Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Tomorrow is the official 60th anniversary of the establishment of the "People's Republic of China", the Marxist/Maoist/socialist-communist/whatever-the-hell-it-is-now edition of the great Middle Kingdom

mighty cultural and economic power of Asia (and birthplace of my not-so-mighty little daughter, Maxine Shaomei, whose power is almost entirely composed of thermonuclear adorability - sorry, guys, had to get the plug in there somewhere...)

Having watched some of the last Summer Olympics, I'm sure the anniversary party will be quite a show...

But even in a digital age, there are times when I think that China is still perhaps the original riddle wrapped in a mystery surrounded by an enigma. Massive and complex, at times peculiarly weak, sometimes, and to some, frighteningly's worth considering the changes that the past 60 years have visited on it and its people.

While just floating around the Internets thinking about this, I came across this story over at China Bystander:
"...just after when Deng Xioaping turned his back on Mao’s revolution and launched the country on its present course of economic development. In the lobby of the Dong Fang Hotel in Guangzhou, just over the road from what we still then called the Canton Trade Fair, an elderly party cadre stood in tears. With his blue Mao suit and cap and weather beaten, careworn nut brown face he was the embodiment of the first 30 tumultuous years of the revolution. The cause of his tears, he said, was the installation of a one-armed bandit, the return of the pernicious evil of gambling, and the betrayal of all he had sacrificed his life for."
The next 60 years will have to be hard put to equal the past 60 for change. But we can be sure of this; change there will be, and throughout the change, China will be a force to be reckoned with across the world. Cliche, yes, I know. But it's hard to avoid that one. The Middle Kingdom is, well, in the midst of everything; its people in both numbers and human genius, it's political and economic power, it's position astride Asia. One can imagine many different futures for our own country, but it's hard to think of one in which China will not be a large part of it...Any thoughts?

(crossposted from Graphic Firing Table)


  1. China is China, and China has usually had a very healthy attitude toward wars: they're bad for buisness.

    We're living in a text book illustration of the principle.

  2. I've often thought "Central Kingdom" connotes better than "Middle Kingdom".

  3. Charles: I would say, rather, that China generally finds ways to make war proportional to the gains. You notice that it didn't stop them from hammering the Tibetans. War can be VERY good for business when successful; the trick is minimizing losses and maximizing gains. We, on the other hand, seem to have gotten it ass-backwards...

    Ael: point well taken; I have no Mandarin, so I can only go with the published translation. "Central" does seem to express the concept better.

    One thing I think China tells us is something about the connection between social integration, economic equality and government. The successive Chinese regimes; the various imperials did very poorly (when they even tried at all) at pulling China together socially, economically and politically. In 1911 it was a (generally speaking) desperately poor, economically moribund, politically ignorant and divided and socially stratified mess.

    Sun Yat Sen seems like a decent guy, and I believe that he and his Kuomintang buddies really did want to make China into a modern democracy. But the country just wasn't capable of it; it was like taking a 80-year-old autistic cripple and expecting him to train for the Olympic 400-meters.

    Plus you had the warlords, and then the Japanese invaded, and in the end, there was Mao...

    Talk about fucked.

    China has a tremendous stock of human capital, immense resources and an enviable geopolitical position. But her governing has been about as bad as it could be, and the structural problems of China's social and regional dysfunctions make her a poor candidate for improvement. With all the advantages China has, her disadvantages have kept her politically bound and her inept political leadership has, in turn, led her into some pretty dicey economic and environmental choices (the two usually linked - China's industrialization was as big as our 19th Century one and perhaps twice as filthy...). It will be interesting to see what happens in the next couple of decades; lots of opportunity, but lots of chances for trouble.

  4. Good post and link to Xinhua photo gallery on DangerRoom re: the parade celebrating the 60th.


  6. Mike: That's hardly Miniskirts.....drop at least 6 more inches.

    All: Have you scoped out Abu Muqawama's latest mini flick in Helmand province (24 min preview of PBS Frontline - Obama's show Oct 13)?

    Chief: you should run with this:.....What's wrong with this fucking picture....from a tactical point of view....poop-centric COIN point of view....and HUMINT interaction point of view......I wanted to hurl major league chunks.

    The arrogance of the officers (claiming that 100 years from now Historians would write of their deeds.....yeah shithead, right alongside Stalingrad) the tactical indolence and cluelessness, and finally to the lack of training down to the squad level on how to parley/PowWow with the natives in COIN Talk. Yeah, the folks they're talking to are Taliban and supporters, but it is hillarious to see how goatherds who are suspected to be UN-sophisticated destroy the all American Idiot's entreaties with simple reason.

    The officers are responsible to train their people as to how to approach relations with the locals....if that is the directive from McChrystal...It's obvious they said fuck it.
    This is much worse than the Nam, as entities responsible for working w/indigenous personnel were at least vetted asnd trained.

    We are a nation of Blithering idiots, and our latter day Armed forces reflect it to a tee.

  7. FDChief-

    Nice thread. The subject of China is something that we should all be concerned with. I know little about China, but think I might be able to add something to this discussion in terms of strategic theory, however limited . . .

    Mao was of course a great strategist. He was also other things as well, but I won't get into that. He was something particularly rare in this regard, a strategist who was also a strategic theorist . . . his concepts concerning Guerrilla Warfare are still studied today. But there is much more to Mao the theorist than that . . .

    From this perspective, to understand what China is today, one has to go back to Mao, the strategic theorist . . .

    "let a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend. . .
    Concerning dialectics Lenin said, "In brief, dialectics can be defined as the doctrine of the unity of opposites. This grasps the kernel of dialectics, but it requires explanations and development." It is our job to explain and develop the doctrine. It needs to be explained, and so far we have done too little. And it needs to be developed; with our rich experience in revolution, we ought to develop this doctrine. Lenin also said, "The unity (coincidence, identity, equal action) of opposites is conditional, temporary, transitory, relative. The struggle of mutually exclusive opposites is absolute, just as development and motion are absolute." [3] Proceeding from this concept, we have advanced the policy of letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend.

    Truth stands in contrast to falsehood and develops in struggle with it. The beautiful stands in contrast to the ugly and develops in struggle with it. The same holds true of good and bad, that is, good deeds and good people stand in contrast to bad deeds and bad people and develop in struggle with them. In short, fragrant flowers stand in contrast to poisonous weeds and develop in struggle with them. It is a dangerous policy to prohibit people from coming into contact with the false, the ugly and the hostile, with idealism and metaphysics and with the twaddle of Confucius, Lao Tzu and Chiang Kai-shek. It will lead to mental deterioration, one-track minds, and unpreparedness to face the world and meet challenges.

    In philosophy, materialism and idealism form a unity of opposites and struggle with each other. The same is true of another pair of opposites, dialectics and metaphysics. Whenever one talks about philosophy, one cannot do without these two pairs of opposites. Now in the Soviet Union they will have nothing to do with such "pairs" but are going in only for "singles", asserting that only fragrant flowers, but not poisonous weeds, grow there, and denying the existence of idealism and metaphysics in a socialist country. As a matter of fact, idealism, metaphysics and poisonous weeds are found in every country. In the Soviet Union many of the poisonous weeds appear in the name of fragrant flowers, and many absurd statements bear the label of materialism or socialist realism. We openly recognize the struggle between materialism and idealism, between dialectics and metaphysics, and between fragrant flowers and poisonous weeds. This struggle will go on for ever and will move a step forward at every stage. . . "

    Mao, January 1957

  8. Fasteddiez: I don't really waste much time over at AM anymore, now that he's decided to be a big boy and play with the shiny toys the other big boys play with. He has the mentality of a platoon sergeant and seems unwilling or unable to change; here he is supposedly talking COIN to the Great the the Mighty and he wants to talk tactics? He's rapidly becoming an idiot, IMO, by the definition that when you talk out your backside you're talking like an idiot. So I can't say I'm surprised that he's got something up over there that has a bunch of cooters from Assrump, N.C. assigned to Helmand province talking dumb smack. SSDD.

    seydlitz: I think that one of the major sources of tension in modern China is the attempt to reconcile the utopian and impractical ideals of Mao with the reality of a modern interconnected economy and a burgeoning populace. China - as Charles points out - was a great commercial center, perhaps THE great commercial hub of Asia and the Middle East for centuries. I always felt that Mao's real failing was his inability to realize that the people he was trying to turn into disciplined little party soldiers were among the most flintheaded businessmen and steely gamblers in Asia, perhaps in the world. He was trying to make plaster Communist saints out of some of history's great entrepreneurs, con men, thieves, opportunists and politicians.

    In China, as we're finding out to our distress in other parts of central Asia, the stalwart two-fisted American hero strides into the midst of the Asian dust-up with clenched fists only to find no chins to hit, no faces to punch. And then he looks down and there's a knife hilt protruding from his liver...

  9. FDChief-

    Agree, and "dialectics" as Mao defines it tells us much of what happened when US style capitalism met Mao's Chinese Communist Party . . . Mao wasn't a doctrinare Marxist, but rather used Marxist concepts to further the development of his own country. The theoretical view does not support the "Great Leap Forward" or the Cultural Revolution, but does very much support what has happened to the Chinese Communist Party since and even before 1989 . . .

  10. Seems to me that almost all of mainland China's wars in the last half of the last century were territorial, with the exception of their invasion of Korea in the early fifties.

    I am thinking not only of Tibet.

    The India-China war in 62, and their shootouts 25 years later in the 80s.

    The border battles with the Soviets in the Northeast and also in Xinkiang province in the west.

    The Sino-Viet war both on their common border and in Cambodia where they backed the Khmer Rouge.

    Korea seems to be an outlier, but perhaps they were worried about MacArthur propaganda so considered their invasion as defensive??? In any case their casualties of the ChiCom troops in Korea I understood were mostly Chiang's former Kuomintang troops or bullyboys of other conquered Chinese warlords who were sent to Korea to prove their devotion to the cause.

    Japan went to war for both business and territorial reasons. Why would China not do the same. Especially since they now own the industrial base that will provide the same logistics capability that we used to win WW-2. Hopefully it will not happen

  11. "Korea seems to be an outlier, but perhaps they were worried about MacArthur propaganda so considered their invasion as defensive???"

    The Chinese didn't "invade" Korea. They rescued a befriended North Korean regime and pushed back the opposing forces to the status quo ante border.

    Chinese military history should be separated into phases of relative weakness and relative strength.
    Phases of relative weakness saw rather defensive warfare (and failures).
    Phases of relative strength led to wars to turn non-nomadic neighbours into vassals.

    China gave up high seas shipping in the 15th century and thus had no logistical capability to reach farther than that.

    This (and of course man dissimilarities) de-value military history as a predictor for future mainland Chinese wars.