The Chinese Dream and international community

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--By Naren Chitty A.M., Professor, Macquarie University



President Xi Jinping defined China Dream as "national rejuvenation, improvement of people's livelihoods, prosperity, construction of a better society and military strengthening." Further he has dared young people "to dream, work assiduously to fulfill the dreams and contribute to the revitalization of the nation." These two sentences capture both the national and individual dimensions of a civilizational dreaming. Dreams can be about yesterday or about tomorrow. Traditionally-weighted cultures dream of yesterday rather than tomorrow. Indigenous civilizations, such as Australia's own Aboriginal civilization, are traditionally-weighted. The Aboriginal dreamtime is the moment of cosmological beginning, of creation. Dreaming refers to spiritual beliefs. This dreaming guides social behavior. So there is a connection between past and future through the dreaming of the present.

Dreams of nations

Nations have dreams. Often these are expressed today in terms of wellbeing – material or spiritual. The American dream is codified as "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" in the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Bhutan has a measure for Gross National Happiness. It contrasts with the rest of the world which in the post WW2 years has dreamt of a rising Gross National Product. The Australian Dream has historically been a home set in a garden, though increasingly Australians have had to rely on townhouses and apartments to satisfice their residential and lifestyle needs. Some nation states have in the past dreamt of Empire, sometimes led by vainglorious generals – famously such as France under Napoleon.

Making the world safe, being safe for the world

China's efforts at "national rejuvenation, improvement of people's livelihoods, prosperity, construction of a better society and military strengthening" can all add to the economic wellbeing of its trading partners. The ‘military strengthening' is generally viewed by the international community as something necessary for an economically expanding power; and condonable - provided it is defensive and intended to contribute to increased international security. Underlying both national and personal strategies of dreaming we may discern the fundamental condundrum of security. How do we make ourselves feel secure as individuals and communities in a naturally dangerous world. How do we make the world safe for ourselves? Success in addressing this issue leads to another question: ‘How do we make ourselves safe for the world?" The intentionality behind acquiring military power is an important consideration here. Hitler's Germany built up its military forces in defiance of the Treaty of Versailles – a clear indication of it not playing the role of a good citizen of the world community.

Spiritual and material values

The invitation by President Xi Jinping for Chinese citizens to dream of new futures for themselves and for a Chinese collective future for themselves does not de-link the future from the best values of the past, from different periods of the past. The deepest spiritual values derived from Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism may be reduced to the term Ren-Yi which I translate into a prescription for ‘kind and correct' behavior or benevolent rectitude.

The term zhìfù guāngróng (wealth is glorious) is attributed in the west to Deng Xiaoping as ‘to get rich is glorious' – the latter having undertones of unabated individualism. However this is tempered with his belief in a mixed economy where "[a] basic contradiction between socialism and the market economy does not exist". One can create conditions for individual enrichment as well as address the needs of the society as a whole. The personal security of wealth-accumulators as well as of others can be looked after in a balanced way. Some disparities, as well as aspects of behavior that cannot be characterized as ren-yi, have emerged in the past three decades of accelerated growth and part of the China Dream will of course be to address these issues.

President Hu Jintao's call for building a harmonious world made at the UN's 60th anniversary summit must surely be incorporated into the China Dream. Hu Jintao called for the creation of "a harmonious world with lasting peace and common prosperity" to be built through cooperation. He specifically called for the upholding of (1) multilateralism to realize common security; (2) mutually beneficial cooperation to achieve common prosperity; (3) inclusiveness to build a world where all civilizations coexist harmoniously; (4) reform of the UN to improve its capacity to meet new threats new challenges.

The old realist logic was based on bouts of diplomacy between wars conducted under the mechanics of ‘balance of power' and was fired by a warrior's culture of bravery, honor and glory. To die for one's country is glorious! The West was no different to other civilizations in this respect and like in other civilizations there were countervailing dreams of peace that were often co-opted to bless wars. The fifth beatitude in the New Testament, after all, is "[b]lessed are the peacemakers…." The logic of a harmonious world is based on sustainable peace and cooperative development and is fired by republican notions of humanistic development and a world citizen's consciousness of ren-yi.

The current global economic system is clearly not working in a way that generates a smooth path towards the pursuit of happiness of everyone. Periodic crises of capitalism are dealt with through injections of capital to large defaulting corporations but leave ordinary people bereft of livelihoods. The international community would surely like to see China helping to shape international economic institutions in such a way as to remove the likelihood of international financial crises. Similarly, the international community would like to see China helping to shape international organizations so that breaches of peace are dealt with such that harmony will be maintained.

Citizens of a nation and the world; dreaming upwards, downwards and sideways

Ren-yi is a term that fuses two ideas in Confucian thought – (1) "humanity"/"benevolence"/"love"/ "co-humanity" (ren) and (2) correct behavior as applied particularly to persons in authority (yi). Man in society and by extrapolation a state in the international system may follow four steps in perfecting the practice of ren-yi. These steps are outlined below with my contemporary rendering for the international community within parentheses: (1) Learn the rites and about the Way [Learn about right governance within the broader international value structure]; (2) Promulgate the Way [Espouse and promote right governance and the broader international value structure]; (3) Become established with a recognized international position; (4) Share authority with other established persons [states]. Does not ren-yi refer to good governance that prescribes a humanistic outlook and correct behavior? According to Cheng Yi's interpretation there is a further dimension to Ren - it is a quality associated with promoting public rather than private interest. Collective public opinion is viewed as "sage-like" and forming coalitions between the ruler and the people is prescribed… (Zhang 2002, 313).6 The discourse of China Dreams between the Chinese people and the Chinese State and the Chinese State and the international community is a dreaming upwards, downwards and sideways.

Dreams as road maps

Australian Aboriginal paintings are part of Aboriginal dreaming and often depict tracks along the landscape. These are described as pathways from one place to the other, containing landmarks that are identifiable to the knowing. The dreams of Chinese people are also pathways to individual and collective happiness and through China's actions as a good and leading member of the world community could lead to a new path to peace and sustainable development for the international community. In other words, Chinese citizens' dreams will become a harmonious medley, and hopefully for the world this harmony will help shape the character of the international community in the future. Dreams beget dreams. From the vast repository of Chinese dreams – Buddhist, Taoist, Confucianist and Communist – and of Chinese readings of the dreams of Adam Smith and Marx and energized by the dreams that are the aspirations of millions and millions of ordinary Chinese people - will emerge a dream for China in the 21st Century.


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