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China Under the Impact of Modern Civilization 

Problems for an Endogenous Developmental Model

 Tan Chung

In this presentation I try to survey the Chinese developmental model in the light of civilizational dynamics. I will first give an overview of the Chinese scene, and then take up a few issues for specific discussion. As China is a huge country and her problems are equally vast, numerous and complex, this presentation has become fairly long, yet with important issues I may fail to cover.


Napoleon once described China as a sleeping giant, and hoped it would remain so lest the world might be shaken by it. Today, this sleeping giant has not only waken up, but is bending on her internal development in a scale and dimension exceeding what it had been doing in history. The entire world is watching what China is doing domestically because whatever happens there might have an universal impact.

China, like India, was a developed country before the 18th century when the rest of the world remained less developed. The emergence of the modern civilization and the powerful impact of Western colonialism and finance imperialism condemned her to a developing country for one whole century. After 1949, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) launched a feverish movement to regain China’s position in the family of nations as a developed country. This feverish movement for making China "fu" (rich) and "qiang" (strong) was a successor to the May Fourth Movement (1919) which has driven home a conviction that the evil roots of China’s humiliating defeat by the western powers lay in China’s own age-old traditions. Unless China totally broke away from that tradition there would be no prospects for the emergence of a new China.

The first generation of the leaders of the PRC operated on this premise; and worked hard to destroy the old and build up the new. Destroying the old was easier than building up the new as there was no suitable example to emulate. In many aspects, the PRC adopted the Soviet model, particularly the "Economic Planning" system which is now called by the Western economists as "Command Economy". This has brought a drastic change in China’s way of life.

In the past, China was like the USA — a vast country with abundant resources welcoming people of various ethnic origins to settle there to develop its economy. There were two kinds of scenarios of government rule. A benevolent kind was to maintain peace and levy less taxes. Economy could prosper under such regimes. Another kind was the government’s involvement in constant warfare, and had to pass on the burden to the common people. Life became miserable under such reigns. Thus, the Chinese history had projected a time-tested rhythm that grassroots initiatives were precious in developing a prosperous life in the country.

The PRC leadership ignored this rhythm initially, and tried to make the state power the sole locomotive for the country’s economic development. In this process, the grassroots initiatives were destroyed. There were some isolated examples of people under a highly regimented management system maintaining great enthusiasm in developing production. But the People’s Communes, by and large, could register very slow economic growth, and the state owned industrial enterprises proved to be highly inefficient and uneconomical. However, the country succeeded in keeping a high spiritual culture with revolutionary zeal. Social evils like prostitution, drug addiction, black money etc. were unheard of. Of course, because of the want of transparency, many ugly things, particularly corruption and petty crimes committed by those who held power, were hidden under the carpet.

Then came the post-Mao era of reforms and opening up of China to the outside world. The post-Mao leadership under Deng Xiaoping gradually diluted the economic plans of the state and loosened the state control on grassroot economic activities. This change brought about positive results in economic development. In the last 15 years China’s economic growth was nearly 10 per cent a year on an average, which was not only unheard of in China’s history, but was also outstanding in the post-World War era, when Europe lingered around 2-3 per cent of growth rate.

Another fundamental change adopted by Deng Xiaoping’s leadership is to erase the abstract dichotomy between socialism and capitalism. Socialism during the Mao era was conceived as "Xing wu mie zi" (Uplift the proletariat and exterminate the bourgeoisie). Deng Xiaoping felt that China should emulate all good examples which could develop the productive force. While economic planning, to him, was not exclusively socialist, market economy was not exclusively capitalist either. Market economy was just a "method". "If it serves the interest of socialism, then it belongs to socialism. If it serves the interest of capitalism, then it belongs to capitalism." Deng Xiaoping, thus, created a new conception in China’s development orientation. "He destroyed the adherence to economic planning, and also broke the taboo on market economy," commented Hu Sheng, President of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.1

China has had one and half centuries of interface with the modern civilization since the Opium War (1840-42). This interface has experienced some twists and turns. In the beginning China tried to reject modern civilization but failed. Then, a leftist movement rose under the influence of the anti-current of modern civilization, i.e., Marxism, and launched an attack on China’s own traditions. Then, China, during the post-Mao era ceased to embrace communism too tightly, and developed a soft corner for the capitalist economic pattern of development. Today, China wishes to have the good things from both the mainstream and anti-current of modern civilization — to emulate the market economic system from the mainstream capitalist world, and to adhere to socialism which is an inspiration from the anti-current of modern west.

Deng Xiaoping raised an important slogan "Building up socialism according to Chinese characteristics". His approach is also known as pursuing the "Chinese road towards socialism". Such a policy symbolizes China’s quest for an endogenous pattern of development. During the Mao era there used to be the slogan: "Gu wei jin yong, yang wei Zhong yong." (Employ past experience for the benefit of the present, and employ foreign experience for the benefit of China.) Outwardly, there seems to be a contradiction between China’s providing herself as a market for foreign trade and investment and her strong desire for enhancing her own enlightened self-interest. One Chinese scholar, Li Yi’ning, a professor of Beijing University, tries to find a logic in this contradiction by describing it as a strategy of "exchanging market for technology" (yi shichang huan jishu) — meaning to have the benefit of the latest foreign technology implanted in China by allowing foreign enterprises to enjoy the profit of Chinese market.2 Li Yi’ning is one of the avant-garde economists in China who have gone quite beyond the framework of Marxist political-economy. He is one of the members of the think-tank for the present PRC leaders, but not all his proposals have been accepted for implementation.

Here is the involvement of a fundamental problem concerning national self-reliance and international globalization. Both in India and in China there has been a strong opposition to the encroachment of transnational interests into the domestic economy to hamper the growth of the national industries. What Deng Xiaoping and his followers among present-day PRC leadership have been doing is an experiment based on either a self-confidence that China’s national industries will emerge a winner in the on-going globalization, or a fatalistic mentality that without participating in the globalization China will not take off in the fierce international competition. Li Yi’ning and others who see the right logic in such an experiment seem to reflect a complex mentality of both this self-confidence and fatalistic mentality.

One element of urgency for China to embrace globalization is the time factor when both the developed countries and the Newly Industrialised Countries (NICs) are eager to shed their labour-intensive industries. China has seized this opportunity to take over the "sun-set industries" of Hong Kong, Taiwan, and other countries to become the processing zone of the world for shoes, electronic toys, garments, cheap watches, etc. Such "sun-set industries" do not augment self-reliance to China’s modern development. But, China has, at no time, ignored the need of developing her own manufacturing and other industrial capability to be able to stand on her own as a modern power. It is estimated that there were three major waves in the last 40 years of importing advanced foreign technology into China. The first wave took place in the 1950s when the Soviet Union helped China to build up her heavy industrial base. The second wave took place in 1978 when the government led by the transitional leader Hua Guofeng hurriedly signed huge contracts with Japan and Germany to modernize its steel industry to the extent that the country failed to digest the intake, and had to cut down the import by paying compensation to foreign companies. From 1983 there started the third major wave, and in three years 3,000 plus new technological items were imported. But, many of such items were repetitions, amounting to a waste of precious foreign exchange.3 There were even isolated instances of China-made machinery being bought back as advanced foreign technology. In all, China’s industrial capability is commendable after four decades of hard work in development. In the Mao era, when the Western world imposed an embargo on China, she could make a series of breakthrough in science and technology by using the reverse technology. China could develop its own atomic energy, aeronautic and air-space industries, etc. China has now the largest manufacturing industry in the world, and is fairly advanced in certain fields of technology such as rocketry, nuclear, underground mining, bridge building, etc. But, on the whole China’s technological level remains three or four decades behind the leaders of the world. According to American standards, most of China’s factories are junk yards. China can’t throw the obsolete equipment away, but is trying to renovate them into semi-state-of-the-art conditions. It is a poor country’s development course to modernization.

China has an ingenious programme in developing her own science capability called "Xinghuo jihua" (Spark Programme), drawing inspiration from Chairman Mao’s famous saying that "A single spark can start a prairie fire". This Spark Programme was initiated in 1986, aiming at introducing scientific research findings to industrial units, agriculture, animal husbandry and other areas of productivity. There is another programme called "863 Programme" instituted in 1986 to develop high tech by indigenous efforts. This was supplemented by the "Torch Programme" in 1988 for marketization of the achievements of the 863 Programme. Over the years, there has been a brain-drain in China with young scientists going abroad and failing to come back. The PRC govenment has announced special incentives to attract them to return to the motherland. This step has created a discrimination between homespun scientists and sea-water-drunken scientists, thus becoming an invisible encouragement for more brain-drain.

The "Special Economic Zone" and its younger sister, "Economic and Technological Development Zones" are special features of post-Mao China’s new economic development. The government grants a special policy to such zones to allow them to import foreign technology and investment. The philosophy behind the establishment of these zones is termed "Yin feng ru chao" (Making a nest for the phoenix to enter) — foreign investment is the "phoenix". The "Special Economic Zones", particularly Shenzhen, was a topic of great controversy. Many veteran leaders wept after visiting the place — feeling that their revolutionary martyrdom and heroism had been cheated, and no one would have shed blood for the communist revolution if they had known that capitalism and exploitation would have been brought back through the back door. There were fierce internal debate about whether such zones belonged to the socialist or capitalist family. In 1992, Deng Xiaoping, the designer of such zones, visited them and reaffirmed their contributions to the country. He also appealed to fellow Party comrades to postpone the debate for a decade or so to let history judge whether such an invention had any justification. Today, such zones are no longer in the limelight as the whole country has virtually become a huge "Special Zone" for opening up to the outside world.

What China presents today is a very dynamic, fluid, complex, and in certain sense, chaotic picture of embarking on the course of development. China was a developed country in the past. Chinese were great inventors, and have always had an aptitude for expanding production. Such basic orientation and talent of the Chinese people are the major factor for China’s fast economic growth now that the government spares no efforts to encourage grassroot initiatives. However, China’s past development and prosperity is one thing while the development and affluence in the modern civilization is another. England and other European countries had taken three centuries to build up the edifice of modern prosperity. America has taken less time, but also about two centuries. It would be impossible for China to flog-leap into the brave new world. In many ways, she has to advance steadily like a tortoise, if not a snail. There are many problems and obstacles on her future road.

The greatest difficulty in China is the size of population. The Chinese government is always proud of the fact that with only 7 per cent of the earth’s cultivated land, China is feeding 22 per cent of humankind. But, behind this proud proposition is the great strain as well. In the first place, there is tremendous population pressure on land which has to produce enough to sustain all these people. Second, with the application of modern technology China’s limited agricultural land does not need more than a fraction of this huge population to attend to it. During the Mao era, people were just whiling away time in non-productive pursuits under the management of the communes. Today, the majority of Chinese population — those who live in the countryside — have to fend for themselves. They will starve if they while away their time. But, when they want to take up production sincerely there is not enough work for most of them. Two situations have risen. In the better developed areas, people have invested in village and township industries (like India’s cottage industry) and succeeded in absorbing the surplus labour from the plantation industry. There are even some areas where all the rural population have been absorbed into the secondary and tertiary industries, leaving the primary industry, i.e. plantation, to imported labourers. But, these are only isolated examples. Overwhelmingly large parts of China’s countryside have developed a surplus labour force without full employment. In some areas, this surplus labour has started to spill over to the affluent areas or the big cities to find odd jobs. In the last six, seven years, such movements have assumed alarming dimension in what is called "mingongchao" (waves of job-seekers). There are several tens of millions of such job-seekers flowing from the poor villages into the big cities and affluent coastal areas today which is a serious destabilizing factor in China’s socio-economic life right now, and, in course of time, would become a political destabilizing force if the trend is not timely checked.

China is, paradoxically, a big country without sufficient land for her agricultural development. One-fifteenth of the land masses on earth belongs to China which amounts to 9.6 million square kilometres. Country-wise, China is the third largest on earth in size, but population-wise, her per capita possession of land territory is only one-third of the average of the world population. Then, large tracts of China’s territory are occupied by deserts, glaciers, rocky mountains and plains, and high altitude cold areas unfit for agriculture. China’s per capita arable land is one of the lowest among countries whose population is above 50 million — only slightly higher than Japan and Bangladesh. China’s per capita agricultural land is only half of that of India and Pakistan, and only one-ninth of that of USA. Worse still, because of rapid industrial development, there has been a sharp reduction of China’s agricultural land. This reduction couples with a high rate of population increase. For instance, in 1993, the total loss of agricultural land in China amounted to 9.37 million mu (a mu is about 1/6 of an acre) which was as large as the total agricultural land of Qinghai province. While the agricultural land of the size of a province was lost, the population increase in 1993 was about 16 million which was three times of Qinghai’s population. Under such dual pressure on agricultural land — diversion for non-agricultural use and population increase — the per capita share of agricultural land would be reduced to 0.6 mu (i.e. 0.1 acre) fifty years later. And there would be hardly any agricultural land visible for an average Chinese in the end of the 21st century if such a development continues.4

Erosion is another cause of the loss of agricultural land which, too, threatens China’s future development. As Mr. Li Ruihuan, one of China’s top five leaders, observed:

Another deep crisis faced by the agricultural land of our country is the grave erosion of the soil, leading to the deterioration of our ecological environment. Now the total area of erosion of soil amounts to 1.3 million square kilometres, the total area of desertification is 176,000 square kilometres. Every year large tracts of cultivated and grass lands are swallowed up. If we don’t take effective measures, by the year 2000 we are going to lose 1.8 million square kilometres of soil and will have 0.2 million square kilometres of land being turned into deserts.5

Connected with the loss of agricultural land is the scarcity of water resources in China. As Li Ruihuan observes:

The special feature of the topography of our country is having high land in the west and low land in the east, creating the loss of large quantity of water. The distribution of water resources is tilted towards the south, resulting in frequent floods in the south and general drought in the north. Particularly during the rainy seasons there is a serious imbalance among areas. We have drought and flood happening in different places at the same time, or in the same place at different times. In the past 2, 000 years, there occurred 1,600 great droughts, and 1,300 great floods in our country.6

Li Ruihuan added that in the vast north-west there was a vast area of 2.96 million square kilometres which comprised 31 per cent of China’s entire territory. The potential farmland resources here was 32.3 per cent of China’s total. The area was rich in sunshine. Many of the places could be turned into fertile agricultural lands if there was water.7 Right now, there is serious thinking about making some major alternations of China’s water distribution systems. One scheme is to make Yangtse River flow into Yellow River. Another is to bore a water tunnel through the Kun Lun Range and make Brahmaputra flow into Xinjiang.8 The second scheme, if implemented, will affect India and Bangladesh as Brahmaputra is shared by the three countries. The first scheme would not affect any other country, but it would mean to merge the world’s fourth largest river (Yangtse) and the seventh largest (Yellow) and make the largest river system of the world.

The deterioration of ecological environment which has been touched upon by Li Ruihuan deserves serious attention. The number of Chinese household is too large to be supplied with electricity or cooking gas. Burning coal and firewood is still widely practised. While coal burning generates carbon monoxide, burning firewood tends to destroy the existing forest coverage. A new ecological threat is the acid rain. The rainfall area with precipitation containing less than 5.6 pH has increased from 1.75 million square kilometres in 1985 to 2.8 million square kilometres in 1993. It occurs in southeast China where factories are concentrated, and has a tendency of moving northwards and westwards.9 There is avoidable pollution created by ignorance and want of health regulations. In Jiuqi village, Taoyuan county, in Hunan province people wash their insecticide implements in the pond where fish is also bred. In course of time, the fish which gradually developed their immunity have become live carriers of poison. Peasants who eat such fish get poisoned and even get killed for want of immunity.10 Modern culture itself contains danger to life if people don’t have scientific knowledge and consciousness. There are a lot of man-made disasters in China because of such ignorance, and neglect of safety measures. Such ignorance-induced pollution or calamity will continue for some time until the level of education in China reaches the safety mark.

When the humankind enters the 21st century modern civilization will turn softer and softer. The battle of economic development will no longer be fought on the ground. It will be fought on the computers in the game of system science — networking in information gathering and employing information for profitable ends. Human resources will assume great importance in the future scheme of development. China and India are the largest reservoirs in the world of human resources. But, human heads are not automatically the human talents needed for the future. Ordinary human heads have to be converted into talented human heads. Education must be placed on the agenda right now if India and China are to stand in the front row of development in the 21st century.

Coming to the subject of education in China, we have the shocking statistics revealed by Li Ruihuan, in his speech addressed to an all China educational conference in Beijing in January, 1995. He said that Chinese, on an average, is exposed to systemic education for only 5.4 years. He also revealed that the Chinese population’s per capita share of government expenditure on education comes to only US $ 12.92 in a year as against the average figure of $ 42 among all developing countries.11

There are various remedies for the deficiency in education. Allocation of more funds is one of them. However, in a developing economy like China, and a country of China’s population size, even spending one US dollar more on education for every Chinese would mean an additional government expenditure of 10 billion yuan (equivalent to Rs. 4-5 billions) which is a large burden for the exchequer. Of course, as education is so vitally important for future development, not spending large sums on it is unwise and myopic. But, there are still limitations to such a spending.

How education can develop smoothly and healthily in China’s current honeymoon with the market economic system is a question which has received serious attention. One problem is whether education should be pushed into the market economy or not. Chinese education, particularly higher education, is now under a double assault by the new emergent socio-economic order of the market system. In the first place, the overwhelming number of educational institutions in China are government owned. They are subjected to the same pressure as the government-owned enterprises in industry and other fields are subjected to, viz. finding their own resources and fending for themselves. The prestigious Beijing University, for instance, is saved from bankruptcy only because of its establishment of a business concern called "Beida Fangzheng" which supplies a software to modernize Chinese printing press — a major invention by one of the University professors. While the University has been saved by this master stroke of commercialization (with Beida Fangzheng Company contributing to one half of its annual expenditure which the Ministry of Education fails to meet), commercialization has already eaten into the vitals of life of the University. University teachers take the first opportunity to "go commercial", and every University department sets up a commercial wing to earn some extra income to cater for the welfare of their own staff. While certain departments like scientific subjects and law can prosper, departments like "Eastern Languages" (with Hindi, Urdu, Sanskrit, etc.) have to envy their nouveau riche sisters helplessly. All this results in a degeneration in the teaching ethics of the University. On the other hand, the students of the University have, by and large, lost their interest in studies. Their morale is hard hit by such unpalatable fact: they had worked hard through all-China competitions just to enter into the No. 1 educational institution which now looks like an apology of China’s modern culture of commercialization, while many of their fellow students who were the residues of academic competition are now successful entrepreneurs — darlings of Deng Xiaoping’s China. Beijing University is just an example to show how China is dangerously heading towards destroying its educational institutions.

There is another dangerous tendency of trying to turn education into a commodity, and educational institution into a market. There is a serious ignorance of the nature of education on the part of the Chinese zealots for marketization. The importance of education lies in its being "an invisible hand" as one Chinese scholar terms it. Of course, in the market economy there is always an invisible hand, i.e., the market lever which decides the success or failure of an enterprise. However, one should not ignore another invisible hand which regulates the human ethics and morality — the hand of education. Education, thus, should be understood as a different productive base which should have its autonomy from the market forces, although it should be relevant to the market needs.12

Apart from educational institutions, there are other means to achieve an improvement of mass education. The rapid development of audio and video communication networking has already drastically revolutionized the educational process. Today, classroom education which the educational institutions offer are serving only a narrow purpose of qualification creation. The quality of the education and the quality of the receivers of education are less important than the papers which these institutions offer. You may be a genius and a person of exceptional information and intelligence. But, you do not get a job which you deserve if you do not have a university degree. On the other hand, you may be the most unintelligent and uninformed among your generation, but because of your excellent paper qualifications you get into the ranks of the social elite.

In the 21st century this paper-qualification-oriented education will die its natural death because of revolutionized methods of evaluation talents, of selections of managers and administrators. Future education is also moving away from classrooms to remote-sensing education networks through radio and television waves and optical cables. This is both good news and danger signal to humankind. I shall come back to this problem later.

Similar to education, Chinese literature has also received a fierce assault from the force of marketization. I must briefly introduce the background before discussing this issue. Chinese literature was a huge state-owned industry during the Mao era. The majority of Chinese "writers" were, and still are, on the payroll of the state. In the meanwhile, except the illegal underground press, all the publishing houses are state-owned enterprises throughout the history of the PRC. The profession of Chinese "writers" is a curious creation. Many of the "writers" have been posted to the literary arena to engage in literary creation which was described by Stalin as the "engineering of human soul". There are also many writers who first emerge by their own creative genius, and, then, get enrolled as a "writer" either in the provincial Writers’ Union, or in the all-China Writers’ Union, both of which are semi-government organizations. Such writers get paid even if they don’t write or publish. But, they become famous with enhanced income and social status if their names see printing in the state-owned publishing world. In the past, these writers had an easy task of propagating the government policies which gave them enough themes to write about. Today, the state no longer gives them readymade themes, and has asked them to write according to the needs of the emerging socialist market economy.

Many writers feel that the "Modern Period" of Chinese literature has come to an end, and a "Post-Modern Period" is unfolding itself. There is great confusion in the literary scene. Commercialization has deeply affected the popular taste, the writers are widely divided in their responses to the changing literary taste. Some of them have quickly shifted to vulgar and sensational staff and earn lots of royalty. Shenzhen, which is the leader of China’s Economic Zones, has been staging "Manuscript Auctions" by contemporary writers.13 Others who don’t want to stoop so low are having a hard time to survive as respected writers. Some few writers have become business entrepreneurs and continue to create. On the whole, the literary scene is a jungle full of weeds — very few flowers, let alone immortal works.

A serious problem of the health of China’s endogenous development is how to tame political power and let the economic growth ride on it for steady galloping towards prosperity. Historically, China has had the largest bureaucracy for ruling over a population from 1/5 to 1/3 of the humanity which has chosen to live under the Chinese political umbrella for the last two thousand years. The Chinese bureaucracy is a monster of two thousand years of life. It was and still is a necessary evil to safeguard the unity and integrity of the country. But, it is a great burden of the ancien regime which should not be carried into the 21st century.

During the Mao era, China had carried this burden when she adopted the Soviet model of the "Command Economy". This further heightened the abuse of political power in all the spheres of the country’s life, and created the phenomenon of what may be called the "dislocation of power" (quanli cuowei). There were three ramifications of it. The first was the "Monopoly of Power", rendering China into a huge factory. The second was the "Misplacement of Power", making the government manage what should have been left to the people to manage. The third was the "Alienation of Power", facilitating the infiltration of political power into economic arena. It was the third ramification which could easily generate corruption.14

China still suffers the top-heavy pattern of governance today. All the changes of the present Reform Regime, good or bad, originated from the central government. Any dilution of the implementation of the centre’s decisions in a local setup is frowned upon. An appending evil of this top-heavy system is the absence of public supervision of the government officers’ doings. The age old "guan benwei" (officers rule the roost) tradition is still well entrenched. Such a government-officer-oriented social trend is churning out what is termed "Power Fetishism", clinging to power as the short cut for amassing personal wealth on the part of the corrupt government officials.15 A Chinese scholar observed:

However, during the great tide of commodity economy and the transition of administrative system from the old to the new, we have some Party and government officials using the power within their control to infiltrate illegally into the commodity economy, which has, thus, created the phenomenon of corruption, of a collusion between officials and businessmen, employing power to run business, transacting power with money, using power for personal gains . . . this not only runs counter with the demand that the socialist state mechanism must serve the economic base, but also creates a sharp contradiction with the principle of equal exchanges of the commodity economy and the mechanics of the market economy. Because of the intrusion and effect of political power serious unequal exchanges have been created in the economic arena. This will produce an inestimable corroding effect and destructive effect on the developing commodity economy and the market economic mechanism which is now being built.16


There are some specific issues facing China today which are a universal phenomenon. I shall highlight a few for a brief discussion, using the Chinese example to see the fundamental problems of our modern civilization. I am quite conscious that the moment I step beyond China I am on an unsure turf, and my conclusions may carry certain bias due to want of deep understanding of other civilizational developments. But, I shall venture into this part of my presentation to elicit criticism and help from fellow-participants to enhance my own understanding.

The first issue I wish to raise concerns the equilibrium between the Western domination and the promotion of China’s native characteristics in her future development. China’s quest for an endogenous developmental model tends to encourage the revival of her traditional values. China’s ruling elite has begun to re-examine the merits of Chinese traditional thinking according to Marxist analysis. Some scholars have even gone beyond the Marxist framework to appreciate the positive aspects of Confucian ethics and spiritual order. Since the supreme leader, Deng Xiaoping, could go beyond the Marxist framework to embrace market economic system, these scholars who now covertly or even overtly propagate the restoration of the Confucian spiritual superstructure are having freedom to do so.

Many scholars feel that the traditional Chinese value systems occupy a major place in China’s future spiritual arena. This arena will be dominated by two Western cultural guests: Marxist political ideology, and Darwinist rationalism. The ideal mainstream of Chinese culture should be a three-in-one synthesis, according to some thinking, i.e. socialism, scientism, and Chinese traditional virtues. Today, such a synthesis is vaguely visible in a blurred picture in China’s superstructure. There are various sub-currents and anti-currents in China’s cultural arena.17 Among the sub-currents we have regional life-styles such as "Shanghai culture", "Guangdong culture". A kind of "Yuppie culture" is also emerging championed by young entrepreneurs. The "Hong Kong culture" and "Shenzhen culture" are also appearing as these two places are China’s windows for the opening towards the modern developed world. There are also "smoking culture" and "prostitution culture" which have attraction for certain sections of the society along the coastal areas. While there are attempts to exalt the art and style of smoking, there are also literary creations highlighting historical prostitutes as lovable and even admirable specimens of human beings.

Tradition versus modernity is a theme particularly vital but complex to tackle in such age-old civilizations like India and China. On the one hand, one need not be a Marxist to concede that humanity is always on a unilineal course of civilizational evolution, that the present is more advanced than the past. On the other hand, it is also clear to many, including sensitive Western thinkers, that there is a spiritual decline of humankind which, if unchecked, will create a universal civilizational crisis. There are many happenings in the modern era which cannot be called human progress. For one thing, two world wars were fought in the 20th century with such mass killing never witnessed in human history. While the cold war has just ended, the world is still holding dangerous nuclear weapons which can destroy the earth many times over. While money is not available to buy milk for millions of babies born in Africa and Asia, the governments are spending US $ 130 million a year on the production of human-killing weapons. For another, in many Western societies, the family institution is on the verge of total destruction while humans are retrogressing from monogamy to free and unrestrained copulation like the primitives or even beasts. By destroying traditional values, China has now exposed herself to both the progressive and retrogressive trends of the modern civilization. A few years ago, some left (or call them "ultra-left") intellectuals raised the alarm of "spiritual pollution" (jingshen wuran) and wanted a nation-wide campaign to counter it. This was stopped by Deng Xiaoping, fearing that it might disturb the smooth development of Chinese economic reforms. Deng’s soft pedalling the degenerating Western cultural influences has resulted in serious erosion of morality in China today, particularly among those who were born and brought up during the Cultural Revolution — people who have never been systematically indoctrinated by healthy education and revolutionary ideology.

Let me take up a case of the ground reality as an illustration of cultural degeneration in the context of tradition versus modernity. We know that in historical times the Tarim Basin was lush green. Today it is mostly dry and barren. This has figured in one of Li Ruihuan’s above quoted speeches as well.18 Desertification has had a tremendous growth in the last two thousand years in Xinjiang in China, and the Taklamakan Desert in the Tarim Basin covers an area of 327,000 square kilometres which is 2.27 times the territory of Bangladesh. More unpleasant is a report about the phenomenon of "increasing desertification day by day" (ri jian shahua) of Xinjiang’s culture today. The report says that when you visit a book shop you see on the shelves a plethora of unhealthy vulgar publications which bring discomfort to the mind. When you turn on the television or radio, good programmes are like soothing streams being drowned by the ocean of sand. When you watch the cruel executions of violence on the silver screen you wonder how there could be such human hatred against each other. When you hear the pop albums blaring out such lines like "Let me for once having enough love", you feel you are listening to the last cry of someone who is going to die in the next moment. Why can’t love be enjoyed by a human heart enduringly instead of the momentary feeding of a hungry sex beast?19

Xinjiang is what modern foreign scholars call "Chinese Turkistan" and what ancient Europeans call "Serindia", meaning China-India (The first syllable "ser" stood for "Seres" or "Serica", the ancient Roman word for "The Land of Silk", i.e. China). Scholars and tourists can still find remnants of ancient Buddhist monuments in Xinjiang which suggest the existence of a highly developed and sophisticated spiritual culture in this land more than a thousand years ago. It was the records of those days which depicted the Tarim Basin as a greenland on the track of the famous "Silk Road". This name "Silk Road" (alternately "Silk Route") was given by a German sinologist, Albert Herrmann, in 1910. It would have been more appropriately called "Dharmaratna Marg" (Road of the Jewels of Truth). The great Taklamakan Desert in the heart of the Tarim Basin did exist at that time. Many Chinese pilgrims who had trodden on it believed that ferocious goblins resided in the desert, and devoured human beings and animals who passed through it. But, what these pilgrims did was to trace the skeletons of those devoured by the goblins so that they could find their path to India — the "Land of Buddha".20 Many Indian monks did the same in a reverse direction to reach China to disseminate Buddha’s message of enlightenment, non-violence, and universal love. Without such selfless spirit and self sacrifice of ancient Buddhists of China. India and many Central Asian nationalities there would not have been the "Dharmaratna Marg" and "Serinda". It is the fallacy of human evolution that the ancients built cultural edifices in the desert while the modernists turn cultural greenland into a desert.

This brings home the maldevelopment of modern civilization. On the one hand, there has been tremendous material advancement in Xinjiang, in China, in other parts of Asia and the world; on the other hand, there is retrogression in moral standard and spiritual culture everywhere including Xinjiang as we have just seen.

Scientists have noticed the depletion of Ozone Layer around the globe. This Ozone Layer is earth’s shield to protect human bodies from the damage of harmful rays. Spiritually, culture is the invisible Ozone Layer that protects human souls from harmful rays from the cesspool of iniquity. Desertification of culture is more harmful to humankind than that of the ecological environment.

Interesting statistics show that Xinjiang ranks as one of China’s largest homes for centenarians. According to the 1990 census, 894 centenarians were discovered in Xinjiang among whom 814 were Uighurs. We know that there were only 8.6 million Uighurs according to the 1990 census figure. This means that for every ten thousand Uighurs, one has lived more than a hundred years. According to analysis, the sources of the Uighurs’ longevity comes from their life style. First, their daily diet consists of wheat, rice, carrot, onion, cabbage, mutton, in addition to a lot of fruits, i.e. water-melon, melon, fig, walnut, peach, date, apricot, grape, mulberry. Second, they don’t smoke, drink very little alcohol, refuse to eat the meat that is not from freshly killed animals by the cut which lets out their blood (the halal food for all Muslims). Third, they drink tea with milk and with a sprinkle of goat’s or mare’s butter. Fourth, they are a tension-free people, fond of singing and dancing, physical labour, helping others etc.21 In other words, it is the preservation of the endogenous life style which is the secret of long life for the Uighur race, and for other ethnic communities who can preserve their endogenous virtues.


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