Sunday, December 26, 2010

2012: Year of the Dragon

If you want some nostalgia for the American cultural high see here and scroll down to the videos.

I’ll try not to make this one too gloomy.  If such things bother you then skip this one.  Remember, I am working a sociological model to its conclusion.  The model can be wrong.

Previously I discussed American cultural eras (here, and here) and indicated where I think we are in the cultural cycle.  In this essay I compare the US cycle to the Chinese (PRC) one to see how they line up.  The patterns are fairly close.  We are both in secular crisis, with the PRC having started a little later than the US.  

Secular crises are identity crises.  The US has to decide of it will continue to be The Super Power that it has been.  For the PRC, the question is: do they become The New Super Power, or, maybe we could have two super powers. I don’t think other nations are viable challengers, unless they partner up.

When I look back at the large events of American history the episodes of total war within crises always stand out:  King Philips War during the Glorious Revolution, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and WWII.  History book series tend to be defined around those benchmarks. Since American Awakenings have been relatively nonviolent they haven’t gotten much attention.  You have to go back to the Puritan Awakening of the early 17th century and the rise of Cromwell to find a violent one. Awakenings are generally ignored in US history (this blog aims to change that).

In other countries Awakenings have been violent and have led to the overthrow of governments or monarchies, such as the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution. Awakening rebellions tend to have grass roots leadership intent on correcting the abuses of those in formal power, although they may also have help from high level factions.  They can also lead to long term intermittent warlord like infighting.  Culture War eras start as extensions of the Awakenings and then escalate into the secular crisis.

Total wars with significant genocidal behavior are fought in secular crises; they are either state sponsored wars of complete destruction, or, they are civil wars.  While, in theory, secular crises don’t have to have episodes of genocidal warfare, I have yet to find one that does not (I also haven’t looked far and wide).

Chinese history is bench marked on both secular crises and awakenings.  Every 45 to 50 years they seem to have a significant outbreak of violence.  The Cultural Revolution began in 1966 and here we are 45 years later in secular crisis.  Also, since 1850, benchmark events have always centered on the influences of Western Civilization penetrating into Chinese culture, as if there is a need to resist or purge something Western out of Chinese culture.  It seems that a new purge could come at any time.  I offer some idea of what that might look like.

First and foremost the Chinese are 90% Han ethnicity.  They are a proud culture that believes they are the center of the world [1].  All things are defined in relation to them.  Han chauvinism is renowned.  They are the Middle Kingdom.  The further you go away from the center the greater a barbarian you are.  The ruler leads due to the Mandate of Heaven and all others kowtow and pay tribute to him. Three hundred years of Westerners meddling in Chinese politics and one hundred years of sustained Western influence since the collapse of the Qing Dynasty does not erase 2000 years of sino-centrism.  As Christ is central to the identity of a devout Christian so is Han chauvinism to the Han people.  And they have hidden it very well these last few decades under the blanket of “communism” [2].

In traditional China all non-family relations were of a patron-client form (the Asian version, not the European one).  One side always had the upper hand but also had to be protective of the other side because the relation would eventually fail if they did not. While both are dependent on each other the patron works to ensure that the client becomes asymmetrically more dependent.  Since 1978, when China began opening up again to outside influences and trade, it has worked hard to establish patron-client relationships.

Americans typically think of partnerships as being one of equals working toward a common goal. The Chinese do not. One side always gets the upper hand.

The US is now heavily in debt to the Chinese and we are dependent on their cheep goods.  To the Chinese, we are the client.  Obama has bowed to their ruler.  The next step is to kowtow.  (They will accept a symbolic kowtow; it doesn't have to be a real prostration).

China is ripe for a re-expression of its core identity.  The great purge that is coming will be the abandonment of any pretext that they are communists. Communism is a Western idea. Purge it.

The Cultural Revolution gives great insight on this.  That Awakening was a conflict between communism and Han chauvinism as Mao had tried to stamp it out from the beginning (here) but failed. In 1966 Mao tried to make communism a heavier blanket over the culture, it backfires against him, starting a successful resistance. The communists destroyed artifacts and libraries of Chinese culture, they put intellectuals into communes, but they couldn’t change the core culture of the Han.  After Mao’s death in 1976 the Chinese, under Deng, made three decisions:  honor Mao for being the savior of the nation [3], ignore his failure in the Cultural Revolution, and allow communism to wane.  Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism all rebounded quickly.  Traditionally having been a trading culture, they slowly opened to the world and slowly gained economic power using the patron-client relationship.

Today, China is ripe to reveal itself as the Dragon it is and always has been.  And on the Chinese calendar, 2012 is the Year of the Dragon, a time when dragons roam freely in the world and take what they want.  Taiwan and South Korea are emeralds worthy of their taking [4].

When the time comes Americans will have to stand tall, not kowtow, and say “the Mandate of Heaven is revoked.”

Game on.

Table 1:  Comparison of American and Chinese cultural eras. Some Chinese events will link to Wikipedia.
Cultural Era
Secular Crisis
Crisis of Confidence
Global Economic Crisis

Culture Wars/Unraveling
 Post Scientism
Opening of PRC to Western influences and trade; one child policy erodes demographics; SARS; human rights

4th; Consciousness Revolution
Cultural Revolution to Tiananmen Square; 1 to 20 million dead

Cultural High
 American High
PRC under Mao; PRC mostly closed to outside world; ROC

Secular Crisis
 Depression & WWII
Spanish Civil War
Culture Wars/Unraveling
 WWI & Prohibition

3rd Awakening

Western Imperialism ends Qing Dynasty: Boxer Rebellion, 1898-1901, a Chinese  nationalist revival against western ideas (many thousands dead); Xinhai Revolution 1911
Russian Revolution,
Mexican Revolution,
Philippine Insurrection
Cultural High
 Gilded Age
Self-Strengthening Movement, Qing Dynasty builds against Western influences.

Secular Crisis
 slavery Compromise fails
Taiping Rebellion; a Chinese Christian movement against the Qing Dynasty; 20 million dead; other rebellions

2nd Great Awakening
White Lotus Rebellion; 16 million dead
French Revolution
South American Revolutions
Secular crisis
American Revolution
Dzungars ethnic genocide 

Update 16 Feb. 2011: Daniel Bell discussed the possibility of revolution in China.  The worst threat is from the 'Nationalists,' a nice way to refer to Han Chauvinism.  This is something worth watching closely.

1.  I am aware that China is a diverse population, so don't get hung up on generalizations here. I've known many Chinese nationals (from PRC and ROC) and yes they are all individuals.  However, you can't get anywhere in a cultural study with useless generalizations such as "everyone is unique."  In grad school I dated a gal from Taiwan.  I once 'complemented' her on a wave in her hair.  She slapped me so hard I had no idea what was wrong.  She said that "Chinese have straight hair." So, I had actually insulted her.  And she had quite a slap.  That was Han chauvinism, and, it is very apparent in the PRC leadership.
2. An old saying in China is that every black-haired child of Han wears a Confucian hat, a Taoist robe, and Buddhist sandals.  To this, add a communist blanket. It's still a Han underneath.
3. During the 1940s Chinese Civil War two strong Western influences were penetrating China. Communism under Mao and capitalism under Chiang Kai-shek.  Mao "saves" China from one western influence, by using another. Now, the remnants of the second one must go away.
4. The positive qualities of the symbolic Chinese Dragon don't suggest that the Chinese leadership would do something rash.  However, the negative qualities do suggest that overreaching for something is possible.  The temptations of power may be too great to resist. China, from 1950-present--what do we call this new dynasty? The PRC Dynasty?

No comments:

Post a Comment