China Looks at the West

China Looks at the West: Identity, Global Ambitions, and the Future of Sino-American Relations

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 650
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  • Book Info
    China Looks at the West
    Book Description:

    Chinese leaders have long been fascinated by the United States, but have often chosen to demonize America for perceived cultural and military imperialism. Especially under Communist rule, Chinese leaders have crafted and re-crafted portrayals of the United States according to the needs of their own agenda and the regime's self-image -- often seeing America as an antagonist and foil, but sometimes playing it up as a model.

    InChina Looks at the West, Christopher A. Ford investigates what these depictions reveal about internal Chinese politics and Beijing's ambitions in the world today. In particular, Ford emphasizes the importance of China's "return" to global preeminence in state images, which has become an essential concept in the regime's self-image and legitimacy. He also examines the history of Chinese intellectual engagement with America, surveying the ways in which Chinese elites have manipulated attitudes toward the United States, and revealing how leaders from Qing dynasty officials to Mao Zedong and from to Hu Jintao to Xi Jinping have altered and reconstructed this narrative to support their own political agendas.

    Ford concludes the volume with a series of scenario-based alternatives for how China's approaches to understanding itself and other nations may evolve in the future. Based on extensive research, including interviews with Chinese scholars and researchers, this groundbreaking study is essential reading for policymakers and readers seeking to understand current and future Sino-American relations.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6539-4
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    In ways unprecedented for a state in the modern era, the economic and military power of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has developed and expanded rapidly, presenting strategists and policymakers in the United States—and other countries, particularly those around the PRC’s periphery—with a combination of challenges and opportunities the nature and ramifications of which are acutely sensed but still quite incompletely understood. American foreign affairs and national security policymakers, at least, remain divided not only over how to deal with the PRC as a matter of immediate policy concern but also over how to understand China’s foreign...

  4. I. Challenges of Sinological Epistemology

    • 1 Information and the State
      (pp. 11-39)

      Doing research in, or about, a society that is unprecedentedly open to information but in which the government is systematically devoted to controlling and manipulating certain aspects of the available information presents peculiar challenges. We must be acutely aware of these challenges if we are to make sense of Chinese narratives about the United States and of what such stories reveal about China itself.

      Part I of this book surveys the managed information space of contemporary China, exploring the mechanisms by which Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and government officials attempt to control and skew the content of that information space...

    • 2 China Watches America
      (pp. 40-63)

      China, of course, absorbs and expresses ideas about America not simply passively and not simply through media and propaganda outlets. Particularly given the central position of the United States in the international political, economic, and security arenas for so many years, China also absorbs Americaactively—through the eyes and analytic constructs of those Chinese whose job it is to interpret the United States to Chinese leaders and to the Chinese public. When it comes to understanding and assessing Chinese narratives of America, therefore, one must understand the country’s America watchers. This chapter will examine the possibilities and pitfalls of...

    • 3 Challenges of a Bounded Information Space
      (pp. 64-82)

      Clearly, any effort to analyze perspectives and views within the modern Chinese information space is one that faces important epistemological challenges. More is surely knowable about Chinese society and the thoughts and feelings of ordinary Chinese today than ever before, but this growing openness has been highly uneven: it is concentrated in arenas thatdo notmatter to the CCP authorities, while increasingly sophisticated methods are used to manage the information space and guide public opinion in those that do matter. Chapters 1 and 2 have problematized the question of how we know what we think we know about Chinese...

  5. II. Images of America and the Telos of China’s Return

    • 4 Virtue and Identity
      (pp. 85-108)

      Chinese images of the United States have been inescapably wrapped up with China’s own predicament—with the state of its internal politics, with impressions of its position and status in the world, with Chinese fears and aspirations for their own future, with how various Chinese groups and interests have maneuvered and positioned themselves against each other, and with China’s very sense of self-identity as a civilization and a state—since the early days of the West’s encounter with the Qing Empire in the nineteenth century. So entangled has the narrative of America been with suchChinesequestions, in fact, that...

    • 5 Postimperial China in an American World
      (pp. 109-130)

      China, of course, changed tremendously during the first few decades of the twentieth century, a period that spanned the collapse of the Qing, the birth of a new republic, its collapse into warlordism, civil war, and Japanese invasion, and then the consolidation of an extraordinarily brutal and capricious Communist regime under Mao Zedong. Many of the themes we have seen emerge in the late Qing encounter with Western power, however—and in China’s emergent America narrative—persisted. This chapter explores the conceptual changes and continuities of postimperial China.

      Despite the reservations of many thinkers and the protototalitarian theorizing of eminences...

  6. III. America in Chinese Politics in Deng’s Era of Reform

    • 6 Change and Continuity during Reform and Opening
      (pp. 133-160)

      The period between Deng Xiaoping’s ascension as China’s paramount leader in 1978 and his decision in 1989 to order the army to open fire on Chinese students and workers who had been demonstrating on and around Tiananmen Square was a pivotal time in China’s modern history. This was an era of enormous change in China, and the country’s internal debates over its future were as fierce as at any time since the early twentieth century. Despite the sweeping changes during Deng’s era of reform, however, many of the themes and issues that arose therein display close parallels with those of...

    • 7 Warring Americas in the Chinese Mind
      (pp. 161-180)

      Thanks in large part to some of the very opening that accompanied Deng Xiaoping’s reforms, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime was not the only contender in the game of looking at the United States for lessons for and about China and of constructing (and reconstructing) narratives of America through the prism and for the purposes of debating their own country’s future. Deng’s carefully calibrated effort to use modernization as a tool with which to effect China’s return to glory while yet ensuring the Party’s continued supremacy faced challenges from Chinese who drew more sweeping sociocultural and even political conclusions...

  7. IV. Repression, Nationalism, Chineseness, and the Roaring Nineties

    • 8 Tiananmen Tensions
      (pp. 183-204)

      The period of reaction and repression after the Tiananmen Square massacre of June 4, 1989, saw important developments in the Party-state’s approach to politics, international relations, and the management of China’s narrative of America. Deeming further economic development to be essential to China’s dream of return, and feeling that engagement with the West—and especially with the United States—was still necessary for such progress, however, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime returned, after a brief stocktaking, to its policy of openness and reform in economic matters.

      Yet the Party-state’s approach to the America narrative became notably more negative since...

    • 9 Power and Nationalism
      (pp. 205-226)

      The 1995–1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis suggests the power that politico-moral matters raising questions about China’s status and identity can have in producing belligerent self-righteousness even in a government otherwise strongly committed to a self-consciously nonprovocative posture. The currents of virtuocratic moralpolitik, it would appear, run deep in the Chinese Party-state and have become strongly bound up with the legitimacy discourse of the post-Tiananmen Chinese Communist Party (CCP). We will next explore how such issues have also become entangled with the tides of modern Chinese nationalism.

      It is occasionally suggested in modern China studies that the Chinese Party-state became subject...

    • 10 Muscularity and Opportunity
      (pp. 227-244)

      It may be useful here, however, to pause our study of America narratives in Chinese politics and foreign policy in order to examine Sino-Japanese relations during the 1990s, for Japan offers an interesting comparison case with which to explore, by analogy, some of the dynamics operative in Sino-American affairs. Specifically, the “Japan case” may provide a case study in which to explore the limits of thetaoguang yanghuistrategic policy of Dengist time biding by displaying what can happen when the domestic legitimacy discourse of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) needs to cultivate enmity for an adversarial foreign Other at...

  8. V. Chinese Discourse in the New Century

    • 11 Contesting Frameworks
      (pp. 247-266)

      As China entered the new century, its Communist leaders faced both new opportunities and greater challenges, all of which—along with the regime’s responses thereto—had important implications for narratives of and approaches to the United States. As the economic growth of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) continued, it became progressively stronger on the international stage even as problems of inequality, social justice, corruption, and political tension worsened at home. The crisis of legitimacy that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had been experiencing did not ease but merely shifted, spurring what the regime hoped would be adaptive responses.


    • 12 A Defensive Counternarrative
      (pp. 267-297)

      As the Chinese Party-state worked to adjust its legitimacy narrative to meet the challenges of late twentieth-century and early twenty-first century politics in a rapidly developing but ever more starkly unequal society, it was considered important for the regime to provide a response to critics—both at home and abroad—who argued that the one-party dictatorship of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) lacked genuinely democratic credentials. As we have seen, the regime’s partial answer to such criticism was a propaganda message that depicted Western-style democracy as unsuited to China and likely to produce only chaos and disorder on a style...

    • 13 An Offensive Counternarrative
      (pp. 298-326)

      As we have seen, the emerging discourse within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) of democracy as consultation by a virtuous ruling elite with the subject population it ruled owed a great deal to Confucian thinking, for this theory essentially replicated, in modern guise, the ancient conceit of a sage autocrat administering the realm with benevolence and virtue. The Party’s developing self-conception, however, did not stop there, for in the early years of the new century it came to include an additional element that similarly drew on ancient precedents in ways designed to serve CCP interests: the protoideology of “meritocracy.”


  9. VI. China and America in a New World—the Inflection Point of 2008–2009

    • 14 Heady Days
      (pp. 329-350)

      Since the beginning of the reform era, as described in chapters 6 and 7, the Chinese Party-state had looked at the United States with both aspiration and a profound sense of opposition. For most of this period, however, the positive and negative aspects of these sentiments existed in a balance that generally favored the positive—though decreasingly so over time. To the extent that China aspired to be like America, this was not just in coveting the power and the global role of the United States but in wishing toemulateU.S. approaches to modernity in economics, organization, science, and...

    • 15 Interpreting Politics
      (pp. 351-370)

      Significantly, the psychoconceptual dislocation of China’s apparent loss of the long-established American model of modernity came at a time not just when China was stronger than ever but also when the Party-state was—for its own internal reasons related to the legitimacy challenges of authoritarian modernization—beginning self-consciously to articulate an ever-more specificallyChinesepolitical discourse, both in domestic politics and in international affairs. The timing of the U.S. financial crisis, in this sense, was ideal, for proponents of the re-Sinicized legitimacy discourse of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) were well positioned to provide a set of narratives that could...

    • 16 Looking to the Future
      (pp. 371-390)

      As the Chinese Party-state struggled with these interpretive issues, Chinese thinkers themselves pondered the implications of such ideas for the system of global order—and, of course, for China’s place within it. Building on some by now well-established themes of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) discourse, People’s Republic of China (PRC) scholars and propagandists worked to incorporate perceived U.S. decline into their broader notions of hegemony theory as well as to assess the significance (for good or for ill) of American talk after 2010 of “pivoting” or “rebalancing” to the Asia-Pacific region. More than a century after Liang Qichao’s suspicion that...

    • 17 Debating Taoist Nationalism
      (pp. 391-412)

      Significantly, the American financial crisis dramatically affected the balance between positive and negative elements in Chinese perceptions of and approaches to the United States. As we have seen, one of the pillars of the so-called Taoist nationalism of Dengist time biding was the notion that China needed both to maintain the peaceful international environment required for outward-oriented growth and to keep up a good relationship of engagement with Washington that would permit Chinese to continue to learn from the American sutras of modernity. These twin assumptions—coupled with an acute perception of U.S.power, encouraging the perception that a hostile...

  10. VII. China, America, and the Future

    • 18 Self-Image and Return
      (pp. 415-440)

      Not surprisingly, as Chinese elites have increasingly openly debated the merits and demerits of a more self-assertive posture vis-à-vis the United States, they have also debated the future nature of the world system and the role that China should have within it. This chapter attempts to survey some of what has become apparent to date in Chinese narratives about China in the world, tying this together with some of the themes explored in earlier chapters in ways that it is hoped will point to some insights of relevance to U.S. and other non-Chinese leaders and to the policy community of...

    • 19 China in a New World
      (pp. 441-474)

      The ambition of setting the terms of a new world system, therefore, certainly seems clear enough in the Party-state’s official—and officially permitted—narrative of global order. While the operational specifics of such an order remain perhaps conveniently opaque, however, its basic structural character deserves further attention, for Chinese sources seem to suggest that it differs in critical ways from the essentially open and pluralist operating system of the international schema it aspires to replace. Also critical, from the perspective of assessing the implications of Chinese perspectives, is what implications these views may have for People’s Republic of China (PRC)...

    • 20 Some Policy Implications
      (pp. 475-502)

      As described throughout the previous chapters, for a mix of reasons related in part to China’s security environment but particularly to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime’s domestic insecurities, China’s narrative of America has over time become progressively darker and more threatening since the early reform period of Deng Xiaoping. Aspirational and oppositional elements have both consistently played a role in shaping Chinese attitudes toward and approaches to the United States, each in ways that had potentially positive and potentially negative implications for the Sino-American relationship.

      The heyday of positive emulation was in the 1980s, when America was perceived as...

  11. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 503-504)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 505-610)
  13. Index
    (pp. 611-638)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 639-642)