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Essay on Asia

History and Progression of a Continent

Written by Anonymous

Paper category



Cultural Studies




Essay: In this essay the following question will be discussed: “Will the 21st century see some nations of East and South Asia take a role of global, cultural and economic hegemony on a way similar to the hegemony achieved by the nations of Europe and North America in the 19th and 20th centuries?” To include the relevant cultural, political and economic factors, focus lies on China for East Asia and India for South Asia, as those countries are the economic most powerful in their region. In order to achieve a logical structure and a comprehensible argument, the essay is structured into two chapters, in each chapter, important influences, factors and events of the past are shown with the idea of linking the past and present. Then the current situation of society and the economic progression will be discussed. Each chapter ends with a conclusively justified outlook. In the end, a summary and answer to the question will be given. The Chinese history is a complex one, continuous and spanning over three millennia. Geographically, China has not always consisted of the parts it consists now. Chinese people have a specific image what belongs to their country, even though this image is not characteristically for the majority of Chinese history (for example the region of Tibet). This perception goes back on the expansion China reached under the influence of the last Chinese dynasty, the Qing dynasty from 1644 to 1911. Its peak in case of cultural, economic and military hegemony in Asia has been reached under the reign of the Kangxi Emperor (1). After the death of Mao Zedong, China has undergone a lot of change, typically the West thinks of this as opening up and getting away from the long ongoing isolation to the rest of the world. From the Chinese point of view, this is to recover the so-called lost glory, as countries like Taiwan are not under the governance of China anymore. Another important influence, if not the most important one, is the Confucianism. The concept of Confucianism, a system of philosophical and ethical teachings envisioned by Master Kong, still is the substance of learning, source of values and social code of the society even though it was propagated in the 5th and 6th Century. The driving force for this system was nostalgia of the early Zhou dynasty, which lasted from 221 to 1045 BCE (2). At this time, the land was unified under a powerful leader that enabled ethic rules, rituals and social harmony. For Confucius, the perfect state consisted of a good government, proper social relations, respect among people and high importance of rituals (3). A noteworthy idea of Confucianism is learning from the past, as the concept developed from the desire of a past dynasty. With this aspect, it is possible to explain the constancy of tradition that goes on until today, for example, the very hierarchical structure of the family and the respect for age in society. From 1839 to 1842 and from 1856 to 1860, the two Opium Wars that have been started by the British in the name of free trade, influenced the Chinese collective stock of knowledge and therefore are part of the everyday continuity of the Chinese society. With Britain that wanted to import Chinese goods such as silk, spices, porcelain and especially tea, China had to trade, therefore the government allowed the British to trade in some southern ports such as Guangzhou. The following problem occurred, as Britain used gold as payment, China had the silver standard and silver was expensive to get for Britain. With the massive import of Chinese goods, a trade imbalance for the British formed. To balance their trade, British merchants advertised the recreational use of opium, as it was grown in India that was under British control. Therefore, a dependency for opium was created. Opium was paid with silver and the British trade was balanced. In 1839, the Chinese Government banned the trade of opium and blocked the ports. First, this lead to the British giving in and trade of non-opium goods resumed, but the tensions remained. Peace negotiations in 1842, after the British capture of Nanjing, ended the first Opium War. In these peace negotiations, the Island Hong Kong was leased to Britain as compensation. The second Opium War started as Britain sought to extend their trading rights and as China still had problems with rebellions, they created division. In summary, the French joined the British and since they military outpaced China in those times, the outcomes of the Convention of Beijing in 1860 favoured the European powers, brought the legalisation of opium trade, enlargement of Honk Kong, freedom of religion and large payments to France and Britain (4). These two Opium Wars still have an influence today and started as what China refers to as the “Century of Humiliations” at the hand of foreign powers. For example, calls of “Free Tibet” from the West are seen as interfering in Chinese internal affairs (1). Contrary to the European and North-American attitude towards religious freedom and its implementation as a fundamental human right, the Chinese see danger in allowing religious movements and letting them grow. This fear goes back to the Taiping Rebellion that was fueled by the Opium Wars and happened between 1850 and 1864. The Taiping Rebellion, possible the most important event in the 19th Century of the Common Era, began under Hong Xiuquan, a civil service examination candidate that was influenced by Christian teachings and believed to be the son of god, the younger brother of Jesus Christ. He joined the God Worshippers Society. A religious group formed by a friend of Hong, Feng Yunshan and in the process of rebellion proclaimed his own dynasty, the Taiping Tianguo. Their credo of common property attracted many people, therefore they rebellion gained strength and in its peak ruled over a third of the country. In 1864, the central government finally put the rebellion down. It is estimated that the rebellion cost 20 million lives on both sides (5). This tragic event still has an influence in the present as the Chinese government suppresses Falun Gong and many Chinese legitimate any effort that stops movements that could become dangerous. The last and latest important event discussed is the Cultural Revolution between 1966 and 1976, a decade long political and social chaos, caused by Mao Zedong and an example on how masses can be channeled to reinforce power, in this case to reassert his power over the Communist party. The extreme complexity and brutality that occurred during this period is still bringing historians to the point of struggling to make sense of things that happened. During this time, students were encouraged to drop out of school and join the paramilitary Red Guards. Those Red Guards were used by Mao to eliminate any feudalist, capitalist or political opponents. They were purged as counterrevolutionaries. The Cultural Revolution destroyed the economy and led to stagnation. An estimated 500.000 to 2 Million people lost their live due to, for example, hunger or overwork. The start of the Cultural Revolution can be retraced to a document called “May 16 Notification”, it warned of infiltration by counterrevolutionary “revisionist” (6). Today’s relevance of the Cultural Revolution comes from the partly still existing support for Mao Zedong in the Chinese Society. Society and culture were deeply influenced by the process of modernisation that came with economic changes, the opening to other nations of the world, starting with the trade with Britain. As mentioned in Chapter 1 - China - Influences and Events of the Past, the two Opium Wars that the British won, let the Chinese develop a feeling of inferiority. The loss of glory that came for example with leasing the island of Hong Kong to the British and giving them trading rights, let some Chinese people re-evaluate their traditions and cultural beliefs. After the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911, it was discussed whether it was necessary to reject Confucius and indigenous cultural traditions in order to fulfil needs of a modern China. Between 1911, the end of the Qing dynasty and 1976, the death of Mao Zedong, Confucianism and lots of cultural traditions were not part of the Chinese everyday life, because they were seen as reactionary and obstructive for socialism by the Maoist ideology (7). As China gained power in the last 30 years and the modernisation of the country was achieved, there is a sort of cultural revival and people start to embrace traditions and beliefs to anchor their Chinese identity. This led to a revival of Confucianism since the early 2000s, for example in 2007. The Chinese government broadcasted the worshipping of Confucius on television on its birthday (8). Why the revival of Confucius started is not clear, it could be part of a political agenda, since the ideology of Socialism is no longer part of China, or it happened under the influence of religious nostalgia. “The Century of Humiliation” is still not forgotten, as mentioned in Chapter 1 - China - Influences and Events of the Past, there is a strong negative feeling when the West judges Chinese actions. For example, the Chinese government repeatedly compared the Tibet independence movement with the secession of the Confederate States in America and therefore Barack Obama, as an Afro-American, should be in favour of the Chinese policy (1). This shows that there still are tensions between China and the West and those are internalised in Chinese society. The Economic growth helped to raise the standard of living in China and lifted over 800 million Chinese out of poverty (9). Thanks to the fast expansion, a middle class formed in China, because of the concept of social mobility. Social mobility, as mentioned in Business History by Amatori and Colli (10), is a factor that provided Chinese people to break out of their caste. It enables people to stand on their own feet, to decide what to do in life through education. Furthermore, it lead to individualistic tendencies as it emphasises personal choice. This is contrary to the traditional more collectivist orientation of China after Gerd Hofstede and his theory of cultural dimensions (11). Read Less