BOOK DEBUT: Cai Mingzhao (second left), Minister of the State Council Information Office of China, and former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder (second right) attend the launch ceremony of Xi Jinping: The Governance of China at the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany on October 8 (LUO HUANHUAN)
Chinese President Xi Jinping's new book, Xi Jinping: The Governance of China, has aroused the interest of Western observers. In a book review by Helmut Schmidt, the 95-year-old former Chancellor of West Germany provides readers with some much-needed knowledge concerning China's domestic and foreign policies. Excerpts follow:
I visited China for the first time in 1975. Since then, great changes have taken place in China's governance and diplomacy. During my visits to China over the past decades, my admiration for the country and its 5,000-year civilization has increased.
I met Xi for the first time in Beijing in May 2012. Six months later, in November of that year, he was elected general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. Through my observations of his two years in office, I have come to a more profound realization that during the past 40 years, significant changes have taken place in the interests, concerns and perspectives of China's leading statesmen. They have, nonetheless, adhered to the country's traditions of governance and diplomacy.
The Chinese civilization has an uninterrupted history going back 5,000 years, and is still thriving with great vitality today. The Chinese tradition, represented by Confucianism, has held a dominant role for more than 1,000 years, which means that there has never been an established state religion imposed on the whole population. Instead, Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam have reached out to their respective audiences in peace and harmony. There have been power struggles between lords and factions, but religion has never played a key role in these. There were times when the Central Plain was occupied by the Mongolians and then the Manchurians, but they adapted their rule and conformed to Han tradition.
In the 15th century, China still led the world in terms of shipbuilding, printing and military technology, then industrialization began to sprout in Europe, followed closely by North America. In the 19th century the European powers, not yet in total control of China, established their so-called foreign settlements there, in actions spearheaded by Britain, France, Spain and Portugal. Germany was also involved. In the 19th century, China suffered temporary frustration and became poor and weak; in the 20th century it endured untold miseries inflicted by Japan's mass aggression. Dr. Sun Yat-sen spent years trying to rid China of foreign occupation, and the Chinese people eventually gained victory under the leadership of Mao Zedong in 1949, when the country began reconstruction. Mao was without doubt the political leader of China at the time, and today's China has been built on foundations laid by Mao.
But Mao also made serious mistakes, notably the Great Leap Forward movement in the 1950s, and the "cultural revolution" in 1966-76. After Mao passed away in 1976, Deng Xiaoping became the paramount leader of the nation. It was under his stewardship that China began to reform and open up, and became integrated into the global economy. It was also under his leadership that the Chinese people found new ways to prosperity.
After 35 years of rapid growth since 1978, China now ranks second in the world in terms of economic aggregate. Within a few years, it will take first place—this expectation being based on the fact that the country and its governing body remain relatively stable. Having faith in China's growth model, the new generation of Chinese leadership with President Xi at the helm also needs to deal with the important, strenuous and complicated tasks brought about by the high-speed economic development. By 2020, the per-capita income of urban and rural residents in China will be double that of 2010. China will continue to improve and develop socialism with Chinese characteristics, and promote modernization of the state governance system and its governing capacity, so as to lay a solid institutional foundation for the country's development in the long run. China will promote new industrialization, the application of information technology, urbanization and agricultural development, and encourage investment and consumption at the same time. It must also reform its finance industry. President Xi will pay special attention to problems caused by corruption, environmental pollution, illegal land expropriation, labor disputes and food safety scandals.
Reducing smog in China's major cities is an urgent issue. Factors contributing to photochemical smog are complicated, and implementing control measures on different fronts requires a huge budget, which might affect power supply to the public, or their incomes. The state's climate policy will also be part of the process. At a time when calls to curb global warming get louder, China cannot back away.
Another serious issue for China is that its rapid urbanization process is accompanied by an aging population, and a national network for old-age care is imperative under the circumstances. China will also have to reconsider its family planning policy. The household registration system also calls for adjustment.
People visiting China today will notice that the country is pressing forward with reform in many areas. The rights of migrant workers are better protected, and there are larger and more successful agricultural enterprises in the market. Comparing the China of Mao's era 40 years ago to today's China, one can see that the space for development, freedom and other civil rights has greatly expanded.
Undoubtedly, China has realized the harmonious coexistence of tradition and modernization. For 2,500 years the Chinese have honored the rational ethics of Confucianism. For at least 1,000 years until the early 20th century, China was ruled by feudal bureaucrats, and Confucianism was the governing school of thinking. After it took control of the country in 1949, the Communist Party of China swept away Confucianism. However, in today's China, Confucianism is making a return as a philosophy that is imbedded within the Chinese mind. The interpretation of Confucian principles by President Xi shows that China is becoming ever more confident in its culture. In a country the size of China, cohesiveness is central. But placing one's hopes on nationalism can backfire, as this will probably lead to crisis or even war against our intentions, while the Chinese civilization, with its history and substance, will do a better job at boosting the confidence and purposefulness of the Chinese. During the 5,000-year course of Chinese culture, there has rarely been any trace of imperialist thinking, and China has always honored peace above all else. A good example of this is that according to Chinese historical records, Admiral Zheng He, the 15th-century Chinese mariner and explorer, did not take advantage of his fleet's military superiority when visiting foreign countries.
After World War II, the Western European countries gradually adopted a more rational attitude toward China. Over time, the continents of Europe and Asia became closer in economic fields, which was a positive development. The EU is now China's biggest trading partner, and China is the second biggest partner of the EU. China-Germany relations are also at their strongest ever.
It is a matter of regret for me though, that the Chinese leadership has always had a better understanding of the West than vice versa. The publishing of President Xi's new book represents a positive attempt to change the status quo. The book educates foreign readers on the philosophy adopted by China's leadership, and the strategic guidelines on which China's direction of development is based. As such, it offers the world a better understanding of China's development, especially its policies on governance and diplomacy. It is President Xi's hope that China realizes the Chinese dream of the great renewal of the Chinese nation, and for this China must find its own path and once again become a world power. A book like this will help foreign readers to gain a better and more objective understanding of China from historical and other perspectives. Often the West finds it hard to suppress the impulse to act as a lecturer with regard to China and its leaders, which usually results in failure stemming from ignorance and arrogance. The West needs to apply more common sense, abandon its condescending attitude, and let fair play apply.