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December 7, 2013

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Chinese say all within four seas are brothers and sisters

The “Chinese dream” reminds us Dr Sun Yat-sen’s heroic slogan of revitalizing China and Mao Zedong’s exhorting China to make greater contributions to humanity.

Before we discuss all this, we must understand what China is, how it was created, why has it been endowed with such longevity, and what will become its future.

When Emperor Qinshihuang established the unprecedented unified China in 221 BC, he enunciated a law of shu tong wen, che tong gui, or writing with uniform script, and carriages with uniform tracks.

China began to have a unique script, which was a package of non-alphabetic logograms as visual forms of auditory symbols, as well as ideographic symbols. These logos were both linguistic symbols and cultural symbols.

For instance, by combining “two” and “human” there was the visual of ren (love, benevolence, humanity). By combining “human” and “spoken words” there was xin (message/trust). By combining “human” and “mountain” there was xian denoting fairy/supernatural human.

Great melting pot

This system was deliberately non-alphabetic to be equally friendly to both old and new users.

In order to welcome communities of different languages to join this language-cum-script system, there was no rigid demand on the standardization of speech.

Here was the linguistic (script) leverage of Chinese civilization for the sake of unification.

While Chinese invented paper, brush, ink and ink-stone (the “four jewels” of the study), intellectual elites used these four jewels to create repositories of knowledge and wisdom in the four broad categories of classical discourse, chronological histories, schools of thought, and literature which greatly enriched Chinese culture.

They utilized printing and the bookmaking industry to push culture to a higher level. China underwent innumerable regime-changes and was frequently ruled by foreign races. The foreign rulers had to rely on Chinese intellectual elites and could not do away with them.

Chinese civilization, thus, used the leverage of intellectual elites to ensure unification and sustainability.

Chinese civilization developed into a great melting pot “melting away differences for the sake of commonality,” continually diminishing the identities of nations.

The visual symbol of wang (king) manifests the three elements of tian (Heaven), di (Earth) and ren (Humans). They are represented, respectively, by the three horizontal strokes with a vertical stroke interconnecting them.

This is China — a civilization entity created and consolidated with script, intellectual elites and wangdao, the rhythm of wang or ruler.

When China was unified, she was a great civilization state. When she disintegrated, she was a great civilization sphere. We should not discuss China by mixing it up with the concept of “nation state.”

One more thing deserves our attention. The “great carrier/Mahayana” of Buddhism transported quintessential Indian civilization to China, and created the “temple culture” all over the remote areas of the country.

Thus, China was dotted with scenic spots and sacred sites for tourism and pilgrimage. Temples also developed tea culture and vegetarian delicacies, instrumental for the birth of tea industry and porcelain industry.

The Tang Emperor Taizong ( 976-997 AD) embraced Buddhist ideology.

He developed such great ideas of governance that Confucius and Mencius had not thought of: jun you qiye, min you shuiye (The ruler is like a vessel while the people are like water); shui neng zaizhou, yineng fuzhou (Water can float the boat and capsize it); faling jun, wanmin le (When the law is just, millions of people feel happy); yi yizhao wei xin (feeling what the hundreds of millions feel); and yi wanbang weiyi (willing what tens of thousands of states will).

Eliminating boundaries

In China it was always civilization taking the lead and grand harmony prevailing over the country, contributing to her longevity and creating the miracle of the only ancient state on earth that has not fallen into ruin.

The secret of the miracle lies in China’s eliminating the boundaries and differences between the nationalities. A nation comes into being because of primordial affinity, while the Chinese melting pot has  “erased” the identities of innumerable nationalities.

The term of “Han race” that we use today originated from the resentment against foreign aggressors at the end of Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) when the five hu (foreign) races created havoc in China. It is not a scientific concept. Today, many of the “Han race” are the posterity of the hu races of yesteryears. The “Han race” is not a nationality at all.

When Dr Sun Yat-sen raised the slogan of the “commonwealth for the five races” of Han, Manchu, Mongol, Hui (Muslim) and Tibetan he was led down the garden path by the Western concept of “nation states.” This, in fact, played havoc with the “grand harmony” rhythm of millennial Chinese civilization sans the identities of nationalities.

For two thousand odd years China has been a super state, but not an empire like Rome. The Roman Empire was created by a powerful center expanding its influence and conquering other countries’ territories. China was by itself an inward-looking universe embracing what was called wuhu sihai (five lakes and four seas).

It was rarely expansionist. China was always being conquered by foreign countries, not conquering them.

From time immemorial, the Chinese ethos has gravitated towards civil, rather than military.

The saying “A nice piece of iron does not make nails, while a nice man does not do soldiering” has become a Chinese tradition. Chinese civilization never pursues power, never likes war, “harmony is most precious.”

In the past, China did not travel the road of the Roman Empire. It will surely not follow the beaten tracks of Britain, Germany, Japan, and the former Soviet Union.

‘Renewed by the day’

Civilization is meant to progress continually while the civilizations of East and West have their respective rhythm of progress.

The millennial Chinese civilization was “renewed by the day and the month” for the sake of surpassing its own past, not to aggress upon others, but welcoming others to join its fold of progress.

After learning a bitter lesson that “becoming backward invites a beating,” China is now leaping forward (maybe even faster than the West, albeit still falling behind in many aspects), and continues to welcome others to join its fold of progress. It would never make use of its progress to aggress upon others.

Confucius never discussed the “abnormal, the powerful, the chaotic, and the supernatural.”

Presently China is fired by the “dream culture.”

Chinese civilization has no concept of “nation.”

Chinese say “all within the four seas are brothers and sisters” and welcome people of all countries to share the Chinese dream culture.

Tan Chung is a historian of Chinese studies, Sino-Indian relations and cultural exchanges. He now lives in Chicago, the United States.


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