A Rising China Needs a New National Story

Orville Schell and John Delury’s new book, Wealth and Power: China’s Long March to the Twenty-first Century, focuses on 11 influential Chinese thinkers, from 19th Century scholar Wei Yuan to imprisoned Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo. As David Pilling notes in his favorable review at The Financial Times, the authors find that a “‘common chord rings through all their work’: how to make China strong and wealthy after its 19th-century collapse under foreign assault and internal putrefaction.” In an essay at The Wall Street Journal, Schell and Delury argue that China should no longer allow these old humiliations to define it:

Today, the psychological and cultural habits developed during this dismal era of Chinese history continue to color and distort China’s relations with the rest of the world, especially the U.S., which has taken the place of Great Britain as the world’s superpower. In one of his first speeches as General Secretary of the Communist Party, President Xi Jinping recollected the “unusual hardship and sacrifice” suffered by his country in modern times. “But the Chinese people have never given in,” Mr. Xi continued.

The historical memories on display at the Temple of the Tranquil Seas have had positive effects as well. One can hear their echo in China’s determination to rejuvenate itself regain wealth and power, and become a nation of consequence once again. It is this urge that Mr. Xi tries to encourage by speaking proudly of a “China dream.”

Still, it is time for China and the more vociferous propagandists in Beijing to move beyond declarations about China’s “one hundred years of national humiliation.” That period has come to an end. The world has changed, China and the West have changed, and a new narrative is necessary for China to achieve its declared aim of equality and a “new type of great power relationship.” [Source]

In a previously featured excerpt from the book, the authors argue that the wealth and power on which China has based its national rejuvenation are not enough to earn global and self-respect.


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