The West of the 21st Century may come to be haunted by Deng Xiaoping’s 'socialism with Chinese characteristics'. The phrase commanded a prominent role at the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in October 2007. The Chinese leader’s legacy will increasingly confront and dismay those who seek to define ideological correctness in ways that serve Western corporate interests. As China’s economic dynamism shapes global marketplaces and attracts political emulation, China’s socialism and not the West’s neo-liberalism is providing the model that offers hope for people in diverse parts of the world.
Moreover, Western denial of this emerging reality may prove one of its major vulnerabilities. John Hobson drew attention in his Eastern Origins of Western Civilisation to the imperial strategy of intellectual apartheid, which imposed authority by marginalising and deriding all but politically approved Western ideals. This produced the 'universal values' that once served Western interests but that now blind the West to all but its own, sometimes fading, certainties.
Indeed, had the West earlier taken more seriously the miracle economies of East Asia, it would have been much better prepared to manage the rise of China. It would have recognised that the success of Japan, Korea and Taiwan foreshadowed the success of China. It would have understood that all these communities commonly share Chinese characteristics. It would have appreciated that Chinese characteristics are a reflection of Confucian, Daoist and related traditional value systems and that it needed to equip itself to comprehend and respond to these productive social, educational and spiritual disciplines.
Instead, the West is now confronted with a socialist model that mimics Western values, but that defies the West’s preferences and that is largely incomprehensible in terms of familiar Western ideological frameworks. As a result, Venezuela, Bolivia and other Latin, African and Central Asian communities are likely to find the Chinese model immensely attractive, even if central Confucian and Daoist classics like the Analects, the Daodejing and the Yijing still require further study.
The West has made itself highly vulnerable by its determined efforts to marginalise and denigrate other traditions of wisdom and preserve popular ignorance of the relevance of such cultures. Other peoples will manage to emulate essential elements of ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’, by placing a priority on education, on an elite and responsible administration class, on effective, if discreet, management of alien corporate interests and on the re-engineering of traditional forms of wisdom and culture. Such a process would see the comprehensive demise of the West’s 'universal values'.
The West’s preferred forms of rule by law, corporate organisation and political system will be subject to continuing and substantial challenge. The West’s scientific and technological certainties, which have done so much harm in the areas of climate, of environmental pollution, of ecological diversity and of human health are likely to be re-valued in the light of other forms of traditional cultural wisdom. This would not necessarily deconstruct today’s global community,but would add to its diversity and to local forms of cultural and political freedom and authority.
The fact that Chinese cultural tradition over several millennia has accumulated unrivalled experience of the successful management of the world’s most long-lived, unbroken and populous political civilization has been obscured. This has been a priority goal of the West’s political dominance of the past two centuries and its relentless application of intellectual apartheid. The genius of the Chinese civilization is that for three thousand years it has accumulated a written record of handling adversity by means of a strategy of conquest through service, something that has literally devastated the US economy over the past half century since being first applied by Japan after 1945.
One aspect of Western ignorance is that the early 1990s and the collapse of the Soviet Union did not mark the end of history and final victory of a neo-liberal global system, as was widely celebrated at the time. In fact, the Soviet collapse and the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, both widely feted in the West, precipitated the emergence of China in a world leadership role which is more pervasive and formidable than anything the Soviet Union might have achieved. China’s vast population and productive capacity, the length, depth and coherence of its cultural wisdom and the astuteness of its administrative elite is unmatched anywhere else.
The excesses of corporate power pursued so transparently in the United States during the early years of the 21st Century will only serve to enhance the attractions of China’s achievements. This will be little damaged by the pervasive disinformation spread by Western language media and academia. The fact that China’s achievements are best understood in traditional cultural terms and not in Western ideological terms will not detract from the apparent ideological victory claimed by socialism - even when it has Chinese characteristics.
This, of course, will only be made more powerful by the Chinese capacity and intention to provide a wide range of substantial assistance, as it goes about building a comprehensive network of global friendships and alliances. Further, China welcomes leaders from all corners of the world to Beijing in a unique and grand ceremonial style and can show them an energetic, purposeful and highly productive population in all parts of its extensive territory. The fact that military, political, economic and financial realities now make it close to impossible for the US to compete will further add to the global appeal of 'socialism'.
It is difficult to see Western communities continuing to enjoy the privileges and advantages to which they have become accustomed over the past two centuries. As a form of international 'socialism with Chinese characteristics' grows in authority, America’s and the West’s military, financial and commodity leverages of power are likely to become weaker. Some commentators remark that such major transfers of power rarely take place peacefully. Asian strategies of conquest through service, however, have already so transformed the global situation that any Western attempt to reverse present trends would probably be little more than suicidal.
It might be seen as an anomaly of history that the success of 'socialism with Chinese characteristics' coincides with the West’s 'socialism with Thatcherite characteristics'.