Opinion | How China reinvented itself--- A recipe for super-success in nation-building
By Philip Yeung, university teacher
In his book "Chinese Characteristics", published in 1894, Arthur Henderson Smith, an American missionary, painted a dismal picture of a people wallowing in misery, poverty, and disunity. For more than a century, it served as a handbook to dissect the Chinese personality and remained the most authoritative and widely read book by a Westerner on China.
His portrait of the Chinese race was unflattering--intellectually muddled, emotionally passive, with a distaste for exercise and a disregard of time plus an indifference to comfort.
Fast-forward to the 21stcentury. Smith's characterization of the Chinese seems totally alien. As a nation, China is a different country, and its people have found their mojo. It has invented a new personality—confident, brash, purpose-driven, and utterly fearless. China has gatecrashed the small elite club of major powers within a four-decade period that has no equal in human history.
China has arrived. While Britain is broken and America is astray, both consumed by the politics of partisanship and misled by juvenile leaders with big egos, the Chinese have been laser-focused on their national purpose without the costly distraction of foreign wars. The China miracle is a many-splendored thing.
● Sense of nationhood. China in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was weak, divided, and dismembered by foreign powers. For thousands of years, the Chinese owed their loyalties to extended families and their ancestors, not to their nation. Its 100-year history of humiliation has become a rallying cry for patriotism. This sense of togetherness never existed before 1949. Until then, its people only busied themselves with individual or familial pursuits, never the national interests. Now China thinks and acts as a nation.
● Anti-poverty. The saying that "there is no nobility in poverty" is definitely true in China. With the vast majority barely eking out a living, life was sub-human and devoid of dignity. Poverty breeds selfishness, with its people unmoored to a larger, common purpose. Under strong leadership, in a matter of decades, 800 million people were snatched out of poverty. Trust in government has skyrocketed to stratospheric levels.
● Anti-illiteracy. For the poor or low-income families, education is the exit out of poverty. First came nine years of free public education, now extended to 12 years. Education has led to an uptick in the quality of its people and has laid the foundation for a civil society. Knowledge has displaced superstition. Self-sufficiency has been translated into decency and altruism. A better life has meant a better people with better manners.
● The embrace of technology. Officially still classified as a developing country, China has embraced technology enthusiastically like nowhere else in the world. Its leaders have a rock-hard belief that only science and technology can turbo-charge its economy and modernize the country. Straitjacketed by two thousand years of bookish learning, with its best brains absorbed in studying the classics, China had been technologically overtaken by the West. Today, China has become nimble at technological leapfrogging into the digital age. Technology has transformed every facet of everyday life in China, from cashless payment systems, to e-commerce, electric cars, high-speed trains, and 5-G technology. In a cashless society, the streets are now virtually crime-free, devoid of purse-snatchers and thieves. Motorbikes, once the favorite tool for purse-snatchers, are banned in most cities. Petty property crimes are now a distant memory. Not all its technology is earthbound; China's space technology is the pride of a forward-looking nation. Technology is now China's new religion.
● A tidal wave of energy. This was a country whose elites previously abhorred physical labor. It is now awash with entrepreneurial energy. Economic success has unleashed inexhaustible bursts of energy for risk-taking and infrastructure building. Once famous for their zen-like acceptance of misfortunes, the Chinese now display awesome powers of mobilization, from fighting the pandemic to blasting a tunnel through the Himalayas for a railway linking Nepal and China. A nation of planners and doers, they are God's engineers.
● Sport as the national obsession. Once mocked as the Sick Man of East Asia, China's sporting prowess in world championships and the Olympics is a major source of national pride. It has spilled over into a nation-wide fitness craze, amplified by online instructions without a paywall.
China is the world's new "can-do" nation. Nothing is impossible to the Chinese. Think of the improbable China-Nepal railway through the Himalayas now underway, 98.5% of the Nepali section being bridges and tunnels. China is the envy of many failed states like crime-ridden Haiti, Columbia, or Ecuador. When it comes to progress and purpose, most nations pale into insignificance next to China. That is why America is so spooked. The China miracle has caught the world by surprise. When America went to bed, China was still poor and backward. When it woke up, China the sleeping giant is asleep no more.
China is one-of-a kind in yet another extraordinary way. It is the only major power in history that harbors no ambition to dominate the world, unlike Tsarist Russia, the expansionist former Soviet Union, Napoleonic France, Nazi Germany, Imperial Britain, militarist Japan and now hegemonic USA. As the sole exception, China is instead chasing Confucius-inspired universal prosperity. Sadly, its message of peaceful rise defies the norm and has fallen on deaf ears in the West. They believe that peace and power are mutually exclusive. But all nations, big and small, can learn from the Chinese model. Hundreds of millions have perished in needless wars. China may be an oxymoron, but it is the answer to endless warmongering. Shouldn't the world give Confucius a chance, perhaps mankind's last chance at sanity?
The views do not necessarily reflect those of DotDotNews.
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