foreign powers extraterritorial privileges, sign unequal treaties, pay huge indemnities and end up becoming one of the poorest countries on earth. In 1949, when the Communists took over, China’s relative position in world economy had sunk to the historical bottom, less than 5% share of global GDP. Moreover, throughout the
124 Externalizing the Mandate of Heaven period from the 1840s to the 1940s, China was devastated by wars, both civil and international. As national survival was at stake, regaining sovereign rights took priority, forcing the state to remake its institutions, ideology, laws, and military and political systems on Western models. International affairs are dominated by the question of peace or war. In the first half of the 20th century, China never enjoyed a sustained period of peace either at home or with foreign powers. Only in 1949, China finally regained full national sovereignty. To develop economy largely on its own, China under the leadership of Mao Zedong initially opted for a strategy modeling after Stalinism. However, at the end of Mao’s reign in 1976, the leadership led by Deng Xiaoping made different efforts to reform the domestic economic and administrative systems, trying to bring back a market environment. Foreign trade and investment have grown rapidly. China has now become one of the world’s major trading nations. In today’s world, what role China should play to contribute to world peace? The Chinese have been struggling for clues so far. As we mentioned in Chapter 2, modern Chinese nationalism came from the West. It is a combination of Social Darwinism and the deep sentiment of national humiliation. Today, the Communist Party has all but lost its cosmopolitan and utopian appeals; nationalism remains the only reliable source to gain people’s loyalty. But nationalism is also a two-edged sword, overplaying with it could hurt oneself. In Confucian tradition, violence had a negative relationship with legitimacy of the ruler. It never occurred to a Confucian ruler that state power could be enhanced by conquering far-away lands. Ruling by terror is a taboo in Confucian politics. Warfare itself was considered deplorable and territorial conquest for the purpose of trade expansion was alien to the Confucian Mandarins. The most famous overseas adventure was the seven naval expeditions (1405–1433). Often considered as China’s missed opportunity for global conquest, these voyages were never meant for colonial purposes to begin with. Undertaken by Admiral Zheng He of the Ming dynasty, these adventures consisted of hundreds of most advanced ships and tens of thousands of seamen. The fleets visited ports from Malacca and Ceylon to the Red Sea entrance and Zanzibar. But they brought back giraffes and some rare stones, which had no geostrategic meaning at all. Despite having the world’s strongest navy at the time, the Ming rulers were never interested in overseas expansion and trade domination. In traditional China, state legitimacy was not affected by foreign relations so long as these relations did not undermine imperial rule. Military attack by foreign invaders was different matter, of course, for it had a direct impact upon China’s territorial security and domestic order. In the early 17th century, the Jesuit Father Matteo Ricci reflected in his diaries, … it seems to be quite remarkable when we stop to consider it, that in a kingdom of almost limitless expanse and innumerable population and abounding in copious supplies of every description, though they have a wellequipped army and navy that could easily conquer the neighboring nations, neither the King nor his people ever think of waging a war of aggression.
Externalizing the Mandate of Heaven 125 They are quite content with what they have and are not ambitious of conquest. In this respect they are much different from the people of Europe, who are frequently discontent with their own governments and covetous of what others enjoy. While the nations of the West seem to be entirely consumed with the idea of supreme domination, they cannot even preserve what their ancestors have bequeathed them, as the Chinese have.13 There was a unique idea on peace and war in traditional China, for they are not presented as an ontological dichotomy such as good versus evil. Confucianism offers a compromise between any two extreme positions. Indeed, the genius of Confucianism is to have eliminated tension between the world and man’s ultimate destiny, including tension between supreme-being (or God) and nature, between ethical obligation and human inadequacy, and between religious duty and sociopolitical reality. Most importantly, its view on war is in sharp contrast to that of the salvation religions. In the domain of any conflict resolution, for example, Confucianism had no intrinsic need for war, because if everyone is following his proper role then there should be no war. Confucius was once asked by one of his best students about the way of governing effectively, he replied, “Make sure there is sufficient food to eat, sufficient arms for defense, and that the common people have confidence in their leaders.” The student asked, “If you had to give up one of these three things, which should be given up first?” “Give up arms,” he replied. “If you had to give up the remaining two?” the student insisted, “which should be given up first?” “Give up food,” the Master replied. “Death has been with us from ancient times, but if common people do not have confidence in their leaders, community will not endure.”14 Logically, if there is war, then the essence of Confucianism is discarded anyway. Chinese tradition never glorified the warrior culture as did Japanese and Europeans, examples such as the cult of Samurais and the Teutonic Knights. European warrior culture was often related to religious fanaticism, because crusading warfare was morally justified and a noble cause. Only in recent times religion has played a decreasing role in many societies, particularly in Europe. Many people today are no longer accepting the notion of upholding a sacred religion as legitimate reason for war. This does not necessarily mean the rejection of ethical principles. But not all people in the world would accept the “Golden Rule” in human conduct, “Do as you would be done by.” This rule was first elaborated by Confucius as “Treat others as you would wish them to treat you” (己所不欲, 勿施于人),15 and it also appeared in many ancient civilizations. China never has had religious wars. The European history is, however, dominated by religious civil wars and external crusading wars. The French Revolution terminated the first Europe-wide religious civil war, so that sovereign authorities began to solve ecclesiastical problems by themselves. No matter how one may argue, war offers death a communal meaning, and idealization of murder. China has never experienced religious wars, for Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism have coexisted peacefully for thousands of years; hence, the justification of violence by faith makes no intuitive sense to the Chinese.
126 Externalizing the Mandate of Heaven But the Chinese vision on peace and war has been challenged by the common belief that peace is always ephemeral while war is permanent. The ending of any war would require the establishment and consolidation of new order within states that had involved, but the international system, according to a Hobbesian vision, has remained in the permanent state of nature of “all against all,” and there is no global “social contract” in sight. To enhance national power abroad and maintain stability at home, sovereign states have long discovered an outer sphere beyond sovereign control. This has brought about the Westphalian system operated upon the logic of power politics and the self-adjustable mechanism of “balance of power.” Since each state has the same right to make war, war indeed becomes a permanent institution, as peace could never be. Whether a state is prudent, it depends on how it views its own raison d’etat and its ability and skill to play the uniquely European game of balance of power. This, as we mentioned in Chapter 1, gives rise to the phenomenon of conscious separation of internal from external politics and, more importantly, of natural law morality from international politics. In modern European history, struggle for state or religious power was never considered morally wrong. External expansion beyond Europe, either territorial or spiritual, could be easily justified by either raison d’etat or religious universalism. The roots of incessant interstate wars in European history lie precisely in this peculiar separation of external and internal moral standards of state. But in the 20th century, human beings entered a most dangerous phase, because of the invention of weapons of mass destruction which can destroy the entire world. Hence, a new kind of “religious” civil war, this time between the two superpowers (the United States and the Soviet Union), had to be maintained at a level not beyond humanity’s suicidal act through a mechanism known as mutually assured destruction (MAD). But this so-called Cold War was a battle over alleged political and economic despotism just as the Reformation was over religious despotism; both sides held own universalist ideologies, considering the other side as despotic and hence illegitimate. Thus, the Cold War had not deviated radically from the pattern of the previous European religious civil wars, and, indeed, out of whose legacy it had grown. It is often misleading to say that China was a major player during the Cold War. Chinese culture had nothing to do with the ideological origins of the Cold War. The fact that the communist regime in China was briefly on the side of the Soviet Union (less than ten years) did not prevent Mao from fiercely defending China’s national interest. The Sino-Soviet split was ostensibly over a faith (Marxism-Leninism), but it had more to do with cultural and ethnic animosity and national domination. In fact, China was important during the Cold War only in terms of the Westphalian logic of balance of power. Ideologically, the Chinese DNA or culture played only a marginal role in the Cold War debates. Mao had never resorted to Confucianism as a debating tool against the allegedly “revisionist” Soviet regime. In this sense, we may say that China did not take a clear-cut “theological” position during the Cold War. The bloody Sino-Soviet border war in 1969 was an eloquent proof.
Externalizing the Mandate of Heaven 127
China between Rome and Greece Into the 21st century, the priority of Chinese foreign policy has shifted to a new direction of having to engage a modern Rome and a postmodern Greece at the same time. China was a reluctant participant in the first two religious civil wars in the Western world. But the first European civil war (Reformation and Counter-reformation) ended up in disparaging the Chinese culture because of the Chinese Rites Controversy. In the coming battle of ideas, however, the conditions could be very different, because the Chinese cultural DNA has been reactivated after a century of lying dormant. But the new battle will most probably start within the Christian West again. The United States, the jingoistic new Rome, seems destined to play the role of “Counter-Reformation” in defending the Enlightenment legacy, against a reformist, postmodern European Union (EU), a new Greece, whose postwar experience of integration has cast doubts about the Enlightenment orthodoxy in many areas. In fact, the most serious challenge to the Enlightenment comes not from China but from contemporary Europe. The major assault against the Enlightenment was launched more than a century ago by philosopher Nietzsche, especially in his Beyond Good and Evil. But the counter-current against the Enlightenment has gathered sufficient momentum ever since. The Cold War helped sustain the Enlightenment orthodoxy for as long as the artificial “East-West” physical divide lasted. The end of the Cold War has removed all obstacles to reevaluating these concepts. It seems that the ideological dispute between the United States and Europe over domestic and global governance may well have been the tip of the iceberg of the transatlantic divide over fundamental issues of democracy. The new wave of intellectual attacks on liberal democracy comes from different quarters, from a formidable alliance of the French Structuralists (the Foucault school, in particular), the German Conceptual Historians (die Begriffsgeschichten, Reinhart Koselleck, for example) and the English empiricists (from R.G. Collingwood to Quentin Skinner). More importantly, this intellectual alliance is buttressed by a most subversive but powerful philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein. To begin with, there is a crisis of representative democracy. While the Europeans grow increasingly dissatisfied with the rather “limited” nature of representative democracy, the participatory dimension of democracy remains active among the population in Europe. The question arises whether the rights to vote in a country automatically qualify it as a full-fledged democracy. The best European intellectual minds are questioning the American model. As a leading expert on ancient Greece, Sir Geoffrey Lloyd observed in 2003, “The extent of the participation in the political process on the part of the ordinary mass of the citizen body is minuscule by ancient standards.” How representative are the political institutions if the majority of the eligible voters refuse to participate?16 Moreover, there is a question concerning individual rights. The Europeans are moving toward a system characteristic of social democracy and communitarianism. The United States remains the last democracy founded, and is still operating, on the principle of giving absolute priority to individual rights.
128 Externalizing the Mandate of Heaven The Europeans do not believe that the poor are “lazy,” and therefore they have different views on social policies of the state. Furthermore, the United States is a racially fragmented society, where the majority resents social policies aimed at reducing economic inequality in favor of the ethnic minorities. The European societies are more homogeneous and inequality has not been racially obvious as in the United States. The Europeans will continue to rely upon the government to correct evils of the capitalist market economy, while the Americans remain obsessed with economic “competitiveness,” striving for power of dominating market. The clash of different transatlantic consensuses seems inevitable. In international affairs, there is a strong movement in Europe to restore the link between natural law morality, largely abandoned since the Treaty of Westphalia, and IR. The Enlightenment state theorists chose, inspired by Hobbes, to suspend the natural law morality in favor of the rules of another type of political morality, i.e., international law, to guild actions between states, precisely because the latter has no bounding power. Hence, an external space for using violence could be justified by sovereign states without the necessity of resorting to moral conscience. But this idea of state as a free and independent persona moralis against other states is being challenged in Europe and elsewhere. The experience of the European integration process pits itself against the zero-sum mentality of the modern state system. The Europeans are creating an entirely new system in human political history, because they have suffered enough from the Enlightenment vision of state. The European movement toward multilateral cooperation, grown out of the terrible bloodshed of two major wars and the mentally unbearable Cold War, has acquired a life and dynamics of its own. In the post-Cold War environment, international war can no longer function beyond moral frame of judgment, as it did in the past to allow states to help curb internal turmoil. The international organizations are increasingly more important because of their generally accepted moral authority and appeals. Any unilateral military action without international legitimacy, such as the Anglo-American war in Iraq, means that politics is allowed to override morality. It should be pointed out again that any attempt at separation of morality from international politics remains in the horizon of religious wars. Indeed, just as the Europeans begin to accept cultural diversity in the world and hope to banish religious wars altogether through the fight against terrorism, so too the Americans began a crusade-style “war on terror” by recreating a language of biblical dichotomy of the good versus evil. This language is closely associated with the American unilateralism, reflected by concepts such as “axis of evil,” “crusade,” “with us or with the terrorists” and, in particular, the American entitlement to “preemptive strikes” (the Bush Doctrine) against another sovereign state. To be sure, for American neoconservative warriors, the nostalgia of the Cold War is strong, precisely, because of the separation of morality from politics, which offers a particular advantage for policy makers, for it tends to result in strategic certainty and predictability. Under the circumstances, unless a new common enemy is found to replace international terrorism, the transatlantic ideological divide over international affairs may become more pervasive than most analysts
Externalizing the Mandate of Heaven 129 are thinking today. Russia is too weak to be not a sufficient target. Hence, Washington began to lay its eye, starting with the Obama Administration, on China. Donald Trump has so far followed suit. In this context, despite their many differences over values, China and the EU may inevitably become intellectual soul mates, and China will no longer be a passive spectator in ideological conflict. On the contrary, it will become a leading player in the coming battle of ideas over “global governance,” a concept recently jettisoned by President Trump. As China is becoming an integral part of the world system, the inherent “postmodern values” of Chinese traditional culture, i.e., the Confucian moral theory, can be applied to international affairs, for it is quite compatible with the culture of a postmodern Europe. Not only is the United States wrong-headed in dismissing its major allies, such as Germany and France, but it is also incapable of grasping the ground-shifting change in global geopolitics. Moreover, China’s strategy fits well with the development of relatively peaceful conditions that have appeared on the Eurasian continent for the first time in history. Between the US model of liberal democracy and the European model of social democracy, China is tilting decidedly to the European side. Equally, China supports a multipolar world, and the crucial role of the UN systems. Multilateral diplomacy has become, for the first time, a key factor in its Realpolitik considerations. The 21st-century world is different in the sense that what was considered “idealistic” and “naïve” in the last century have become part of Realpolitik. And America’s failed attempt to maintain a unipolar supremacy is responsible for this conceptual change. The era of a unified “West” is over. Dealing with a rising China, the EU appears to be the most promising player. In the end, the post-Cold War ideological confrontation may ultimately be fought between the Enlightenment United States and a traditional China with “postmodern” inclinations. As long as the two sides continue to misread each other’s geostrategic intention, the United States and China are locked in a permanent position of battling for power and ideas. But this battle is no longer reflecting key features of religious civil war. The United States is a quintessential product of the Enlightenment, and it also holds the last defense line for the Enlightenment ideology. As long as the United States remains the only superpower in military capacity and economy, it is not possible for the world community to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” because the United States believes itself to have occupied the position of both Caesar and the head of the universal “church” of liberal democracy. In other words, the United States, the new Rome, will not tolerate any challenge to its hegemonic position in both “secular” and “religious” sense. But the 21st-century world is bound to outgrow the past model of managing global affairs, a model called by French philosopher Michel Foucault as “bio-strategy,” for it is based on force and raw power, toward human relations.17 The most promising alternative to this strategy should be an “ethico-strategy.” The Europeans have certainly shown the tendency and courage to embrace this new strategy. As for China, ethico-strategy toward human relations is what Confucianism is all about. A rejuvenated Chinese tradition, which also means
130 Externalizing the Mandate of Heaven breaking with the worst features of its political system, will make significant contributions to the meaning and context of today’s global affairs. In this sense, the EU-Chinese views of the future world are remarkably converging. China’s grand strategy was once called “peaceful rise.” It would be futile for China to resist outside challenges to its flawed political system by invoking xenophobic nationalism. China must learn from the experience of other political systems and import the working concepts, such as pluralism, due process and checks and balances, which may help the country to overcome current legitimacy crisis. Between the individual rights-based American liberal democracy and the international “rites-based” European social democracy, China has to identify itself with EU. Geopolitical reality is also compelling for China to move closer to the EU. The Iraq War was an enlightening moment for China, for it showed two sides of the West – one Greek (Europe) and the other Roman (the United States). With the two increasingly split, China is finding a strategic opportunity to restore its own cultural tradition, and search for a role in the world. The current relationship between Washington and Beijing appears ominous, not least because they view the world very differently. Not too long ago, the Beijing elite were still debating whether Deng Xiaoping’s famed policy dictum, “Hide one’s capabilities and bide one’s time (taoguang yanghui韬光养晦),” which is the opposite to “assertiveness,” should be kept intact, and the majority consensus was an emphatic “yes.” Up until the emergence of Obama’s “pivot” to Asia, the most provocative expression on containing China militarily was “hedging,” reflecting at least some flexibility and ambiguity. Now “hedging” is over, too. It is not surprising that the hawks in the Chinese military are getting full ears of the leadership and full boost with funding. Misreading each other’s signals means that current rhetoric on both sides seems to be sending this bilateral tie into a vicious downward spiral. To reverse the trend toward a Sino-American strategic showdown, one must first of all understand the psychological mismatch between the two. No one knows how long a US-led cold war in Asia is to last. It depends in large part upon its willingness to abandon a deeply rooted mental disposition of viewing the world history through the “Rise and Fall” logic, most visible among the Neoconservatives who were attempting in 2012 a comeback with Mitt Romney and their ideas are in fashion again with Donald Trump. With the prospect of China’s GDP surpassing the United States’ in less than 20 years,18 a great debate has started in the West. But it is in the rhetorical framework first promoted by Edward Gibbon and Oswald Spengler and later revived by Arnold Toynbee, Paul Kennedy and, most recently, Graham Allison (Thucydides Trap). Discourse on “rise and fall” is an Anglo-American penchant with a clear Eurocentric perspective. Thus, the current US concern is over whether China may integrate into the existing (i.e., West-dominated) liberal world order or seek to destroy it. Paul Kennedy in his 1987 book The Rise and Fall of Great Powers argued that the Chinese leadership “seems to be evolving a grand strategy altogether more coherent and forward-looking than that which prevails in Moscow, Washington,
Externalizing the Mandate of Heaven 131 or Tokyo, not to mention Western Europe.”19 Kennedy’s insight at the early stage of the Chinese reform was impressive and it proves more enduring than the views of authors who are enjoying the advantage at observing China’s reform with hindsight. In the 1990s, predictions of China’s collapse were abound; titles such as “The Coming Collapse of China” became instant best sellers, but none of these predictions has come to pass. Why? Because their teleological fantasy that all regimes will become liberal democracies proves to be wrong. The real challenge posed by China to the world is not what it does, but what it does not do during its cultural restoration process. It will not want wholesale Westernization, and it will not abide by some existing “rules of the game,” originated from the west. But it is absurd to assume that the Chinese will establish a new “model” to replace the Western one. The Chinese never have urges to become missionaries and model-building is never part of the culture. A model requires universal values for conceptualization or generalization, via either ontology or teleology, commonly seen in a “revealed” religion. But the Chinese concern is neither. The key expression in Chinese tradition is “where is the way? (or Tao),” but never the Cartesian ontological “What it is.” In other words, politics is by nature a contingent act, and humans should never harbor any ambition for influencing, let alone dominating, the future, however “scientific” the theories may appear. Making long-term forecast is not a risky business, as John Maynard Keynes famously said, “in the long run we are all dead.”20 But the “rise and fall” rhetoric aims at establishing a “universal” pattern of behavior of all great powers to explain China, despite the fact that China is never a typical one. China will not challenge the liberal order for ideological reasons, because of the belief that an order could only be brought down by its own faults. No doubt, the liberal order has been weakened in recent years. This does not mean that the Chinese internal system has been strengthened as a result. It is the endogenous factor, not Western liberal democratic theory, that will enhance or destroy the Chinese communist party’s legitimacy. At present stage, the obvious failure in “rule by virtue” by the communist party poses the biggest threat to its Mandate of Heaven. China’s future will be determined by internal factors just as the liberal order will. If the West understands this, it will interact with China more effectively than following the “Rise and Fall” logic leading to the morbid fear of preparing for guard-changing in international politics. Do the Chinese leaders think in the same way as their American counterpart? Not always. As we mentioned before, the Chinese view of history is cyclical, not linear toward a predestined end. No elite member is taking Marxist teleological utopia seriously anymore. The cyclical view stresses that dealing with legitimacy question at home is a never-ending process. Foreign relations play a minor part in this process. The Chinese believe that every system has its own fundamental flaws. Even the American political system can no longer, evident in its deep political division and deadlock, resolve the tension between its own physical and moral decline. For the United States, maintaining a status of physically unrivalled and morally exemplary may prove well-nigh impossible.
132 Externalizing the Mandate of Heaven Moreover, the context of today’s East-West debate is different, for no one can hark back to the White-Man Supremacy of the 19th century. Traditional Yellow Peril sentiment in Europe has never run very deep. Throughout the history of Christian Europe, China has never become Europe’s much-needed “the Other” – the imagined and chosen enemy such as global Islam (typically represented by the Ottomans) – to help define its own identity. Even during the worst time of the Sino-European alienation, the Chinese were still seen by and large as harmless. Moreover, Europe, unlike the United States, has become a genuinely secular, but humane society, whose governing principle is similar to Chinese political philosophy in more ways than many Europeans care to believe. European social democracy tends to produce more harmonious society than the laisser-faire America could. Despite recent setbacks, Europe is more culturally tolerant and its racial relations are by no means as terrible as the recent French ethnic riots show. In sum, the EU has become a shining model for China. Europe and China seem to be on the way of understanding each other for the first time, and at the level that can hardly be matched by either transatlantic ties or the Sino-US relations. Whether each EU member state supports the idea of multipolarity in IR is not irrelevant. The EU and China have already become the key poles of the international system. They simply need to recognize the reality of multipolarity and not to put their faith, trust and security in any residual unipolar system. President Xi Jinping launched a grand project in 2013 named One Belt and One Road (OBOR), now renamed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Some Chinese scholars claim that this unique Chinese invention was inspired by ancient Silk Road, an international market network some 2,000 years ago. This claim has overlooked a very important fact that the Chinese empire had never developed self-consciousness about the significance of the old Silk Road as a global connectivity project. More importantly, BRI is an initiative of transnational infrastructure investment. But China has little experience in such activity. Indeed, from the Suez, to Panama canals to the Russian Trans-Siberian and the German Bagdad railways, it was Europe that started the process of vast infrastructure investment projects in the late 19th century. In geo-economic dimension, BRI serves at least three purposes. As China intends in next five years to transform an export-led model of development into a consumer-based economy, income growth in the poor areas in the West will become crucial, because the Gini coefficient falls yet the poor get poorer, it rises when everyone getting richer. The Chinese government often advertises BRI as the “Third Opening” of China, not without reasons. The first opening took place in 1979 when several special economic zones were set up for attracting foreign investment. The second occurred in 1992, when the entire nation veered toward opening. And now a giant leap toward West. Second, exporting infrastructure technology and investing in these projects are considered key to the success of BRI. Not only may such strategy help solve the problem of overcapacity in infrastructure accumulated in the past decades, but also help create more foreign markets by improving transportation facilities.
Externalizing the Mandate of Heaven 133 The land connection between China and the countries along BRI requires cross-border infrastructure networks, especially, roads, railways and airports. So far these networks are poorly developed. One part of BRI is the “Maritime Silk Road.” Although maritime routes have been kept open, and access is relatively easy, BRI is aimed at improving port facilities, building harbor zones and creating logistical networks, in order to open new space for economic development and obtain new trade opportunities. Building new international financial institutions must become a priority. BRI is a grand strategy for China, but it is merely a grand initiative for its partners. China understands that it alone cannot make BRI a success; it needs active participation of related partners. Thus, institution-building is crucial. As this initiative is focused on infrastructure investment, the ability of BRI to attract governmental and private capital is crucial. The declared priorities of BRI for regional economic cooperation include coordination of development strategies and policies, enhancing connectivity through infrastructure building and building new financial institutions. So far, China has been an initiator or founding member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the BRICS New Development Bank (BNDB) and the Silk Road Fund. BRI is an untested grand initiative, but it has a potential to be a game changer in economic geography on the Eurasian continent. Beijing must recognize that BRI is an initiative that needs inputs from the outside world, which may help China to fulfill its declared objective of staging a peaceful rise through investment and trade rather than by force. If successful, and it is a big if, it may prove the logic of a Thucydides Trap wrong.
The Neo-Enlightenment rhetoric on China Into the 21st century, as the Chinese reform continues to yield unexpected success stories, many commentators in the West began to search for more coherent explanations than those offered by alarmist best-selling authors in the 1990s.21 Unfortunately, almost all rhetoric on China, both pro and against, in our current period is built upon the language and conceptual framework of the European Enlightenment, and we may label it as a Neo-Enlightenment speech-act, whose objective is to rescue the Western cultural superiority. Among an exceedingly large number of studies on China, a British author, Will Hutton, published a very interesting work on the broad subject of the China-West relations, The Writing on the Wall: China and the West in the 21st Century (Little Brown, 2007). Hutton’s mind-set is, as he admitted freely in the book, dominated by the European “Enlightenment” spirit, and indeed his advice to China to avoid the danger of severe crisis in the future will be defined by the Enlightenment values. While most books published these days are superficial treatment on the so-called “rise of China” and its immediate consequences, Hutton tries to come up with a more coherent thesis. After struggling through some 400 pages, he could only arrive at the same conclusion of Western cultural superiority over China, a familiar theme that had been manufactured by the Enlightenment intellectuals in
134 Externalizing the Mandate of Heaven the 18th- and 19th-century Europe. Hutton is not nearly as pessimistic as many authors in the West who decry the threat posed by China’s rise. Instead, he states “Above all we should be confident,” because, “The Enlightenment values and institutions that propelled the West past China in the 19th century remain no less important sources of competitive advantage and social well-being today.”22 Hutton’s prose is powerful but his approach is outdated because this traditional Euro-centric analysis has never been effective in explaining a poor and weak China and it now becomes much less relevant in today’s context to explain a strong China. The fatal flaw of Hutton’s book is not so much its lack of cultural sensitivity as its inability to comprehend the intellectual discourse and policy realities through Chinese mind and conceptual frameworks. The British neo-Marxist Martin Jacques has produced an “anti-Hutton” book, When China Rules the World, the Rise of the Middle Kingdom and the End of the Western World (Penguin, 2010). Jacques, a journalist, lacks the same intellectual depth and rigor of writing. But he does have a sharp eye to catch the moment when the prevailing Western prejudice toward China is in decline and the usually perfunctory curiosity about China’s reality is turning into a genuine intellectual pursuit in the West. Jacques’s book makes a daring effort to fill the intellectual gap after main-stream scholars in Western “China studies” seem to have failed collectively in explaining the rise of China. For Jacques, a golden commercial opportunity also arrives when China-bashing turns into “China-flattering” – witness the enormous enthusiasm, from Hollywood to mass media, for “uncovering the secret” of the so-called “Chinese Model” of economic development. Not too long ago, such efforts would have been dismissed offhand by mainstream Western media and China experts. Jacques’s effort also reflects a typical British penchant for meta- history about a new “chosen” ruler of the world about to emerge, in a fashion after Edward Gibbon. Such authors typically know little about China but their obsession is to invent a trajectory of Chinese history according to Western imagination. But this amateur attempt at restarting the debate on the meaning and context of traditional Chinese values can hardly be expected to produce major breakthroughs. At the first glance, Jacques’s book may appear anti-Enlightenment as well, but after a few pages one would encounter the same kind of the Enlightenment language, concepts and methods. The main problem of this approach is ontological. Jacques starts with the wrong assumption that there exists an alternative and perhaps the most successful Chinese model toward “modernization,” a Western jargon defined as a teleological end for all human societies. Jacques’s claims are typically based on two intellectual pillars: dialectical philosophy (Hegelianism) and statistical data (scientism). Neither is accurately r eflecting Chinese history and reality today. It is not surprising that the book is full of Western conceptual building blocks, often presented as dialectic pairs, such as civilization state versus nation-state, state sovereignty versus popular sovereignty, or Confucianism versus communism. Stripped of these Western concepts and many “isms,” the arguments would become threadbare and unsustainable.
Externalizing the Mandate of Heaven 135 Moreover, even without economic data and tables, the success story of Chinese economic history was already known well before the “modernization” in the West itself, and such knowledge can be traced at least back to the 16th-century Europe (given that an earlier account by Marco Polo was dismissed as unreliable), when Jesuit missionaries first encountered China. The issue has never been the lack of information about China, but the deliberate distortion of facts by the Europeans so as to invent a superior Europe as the only “unbound Prometheus,” to use David Landes’s famous expression. Thus, a serious debate should not start with China’s transformation since “modern” times – defined as post-Opium War (1839–1840) era, but a conceptual history about how the China story has been disfigured systematically since the 16th century, first by a philosophy of history that classifies China as a perpetually “unchanging” society, and then by a political theology on the supremacy of Western democratic values. Jacques also claims that Beijing appears to offer a different vision of world order and will likely impose one on earth. As a Neo-Marxist, Jacques sees little problem for a socialist China to alter the current capitalist world order and exercise a benign global hegemony. But it would be aberration of China’s own historical tradition. The Chinese are embarrassed by the US idea of G2, and would find Jacques’s idea of “The Changing of the Guard” (Part I) or “rule the world” even more ludicrous. But most ironically, Jacques still maintains his faith in China’s “democratization” in the long run; he thus seems to take the Kantian “democratic peace” for granted before China jumps on the West-driven bandwagon. If China will inevitably be “Westernized” by a democratic system, his sharp critique about the Western attempt at Westernizing China in Part II, The Age of China, could well be a red herring. Martin Jacques’s book on China is sensational but hardly an exception to the current debate. What is new is his claim that he could identify the next ruler of the world – a claim the previous and more serious Western thinkers would never have the audacity to make. It is interesting to see how comical the two authors engage in a heated debate on the website of The Guardian. Jacques insists on a thesis that China is not a nation-state, but a “civilization state”; hence, it will escape troubles facing most other modern nation-states in the world. He also claims that China may find a different path to modernity. Hutton is angered by this argument by pointing out human rights abuses in China and accusing Jacques of showing no enthusiasm about the “democratic movement” in China by dismissing “Western institutions.” It is clear that this debate is within Western ideological battlefield typically between leftist and conservative intellectuals. The content of this debate has little relevance to China itself. The superficiality of such debate reminds one of the original intra-Church Rites Controversy over China some 400 years ago, except that these two authors know very little about China, its culture and language, and the Rites Controversy itself, compared with serious China scholars among the Catholic missionaries at the time of Ming China. Henry Kissinger stands out as one exception in this Neo-Enlightenment revival trend. Few authors in the world today dare or are qualified for writing on meta-narrative subject with succinct titles. Henry Kissinger is an exception, of
136 Externalizing the Mandate of Heaven course. Not only is he a great historian and writer, but he is also a maker of history. Such unique combination sets his works far apart from those of scholars in ivory tower or in think tanks. Following the similar fashion of his wildly successful Diplomacy (1994), we now are presented with On China (Allen Lane, 2011) This book starts with a broad discussion of the Chinese history and its external relations. The central argument is based on two interrelated premises: first of all, China, unlike all the other historical empires that have come and gone, boasts a unique history of cultural and political continuity. This historical exceptionalism (or “singularity” in his word) deserves unique treatment as China enters a preexisting international order whose rules of the game have not been set and maintained by China’s own tradition; and the second, the foundation of this remarkable historical continuity is not primarily built by violence or the use of force, but rather by an exceptional cultural heritage, the Confucian value system, which is aimed at domestic and global harmony rather than conflict. Kissinger’s reading of Chinese history is drawn from the mainstream historical scholarship, but different at the level of conviction. While many intellectuals today, both in the West or in China, still harbor hopes for a “modern” China to emerge to defeat its own tradition, Kissinger believes that this project of defeating China’s own tradition is futile. Indeed, even Mao’s life – long struggle for ridding China of its Confucian cultural heritage – seems to have been a losing battle. As Kissinger notices, “Still, with all its achievements, Mao’s insistence on turning the ancient system upside down could not escape the eternal rhythm of Chinese life. Forty years after his death… his successors again described their now increasingly well-off society as Confucian.”23 Indeed, Mao’s last ideological battle which he conducted from his deathbed was called “Anti-Confucius Campaign.” Since 1995, the Chinese communist regime has officially recognized the importance of the Confucian value system and the leading principle of China’s internal governance today stresses “harmony” and “peace” which harks back to Confucian classics rather than to the class struggle of Das Kapital. But, even if the theme of historical continuity is valid, how is it linked to China’s external behavior? Kissinger skips discussions on Chinese domestic politics and makes this connection directly through his brilliant reading of Chinese leaders’ strategic habit. Such habit, according to him, is deeply rooted in China’s ancient culture such as the logic of the Go game or the Sunzi military stratagem. He emphasizes that Chinese strategic mind does not operate on the Western penchant for conquest, or a spiritual passion for seeking the Promised Land. “For China’s classical sages, the world could never be conquered; wise rulers could hope only to harmonize with its trends….The promised land is China, and the Chinese were already there”; 24 thus, territorial conquest has never developed into a serious imperial habit in China. The policy implication of Kissinger’s argument is self-evident, as he concludes in the last chapter that an America-organized new Cold War is unlikely to succeed; neither would the Chinese attempt at excluding the United States from the Asia Pacific. Hence, he proposes more cooperation than competition in the construction of a “Pacific Community” in which strategic tension can be reduced
Externalizing the Mandate of Heaven 137 and common interest could evolve peacefully, a process he calls “co-evolution.”25 It is not surprising that most self-claimed strategic realists, not to mention Kissinger’s arch intellectual enemies, the Neoconservative commentators, loath this kind of analysis, as many of whom are still excited with the prospect of a new Cold War with China in the 21st century. What is even more interesting is that, along with the Neoconservatives, the liberal Left in the West also faults Kissinger for taking human rights or the civil society in China not very seriously. Many argue that the key weakness of On China is the oversight, deliberately on the author’s part as they may say, of the link between the nature of China’s domestic politics and its external relations. But this is beside the point. As we can see from his earlier works, especially A World Restored (1957) and Diplomacy, Kissinger always seems to prefer order to justice. Injustice of a system may mean that the system is imperfect, but disorder could mean that everyone would lose justice in the end. After all, Kissinger is a true conservative combining Prince Metternich and Sir Edmond Burke. “The true conservative,” Kissinger once wrote, “is not at home in social struggle.” He will attempt to avoid unbridgeable schism, because he knows that a stable social structure thrives not on triumphs but on reconciliations.26 Moreover, this is a book on a non-European civilization that puts the author at ease to discuss the issues most freely and away from psychological complexes and language contexts of the European Enlightenment, Munich or the Holocaust. It is clear that Neoconservatives and their temporary allies are still preoccupied with typical Euro-centric themes and in the discourse on China, their Enlightenment language is deeply embedded in modern “Gothic” theories of democracy and liberty. Kissinger has good reason to ignore them. Kissinger believes that the People’s Republic of China is just another round of the traditional dynastic cycle, as he calls Mao a “colossus at the head of a new dynasty” in 1949.27 But for this fundamental thesis to sustain itself in a longer term, one must also recognize the signals of dynastic decline, which has been the norm rather than exception in the millennia of the Chinese history. It is here, the Neoconservatives who refuse to delink internal to external affairs may have got it more right than wrong, even though their Straussian conceptions about China may reflect nostalgia for the original Cold War. The fact is, Chinese leaders never separate the domestic from the external. When Mao Zedong met American President Richard Nixon in 1972, the latter made a somewhat flattering remark: “Your writings… have changed the world.” Nixon, of course, was referring to the changing dynamics of the Cold War bipolar system. But Mao’s answer reflected a different concern. “No, I haven’t been able to change it. I’ve only been able to change a few places in the vicinity of Peking.” He was thinking of domestic politics, lamenting that his violent Cultural Revolution based on the theory of “continuous revolution” failed to change the Chinese thought pattern and way of life.28 Domestic political pendulum always has a fundamental impact on Chinese foreign relations. Without the chaotic Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s, the sudden Sino-US rapprochement would have been impossible. Hence, Kissinger’s analysis on China’s
138 Externalizing the Mandate of Heaven external relations and its leaders’ superior strategic cunning is based on the assumption that the leaders in China are in control of their own system. But if we agree that today’s China is essentially another fragile phase of dynastic history, we must also analyze China from the perspective of the traditional political logic. Despite the enormous success of Chinese economic progress in the past three decades, the Chinese Communist Party’s survival has become an issue. The system can no longer be justified by the traditional standard of political legitimacy – i.e., the so-called Mandate of Heaven. Such Mandate has three dimensions: revolutionary credit, the moral character of the leaders and the actual performance. And all three are challenged now, as we mentioned in Chapter 4; we could face a perfect storm in the near future. Thus, they may have trouble fulfilling the demand for performance necessary for political legitimacy. Nonetheless, Kissinger seems convinced that the current leaders in China know their problems and know how to deal with them; hence, the system is not in a dynastic declining phase, and China’s external orientation will remain in the same direction. But this assumption will have to be tested soon. It is not clear whether Kissinger’s various policy proposals will work if the current Chinese system runs into trouble or fails to sustain itself. With or without a system failure in China, even the most innovative proposal in this book that may produce long-term policy effects, i.e., the idea of the Sino-US “co-evolution,” may not last or ever have a chance to get started. Paradoxically, the idea of Sino-US “co-evolution,” perhaps the most important terminology in this book, is the least elaborated. Originally coined by Joshua Ramo, managing director at the Kissinger Associates, the term has so far attracted little media attention. Kissinger explains it this way, “The appropriate label for the Sino-American relationship is less partnership than “co-evolution.”29 It means that both countries pursue their domestic imperatives, cooperating where possible, and adjust their relations to minimize conflict. Neither side endorses all the aims of the other or presumes a total identity of interests, but both sides seek to identify and develop complementary interests.” The problem with this label is that it automatically assumes, at least in the Chinese mind, a devolutionary precondition to be fulfilled before the evolutionary phase begins. Neither Ramo nor Kissinger seems to have been aware that “co-evolution” as a concept has touched upon a raw nerve of the modern Chinese thinking. In modern China, the single most important “barbarian book” that had shaken the Chinese intellectual faith in Confucian value system is not Communist Manifesto or any other Western classics, but a small pamphlet on Darwinist theory of evolution. The book Evolution and Ethics (1894), written by Thomas Huxley, the self-claimed “bulldog of Darwinism,” was translated into Chinese in 1898. It created a first major thunder storm in the Chinese intellectual world and became an instant best seller with 20 printings within less than two decades. Modern China’s new generation of radical intellectuals practically grew up carrying this book as a “Bible” such as Sun Yat-sen, Liang Qichao, Mao Zedong and Lu Xun. They all took Huxley’s Darwinist message as a social panacea for solving all China’s problems. The key to their willingness
Externalizing the Mandate of Heaven 139 to accept the evolution theory was a painful recognition of the “superiority” of Western civilization, which was seen as the best embodiment of the formula of “survival of the fittest.” Thus, what China had to do to was catching up through revolution or drastic reform. Today, the “catching up” phase seems within reach, Western superiority can no longer be accepted and the idea of co-evolution primarily means recognizing China’s equal status or at similar evolutionary level versus the United States. But the Unites States considers its own system to be the best and the most “mature” one – how could it be willing to admit that it still needs to grow up as well? Therefore, such co-evolution can be started only by a devolutionary phase. Devolution at least suggests some level of transference of power or the acceptance of reduced power status and responsibility. For China, its recent success may justify such way of reasoning, but the United States remains preoccupied with the fear of losing its position of “second to none.” Thus, it is unlikely for Washington to entertain the idea of co-evolution with anyone until it recognizes, as Great Britain – a country it succeeded in the 1940s – did in the 1960s, that such fear of decline is a mere symptom of the “post-imperial time-lag syndrome.” Thus, in the foreseeable future, “co-evolution” could hardly become a serious US strategy of engaging China. Perhaps realizing this improbability, Kissinger ends his book with a severe warning against the repeating of history. The historical analogy used here is not the standard great power struggle for mastery of the 19th-century Europe, as American Neoconservative intellectuals would prefer, 30 but a peculiar case of the Anglo- German alienation before World War I, a case of colossal misreading of each other’s strategic mind. On China is unsurpassable with its penetrating analysis based on Kissinger’s personal experience in dealing with the Chinese leaders. Although making few specific proposals to the Obama administration, we can feel when reading between the lines that Kissinger is considerably worried, especially about the administration’s penchant for self-righteous universalism, often in coded phrases such as “defending the global commons.” As he argued long ago in A World Restored, “…the most fundamental problem of politics… is not the control of wickedness but the limitation of righteousness.”31The real danger is lack of sound foundation for mutual trust between Beijing and Washington. But as Kissinger pointed out brilliantly, If a society legitimizes itself by a principle which claims both universality and exclusiveness, if its concept of “justice”, in short, does not include the existence of different principles of legitimacy, relations between it and other societies will come to be based on force.32 It is the United States that claims both and China does not have a tradition of propagating universal values. Although this is not a book calling for the United States to start power devolution, leaders on both sides should heed this implication in their looking for effective ways toward real reconciliation.
140 Externalizing the Mandate of Heaven Unfortunately, the task of explaining China to the outside world remains in the hands of Communist Party’s propaganda chiefs. Their task is actually called “external propaganda 对外宣传,” hardly a promising starting point. Simply parroting vague foreign policy slogans will not produce a political and cultural message of promoting external peace to go with its commercial clout. If China insists on the validity of its own development model at home, it must effectively explain how the world can remain safe for all civilizations. China’s leaders must prove – rather than just assert – that China’s restoration will not produce an inevitable conflict with the superpower of the day.33 While contemporary rhetoric in the West on the “rise” of China remains superficial, the original European Renaissance humanists, represented by Jesuit missionaries in China, during the 16th century, were the only group capable to grasp the gist of China’s “rise” in another historical context. In particular, the intellectually powerful ally of the Jesuits, the German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz, was far more prophetic 300 years ago than most China scholars are in today’s West. He predicted that West could only approach China through the medium of Russia, not only physically but also spiritually. In his lifetime, Leibniz made great efforts to persuade Russian Tsar, Peter the Great, to perform the duty of matching China with the West.34 In a way, Leibniz was prophetic: Russia has fulfilled its historic duty to bring the West and China together through a communist revolution, then it is up to the Westerners to carry on with Leibniz’s another task – understanding China through Chinese terms, but not through abstract universal conceptualizations such as democracy, freedom or human rights. But the Western method of approaching China in the 19th century was through the path of Westphalian power politics and the show of violence and Western military superiority. That approach had backfired, for it gave rise to a genuine modern revolution in China that was not only violent, along the lines of the French Revolution of 1789, but also transformed the traditional Confucian society of peace and harmony into a virulent Westphalian state. But only through a social revolution inspired by the Russians (the Bolsheviks and the October Revolution), had the Chinese state begun the real process of approaching the West and the so-called “modernization.”
Notes 1 For the details of China’s first foreign office, see Banno Masataka, China and the West 1858–1861: The Origins of the Tsungli Yamen. Harvard University Press, 1973. 2 The most well-known triumphant theorist is Francis Fukuyama. 3 Ibid., p. 2. 4 Amitav Acharya, and Barry Buzan (eds.), Non-Western International Relations T heory: Perspectives On and Beyond Asia. London: Routledge, 2010. 5 Ibid., pp. 45–46. 6 Ibid., p. 61. 7 Ibid., p. 69. 8 Ibid., p. 84. 9 Ibid., p. 85. 10 Ibid., p. 87.
Externalizing the Mandate of Heaven 141 11 Henry Kissinger, On China, Allen Lane, 2011, p. 490. 12 Emillian Kavalski (ed.), The Ashgate Research Companion to Chinese Foreign Policy. Ashgate: Surrey and Vermont, 2012, p. 3. 13 Dale Grandall-Bear (ed.), Exploring the Global Past: Original Sources in World History, Vol. 2, Matteo Ricci Diaries excerpts. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall Hunt, 2001, p. 2. 14 Confucius, Analects, 12:7. 15 Ibid., 15:24. 16 Geoffrey Lloyd, Ancient Worlds, Modern Reflections: Philosophical Perspectives on Greek and Chinese Science and Culture. Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 177. 17 For Foucualt’s thinking about international politics, see Michel Foucault, Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the Collège de France 1977–1978. Palgrave McMillan, 2009. 18 OECD’s most recent study suggests that this could come as early as in 2016, March 22, 2013, see www.oecd.org/economy/china-2013.htm. 19 Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of Great Powers. New York: Random House, 1987, p. 447. 20 J.M. Keynes, A Tract on Monetary Reform, 1923, Ch. 3, p. 80. 21 See, for example, Gordon Chang, The Coming Collapse of China. Random House, 2001. 22 Will Hutton, The Writing on the Wall: China and the West in the 21st Century. Little Brown, 2007, p. xi. 23 Kissinger, On China, p. 112. 24 Ibid., p. 31. 25 Ibid., pp. 526–530. 26 Kissinger, A World Restored. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1957, p. 193. 27 Kissinger, On China, p. 199. 28 For declassified US government transcript of Mao-Nixon conversation on February 21, 1972, see http://china.usc.edu/mao-zedong-meets-richard-nixon-february-21-1972. 29 Ibid., p. 526. 30 A typical work is by Aaron Friedberg, A Contest for Supremacy: China, America, and the Struggle for Mastery in Asia. W.W. Norton, 2011. 31 Kissinger, The World Restored, ibid., p. 206. 32 Ibid., p. 328. 33 Part of the argument first appeared in “Why Washington Does Not Speak Chinese?”, by Lanxin Xiang, Outlook Section, The Washington Post, May 25, 2005. 34 George Gale, Leibnitz, Peter the Great and the modernization of Russia. Or adventures of a philosopher-king in the East, Maison des Sciences de l’Homme et de la Société (Sofia), 2005.
Concluding remarks Restarting cultural dialogue
Politics in China remains a never-ending quest for legitimacy. Mechanical power structure plays little role. But China does need some Western ideas of democratic procedures, for it has become already a hybrid system with not only strong traditional elements, but also Western features of a “republic.” But this hybrid, dominated by a cancerous alien organ of Russian Bolshevism, is not sustainable without some drastic reforms to create a pluralist republican system. Yet these reforms should not be conditioned upon eliminating traditional political values. An innovative and balanced approach is thus of critical importance. But it requires another volume to discuss contemporary politics. How to diagnose China’s political problems and how the West can offer genuine help? We started our discussion with the popes of the 17th century, and it is appropriate that we end this story with popes of the 21st century, Pope John Paul II and the Jesuit Pope Francis. If the mainstream debate in the West about China seems to have missed the point about China’s latest efforts at its cultural and physical restoration, the pioneer in the first contact with China, the Catholic Church, appears to be the only Western leader able to grasp the meaning of the China’s “re-rise” or restoration. The Vatican is the most knowledgeable and experienced in global politics and diplomacy. Its long-term vision usually sets itself far apart from the ephemeral and short-sighted vision of state governments. The most impressive is the fact that the Vatican has recently begun deep reflection and soul-searching over its historical experience with China. Although little noticed by mainstream media, Pope John Paul II made a significant breakthrough to offer a public apology to China for “certain part” of the Church role in that country’s history in dealing with Catholicism. On October 24, 2001, he made a speech that had all the ingredients to make an overwhelming impact on the world, since it was addressed directly to China. The big surprise is, the Pope apologized for any “errors” made by Church missionaries in the past. He said: I feel deep sadness for those errors and limits of the past, and I regret that in many people these failings may have given the impression of a lack of respect and esteem for the Chinese people on the part of the Catholic Church.
Concluding remarks 143 Most significantly, the Pope made his apology in a message to an international convention at Gregorian University in Rome. The convention was being held to commemorate the arrival in China of a Jesuit missionary, Father Matteo Ricci, more than 400 years ago.1 It should be recalled that after the Papacy’s negative verdict on the Chinese Rites Controversy in 1742, both China and Europe were significantly set back. One hundred years later, a much weakened China was beaten by a drug-running British Empire. The Opium Wars unleashed a century of wars and foreign colonial conquest. There was a series of conflicts and each brought further humiliation and infringement on China. In 1900, a major disaster took place when a secret society, so-called Boxers, led a massive national uprising against foreigners, especially Christian missionaries and Chinese convert. The Chinese government reluctantly allied itself with this movement in order to salvage the legitimacy of the Manchu minority rule. An allied expedition force from eight most powerful nations captured Beijing in August 1900, and imposed the harshest settlement of Beijing (the Boxer Protocol) on the Chinese government.2 Soon after the Communist revolution, China broke off diplomatic relations with the Vatican in 1951. Catholics in the country had to cut off all ties with the papacy, while those who failed to do so risked persecution and imprisonment. Since the 1980s, with its opening toward the West, there has been a return to certain traditional tendency of religious toleration in China. Millions of Chinese Catholics are an important reason for John Paul II’s call to resume diplomatic ties with China. More importantly, the Catholic Church seizes the post-Cold War historic opportunity not to declare the “end of history” as the triumphant American neoconservatives did, but to renew the historical effort for promoting ecumenical peace among cultures. In September 2018, the Vatican and China signed a deal on a cooperative approach in appointing the bishops. This is a historic breakthrough. The Pope’s attitude could help today’s Western policy makers to re-assess their habitual interpretations of modern China’s history, as well as its relations with the West. But unfortunately, the secular as well as Protestant Western world pays little attention to the profound historical visions of the Vatican, and the need for tolerating alternatives in competing with universal values, such as liberal democracy and human rights. If the protestant United States represents a new Rome which can single-handedly challenge the Vatican authority with a “Gothic” political theology of democracy and liberty, the EU somehow considers itself as a secular version of the unifying Catholic Church prior the Reformation. Neither needs Pope’s admonition in its conduct of foreign policies concerning China. With enormous patience and efforts, the Sino-Vatican relationship is now on the verge of breakthrough, thanks to the Popes after John Paul II. The Church is lucky to have for the first time in history a Jesuit Pope, Francis I. Today, if the kind of ecumenical design envisioned by Leibniz and Ricci to accommodate Chinese civilization is to take place, the model of the ecumenical dialogue of cultures between East and West must be brought back, in the spirit of Christian
144 Concluding remarks charity and Confucian benevolence (or Ren). Under the circumstances, Pope John Paul II’s choice of the Jesuit missionary, Matteo Ricci, as a point of reference in the quest for a new relation between the West and China, offers an opportunity for China and the West to restart the original debate, so as to identify common cultural ground for accommodation. The 17th-century Sino-Western relationship was mutually respectful. In the Rites Controversy the Papacy denounced the Jesuit view and prohibited the Chinese rituals. The apology of John Paul II made to China in 2001 mentioned these theological disputes of the past. His apology takes a sincere attitude, which will encourage Christians everywhere not to abandon their own culture, but instead to consolidate their faith on those values. The Pope, of course, did not mention the Enlightenment.
Notes 1 For the text of Pope John Paul II’s speech, see http://w2.vatican.va/content/johnpaul-ii/en/speeches/2001/october/documents/hf_jp-ii_spe_20011024_matteoricci.html. 2 For a detailed study, see Lanxin Xiang, The Origins of the Boxer War, a Multinational Study. London: Routledge-Curzon, 2003.
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Note: Page numbers followed by “n” denote endnotes. accommodationist approach 7, 8n14, 11, 13, 20 Africa 14 Age of Enlightenment 38, 56 AIIB see Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) Alexander the Great 42 Allison, Graham 6, 130 Americas 15 Ames, Roger 51n31, 66 anarchism 65 Ancien Regime et la Revolution (Tocqueville) 93 ancient Greece 5, 42, 67 Anglo-American positivism 105 Ankersmit, Frank 85, 86 anti-Catholic Europe 16 anti-Confucianism 58 Anti-Confucius Campaign 136 anti-Manchu revolution 59–60 anti-West ideological campaign 94 Aquinas, Thomas 39 arcana imperii (secret of statecraft) 9–19, 21, 24, 28 Aristotle 24, 42, 43, 71, 105 Asian Financial Crisis (1997) 113 Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) 133 Athenian democracy 75n24 Austin, A. L. 20 authority: kinds of 2 backward-looking 55, 100 backwardness 5, 9, 46, 100, 103–5 balance of power 122, 126 Bank Charter Act (1844) 111 Bank of England 111
Barbarian culture 31 Becoming Yellow: A Short History of Racial Thinking (Keevak) 37 Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) 132–3 Benedict XIV 18, 19, 21 Bentham, Jeremy 33, 68 Berlin, Isaiah 76n38 Beyond Good and Evil (Nietzsche) 24, 66, 127 bio-strategy 129 Blackstone 114 BNDB see BRICS New Development Bank (BNDB) body economic 99 body politic (Zhen 朕) 62, 69, 70, 89, 99, 110 Bolshevik Revolution (1918) 84 Bolshevik Russia 1 Book of Rites, The 83, 95n9 Boxer Protocol 143 Boxers 143 Bretton Woods System 111, 113 BRI see Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) BRICS New Development Bank (BNDB) 133 Britain 110, 139 British Industrial Revolution 30, 33, 97 Buddhism 13, 125 Burke, Sir Edmond 137 Caesar 29, 129 Calleo, David 105 Cambridge Moral Science Club 41 Candide (Voltaire) 32 Cantwell, Wilfred 13 Cassirer, Ernst 8n15, 33 Castiglione, Giuseppe 19
152 Index Catholic Church 9, 13, 18, 21, 35, 143 Catholic Europe 16 Catholicism 11, 19, 142 CCP see Chinese Communist Party (CCP) censors (御史) 89 CEP see Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (CEP) “chairman” title 89–90 Chambon, Jean Alexis 23 charisma 2 Chesterton, G. K. 60 Chiang Kai-shek 81, 83, 112 China between Rome and Greece 127–33 “China Dream” campaign 1, 94 Chinese Communist Party (CCP) 7, 80, 138 Chinese Economic Performance in the Long Run (Maddison) 97 Chinese Mandarins 20 Chinese political thought, foundations of 38–46 Chinese Rites Controversy (1645–1742) 5, 8n14, 12, 13, 15, 17, 18, 27, 28, 30, 49, 67, 127, 144; and today’s world 19–25 Christian Deists 19, 29 Christianity 10, 20, 65; Kangxi Emperor on 15–16 Christianized Mandarins 13 Chun, Chaesun 121–2 Cicero 39, 71, 80 civil liberty 69 civil society 68, 71 classical liberty 68, 69 classical social evolution see unilineal evolution Clavius, Christopher 14 Clement XI, Pope 17–19, 21, 26n18 cognitive framework, of Mandate of Heaven 119–26 Cold War variations 46–50 Coleridge, Samuel Taylor 45, 81, 104, 105, 111 Collingwood, R. G. 45 colonialism 64, 119 communism 46, 47, 82, 91 Communist Manifesto 138 Confucian ethics 20, 36, 49, 71, 82, 83, 97 Confucianism 12, 13, 15, 17, 19, 21, 23, 34, 59, 63, 93, 96, 100, 106, 108, 121, 125, 126 Confucian legitimacy 1, 5, 94 Confucian moral theory 129
Confucian rites 12–13, 17, 36 Confucian state system 29 Confucius 12, 33, 36, 42, 62, 73, 79 Confucius Sinarum Philosophus (“Life and works of Confucius”) (Couplet) 19 Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (CEP) 21, 26n16 constitutional patriotism 8n7 contractual rights 68 Council of Trent (1545–1563) 9 Counter-Reformation 9, 11, 12, 49, 127 coup d’etat 87 Couplet, Philippe 19 CPC see Communist Party (CPC) cultural accommodation 10 Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) 90 cyclical history 55, 56 Czechoslovakia 46 Das Kapital 136 deconstructionism 50n18 deeds legitimacy 96–118; monetary and 109–16; Weberian moment 100–9 Demel, Walter 37 democracy 19, 20, 23, 54, 62, 102; Athenian 75n24; Gothic theory of 21–2, 71; incremental 84; intraparty 84, 93; liberal 47, 129; vs. oriental despotism 9, 46; social 129 democratic ideology 5, 9, 47 democratic legitimacy 1, 5, 6, 39, 64, 91 democratization of China 42, 72 Deng Xiaoping 90, 92, 107, 113, 124, 130 De Officiis (Cicero) 39 dependency theory 102 De rege et regis institutione (Mariana) 40 Derrida, Jacques 38, 50–1n18 Description geographique (Geographical Descriptions) (du Halde) 36, 61 despotism 38, 72; democracy vs. 9, 46; economic 126; enlightened 35; oriental 5, 6, 21, 27–52, 66, 71, 109; political 37, 126; religious 126 Diderot, Denis 34 Diplomacy (Kissinger) 136, 137 Discours sur la Théologie Naturelle des Chinois (Discourse on Natural Theology of China) (Leibniz) 15 Divine Right of Kings 3 divisions of power 64 Dominicans 14, 15 due process 73 du Halde, Jean-Baptiste 36, 61
Index 153 Duke of Zhou 62, 79 Dworkin, Ronald 68 economic despotism 126 economic liberalism 105 economics 7, 99, 105 economic stagnation 37 Economist (magazine) 111 Elvin, Mark 97–8 English Romanticism 81, 104–5 enlightened despotism 35 Enlightenment Europe see European Enlightenment Enlightenment Sinophobia 34 “Equality via Apparently Unequal Treatment” (维齐非齐) 63 Essai sur les moeurs et esprit des nations (Essay on Morality and the Spirit of Nations) (Voltaire) 36 Essay on Morals (Voltaire) 32 ethico-strategy 129 Etzioni, Amitai 6 Europe 5, 6, 12, 14, 15, 30, 34, 99, 109, 127; anti-Catholic 16; anti-Jesuit agitations in 17, 18; Catholic 16; Confucianism in 19; political legitimacy in 3; political pattern in 10 European Enlightenment 10, 29, 34, 96, 103, 133, 137 European Renaissance 46 Ex Illa Die 17, 18, 21 existentialism 65 Ex quo singulari 19 Fairbank, John K. 96 Fairbank School 40 Fannie Mae 114 Federal Reserve 112, 113 feudalism 38, 71 fictional legitimacy 53–76; liberalism 67–74; social contract 53–67 First Cause 14 foreign relations 7; Chinese 119, 120, 123, 131, 137 “For the Sake of the Republic (走向共和)” 92 Foucault, Michel 129 Foundations of Modern Political Thought (Skinner) 25 France 129 Franciscans 14, 15 Francis, Jesuit Pope 7, 142 Francis Xavier, St. 14 Freddie Mac 114
Frederick the Great of Prussia 31–4 free market 23, 101 free speech 66 free state (civitas libera) 68, 69 French Revolution (1789) 25, 31, 73, 100, 125, 140 Friedman, Thomas 103 Fukuyama, Francis 47, 103 Gaspais, Augustin Ernest 23 Gay, Peter 8n15, 33 GDP see gross national product (GDP) “general secretary” title 89, 90 geometrical method 54 geopolitics 63 Germany 129 Gibbon, Edward 6, 38, 130, 134 global governance 127, 129 Global Times, The (newspaper) 114 God the Creator 14 Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 12 Goldman Sachs 114 Gold Standard 110 Gonghe (共和) 79 good governance 113 Gothic theory of democracy 21–2, 71 Grand Council 88–90 Grand Secretariat 88, 89 Great Learning 62 Great Unity (大同, datong) 95n16 Greco-Roman civilization 25 Gresham, Sir Thomas 109 Gresham’s Law 109, 110 gross national product (GDP) 6, 99, 103, 111, 123 Guangxu 58 Guardian, The 135 Han dynasty 44 Hayek, Friedrich von 111 healing 43, 122 Hegel, Georg F. 34, 35, 38, 56, 61, 104 Hegelianism 134 hegemony 119, 122 Herder, Johann Gottfried 34, 35, 37 hierarchy 28, 119 Hobbes, Thomas 54, 56, 104 Hobson, John 109 Holy Office 22 Hong Kong 77, 96 human rights 19, 20, 23 Hume, David 37 Hundred-Day Reform (1898) 58, 59, 81 “Hundred-Flower” period 42
154 Index Hutton, Will 133–5 Huxley, Thomas 58, 138 idol worship 11, 16, 28 Ignatius of Loyola (1491–1556) 9 illegitimacy 3 Imperial Examination System 44, 71, 83 Imperial Observatory 19 “import substitution” strategy 102 inalienable rights 20, 68 income distribution, legitimacy and 105–9 income equality 106 incremental democracy 84 India 14 individualism 20, 65–7, 98, 103 individual rights 66, 67, 69, 96 Inoguchi, Takashi 121 international relations (IR) theory 120, 121 Intorcetta, Prospero 19 intraparty democracy 84, 93 IR see international relations (IR) theory Italian Renaissance 62 Jacques, Martin 134, 135 Jade Emperor 4 Jansen, Cornelius Otto 16 Jansenists 16 Japan 14, 15, 58, 121; Ministry of Education 23; Yamato dynasty 3 Jesuit China 35 Jesuit missionaries 13, 30, 49, 123 Jesuits 9–11, 16, 18, 19, 21, 23, 24, 28, 31, 34, 39–40, 45, 49, 81, 140; Renaissance humanism of 16 John Paul II, Pope 7, 142–4 Kaiser Wilhelm II 38 Kangxi Emperor 15–18, 23, 24, 78 Kant, Immanuel 12 Keevak, Michael 37 Kennedy, Paul 6, 130–1 Keynes, John Maynard 99, 103, 131 Kissinger, Henry 64, 75n33, 123, 135–9 KMT see Nationalist Party (KMT) Koselleck, Reinhart 46, 127 Kuznets, Simon 99 Kyowa 79 laisser-faire (无为 Wu Wei) principle 24, 98, 101–3, 132 Landes, David 97, 99, 135 Lao Zi 44, 104 Latin Europe 33
le chinoiserie 32 Le Comte, Louis 16 legal authority 2 legitimacy: deeds 96–118; definition of 5; fictional 53–76; and income distribution 105–9; and oriental despotism 27–52; as presentation 82–4; and state 9–26 Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm 4, 12, 15, 18, 28–32, 34, 36, 44, 140, 143 Leibnizian optimism 32 Lenin, Vladimir 92 Leviathan (Hobbes) 54 Li (rites 礼) 77, 82, 83 Liang Qichao 80, 81, 138 liberal democracy 47, 129 liberalism 65, 67–74 liberty 23, 67–8; civil 69; classical 69; negative 68; positive 68, 76n38 Lipset, Seymour Martin 101 Liu Shaoqi 90 Lives (Plutarch) 39 Lloyd, Sir Geoffrey 51n37, 127 Locke, John 4, 5, 27, 68, 70, 104 logocentrism 38, 50–1n18 Lopez, Gregory 15 “Lord of the Heaven” (天主) 10 L’Orphelin de Chine (The Orphan of China) (Voltaire) 32 Louis XIV 30 Luan 122 Lu Xun 59, 60, 138 Macfarquhar, Roderick 96 Machiavellian Moment, The (Pocock) 34, 50n8 Machiavelli, Nicolo 43, 45, 62, 68, 80 Maddison, Angus 97, 100 MAD see mutually assured destruction (MAD) Maigrot, Charles 17, 18 Malthus, Thomas 105 Manchu conquest 40 Manchu Qing dynasty (1644–1911 AD) 3, 58 Mandate of Heaven (Tian Ming 天命) 1, 3–5, 11, 20, 24, 28, 35, 40, 60, 62, 64, 71, 82, 85, 106; China between Rome and Greece 127–33; cognitive framework 119–26; externalizing 119–41; Neo-Enlightenment rhetoric 133–40 Mao Zedong 60, 73, 81, 90, 103, 124, 126, 136–8 Marco Polo 13, 135
Index 155 Mariana, Juan de 40 Marxism 39, 49, 106 Marx, Karl 34, 38, 99 Mathew Effect 107 May Fourth Movement (1919) 58–60, 75n14 Meaning & End of Religion, The (Cantwell) 13 Meiji Japan 4, 44, 57, 79 Meiji Reform 44 Meiji Restoration 58 Metternich, Prince 137 Mill, John Stuart 68, 69, 104 Ming dynasty 15, 97 Ministry of Finance 113 Minogue, Kenneth 42 modernization theory 102 Monarchomachs 40 monetary, legitimacy and 109–16 monetary nationalism 111 Mongol barbarism 37 Mongol conquest 40 Mongolian race 37 Mongolian Yuan dynasty 3 Mongoloid 10 Montesquieu, Baron Charles-Louis de Secondat 5, 12, 30, 34–6, 39, 66 Montesquieuian Moment 34–8 Morales, Juan Baptista 20 moral inferiority 37 moral self-adjustment 3 mutually assured destruction (MAD) 126 mythology of parochialism 42 National Congress 87 Nationalist Party (KMT) 80, 83 Nationalist Republic of China (1927–1949) 111 natural law 51n36 natural theology 4, 28–32, 44 Nazi Germany 93 Needham, Joseph 97, 109 Needham Puzzle 97, 99 “Neo-Confucianist” approach 7 Neo-Enlightenment rhetoric, on China 133–40 neoliberal economics 47 neoliberalism 113 Nicolas II 94 Nietzsche, Friedrich 12, 24, 66, 67, 127 Nixon, Richard 137 Nouveau mémoire sur l’état présent de la Chine (New Memoirs of Present State of China) (Le Comte) 16
Obama Administration 129, 130 OBOR see One Belt and One Road (OBOR) October Revolution (1917) 89, 140 Office of Managing Barbarian Affairs 119 On China (Kissinger) 123, 136, 137, 139 One Belt and One Road (OBOR) see Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) On Evolution and Ethics (Huxley) 58, 138 On Liberty (Mill) 69 “On Self-Governance” (论自治 Lun zi zhi) (Qichao) 80 “On the Boundaries of the Rights of the Society and that of the Individual (群己权界论)” 69 On the Constitution of Church and State (Coleridge) 105 open society 41–2 Opium War of the 1840s 57–9, 70, 97, 111, 143 Organski, A. F. K. 102 oriental despotism 5, 6, 21, 66, 71, 109; Chinese political thought, foundations of 38–46; Cold War variations 46–50; legitimacy and 27–52; Montesquieuian Moment 34–8; raison d’etat 27–34 Oriental Despotism (Weber) 39 original sin 65, 69 Pacific Community 136 pagan: dimension of Chinese civilization 31; monotheism 29, 44; rites 16, 18, 20, 22 Paine, Thomas 68 Panglossianism see Leibnizian optimism pantheism 28 Papacy 9, 10, 143 Papal Bull of 1715 17, 19 Papal Bull of 1742 11, 18, 21, 23 Papal legitimacy 4 Parsons, Talcott 96 Party Secretariat 89, 90 peace 123–6 People’s Bank of China 113 People’s Congress 87, 93 People’s Daily (newspaper) 106 Persian Letters (Montesquieu) 39 personal freedom 20 Philippines 15 Philosophy of History (Hegel) 61 Pius XII, Pope 21, 23 Plane Compertum 21, 23 Plato 43, 51n18, 62, 71, 75n24 Plutarch 39
156 Index Pocock, J. G. A. 34, 50n8 Poivre, Pierre 33 Poland 46 polis 2, 42, 63 politburo system 73–4, 83, 84, 87, 89, 90, 93 Political Consultative Committee 87, 93 political despotism 37, 126 political economics 99 political legitimacy 1–3, 6, 10, 11, 64, 69, 82, 87, 99, 100, 102, 120 Politics (Aristotle) 105 “Politics as Vocation” (Weber) 2 polytheism 28 Popper, Karl 41, 47 postmodernism 55, 122 power-grabbing anticorruption campaign 94 presentation and representation 77–95; legitimacy as presentation 82–4; republic as representation 84–91; republic as utopia 91–4; republic without plebiscite 77–82 principled criticism (Qingyi 清议) 88 proletarian dictatorship 92 Propaganda Fide (1643) 20, 23 Protestantism 9 Protestant Reformation 9 Protestants 18 Protestant United States 23 public enemy 40 Qianlong Emperor 78, 88 Qin Shi Huang 29 Qin Yaqing 121 Quesnay, Francois 12, 30, 34, 102 raison d’etat (reason of state) 11, 27–34, 50, 126 Ramo, Joshua 138 Rasputinesque 94 Rawls, John 71 Realpolitik 129 Religion of China: Confucianism and Taoism, The (Weber) 78 religious despotism 126 Ren Bishi 90 Report of Phihihu (Frederick the Great of Prussia) 32–3 “representation as resemblance” theory 86 “representation as substitution” theory 86 republic: as representation 84–91; as utopia 91–4 Republican (Government of) China 21, 83
republicanism 7, 78, 79, 82, 84, 92; definition of 80; Neo-Roman vision of 80 Republican Revolution (1911) 60 republic without plebiscite 77–82 res publica perfecta 10 revolution 55, 91, 101 Ricci, Matteo 14–16, 19, 40, 124–5, 143, 144 Rise and Fall of Great Powers, The (Kennedy) 130–1 Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, The (Gibbon) 38 Rococo China 30–4 Rodrigues, João 14–15 Romney, Mitt 130 Rostow, Walt 102 Rousseau, Jean-Jacques 12, 39, 56 “Royal Way 王道” 23 rule by virtue 69 Rule of Law (法治) 72–4 Russia 129 Russian Bolshevism 77, 142 SAFE see State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE) St. Augustine 98 St. Marie, Antonio de 15 Saussure, Ferdinand de 66, 75n31, 87, 112 scholars–great thinkers distinction 52n38 scientific racialism 37 Secret Military Affairs Office (军机处) 88 self-governance 80, 81 self-isolation (Sakoku) policy 57 Sentences of Peter Lombard (Aquinas) 39 Shang dynasty (1600–1046 BC) 3 Shelley 105, 105 Shogunate, Tokugawa 15 signified 66, 75n31, 87, 112 signifier 66, 75n31, 87, 112 Silk Road 14, 57, 100, 132 Silk Road Fund 133 Singapore 77, 96 Sino-Japanese War 78 Sinophiles 30, 32 Sinophilia 31, 36 Sinophobes 32, 34 Sino-US “co-evolution” 138 Skinner, Quentin 7, 25, 42, 47, 64, 69, 80, 127 Smith, Adam 12, 33, 34, 98–9, 102, 105 Smith, Anthony D. 111–12 social contract 20, 40, 49, 53–67, 70 Social Darwinism 58, 59, 69, 78, 79, 124 social democracy, European 129, 130, 132
Index 157 Society of Jesus 9, 18 SOEs see state-owned enterprises (SOEs) Son of Heaven 29 Sophia University, Tokyo 23 South Korea 96 Spencer, Herbert 58 Spengler, Oswald 6, 130 Spirit of the Laws, The (L’espprit de Lois) (Montesquieu) 35, 37, 38 Stalinism 124 state 55, 63; and economy 96–118; legitimacy and 9–26; personal ficta (fictional persona) 49, 53 State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE) 114, 115 state-owned enterprises (SOEs) 108, 114 Sternberger, Dolf 4 Strauss, Leo 48, 52n38 Sui dynasty 44 Sun Yat-sen 78, 138 Switzerland 70 Tacitus 24 Taiwan 96 Tang dynasty 104 Taoism 13, 125 Temple of Heaven 83 textualist approach 48, 64 Theory of Moral Sentiments, The (Smith) 98 Thirty Years’ War 16, 24 Tien Ken-sin 21 tigoku (帝国) 4 Tocqueville, Alexis de 93 Tokugawa Japan 57 Tourna, Charles Thomas Mallard de 17, 18 Toynbee, Arnold 6, 130 “tradition vs. modernity” paradigm 6 traditional authority 2 Travels of a Philosopher, The (Poivre) 33 Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 34, 47, 128 Trump, Donald 116, 120, 129, 130 tyrannicide 39, 40 unilineal evolution 74n6 United Nations 57 United States 6, 73, 110–15, 120, 122, 123, 127–9, 139; Treasury Bills (TBs) 114 utilitarianism 30, 68 vanguard theory 92 Vatican 7, 8n14, 15, 16, 18, 26n18, 32, 142, 143; attitude toward China 21;
Chinese Rites Controversy and 22; Propaganda Fide (1643) 20, 23 Vico, Giambattista 54–5 virtuous politics 61 Voltaire 12, 30, 32, 34, 35, 39 Voltaire’s Politics: The Poet as Realist (Gay) 33 Wallerstein, Immanuel 103 Wang Qishan 93 war 123–6 Washington Consensus 113 Wealth of Nations, The (Smith) 33, 98–9 Weberian moment 100–9 Weber, Max 2, 6, 39, 61, 78, 97, 100, 101, 116n4 Western Christendom 34 Western Europe 55, 110 westernization of China 42 When China Rules the World, the Rise of the Middle Kingdom and the End of the Western World (Jacques) 134 Will of Heaven 28 Wittfogel, Karl 39 Wittgenstein, Ludwig 1, 7, 41, 42, 47 Wolff, Chriatian 30, 34, 36 Wordsworth, William 104, 105 World Restored, A (Kissinger) 137, 139 Writing on the Wall: China and the West in the 21st Century, The (Hutton) 133 wuji (无极, nothingness) 4 Xi Jinping 1, 8n1, 61, 81, 90–2, 94, 132 Xing (刑, penal punishment) 82 Xinhua News 114 Yamato dynasty 3 Yamato emperors 29 Yan Fu 58, 69 “Yellowmen’s Burden” project 64 Ye Shi 110 “Yin and Yang” dynamics 3 Yongzheng Emperor 88, 89 Yuan Shikai 95n17 Yuan Xie 110 Zhang Xun 95n17 Zheng (政) 43, 44 Zheng He 124 Zhi (statecraft) 43–4, 122 Zhou dynasty 3, 62, 79 Zhou Enlai 90 Zhu De 90