China in Transition: Communism, Capitalism, and Democracy

By Ronald M. Glassman | Go to book overview

Chapter 10
Chinese Political Culture in Transition

Questions about China's political culture have been asked since the days of the collapse of the Chinese dynasty during the colonial epoch. Having insulated itself from the world, and thought itself superior to the world, China was unprepared to discover that the world had passed it by. Chinese intellectuals were bewildered by the success of the Western nations, which they thought to have been backward and barbarian. After all, it was Marco Polo who learned from the Chinese, who was awed by the Chinese, who brought back wonders from China, like silk, gunpowder, and pasta. And it was China, with its Mongol military commanders, which conquered the Russians and defeated all the European armies it faced, dominating the steppe lands of Eurasia for centuries.

Therefore, what had happened over the centuries to alter the balance? Why had the Chinese, once the proudest civilization on Earth, now fallen victim to these backward lands? It was not clear to the Chinese, who had developed the ideas of their cultural superiority to great heights, why the world had changed or why the Chinese had been left behind.

What followed in the wake of the collapse of China was an era of self-searching and self-rejection, coupled with an avid study of Western ideas and institutions. The big questions for the Chinese were: can these strange Western ideas and institutions be adapted to China, and, if they can be, will that make China great again? The Chinese are still trying to answer these questions. Let us describe why they have been so difficult to answer in China. After all, the Japanese had successfully adapted Western institutions to their unique cultural complex, quietly and with very little sturm und drang. And the Japanese had been eminently successful, so why all the soul-searching in China, and all the reticence and skepticism and self-rejection?

It must be understood from the outset that China was the dominant influence

-195-

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