What is the China dream?
15 June 2015
Human Capital Alliance senior advisor K I Woo takes a close look at the China dream.
To fully understand President Xi Jinping’s China dream we must take a close look at Chinese history and culture.
Xi’s China dream emphasizes wealth, national pride and obedience to authority.
A recent Foreign Affairs article, “What it means to be Chinese – nationalism and identity in Xi’s China” by UC Riverside’s Perry Link said for centuries, China has had a strong tradition of what it means to be Chinese and China’s place in the world.
“To be Chinese still means to exhibit proper behavior and to be part of a civilization that has primacy in the world.”
Xi’s China dream if achieved will allow China to return to its place as the center of the world, serving as a defining example of how things should be, said Lilly.
This vision is currently a mere possibility and not a certainty because “popular perception in China today is that the current system favors the privileged elite more than the society as whole.”
“Xi’s Chinese dream stresses party patriotism and materialism but does not say anything of the moral treatment of a human being’s daily life.”
In pre-modern China, Lilly said an ideal society’s thinking, behavior and living followed sanctioned principles exemplifying the best way to be human. Confucian values, he said are deeply ethical and not egalitarian.
Traditional family values
Family values are at the core of Chinese thinking.
A father has authority over his son and his son’s obligation is to obey. “However, the father was also bound to be a proper father, treating son as a father should or be held to public scorn.
China’s political norms also follow the family model.
A ruler has absolute authority over subjects but he is also morally bound to treat them properly. If not, the citizens could rebel and he would lose the mandate of heaven.
The rulers learned what constituted popular treatment by reading and internalizing texts, including the Confucian classics.
Moral political model
Morality and virture are at the core of officials’ legitimacy, which reaches all the way to the emperor who is the “son of heaven”.
Consequently, the current Chinese government is attacking corruption because it has been the bane of most fallen Chinese dynasties.
It also attacks the moral and virtuous political model’s core.
In 1979 Deng Xiaoping used the two-and-half millennium-old Confucian principle of a Xiaokang society as the eventual goal of Chinese modernization.
A Xiaokang society has a moderately well-off middle-class that has given economic prosperity to most of China’s mainland’s population.
At the same time, it’s sole focus is not economic advancement but includes balancing the sometimes conflicting goals of social equality and environment protection.
In the 1990’s Jiang Zemin revived the xiaokang society concept to counter criticism that China was focusing too much on the urban rich and not enough on the rural poor.
Measuring current one-party state performance
In contrast to Western societies that place the individual at the center of the universe and as the basic and sovereign unit of human society, Chinese scholar Eric X Li said power is checked by the inherent moral order of society and not by the Western tradition’s legal means.
Measured by the “end” as articulated by Confucius and by Deng, the current one party state, Li said has so far served China well, albeit with shortcomings, including corruption and the wealth gap.
The current China model has the following components:
1. Political authority combined with moral authority is vested in a single political organization, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that represents the nation’s entirety.
2. Meritocracy underlines the effectiveness and survival of the ruling organization.
3. Preeminence of political authority is central to the China model. This ensures no special groups can develop capabilities that enable them to place their interests above national interests.
4. Pragmatism is central and ideologies are peripheral. Currently, economic development is most important and the political system is adjusted to maximize its success.