Chinese Narratives--August Handgrenade 2022

John T Kuehn's picture

August 2022 Handgrenade

Chinese Narratives

By John T. Kuehn

            One of the most enduring, and powerful, myths of the current Chinese state and its leaders is the so-called “century of humiliation.”   This narrative posits that China was disrupted and thrown into chaos by the imperialistic-capitalistic West beginning in the late 18th Century with the McCartney mission to the Qianlong Emperor (of the Qing-Manchu Dynasty) and coming to an end by 1949 with the triumph of the Chinese Communist Party.  More than one century I would say…but the bulk of the humiliation narrative occurred in the 19th century, beginning with the First Opium War  (which was followed by a second in the 1860s) and then capped off by total humiliation and triumph of European Imperialistic extra-territoriality after the Boxer Rebellion.

This narrative accounts for the Asian role of Japan in this humiliation by positing Japan as another “western” power, behaving like a western imperial power.  These Japanese “humiliations” were very large indeed--the subjugation of the Ryukyus and the first Sino-Japanese War, the colonization of the former Qing tributary kingdom of Korea,  the Boxer Rebellion, followed by the Russo-Japanese war fought entirely on Qing imperial territory in Manchuria.   By the time the horrific Russo-Japanese War was over China’s biggest threat was no long western encroachments along its periphery (especially Tsarist Russia), but the Empire of Japan.  Germany probably ranks second, but was ejected and replaced by Japan during the Great War (another humiliation of sorts, occurring as the Chinese revolution continued after 1911).

The other thing this narrative tends to leave out, and which historians and Asian scholars try to emphasize, is the agency of the Chinese themselves.  The Qing’s expanded Chinese empire was racked internally by many revolts, the most destructive being those in the 19th century—the White Lotus Rebellion, the Xian Rebellion, various Muslim rebellions and then the mother of all Chinese holocausts, the Taiping Rebellion…which lasted over 20 years and claimed somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 million lives.  But even the Taiping rebellion is cut to fit the shoe…its genesis being a strange Christian cult led by “God’s Chinese Son” Hong Xiuquan.  But even this explanation seems strained when it is understood the agency of the dispossessed Hakka minority that Hong came from, and the severe constraints on social mobility in China.  Hong’s nervous breakdown and revelation had more to do with repeated failures of a Chinese institution, the imperial testing system, than they did some Chinese lettered Bible tract left by Western missionaries.  Again, note how in creating this narrative the  leaders of the PRC must remove the agency of the Chinese people and replace it with a nefarious agency from the west.  It was the “other”—not us.  And of course the Taiping were not the only rebels.  It was all of these, but was it mostly the West?

Finally they may say…”Well look, John,  it was the western encroachments that undermined the stability of the Qing system.”  And I say to them, then how does one explain the fall of previous dynasties in Chinese History?  The Han, the Tang, the Song, the Yuan (another ‘barbarian’ dynasty), and especially the Ming. Look at the Ming,   internal peasant revolts, in the same areas as the White Lotus, the Xian, and Taiping fatally undermined the Ming and allowed China to fall to the horse-mounted Jurchen tribesmen of the north (the Manchus).

So what is the counter to all this?  I await the return handgrenades from Panda-students everywhere.  As do my faithful reader-participants.  Xia Xia.

[sources,  primarily Jonathan Spence’s The Search for Modern China and God’s Chinese Son]

I agree with John Kuehn that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) sometimes exaggerates and oversimplifies in its narrative of the "century of humiliation." It particularly exaggerates the extent to which Western pressure impeded the development of the Chinese economy. But I disagree with him about some significant aspects of the story.

CCP historians do not treat the Taiping Rebellion as a result of Western influence, denying Chinese agency in it. On the contrary, they treat the Taiping movement as a noble cause, completely an expression of Chinese agency, and blame the Western imperialists for having collaborated with the Qing Dynasty in suppressing the "Taiping Revolution" (Bai Shouyi et al., An Outline History of China, rev. ed. [Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 2002], p. 406).

More generally, CCP historians do not blame the Westerners for undermining the stability of the Qing system, because they don't like the Qing system. They do not think China would have been better off if the Qing system had remained stable.

It is true that by World War I the Japanese replaced the westerners as the most aggressive and dangerous intruders into China, but the western intrusions did not fade away as fast as Kuehn suggests. Germany's imperialist footprint in China was not second to that of Japan until it was eliminated during World War I, Britain's footprint was far larger than Germany's, and remained long after Germany's had been eliminated.

One of the less important forms of Chinese humiliation was the routine presence of Western naval vessels not just along the coast of China but upriver in the interior. As late as the beginning of 1949 it was normal for a British Navy vessel to be at Nanjing, about two hundred miles up the Yangzi River from the sea. The British did not realize until April that this could no longer be considered normal. HMS Amethyst, a 1,350-ton sloop armed with four-inch guns, tried to go up the river from Shanghai to Nanjing in April, failed, and was barely able to escape back downriver in July.

August 2, 2022

I find myself in basic agreement with Edwin Moise's comments. I would add it has been reported that when, in 1972, Prime Minister of Japan, Tanaka Kakuei, met Chinese premier Zhou Enlai to discuss the normalization of relations between the two countries, Tanaka first apologized for past Japanese aggression against China. Zhou, however, responded that there was no need to apologize for, had the Chinese been united, instead of fighting among themselves, imperialist countries like Japan would never have been able to launch their aggression against China.

Aside from the magnanimity of Zhou's words, I think they also tell us just why the maintenance of unity under the CCP is so very important both to the Party and to the Chinese people as a whole. That is to say, their past bitter experience tells them that if they ever allow themselves to be divided again, foreign powers will once again take advantage of their internal discord to control them. It should also help us understand why reunification with Taiwan remains so important.

Had any other major nation and its people had the same experience would they act differently?

Edwin--I see no citations for CCP historians--that is historians inside China writing today. At any rate, the narrative as such is not so much crafted by them as by the politburo and leaders like Xi. It is echoed to some extent outside China by others, including historians. As for shoehorning the Taiping into the anti-Western narrative, I've heard it with my own ears by someone in my department.

John T. Kuehn

John--I cited a book published by the Foreign Languages Press, one of the main official organs through which the Chinese Communist Party speaks to the world. When Xi Jinping has a book he wants to put out in English, he uses the Foreign Languages Press. That press would not have published the book I cited without multiple layers of Communist Party censors having agreed that the book accurately reflected the Communist Party's view of events.

The party leaders' narrative is the one in that book. On November 11, 2021, the party issued "Resolution of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China on the Major Achievements and Historical Experience of the Party over the Past Century." It stated "After the Opium War of 1840, however, China was gradually reduced to a semi-colonial, semi-feudal society due to the aggression of Western powers and the corruption of feudal rulers. The country endured intense humiliation . . . To save the nation from peril, the Chinese people rose to fight back, and patriots of high ideals sought to pull the nation together, putting up a heroic and moving struggle." First on its list of the heroic struggles of the Chinese people was "The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom Movement."

If a colleague of yours at the Command and General Staff College gave you a narrative treating the Taiping movement as an expression of Western influence, that was an American narrative. It had nothing to do with the Chinese Communist Party's narrative.

Other parts of your original post also did not seem to me to reflect close attention to actual Chinese versions of the narrative of China's "century of humiliation."

Does the CCCP History and interpretation include and accurately state the early history of China's attempt to 'fight back,' as given here, or does it only reflect the CCCP History ?

I apologize for the scattered nature of this post. The viewpoint that John (and Professor Spence) explicates is not new. It has been a mainstay of Chinese nationalism since its invention. These thoughts are based on my own study of Chinese history over the past 50 years. Even though "my belly is stuffed with knowledge" I feel more ignorant and puzzled than when I began!

The Chinese elite saw the particular nationalist vision of the nation-state, which coincidentally empowered itself, as the most appropriate form of political organization. Their goal was to reconstruct the Qing polity as a powerful Western-style nation-state in order to survive in the world they saw in inter-state relations. This has been a goal (reasserting China's status as the dominant power in East and Southeast Asia and spreading its influence throughout the region) since the defeat in 1895 and has been the core of the foreign policy of every Chinese government. It has also been an organizing idea in Chinese schooling. "National Humiliation Days" were commemorated in Chinese schools beginning in the 1920s - one of my Chinese mentors told me (with a smile) March was a very bad month.

As the CPC abandoned the tenets of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought as well as liberal democracy, China has reverted to an autocratic political system. China exudes strength and confidence, but is strong externally and weak internally (外强中干 wai qiang zhong gan [outwardly strong inwardly weak]). Now, the Chinese government is the largest in the world, commands the most soldiers, has the most foreign exchange reserves, and is seen as an emerging or emerged superpower.

The principle of national sovereignty remains sacrosanct, but the willingness to grant autonomy posits indirect rule of the periphery but autonomy will be decreased if threats to Chinese dominance or sovereignty are believed to be on the rise. In fact, the current government policy in Tibet, Xinjiang, and Hong Kong has decreased autonomy on the periphery. The Beijing government worries about foreign threats to internal order. As the possibilities of reunification become closer to reality, part of the foreign threat becomes an internal threat. The Communists, as the Qing before them, view domestic threats as they do foreign threats; in fact, the danger of domestic treason is paramount. The heart of the problem was, and is, maintaining control over the intellectual and economic center of China Proper, the lower Yangzi and Jiangnan.

The attitude toward outsiders has not changed. It combines fear and mistrust, admiration and envy. The key to Communist concern is the same as Imperial concern, the desire to control the populace to preserve internal order. The fear is that heterodoxy will be disruptive and lead to disorder. The social controls broke down in the century after the First Opium War (1839-1842). They were reimposed after the founding of the People’s Republic and intensified by China’s isolation between 1949 and 1979 and are being reimposed by Xi Jinping.

The cement binding China together today as the flame of Communist ideology dims is Han nationalism. The party has deliberately stoked and shaped Chinese nationalism, and many residents now feel pride in the Communist authoritarian development model. The party’s thought work to this end has come to include, in addition to censorship, fashioning textbooks, television documentaries, museums, and other media that spread seriously distorted versions of Chinese history. In a related effort to guide the public’s thinking, the word democracy has been twisted beyond recognition and stripped of the values that have traditionally defined it. The Party preaches equality, while presiding over incomes as unequal as anywhere in Asia. In a single generation, the party elite has been transformed from a mirthless band of Mao-suited, ideological thugs to a wealthy, business-friendly thuggish ruling class.

The possible key to analyzing Chinese foreign policy and domestic political behavior may be to refuse to choose between “how much China has changed or how much it has stayed the same,” but to pay attention to the continuities in areas that seem most transformed and the ruptures in areas that seem resistant to transformation. In using "national humiliation" and nationalism Chinese authorities have forged a multifaceted and sophisticated set of policies that are comprehensive, encompassing the political, legal, social, and media spheres to undermine democratic development. They are creating a long lasting imperial autocracy.

The Chinese leadership struggles with a domestic political problem, one of its own making: an ever more strident Chinese nationalism. The regime has stoked nationalism to replace the old Communist values in which few in China still believe. But the more the leadership encourages nationalism, the more it has to worry about being itself accused of caving to foreigners. The ultimate fear is that, some day, nationalism could turn against the leadership itself.

As one looks at Chinese history since 1500 there may be a Ming-Qing parallel for contemporary China. The experience of these last two dynasties shows that arbitrary, violent, repressive autocracies that enjoy the faithful support of their privileged victims can work quite well. At present, the regime believes it is following a strategy that works. China’s leaders believe that money plus violence equals stability because twenty years ago “the West was not afraid of us and now they are,” so why change a successful formula?

"The more I learn, the less I know". Lewis Bernstein commenting upon a state of affairs that is quite possibly more universal, having some of this same experience.

Besides this observation, thanks for an excellent short analysis; well explained on recent history of China and its relationship to Communism through emphasis upon "Nationalism'. One question might remain: does this really entail a complete abandoning of the international messianic worldview of Communism, or can it be said to have 'transferred' to the periphery expansionism noted as more 'traditional' China concern for regional dominance?

This and a few other questions which may be worthy of a book would seem actually deserved.

Final point, the idea of 'fear' of China in the West seems far more a result of history of technology and its specific expression in terms of nuclear weapons and ergo, military history's advancement into a nuclear age. This latter point coming into the forefront primarily in the 1960s for US and Western democracies. It also was not a historic condition of those earliest Founders of Communism; Marx, Engels, Lenin did not anticipate nuclear war or weapons, at least to my own limited knowledge.

I think Marxist-Leninist- Mao Thought (international communism) is dead except as a rhetorical prop. Today the Chinese state is an imperial autocracy - it has reverted to a Ming-Qing model. Remember, this model was a reaction and adoption of China's status under the Yuan (Mongol) as a part of a world empire. They began to see themselves and refer to themselves as the "Great Ming" and the "Great Qing." The Chinese leadership consciously or unconsciously draws upon a several thousand year old set of socio-political traditions. These traditions, never static, evolve, adjusting to the political realities of China’s place in the world.
Two different streams feed these traditions, each drawing on distinctly different cultural origins. One was the steppe civilization of the pastoralists, while the other was the settled, agricultural civilization of the people who called themselves Han. Even though personalities and governmental systems change, the fundamental problems and dilemmas facing Chinese leaders remain the same.
Much of what passes for analysis of China’s international relations has a foreshortened historical perspective and relies on narrating a history of events without consciously linking them to any other wider framework. Ma Duanlian, a 13th century historian wrote, “order and disorder, rise and fall, are facts that have no continuity and no reciprocal relations.” The history of events in and of themselves is not very interesting. The only history worthy of the name is studying a particular topic that encompasses a series of events in which it would be possible to discern a sequence, a continuity or evolution of some kind. History is valuable because its long range perspective enables one to perceive long term patterns despite frequent discontinuities.
The boundaries of the Chinese state have expanded and contracted over time. The Ming polity consisted of the "Eighteen Provinces" of China Proper. It did not include the Northeast, Mongolia, Western China or Tibet. They built the Great Wall to channel their interactions with the pastoralists - it was a defensive measure forced on them because of their inability to procure adequate cavalry remounts. Moving the capital from Nanjing to Beijing recognized the danger of the "menace from the steppe." The Qing, a foreign conquest dynasty based in the Northeast (Manchuria) ended the steppe menace by expanding imperial rule to Central Asia and Tibet. In the 18th century (about the time of the American Revolution) the dynasty, collaborating with the Russian Empire, eliminated Dzungaria (a rival steppe state), by the simple expedient of ethnic cleansing (extermination). A foreign conquest dynasty ended the steppe threat, which lasted approximately 2900 years, to the Chinese state.
The "West", however defined, did not always fear the Chinese state or Chinese culture. In fact in the 17th and 18th century there was a vogue of chinoiserie expressed in art and culture. Philosophers like Leibniz advocated that the Chinese send moral missionaries to Europe. The Industrial Revolution was one of the forces that created an overweening Western arrogance toward Asia. One of social science’s conceits has been its view that the "West" was and is the world’s change engine; that the Western experience provides the only appropriate set of norms for societal change, and the rest of the world consists of aberrations of one sort or another. According to this perspective, only the West has a history replete with change and example, the other peoples of the world lack event laden histories, have an unchanging past, and were wrenched out of the ruts of their timeless tradition by the West’s disruptive dynamism.
This superior attitude is still inherent in some Western scholarship and in popular views of China and is based on the assumptions that the “Westerner” is rational, virtuous, mature, and normal while the “Asian” is irrational, aberrant, undeveloped, and inferior. Much of Western scholarship apprehends Asians as objects who have failed to conform to Western expectations of the human and the rational. Hegel, Marx, and Weber, the founding fathers of social science, were all particularly interested in demonstrating the unique development of the West, stemming from an ontological view of the truly human, in contrast to nature, which could not be found, for example, in Asia. They all believed that Asia did not have a history. This view is currently challenged in Asia and Africa by a so-called Chinese model of authoritarian development. (Yes, I am on a soap box, riding my hobby horse.)
Western fear of China - the Yellow Peril, which in the 1950s was combined with the "Red Menace" - is notable in popular culture but goes back to the popular racism in the US and Western Europe in the 19th century. We can talk about racism in the American West (California, Oregon, Idaho, Washington), the racist social structure in European Asian colonies and in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean Treaty Ports. Popular literature and the mass media (newspapers, magazines, and motion pictures as well as radio and television) stoked these feelings. Chines, and Asians in general, were exotic and devious, motivated by hatred of the "white race."
Also, remember that China (Chinese intellectuals) underwent a series of shocks. Given that they understood they were living in a Social-Darwinist world they adopted an illiberal statist nationalism - anti-democratic, repressive, and militarist. In China these nationalist appeals took strong hold after a series of failures between 1894 and 1901, marked a break in Chinese intellectual continuity and ultimately forced the Qing to reform in the light of Western models. The dilemma of Chinese intellectuals, schooled for a public role, was they found what they loved (the Chinese humanist tradition) was not useful to save China and what was useful (Western ideologies) was unlovable. In adopting them they separated into two broad thought patterns - one disdained everything Western and used Western instrumentalities to reform and strengthen China, while their opponents accepted western models uncritically and blames Chinese tradition for China's backwardness (this is a gross over simplification).
I hope I've answered your queries and provided some insight, but I think I've tried to stuff 10n pounds of knowledge into a 5 pound bag. If I've confused, let me know and maybe I can untangle it. Stranger things have happened.

I must disagree with an important part of Lewis Bernstein’s contention that China has abandoned Marxist-Leninist-Mao Thought and reverted to a Ming-Qing model of imperial autocracy.

Mao Thought lost its power gradually in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Marxism was dead in China at least as early as the 1960s, though the embalmed corpse (a system purporting to be class analysis that categorized many people not by the role they played in the economy, but on the roles their parents or even grandparents had played decades in the past) was incorporated into Mao thought and was capable of doing considerable harm up through the 1970s. But Lenin’s contribution to the trilogy--the organization and structure of the Communist Party--is still very much alive and indeed forms the core of Xi Jinping’s autocracy.

Xi Jinping’s government has enormously more control over Chinese society than the Ming or Qing ever did. The reason is that the organizations that enforce Xi’s will are far stronger and more trustworthy than those that enforced the will of the emperors. Strength and trust are closely linked. Xi does not have perfect trust in the officials under him, but he trusts them more than the emperors trusted their bureaucrats, so he allows them to have more power.

Ming or Qing rulers could destroy a city, but they would not have been capable of locking down a large city the way Xi has done, leaving it pretty much intact if somewhat poorer, to be reopened a few weeks later. Nor would they have been capable of creating a censorship regime anywhere near as strong as Xi’s, to monitor the private communications of individuals.

Circling back to the original topic of this thread, one of the core principles of the Ming-Qing autocracy was that it is better to be served poorly by weak subordinates than to be overthrown by strong ones. That principle was not the only reason for the weakness that exposed China to its century of humiliation, but it was one of the important reasons. China’s rulers today look at that experience and conclude that China’s government *must* be strong. Some method therefore *must* be found to make a strong government structure trustworthy. The Communist Party is their solution to this problem.

On another issue, I do not recognize “social science” as a thing, an entity that has enough coherence to have had founding fathers or to have attitudes toward historical questions. If a belief that non-Western societies had “an unchanging past” is “still inherent in some Western scholarship,” that word “some” refers to a group of scholars so small and so lacking in influence that I cannot think of a single example.

You concentrate on the discontinuities between late Imperial China and contemporary China. I concentrated on the continuities. Yes, the CCP is Leninist, but so was the Guomindang - they have the same roots. Late imperial rulers did not have the technological ability to closely control society but the mutual responsibility networks they tried to set up on a permanent basis illustrate their aspirations - urban and rural control issues were very important to stability. The Qing were quite successful in censoring anti-Manchu writings. Additionally, the militarization of local governmental systems in response to rebellion and social disruption through the 19th century was fairly successful. This culminated in the suppression of the Taiping, Nian, and Moslem Rebellions culminating in creating Xinjiang bringing the region under civilian bureaucratic control.

I have not seen any empirical evidence that suggests Xi trusts local officials any more than the emperors. His trust of local officials is equivalent to the trust Stalin and Ming Taizu had of their officials. In the first decade of the 20th century, Qing officials were effective in stopping the spread of plague into China Proper from the Northeast.

Your comment about weak subordinates preferable to strong ones is interesting but is belied by the actual events. The Qing emperors realized that Western incursions on the sea coast were not as serious as trouble to the West. Mongolia, Tibet and what is now Xinjiang and Qinghai were more important to dynastic well being and to quell the rebellions and restore peace competent capable officials were sent to those areas. The dynasty was overwhelmed by Western colonialism as the various treaty powers reserved special rights, treaty ports, and spheres of influence in China between 1844 and 1901 but retained control fo the Far West. The Qing and later the Republic lost control of Siberia and what the Russians call the Maritime Province, Vietnam, Taiwan, Korea, as well as Inner and Outer Mongolia. Tibet was de facto independent after 1905.But, at the time of the 1911 Republican Revolution the Qing was preparing to launch a punitive expedition from Western China to bring Tibet back into the dynasty’s political orbit. The successful revolution and the ensuing wars (civil and world) delayed executing this plan until 1950.

The last decade of the Qing [the period of New Policies (xian zheng)] saw the revival of central leadership who pushed to take over provincial reform efforts and change the basic social, political, and ideational structures of society. The goals were to streamline the administrative system, clearly define duties and responsibilities in the bureaucracy, and change the government structure to foster citizenship and popular participation in governance (for the monarchy’s and the state’s interests). The New Policies did not solve the problems the dynasty faced. The measures enacted exacerbated social tensions and political restiveness because they represented a decisive move to reverse the process of government shrinkage relative to the size of the state and the economy. Additionally the policies were a decisive move in the steady construction of a more intrusive and powerful modern state in China. These policies showed the Chinese state's desire to extend its reach down into society. This was begun in a period of civil war and internal rebellion (post-1795) and the pace increased as the dynasty realized the efficacy of Western technology to pursue this goal.

To finance the reforms, the dynasty began demanding provincial “contributions” to service the Boxer debt and simultaneously began to nationalize successful self-strengthening enterprises which redistributed fiscal resources. It also reversed a long term decentralization trend that increased the tax burden borne by the local population. New taxes were imposed on the localities by the central government as well as the provincial and/or local administrations. New, more efficient ways of collecting taxes in the cities and towns turned them into cash machines. Additionally there was indirect taxation in the form of currency debasement. The New Policies were equal opportunity offenders with something to offend every individual and social group. The Manchu actions fired the Chinese reformist elite’s nationalism. They embraced the desirability and inevitability of an anti-imperial revolution that was fed by an incendiary anti-Manchuism and fanned by Han racial nationalism. The sticking point was economics, namely national railroad construction, which had degenerated into a power struggle between the central and provincial governments.

The opportunity or revolutionary moment came about as a perception that the Qing was unable to govern the empire effectively. Admittedly this has not yet happened in the PRC. So far, the bureaucrats have shown competence.

The "century of humiliation" has been a useful theme to stoke nationalism and has been for about a century. I has been adopted by Western historians of China, but as we ask new questions of old material or find new materials or use old material in a different way. Should we ask why multinational empires fell or should we ask how they lasted so long?

Finally, I have not been associated with university teaching in more than 10 years. Given my ignorance, in the feeling that I may be wrong and you may be right, how many regional specialists are the in Clemson's economics, sociology, anthrpology, and political science departments? Is "rational choice" still the flavor of the moment? How many Asian specialists in your department, is it just you or perhaps one or two others? How many at Clemson outside language instruction? The bias I referred to is inherent and not stated baldly as it was in former times. Or, you may be right. To be honest, I hope you are, but I think not.

Inclination is quite strong to agree with Prof. Moise on his conclusions about the importance to Communism in both Govt. and Politics, as well as ideology, forming modern era of China History.

Insofar as fear by the West, would be less inclined to attribute that to fear of Communism rather than their current abilities at harnessing military force and technology in a nuclear age, which is unlikely to end any near or even distant time into an unknown future.

This seems a much more delicate matter than political ideology; neglected and negligence by western politics and political/military leadership would be anywhere from a mistake to outright unwelcome potential and actual incompetence.
The threat offered by political organization and ideology remains most deliberate and dangerous for any benefits from ignorance or ignoring their presence as substantive truth of modern historical outcomes.

Recitation of the recent history, when Pres. Nixon and Henry Kissinger determined to change US policy from a 2 Chinas history based in WW II outcomes, for One China with 2 Systems has brought about considerable difference in the even more recent history and political/military balances. Some of these may not be warranted given how important Taiwan remains to 20th Century China's History.

It is quite noteworthy, however, that Communism came from Western history and experiences of China and did not spring up as Chinese 'originalism' if that term may be applied to this history. Quite to the contrary, Leninism and Marxism were the least desired Western contributions to China and its history.

Lewis, you need to distinguish much more between aspirations and reality. You are writing about goals and desires where I am writing about power.

I am mostly a modern historian, so I won’t risk making a fool of myself by trying to write about Ming Taizu.

The Qing’s local responsibility system worked surprisingly well, given the weakness of the link between it and the central government. The Qing as a matter of policy prevented the county magistrates from developing strong ties with those below them, including the people running the responsibility system.

What you refer to as “the militarization of local government systems” was very much in my mind when I wrote my post. In the 1850s and 1860s, the threat posed by rebels, especially the Taipings, became so dire that the Qing tolerated the rise of four really powerful political-military officials at the provincial level to fight the rebels. It worked well enough that the Qing even tolerated the rise of two replacements, as the original four died off, but the Qing had never been happy with this violation of their principles, and in 1907 the Qing stripped Zhang Zhidong and Yuan Shikai of their power bases. Four years later the 1911 Revolution broke out in the heart of what had been Zhang Zhidong’s power base. (This is not the simple “What if” that it appears to be, since Zhang had died in the interim. But there might have been an heir to his position, someone as able as Zhang would have been to smash any uprising, if not for the deliberate Qing decision not to tolerate strong provincial officials.)

The revolutionary conspiracy that began the 1911 uprising was extremely weak, so weak that any normal government would have put it down without difficulty. The New Policies of the last decade of the Qing had not been “a decisive move in the steady construction of a more intrusive and powerful modern state in China.” They had left the state so pathetically weak that it could not cope with even a relatively weak revolutionary movement. In a matter of weeks, province after province slipped from the hands of the Qing without even much of a fight.

Stalin did not trust his officials, but he allowed them a great deal of power, allowed them to run the strongest government Russia had ever had, strong enough to defeat Hitler, because Stalin trusted that the Communist Party and the secret police would keep unreliable officials from getting out of control.

Chiang Kai-shek would have liked to make the Guomindang something resembling a Leninist Party, but he failed. Lacking a strong Leninist party, he had to play subordinates off against one another, instead of helping them strengthen themselves enough to enable them to defeat the Japanese and the Communists. If Chiang had done half as good a job building a Leninist Party as Mao did, he would have won the Chinese Civil War and remained ruler of China to the end of his days.

Mao build a very strong government, by far the strongest China had ever had, partly by relying on very strong subordinates. When he came to distrust both those subordinates and the Party, he weakened the structure drastically in the Cultural Revolution, but Deng Xiaoping rebuilt it.

I am not sure what I have said that seemed to you to imply something about the numbers of regional specialists at American universities. When I denied that social scientists typically believe that non-Western societies had an “unchanging past,” did you think that implied that a lot of the social scientists were specialists in the past histories of non-Western societies? But to answer your questions:

For most of the time I have been at Clemson, the only courses on Asian history have been the ones I taught on China, Japan, and the Vietnam War. (I am enough of a Vietnam specialist that my course on the Vietnam War really does say something about the country, not just what the Americans did there.) For a few years there was a professor of Japanese language who also taught premodern East Asian History.

The situation has improved drastically in the last few years in regard to other parts of Asia. The department has been making a major effort in South Asian history. We now have one specialist on South Asia, and one who combines South Asia with Africa.

The Department of Languages does more than teach the languages. There is one professor who in addition to teaching in the Language Department also teaches courses on Buddhism and Chinese philosophy in the Department of Philosophy and Religion, and another who I believe teaches a course in Anthropology.

The Department of Political Science has one China specialist. I am not aware of one in Economics or Sociology, although I do not know as much about those departments as I should.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sun_Yat-sen

A little surprised, Prof. Moise and Lewis have not mentioned Sun Yat Sen, the First President of 'Modern' China's Republic. It was his 3 principles which formatted a basis for founding the China Republic becoming Nationalist China, whose today inheritor is Taiwan and still the cause of this conflict from an end to WW II in China and the Pacific, grown out of a break between Community Party history and the Nationalist history.

In 'modern' history, US always had sided with the Nationalist Govt. as China's legal govt., until the Nixon era enshrined Mao and the Communists in China. Had attended possibly the last Nationalist Govt. party in DC during 68-69 time, an outdoor party for DC and persons invited to celebrate with them, with their presence as an official government.

Sun yat Sen period in China was taught in a course on Chinese Govt. at Whittier College in Poli Sci course re: Asian Government [still have the text book]. Do not know what course work happens in last half century with universities.

My China Politics Professor at UCLA was a retired Marine, Dr. H. Arthur Steiner, who served in Pacific during WW II, planning several major US campaigns to take various islands. He also spent time in China as an outstanding scholar/human being/teacher of China and its 'modern' era politics and govt.

Quite possibly since the Nixon era, and China's opening to the left, Universities have paid more attention to developing specialists on China if not its important history. It was Chiang Kai Shek who led Sun's Revolution to create a modern China to replace the Qing.

Do remember but would have to go back to 60 yr. old notes and courses to recall accurately how the older Chinese system recruited intellectuals thru a series of exams qualifying them to be part of the Chinese Govt. bureaucrats who ruled in the name of the Emperor[s]. This system of creation, for Govt., deserves further presentation and understanding.

Sun deserves further presentation as well, including his 3 Principles.

Professor Moise - I think we're talking past each other. As I re-read our posts I don't see any real disagreement. We're looking at the same phenomenon using different lenses. My point is that the present political system is embedded in the past. Yes, contemporary control systems were an imperial aspiration that the system could not provide technologically. However, late imperial autocracy exercised control over what it couild - the bureaucracy and the local examination elite. However, this control neglected local society and the local elites were the ones responsible for the various eleemosynary components of local society.

The shocks of the defeat of 1894-95, the failure of the 100 Days Reform, and the disastrous Boxer war opened up the intellectual terrain to new ideas. The embrace of Western socio-political forms was abandoned as the country slid into anarchy and civil war after 1913. To many Chinese intellectuals/reformers (Liang Qichao for instance) the First World War illustrated the bankruptcy of Western parliamentary ideas. After the Bolshevik Revolution's success, many (Chen Duxiu, Li Dazhao, Sun Zhongshan for example) adopted the most up-to-date critique of Western society and politics: Marxism-Leninism. Yes, Jiang was unsuccessful on the mainland but was able to run Taiwan in this way (when I lived there in the martial law period).

I am very happy that I am wrong about Clemson. My comments were based on my own narrow experience which was contradictory. As a grad student at The University of Kansas,there were regional specialists in anthropology, economics, political science, and economics. Shortly after I graduated "rational choice" took over and the regional specialists left. As a faculty member at Boise State University I taught courses in East Asian (China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam ) history as well as forays into historiography and military history. I was also part of a cross disciplinary program in international business emphasizing history, business, and language. Some of my business colleagues jested that my department put me on the committee because of my experience in consulting (I worked for Arthur Andersen) and my MBA allowed me to speak their language.