China and America are diametrically different, from history to ideology. In this post, I will highlight a key difference between them: China's uniformity vs. America's diversity.
To seriously discuss this subject, we must go all the way back to ancient Rome ...
The Roman Empire vs. the Chinese Empire
Simply put, while the Roman dream of uniformity was always elusive, the Chinese successfully implemented their uniformity rule of ruling more than 2,000 years ago. As a result, not only was the Chinese Empire at least as powerful as the Roman Empire, including the Byzantine Empire (aka "the [Eastern] Roman Empire"), it also lasted much longer.
Linking America with Rome
The Roman Empire and the Chinese Empire were never in direct competition, thanks to the vast geographical distance between them. However, the image above is critical for the comparison of "China vs. America". Three main reasons:
Western civilizations, including American, were largely shaped by the Romans. Very importantly, Rome has never really gone away. Any doubt? Just look at the Vatican!
The Byzantine Empire fell in 1453. Since then, the world has become both bigger and smaller. It has become bigger, chiefly because of the discovery of the "new" world. It has become smaller, thanks to the advancement in transportation and telecommunications. As a result, the West, especially America, and China are now in direct competition, from trade to ideology.
Is America the New Rome and Greece? Yes!
China is arguably the greatest country in human history. Two main reasons:
- China has the longest continuous civilization in human history, leading the world mostly for the first 1,800 years of our 2-millennium-old calendar.
- Throughout human history, great civilizations have come and gone, with one major exception: China - come, almost gone, and come again!
What's the secret behind China's long-lasting success? Uniformity! Specifically,
- One written language, hence one culture, mostly, for the past 2,300 years!
- One Emperor, without any major religion challenging the state.
- A well-developed meritocracy system for governance. For more, read: Governance in China: Past, Present, and Future.
In short, as compared with the West, China is simple to govern: uniformity - one people (i.e. the Han Chinese) and one culture, mostly, without such complex diversity issues as race, ethnicity, and religion.
Why, then, did China fall from 1776 to 1976, at least? Two main reasons:
- Self-destruction: China's prosperity relied heavily on wise emperors. Unfortunately for China, few emperors were wise throughout their lives. Worse yet, feudalism guarantees the failure of "crown by inheritance" after a few generations.
- Foreign competition: The West did much better than China from 1500 to 2000, thanks, largely, to the discovery of the "new" world. As a result, not only did China miss the Industrial Revolution, but the West, as well as Japan, invaded China.
Now, China is back. Two main reasons:
- China seems to have finally found a formula that would guarantee a new wise "emperor" every decade. For more, read: Chinese Presidency: An Earned Kingship for 10 Years.
- China embraced capitalism. Today's Chinese system is best depicted as "state capitalism." No capitalism, no prosperity!
The fortune of the West, especially when compared with China, came mostly after the discovery of the "new" world. With guns in one hand and the Bible in the other, the West not only conquered the "new" world (e.g. the Americas), but also colonized the backward parts of the old world (e.g. India), often under the ruse of spreading Christian civilization.
Unfortunately for the West, imperialism and colonization have a huge price tag over time: diversity, from race to religion. Below is a short video, showing one example.
Worst of all for Europe, it eventually self-destructed with two world wars, leaving America as the only big country standing tall ...
Can any country possibly be more exceptional than America, which was founded with neither a king nor a pope? No, of course not! Yet, today, not only is America most religious among the developed countries, she also seems to be yearning for a king, if not a living God (Is Donald Trump a God?). Why is that?
It's the political system, stupid!
America is exceptional for two main reasons:
- America was built on a piece of commandeered land, on which some European colonists found a second chance to start over with a clean slate. Freedoms, from free land to free labor (i.e. slavery), did most of the trick, initially at least!
- In a land of plenty like America, many problems (e.g. race and religion) can be hidden for a long time.
Why is America failing? Two main reasons:
- Self-destruction: It's democracy, stupid! Specifically, over the past 200 years, America morphed itself into a democracy, a tried but failed doctrine throughout history without a single example of lasting success. For example, in today's America, work is optional for many (thanks to Democratic Socialism) and war is perpetual (thanks to Democratic Imperialism). Worse yet, as America ages into maturity, many age-old humanity problems become more obvious, from race to religion. As a result, even some founding principles must be challenged now, from "All Men Are Created Equal" to "We the People".
- Foreign competition: America is facing a formidable competitor in China, from trade to ideology.
In short, diversity has contributed not only to America throughout its entire life so far, but also to Europe for the past 500 years, at least. But it seems to have finally run its course, especially when in competition with China.
A simple fact: China, a dirt-poor country four decades ago, is now the biggest creditor for both Europe and America, with no end in sight!
More profoundly, What Is Holding America Together? Inertia! For more, read my book: American Democracy: Why is it failing & how to fix it?
Uniformity has been the real secret behind China's long-lasting success.
Rome strived for uniformity with all kinds of ideas and tools, of which the biggest one was Christianity, without success.
The West did prosper far better than China for the past few hundred years. But that was largely because of the discovery of the "new" world, for which diversity, from race to religion, appeared to be a strength.
Why did not China discover and explore this “new” world, when it actually had better technologies than the West? Two possible explanations:
- China was too proud of its own civilization, regarding the “new” world it discovered as the “barbarians”.
- China was a content country, especially when compared with the West.
Is China no longer a content country? No! Why not? Two main reasons:
- China was a victim of western imperialism over the past two hundred years, at least.
- China has learned a hard lesson: compete and win or be victimized (again).
With no more new land to be discovered and no more new people to be subjugated, the West in general and America in specific must compete with China on more equal footings.
Who will win the race for superiority? China! Why? Uniformity over diversity!
More pointedly, the Chinese system (i.e. capitalism + autocracy), which is deeply rooted in uniformity, is slightly better than the American system (i.e. capitalism + democracy), which is deeply rooted in diversity. In a two-hiker world, all one hiker needs to do, when chased by a hungry grizzly, is to run a bit faster than the other hiker!
Needless to say, China faces its own challenges, not the least of which is its political system. But it would be a huge mistake for the West to dismiss the Chinese system, while being blindly obsessed with democracy, a tried but failed doctrine throughout human history without a single example of lasting success!
In other words, America faces its own challenges, much more fundamental than China does, with the most recent significant example being the election of Donald Trump to the American Presidency. Specifically, Americans were so fed up with the existing political establishment that we were willing to try something, anything, different. Can anybody possibly be more different than Donald Trump?
In short, Americans gambled on Donald Trump. Unfortunately for America, the outcome of this gamble is likely to be little different from that of any other gamble: the odds of winning are slim to none!
Once again, it’s the political system, stupid!
America is, after all, an experiment, of which diversity is a huge part. Will America's diversity ultimately prove to be superior to China's uniformity? It’s highly unlikely!
The views and opinions expressed herein are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect those of EconMatters.
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