Main crises in China

Main crises in China

Main crises in recent Chinese History

China’s 200 Years Crisis and the Knowledge gained

What is behind the current clash of interests, visions and fears between China and the Western world? Is there perhaps also a longer, more existential aspect to this? Can China’s escape its own history in dealing with the rest of the world? To understand this we have to go back about 450 years.

The Ming Dynasty

In 1571, the conquistador Miguel Lopes de Legazpi arrived in Manila in the Philippines and declared it a territory of New Spain, a part of the kingdom of Spain. He then pushed back the influence of the sultan of Brunei, who was the local power, and also displaced the local Chinese traders, who had established themselves without their government’s support in Manila.

At the same time, the Holy League led by Spain managed to check the Turkish advance in the battle of Lepanto. It was the first time the Turkish advance against Christianity was stopped since the Turks took over Constantinople in 1453, and blocked the Europeans access to the trade with India and China. This prompted the search for an alternative route to East Asia that eventually led to discovery of the Americas.

Although the Turks continued to be a threat in the Mediterranean, Italy was no longer in danger of a Muslim invasion. Spain could now develop Manila as a large port to trade gems from India, spices from Southeast Asia, and silk and porcelain from China. Chinese silk was the most important luxury good in Europe at that time. It was used to manufacture the best dresses, gowns, and robes for the aristocracy.

This was the beginning of a real global trading system, in which Spain distributed goods from all over the world, and paid for it in silver that was stolen from the Inca’s, but also mined in Mexico. This flow of silver saved the Ming economy. Industrial output of silk and porcelain boosted production so much that China was approaching a fiscal crisis because taxes were not enough to pay for state expenditures. Silver replaced their paper notes, the value of which had collapsed in the previous years. China’s economy changed structure from rural to international: it now exported/imported more and more from abroad.

The Chinese court invited Jesuits to help the Ming emperors to understand what was going on in the world. Around 1630, Spain was drained of resources, because it had been bled almost dry in the long conflicts with England and Holland. This meant that Spain was no longer able to buy silk from China. At the same time, Japan stopped trading with China in silver, but China carried on buying from outside. Then, their people started hoarding silver for various reasons, which made it even scarcer.

China had a two-metal system. Internal trade was paid in copper, but taxes and foreign trade were paid in silver. The value of silver quadrupled compared to the value of copper. Thus, in ten years the peasants who constituted the largest tax base in the country became four times poorer than before.

This led to peasant uprisings. Li Zicheng raided Beijing, the last Ming Emperor hanged himself, and the Manchu were called in to support the Ming and crack down on the rebels. They did put down the rebels, but then established themselves as the new Qing empire.

The Qing Dynasty

By the 1830s, China’s Qing Dynasty was by far the richest Empire in the world for over 200 years. The then rising power of England was thirsty for Chinese tea, because in London and other English cities, water was foul because of pollution. So, it had to be boiled first to be drinkable. But even boiled it had a foul taste, and adding tea leaves to the boiling water made it pleasantly drinkable for the first time. Tea leaves were then a must for England and other rapidly developing countries in Europe.

Yet China, mindful of the memory of the Ming Dynasty, exported tea leaves to Europe, but did not import anything from Europe. By then, China held about 70% of all global silver, and the size of its economy was about 1/3-1/2 of the global GDP. This situation was untenable for England and other European countries, because all their material wealth was sent to China, which was not giving back anything.

By then, the Qing Dynasty had expelled most Jesuits, and had little or no interests in hearing from foreigners any other version of what was happening far away from them.

All this led to the 1st and 2nd Opium Wars. China was forced to trade opium and open its markets. Moreover, foreign influence inspired the notorious Taiping uprising, which killed about 60-70 million people which was about 20% of the Chinese population of the time. More than were killed in World War II.

Soon, the Chinese economy was shaken by the Rebellion and opium consumption. But most importantly the country once again, had failed to properly deal with the outside world which had come knocking at its door. By the end of that century, the once world’s richest country became poor, and the Qing dynasty fell.

Although the Qing dynasty learned from the Ming that if you trade freely with the outside world, all your wealth will be drawn out, their own solution didn’t work either. You cannot simply be an exporter without being an importer, because it puts you on the margins of global trade and engenders military hostility from the rest of the world. Thus, neither solution worked.

Lessons for the present?

So, is there a solution that China proposes to the world right now? As a net exporter, it holds the world’s largest share in foreign reserves, although smaller than the silver reserves of the Qing dynasty.

Although its economy is growing fast and is quite sizable, it is still a fraction of what it was in 1840. It is trying to establish its own trading system with its own rules, like the Belt and Road Initiative. The reaction from abroad is mixed. Different countries are trying to cut different deals with China, and the USA is spearheading a more aggressive approach, demanding the full opening of the Chinese market.

All 3 historical examples seem to have one thing in common: China is only partially trying to integrate itself into the global trading system. It is also trying to establish its own system, together with Russia, against the existing system. (A new, very wide and large, crypto-currency cartel + Asian Dev. Bank against the US-controlled IMF-currency cartel + Worldbank).

Since the establishment of Manila and all the trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic trade from the 1570s on, the world trade and the global economy has been centered around the American continent. The present trade system is the progressive accumulation of centuries of experience, and Western world-controlled rules that forced the rest of the world to accept it.

As an independent empire, China didn’t try to be part of that trade in the 16th century, it didn’t try to be part of it in the 19th century, and it is obviously half-heartedly part of the current trade circuit now. The Americans, who now fully dominate global trade, economics, and finance, took it over from the British-Dutch, who took it from the Spanish-Portuguese.

What can China do? Can it manage to establish its own Eurasian alternative trade, economic, and financial system, together with Russia? Although this would be objectively disruptive to the existing system, it would be similar to what the USSR tried to do after WWII, albeit with different ideas and rules. Therefore, it would draw growing hostility from countries who control the existing system.

In the 16th century, it would have been easy for the powerful Ming state to take over Manila and the Spanish trade with Mexico, because the mighty Ming fleet, which had traveled to Africa under admiral Zheng-He just a hundred years earlier, could have easily started trading directly with Mexico. It didn’t do so for whatever reason. It would have also been easier for the Qing empire, which was far richer than the British and French combined, to start trading in tea leaves and whatever was necessary and useful for Chinese and global trade in the middle of the 19th century.

In both cases, the Ming and Qing empires decided not to. Why? Did they see China as the center of the world, and failed to recognize a global environment in which China had to first fit in and then possibly try to dominate? Can it do so now, when China is certainly poorer in absolute and relative terms than the Ming or Qing empires? Does China now have a global view, and know what it wants the world’s financial and economic system to be? Does it have a plan besides the legitimate goal of making China rich by promulgating the idea of a win-win proposition? Of course, it has.

But that global view needs to be accepted and welcomed by many in the rest of the world. A global view already exists in the West. China could try to challenge and replace it with its own Eurasian view, like the Soviets tried with Communism, or it can fully accept the existing global view. The first choice puts China directly against the existing Western world, even without openly stating so. But perhaps this time could be different from the past, and this could be thanks to the Marxist revolution.

Politics delinked from Religion

China’s view of the western world from the 17th through the 19th century comes from a deeper world view, the link between religious and political authority in the same person, the emperor.

This break in this view came in different phases. The first came with the May 4th demonstrations of 1919, when the youth of Beijing protested in favor of science and democracy. The movements of the 1920s and 1930s came along trying to establish Chinese thinking on completely different grounds.

Hu Shi wrote the first history of Chinese logic, attempting to bridge the gap between Chinese and Western ways of thinking and pushing the Chinese way of thinking more toward a Western mold based on idea of logic. Feng Youlan tried to give reasons for the differences in the traditions of Greece and China by looking at the history of their geography. China’s thought sprang originally from a land made of plains and through control of the land sprawling between rivers and forests, he argued, while Greece was a place of city states perched on cliffs on seashores with seafarers, traders, and pirates.

But a fundamental blow to the old way of thinking came with the adoption of Western Marxist philosophy when the Chinese Communists came to power. Marxism rejected religion, and power was to be established only through real means without recourse to a metaphysical ideology, which made the leader the Son of Heaven and thus interpreter of the will of deities governing the world.

Actually, in the first 30 years of power, things got confused because although Mao didn’t claim to have the religious tradition of ancient China behind him, he still acted as an ancient emperor/demigod of the past. The worship of his personality was the basis of his hold on power. There was an almost mystical faith in his power to divine world affairs.

n the late 1970s Deng Xiaoping rejected this worship and basically managed to fain support from the common people through allowing them to strive for material wealth. It was practical and it worked better than any time in the past. Yet in the long run, the lack of any idealistic and long-term cultural anchor, tore every social fabric apart, and brought about the system-corruption that pushed the country on the verge of collapse in the early 21st century.

Yet, although the anti-corruption movement has started rebuilding some social structure, the on-going campaign is still far away from answering the double question facing China:

  1. how to found a new social contract and culture in China, and
  2. how to adapt this contract so that it will become a positive, constructive means of communication with the rest of the world, which abides rules that are very different from the Chinese tradition.

In other words: how will Xi Jinping hold on to power, if he doesn’t have a religious claim? This creates new challenges to his power and to China’s standing internally and externally.

In Oriental kingdoms that dominated the Eastern Mediterranean around the birth of Christ, the two authorities, religious and non-religious, were meshed into one. This merging of two authorities was passed on to the Roman Empire. However, with the recognition of Christianity as the official religion of the empire in the 3rd century AD, the two authorities started to move apart.

Although in the early years of Christianity the emperor still had a lot of authority on theological matters, he was not the ultimate authority. He had to discuss those matters with the bishops and patriarchs of the church. And gradually the two authorities moved in different directions, although they still had to find a common ground.

Today, only the President of the Russian Federation seems to have developed a seemingly well-working model by allowing their Orthodox Church to fully retake the religious authority, through financially and legally supporting the renovation and building of over 30.000 churches/monasteries throughout Russia.

For historical and philosophical reasons, the Western tradition quite early on separated religion and rational knowledge into, in the words of Greek philosopher Aristotle, «physics and meta-physics», reality and beyond reality.

From the thinking of reality came a very logical and straightforward formal way of thinking that gave rise ultimately to logic, mathematics, and technological applications derived from them. Conversely, metaphysics became more and more removed from physics and its laws. However, quantum physics could become the bridge between them.

Blame clever Zhuangzi

In China, there was never historically nor philosophically a line drawn between physics and metaphysics, between religious and temporal power. The king was defined in religious terms. He was called huang: that is, he was the Being linking the supernatural and the realm of human beings in nature. This was the division that the Chinese saw. The divine power of the ruler was to link the lines of all these realms. Philosophically, early China also developed a system of logic that we could consider similar to the one developed by the Greeks.

It appears, for instance, in Mo Jing, but this early development of logic was shattered by the philosophical push of Zhuangzi, who managed to defeat logic through logic. Mohism was an ancient Chinese philosophy of logic, rational thought and science developed by the academic scholars who studied under the ancient Chinese philosopher Mozi (470 – 391 BC) and was embodied in an eponymous book: the Mozi.

It evolved at the same time as Confucianism, Taoism and Legalism, and was one of the 4 main philosophic schools from around 770 – 221 BC. During that time, Mohism was seen as a major rival to Confucianism. Although its influence endured, Mohism all but disappeared as an independent school of thought.

The crucial narrative is:
« Zhuangzi and Huizi were walking along the river Hao, when the former said, “These fishes come out, and play about at their ease – that is the enjoyment of fishes”. The other said, “You are not a fish; how do you know what is the enjoyment of fishes?”. Zhuangzi replied, “You are not I. How do you know that I do not know what constitutes the enjoyment of fishes?”. Huizi said, “I am not you; and indeed I do not fully know you, but you certainly are not a fish, and that is the proof that you don’t know what constitutes the happiness of fishes”. Zhuangzi replied, “Let us keep to your original question. You said to me, ‘How do you know what constitutes the enjoyment of fishes?’. You knew that I knew it, and you asked me – well, I know it just by walking along the Hao” ». Of course, the key here is the knowing through feeling others.

Zhuangzi’s victory may have also been helped by the rulers of that time (over 2000 years ago), who were trying to concentrate power more efficiently and build more competitive states to ultimately annihilate their enemies and emerge as the sole power in the central plains of what it is now China.

Zhuangzi’s philosophy defeated the development of logic and created a slanted not-level playing field in which those who were able to feel and intuit and sense reality were better off than those who were not. This was unlike logic, mathematics, and what we call science, in which the process is clear and everybody can see it, provided they know some basics.

Intuition is more mysterious, and the senses are thinly defined. Some have it strongly, and others less strongly. Some can sense the happiness of animals, like Zhuangzi; others can’t, like Hui Shi. Similarly, the emperor could see and interpret the link between heaven, men and nature, common people could not. For this ability to know he, the emperor, would have the right to total rule and the subjects would have to obey. Nowadays, we need to remember that we all have this ability to intuit this link, and therefore have the right to rule ourselves.

Modern science and China’s 200 years of humiliation by the Japanese and Western Powers

All of this, of course had very important consequences. The 18th and 19th centuries, when Europe was fed up with religion and the absolute power that derived from religion, it had started to import from China a system of selection of meritorious administrators. At the same time, it had increased industrial production and the systematic spread of technological knowledge. Thus, it relied more heavily on science and developing rules created through science, which was considered above the rulers. These were rules that everybody could see, judge, and openly improve; clearly in contrast to the murky rules linking religion and power.

The lesson of the 2008 financial crisis for China was supposed to be that Beijing had to ride the crisis and open up when the USA was offering an unprecedented deal. China thought otherwise: We are strong now and will be the strongest by focusing on the rapid development of all aspects of Quantum Physics, in the most advanced 4IR society.

This means having the best 5G network, the best smart phones, and the best Quantum Computers, etc.

Then, we don’t have to adapt to the Western 20th century worldview and doctrines. This, after all, was the same situation of the 1630s with the Ming and of the 1830s with the Qing dynasty.

Because of its divine-dynastic plus non-divine-communist history, modern China understands better than anyone else, the link between the physical and the meta-physical. It knows that it is more than the economy, or the strategic or technological advancements, it is the ability to intuit that the old way of viewing will only work today when one can see that the meta-physical and physical is in everybody, as we are both meta-physical and physical beings.

It will take time for the mostly left-brain dominated mind of the people in the West to recognize and accept that the realty of Quantum Physics in today's world is not only the underlying reality of 3D Physics, but also the link to the basics of Meta-physics, which then should lead to the WOW-moment of realizing that Meta-physics is the ultimate reality that we are living in, and realizing that we are in essence meta-physical beings, who together script the 4D physical reality we live in as humans.