The subject title is big for books, thus difficult to discuss in a limited space. However, the subject is so fitting to think about while China is holding its 13th National People’s Congress (NPC). Therefore, I shall make an attempt to discuss the past, present and future of China in a broad notion. Hopefully, this discussion will draw more in-depth dialogue to follow.
The past of China is of course a long history, but only her recent past and history relevant to her present and future will be discussed. China is a unique nation, longing for peace and survived numerous times from external invasions including the meditated Japanese invasion which ultimately became WW II. Following the world trend of revolutionary movement, China endured a treacherous path and suffered from interventions by Western powers and of Russia and Japan. Although China had her glorious past in terms of prosperity (GDP), she missed and ignored the industrial revolution which created the Western powers and Imperial Japan and Russia.
The past of China about a century ago can be characterized as an ignorant and sleeping lion indulged in her own governance with no clue and later no energy and no skill in diplomacy as a big nation. China was basically an agriculture country with nearly 80% rural population illiterate. The peasants live a poor life subject to the mercy of nature. A Chinese phrase, 看天吃飯 (pray meals from heaven), described well the Chinese farmers’ lives. There was hardly any industrial base then. Whatever manufacturing existed was largely labor based, inefficient and depended on foreign technology. For example, although Chinese made very significant contribution to metallurgy centuries ago, the steel production of China in 20th century was less than Germany’s in 1871. When Western powers invaded China, Chinese people lost her self-confidence. Chinese thought everything foreign being superior as revealed in the language created at that time, such as 洋(釘nail, 火 match, 油 oil, 裝 suit, 車 car, etc). Adding the word 洋 (foreign or western) means superior quality.
China’s Present is now represented by amazing achievements accomplished in the recent decades. When Communist Party of China (CPC) established PRC in 1949 and KMT led ROC retreated to Taiwan, China, though divided, had the same time period of truce without war. The Chinese on both sides of the Taiwan Strait had an opportunity to focus on economy. The CPC went through two decades of experimentation of hardcore communism with obvious obstacles and failures, but its later reform strategy embracing part of capitalism and engaging planned economy (since Deng’s retaking the CPC party leadership in 1978) paid off handsomely. China is now the number two economy of the world beating Japan and Germany. China’s purchasing power based GDP is actually world’s number one.
China can be proud of her economic achievement of bringing more than half billion people out of poverty and giving better life to 1.4 billion citizens. Today, China is no longer an ignorant or illiterate nation; China graduates more than eight million college students every year, twice as many as the U.S., a daunting achievement. China not only has become industrialized but also has become the manufacturer of everything for the world and world’s biggest trading power. China’s steel production is the number one in the world drawing US tariff against her steel export (a merely 2% of the total export to the US). China’s infrastructure development outshines every nation with multi-tier cities across the country. The peasants no longer pray their meals from heaven. The new phrase, 知天吃飯 （know nature and harvest come) now describes the knowledgeable peasants lives. The social life of Chinese people is elevated with self-confidence as exhibited by their traveling to every part of the world. Gradually, people understand the difference between the deep and rich Chinese culture and the shallow and simple civility. Foreigners recite Tang Poetry; Western society begins to appreciate the long Chinese history and civilization. Chinese self-confidence is reflected by the Chinese language absorbed into English vocabulary from food to other subjects,炒麵 chowmein, 餛飩 wonton, 豆腐 tofu, 茅台酒 Mao Tai jiu, 餃子 Jiao zi, 長衫 changsan 褀袍 Qi Pao 功夫 kongfu 太極 Tai Ji 武術 wushu 武俠 wu xia 少林 Shao lin 麻將 Mahjong 風水 feng shui 漢字 Hanzi 拼音 pinying, 你好 Nihao, 陰陽 Ying Yan 氣 Qi 道 dao 上海 shanghai 北京 Beijing, 丁 ting, J particle, 嫦娥 chang’e, space vehicle to the moon 武器 wu qi, weapons, so many Chinese phonetic words familiar to the common Westerners.
China’s future is uncertain. The rising China is not a threat to the world but she will change the world for sure. The Western powers have tried to lead the world as a uni-polar world order with Western rules giving little voice to the rising giants, China, India, Brazil, etc etc. The World has changed and the productivity comes from knowledge workers, just China and India alone, millions of knowledge workers joining the work force each year. Peasants will become knowledge workers too. Food production will become a stable element in the economy. The phrase 經營糧食 （food production and distribution management) will describe the ‘peasants’ lives. Continuous technology advances and innovation is the only way to lead the world. China will likely become a principal manufacturer of auto-driving pollution-free ‘autoporters’ as well as robots that producing them.
The uncertainty about China’s future is really the uncertainty of the world’s future. Will the legacy Uni-Polar World Order yield to a bi-polar or multi-polar world order by stopping arms race and engaging in genuine collaboration? China has risen militarily as well, by external foreign pressure not by her own design. If the Western powers and Japan continue their irrational military confrontation with China, China has no choice but to respond, leading the world to inevitable world war. If China were not targeted as an enemy, then the world’s future is rosy and China will continue to contribute to world prosperity and peace. The One Belt One Route (OBOR) program will be one beneficial program to the world.
With the U.S. and her allies still having a hostile China policy, China obviously must be prepared for the worst scenario with the possible following strategies:
- Militarily, China will continue to invest in military capability and preparedness unless the world powers can reach a sensible conclusion to urge all parties to stop the ever-increasing military development for more economic development. Hopefully, China’s advances in space program, missile and nuclear weapons, and satellite communication may induce a genuine arms truce treaty among the superpowers.
- Economically, China will continue to invest in OBOR like win-win programs to stimulate world economy. Hopefully the benefitted countries, especially the developing nations will collaborate with China, in turn influence other nations to join in.
- Diplomatically, China will likely exercise constraint but be assertive on the side of justice. China will not pursue military base proliferation but will focus on defense measures. China will engage fully with the U.N. and various multi-nation institutions and conferences to seek diplomatic solutions as done before.
- Culturally, China will exert emphasis internally on the rejuvenation of the Chinese culture, peace loving philosophy and ideology of world harmony and externally on making the world to understand the Chinese culture. Chinese is an efficient language and Chinese history and literature are rich with wisdom. Through cultural exchange to promote world harmony is likely China’s soft-power Strategy. Early signs indicate that such a strategy is effective for gaining mutual acceptance and confidence.
The current trend of Chinese language adoption by the West and more people are learning Chinese as a second language are good omens for China and world harmony. Chinese words and phrases, for example, 人民幣 Renminbi, 支付寶 Zhifubao, 元 yuan, 胡同 hutong, 春節 chun jie, etc are exemplary words found in the Cambridge Dictionary. When the number of foreigners learning Chinese increases from millions to tens of millions, the value of Hanzi and the Chinese literature and culture will be widely appreciated. Then the natural integration of citizenship, smooth convergence towards one harmonious nation, and those Special Administrative Regions (SAR) influenced by external forces preferring Chinese influence will take place as China act effectively on the world stage. When China unites peacefully, the world will be more assured that China will continue to contribute to world prosperity and peace.