I was surprised on reading this book, first published in 2005 and translated into Korean in 2010. It is because it presents the same view with me of the present world as essentially anarchistic.

 

The main theme is quite simple. That there has been little, if at all, philosophical contemplation on what modern man calls the "world". Though he is aware that he lives in it, he has not made much effort to think about its relation with himself in a systematic way.

 

Zhao contrasts to it the idea of "Tian-xia", held by the Chinese (and other East Asians) in the past. He contends that, while the Western political philosophies center on the role of the states, traditional Chinese political philosophies started at the idea of Tian-xia.

 

"Chinese political philosophies began with a political world-view, what I call the theory of the 'Tian-xia system'. They differ radically from Western philosophies in structure and methodology. As to the theoretical structure, Chinese philosophers regarded Tian-xia as the foremost and ultimate unit of political analysis. It means that they tried to understand political problems at lower levels(states) in terms of problems of Tian-xia, and regarded political values of Tian-xia as the basis of values at lower levels."

 

It was a standard way for Chinese thinkers to consider first what is needed for Tian-xia, and then think on that basis about what a government can do. On the other hand, modern political science concentrates first on politics within states, and 'international' considerations remain secondary and peripheral. For example, policies on such global subjects as climate change or environment are expected to be decided only in ways permitted by domestic conditions of concerned parties.

 

"Lack of philosophical ideas is bound to lead to confusion and disorder. It has been shown that the world led by Western political philosophy is one of confusion. (...) In a word, the world has lost the real meaning of being a world. Just as a state is qualified as a state by its institutions, the world is also qualified as the world by its institutions."

Even those countries with relatively stable internal order cannot avoid the affection of external disorder, when the whole world is unstable. I was impressed by the harmonic and orderly atmosphere of Paris when I was staying there 20-odd years ago, but now I am feeling sorry at the news of Charlie Hepdo. I find interesting in this context Zhao's interpretation of 'tolerance'.

 

"'Tolerance' is an expression of Western thinking. If you feel against something, relying solely on your own standard of value, but decide to endure and forgive it by a certain creed, then it is tolerance. As J Deridda said, tolerance is tolerating what cannot be tolerated. Such an attitude was not conceived in China. Tolerance has been neither a Chinese way of thinking nor a Chinese methodology. The Chinese had tolerating minds, but not tolerating thoughts. The Chinese way of thinking was 'ignoring trifles[大度]', not 'extending forgiveness[寬容]'. When you ignore the trifles, you need not have a feeling against the other person. But when you extend your forgiveness, you have it. (...) The basic Chinese mindset lies in the 'change', and its essence is changing myself to another person and changing another person to myself. This naturally leads to the admission of diversity, and in this case, the 'diversity' is supported by the 'unity'. Diversity can be meaningful only when it exists within a larger frame. Otherwise, it will be nothing more than a chaos."

 

These words makes a modern man wary. Don't they show a collision between values of order and liberty? Liberty is based on the recognition of differences. But Zhao says that the 'Chinese mindset' does not recognize them. Wouldn't this lead to a totalitarianism?

 

It is the possibility of 'change' that makes the collision avoidable. Even though objects have phenomenal differences, they have the possibility to return to their shared essence and meet there. Of course, it is burdensome and costly to have to leave the phenomenal world and return to the essence. But you have to remember that the 'order' is not a free thing in the world system. You know very well that it is not a free thing in a state system, either. What you have to check on is the reasonability of the price.

 

Modern man easily admits his limits when he deals with material values. But he is apt to refuse any concession or compromise before the value of liberty. While in reality he enjoys a limited range of liberty, he is inclined to absolutize the value in his ideas. What would be the reason?

 

To be noted is the fact that the material value is more respected than other values in various modern institutions, including states, and works as the primary standard for human relationships. It is common sense that the state is responsible for protecting the "lives and properties" of its citizens. Other values are respected by institutions insofar as they can be converted to the material value.

 

That is why various values, other than the material, have lost their sensual appeal and became abstract concepts. In the premodern feudal systems, various values were on the market on their own. Values like 'loyalty' and 'liberty' were offered in exchange for protection from violence or material gains. Modern man, armed with absolute concepts of liberty and equality, looks down upon the feudal system and takes pride in achieving real humanity by getting rid of such practices. But to a historian, it looks like an illusion that the mankind began becoming really human only in the 17th century after thousands and thousands years of subhuman state. An illusion that persuades weak ones to be exploited of their various human values without proper bargaining.

 

I do not intend to hasten the conclusion that the feudal system was a good thing, better than the modern one. But if we consider the possibility that we are facing a very big change in the global situation, maybe the biggest one in centuries, we might better try to see the world in a new light, putting aside the familiar enlightenment world-view for the time being.

 

Zhao also stresses the need to get off the Western way of thinking to properly understand the traditional Chinese system of thought.

 

"You can say that the Chinese, with an attitude toward the external world quite different from the Westerners, have a world view of their own. While Westerners are quick to perceive the conflicts, the Chinese think first of the harmony. (...) You can find another set of world view, value system and methodology and political, economic and social theories in Chinese philosophy. Since they cannot be properly expressed within the frame of Western philosophy, we have to set up another frame in which the ideas can be expressed and the theories can be developed."

 

Zhao suggests the first trait of the Tian-xia system as "having no outside". When a man admits the fact that he belongs to the world, it would be through a world level view of reality that he would strive to recognize and realize himself. But the modern man's view was restricted to the state level, alienating the rest of the world.

"Responsibility to the world does not stop at the responsibility to one's country. In theory, it is the viewpoint of Chinese philosophy and in practice, a new possibility. Before anything else, it is trying to understand the world as a whole, by taking Tian-xia as the ultimate unit in analyzing political and economic interests. By taking the whole world as the unit of analysis, you will get beyond the nation-state level that has restricted the Western thought, and by being responsible to the whole world, you will be creating new ideas and institutions at the world level. In England and the USA, the idea of the state prevailed. (...) That is why English and American 'world views' stopped at exporting and generalizing their own particular value systems, and they lacked legitimacy because they failed to verify why other systems are not worth considering."

 

It is also due to the inclusiveness of the Tian-xia system that the Western thoughts are seen as objects for overcoming, not for rejecting.

 

"It is particularly to be noted that China should not just reject the West, but try to understand the West in terms of China. Flat rejection does not fit the Chinese way. Absurd as it may sound, it is a trait of Chinese way of thinking. In principle the Chinese thought does not intend to reject any 'outsider'. 'Alienating nobody' is the traditional Chinese spirit and nationalism is the way of Western thinking."

 

The leader of Chinese studies in America 50 years ago, J Fairbank declared that 'nationalism' had not existed in China. He made a point that the Chinese lacked such 'ethnic' consciousness that supported the modern nationalism, and that they had based their self-identity on their 'civilization'.

 

Perhaps it is in the 春秋 and 戰國 periods that we can find a way of self-identity similar to modern nationalism. Descendants of those groups of people which were recognized as different nations at the time have merged into 漢族. China has been operating multinational states for a long time, and a number of minorities or outsiders at a point of time have been incorporated into 漢族 through the course of history. The idea of Tian-xia system has continued to work on this course of incorporation.

 

At the moment, '大漢族主義' has some power in China. But I take it only for a temporary phenomenon. It is natural, after a long time of sufferings and shames, to want to get in the shoes of those who had inflicted the sufferings and shames. But with time, when sufficient pride has been restored, the Chinese will begin to want to understand in which ways they are different from the former perpetrators. And they will find the answers in the history. Of course I do not expect 大漢族主義 to completely disappear at any time, but compared to American Jingoism, it will be accompanied by stronger internal checks, which will restrain its expression.

 

The author admits that there were times when the idea of Tian-xia was not properly practiced. Those times when the integrity of the world was ignored and attitudes of division and confrontation were pronounced. Those times when the Emperor departed from the philosophical norms and became tyrants.

 

"Tian-xia represents the world institution, and Tian-zi the world government. Since the institution can guarantee the legitimacy of the government and not vice versa, in theory Tian-xia is the more fundamental and primary concept than Tian-zi. (...) 黃宗羲 once said that 'While the Laws of the 三代 left Tian-xia in Tian-xia itself, later laws put it in a basket.' If the social institutions of Tian-xia did not work and only its political institutions of Tian-zi's government were put in operation, Tian-zi existed only in name, without substances. As Tian-xia institutions crumbled in the disorder of the 春秋 period, Confucius' grief over the loss of 禮樂 was very great, but in reality, no serious efforts were made afterwards to restore the Tian-xia institutions."

 

I do not feel like agreeing to the last remark. In my opinion, it was Confucius that established the Tian-xia system as a political philosophy. By organizing previous customary practices into an elaborate system and criticizing contemporary political changes as departing from the principle of 'publicness', he set up the standard of politics. The essential role of later Confucianism was none other than "efforts to restore the Tian-xia institutions". It does not sound fair to deny even the existence of efforts just because the aim was not fully achieved. What more could a political thought mean in the real world?

 

For instance, it seems to have been in response to practical needs that 周公 kept to the position of a loyal retainer while actually ruling the country as regent. I do not think he was following the stipulations of certain political ideas. During the previous Shang Dynasty, there were many inheritances of the throne between brothers. In a small band of people, there may be more advantages in having the leadership passed on to a brother of mature age than to a young son. But in a larger organization, the authority based on orthodoxy can count more than the heir's personal ability. In fact it was the Duke's brothers that posed the greatest threat to the political order. The need to block off that kind of threats seems to have been a very practical one at the time.

 

The fact that "Tian-zi existed only in name, without substances" also looks quite natural. Realpolitik principles have power in the real world. Political philosophy is supposed to moderate the power, not to deny it. There is a scene in <貞觀政要> where 太宗 of is shown seasoning political ideas with realpolitik principles in an interesting way. When one of his closest aids 黨仁弘 was accused of a serious crime, 太宗 kept prudently from interfering with the trial, and after the death sentence was issued he said to the court; "The law is given by the Heaven. Now I am going to release 黨仁弘 for personal reasons, and I know that it is against the will of the Heaven and the order of law. I will punish myself for this offense by staying on a mat in the Southern Garden for three days with humble meals." He was trying to relieve the conflict between the personal loyalty and public principles in a very personal way. I think it was in such compromising ways, rather than the ideal state of the Three Dynasties, that the Confucian principles were normally practiced. Even when the emperor was not as wise as 太宗, ideas of publicness never ceased to work as a constant pressure.

 

After the defeat of the 2nd Anglo-Chinese War, 洋務 Movement was launched, aiming at the introduction of Western industrial and military technology. After yet another defeat in the Sino-Japanese War, 變法 Movement was launched, aiming at institutional reforms as well. And after the "55 Days in Peking", still another movement was launched, now aiming at the introduction of the republican system. And finally, when the situation did not seem to improve even after the 1911 Revolution, an even more radical movement was launched, totally reexamining and criticizing all the traditional learnings and thoughts.

 

Now with a new future in sight after a whole century since the 新文化 Movement, there arises a need to readjust the view once again. At this stage, Zhao proposes a change not only in the contents of thinking, but also in the way of thinking.

 

"The last 100 years was a century of 'Criticizing China 檢討中國' Movement, when China was engaged in a severe criticism of herself. She has been proceeding to 'Rethinking China 重思中國' and 'Rebuilding China 重構中國' Movements. (...) The theories and concepts of these movements were not products from the Chinese soil, but either imports from the West or reproductions of Western ideas. (...) Rootless ideas do not prosper. We are not short of Western ideas any more, but we are not yet equipped with a grand vision or a total view of our own. Inability to think in her own way is the unending problem for today's China. The historical significance of the 重思中國 Movement lies in the effort to restore her own thinking capacity, reestablish the thinking frame and basic concepts, and think about the relationship between the self and the world in a new way. In other words, the movement aims at contemplating on the prospect for China's future and her role and responsibilities in the world. It is a matter of basic world view and also a matter of large-scale strategy."

 

20th century 檢討中國 Movement was an effort to find the clue from outside. 21th century 重思中國 Movement will be looking for it from the inside. The author explains the difference in a philosopher's way.

 

"Philosophically, the 重思中國 Movement proposed to consider possibilities for the future in various directions. This brought along tendencies and directivities quite different from previous movements of criticizing China. Compared to the 檢討中國 Movement which focused on the past and usually took the form of historical or social criticism, the 重思中國 Movement contained more of philosophical analysis. (...) Criticizing the past and imagining the future are both important tasks, and they cannot be replaced by each other."

 

The rapid rise of China has given rise to a wide range of concerns. Not only those big countries whose positions are threatened, but smaller ones are also worried about the advent of another hegemonic power. "責任大國" is one of the slogans the Chinese authorities have been making use of to avert such concerns. It seems that Zhao wants the slogan to be something more than a slogan, a practical goal for China.

 

He says that it is not a matter of taste for China to be a responsible country, but something dictated by certain circumstances and conditions. Quite understandable. Koreans did not think about any responsibility when they aspired for economic development. They gave little thought to problems that might ensue from their getting as rich as the Americans and consuming as much energy as them. It is different with the Chinese. Aside from a small number of lunatics, they cannot help worrying about the consequences of the large increase of energy consumption by more than a billion people.

 

A human organization at any level, from a family to a state, has continuously to maintain its internal order and adjust itself to external changes at the same time. If it ever fails on either side, it is doomed. The danger of failure is serious at the highest level of 'mankind' in the present world. It has become more serious in the modern age, as the level of 'mankind' became more distinct. In the premodern days, when contacts between civilizations were fewer and smaller, it was difficult to think of a 'society' comprising different civilizations. People belonging to faraway places were often imagined as 'monsters' or 'infidels', something less than people. Only in the modern days, with the reduction of geographical barriers, things like the 'global community' and the 'universal human rights' began to look real.

 

During the age of the growth of ancient states, conquests were often followed by the extinction or enslavement of the conquered population. Colonization was common too. But in the long run, 'integration' usually turned out to be the more successful policy, because proportional growths of the area and of the population offered better conditions for the development of the state. Too high ratio of slaves among the population was apt to result in the instability of the system, as in the latter part of 高麗 Dynasty. (The 一賤則賤 principle ["If one of the parents is a slave, the child will be a slave."] kept the slave ratio rising until there were too few free people left to support the state. A resident official from the Yuan Empire [perhaps something like the High Commissioner in British Commonwealths] advised the King to change the principle to 一良則良,["If one of the parents is not a slave, the child will not be a slave."] but his recall was manipulated by the nobility, who did not want the change. I do not imagine that this Yuan official wanted to reduce the slave ratio out of human rights considerations. The Mongols, through the rich experience of conquests, probably had a better idea about the stability of conquered societies. The refusal of this reform led to the socioeconomic collapse of the Koryo society.)

 

While the word 'globalization' became fashionable only in recent years, it has in fact been going on for a long time, along with the reduction of inter-civilizational barriers, ever since the beginning of the Modern Age. But it is still incomplete, in the sense that there has been 'economic globalization' only, without 'political globalization'. The present state of lacking the political globalization, to organize the mankind into a political unit, to set up a stable order in it, and to formulate a peaceful relationship with the outside world(the nature), is a state where the conquest is made, but integration of the conquered is not yet achieved.

 

Compared to the Westerners who became the great conquerors only in the Modern Age, the Chinese have more experiences of conquests, at both ends of them(as the conqueror and as the conquered). And they also have experiences of integrations. The idea of Tian-xia is a political philosophy that contains the wisdom attained from these experiences. At the present stage where the conquest of the Westerners has reached its limits, it is one of the valuable civilizational legacies for reference.

 

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