How Peaceful Is China’s Peaceful Rise?

3553 words - 15 pages

16 July 2014 at 17:01

The People’s Republic of China has been taking great pains to point out to its neighbours specifically, and the world in general, that they have nothing to fear of its increasing power. This approach is epitomised by China’s emphasis on the term ‘peaceful rise’ to describe its expanding influence since 2004. Not only is ‘peaceful rise’ used to allay concerns that China will use its power to further its goals at the expense of other nations, it is also used to directly contrast the PRC with the United States who have been embroiled in the same period in the controversial War on Terror. ...view middle of the document...

In China, the three actants are less balanced, as the line between the elites and political class is more blurred than in a democracy, and they do not have to pay as much notice to the public’s opinion. Perceptions are shaped by experiences, culture and history. Perceptions influence decisions and reactions at all levels and in China, history and culture are blurred more than in most states, as the Chinese trace their history and culture back thousands of years.

Historically, China conducted what we now speak of as ‘foreign relations’ as the Middle Kingdom, with the Emperor possessing the ‘mandate of heaven’, defining him as a “symbolic intermediary between Heaven, Earth, and humanity. This role also implied moral obligation on the Emperor’s part…If the Emperor strayed from the path of virtue, All Under Heaven would fall into chaos. Even natural catastrophes might signify that disharmony had beset the universe. The existing dynasty would be seen to have lost the Mandate of Heaven by which it possessed the right to govern: rebellions would break out, and a new dynasty would restore the Great Harmony of the universe”[1] As a result of this ‘social contract’, political entities along the Middle Kingdom’s periphery were required to recognise the splendour and supremacy of the Emperor by paying tribute. Most of these states were influenced by what is today known as ‘soft power’, cultural and trade links with the hegemon. The central authority rarely intervened in the internal affairs of its periphery states, and a common proverb “The mountains are high and the emperor is far away” was used to describe the power of the emperor’s central authority, not only within the periphery states, but within the Middle Kingdom itself. Symbolic power was often more applicable than direct force, while leaving in no doubt the absolute position of the emperor.

Taking the above mentioned elements together it is not difficult to see that the Communist leadership today, in contrast to ‘revolutionary China’, are heavily influenced by the leadership of imperial China, increasingly laying claim to be the direct, legitimate, heirs to the ‘mandate of heaven’. The reason for claiming direct lineage is to establish a link with China’s ‘golden age’. This attitude/policy is an outcome of the mythology that has built up around the party, at first through victory, and then through a need to justify ongoing one-party rule. This includes a belief in the infallibility of the party and the sacredness of the party-state. The dominant domestic actant is using culture and history to construct their own narrative to maintain their own power. The Party justify their mandate through maintaining domestic stability and social cohesion, which the party aims to achieve in two interlinked ways: increasing the wealth of the people, and appealing to the population’s nationalist tendencies by restoring China to its former glory following its century of humiliation. Part of restoring this...

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