The World Needs to Ask China to Find Her True Higher Self
by Subroto Roy
First published in The Statesman, October 22, 2007, Editorial Page Special Article
The most important factors explaining China’s progress since the deaths of Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai have been the spread and quick absorption of modern Western technology under conditions of relative peace and tranquillity. The “capitalist road” came to be taken after all and the once-denounced Liu Shaoqui was posthumously rehabilitated by his shrewd old friend Deng Xiaoping.
To be sure, the new technology itself has combined with democratic hatred felt by young Chinese against the corrupt elitist police-state gerontocracy, and this produced first a Wei Jingsheng and Democracy Wall and later the Tiananmen Square protests. There have been also in recent years many thousands of incidents of peasants resisting State-sponsored brutality, fighting to prevent their lands being stolen in the name of purported capitalist industrialisation, in an economy where, as in India, land is an appreciating asset and the paper-currency remains weak because inflation by money-printing is the basis of public finance. China’s multitudinous domestic tensions continue to boil over as if in a cauldron, and it seems inevitable Chinese Gorbachevs and Yeltsins will one day emerge from within the Communist Party to try to begin the long political march towards multiparty democracy and a free society ~ though of course they may fail too, and China will remain condemned to being a dictatorship of one sort or other for centuries more.
Absence of war
What has been seen in recent decades is the relative absence of war. The last military war the Chinese fought was a month-long battle against fellow-Communist Vietnamese in 1979, after Vietnam had run over and destroyed the Chinese (and Western) backed Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Before that, fellow-Communists of the USSR were fought in a border war in 1969. Before that was the border-war with India in 1959-1963 and occupation of Tibet 1950-1959.
The really savage, fierce large-scale fighting in 20th Century Chinese history was seen in the Second Sino-Japanese War of 1937-1945, the Civil War of 1945-1949 and the Korean War of 1950-1953. The occupation of Tibet and fighting against India resulting from Tibet’s occupation were really, from a Chinese Communist point of view, merely light follow-ups to those major wars of the Mao-Zhou era, especially fighting the USA and UN in Korea. Peaceful Tibet and naïve non-violent India stood no chance against the aggressive highly experienced Mao-Zhou war-machine at the time.
It may even be that Mao could live only with incessant external tumult ~ after fighting military wars, he orchestrated domestic conflicts in the Little and Great Leap Forward of 1949-1963 and Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution of 1964-1969, all among the failures of a cruel ill-educated man who led his people into social, political and economic disaster from which trauma they have been slowly recovering over the last thirty years.
Today, Communist China’s military is geared to fight the non-Communist Chinese of Taiwan in a continuation of the Civil War. It seems unlikely there will be an actual invasion for the simple reason that Taiwan, though much smaller, may not suffer eventual defeat but instead inflict a mortal wound upon invading forces. Mao succeeded in driving Chiang Kaishek across the Taiwan Straits but it is post-Chiang Taiwan that displays the model of how strong, prosperous, democratic and self-confident Chinese people really can strive to be in the modern world. Everyone agrees Taiwan and China must one day unite ~ the interesting question is whether Taiwan will get absorbed into China or whether China shall take Taiwan as its new model! Just as Liu Shaoqi had the last word over Mao on the question of taking the capitalist road, Chiang Kaishek may yet have the last word over Mao on the best constitutional method for modern China’s governance.
Peculiarly enough, China’s Kuomintang and Communists were both allies of Russian Bolshevism (not unlike India’s Congress Party and Communists). Sun Yatsen’s collaboration with Comintern’s founders began as early as 1921. By 1923 there was a formal agreement and Stalin sent Gruzenberg (alias Borodin) to China as an adviser, while Sun sent many including Chiang to Russia on learning expeditions. “In reorganising the party, we have Soviet Russia as our model, hoping to achieve a real revolutionary success”, said Sun hopefully. But by March 1926, Sun’s successor Chiang, had begun purging Communists from the Kuomintang-Communist alliance; in July 1927 Borodin returned to Russia after failing at reconciliation; and by July 1928 Chiang had unified China under his own leadership, and Moscow had repudiated the Kuomintang and ordered Chinese Communists to revolt, starting the Civil War and instability that invited the vicious Japanese aggression and occupation.
China’s problems today with Taiwan and with Tibet (and hence with India) will not come to be resolved until China looks hard in the mirror and begins to resolve her problems with herself. No major country today possesses a more factually distorted image of its own history, politics and economics than does China since the Communist takeover of 1949. “Protect the country, destroy the foreigner” was the motto of the Boxer revolts in 1900, a natural defensive reaction to the depredations and humiliations that Manchu-dynasty China suffered at the hands of the British, French, Germans, Russians, Japanese etc for more than a century. The Boxer motto seemed to implicitly drive Mao, Deng and his modern successors too ~ hence the “One China” slogan, the condemnation of “splittism” etc. But the ideology that Mao, Liu, Deng et al developed out of Stalin, Lenin and Marx seems base and stupid when it is unsentimentally compared to the great political philosophy and ethics of ancient China, which emerged out of wise men like Mo Tzu, Meng Ko (Mencius) and the greatest genius of them all, K’ung Fu Tzu, Confucius himself, undoubtedly among the few greatest men of world history.
India has not been wrong to acknowledge Outer Tibet as being under China’s legal suzerainty nor in encouraging endogenous political reform among our Tibetan cousins. The Anglo-Russian treaty of 1907 undertook that Tibet would not be dealt with except through China, and the Indian Republic has been the legal successor of British India. Lhasa may be legitimately under Beijing as far as international relations goes ~ the more profound question is whether Beijing’s Communists since 1949 have not been themselves less than legitimate, and if so whether they can now transform themselves in the post Mao-Zhou era through good deeds towards greater legitimacy.
The root problem between China and India has not been the Tibet-India border which was almost always a friendly one and never a problem even when it remained imprecise and undefined over centuries. The root problem has been the sheer greed and aggressiveness of Chinese Communists ~ who now demand not merely Aksai Chin but also a minimum of some 2000 sq km of Tawang and Takpa Shiri in Arunachal. The CIA’s 1959 map of the region, which would be acceptable to the USA, UK, Taiwan and the international community in general as depicting the lawful position, shows the Communist Chinese territorial claim to be baseless and Indian position to be justified.
Nehru’s India was naïve to approach the Mao-Zhou Communists with the attitude of ahimsa and a common Buddhism. But Mao-Zhou Communism is dead, and the Deng capitalist road itself has lost its ethical way. What India and the world need to do now is ask China or help guide China to find her true higher self. China’s Tibet problem and hence border-dispute with India would have been solved peacefully by application of the ways of great men like Confucius, Mencius and Mo Tzu, who are and will remain remembered by mankind long after petty cruel modern dictators like Mao, Zhou and Deng have been long forgotten. Why China’s Communist bosses despise Taiwan may be because Taiwan has sought to preserve that memory of China’s true higher self.
I don’t think this article is helpful in understanding China. Mao wasn’t “ill-educated”. To the contrary, he loved reading. Maybe of not so much foreign literature but certainly Chinese histories. In fact he understood China all too well. How else could he animate these hundreds of millions to start revolutions? Nehru wasn’t naive. He was incompetent as a leader, backed by even more incompetent generals who assured him of a quick victory of China in the 1962 war, hence he initiated the forward policy to remove the Chinese out of the contested border area. He severely under-estimated the capabilities of the Chinese army at that time and declined numerous entreaties from Zhou En-Lai to negotiate for a border settlement. The outcome is that the Indian army was badly beaten and thereafter the Chinese retreated back to the line of actual control they held before the border clash.
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