Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, January 12, 2018

New Chinese Empire

Edward Wong, recently the Bureau Chief in China for The New York Times, offers an analysis of China's rising empire as a successor to the 20th century American empire.

This is probably too long and too complex for students, but I think it offers teachers opportunities and ideas for lesson planning.

A Chinese Empire Reborn: The Communist Party’s emerging empire is more the result of force than a gravitational pull of Chinese ideas.
Though unabashedly authoritarian, China was a magnet [in 2008]. I was among many who thought it might forge a confident and more open identity while ushering in a vibrant era of new ideas, values and culture, one befitting its superpower status…

From trade to the internet, from higher education to Hollywood, China is shaping the world in ways that people have only begun to grasp. Yet the emerging imperium is more a result of the Communist Party’s exercise of hard power, including economic coercion, than the product of a gravitational pull of Chinese ideas or contemporary culture.

Of the global powers that dominated the 19th century, China alone is a rejuvenated empire. The Communist Party commands a vast territory that the ethnic-Manchu rulers of the Qing dynasty cobbled together through war and diplomacy… Once again, states around the world pay homage to the court, as in 2015 during a huge military parade.

For decades, the United States was a global beacon for those who embraced certain values — the rule of law, free speech, clean government and human rights. Even if policy often fell short of those stated ideals, American “soft power” remained as potent as its armed forces. In the post-Soviet era, political figures and scholars regarded that American way of amassing power through attraction as a central element of forging a modern empire.

China’s rise is a blunt counterpoint. From 2009 onward, Chinese power in domestic and international realms has become synonymous with brute strength, bribery and browbeating — and the Communist Party’s empire is getting stronger.

At home, the party has imprisoned rights lawyers, strangled the internet, compelled companies and universities to install party cells, and planned for a potentially Orwellian “social credit” system. Abroad, it is building military installations… and infiltrating cybernetworks. It pushes the “One Belt, One Road” infrastructure initiative across Eurasia, which will have benefits for other nations but will also allow China to pressure them to do business with Chinese state-owned enterprises…

So far, Chinese soft power plays a minor role. For one thing, the party insists on tight control of cultural production…

President Xi Jinping is the avatar of the new imperium. The 19th Party Congress in October was his victory lap. Party officials enshrined “Xi Jinping Thought” in the party constitution, putting him on par with Mao Zedong…

China’s domestic security budget has exceeded that of its military in recent years, even as both grow rapidly, highlighting the nation’s investment in hard power…

Chinese citizens and the world would benefit if China turns out to be an empire whose power is based as much on ideas, values and culture as on military and economic might. It was more enlightened under its most glorious dynasties. But for now, the Communist Party embraces hard power and coercion, and this could well be what replaces the fading liberal hegemony of the United States on the global stage…

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