China’s Rejuvenation: Wealth & Power, But Not Yet Respect

In an excerpt from their new book, Wealth and Power: China’s Long March to the Twenty-first Century, Orville Schell and John Delury trace China’s dream of national rejuvenation from the hopes of 19th Century reformers, through the “creative destruction” of Mao Zedong, to the explosive accumulation of wealth and power over the last thirty years. But despite enormous achievements, they argue, true respect towards and within China has remained elusive. From ChinaFile:

On visits to twenty-first-century China, one can easily become awed by the sheer scale of that country’s recent material progress, and even begin to wonder if authoritarian capitalism is not exactly what the country needed; whether economic rights should not sometimes be allowed to trump individual rights in the interest of society at large; and whether democracies are, in fact, always the most effective forms of governance (especially for developing countries). However, just as these illiberal question marks are presenting themselves, an incident will detonate and serve as a reminder of the weaknesses of authoritarianism and the reasons outside respect is afforded so grudgingly to countries like the PRC, even when they become economically successful. Such occasions also usually end up being embarrassing and galling to China’s official image makers. Recent examples include the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo in 2010; the blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng’s flight into the U.S. embassy in Beijing after a daring escape from house arrest in 2012 just as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was arriving in Beijing; and the announcement in early 2013 that the hundredth young Tibetan protesting Beijing’s coercive policies in their homeland had immolated himself. Needless to say, such self-inflicted humiliations have severely undercut China’s bid for soft power, acclaim, and global respect.

Back in the days of Liang Qichao and Lin Yutang, when China’s long odyssey to wealth and power was still a matter of unrealizable daydreams or science fiction, it was possible to maintain the belief that attainment of these very concrete goals might in themselves be enough to confer that measure of acceptance that Chinese felt so necessary to heal the wounds left by their “century of humiliation.” But as that once distant shoreline now actually emerges on the horizon, it is increasingly evident that something else is also going to be required to slake this abiding Chinese thirst. But, at the same time, most Chinese also find it difficult to define exactly what that “something else” might be. [Source]

Also at ChinaFile, Schell explains the book’s origin and themes:


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