It is not possible to discuss global economics or world affairs without including The People’s Republic of China. Home to approximately 1.436 billion people, China is a nation to be reckoned with by population alone. It is astounding that even if one billion of its inhabitants were to somehow leave or vanish overnight, China would still have more people than the United States and dwarf any European nation.
Once labeled the “Sick man of Asia,” by Western imperialists in the nineteenth century, China is now foreseen by many analysts, to become the next global hegemony, as Western influence and dominance continues to decline. This future however, is not one that is inevitable, as there are clearly too many unknown variables but as the prospect remains, it is worth exploring China’s current status in world affairs, as well as its recent and more ancient history.
China has the longest continuous history of any one nation in the world and is a nation steeped in esoteric wonder and worldwide cultural influence. The Shang Dynasty beginning sometime around 1700-1600 BC, is historically accepted as the first imperial dynasty in China, but there is archaeological evidence to suggests the existence of an advanced centralized government long before this period (7).
Jump back to the present day, and China is ruled by The Communist party who in October of 2019, celebrated the 70th anniversary of the founding of The People’s Republic of China in 1949. They call it, Liberation day, though critics ironically say it is more accurately described as ‘enslavement day’ (1).
The period that followed 1949 and Mao Zedong’s victory over Chang Kai-Shek and The Nationalist government, was ironically, given the intentions, an era of chaos and destruction. Mao’s notorious Cultural Revolution that began in 1966, strived to destroy the very aspects and elements of China, that explorer’s long held in awe and even considered to be, in some cases, superior to Western civilization.
Intellectuals, Buddhist monks and anyone or anything, that was linked to China’s past or imperial dynasties, faced destruction, persecution and death. Disturbingly, this movement that lasted for a decade, made the Nazi book burnings of 1933-1934 and The Night of Long Knives, appear quite tame. Over a million were killed and many more imprisoned. Even China’s arguably most famous son, Confucius, was vilified as a, “stinking reactionary” by the Maoists who vowed to purge his teachings and influence, that for so long permeated Sino-civilization (8).
Understanding why China’s leaders desired to destroy the fabric of their own civilization, requires a deeper examination than just pointing to the narcissistic personality traits of Mao Zedong. It demands a look at the events of the 19th century and early 20th century when China was ravaged and powerless to prevent it’s subjugation to foreign powers. The Chinese call it, The Century of Humiliation and the events that occurred in this period challenged the Chinese ideal of Sino-Centrism, or the belief that China was the center of human civilization.
While it is clear from examining historical records, that European nations had long ago surpassed China in technological innovation, it didn’t become evident to the Chinese themselves, until they were beaten by the British in the first Opium war in 1842. Then the Qing dynasty was defeated by the Brits again in 1860, resulting in The Treaty of Tientsin that forced China to open all of its ports to other foreign powers (6).
In the following decades, The French, Russians, Germans and even The Japanese aggressively carved out their own spheres of influences in the country, with the Qing seemingly powerless to stop them. The Han Chinese watched in horror as the British and French militaries, decimated and crushed all attempts to resist subjugation. Newspapers in the West, published political cartoons portraying China as pie, with foreign powers eagerly cutting their share out of the country.
In light of these troubling events, the Chinese began to believe that the Qing had lost The Mandate of Heaven and it was time for a radical change. After the failed Boxer rebellion at the turn of the 20th century, the era of imperial dynastic rule in China soon came to an end with Chinese nationalists establishing a Republic in 1912. Though unfortunately another forty years of failed governance and reforms, along with the Japanese brutal conquest of China during World War II, would push China over the edge into the hands of Communist radicals led by Mao Zedong.
Thus from this view, it is perhaps not surprising that in the aftermath of The Century of Humiliation, radicals came see the necessity of a complete reinvention of China and a purging of it’s past. We can also see how those same forces and feelings of humiliation, drive the PRC to it’s prominence today. Though today, most members of The Communist party have accepted that Mao’s actions were a tad overzealous to say it lightly.
Mao’s Great Leap Forward and The Cultural Revolution not only devastated the soul of China, it crippled it’s economy. On top of over 45 million people dying in the process of attempting to transform small family farms into communes, by 1962, the Chinese standard of living fell by 20% and by 1967, industrial production dropped by 14%. In the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution and Mao’s death, it became evident to leaders in the Communist party, that a new route must be taken if China were to pull out of the economic disaster that they now found themselves in.
Thankfully for China and the World, China’s new leader in 1978, Deng Xiaoping, who was originally banished by Mao, introduced the Open Door Policy which is largely credited with propelling China to it’s modern economic prominence. This reform policy, opened China up to foreign investment, installed free market principles and actually encouraged the Chinese people to become rich.
Forty years later and the results are staggering.
Modern China, with all of its global ambitions, including the Belt and Road Initiative which will aim to become a new version of the ancient Silk Road and also be one of the most prestigious infrastructure projects in modern history, is now on the cusp of economically surpassing The United States and it’s nineteenth century oppressors.
Though the United States is still the most influential economy and the dollar, the world’s base currency, the GDP of the US no longer possesses the number one spot in the world.
If calculating by the economic theory of Purchasing Power Parity, it was China and not The United States, that boasted the largest economy in 2018 with a whopping $25.3 trillion dollars in total economic output. PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) recalculates a country’s GDP as if it were bing priced in the USA. PPP takes into account the effect of exchange rates over time and the potential for government manipulation of exchange rates. Thus it is arguably the better method than the traditional way of calculating GDP using the exchange rate set by each nation’s government or central bank.
TOP ECONOMIES ACCORDING TO PPP (In Trillions of U.S. dollars) VIA The Balance
- 1.) China- $25.3
- 2.) European Union- $22.0
- 3.) US- $20.5
- 4.) India- $10.4
- 5.) Japan- $5.6
This doesn’t look to change any time soon. While the EU and the US are only projected to grow by 20% in the next four years, projections by the IMF forecast China’s economy to grow by an astounding 47% by 2023, putting it’s GDP at $37.2 Trillion.
If these trends continue, we must ask ourselves, what will the new world order look like with China and Asia at the center of influence? Will China attempt to enforce it’s ideology on the world? Will the Yuan replace the dollar? Will more students be learning Mandarin instead of English? These are questions that are only going to continue to become more relevant as we march into the mid 21st century.