China’s National Day is a carefully orchestrated occasion. Each year on October 1st, rigorously rehearsed celebrations take place nationwide, with those on Tiananmen Square broadcast live across China. On the decadal anniversary years, the display of pageantry is ramped up further, though these commemorations of Mao Zedong’s announcement on October 1st 1949 that the Chinese people had “stood up” have often been marred by events outside the careful control of the party leadership.
In a 1975 review of Marius Jansen’s Japan and China: From War to Peace, 1894-1972, Chalmers Johnson wrote, “One of the long-standing defects of Western scholarship on eastern Asia is its compartmentalization. China and Japan are usually studied in isolation from each other.” An accomplished scholar of both countries’ histories by then, Johnson knew of what he spoke, and praised Jansen’s exception to the academic rule. Were he still alive and reviewing, Johnson would surely similarly praise China and Japan: Facing History, the most recent work by another eminent scholar of east Asia, the soon-to-be-90 Ezra Vogel.
There’s much to be said for attempting to develop social and political theories, models and philosophies based on something other than Western lines of thought and datasets; the latter’s universality and applicability to the wider world is something which, if not taken merely on faith, that needs to be demonstrated. China, with intellectual, political and social histories of its own, offers both alternatives to, and tests of, prevailing Western conventions.
Geopolitical analysis is partly based on geographical perspective. Writers on geopolitics tend to view the world from their home country’s perspective. Australian national security expert Rory Medcalf in his new book Indo-Pacific Empire uses classical geopolitics and an understanding of modern geoeconomics to survey the current struggle for power in the most contested and consequential part of the world. And he does this from an Australian perspective—an Australian, moreover, whose diplomatic postings included India. That said, his book is a tour de force of 21st century geopolitical analysis that should be read by strategists and statesmen throughout the region and the world.
In 1876, Englishman Henry Wickham smuggled rubber tree seeds out of the Amazon ultimately dooming Brazil’s rubber boom. The stolen seeds were successfully germinated, leading to the British establishing rubber plantations in Malaya that broke Brazil’s monopoly and sent the states of Amazonas and Pará into rapid decline. The Opera House in Manaus, capital of Amazonas, is a melancholy reminder of the luxury rubber profits once afforded. Much as rubber seeds once were, genetically-engineered (or modified, ie GM) corn seeds have become valuable enough in the 21st century that some will resort to anything to get them.
It somehow always feels in season to ponder when the Chinese Communist Party will have to grapple with a real challenge to its rule, and to cogitate over whether democratic governance is in China’s future. In Democracy in China: The Coming Crisis, Jiwei Ci, a philosophy professor at the University of Hong Kong, constructs an elaborate but cogent argument about how the CCP will only overcome its illegitimacy, along with other tears in the national fabric, by choosing to usher in political democracy, a change that Ci declares is “of dire necessity rather than moral luxury.”