Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, August 29, 2016

History as a backdrop

Political science (as in comparative government and politics) is not history. But sometimes history is a useful backdrop to understanding politics. Here's an example. I offer only bits and pieces of Nathan Vanderklippe's analysis from The Globe and Mail. If you go to the original, you might find more useful examples.

A Chinese dynasty with a 21st-century outlook
Under the clear blue sky his country had manufactured for the occasion (by closing factories for miles), Xi Jinping stood stony-faced on an enormous red carpet to receive a clutch of world leaders. One by one, statesmen from near and far walked up to the Chinese President to shake hands on the occasion of his first military parade last September. Standing next to his wife, Peng Liyuan, Mr. Xi barely spoke, his face opening into only the thinnest of smiles…

Xinhua, the state-run news agency, tried to capture the spirit of the moment: “China will not be bullied again, and the dream of national rejuvenation is coming true.” For decades, China scrupulously followed the maxim of former leader Deng Xiaoping to “hide your strength, bide your time.” Even as they orchestrated an economic revolution at home, its leaders trod softly on the world stage.
Xi (on posters in Beijing)
But things have changed. Under Mr. Xi in recent years, China has struck an increasingly assertive posture, demanding that the world bend to its interests in diplomacy, corporate affairs and the drawing of international borders. When they gather here for G20 meetings next week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other foreign leaders will encounter a Chinese leadership newly eager to shape the outside world to its own needs.

For the better part of 2,000 years, China was ruled by imperial dynasties… Emperors saw themselves in command of… "all under heaven."...

Imperial China saw itself as the centre of the civilized world, a step above the barbarians on its flanks who could not match its technological, cultural or military prowess, and it demanded others acknowledge the same. Scholars call it a form of “ethnocentric hegemony.”

Then it all crumbled, the victim of Western incursions and a sclerotic governance system that could not keep pace with modernization…

Into that humiliation stepped the Communist Party, which… ruled by a single party, governed by elite consensus.

Mr. Xi is different. He has assembled a collection of titles that give him personal leverage over many instruments of internal power…

[T]he country's extraordinary rise in economic power… has underpinned a view inside China that history the gap with the U.S., has underpinned a view inside China that history gave it a rightful place in the world, one it will soon retake…

Liu Mingfu, a Chinese military commentator… [writes], "China's emperors treated the kings of smaller nations like little brothers… Kingliness is China's national character… "

Mr. Xi has mobilized a sweeping set of ambitions to make Beijing a central seat of influence…

The steps China is taking suggest a desire to replicate, if not replace, the U.S. role [in the world]…

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