By Yang Baoyun
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The country’s remarkable development over the past seven decades has amazed people around the world, including in Thailand. I have been teaching in Thailand for years, during which time I have frequently attempted to explain China’s approach to development from historical and cultural perspectives. I believe that traditional Chinese culture has been an important factor in the nation’s success.
National advancement could not have been realized so robustly without the formulation and implementation of correct policies, and China’s political philosophy in modern times is heavily influenced by profound ancient Chinese civilization.
People-oriented governance has a long history in China. A widespread philosophy for more than 2,000 years, Confucianism has provided vital support for the modernization of China’s national governance system. On political power, Confucius said that to govern should be “to rectify” and that the ruler should enrich the people and then teach the people. Mencius, also revered, carried on and further developed the idea of a benevolent government. He introduced the idea that “the people are more important than the ruler.” Collective wisdom that the person who wins the hearts of the people wins the world solidified based on such far-reaching people-oriented political philosophy.
The Communist Party of China (CPC) and the Chinese government have maintained firm dedication to people-oriented principles since the founding of the PRC in 1949, and their purpose of serving the people has remained unchanged amid twists and turns of the better part of a century. The concept of people-oriented development was further enhanced after China launched reform and opening-up program. “The people’s wishes for happy lives is our mission,” declared Chinese President Xi Jinping in his speech at a press conference after the first plenary session of the 18th CPC Central Committee on December 15, 2012. This is one of the central guiding principles of the new Chinese administration.
By following this philosophy centered on the people’s livelihood, China has made tremendous progress in economic and social advancement, particularly since reform and opening-up policy was introduced 40 years ago. As the populous nation has risen from backwardness to become the world’ssecond largest economy, Chinese living standards have improved markedly. The country’s goal of eliminating absolute poverty is now being realized, and regional development gaps have narrowed thanks to policy support for infrastructure construction and network building. Government policies have delivered real gains for the people.
These achievements have helped the Chinese government win recognition from its people. Conventional wisdom in China holds that the state and family are highly interrelated, which has nurtured a patriotic belief of every person sharing responsibility for the rise or fall of the country. The Chinese people have seized tangible gains from the country’s development, which have strengthened popular support for the government and its people-oriented policies. These factors inspire Chinese people to put national interests first and unite as one whenever the nation encounters problems internally or externally. Healthy interaction between the Party, government and people has strengthened public support and driven China’s economic reform and the development of Chinese socialism.
Rule of Law and Rule by Virtue
Long-developed Chinese culture also promotes ideas about rule of law and rule by virtue. Confucius approved of “exercising government by means of virtue” and believed that “if the people are led by virtue and act in concert through rules promoting propriety, they will develop a sense of shame and become good.”
Since reform and opening-up policy was launched, the CPC and the Chinese government have placed considerable emphasis on law-based governance, highlighting the need to “make laws through proper procedures, enforce them strictly, administer justice impartially and ensure that everyone abides by the law.” Traditional Chinese virtues are also valued, as exemplified by the policy of integrating rule of law with rule by virtue. In practice, the rule of law is stressed while equal attention is paid to promoting cultural progress and cultivating a social trend of respecting civic morality.
Rule of law and rule by virtue complement and reinforce each other and in turn solidify China’s national stability and public security, laying a solid foundation for driving the country’s reform to a deeper level.
Harmony in Diversity
With China opening to the outside world, its ties with other countries have become closer than ever, and its current political wisdom in dealing with foreign relations is still rooted in the rich heritage of Chinese civilization. A core idea of Confucian philosophy, “harmony without uniformity” serves as the basis of China’s commitment to peaceful development as well as its diplomacy with neighboring countries characterized by friendship.
The CPC and the Chinese government have always believed that pursuing harmonious international relations should be the common goal of all countries in the world whatever their specific conditions. The idea of “harmony without uniformity” has contributed heavily to the development of China’s diplomatic principle of peaceful co-existence. The traditional Chinese idea of “governing by pacifying” would never advocate acquiring leadership by force—in global terms it stands for the pursuit of world peace and stability based on equality and tolerance. It is also the cultural origin of the concept of a community of shared future for mankind, which was proposed internationally by President Xi.
During my years teaching in Thailand, I noticed that when I asked the students in my course on Chinese philosophy to give presentations on the Confucian political theory of benevolent government, the practices of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand were frequently cited for comparison. A Buddha-like figure in a Buddhist nation, he cared for his people deeply and enjoyed immense popularity. Despite severe challenges and repeated changes in government, Thailand managed to stay unified and stable and progress greatly during the 70-year reign of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Many students declared in their presentations that although the cultural origins of Thailand and China are different, King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s governance of Thailand proved the power of a benevolent government and the modern relevance of Confucian ideas. They also asserted that mutual learning should be encouraged because the two civilizations have shared values in so many aspects.
A close neighbor of China, Vietnam was also profoundly influenced by Confucian political philosophy. The late Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh repeatedly emphasized the idea of filial duty to the country and the people and embraced a people-centered principle of governance. The country has made substantial progress with national development by applying these ideas in its Doi Moi program to reform Vietnamese society and stimulate economic growth.
Most Asian nations by far remain developing countries. In the process of modernizing national governance systems and improving governance capacity, these nations should draw strength from their long-standing cultures while borrowing fruits of Western civilization. Policies helpful for national development are more likely to be found by adapting imported experience for specific national conditions. Exchange and mutual learning among the Asianpeople, especially young people, should be strengthened to pass down traditional friendship from generation to generation.