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China’s Homecoming

China’s achievements in the material spheres are well known. The nation’s economic and technological advances, which translate into political and military clout, are fundamentally changing the world.

At the Communist Party’s just-concluded 19th National Congress, Xi Jinping mapped out in excruciating detail how China would build and expand on those accomplishments — plans that the global commentariat have focused on. More interesting and perhaps significant, however, is an area few have highlighted: international thought leadership on sociopolitical organization and development. In other words, political and economic models.

That arena has been monopolized for so long by the West that few see any credible challenges from the non-West. Democracy, capitalism, neoliberalism, communism, socialism, fascism … all were creations by Western thinkers and societies. For over a century, these thought systems and their real-life manifestations thoroughly dominated the globe, influencing virtually every corner of the non-Western world.

That is set to change in the years and decades ahead. The 21st-century “Chinese Way” will become the first alternative to test the Western paradigms in the modern era. What is the Chinese Way? Not even China can say just yet, as it remains a work in progress. Described by President Xi as a “sinification of Marxism” (which implies further evolution from Deng Xiaoping’s “socialism with Chinese characteristics”), it began from the socialist base China painstakingly built and reformed over six decades.

More and more, however, China’s path will be infused with elements from the core of traditional Chinese civilization — Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism, adapted, of course, to the needs and conditions of our era. Xi has already declared CBD to be an integral part of his “Chinese Dream” for national development.

Like the nation itself, Chinese culture and values are simply too centered, too big, too substantive to be displaced by foreign counterparts, even when China plumbs a historical nadir. As history has shown, they always come back, usually stronger than before. In the process, outside influences and even conquerors are simply absorbed, assimilated into the bottomless maw of Chinese civilization, enriching it. Before the 21st century ends, that will likely happen as well to all the Western “isms” that so greatly impacted China in the 20th century.

Will the Chinese Way be a model for other countries and cultures? China has made it clear it has no desire to see others imitating its path, noting its uniqueness and probable inapplicability to others. The Chinese are not cultural proselytizers. Yet success invariably breeds imitation — and China is succeeding on a scale never before seen in history. If other nations find aspects of the Chinese Way appropriate and helpful to their own search for development and choose to adopt them, the Chinese would be happy enough.

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