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Society & Culture

Getting CPC Right, Then Relations

Mar 24, 2021
  • Wang Yiwei

    Jean Monnet Chair Professor, Renmin University of China

I once asked Dr. Henry Kissinger whether he had seen any Marxist classics in late Chairman Mao’s personal library, since Mao had received him there multiple times. His answer was probably not. There were all kinds of thread-stitched books, all Chinese classics.

Since the Chinese don’t believe in gods, the Chinese communists are atheists, so how can they be trusted? Thus, Americans often describe “communist China” by using such terms as “dictatorship,” “opaque,” “unfree,” “non-believers,” “undemocratic,” “no human rights,” “unstable” and “inhuman.”

It seems that understanding the Communist Party of China is the key to rebuilding China-U.S. political mutual confidence, because U.S. misunderstanding and misjudgments about China are focused on how to understand the CPC. Party leadership, as inscribed in the Chinese Constitution, is the most fundamental characteristic and biggest systemic advantage of socialism with Chinese characteristics. Only when the U.S. side understands and respects this will it stop finding fault with China on such matters as Taiwan, Xinjiang, State-owned enterprises and labor rights.

Here are three important misgivings to overcome:

• Seeing China as an alien that can evolve

Some people lament the failure of the U.S. policy, begun under Richard Nixon, of engaging China. Seeing they have successfully turned Japan into a Western country, they wanted to convert China likewise, neglecting the fact that China has been a singular, independent entity since ancient times, a civilization 5,000 years old, and it is unlikely to adopt a completely Western model. But China has learned a lot from Western civilization. Traditional China has developed into a modern China and is striding toward a China that faces the world, as evident through the Belt and Road Initiative and the idea of a “community with a shared future for mankind.”

• Believing the biggest difference between China and the West lies in the CPC.

Neglecting CPC leadership combines with misunderstandings of traditional Chinese culture. The assimilation of the cream of Western civilization by a 5,000-year civilization is similar to the Buddhist religion being incorporated into the culture of the central plains of China, giving rise to the theories of Buddhism and Zen.

• Believing the Chinese revolution picked up what the West had discarded as heresy: Marxism

Actually Marxism has been Sinicized and is no longer what is imagined as Soviet-style Marxism, which arose from a mixture of backward Russian serfdom, Slavic culture and theories of communist revolution. But it has been modified and integrated with the splendid Chinese civilization.

To eliminate these misgivings, the CPC must be understood in three dimensions — 100, 500 and 5,000 years.

100 years: The CPC’s catchword has evolved from “Communist Party/communism” to “China/socialism,” and socialism itself has been Sinicized from the perspectives of movement, institutions and civilization.

It is worrying that Americans are increasingly seeing China through the prism of ideology and nation-state, rather than from the perspective of history and culture. Nor has China fully sorted out the inherent correlation between the CPC and Chinese civilization, which favors grand unity. The CPC’s logic involves “standing up,” “getting rich” and “growing strong,” as well the transformation from a revolutionary party to a ruling party and finally to a governing party.

500 years: Since the industrial revolution 500 years ago, the prosperity of Western civilization has also benefited China. The CPC-led country has built the world’s largest industrial system and become the largest industrialized manufacturing base. It is now the largest digitalized country. Now is time to think about the CPC as the genesis of China’s peaceful rise and great rejuvenation.

5,000 years: That the CPC has adapted well to the popular culture of China and adapted to and preserved a state of grand unity is evidence that the soil of 5,000 years of civilization has borne fruit. The CPC has learned from Western civilization and integrated it with traditional Chinese culture.

Thus, China-U.S. strategic dialogue can start with the core values of domestic and global governance and then explore the CPC’s governing logic in such realms as climate change, public health and digitalization. The two countries can work together for fairness and justice for mankind. 

As the CPC celebrates its 100th anniversary, it is important for Americans to understand, to rebuild their outlook on the CPC and hence their outlook on China. For that there are three key words: China, communist and party.  

China: The Communist Party has been localized in China. Sinicization means it has been integrated with the Chinese revolution and traditional culture, transforming the traditional ideals of eliminating wealth gaps and grand unity under heaven into today’s building of a society with all-around moderate prosperity and realizing all-around modernization.

Why does the CPC emphasize a people-centered governance philosophy? The cultural gene can be found in Chapter 49 of “Tao Te Ching”:

“The sage has no invariable mind of his own; he makes the mind of the people his mind. To those who are good [to me], I am good; and to those who are not good [to me], I am also good — and thus [all] get to be good. To those who are sincere [with me], I am sincere; and to those who are not sincere [with me], I am also sincere; — and thus [all] get to be sincere.”

Traditional Chinese culture appreciates harmony rather than revolution and struggle. A “community with a shared future for mankind” reflects the integration of the CPC’s ideals with traditional Chinese culture, which no longer states proletariat overthrowing bourgeois rule but rather believes capitalism and socialism can coexist. It resonates with other cultures’ appreciation of harmony, such as the Christian teaching of “one for all, all for one.”

The CPC’s legitimacy lies not in elections, as Americans understand; it is a choice informed by history, reality and the people. As Daniel Bell said in “The China Model: Political Meritocracy and the Limits of Democracy,” it is election plus selection when it comes to official appointments.      

What is China?  China is a “civilization-state, pretending to be a [nation-] state.”  Traditional Chinese civilization has been transformed by the CPC, and the Chinese civilization in its popular sense doesn’t equal a secular one that subscribes to no religious beliefs. It’s not that the Chinese don’t believe in a god but that they don’t have a common god; they respect both those who believe in gods and those who don’t. Which is why the CPC can seek truth in facts and demonstrate the greatest possible openness and inclusiveness to achieve social justice and fairness.

Communist: “Communist” as adjective is neither “sharing assets and wives,” as the Kuomintang once smeared it, nor the state capitalism Americans imagine.  China’s ownership structure is far from as simple as it was in the planned-economy era. The private sector in China contributes more than 50 percent of tax revenues, more than 60 percent of GDP, more than 70 percent of innovations and more than 80 percent of urban jobs. It accounts for more than 90 percent of all enterprises.

Therefore, “communist” has incorporated the ideas of common prosperity and public good. China has just bid farewell to poverty and embarked on a journey toward all-around modernization, which is why the CPC and General Secretary Xi Jinping have won hearts.

Party: Americans tend to believe the Chinese revolution picked up what the West trashed as heresy — Marxism. Actually Marxism has been Sinicized and is no longer the Soviet model they assume it to be. Dr. Sun Yat-sen borrowed from former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln’s “of the people, by the people, for the people” and developed his “three principles of the people” (nation, civil rights, people’s livelihoods).

The CPC has taken one step further to accentuate “in the people” (people-centered), “before the people” (pioneer, because they stand out in the face of hardship) and “after the people” (public servant), because they won’t relax until the rest of society finds comfort. The CPC isn’t a political party in the traditional Western sense, nor one in the traditional Chinese sense. It is seeking fairness and justice for humanity as a whole, and it advocates humanism.

The CPC is continuing the religious revolution and the Western Enlightenment. From the separation of politics and religion to our present emphasis on the unity of man and nature, people first, and seeking truth from facts, it is dedicated to helping mankind get rid of superstition.

The U.S. worries China may take its place, which is only natural. How could the U.S., which absolutely does not want to be in second place, tolerate a rising China? What is the goal of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation? It is neither to return to the Han or Tang dynasties, nor to overtake the U.S. but to make greater contributions to human progress and provide public goods that are better, more inclusive and more affordable. From the perspective of traditional culture, it is not difficult to understand that the CPC will not only not seek hegemony but instead will oppose it. The CPC is spearheading the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation to open up a new era that is free of hegemony.

As a Chinese diplomatic tradition, China’s opposition to hegemony is also obvious in the China-U.S. Shanghai Communique of 1972. Deng Xiaoping once said, “If one day China seeks hegemony in the world, people from all over the world share the obligation to expose us, condemn us and oppose us as a hegemon along with the Chinese people.” Rather, the CPC wants to build a community with a shared future for mankind and wants to end the era of hegemony. This is an important contribution to mankind.

Facts have shown that attributing all the problems facing the U.S. to China and the CPC won’t resolve the American troubles. Former U.S. President Donald Trump’s trade war against China failed to bring industry, capital and jobs back to the U.S. Instead, it made China stronger.

Suppressing China in a different way today won’t solve the U.S. leadership problem either. China could become a  partner in solving U.S. problems, rather than being blamed as the cause of trouble. Resolving basic epistemological issues is a precondition for rebuilding mutual political confidence.

The CPC should be understood from the perspective of human civilizations and, especially, Chinese civilization. China and the U.S. may carry out political dialogue on the ideas in traditional Chinese culture that support the CPC, together with the core values of globalization, to accumulate mutual trust and prevent misjudgments.

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