China: A Giant Power or Not?

China used to be one of the mightiest empires and oldest civilizations in the world in human history, but its modern history, starting from the middle of 19th century, was full of disgrace, disorder and chaos as perceived by Chinese people, who has aspired to revive its historical glory in decades of efforts. Only with economical boom during recent years, which was built upon a huge yet cheap labor market, did China manage to become an influential force in international playing ground. However does it mean that it is the Renaissance of Chinese Culture, consequently as a result of economical growth? Given the prevailing attitude of overheating nationalism and outspoken patriotism among Chinese people, is the resurgence of powerful Middle Kingdom a down-to-earth course we should take, or only a daydreaming public illusion?

Obviously the answer would be blowing in the wind since the changing of China is so rapidly that even the most genuine effort to foresee its future seems to be like fortune telling. Each interest group gave their version of prediction, only making the matter more confusing. Indeed no one dare to say what China is going to be exactly in next 20 or 30 years. All that we can be sure is that, this generation of Chinese, grown up in market-oriented value without threat from hunger and war, truly wished their country to be more powerful, peaceful and influential.

Recently a documentary series was aired by China Central Television, the official TV network in China, named “The Rise of Giant Power“(“大国崛起”), which has been a key subject for discussion on the Internet and traditional media alike. The 12-episode documentary started its narration from the 15th century when the Age of Discovery brought prosperity to Spain and ended with the rising of latest modern empire: United States. With up-to-date techniques like interviews, reconstruction of historical scene and computer-generated special effect, it tried to teach China and its people, a rising nation-state, on how to learn from the experiences of has-been giants on the world. (See excerpt video here)

For those liberal-minded people, who stick to the principle that the government should take the benefits of its citizens as top priority, the true and wholehearted wishes for Great China should not be manipulated by the government as an excuse to ignore basic and fundamental rights of its people. Lianyue, one of the most popular bloggers in China, wrote a post titled “It Should be the Rising of Giant Citizen Instead“:


The happiness of its citizens is the top priority of the government, whether it is a big or small country. It should be a Sparta country that reduce its citizen's happiness to minimal and amplify the interest of state to maximum, which has already be proved to be fragile and would not develop further. It doesn't matter for being a Giant Nation; Instead it is important to have Giant Citizens, whose happiness should be considered first. If they are unhappy and unsatisfied, they are entitled to complain, resent and substitute those who are no longer fitting in position with their votes. The happiness of vast majority of people is the ultimate goal the government should pursue. Your legitimacy would be even questioned when there are too many unhappy people.


There are some long-term and upright means to make people feel happy and satisfied: they would have enough food and cloth; they would not go bankruptcy in order to offer family education and health care; they would have a secure place to live, without threat to their possessions and lives; their independent thinking and needs for free expression would be respected. Thus the citizens would feel happy and satisfied, at least for Chinese people, I can guarantee. The short-sighted means is to make people believe that they can be well off without enough food, cloth and right of expression. But generally nobody would adopt this method except for those who are driven into extreme circumstances.


China is a vast land, with wealth accumulating for past few decades, which has provided enough diversity to our probe. 1.5 million families have possessed 70% of national wealth, i.e. there are about 30 million people who are fully satisfied with their living if we count 20 persons for each family. China would be a giant if we only focus on these people. But when taking the rest of national wealth and more than one billion people into consideration, we are much far away from aim of “utmost happiness for vast majority of people”. Faced with the huge population of the impoverished (the number varied from 30 to 100 million) and Gini Coefficient much higher than average, the most urgent task would be talking about the importance of individual citizen and rising of citizenship. Otherwise we would be enthralled by ourselves talking too much about the Giant Power. Subsequently we would think these lagging-behind poor men to be unapprehensive and unaspiring, then consciously or unconsciously dropping these people out of consideration to fulfill our dream of Giant Power. Why should we need such a Giant Power?

China is also a complex which are quite difficult to penetrate single-handedly. The foreign correspondents and businessmen who are flying over Beijing and Shanghai, like Thomas Friedman, will never truly understand this country for its diversified and even conflicting moral, ethical and cultural agenda. How about the natives? Can Chinese themselves understand its homeland without barrier and prejudice? A post titled “Rising of Giant Power, Blind Men and Elephant

不错,中国的经济数据很漂亮,而且越来越漂亮,但大家不能不看到,中国是一个奇怪的复合两面体:既是奢侈品消费力最高的国度之一,又是少有的内需市场十年几无起色的经济快速增长国家;既是近年来法律法规出炉最多的国家,又是公认的法制建设亟待完善的国家;既是最大的高度中央集权单一制国家,又是地方保护主义猖獗、土政策土法规多如牛毛的国家。在这个国家里,某些地区和另一些地区的发达程度差异,并不比美国与苏丹间的差异小多少;在这个国家里,社会保障和医疗保障体系之苍白让绝大多数国民惴惴不安,城市和乡村间的户籍鸿沟至今毫无缩小的迹象;在这个国家里,一纸赞住证如老兵般不死,一个”油改税”的改革近 20年寸步不前……中国是个大国,从来都是;但一个存在如此多问题和隐患的大国,也是前所未有。

Statistically, Chinese economy is very fascinating, and becoming more and more fascinating. But we should acknowledge that China is a weird double-edged compound: The robustest buying power on luxuries while a fast growing economy without strong domestic demand; a country establishing laws and regulations frequently while its legal system badly needed to be improved; the biggest nation with highly centralized political power while local protection and rules are still rampant. The distinction between different places in this country would be no less than that between USA and Sudan. In this country the social security and health care system has put majority of its people into unsecured life. The huge gap between city and rural residence is still unsettled. In this country the certificate of temporary residence was hovering like phoenix. The fuel added tax has been reforming for almost 20 years without any progress…….China is a giant power;yes, it used to be and will be, but it is also a giant power with most problems and unease we ever knew.


What foreign observers get from their angles are usually the shape and appearance of this elephant, not knowing its inner structure and organs. They can look, touch, feel and smell it and uttered their opinions. But such big words were only blindfolded.

As for the segment of Chinese people who has been synchronized with globalized lifestyle and enjoying their social status quo, what did they think about their homeland? Is it already giant power as our Chinese banks are breaking IPO records or Beijing will hold Olympics in 2008? Economically, yes; culturally, probably not. Wang Xiaofeng, another opinion leader in Chinese blogosphere:


Now it is a fad to talk about rising of giant power. What is symbol of being a giant power or super power? First of all you should be economically powerful. You GDP must be half of the whole world combined at least. Though it's not sure that whether America has shared half of the world's wealth nowadays, but it did do before. It is the major stockholder of world's economy, thus they deserved the right of game-ruling: Song Zuying is of world music genre if they prescribed it in this way. You have nothing to do even if they call her an rapper. That's the logic of hegemony.


I always felt that whenever there are anything happening in USA, trivial or not, we would react sensitively and nervously. The Academy Award has impulsed Zhang Yimou to direct a bunch of B-movies. Now the Grammy Award makes us concerned. Today's China seems to be a giant teamed up with a gang of busted losers, who is stuck into the way while despises the poor and favors the rich, with its judgment distorted. China has the vote power on world's game but without ruling power. So illusion were always lingering on our minds and rendering us a hasty view of what is in front of us. We are fooled. We can't do anything assuredly.


  • China: A Giant Power or Not?…

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  • […] [snip] 更重要的是,文化要发展,民族也要前进,我们就必须像鲁迅先生说的那样,对自己的风俗习惯也要”加以研究,解破,分别好坏,立存废的标准”。就是说对于不好的,不适合时代要求的落后的东西,也有个取舍的问题,而对于别的民族、国家那些好的东西也可以拿过来加以改造、借鉴,以便形成我们自己的更加先进的文化。 一个大国,而且号称正在崛起的大国,不但在经济上、政治上要站在时代的制高点思考问题,在文化上也同样要站在时代的高峰,以海纳百川的胸怀与气魄,面对其它民族的文化传统,只有这样,我们才能取得发展自己的主动权。 What’s key, though, is that cultures will develop, and nationalities will progress, and we must do like Mr. Lu Xun said, and “study, dissect, differentiate between the good and bad and abolish established standards” of our own customs and habits. That’s to say, for bad things, backwards things that don’t meet the needs of modern times, there’s still a matter of choice. And things that are good for other nationalities, other countries, can be taken in, altered, and used to make our culture all the more progressive. For a great nation, and one said to be on the rise, not only does it need to be in the forefront of the times in considering matters of economics and politics, but in culture as well, with an all-accepting mind and spirit, facing down other peoples’ cultural traditions. Only thus will we be able to develop our own intiatives. […]

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