A theory serves comprehension, prediction and identification of conditions for change. Seven such historical-cultural pointers will be indicated for China; using the West in general, and the USA in particular, for comparisons.
The presentation draws on countless dialogues in China over 40 years, since 1973.
China: in time, as dynasties; West: in space as empires.
Look at a histomap combining world history and geography, time and space: China shows up through 4,000 years as relatively coherent dynasties with complex transitions – and the West as empires–birth-growth-peaking-decline-fall, like the Roman, UK and now the US empire – duration vs bubbles that burst; as China-centric vs Western hegemonic.
Chinese space: Barbarian; US time: to create, past irrelevant.
China marginalized space peopled by South-West-North-East barbarians – outside the “Chinese pocket” between Himalayas-Gobi desert-Tundra-Sea–except for Silk roads and Silk lane East China-East Africa, destroyed by Portugal and England from 1500, colonizing Macao-Hong Kong.
A goal of Chinese foreign policy is to restore the Silk roads and lanes: high speed trains for Eurasia, cooperating for mutual and equal benefit, harmony.
The USA marginalizes time by disregarding past history, and with the idea that the USA creates future New Beginnings for immigrants, and New History for itself, for other countries, for the whole world.
Chinese thought: cyclical-repetitive; West: linear-cumulative.
To Daoism valid knowledge is holistic and dialectic, based on big, complex units of thought (whole humans, China, the world) riveted by forces and counter-forces, yin/yang, good vs bad, themselves yin/yang, with what is suppressed growing and what is dominant declining till the next turn. The holon may jump from one contradiction tapering off to the next.
To the West valid knowledge is based on subdivision and accumulation of knowledge about elements, woven together in theories.
To Mao Zedong the basic contradiction was foreign imperialism with landowners vs the people, students-peasants-workers.
To Deng Xiaopeng it was misery vs lack of growth. The 1980 revolution accumulated capital with farmers near cities and in Shenzen (26% growth p.a.), and re-created merchants.
Then came nine years distribution vs growth again: from 1989 (Tiananmen!) distribution, 1998, 2007, 2016: new focus on growth.
China three civilizations synergizing; West three civilizations fighting.
China draws on Daoist insights, on Confucian ideas of hierarchies with harmony, and Buddhist small community equality: Buddhism for distribution, Confucianism for growth, Daoism for jumps between them.
The West could have draw upon the positives in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, but focused on negatives for discrimination-prejudice-war-genocide–now as Judeo-Christianity vs Islam–with unused synergies.
China shi’h-nung-kung-shang; West clergy-aristocracy-merchants.
Chinese mandarin (shi’h) rulers combined rule by rules with high culture, over farmers and artisans, and merchants marginalized at the bottom.
Western aristocrat rulers combined rule with force, trade and clergy benediction; later to become State, Capital, Intelligentsia. A basic difference was marginalization vs integration of merchants.
China: Son of the Heaven/tribute; West: rex gratia dei/war.
The Chinese Emperors were Sons of the Heaven trading with those who paid tribute to the Emperor; in the Western Heaven was the only God for the whole world at all times, creating and taking life, the monarch being the only person with a Mandate from God – rex gratia dei – by the grace of God, also entitled to take life, delegated to His army.
The English refused to pay tribute, using opium wars, “gunboat diplomacy”, burning (with the French) the imperial palace instead; China was never violent outside the “pocket” (except when provoked by India in 1962).
China: Mandate of the People; West multi-party national FAFE.
The Mandate of the Heaven is lost when the People shout in the streets, and regained by addressing their grievances and ideas in the ancient petition system. By “idea democracy, not arithmetic democracy”.
The West is counting votes in multi-party national fair and free elections.
The Cultural Revolution shouted in the streets against Confucian rule by older men with high education from East China, paving the way for the young, the women and West China – also in 80 million educated “communist” Party members, presumably wise enough to understand the yin/yang dialectics.
Tiananmen 1989 was not about democracy, “no votes for uneducated”, but – like Hong Kong? – about losing their feudal position to wealthy farmers, merchants, private and state capitalists.
Summary, conclusion, prognosis.
China is China-centric, the deep culture is still holistic-dialectic with a Western surface, the three civilizations synergy is there. So is the Chinese inability to handle the “pocket”: Taiwan-Tibet-Uighurs-Mongolians–Vietnamese-Koreans.
But China indeed went global; trading with barbarians; upgrading merchants-traders-money people; accumulating huge wealth. Mao opened society for huge masses of Chinese, the young, women, and the West.
Deng lifted the bottom 300-400 million up 1991-2004, with the communist focus on the needs of the neediest, into capitalism: capi-communism. Beijing 1980: six million bicycles 0 private cars; 2010: 0 vs five million.
The West, out-competed by BRICS, did more killing than learning.
China’s ruling class, steeped in culture, linked dynastic cycles to yin-yang thought, and traders to barbarians.
Today’s rulers, deep in money shouting to beget more money, link money to corruption – and speculation? And competition from Latin America+Africa – shouting in the streets may send China packing – and the end of a dynasty is near.
China’s lead is not forever. Nothing ever was. Except, maybe, some China: A more spiritual dynasty, after materialist “communism”?
Johan Galtung, one of the founders of the science of peace, has been in and out of China for about four decades. He is the author of The Fall of the US Empire–and Then What? and many other books.