Is China’s obsession with control hampering its progress?

18 Feb

Before China developed into what is now considered as ‘Modern China’, which occurred arguably post 1911, control of the nation seemed to ‘change hands’ every few hundred years, sometimes within even shorter periods (The Three Kingdoms tripartite lasted from 220-280AD, and is coined to be one of the bloodiest periods in history. Indeed, a population consensus taken during the “late Eastern Han Dynasty reported a population of approximately 50 million, while a population census during the early Western Jin Dynasty reported a population of approximately 16 million.”  (de Crespigny, 2003)).

The goal of having complete control over all of China and her territories can be seen, therefore,  as the aim of many, but the achievement of the few, if none. Many sources cite this fact; in his book entitled “The Security of China”, Arthur Huck quotes that “No Chinese government in the past century has enjoyed control over all the territory regarded as Chinese” (Huck, 1970). It is fair to say then, that the notion of control is perhaps a very close, if not top priority of the past, present and future ruling governments of China.

This is not surprising, given the vast size of the territory and the large populace it contains; however, as a seemingly direct result of this constant struggle for control, it appears as though successive governments have taken a very ‘hard-line approach’ to both obtaining and maintaining this power. Whilst it may not have stemmed out of a yearning for control, it seems very likely that this is one of the fundamental reasons why the Chinese embraced/suited Communism, given their attitudes of zero tolerance to opposition and (sometimes brutal) reactions to dissent.

However, has embracing Communism as both a way of life and as a tool to maintain control over the nation actually done more harm than good for China? Has progress been sacrificed through paranoia? Perhaps the internal fighting, which has plagued China’s history since ancient times, could have been staved off as a side-effect of earlier economic development through embracing capitalism instead; this in turn would have potentially brought about a better standard of living sooner rather than later, and the possibility of a more content populace.

This is a very idealistic view of China’s situation and development; however, there are many clear cases where China could have developed far sooner if it had softened its Communist attitudes more willingly. A clear example of this is China’s acceptance of the Open Door Policy.

 The Open Door Policy, which was announced by Deng Xiaoping in December 1978 (not the ‘Policy’ defined by the United States, as a result of the first Sino-Japanese war of 1895) is heralded as the ‘turning point’ in the fortunes of the Chinese economy. Not only did the policy motivate foreign businesses to settle and start up in China, it brought about a shift in economic policy that saw China begin to actively encourage and support foreign trade and investment. Acceptance of this policy was a clear sign that Chinese attitudes to capitalism were softening. Whether this decision was made out of necessity due to China’s flailing economy at the time, or willingly through a desire to become a respected ‘player’ on the global stage is irrelevant; China’s economy saw rapid, unparalleled growth, taking the nation from being ranked 32nd in the world in export volume In 1978, to overtaking the USA in 2013 and becoming the “world’s biggest trading nation in goods with total for imports and exports reaching US$3.87 trillion” (Inman, 2013).

It is debatable whether China would have had the capability for such growth thirty years ago, but it is a possibility. What if it had? Where would China be today if it had made the move to accepting Capitalism much earlier in its history? 

References:

1) Rafe de Crespigny, (November 2003). “The Three Kingdoms and Western Jin: A history of China in the Third Century AD”. Australian National University. Retrieved 2007-10-29.

2) Arthur Huck, (1970), “The Security of China – Chinese Approaches to Problems of War and Strategy”, SBN 7011 1420 7 

3) Phillip Inman (11 February 2013). “China overtakes US in world trade”. The Guardian

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