Lau Guan Kim attempts to unravel why China has to have its own unique way of evolving to a nation that is based on its 5000-year unbroken history
Unless the West understands that the Chinese civilisation is an integral part of the nation and its mindset, it will never understand why its democracy and human rights can never supplant the quintessential philosophies and glue that bind China to be a behemoth civilisation-state, as distinct from the Western nation-state]
Martin Jacques, citing from various sources, writes in his book, “When China Rules the World” (Subtitle: The Rise of the Middle Kingdom and the End of the Western World), the difference the West’s nation-states as contrast to China’s colossal civilisation-state, albeit China, still for allaying West’s Sino phobia, behaves as a Westphalian system of nation-state. It is this moulting of its brilliant civilisation, refined and quintessential culture that she encounters alien Western coercion and diktat that obstruct her very latent and now surfaced rising power as a civilisation-state.
With the fall of Qing China, she behaves as a nation-state that veils her submerged power. That is playing a game according to Western rules in a not-level-playing field. Hence, China never took off after the October Revolution of 1912. She fell easy prey to Japan’s imperialism that launched an invasion and occupation of Manchuria in 1931, culminating in outright declaration of war in 1937 on a pretext that Chinese troops attacked Japanese troops in what is known as the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, which China calls it the Lugouqiao Incident.
Martin Jacques argues that only in China’s weakest moment and facing a series of defeats from the West and Japan, she chooses to call herself a nation-state. This is very different from what China is – a colossal civilisation-state that pretends to be a nation-state in the system charted out in the Peace Treaty of Westphalia signed in 1648 after European states constantly fought against each other. It is interesting to note the West’s behaviour to China vis-à-vis territorial integrity and the principle of non-interference into the affairs of other nations, the bedrock of the Peace of Westphalia. It does seem Europe and America not applying Westphalian system in their relationship with China. Understandably, China and many concerned observers in Asia, Africa, and Latin America view Western pretext of human rights and democracy as interfering into the internal affairs of China as well as impinging on Chinese sovereignty of their own country. Thus, the innate emotion and feelings of victim mentality by China when the entire Chinese nation, down to those even with affinity for Western democracy, feels shame and humiliation for a hundred years starting from her defeat in the Sino-British Opium War (1839 – 1842).
The Chinese nation cried under the yoke of Western tyranny, but her voice was lost in the wilderness of West and Japan’s avaricious appetite to nibble and swallow up China, which after all was weak and easy meat for the invaders from the maritime south. It was easy picking for the European invaders.
China, then under the complacent Qianlong’s 60-year peaceful reign had a disorientating effect on her national psyche. The notion of cultural and civilisation superiority, which is well substantiated by its unification as a nation from seven Warring States (403 -221 BC) and beyond when China was emerging from a misty primitive feudal tribal gathering that stretches back more than five thousand years. Here England’s Lord Macartney came knocking at the door in 1793 seeking bilateral trade, an urgency brought about by England’s surplus production of its Industrial Revolution (first in Europe). The arrogance and haughty manner Qing China treated England’s envoy was a folly that Barbara Tuchman defined as pursuing a disastrous policy when there were available other better and less disastrous paths to choose from.
Nonetheless, Lord Macartney took all this in his strides, even when Qianlong arrogantly replied that China did not need anything from the outside. The insult was for Qianlong to regard Lord Macartney (a relative of King George III) as an envoy coming to pay tribute to the great Middle Kingdom. Surely, Qianlong should have realised that this particular English envoy was no ordinary man, as Lord Macartney refused to make the customary nine kowtows expected of a vassal. Unlike the Dutch, practical businessmen that they were, agreed without blinking to make the nine kowtows to emperor Qianlong so long as there were money to be made.
Lord Macartney on his return, made a secret report that China was old and rotten to the core, about to collapse any moment. Thus, Macartney started a roadmap to possible or eventual war with China to open her door, but also in the process exposed China’s weakness for marauding and plundering Europeans to rob, kill and rape.
The British extracted rights, privileges and concessions from a proud humiliated Qing China (1644 -1912). It started with five treaty ports with the imposition of extraterritoriality, where China could not exercise her laws on British and other Europeans – extending that even to Chinese “rice” (expedient bread-and-butter) Christians. By 1949 a resurgent China after the final solution of the Chinese Civil War, forced all vestiges of West and Japan’s dominance out post-haste.
All the wars China fought against West and Japan’s insatiable greed to plunder her wealth and resources ended in defeats for the proud Chinese nation under a foreign Manchu dynastic rule.
Compounding the sufferings of China was the emergence of Japan as a military power after her Meiji Restoration in 1868, effectively putting an end to the power of the shogunate with the restoration of imperial rule. This was the moment Japan decided to learn from the West, culling the best of European technologies and military skills. Japan became ‘Western’ and regarded herself as white, not yellow. By 1894, with naval technology and skill learnt from England, Japan was able to defeat China in a sea battle to impose an unequal Treaty of Shimonoseki in 1895, where China ceded Taiwan and the outlying Pescadores islands to Japan.
A reform by the scholar official Kang Youwei and others like Liang Qichao, working through the young emperor came to naught in 1898, and in 1900, Empress Cixi hijacked the Boxer Uprising, but ended up with China paying a huge indemnity more than her GDP, as forced on her by the Boxer Protocol. China, as a result, never recovered economically, for the West and Japan demanded not only territories but also indemnities every time they defeated China.
After 1918, with the end of WW1 and the dissipation of European powers fighting each other, Japan became emboldened to fill the power vacuum. Japan, after defeating China, by 1905 was militarily strong enough to end the latter’s protector role in Korea. By 1910, it annexed Korea. It thus, after defeating Czarist Russia’s Far East Fleet with a sneak attack in 1904, went all out to conquer China by invading Manchuria in 1931.
However, by 1931, Japan’s regard for every Chinese as below that of pigs became a national mindset, with a disdain for the waste of natural resources under China in Manchuria. Under the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere, Japan’s objective was to take over the natural resources in Manchuria since it was such a ‘waste’ letting China own them.
Also with the rise of Japan’s imperialism, Western powers were more subdued vis-à-vis China. This in part was due to the decline of England as a superpower and Europe was again engulfed in total wars with the rise of Germany under the Fascists.
– Lau Guan Kim