What's the secret behind the longevity of the Chinese civilization?
Historian Fernand Braudel suggests we imagine the impact on European civilization of a series of Imperial dynasties maintaining the self-same style and significance from Caesar Augustus until the First World War. Now imagine such a civilization existing on the other side of the planet unaware of Greek philosophy, the alphabet, Roman governance, Christianity, feudalism, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment or democracy, but with its own, unique cultural and institutional correlates that exceed all of them in intellectual subtlety and material success.
That alien civilization was designed by one man, Confucius, who designed into his scheme a way that would keep Chinese society stable, prosperous, and cohesive for centuries. His design is the secret behind the longevity of the Chinese civilization.
Confucian cosmology remains morally based, optimistic, holistic, inclusive, meritocratic and class-blind–employing elements we consider incompatible, like equality and hierarchy, competition and collectivism, elitism and egalitarianism, responsibility and freedom, individualism and reciprocity. It needs no creator God so that, as F.W. Mote observed, “China did not need to elevate faith over reason and could base itself on observable reality and human intelligence,” a yuuuuge advantage that also avoids religious squabbles.
Confucius’ decision to model that State on the nuclear family was another stroke of genius whose effects are unmistakable today, as Martin Jacquesexplains, “The Chinese regard the family as the template for the State. What's more, they perceive the State not as external to themselves but as an extension or representation of themselves. The fact that the Chinese State enjoys such an exalted position in society lends it enormous authority, remarkable ubiquity and great competence”.
And, Jacques might have added, great unity and cohesion. Would Warren Buffett’s business have thrived if, instead of running it as the head of a consensual family, he created factions who opposed, criticized and even publicly lied about its policies?
Emperors regularly executed officials who formed factions (China’s current president still warns against them) and when they failed to do so, disaster inevariably followed. In 1,000 AD, Song China was the most technologically advanced nation on earth and ten times richer than her neighbors but conservative and reform parties spread rumors, brought treason charges and even sabotaged the campaigns of generals from rival factions. Their infighting so weakened the empire that the Mongols invaded and almost destroyed the country. Five hundred years later, though scholars had written dozens of books, articles and memoranda warning of the looming disaster, the Ming dynasty fell when feuding parties remained locked in mortal combat while the Manchu, with two percent of her population, invaded and massacred a third of China’s people.
George Washington warned America against parties in his farewell address, “Parties become potent engines by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion”. Sixty-five years later, Congressional party rivalry precipitated the American Civil War although, as the Compromise of 1877 subsequently proved, the parties could have readily settled their disagreements by negotiation.
Today, the American Government has lost the trust of its people because it ignored its founder’s advice, while China’s Government is going strong because it is still following Confucius’. The Chinese government has been delivering Confucian results consistently for 70 years and the CCP has set two Confucian goals, a xiaokang society by 2020 and a datong society to follow.
The takeaway? Most countries should consider incorporating some elements of Confucius’ design into their government (experienced, professional, honest leaders instead of inexperienced, amateur crooks, perhaps?)–not in order to to follow China but because it makes sense and works better: