Monday, December 06, 2010

Speaking of China

David Seaton's News Links
I am in awe of the Chinese and have been since I was a child. I think Napoleon's famous phrase, "Let China sleep for when she awakes, she will shake the world" is an understatement. The only mystery was their decadence.

So finally, my intuition that China is behind Wikileaks stems from my reading, in translation, of Lao Tze, Sun Tzu, Confucius, Mencius and my admiration for the superiority of their culture to ours. I imagine that if they are able to appropriate Google's source code, and other American family jewels, that they are already reading most of America's electronic signals and they need something like Wikileaks to cover their tracks. And also -- and this is probably the bottom line -- to make the American government think twice about using the Internet and Twittter to destabilize foreign regimes, be they that of China herself or Iran's. The message is that America is not alone in being able to play that game and what better tool than a self-appointed New Age messiah like Assange to "send" it.

I think westerners and Americans in particular are encumbered by many mindsets developed during the propaganda laden ideological struggle of  the Cold War: mental structures that confuse what Barack Obama once referred to as "an awesome God", with market-capitalism and both of them with a certain libertarian idiosyncrasy peculiar to Americans. All of these concepts have their value, but none of them is necessarily related to the other. This heterogeneous baggage creates a mental confusion, which makes it nearly impossible for an American to understand something that is as "plain as the nose on your face".

The first thing that strikes a western observer, devoid of euro-centric-Hellenism chauvinism and the vapors of "Judeo-Christian" transcendentalism; for one who approaches the Chinese idiosyncrasy and China's world view in a spirit of humility, is its intense pragmatism. A pragmatism so intense that many mistake it for esoterica or confuse it with a branch of Hinduism's metaphysical speculation. Nothing could be further from its spirit, in my opinion. The Chinese, with all their subtlety, are at the same time, after thousands of years, quite streamlined in their plainness.

I have read that the Chinese ideogram for "life" is composed from the combined ideograms for "eat" + "drink" + "man" + "woman" =  "life". So much for "the meaning of life".

I have been told that the ideogram for "prosperity" consists of the figure of a man under the roof of a house accompanied by a pig. Ezra Pound, in his essays on Chinese poetry, maintained that it was impossible to do it justice in translation because every word was a poem in itself: the ideogram for "red" being a mixture of "blood", "flamingo" and "sunset". My greatest regret is not being able to read Chinese... if I think of the years I spent/wasted studying French, I could cry.

I was probably the youngest kid in greater Chicagoland (11yrs) to read the Tao Te Ching and it changed my life. I started reading Sun Tzu during the war in Vietnam because it was said that general Giap did. I continue to read it, I only wish I could read it in Mandarin.

Sun Tzu is to Clausewitz like Einstein is to your high school science teacher. To understand the metamorphosis of the Chinese Communist Party without having studied those texts would be impossible... that and the thought of Mao Zedong, of whom Deng Xiaoping said, "Mao 30% bad, 70% good", the same Deng who gave the best contemporary definition of Chinese pragmatism, "black cat, white cat, as long as it catches mice, it is a good cat"...  and I am fascinated by how Chinese traditional philosophy was able to incorporate and integrate Hegel, Marx and Lenin into their canon. And how something as seemingly esoteric as the thought of Lao Tze can be applied with immense effect to loosening the grip of a dominating power (USA) on China's future.

For example, compare the following texts:
"If you want to nourish a bird, you should let it live any way it chooses. Creatures differ because they have different likes and dislikes. Therefore the sages never require the same ability from all creatures. . . concepts of right should be founded on what is suitable. The true saint leaves wisdom to the ants, takes a cue from the fishes, and leaves willfulness to the sheep." Chuang-tzu

"For dialectical philosophy nothing is final, absolute, sacred. It reveals the transitory character of everything and in everything; nothing can endure before it except the uninterrupted process of becoming and of passing away, of endless ascendancy from the lower to the higher. And dialectical philosophy itself is nothing more than the mere reflection of this process in the thinking brain.” Thus, according to Marx, dialectics is “the science of the general laws of motion both of the external world and of human thought” V. I. Lenin
The Chinese, I am convinced, have one priority above all others: their complete and total sovereignty. The United States, with its idea of its "exceptionalism", its cosmopolitan corporate economy and the tatters of its "manifest destiny" cannot tolerate a world that it cannot control. That is the most important conflict in the world today and make no mistake America is the aggressor. Against this tragic impetus, the timeless subtlety of Sun-Tzu.

Frankly I think China is going to take world dominance away from the USA like taking candy from a baby and without firing a shot... and not necessarily replace it with a dominance of its own, but rather of a benign indifference. When the Chinese speak of "socialism with Chinese characteristics", they are speaking of a highly developed country, with first class public health and educational systems similar to those of Western Europe, with a large enough amount of economic freedom to assign resources efficiently and a very tight and nationalistic political control by the Communist Party of China, a mixture which fits comfortably into the traditions of Chinese Legalism and Confucianism. That is their goal and even if it takes several generations, that is where they are headed.

Summing up: Their obsession is to regain the preeminent position of total sovereignty that they enjoyed before the industrial revolution and western imperialism humiliated China. They were looking through western thought to find something they could use.  Hegel's dialectic, which Marx "turned upside down" was found congenial to their Taoist mentality and so is Lenin's version of it.  Because of the ideological and propaganda struggle of the Cold War we have endowed the idea of capitalism with certain moral and platonic qualities that it doesn't really possess; the Chinese see this more clearly than we do. For them it is merely a tool, "black cat, white cat" Deng Xiaoping said. Deng also said, that anyone who practices capitalism in China can get rich and anyone who talks about capitalism can go to jail. capitalism is an "energy" "qi or Chi" that the Leninist PCC is using to develop China. The protagonist is the party. Using this tool, they now have the US economy more or less at their mercy. That is pure Sun Tzu, but Lenin would have appreciated it too, I think. DS

Here is some further reading to give an idea of the Chinese context and their philosophy in action:
(In) 1793, when (China) was still one of the world's richest countries, with over 30% of global Gross Domestic Product. The Emperor Qianlong (1736-95), in a letter to George III prompted by the visit of the British delegation under Lord Macartney, grandly opined: "Our Celestial Empire possesses all things in prolific abundance and lacks no product within its own borders. There is therefore no need to import the manufactures of outside barbarians in exchange for our own products."(...) it proved disastrous—China's share of world GDP declined to a low of about 4% in 1960. Qianlong's decision, condemning China to excluding the burgeoning Western machinery and manufactures, was not the only factor in that decline but was key to it. Martin Hutchinson

“It is beautiful to hope for a democratic China,” says Mark Chen, a Taiwanese ex-foreign minister. “But for us, there is the risk that that could spell disaster. With all those nationalist forces, a democratic China could be much uglier than what we have now.” Financial Times

For decades, corporate America championed investing in China and trade with China, though the massive transfer of U.S. factories, technologies and jobs was clearly empowering China and weakening America. Now, with U.S. political, military, industrial and strategic decline vis a vis China manifest to the world, we hear the wails of American businessmen that they are not being treated fairly by the Chinese. And the politicians responsible for building up China are now talking tough about confronting and containing China. Sorry, but that cat cannot be walked back.  Pat Buchanan


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading this without quite being able to wrap my head around some of its ideas - my failure, not the blog post's!

Still, I've obsessed in my own way about China. The Chinese diaspora of the past several centuries is one focal point of this obsession. Untold thousands immigrated anyplace where some entrepreneurial competence would be rewarded. I grew up in Phoenix before it metastasized into a giant suburb. There were Chinese markets, restaurants, and laundries in numbers completely disproportionate to the Chinese-American population. The successor generation discarded these businesses as they advanced into the meritocracy or made money more easily in other businesses.

When you think of the final outcome of Communism in its primary host nations, the Chinese evolution is the much happier one. Russia, by contrast, is mafia-like oilgarchy (intentional misspelling). I suspect the reason here is that the Chinese were instinctively business oriented within the ethical confines of their villages. Communism didn't kill this impulse; it redirected it and ultimately allowed its fuller expression. Understanding the psychology of the village explicates something of this phenomenon.

Anonymous said...

As a returned Peace Corps volunteer, who had served in the Philippine Islands, I personally witnessed the control of various economic sectors in that country by the ethnic Chinese minority.

This ethnic Chinese economic control was also the case in other S.E. Asian countries (e.g. Thailand, Malaysia). In fact, I believe that the first expulsions, after the fall of South Vietnam, were the ethnic Chinese of that country. I always believed that the North Vietnamese wanted to be rid of the "natural capitalist" Chinese.

Mr. Seaton, being a native of Chicago myself, I'm wondering what part of the metro Chicago area you originated?

emil said...

China had a period of foreign rule by Mongolian invaders from the time when Europe entered the Westphalian peace, which brought about decline and finally the fascist/colonialist invasions by the western powers and Japan for them. They even had a fundamentalist christian insurrection (of Taiping) which spawned a giant civil war with 30 or 50 million dead in the 19th century.

Now the tide is reversing, the western world is joining the muslim world by entering a period of decline and darkness while China is on the way up.

And you can be sure that a culture conscious of 2500 years of development so has much better concepts than the new arrivals in America.