Let me give a number of examples of how China is and will remain different. Although for the last century it has described itself as a nation-state, in fact at its core China is a civilisation-state. The Chinese think of themselves primarily not as a nation but as a civilisation; all those things that constitute a sense of Chinese identity long predate China’s short life as a nation-state. And the logic of a civilisation-state is very different: a necessary toleration of diversity because of the country’s sheer size (as illustrated by the “one country, two systems” formula for Hong Kong); and a state which has for centuries been seen as the guardian of civilisation and therefore organic to society in a way quite different from the west.
And Will Hutton responds:
I find the notion that countries are condemned by their past to a future cast in the same mould empirically and philosophically wrong. The “civilisation state” is an empty construct: all states reflect their civilisations which in turn contain traditions that are in tension – individualism and collectivism, freedom and authority. If you mean that China is racially homogenous, what are your readers to make of that explosive claim? It is akin to claiming that everyone in the west is white, and therefore we think the same. But we don’t. In any case there are vast cultural differences between the great agricultural provinces of Shandong and Henan and the bustling commerciality of the Pearl River delta and Shanghai. Do you not believe that there is a universal appetite for due desert for effort, for dignity and for the capacity to express self – and which Chinese culture amply expresses itself outside China in Taiwan, and in its own history? China’s history is pockmarked with epic revolts against tyrannical dynasties excusing their tyranny as fealty to “Chineseness”.