The question "What does China want" has been asked by western observers repeatedly
, especially back in the times when "China threat" rhetoric still received some attention (i.e. before Zoellick said "China is not USSR"). In an early posting
of this blog I have argued that it does not matter what China's intention is, because in the medium term (i.e. 20-50 years) it will focus on economic development (and maintaining the hope of re-uniting with Taiwan some day in future), beyond that China's leadership would have changed a few times and it won't matter what it wants now, the optimistic case is that it will probably become a democracy joining the West (or be like Singapore, if not Japan). Therefore, the major concern for the West is not what China intends to do today, but to prevent major disaster in China's path of reform and development, because that may derail the risk-averse do-nothing path it is taking currently.
Apparently the CCP leadership did form some ideas on what they want for China in the longer term (on top of the near term goal of feeding its people and playing "economic catch up"), i.e., not surprisingly, China still aspires to restore the glory it enjoyed centuries ago, and want to become a "Great Nation".
The hint comes from a recent TV documentary series of 12 episodes, "The Rise of the Great Nations
"(大国崛起), which I recommend highly to those who are interested in the future of China, and in particular Chinese politics and international relations.
In terms of materials and production, the TV program is probably no different from the Discovery or BBC documentary in world history. One does not expect revolutionary academic insights from them, especially because CCTV is not yet in the same tier of BBC in general. In fact, it continues to use the notion of "combined power" along with RFGP by Paul Kennedy
. Then why is this program important? and as a result believed to be a hint to China's next wave of reform by many observers
? Because, if you believe it is part of the state propaganda then it would be an interesting exercise to deconstruct the messages it tries to convey, and there are many hints pointing to the allegation that the program is produced under an instruction from the Politburo
- Explicit acknowledgement from the producer: The director (who is also the head of CCTV), Zhao Huayong, wrote in the preface (there is an accompanying book, in case the audience missed the messages) that, "The CCP Politburo attended a seminar in Nov 2003, the topic was the lessons of the development of the 9 major world powers from 1500 to today......These power has all hurted other nations, including China, in sometime on their path to great become great power, what kind of attitude and embracement should we adopt toward them? What experiences and learning should we find from their paths?" -- so even if this is not an instruction from the Politburo, the fact that CCTV dares to use the Politburo seminar in its promotion of the program tells us something. (Other interviews with the production crew here)
- Coincidence in timing: The documentary took 3 full years to produce. So it started in 2003, roughly right after the Politburo meeting. Either the CCTV director overheard the Politburo discussion and charged ahead or he received some instruction from the Politburo, as it is an unlikely coincidence in time. Since even the head of CCTV is probably not a very powerful figure compared with the Politburo, it is more likely the latter
- Careful choice of word: The fact that the title was called "Rising", instead of "Development" explains that this documentary is for domestic consumptions. Because many Chinese citizen view the choice of the word "development" to be too weak and they still would like to see China "rising"; that it chose to use the word "great" instead of the more often used word "strong" in Chinese history is also important -- see below on definition of "Great Nation"
- Pragmatic purpose: Regardless of the intent, the result of airing this documentary is that the Chinese citizens will get the messages conveyed in this series, and such message must not contradict the party line as otherwise it would have been banned. Therefore, for all practical purposes it is in line with the view of the Politburo (including the decision to skip the old teaching that colonialism pillaging crucially contributed to the initial stage of capitalism)
- Heavyweight advisor team: this particular program from CCTV was able to enlist the best of the Chinese scholars, including internationally renowned scholar Wang Jisi (who was instrumental in the Hu-Zoellick meeting last year), in its advisor team. More likely, if one believes the theory that the Politburo ordered the production, Wang himself is the brain behind this series, and he probably carefully selected the messages to be conveyed in this series. In addition, Wang Jisi, together with historian Qian Shengdan who both were interviewed in the program and led discussion in the Politburo seminar, are said to be the mastermind behind this program (source).
During the production of the program a lot of interviews with prominent international scholars were conducted. The director then used these interview clips (by professors at top universities of the world, such as Paul Kennedy of Yale, and ex-politician Berezensky) to tell what it wants to tell its audience. This is a credible and low political-risk way of getting the message through. On the other hand, since it is an impossible mission to condense the lesson of a great nation into a 40 minute (in the case of Britain, Russia and USA, 80 minutes) episode of the documentary, the content has to be highly selective, so much that perhaps less than 1% fo the interviewed quotes (source) made through the final editing. Therefore, I have strong reason to believe the selection is thus highly deliberate.
Such selective highlighting of the lessons tells us what the Chinese leadership (or the director of the documentary) wants to tell its people/audience, because it wants the support of the people on what where it is going to lead them to. The central question is the million dollar question for China observers and internationl relations pundits: what does China want? The message the program wants to convey is that China aspires to be a great nation, and more than that, a SUSTAINABLE great nation. If we believe in the theory that this program is part of the state propaganda, then it tried to redefine what it means by the concept of "great nation" (and what it means by "Rise") for Chinese leadership as well. The definition is that a great nation is one that brings well-being and properity to its people, and contributes to the progress of the world. This definition of "Rise" or "Greatness" is not exactly the same as what the Chinese people (and other people in the world) used to associate with "Great", which is almost synonymous with "strong" and to a lesser extent, "Rich" (as known in Shang Yang's 商鞅 "Strengthen the military by enriching the nation" 富国强兵). Therefore, the leadership feels the need to educate the people about this definition so that the people will not mis-interpret the policy (e.g. of playing the stakeholder role as advocated by Zoellick) as being "weak". The program tried to define "Great Nation" by identifying a few key properties, which are re-emphasized in its concluding episode (the Finale) "Thinking through our actions based on broad and rightful principles" (大道思行), as follows:
The messages couldn't be clearer. The question is how committed and how capable the Politburo is to push them through.
- Great Nation = Innovation and contribution to its own people and the world: innovation of Thomas Edison, Dutch shipbuilders, Japanese businesses were discussed throughout the program. In the Finale the head of Chinese Diplomatic Institute Wu jianmin was quoted as saying something like this, "Great nation contributes to the world development, innovation is essential for making such contribution, and innovation is not possible if free thinking is constrained" (一个国家要崛起，它思想得创新吧，对吧。如果全是老思想，国家能崛起吗？崛起不了。思想如果都束缚住了，能创新吗？创新不了。所以文化的作用在这里出现了。)
- Aggression through force is to be avoided at all costs, as demonstrated by the example of Germany and Japan:
- It showed the picture (below) of Warsaw Kneeling along with the comment "The moment Brandt kneels down was the moment Germany stood up in the world", sending the strongest message on its view that aggression is the wrong path to building a Great Nation;
- in addition, it carefully defined the Meiji Restoration as a 100 year process (instead of 20-40 years, ending in the wars in 1895 and 1905), ending in 1968 when Japan finanlly rose with respect from the world through its economic success, and discounting the Japan's military success as short term aberration (in the Japan episode, the conclusion for Japan's lesson is that a Great Nation should (a) Bring prosperity and happiness to its own people (b) Bring peace and security to the world
- The Japan lesson is further reinforce when it looks back to the lessons of the Iberian powers, conluding that without building one's own ability to generate wealth the rise is short-lived, and wealth through expansion and aggression are not to be depended upon
- thirdly, the program made it clear that the modern world order is one in which competition is by business and innovation, and contribution to humanity and scientific knowledges, not by military success.
- Rule of law and building of a system: in almost all episodes, especially that of UK and US, the rule of law were emphasized. It was repeated again when it discussed the rise of Germany, and a long section on Thomas Edison and that US made the protection of intellectual property into its constitution, then again on how innovation in information technology helped US to lead the world again economically
- Focus on internal development and building sustainable capabilities: the Iberian powers were quoted as short-lived because they did not build the system and sustainable capability with all the wealth they accumulated from the New World. furthermore, this quote from Professor Zheng Yongnian of Nottingham University is note-worthy, "一个国家外部的崛起，实际上是它内部力量的一个外延。国家内部的制度还没有健全的情况下，很难成为一个大国，即使成为一个大国，也不是可持续的。"
- A lot of attention is given to building a system and ensuring the fundamentals, both economically and politically: an example is that of the Dutch bank which lent to the enemy Spain during war, maintaining its independence, the other are that of the Dutch government in 1600s which were formed by capitalist merchants, the narration talks about the Dutch paintings which portray the citizen (vs nobles and religious figures in other countries) with admiration
- For catching up 'great nations' (e.g Germany, Japan, Russia), the government must play the leading role: This is perhaps the most controversal point in this program, IMHO, as it not only emphasized the role of government "planning", praising its contribution to the Russian industrialization in the 1920s-1930s, it also praises the Keysian economics which influenced the role fo the governement in Rosevelt administration -- my concern is that it is difficult and tempting to forget the fact that government role is needed only when the problem is so serious that the invisible hand is unable to cope with it, and Chinese bureacracts, like bureacrats elsewhere will soon forget the principle that government intervention is needed only as a last resort)
- Together with the government role above, the views on USSR's "worthy experiment" on socialism and planned economy is positively ambiguous. My speculation is that the Politburo could not agree on these issues and decided they will keep the conclusion open (again, this is assuming that the program is part of the state propaganda). Same can be said about when globalization will truly make aggressive war obsolete, as in the Finale it stated such time will come even though if not in the medium term.
1) The next wave of reform and policy making?
If we believe the theory that this program tries to pave the way for the next wave of reform, this is what it tells us
2) The Taiwan problem
- US or UK style Democracy will be the long term goal: the program clearly stated Britian and USA (along with Holland, in which the discussion also focused on people's choice and innovation "有历史学家认为，近五百年来，真正意义上拥有过世界霸权的只有三个国家：荷兰、英国和美国。这三个国家对市场经济进行了接力棒式的创新和发展。学者们还认为，英美两国为经济发展提供了相应的制度保障。") are the only sustainable Great Nations among the 9 nations examined, and devoted a whole episode on the Magna Carta and Glorious Revolution, and also half an episode on US Consitution making. Many scholars were also quoted as supporting the view that the political/societal infrastructure play an essential role in the rise of UK and US -- all these are challenging the traditional party line that there are many types of definition for so-called "democracy" and that "China is different". In fact, the director stated that China has no choice but to learn from them and take the same path; it is also important to note how much it praises the contribution to humanity by the French people, in particular, the concept of "Freedom, Equality and Fraternity". The amount of discussion given to Liberty, equality, fraternity motto of the French revolution and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen surprised me. This may not be new to readers outside China, but it is probably the first time it was given such high profile and positive exposure in mass media in China (screenshot below: 200th anniversary of Bastille Day -- where bikers marched before the fat lady sang, to remember the event 40 days before that ceremony) -- see also Qian and Wang quotes below
- To make China an open society before turning it into a democracy, i.e. I expect there will be free speech and perhaps even less control on media: "..so Britain from 1688 onwards was not [yet] a democratic society, but it was an open society, in which ideas can be readily spread to a wider circle of the people, ..... that's a great achievement, and we were the first country in the world to achieve it." Harry Dickenson of Royal Historical Society was quoted as saying. Wu Jianmin's quote of no constrain in academic study also support this view (although academic research is pretty much free in China today already, I am not sure if the leader realize innovation happens also outside the academic circle and it is such innovation that fuels the academic breakthrough as well); Tolerance of difference is also emphasized in quoting Elizabeth I's tolerating Shakespear's negative portrayal of monarchs and women. (在莎士比亚的历史剧当中，君主往往是反面角色。英国女王伊丽莎白一世当然知道这一点，她却并没有下令禁止演出莎士比亚的戏剧。尽管在《哈姆雷特》这样的剧中，就有“脆弱啊，你的名字是女人！”这样的台词，但这并没有影响伊丽莎白女王就坐在舞台对面的包厢里看戏。 ... 女王的宽容，成就了莎士比亚的艺术高度，而女王的开明并不仅仅表现在对待艺术的态度上，在处理国家事务时，她也表现出高超的技巧和智慧。女王明白：权力的基础是全体英国人组成的民族，没有民众的支持做后盾，王朝就没有立身的可能。为了获得民众的支持，伊丽莎白一世在强化王权的同时，恪守了祖先传下来的一个重要的政治传统)
- China is determined to play by the rule of the modern world, and to make compromise both internally and externally (China already compromised with the US in many internsational issues and began its rapproachment with Japan): much tiem was spent on how compromise among different groups have led to the forming of democratic gevernments in Holland, UK and US. The producer said in an interview explicitly on this as well (see this interview with one of the producers). In the Finale it mentioned explicity that "No great nation was built by defeating the hegemon at the time". Wang Jisi further commented that although US was involved in aggressive war in the North American continent when it expanded, such aggression are not the contributing factors to the rise of US
- The program stated that economist Friedrich List was instrumental in the unification of Germany in 19th century, in that he advocated unification by peace, not by force, and specifically through economic integration. Prussia created a common market without tariff before it could formally unify Germany. This was cleverly done through the mouth of a Ruetlingen University Professor (where List resided). Such strategy is already in place when China deals with the Taiwan problem
1) Videos websites (1-7, 8, 9, 10, 11-12)
. (Server hjosted in the US, run by an exile pro-democracy activist Hu Ping), alternative host at Chinesenewsnet's Wan Runnan blog
2) script is available in Wan Runnan' blog
3) Discussions and comments by others (the most comprehensive collection so far)
, Selected translation by ESWN (ESWN seems to have only translated the first 2 pages, which are mostly negative comments, while the positive comments are on the next 2 pages of the webpage he translated)
4) My post yesterday
5) HK blog "MO's notebook"
6) Sina interview with Wang Jisi and Zhou Yan (executive editor, script writer)
7) people.com interview with Ren Xue-an
, Editor of the series, Tang Zhongnan (President of Japan Study), Wang yiming(Deputy Director, Macro-economic Institute, DRC).
8) Mai Tianxu (one of the producers) interview
---The quote of Wang Jisi and Qian Chengdan in the Finale
中国北京大学历史学系 教授 钱乘旦：
Qian (Professor, Beijing University; speaker in the Politburo seminar)
Britain was the very first nation to establish the modern nation system. Take for example, political systems such as the now familiar cabinet system, monarch constitution system, 2 party system, parliament system, etc., were first established in Britain. Such kind of political system ensure the long term stability and security of this nation, it was able to maintian the stable status for a very long period of time, so that it is beneficial to its economic development
中国北京大学国际关系学院 院长 王缉思：
Wang (Director of Institute for International Relations, Beijing University -- was said to be a key advisor to Hu Jintao on international affairs, esp to US)
When European immigrants arrived at the American continent, they were building a brand new nation on this new continent. This country has a supreme "constitution", under the "constitution" there is a complete set of legal system, through such a mechanism of power checking [judiciary, excutive and legislative], the productivity of the society was pushed forward.
These two key advisors to the programs did not say anything else in the Finale,
and they made explicitly clear what they thought regarding the connection of a "political system" to "economic development"! There is reason to believe that CCP leadership got it, and we are going to witness fundamental changes in China in the coming years, not immediately, but in 3-10 years, step by step, perhaps.