A 'New Era' Rises in the East


A 'New Era' Rises in the East

SUPERPOWER: By drawing on its unique creative resources, China has a chance to
be the next century's dominant international player.
超級強權: 靠著汲取其獨一無二的創新資源,中國將有機會成為下世紀的國際強權.

By Jonathan Spence
Newsweek, January 1, 2000
作者 Jonathan Spence
美國新聞週刊, 2000.1.1

A century ago, China had its first bout of science-fiction fever. There seem
to have been three main reasons for this. One was literary, the translation
into Chinese of various Western utopian works, and of adventure stories such
as Jules Verne's "Around the World in Eighty Days" and "Twenty Thousand
Leagues Under the Sea." One was technological, a growing fascination with new
developments in science and transportation, from chemistry and electricity to
the balloon and the automobile. And one was political, based on the mounting
certainty that the reigning dynasty, the Ching, was about to disintegrate under
the combined weight of its own incompetence and the overwhelming firepower of
the foreign aggressors.
The driving question behind that sci-fi writing was a simple-sounding one: what
was China to do next? The country had never before asked that question with
such stark simplicity, nor had the stakes ever seemed so high. Between them,
as David Wang of Columbia University has recently shown in an absorbing study,
these Chinese writers around the turn of the last century came up with a wide
range of possibilities, all set at different points in the future, from fifty
to a hundred years ahead. In one of these novels, China weathers decades of
internal warfare and imperialist aggression to emerge in the 1960s as an
independent and powerful republic, guided by a vibrant constitution. In another
,an incomparably wise Chinese ruler has created a new civilization blending
traditional Chinese virtues with the highest achievements of Europe and the
United States. So potent is this culture, peaceful its life and wealthy its
economy that dissidents from the bordering "barbarous lands" flee there for
sanctuary. In a third, China's women are the guides, creating a new society of
sexual independence and technological sophistication, and asserting their power
through a secret anarchist organization a million strong, with local chapters
spread across the entire country.
一是文學,許多西方烏托邦式的作品被翻譯成中文,以及像Jules Verne的環遊世界八十
這些科幻小說背後追逐的明白問題是: 中國將何去何從?
哥倫比亞大學的David Wang的一份研究報告中指出,在這些世紀轉換間的小說作者中展現

Of all these tales, perhaps the most apocalyptic is "New Era." Published in
1908, just before the fall of the Ching dynasty, the novel portrays a series
of colossal battles between the Mongoloid and Caucasian races beginning in
Eastern Europe in 1999. Overseas Chinese around the world rise up in support of
their motherland, creating breakaway Chinese republics in the Western United
States and Australia, and seizing the Panama Canal. In the fighting, both sides
call on the fullest range of new military technologies, from submarines and
bulletproof vests to radioactive dust, electronic deflector shields and poison
gas. The combined Chinese armies win the final victory and sign a treaty with
the Western powers: China will henceforth control Singapore and Ceylon, Bombay
and the Suez Canal, and have bases in the Adriatic Sea. Furthermore, though the
Western powers can keep their own calendars, all Chinese will henceforth
acknowledge and live by Chinese time, the traditional calendar dating their own
history to the reign of the Yellow Emperor in high antiquity. Thus the treaty
is dated both "2000 AD" and "Year 4707 of the Yellow Emperor."
向防護罩及毒氣。中國聯軍最後贏了,並跟西方勢力簽了條約: 中國從此控制新加坡、

These fantasies were constructed at a despairing time of national weakness.
China lost Taiwan to Japan in 1895, Beijing was occupied in the year 1900 by an
international expeditionary force after the catastrophe of the Boxer Uprising,
and many of China's major cities had foreign settlements exempt from Chinese
law. Though China now is infinitely stronger than it was a century ago, some of
those once fantastical elements have an oddly current ring of reality. Those
secret woman anarchists with their cells scattered across the land have a
contemporary echo in the crowds of women and men from the Falun Gong, gathering
boldly in Beijing and elsewhere. A deadly misplaced bomb on the Chinese Embassy
in Belgrade draws Eastern Europe suddenly into the very heart of Sino-Western
relations, prompting riots and cries for retaliation in China. China competes
aggressively in all international markets for the latest nuclear, rocket and
undersea technologies, and are steadily acquiring the potential to reach around
the globe. Even that hope for a harmonious and well-ordered republic, though
still not realized, is kept alive by many who were not cowed by the repressions
of 1989.

How might the 21st century manifest itself as a Chinese one? Obviously it will
not be through the exact same means that led to the gradual emergence of the
United States as the dominant world force of our own time; nor could it possibly
be by the means employed by the British, whose own empire played a similarly
dominant role across the 19th century. Nor is it feasible for it to be like that
startlingly sudden and ferocious Mongol expansion, checked only by blood and
chance in the Balkans in the 13th century. A Chinese century will come, surely,
only if the idea and reality of what we call China are merged together in a new
kind of synthesis. Such a synthesis would require the creative blending of three
components: the territory itself--which, like all empires, is a flexible concept
,one that has expanded, contracted and splintered over time; an ability to
understand and assimilate the unique richness of China's own cultural and ethnic
heritage; and a recognition that those Chinese who have left their core homeland
have broadened the idea of being Chinese and given it a truly global dimension.

China's human resources are vast, but its natural resources are limited.
To conjure up a future Chinese superpower, we have to imagine scientific
advances that will eliminate some of China's glaring weaknesses:
nanotechnologies that will transform Chinese ways of warfare, hydroponics that
will make the deserts of Xinjiang a shining mass of crops, cloning and genetic
engineering that will alter all previous livestock-raising practices, modes of
communication swifter and cheaper than any we now dream of. The Chinese
science-fiction writers of today may still be nationalists, but they are
speaking for and from a multitude of Chinas--from the mainland, from Taiwan,
from Hong Kong, from Southeast Asian communities and from the United States and
Canada. One of them writes of a China redeemed and restored by democratic
currents coming from Taiwan; one of a huge urban block of China that breaks away
from the mainland and drifts aimlessly round the world in search of anchor; one
of a blighted and politically fragmented China, laid waste by civil war, that
sends a billion emigrants out beyond its borders to destabilize the other
countries of the world; one, with dark humor, writes of a United States corroded
and undone by the crassly insidious commercial energies of Taiwan, condemned to
an endless yearning for Chinese food and a passion for playing the market.
Any one of these scenarios could possibly be on the right track. In a world
where the newly installed governor general of Canada is a Chinese woman
immigrant, Adrienne Poy, and the Hong Kong shipping tycoon Li Ka-shing scoops
the cream off the $127 billion Vodafone AirTouch-Mannesmann takeover war (even
as Sen. Trent Lott warns of Li's dominating position in the Panama Canal), the
past has already blended with the future. What more can the voice of reason
attempt to add? Only that the coming century is going to be one of unknown
opportunities, demanding hitherto unknown flexibility, and that in such a
climate the ebullient and pragmatic Chinese, with their own restless energies to
the fore, and the gigantic consumer market and labor force of their country at
their back, are going to be among the boldest pursuers of whatever opportunities
present themselves. In this broad context--with a multiplicity of Chinas playing
an intersecting set of global games--the exact details of specific trade
agreements or of specific governmental practices in any one region or segment
fade in their significance.

The last time there was a Chinese century was the 11th. During the 11th century,
China was both the largest and the most successfully run country on earth: its
commanding position sprang from a combination of technological innovation,
industrial enterprise, well-managed agriculture, widely available education and
traditions of administrative experimentation combined with religious and
philosophical tolerance. Its decline was largely due to its military weakness
in the face of a formidable array of enemies on its borders, enemies whom the
government chose to attempt to bribe away rather than to confront directly.
The policy of weakness and accommodation was fatal. If China proves it can
defend its borders effectively, limit the disruptive intrusion of foreign
forces while utilizing their positive sides, and re-establish that formidable
combination of positive attributes it knew 900 years ago, there is just a
chance that it will give its name to a century for the second time.

Except perhaps for the Roman Empire at the height of its glory, that is not a
feat any single state has been capable of before.

Spence is professor of modern Chinese history at Yale. His latest book is a
biography of Mao Zedong.

c 2000 Newsweek, Inc.