Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Unification historical necessity

By Chung-yue Chang (China Daily) Updated: 2011-10-14 07:56

Exhibits, movies, museums and seminars across China marking the centennial anniversary of the 1911 Revolution have sparked a wave of interest in history among Chinese people.

Understanding Chinese history helps the country to modernize, and people should learn more about their history. Last month, Vice -President Xi Jinping delivered an important speech at the Central Party School, encouraging Party officials to study history more.

However, the significance of studying Chinese history goes beyond education. Understanding aspects of Chinese history would make the phrase "Chinese characteristics" concretely meaningful because "Socialism with Chinese characteristics" is the socio-political-economic guiding principle for China's modernization.

At the same time, understanding Chinese history helps the world to relate to China better. China and the world are mutually dependent in more ways than one; they must work together productively and peacefully.

History is at the root of "Socialism with Chinese characteristics" in two respects. "Socialism" is, first of all, based on history. It was the German philosopher Georg W.F. Hegel who, for the first time, made history, dynamic and dialectical, philosophically significant. Karl Marx followed Hegel by introducing a critical modification the dialectics of history must be viewed, not from a Hegelian spiritual perspective, but from a distinct and exclusive materialistic perspective.

On the other hand, "Chinese characteristics" are contextualized by a dominant historical consciousness, going back to high antiquity. Chinese historical consciousness - that events are dynamic, organic, open, creative, inter-mixed and contextually meaningful - permeates all aspects of Chinese culture, from the principles and practices of politics, literature and philosophy to the details of daily life.

From traditional history, four noteworthy features about China emerged. They are the primacy of culture, the penchant for peace and harmony, the goal for unification and the requirement of good governance.

First, culture is primary for China. Chinese history begets enduring culture, which has continued without interruption for 5,000 years. This fact is without parallel in the world. China the nation is foremost a civilization state. This means that, as a nation, China, during any of its historical periods, is fully identified with its rich evolving culture.

Today, China is still a civilization state. Culture is China's self-image. The rich cultural content of the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening ceremony is a case in point. The world is interacting increasingly with China on cultural fronts. The growing number of Confucian Institutes welcomed by the world is a case in point.

Second, China constantly searches for peace and harmony. Over the millenniums, China formed as a nation in a melting pot process with its many constituent ethnic groups. What is unique about this process is that it ends not in uniformity, but in diversity and differences for its many constituencies. China affirms differences and then harmonizes them. Harmonization is possible only when differences are respected and preserved.

Today, China is a nation of 56 ethnic groups living in peace and harmony. The penchant for peace and harmony at the national level is duplicated for the world stage. China respects and preserves differences among nations and then seeks to harmonize them, whenever and wherever possible, and with their consent. This is China's international policy.

Third, China's perennial goal is national unification. There were short and long periods of division and fragmentation, but seeking unification whenever necessary has become China's perennial political instinct. The enduring political ideal of the "great unification" was already formulated by Confucius in one of his Six Classics, Chunqiu, or the Spring and Autumn Annals. This ideal kept China recurrently unified. Unification became the indisputable political and social obligation deep in the political consciousness of the Chinese people, who exemplified time and again a persevering, never-give-up spirit to unify.

The reality of the Roman and Han empires is a comparative case in point. They co-existed peacefully for 400 years, from roughly 200 B.C. to 200 A.D. This lengthy international peaceful relationship is remarkable indeed. The great unification of the Roman Empire in the West, after it broke up, was never repeated again in Europe. However, the great unification of the Han Empire in the East, after it broke up, has been repeated many times afterwards in China.

Today, it is China's turn again to unify. Modern China is all about national unification. The world could, should and would easily understand this cultural necessity for a civilization state.

Fourth, good governance is China's persistent requirement. The enduring art of good governance as an ideal was articulated at the very beginning of Chinese civilization. Political topics on good governance are front and center in all fields of endeavor: literature, history and moral-political philosophy. Good governance, carried out by select talented and morally cultivated leaders, exists for the benefit of the people. The development and selection of governing talents has become a refined art and science. Over time, two dominant governing traditions emerged the internal self-governing Confucian approach through the cultivation of personal virtues and the external other-governing Legalist approach through the implementation of laws. At times, the two approaches were creatively combined to achieve the best results. Chinese moral-political thinking is creative, imaginative, pragmatic and people-serving.

Today, good governance is the goal of the Communist Party of China (CPC). The CPC has considered good governance by means of law and virtue, which combines the Confucian and the Legalist approaches. This would allow the incorporation of Chinese and Western jurisprudent thinking and practices, while close attention is given to the traditional Confucian moral-political thinking and practices. The world would welcome a creatively well-governed China.

Regarding China's 170 years of modern history since the Opium War aggression has been resisted from the beginning by the Taiping and Boxer rebellions, followed by the 1911 Revolution. This task was, beginning in 1921, essentially completed by the CPC when the People's Republic of China was established in 1949.

Now one of China's most important goals is to modernize and achieve the ancient Confucian ideal of xiaokang prosperity by 2020. This goal is necessitated and propelled by 170 years of suffering from external forces. The wisdom drawn from China's traditional history is helping to realize this goal in full.

The author is a professor of Western and Chinese philosophy at Montclair State University in New Jersey, US.

(China Daily 10/14/2011 page9)

Most Viewed Today's Top News
New type of urbanization is in the details