The Chinese Riddle, & How To Keep It Nice

China is the other great civilizational center. The primary one being the Indo-European ensemble (which crucially incorporated Egypt, where a lot of what came to be known as Greek mathematics, was discovered).

To understand Europe, the last 500,000 years have proved necessary (Neanderthals started to burn coal, 80,000 years ago, foe example, and explored immensely deep caves, 165,000 years). In the case of China, the evolution of the last 5,000 years are crucial to understand how China became China.


China: A World Within The World, But Not Quite The Center Of Everything

China: A World Within The World, But Not Quite The Center Of Everything

China is the other great civilizational center. Much of what China uses as civilizational instruments was developed in situ, from writing, to the number system, to much philosophy. However, that philosophy was unbalanced, too much under the influence of Confucius (whose works have been under care from the same family inside the same city for 60 generations or more).

China developed an examination system which, in theory, enabled the most cognitively qualified to rule. Thus Mandarins and not aristocrats were in command. At least in theory.

This system, admirable in principle, was flawed in practice, as China got terminally invaded at least twice. The Mongol invasion came close to annihilation, when some of Genghis Khan’s generals proposed to exterminate the Chinese and change the ecology! (The generals knew they could turn much of China into a steppe similar to much of Mongolia, by cutting the forests and bringing massive herds of cattle, goats, sheep…)

The primary civilization center is the Indo-European ensemble (which crucially incorporated Egypt, where a lot of what came to be known as Greek mathematics, was discovered).

Now we have basically just one civilization, worldwide, so the misadventures of China are highly  instructive.

To understand Europe, the last 500,000 years have proved necessary (Neanderthals started to burn coal, 80,000 years ago). In the case of China, the last 5,000 years are crucial.

Now, granted all and any explanation can only be incomplete. What is important is to introduce new ideas, and that includes new hierarchy in what is more important, and what is not.

Right now, China seems severely influenced by the Germany of the Second Reich, and its incredible fast scientific, technological, mercantilist, and economic expansion… At the cost of a more general, more pacific mood. That uncanny comparison is quite a bit spooky. An evidence is the madness about the south of the South China Sea.

As in Germany, starting 165 years ago, increasing aggressiveness towards foreign powers seems to be the glue which increasingly keeps the dictatorship together. In the case of Germany, the increasing aggressiveness, which had started by attacking Denmark in 1853, went on with the catastrophic apotheosis, encouraged by the US presidency. of the savage surprise attack on the world of August 1914. Naturally enough, it was followed by the encore of Nazism. Yes, it’s not a reassuring comparison. But the same psychohistorical forces are in play. Psychohistory rules national moods and the actions they lead to (Isaac Asimov wrote a book on this; the real, live, historical case was the second foundation of the Roman Empire, the “Renovation of the Roman Empire made official by Roman emperor Charlemagne…). 

On the reassuring side, China adopted, and accepted to be guided, by a huge chunk of Western philosophy, a Franco-German contraption sensitive to the nastiness of great capital. That was a huge philosophical revolution, but it was made possible only by a great openness of mind (in part learned in Paris by the top leader of Communist China, such as Chou En Lai and Deng Tsiao Ping)

China used to rile against capital. Yet, who has the most capital under command in the world, after the USA? China.

Nevertheless, to accept a distant philosophy, extremely alien to China, China had to open its collective mind and eyes gigantically. And intelligence itself is something one can learn to acquire.

The kindest attitude with China right now may well be to show to it that its aggressiveness in the south of the South China sea can only lead to war, even a world war. And that China cannot win it. Australia has started to do just that by acquiring, with US help, a fleet of the best submarines in the world, made in France. (In World War Two, after the Americans learned to make torpedoes which actually exploded, their submarines were one of the main factors in closing the Pacific to the fascist Japanese military.)

The Han are dominating the Middle Kingdom as never before. One hundred nations are now submitted to them. Their languages are even disappearing. (My own daughter is learning Mandarin, BTW.) That’s all very good for the Han. They are now very much richer than before, not just from their considerable industry and genius, and change of philosophy, adopting instead European philosophy. Those increased riches also come from occupying Tibet and Xinjiang.

The Han should not push their luck with aggressive military and imperialistic distractions. Adopting just a piece of European philosophy and history, while ignoring the rest, plenty of Dark Side in full evidence and how to control it, can only lead to an unbalanced mind. And, from there, dangerous, irreversible courses of action… Of the sort Europe is all too familiar with.    

Patrice Ayme’


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20 Responses to “The Chinese Riddle, & How To Keep It Nice”

  1. Gmax Says:

    So China is all about philosophy?

  2. purasuchikku Says:

    As an infrequent reader (and a poor one at that, I must admit) of this blog, I am always a bit surprised by how Western-centric your views are. Despite rightfully acknowledging the long history and the formidable sedimentation of Chinese culture, you take quite an abrupt shortcut when you go on with how current Chinese politics are similar to pre-war Germany. And the second one at that…

    What we Europeans have to take into account when trying to apprehend Asia is that it is a part of the World that is way older than we are, and its representations and modes of social organization are a lot different.
    In particular, the notion of individual, heralded in the West as the cornerstone of modern society after the XVIIIth century (a process well described by Foucault that will only end in the destruction of the Western world as we knew it), has never quite taken the same meaning in the Far East (I love this antiquated name).
    Individually, people do not mean much (self realization is only the acceptance that we are mortal), they always fit into a larger group (a nation, a culture, even a religion or an association) with a transcendent, divine destiny. Be it India (you are only part of a cosmic order in your brief human form), China (Confucius and Lao Tze are not as apart as they may seem) or Japan (we are all moss on a boulder, as in the national anthem). The masquerade of ever-expanding human rights has never held the same significance in this part of the World, even in seemingly “modern” democracies like Korea or Japan.

    Of course, pragmatism (and a traumatic past of encounters with Western “civilized” people) has prevailed, and Asia (especially North Eastern countries) quickly adapted to the most efficient, old hierarchy preserving, mode of managing wealth and imposing violence: rationality and capitalism. They effectively appear to have fully embraced what you call the World’s unique civilization (lack of) values – the Code. But just as they have never (and never will) fully conformed to the all-powerful unique individual myth, the Code and its components will never find a true home in China. Or Asia for that matter. The transcendence that comes from the sense of belonging to something larger than an individual life is not likely to falter anytime soon in this part of the world. This is what makes Asia a dangerously “apt pupil”: they go to the same supermarkets, but they have something else that keeps them alive.

    To look beyond Western (dare I say Washington’s?) Chinese rethorics, I think it is important to take into account some “intangibles”. Chinese resentment after the humiliation of colonial rules is still very strong, and is in fact taught at school. The ruling elite’s only ambition is to avoid popular uprising by controlling economic growth and expansion. Expansion overseas is one of them: after all, the Monroe doctrine and imperialism is not the unique attribute of the US anymore.

    I for one am happy to see some multi polarity brought back into the world. There is nothing worse than having an unnameable, almighty, benevolent-looking power controlling your life with a remote. Should clashes happen (and they probably will), at least a sense of World history might be restored.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Hi Purasuchikku, and thank for the comment. The essence of any human discourse is incompleteness. An essay of less than 1,000 words, on an entire civilization, is going to be very incomplete.
      I have worked around, and befriended many Chinese. I did not find them to be less individualistic. Far from it.
      Foucault liked to sound deep and make sweeping generalizations. That was his business model.Sweeping generalizations about the collective and the individual often don’t work, in my view. First, we have in the West now and overall, the most collectivist society ever designed, in many dimensions of observation.

      The first society to organize babies drop-offs, was the French one, about eight centuries ago. Unwanted babies could be dropped in special places, no question asked. And thus saved. China, the PRC, had to pass laws making the abandonment of baby girls a crime, not so long ago.

      One of my point, precisely, indeed, was that China has become Western Centric. Surely Chinese politics is more European than traditional Han, at this point! And it is arguably more wildly capitalistic than say, France (actually gov spending in China relative to GDP is several time less in China).

      I do not believe I am “West Centric”. Far from it.Just I am not afraid to take positions, sometimes, which are “West Centric”. Philosophically, I see nothing very Chinese about claiming the south of the South China Sea (the “ten dash line”). It is more like Western imperialism at its worst.I explained that in the scheme of China embracing Western values quite a bit like the Second Reich did: selectively.

    • EugenR Says:

      You wrote ;”Individually, people do not mean much (self realization is only the acceptance that we are mortal), they always fit into a larger group (a nation, a culture, even a religion or an association) with a transcendent, divine destiny”.
      This seems to be the central point of present conflicts in the world. While the European civilization (some tend to call it Western civilization incorrectly, after all the Western Civilization from the Japanese point of view is the Chinese civilization), so coming back, the European civilization started with new scientific and philosophical understanding about the world sometime in the 16-17 century, while still embracing the political system of belonging to a group, community, nation, kingdom. Only at the 18 century appeared first time new ideas about individuality that brought at the end of this century the famous slogans of French revolution. “Liberté, égalité, fraternité”. This ended with unprecedented violence unseen until this time of the guillotines and Napoleonic wars. During the 19 century, after years of “Restoration” of the old order, slowly the ideas of the revolution penetrated to the European subconsciousness and in France and Brittany, with the new industrial revolution, the individual human being started to be counted. It was not an easy process. France and Europe needed the Dreyfus affair to bring to the awareness of the European population the criminality of the power structures enforced by the traditional leading elites. (I am France against J’accuse).
      Twenty century seemed to start as promising, when Germany, Austria and after the 1905 revolution even Russia adopted certain kind of constitutional Royal political system, where the elected parliament had more and more influence. But the traditional political forces surrounding the one royal family ruling in whole Europe, (except in France), was not ready to accept so easily the decline of their political power. Mainly it was truth in Germany and also in Austro-Hungarian empire, a remainder of political structure created in late middle ages. The World War I was the result of this political power structure. The German ruling elites had no difficulty to recruit the nationalistic feeling of the social grouping called the German nation, created just few decades before, to start a war. This war as to my perspective ended after 80 years at 1992 with the dismantling of the Soviet empire.
      The horrors of WWII, the moral remorse and joint shame of the Europeans, about the crimes they committed to the humanity, that included genocide and annihilation of cultures and races, caused a U turn in the European political culture, from national commonality to liberal individualism and human centralism. The liberal political system, that emphasizes the rights of expression of each individual human being, brought an outbrake of individual creativity, that helped to endorse economic and cultural expression, and brought progress and reaches in these fields as never before in the human history.
      Yet this U turn was not adopted by all the world communities. In contrary. In Europe itself, the post Soviet Russia, and lately also Turkey’s political leaders try to adopt a more pro communal focused political system, with more rigid cultural expression, suppressing the free expression of the individual, while still trying to enjoy the economic fruits, the liberal political system enabled to create. Their success is very partial, because the successful economic wealth creation in Europe based on scientific, technological and cultural freedom needs to open its societies and political system to the each individual without difference in beliefs, social belonging and even education source. Even if social coherence in these states seems to be stronger than in Europe, and many individuals, with less need for self expression, can find it more advantageous than the alternative “chaotic” state, where every individual has the right for any kind of non-normative behavior or opinion, on the long term, the liberal individualistic society, with its creative diversity, and apparently chaotic state, successfully cases emergence of new cultural and economic values, that win the game, and bring the progress and the economic and cultural wealth.
      Even worse economic-social-political fiasco than in Russia and Turkey can be observed in the Arab countries, adjacent to Europe and in their peripheral Muslim countries like: Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan. In this countries non of the liberal individualistic approaches were adopted. Their education system is not universal, and doesn’t support learning about cultural diversity and intellectual openness. In contrary, the education system based on faith and religious values suppresses the opened minded exchange of opinions so dear to the liberal individualistic approach of the Europeans.
      In all the Arab countries political despotism and social-cultural intolerance prevails. The failure in these countries in all the fields of human existence is so colossal, that these states ceased to be a place to provide to its citizens a life worth to live, with right for honor and decency, and its population in desperation tries to escape to the neighboring Europe, while risking their life. Even in countries like Iran and Pakistan, where officially governs a “democratically” elected governments and certain free political expressions are allowed, as to the humanist record and the right of the individuals to self expression, they are totally repressed. No freedom of choice is given to the population in these countries in the issues of religion, sexuality, social belonging economic transparency, etc.
      Unfortunately to Europe, the desperate population of the Arab and Muslim countries, while leaving behind their original homeland, bring with them their cultural identity, religious beliefs, and tribal communal belonging, that in its essence opposes the liberal individualistic European philosophy of life and politics.
      The conflict between this new emigrants and the Europeans is inevitable unless the emigrants will be willingly absorbed by the original European population and the immigrants themselves will be ready to abandon their cultural identity, or at least to adopt it to a form that will enable their cultural incorporation to the liberal individualistic cultural concepts of the European societies. Obviously this is not what is happening. Such a cultural change and adaptation of millions of people is a prolong process of even if the immigrant is ready to live behind his beliefs and cultural identity, that brought on them in the first place the tragedy of need to leave their birth place and home.
      Also the European political leadership and its population is not ready to make necessary changes in their political philosophy to try to cope with the new situation, where bigger and bigger populations of Europe live a cultural life, that strongly opposes the individualistic humanistic values the European political culture is based on. The conflict between political system based on absolute faith in scripts expressing belief in extraterrestrial extra-human entity governing human destiny and individual life, and the rational scientific belief system believing in the right and duty of each individual to take responsibility on its own beliefs, destiny and acts seems to be at this state of affairs inevitable.

      • Kevin Berger Says:

        And, again, your trope of the “suicide of Europe”…

        You know, I myself, for all it’s worth (nothing), believe that the forces behind the changes you describe were and are my usual suspects – the anglo world order writ large, if you will -, but I cannot help but believe that you are reluctant not to push that trope because… one notion that comes all-too easily to the mind, gee, one wonders why?, is “the Jews did it”.
        And we can’t have that, can we?…
        I am unsure if that is a defence mechanism aimed inward or outward, but this dishonest, underhanded victim-blaming pisses me every time, FWIW.

        • Gmax Says:

          Patrice talk of the “West Country Men” mentality, according to this self named group of investors of Elizabethean times. They conquered Ireland, then America. Now, yes, the Angles had conquered Britannia before, same general mindset

      • Gmax Says:

        Patrice said the conflict was all made up, because that is how the Anglo-American could grab the oil best. That’s her “Great Bitter Lake” thesis. But now it has become a real conflict

        • EugenR Says:

          I do not have to agree to everything what Patrice said. Or do I? Anyway if George Bush Junior started the second Iraqi war because of the oil so he miscalculated his steps, what i wouldn’t be too surprised with. After all he probably never figured out where exactly Iraq is on the world map. I read somewhere Iraqi war costed about 500 billion US dollars. If a barrel of crude oil costs 50 dollars it would mean he could buy 500,000,000,000/50=10 billion barrels of crude oil. The daily world production is about 75 million barrels, which makes annual production of 27 billion barrels of crude oil, out of it Iraq is just 1.25 billion barrels its cost is about 55 billion US dollars. It means G.Bush Junior made a very bad deal by investing in the Iraqi war ten times more, not to speak about the marginalities like loss of human life, distortion of political structure in the whole Middle East causing animosity between the “West” and the Islam etc.
          What i want to say is people like G. Bush Junior are not capable of any conspiracy, because they are not clever enough to figure out how to make a good conspiracy. I would rather say, that the not very intelligent US President, and he was not the first one in US history, acted rather out of general ignorance than out of some sophisticated thoughts of conspiracy.

          • Patrice Ayme Says:

            Bush is an MBA from Harvard and a US reserve pilot (captain tank), clever enough to look stupid.

            • Kevin Berger Says:

              “clever enough to look stupid”

              AFAICT, the entire ‘good old boy’ personae of GWB was engineered from scratch, from his ‘recovering alcoholic’ schtick to his ‘quiet methodist faith’ to his ‘bumbling fella you’d like to have a beer with’, with all the good props (the Crawford “ranch” bought in the run-up to the election, the work put on the Texan accent).
              He is generational middle-management for the Big Money/Intelligence/organized crime (the Bush family having set up its two main offshoots in the two main drugs access point into the USA, IE Florida and Texas, certainly is interesting in that regard, while marrying into into Mexican Elites) Elites, and was born a scion of a spook dynasty (he used to advise his father, AFAIK).
              Admittedly, he is of a much lesser calibre than GHB, different times, different upbringing, and seems rather more sleazy (supposedly involved in for-private use large scale cocaine buys, for example, or the way he was “snatched” from the NG by his family & personal handler/chaperon whose name I forget right now, to cool off his heels for a while in Alaska, indicating IMHO something bad/damaging had happened, sex scandal, hit & run car crash, whatever).
              His public character is IMHO as fake and self-serving as “rugged cowboy”/”gentle grandfather” RR. I bet his people were delighted by the “chimpy Bush” flack he got all through his mandates.

            • Patrice Ayme Says:

              Indeed. All fake, and not the only one. Indeed, voices get modified by specialists, and not just GWB. BO another example. Amusingly, did not work with HRC…

  3. purasuchikku Says:

    Thank you for the reply. I agree with you on many points, and do not want to sound like a Chinese evangelist…I am not. I have first hand experience of the Asian consumerist mindset, which is mind blowing in how deep rooted and natural it feels to Chinese or Japanese people. Not to mention oversized ego, career management, social status consciousness etc… One could argue these are traits that were in place long before globalization and liberalism overtook everything, but going to Shanghai or Osaka feels more and more like going to a giant shopping mall. And I absolutely agree with the points you raise on “human rights”, it is shocking to see how poorly these are implemented on basic issues, even in modern Korea or Japan.

    Still, as a European citizen myself, and after living in these countries for a number of years, I feel these people are linked together by something superior, a feeling of belonging that we have lost in Europe. Popular culture, rituals or religious events, however superficial or gently mocked they might be, are still very present and live on on the streets, temples or in the media. Again, a full-on essay would surely illustrate that better than a single paragraph in the comment section, but maybe it suffices to say historical materialism and its moden-ancient dialectics do not work well in these parts of the World.

    Selective embracing of foreign values is the process that shaped lasting, rich and powerful culture. This is how Japan was built from the very beginning, what preventing its colonization when the rest of the world was being conquered and occupied. This is what made Rome, Greece or Persia powerful and last longer than most of their rivals. Until you stop being selective, and then your own values, your own identity washes away in the chaos. Sounds familiar in those troubled times, no?

    On Foucault, I am not a fan, but I must confess having been impressed by “The Order of Things” and its thesis on the slow emergence (and its future disappearance, the stage we are at now) of the Man as a subject / object in the Western World. While it is true that jumping from epistemé to another is not well explained, it is a masterful essay, beautifully written and incisive. Not sure about his other books though, too politically tainted to be honest (“Sexuality” series has some good parts).

    Finally on the issues in the South China Sea. Notice the name? It says “China” in it. Not “US preserve” or anything else. Of course, China is bullying the Philippines and Vietnam. Of course, the strongest, richest, most arrogant will try to impose its views and its laws. There is no lesson to be taken at all from the West, especially from the US of A imperialism. Why do they do it? Because they can. That is how you recognize power. And I could bet anything that China won’t move an inch from these islands, without any consequences despite Washington’s continual PR.

    • Gmax Says:

      The preceding generation of Asian Americans was completely de-culturated. They knew nothing about Asia, aND did not want to know. Now things are changing.
      The name of South China Sea should changed where it is way closer to Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      The south of the South China Sea issue is more serious than it looks. South of the Paracels Islands, it’s clear that the islands are closer to other countries. Sout of that, the Chinese claims are outright ludicrous, and seem made to upset a maximum of countries. This is obviously the objective. The idea is that the resulting paranoia will bind the Chinese in a nationalistic fervor (which has already extended to the ROC). A pretty standard trick. The danger is that the PRC get addicted to that method, and find impossible to beck off.
      If a shooting war starts, then what?

  4. Benign Says:

    Will the Chinese avoid the determined rush into neo-feudalism that the West is now rebelling against? You can’t be happy with what Hollander just did.


  5. Gmax Says:

    Reaction Munich terror?

    • Kevin Berger Says:

      Based on what is (for now) known of the shooter’s background, it seems much more like a “classic” psychologically-damaged spree killing, US-style.
      IE, late teens, under medical treatment, ranted about being bullied, living in subsidized housings, born in Germany from Iranian background (so, unless a sunni convert, like that equally unbalanced Australian hostage taker from a couple years ago IIRC, very unlikely to be supportive of Daesh/Isis/Isil/whatever).
      The ongoing and future investigation may change that picture (the “lone wolf”, “instant jihad” initial view of the Nice truck killer was one of a toxic, predatory, non-religiously motivated individual; now, it appears clearly he was a toxic, predatory, jihadi fellow traveller who had long planned this, and received help from like-minded and/or criminal accomplices), but so far, it looks like this; possibly, the Munich killer “snapped” in light of the current “climate” in Europe, and there might be a religious colouration to his acts, as in a culturally-acceptable schizo breakdown and suicidal passage à l’acte, but there doesn’t seem to be – at least for the moment – any indication this is an ideologically-grounded terror act.

      Kudos to the mainstream press (as seen from English -speaking media at least, given my minimal foreign languages fluency) for having pushed for a while the notion of a right-wing killer, btw! Shades of the early days of the mohamed merah killings, here! Better luck next time.

  6. EugenR Says:

    You wrote: Individually, people do not mean much………divine destiny.
    This is a key sentence.

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