Impressions of “How China Can Defeat America”

Listening to a recent Sinica podcast, all the panelists talked about how a N.Y. Times Op-Ed entitiled, ““How China can Defeat America”

My first reaction upon hearing the title was, “Great! Just what us ABCs need! Another inflamatory piece made to incite hatred against us, only then to be used as an excuse for the white man to round us all up and put us in internment camps!

Then, I read the bottom of the article:

Yan Xuetong, the author of “Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power,” is a professor of political science and dean of the Institute of Modern International Relations at Tsinghua University. This essay was translated by Zhaowen Wu and David Liu from the Chinese.

Ah…. OK. So the target audience wasn’t for people dressed up in white bed sheets with cone-shaped shawls, it was targetted at the home market. I say “market”, because, he’s trying to sell his book.

At first, I thought the whole “Defeat America” is playing to China’s Angry Youth, who have been brought up with education that has taught them about American involvement in China, emphasizing events like the forced signing of the Treaty of Tientsin, which forced China to open up more ports for foreign trade, and allowing foreigners to freely traverse her lands and waters. They unfortunately, de-emphasize later American efforts to help out Chinese during WWII, with the Flying Tigers.

However, except for the title, there is no tone of “smash the American imperialsts!” Like you find during Mao’s era. In fact, he chooses to concentrate on the ideology of using Confucianism –something most Americans hear, and ask “Confu-huh? What?!”– to guide China into the future. So, we’ve determined it’s not really targeted to the Angry Youth, nor is it targetted to the Americans. So what the heck is he trying to get at?

Most academic analysts are not so sanguine. If history is any guide, China’s rise does indeed pose a challenge to America. Rising powers seek to gain more authority in the global system, and declining powers rarely go down without a fight.

I am a political realist… But realism does not mean that politicians should be concerned only with military and economic might. In fact, morality can play a key role in shaping international competition between political powers — and separating the winners from the losers.

OK, I get it. So he’s really criticizing the Communist government for only concentrating on military upgrades and economic development.

So the next question: What’s with the obsession with Confucian? He describes the incubating environment for Confucianism:

It was perhaps the greatest period for Chinese thought, and several schools competed for ideological supremacy and political influence.

You know who else fought for supremacy? 148 Chinese States. If Supremacy were an oocyte, these guys were all swimming towards you! Today, we hear news of the wars in the middle east, and Africa, and freak out. 148 nations going at it all at once? Not so much of a “great period” if you’re the little guy (or Ms. Supremacy for that matter).

They converged on one crucial insight: The key to international influence was political power, and the central attribute of political power was morally informed leadership. Rulers who acted in accordance with moral norms whenever possible tended to win the race for leadership over the long term.

According to the ancient Chinese philosopher Xunzi, there were three types of leadership: humane authority, hegemony and tyranny. Humane authority won the hearts and minds of the people at home and abroad. Tyranny — based on military force — inevitably created enemies. Hegemonic powers lay in between: they did not cheat the people at home or cheat allies abroad. But they were frequently indifferent to moral concerns and often used violence against non-allies. The philosophers generally agreed that humane authority would win in any competition with hegemony or tyranny.

So they converged on a crucial insight of morality and not on Ms. Supremacy? I doubt that somehow. Different rulers employed different people, from all sorts of schools of thought. Whatever ideology worked best and kept their military enterprise running, worked for its leaders. The author gives you the sense that Confucianism won them out immediately, because it somehow worked. He forgets to mention that it wasn’t until the Martial Emperor of the Han Dynasty, Liu Che, who adopted Confucian philosophy to guide government policies and institutions, that Confucianism really gained a lot of tract (around 320 years after Confucius). Before that, they were constantly being outcasted, and those who practiced it in government, were almost like gays and lesbians of the US military of recent, who were under the “Don’t ask don’t tell” policy. Not that they were necessarily kicked out of government, if they declared themselves a Confucian, but they were sort of looked upon with suspicion.

Here’s something the author says that I actually agree with:

Many people wrongly believe that China can improve its foreign relations only by significantly increasing economic aid. But it’s hard to buy affection; such “friendship” does not stand the test of difficult times.

How, then, can China win people’s hearts across the world? According to ancient Chinese philosophers, it must start at home. Humane authority begins by creating a desirable model at home that inspires people abroad.

No argument from me. But then, he continues on with these assertions:

In other countries, China must display humane authority… Military strength underpins hegemony and helps to explain why the United States has so many allies. President Obama has made strategic mistakes in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, but his actions also demonstrate that Washington is capable of leading three foreign wars simultaneously. By contrast, China’s army has not been involved in any war since 1984, with Vietnam, and very few of its high-ranking officers, let alone its soldiers, have any battlefield experience.

America enjoys much better relations with the rest of the world than China.

To shape a friendly international environment for its rise, Beijing needs to develop more high-quality diplomatic and military relationships than Washington. No leading power is able to have friendly relations with every country in the world, thus the core of competition between China and the United States will be to see who has more high-quality friends. And in order to achieve that goal, China has to provide higher-quality moral leadership than the United States.

China must also recognize that it is a rising power and assume the responsibilities that come with that status. For example, when it comes to providing protection for weaker powers, as the United States has done in Europe and the Persian Gulf, China needs to create additional regional security arrangements with surrounding countries according to the model of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization — a regional forum that includes China, Russia and several central Asian countries.

It’s nice to point out that China has not been in a war since 1984, this at least makes a logical argument against proponents of the Yellow Peril Theory, but the rest of your article doesn’t assure other Americans with what the rest of your article is proposing.

I’m not sure if the author’s “praise” of Americans ability to wage wars is a sarcastic one or not. If you ask most Americans about Iraq and Afghanistan, I think most of them would say we need to get out. If you ask about Libya, most everyone wouldn’t have wanted to get involved. Even if you get some that say otherwise, it’s hard for any American to ignore the toll these two wars and other conflicts have had on our economy.

What do you mean China should recognize that it’s a rising power? Maybe your life in the city is all nice and dandy from the eight floor of your high-rise condominium, and especially compared to how it was 20 years ago, but if you go out into the countryside, not much has changed in 20 years, except for maybe, now they are forced to live in poorer conditions in the city, because they had their houses were demolished, but you probably wouldn’t recognize them on the streets anyways.

And politically, China should draw on its tradition of meritocracy … China should also open up and choose officials from across the world who meet its standards, so as to improve its governance.

Meritocracy… Right…! Let’s not forget what Confucianism teaches about human relations, and that one should have a sense of duty towards anyone you have a relationship with. This has gone from merely being a person who pays his debts, to “you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours” line of corruption.

Cultural fundamenalists scare the crap out of me. Heck, fundamentalists in general, scare the crap out of me. They only take bits and pieces of historical fact, and twist it to fit their philosophy of the future. Yet somehow, they are so successful at selling this “Things were so gee-golly-gosh-darn-swell back in the day!” image, and people eat it up whole-heartedly, without examining it one bit.


13=阝12=口 J=丁 (阿)
L=氵 Z=工 (江)
–1312JLZ (阿江)
You can contact me via…

Facebook Twitter Google+  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *