The Western way of doing things is by butting heads. From the phalanx to the joust to American football, men of the West have met challenges head on. Sometimes it works. Sometimes, as on the Somme in 1916, it doesn’t work. But it is built into our culture and is unlikely to change.
The Chinese way is different. Chinese prefer to take on problems indirectly, with maneuver and strategem. Watch a Shar Pei, a Chinese breed of dog, in a fight. It doesn’t go for the other dog’s throat. It goes for its hamstring. Indirection is as fundamental to Chinese culture as head-butting is to Western culture.
The BBC recently reported a typically indirect Chinese strategic move that is brilliant. China has been locked in conflict with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and, indirectly, the United States, over ownership of small islands in the South China Sea. The islands are not important of themselves. What is important is the claim they give to control over adjacent waters. To China, the conflict over the islands has been a strategic liability. It has now solved that problem. How? By building its own islands.
In a bulletin dated September 10, 2014, the BBC
report by Rupert Wingfield-Hayes said China was building new islands on five different reefs. He and his team documented Chinese work to dredge tonnes of rock and sand from the sea floor to pump into Johnson South reef in the Spratly islands, which are also claimed by Manila…The works appear to have been going on for months.
In typical Chinese fashion, Beijing has outmaneuvered its opponents. Who can possibly question Chinese ownership of islands China built? China can now allow the conflicts over existing islands to simmer down. Its claim over the waters it wants derives from indisputably Chinese islands.
As the Chinese government turns ever more toward traditional Chinese culture, we should expect more indirect approaches by China in matters where we have disputes. The move away from Marx and Mao to Sun Tzu and Confucius has been slowly gathering steam since Mao died. According to a story in the October 12 New York Times, “Leader Taps Into Chinese Classics in Seeking to Cement Power,” Xi Jinping has gone to forced draft. The Times writes,
In November (2013), Mr. Xi visited Qufu, Shandong Province, where Confucius was born, to “send a signal that we must vigorously promote China’s traditional culture”…
In May (2014), the overseas edition of the state-run newspaper People’s Daily published a selection of 76 of Mr. Xi’s quotes from Chinese ancients, most often Confucius or Mencius, but also relatively obscure works that suggest a deeper knowledge of the classics…
“As China grows stronger, this force for restoring tradition will also grow stronger,” said Yan Xuetong, director of the Institute of International Studies at Tsinghua University in Beijing and author of “Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power.”
“Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power” well sums up where China is headed. Its corollary might be “Modern Western Thought, Modern Western Weakness.” As the West has adopted the ideology of cultural Marxism that has as its primary objective the destruction of traditional Western culture, it has devoured itself. Now, in most of the West, the will to live is almost gone (just look at the birth rates). China too became weak during Mao’s “Cultural Revolution,” which sought to destroy traditional Chinese culture. Now, the return of that culture has brought China new strength. Perhaps there is a lesson there for the West.
Whether or not the West rallies and turns back from the road to Avernus, it will face a China that thinks and acts differently from the itself. In a contest between head-butters and maneuverists, the maneuverists usually win, absent a gross disparity of strength. If the West insists on destroying everything that has defined it for 3000 years, that might be good news. A world dominated by traditional Chinese culture would likely be a far better place than a world dominated by Islam, corporate greed, or unending disorder.