Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Does the past still influence China's present?

Here's one to test out in class. Are there examples of these influences to be seen today?

Five ways China's past has shaped its present
To understand today's headlines about China's approach to issues such as trade, foreign policy or internet censorship, turn to its past.

The country is perhaps more aware of its own history than any other major society on earth. That remembering is certainly partial - events like Mao's Cultural Revolution are still very difficult to discuss within China itself. But it is striking how many echoes of the past can be found in its present.

  • Trade: China remembers a time when it was forced to trade against its will. Today it regards Western efforts to open its markets as a reminder of that unhappy period.
  • Trouble with the neighbours: China has always been concerned to keep states on its borders pacified. That's part of the reason it deals so warily with an unpredictable North Korea today.
  • Information flow: Today China's internet censors politically sensitive material, and those who utter political truths deemed problematic by the authorities may be arrested or worse.
  • Freedom of religion: Modern China is much more tolerant of religious practice than in the days of Chairman Mao's Cultural Revolution - within limits - but past experience makes it cautious about faith-driven movements which could potentially spiral out of control and pose a challenge to the government.
  • Technology: Today China seeks to become a world hub for new technology. A century ago it went through an earlier industrial revolution - and women were central to both.

The view from future historians?

We are living through another significantly transformative era for China. Future historians will note that a country that was poor and inward-looking in 1978 became - within a quarter of a century - the second biggest economy in the world…

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