By John Ross Source: Global Times Published: 2019-8-11
Reading Wang Wen's Great Power's Long March Road: The views of China's rejuvenation and the future of the world after hundred countries' visit makes clear why the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China, of which Wang is executive dean, has in less than seven years gone from its creation to becoming one of China's pre-eminent think tanks both domestically and internationally. It has been Wang's guiding hand throughout. This book makes clear why I was so pleased to accept the invitation to work at the institute.
Great Power's Long March Road makes clear that what gives a think tank "Chinese characteristics" is not that it is geographically based in China. It is that it is based in China's ideas. The book's introduction is Wang's reflections on Mao Zedong's essay "On Protracted War." The book's title Great Power's Long March Road of course relates to the same historical period, the third of the four which Wang identifies during the last two centuries of China: the age of arrogance (1793-1840), the era of defeat (1840-1912), the age of struggle (1912-1949) and the rising era (1949-present).
Wang outlines clearly why the book's reference to the Long March is not simple rhetoric. It relates to the essential dynamic of China's transition from the age of struggle to the rising era: The Chinese nation had a long period of depression when Mao wrote "On Protracted War." It was almost at the bottom.
Wang quotes President Xi Jinping at the 40th anniversary conference on reform and opening-up, on December 18, 2018, as saying that in the long history of modern times, Chinese people have gone through too many hardships, made too many sacrifices, and made too many efforts.
But these efforts created not only the great material victories that via the era of struggle laid the basis for China's gigantic success in the rising era - taking China from a situation where for a century it had been trampled on by foreign powers, and by 1949 was almost the poorest country in the world, to one in which it is already the world's second greatest power and only approximately five years away from achieving high income status by international World Bank classification. These enormous national efforts also created the ideas which made this transformation possible.
The test of geopolitical or economic ideas, like any other science, is that they accurately predict development. It is unserious, a joke, to believe that China could overcome such a national catastrophe as occurred during the era of defeat by accident, without a highly advanced series of ideas with which it was able to consciously work out the path to reach the rising era. The basis for China's national rejuvenation could only be achieved because during the era of struggle an immense test of which ideas were correct and corresponded to reality took place. As Xi summarized: "In 1911, the revolution led by Sun Yat-sen overthrew the autocratic monarchy that had ruled China for several thousand years. But once the old system was gone, where China would go became the question. The Chinese people then started exploring long and hard for a path that would suit China's national conditions. They experimented with constitutional monarchy, imperial restoration, parliamentarism, multi-party system and presidential government, yet nothing really worked. Finally, China took the path of socialism."
The test of these ideas is also that they predicted the development not only of the age of struggle but of contemporary reality. Indeed, this precisely demonstrates the superiority of analysis based on Chinese characteristics. Those in China who, because they believed Western academic ideas, with their inaccurate claim that US policy was guided by universal human values, entirely failed to foresee the current attacks on China launched by the US Trump administration. As Wang shows in his book China's ideas did accurately predict this - Chinese characteristics turned out to be far more accurate than Western characteristics.
Because of the strength of these ideas, their correspondence to reality, the fact that it was tested in an enormous struggle for the country, the framework originally created during the "era of struggle" could then in an unbroken line be used to produce other advanced ideas to deal with contemporary issues.
Wang, in this regard, draws particular attention to one idea, the community of shared future for mankind: "China has put forward the concept of community of shared future for mankind, which transcends the traditional boundaries of Western thought divided by country, race, history and religion and becomes a possibility for a new vision of future human development. This vision is not a castle in the air, but is as practical as possible through the support of specific programs such as the Belt and Road Initiative."
These fundamental ideas, in particular "On Protracted War" and of the Long March, are then used by Wang to characterize relations between China and the US. Wang stresses the protracted period of the rise of a great power: The rise of Britain took nearly two centuries. The rise of the US took more than 100 years. China did not seek to be the world's leader, but the rise has not been slow. With the success of reform and opening-up over 40 years, China still needs to make efforts to build a "long-lasting war." This leads to Wang's central strategic concept of "The long-term 'fighting without breaking' game between China and the US." Relations between China and the US are not to be seen as a single great crisis but as taking place over a protracted period. In that framework the key development is that of China itself - not an attempt to confront the US.
Such an approach based on Chinese characteristics does not, of course, mean refusing to take all research or ideas from abroad. Authors discussed include Immanuel Wallerstein, Francis Fukuyama, Ian Morris, Jared Diamond and Kishore Mahbubani among many others. These written analyses are added to by many personal experiences by Wang, ranging from those deriving from directing a leading a think tank, with many resulting interactions with foreign institutes and leaders, and from student days. But these ideas are fitted into the framework of a Chinese analysis - not individual pieces of information about China fitted into a Western framework.
For numerous reasons the book is essential reading for anyone studying China's rise. But its importance lies above all in its "Chinese characteristics" - in showing how the framework of thought created by China's age of struggle and rising era is the most accurate guide to current international events. It outlines the basis on which the success of the Chongyang Institute was created. In addition to its importance for China itself if Western leaders read it they will make far fewer mistakes in understanding China.
John Ross is senior fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China.