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All under a Chinese heaven: China uses an idealised version of its imperial past to promote a 19th c

Discussion in 'South Asia & SAARC' started by thesolar65, Jul 13, 2017.

  1. thesolar65

    thesolar65 2nd Lieutant FULL MEMBER

    Feb 25, 2013
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    An oft-repeated exhortation in China is “use the past to serve the present.” Historical memories are a powerful force that not only bind the Chinese people together and form their national identity but also motivate Chinese leaders to find what they regard as China’s rightful place in the world.

    Chad Crowe

    What they celebrate is an imperial China reconstructed as the benevolent centre of East Asia, to advance the agenda of China’s rise as a return to the harmonious state and to reassure neighbours who worry about the nation’s rising threat. The leaders insist that a powerful China can be peaceful.

    Following President Hu Jintao’s concept of the harmonious world derived from traditional Chinese philosophy, President Xi Jinping has famously said that “the genes’ order” and “inherited national spirit” determine that “the Chinese nation is a peace-loving nation.” He goes on to suggest that the pursuit of peace and harmony is deeply rooted in the spirit and blood of the Chinese people, although millennia of violent history tell another story.

    In the meantime, Chinese scholars have reconstructed a benevolent Chinese empire Tianxia, all-under-heaven, based on the royal ethics, or wangdao. This has emerged as a popular way to convey the “Chinese normative principle of international relations in contrast with the principles of sovereignty and the structure of international anarchy which form the core of the contemporary international system,” suggests Allen Carlson in the Journal of Contemporary China.

    Zhao Tingyang describes Tianxia as a universal system inherited from the Zhou dynasty about 3,000 years ago. The system, maintained by cultural attraction and ruling by virtue, is embodied in the Chinese ideal of perpetual peace.

    Yan Xuetong’s study determined that ancient Chinese thinkers advised rulers to rely on ethics and use benevolent government to rule the world. Yan distinguishes three types of ethics in ancient China: Royal ethics focused on peaceful means to win the hearts and minds of people at home and abroad. Tyranny, based on military force, inevitably created enemies. Hegemonic ethics lay in between – frequently indifferent to moral concerns, it often involved violence against non-allies, but did not cheat people at home or allies abroad. Royal ethics was preferred over hegemony or tyranny.

    In comparison with western countries that used coercive power to build colonies, the Chinese world order was more civil, attracting admiration from tributary states without use of force. Emphasising benevolent governance, etiquette, peace and denying the imperialistic nature, imperial China and its relations with surrounding regions were far more advanced than the colonialism of western countries.

    But recent scholarship in the West suggests that imperial China, like its counterparts, was not uniquely benevolent or uniquely violent. Warfare was constant in imperial China, with regions often in disunion or under foreign invasion. China’s ruler during the Yuan dynasty, Kublai Khan, expanded the empire by military expedition, stretching across Central Asia, Burma and Vietnam. The last Chinese dynasty, Qing, expanded to unprecedented size, nearly doubling land holdings from the previous Ming dynasty mostly through military force.

    From this perspective, Peter Perdue argues that the techniques used by the Ming and Qing dynasties to legitimise their rule over subjects and claim superiority over rivals were not radically different from those of other empires. Citing comparative history studies that point to substantial similarities of the Ming and Qing to the Russian, Mughal and Ottoman imperial formations, or even to early modern France, Perdue suggested that the concept of “colonialism” could be usefully employed to describe certain aspects of Qing practice.

    Imperial China had to use military force to defend and expand the empire because its territorial domain, defined loosely by cultural principles, was not always accepted by its neighbours. Following the policy of fusion and expansion, whenever imperial China was powerful, it tried to expand frontiers by claiming suzerainty over smaller neighbours. The expansion, however, often met with resistance. Chinese empire was not shy about military conquest.

    Sun Tzu’s Art of War was thus written during a time when, as Kevin Rudd said, war was a permanent condition: “The bulk of Sun Tzu’s work is how to prevail in a conflict against another state or states by either non-military or military means. Taken in insolation, it can be interpreted as meaning that conflict and war represented the natural and inevitable condition of humankind.”

    There is nothing wrong with looking to China’s past to help understand China’s future. But Chinese intellectuals and political leaders are engaging in selective remembering, often reconstructed history, to advance the government’s political agenda and justify its concept of justice and view of China’s rightful place in the world.

    Historical discourse has, therefore, become extremely politicised in China. Chinese elites, therefore, often draw contradictory policy agendas from the study of history. On the one hand, Chinese leaders present an idealised version of imperial China to support the claims of China’s peaceful rise and, on the other, take the lesson that imperial China’s collapse was because its strength was not enough to defend its existence, Chinese elites have called for China to follow the law of survival, with the weakest eliminated, to become the strongest again.

    Reconstruction of China’s imperial past to advance the contemporary agenda of its peaceful rise has, ironically, set a 19th century agenda for 21st century China – intended to restore the regional hierarchy and maximise security by expanding influence and control over its neighbourhoods.

    sangos likes this.

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