An Emergent China and the Weight of History

Christopher A. Ford

in The Mind of Empire

Published by University Press of Kentucky

Published in print April 2010 | ISBN: 9780813192635
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780813135519 | DOI:
An Emergent China and the Weight of History

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As China's economy continues to modernize, observers have begun to wonder what sort of a power on the world stage China will actually become. Many analysts, particularly in the US, see China not simply as an emerging world power but a highly problematic and dangerous one. With thousands of years of history continuing to be an extraordinary presence in contemporary Chinese life and thought, China's current ideals of law present a mosaic of traditional legal conceptions, Western influences, and attempts to comply with the legal requirements of a fast-changing global economy. One factor that has greatly enhanced the perceived salience of the past throughout the long course of China's history has been the relative uniformity and stability of its written language. This powerful written tradition, and the comparative cultural uniformity that it has encouraged, has helped foster the intense and inwardly focused classicism that is a distinguishing characteristic of Chinese intellectual life. This does not mean, however, that China's traditional culture mandates an intellectual ossification and sterile scholasticism that makes it not simply resistant but, in fact, positively immune to new ideas. Although it has not prevented innovation, the overpowering historicism of the Chinese tradition has nevertheless constrained the country by giving special advantages to those who can denounce and resist what they do not like by appealing to the authority of precedent. Hence, Chinese thinkers tend to present their own views as “simply a reaffirmation, an appeal to an ancient, legitimate but neglected tradition,” even when they are not.

Keywords: Chinese history; Chinese tradition; Chinese written language; cultural uniformity; world power; international politics

Chapter.  5105 words. 

Subjects: International Relations

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