Thursday, October 01, 2009

China at Sixty

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 10/1/09

In the early 1920s, the French writer Andre Malraux wrote that the question of the century will be how will the Chinese adapt to individualism? That question may still be unanswered as China reaches the 60th birthday of Mao’s revolutionary turning.

That was long ago; before Jet Li and Ziyi Zhang, before Nixon and Kissinger. But the symbols and images chosen for the celebration, including 5,000 goose-stepping soldiers who rehearsed for five months, recall the Soviet style in the age of Stalin.

“I wonder what Chinese leaders are thinking?” Said Minxin Pei, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in California said to Charles Hutzler of the Associated Press. “For more than 15 years they have been denouncing those who call China’s rise a threat. Now they put on this display of military hardware, with goose-stepping soldiers to match. Aren’t they confirming the China Threat?”

Sixty is an auspicious number that plays well with Chinese. It traditionally represents the full life of a person. To the sage Tao tradition of 5,000 plus years, 60 also brings the end of a civilization’s full life cycle; three generations – 20 years apiece, after which comes decline, death and hopefully rebirth. The three generations can clearly be delineated on this occasion: The Mao Revolution and the Long March, followed by the Cultural Revolution and then the Deng Xiaoping transition to command capitalism and “Socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

My own hunch is that after it settles some historic business, China will begin to look inward if it can inculcate growth internally through infrastructure spending. But the Generalissimo Franco-ish posture of militant nostalgia will also advance.

Because China can see ahead in strength. She can see that she has conquered the Barbarian. But she still has one problem: She has not conquered herself. That is why a singular, quiet and joyful monk living peacefully in exile in Dharamsala, India, can drive the Chinese leadership to seizures.