A deeper understanding of the Communist Party of China (CPC) is crucial to the reconstruction of China-U.S. mutual political confidence, because many American misconceptions about China home in on how to understand the CPC.
- Seeing China as an outsider that can be assimilated
Some people lament the failure of the U.S. policy of engaging China, a strategy which first took shape under former President Richard Nixon. Seeing they had already successfully turned Japan into a Western-style nation, they wanted to convert China in similar fashion. Yet they neglected the fact that China has been an independent entity since ancient times, a civilization that could be traced back 5,000 years and a society unlikely to adopt a wholly Western model. Nevertheless, China did learn a lot from the West. Traditional China has today developed into a modern China, which now marches toward a country that seeks to engage constructively with the world. This progress becomes especially apparent through undertakings such as the Belt and Road Initiative and the notion of establishing a community with a shared future for humanity.
- Believing the biggest difference between China and the West lies in the CPC
Disregarding CPC leadership goes hand in hand with numerous misunderstandings of traditional Chinese culture. The assimilation of the cream of Western civilization by a 5,000-year civilization is similar to Buddhist religion being merged with the culture of China's central plains, giving rise to the Chinese theories of Buddhism and Zen.
- Believing the Chinese revolution picked up what the West had discarded as heresy
As a matter of fact, Marxism has been sinicized and has long evolved from the original Soviet-style Marxism, which arose from a mixture of outdated Russian serfdom, Slavic culture and theories of communist revolution. The philosophy has over the decades been modified and integrated with the splendor of Chinese civilization.
As the CPC celebrates its 100th anniversary, it is important for Americans to readjust their outlook on the CPC and hence their outlook on China. There are three keywords: China, communist and party.
The Communist Party has been localized in China. Sinicization means it has been incorporated in the Chinese revolution and traditional culture, transforming the traditional ideals of eliminating wealth gaps and establishing unity under Heaven in today's building of a society characterized by moderate prosperity and realizing all-round modernization.
Traditional Chinese culture appreciates harmony rather than revolution and struggle. A community with a shared future for humanity reflects the integration of the CPC's ideals with traditional Chinese culture, which believes capitalism and socialism can coexist. It resonates with other cultures' appreciation of harmony, such as the Christian teaching of "one for all, all for one."
What is China? China is a "civilization-state" as opposed to a nation-state in the European model. Traditional Chinese civilization has been transformed by the CPC, and the Chinese civilization in its popular sense doesn't equal a secular one that subscribes to no religious beliefs. It's not that the Chinese don't believe in a god but that they don't have a common god; they respect both those who believe in gods and those who don't. This is the reason why the CPC can seek truth in facts and demonstrate the greatest possible openness and inclusiveness to achieve social justice and fairness.
"Communist" as an adjective is neither the "sharing of assets and wives," as the Kuomintang once tagged it, nor the state capitalism the Americans imagine it to be. China's ownership structure is one far from the simplicity it knew during the planned-economy era. The private sector in China contributes more than 50 percent of tax revenues, more than 60 percent of GDP, more than 70 percent of innovation and more than 80 percent of urban jobs. It accounts for more than 90 percent of all enterprises.
Therefore, the term "communist" has incorporated the ideas of common prosperity and the public good. China has just bid farewell to poverty and embarked on a journey toward all-round modernization, which is why the CPC and Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee, have won the people's hearts.
Americans tend to believe the Chinese revolution picked up what the West had cast aside as heresy, namely Marxism. Dr. Sun Yat-sen took a cue from former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln's "of the people, by the people, for the people" and developed his "three principles of the people" (nation, civil rights, and people's livelihoods).
The CPC has taken one step further by accentuating "in the people" (people-centered), "before the people" (as a pioneer, because the CPC stands out in the face of hardship) and "after the people" (as a public servant), because they won't relax until the rest of society has security and comfort. The CPC isn't a political party in the traditional Western sense, nor is it one in the traditional Chinese sense. It seeks equality and justice for humanity at large, and advocates humanism.
The CPC is continuing the religious revolution and the Western enlightenment. From the separation of politics and religion to the present emphasis on the unity of humanity and nature, people first, and seeking truth from facts, it is dedicated to helping humanity rid itself of all superstition.
The U.S. worries China may take its place, which is only natural. How could the U.S., which absolutely does not want to be in second place, tolerate a rising China? What is the goal of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation? It is neither to return to the Han (202 B.C.-A.D. 220) or Tang (618-907) dynasties, nor the quest to overtake the U.S. It is the desire to make greater contributions to human progress and provide public services and goods that are better, more inclusive and more affordable. From the perspective of traditional culture, it is not difficult to understand that the CPC will not only not seek hegemony, but instead will oppose it. The CPC is spearheading the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation to open up a new era that is free of all hegemony.
Attributing all the problems facing the U.S. to China and the CPC won't resolve the American predicaments. Former U.S. President Donald Trump's trade war against China failed to bring industry, capital and jobs back to the U.S. Instead, it made China stronger.
Suppressing China in a different way today won't enhance U.S. leadership either. China could become a partner in solving U.S. problems, rather than being blamed for many of the American problems.
China and the U.S. must engage in a political dialogue based on those philosophies found in traditional Chinese culture that resonate with and support the CPC, combined with the core values of globalization, to build up mutual trust and avoid misinterpretations.
The author is Jean Monnet chair professor at the Renmin University of China
(Print Edition Title: Understanding the CPC)