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Home > Embassy News > 2011
Developing a Rational Understanding of Today's China
2011/09/15

Speech by Minister Qin Gang At the 4th International Forum
for Contemporary China Studies at the Nottingham University

12 September 2011

Vice Chancellor David Greenaway,

Professor Shujie Yao,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It’s a great pleasure for me to attend and address the 4th International Forum for Contemporary China Studies hosted by the Nottingham University.

This forum deals with the important question of “China: Prospects and Challenges to 2020 Programme”. With so many China experts and Chinese scholars here, I’m sure you have a lot to offer on this subject. Furthermore, this is a broad and forward-looking subject yet to be fully studied and practised.

Therefore, my speech today is not intended as a tone-setter. I’d rather leave you with some personal thoughts on a few aspects of China studies.

First of all, why are contemporary China studies important? Let me give a three-part answer to this question.

First, contemporary China offers a new and panoramic view. The ancient China is known as a five-thousand-year civilisation. The modern China was defined by its struggle for independence and liberation. China today is best described by a quotation from the classical Book of the Songs, that is, an ancient nation in the process of renewal and reinvention.

China today lives in a globalised world moving toward multipolarity. Our mission is to build a strong and prosperous country by pursuing reform and opening-up and a peaceful, win-win relationship with the world. Therefore, China today offers much to study and explore.

Second, the contemporary China studies are a new domain. Many of the scholars who study ancient China have a history or archaeological background. They are known as sinologists.

By contrast, many of the experts who study contemporary China are prominent scholars in political science, economics and international relations. These areas of study naturally branched out into contemporary China. A good example is that none of those who coined the terms of G2, Chimerica, and BRICs were China experts in the traditional sense.

When it comes to methodology, students of ancient China must search for clues from historical archives. But contemporary China studies require close-range observation and dynamic research, like an IT expert, who keeps on updating his knowledge or risks being stuck in the past.

Third, the contemporary China studies have enormous practical value. This stands in sharp contrast to studying ancient China, whose outcomes often remain academic papers. Studies of China at home can help the Chinese government to understand problems and make wise decisions. The analysis of China abroad can provide a reference to decision makers and business communities as they address China-related issues.

There is an old saying in China, “He who excels in learning makes a good official”. The West has long had a “revolving door” system. Dr. Henry Kissinger is one of the prominent examples of this system. I hope you will convert your knowledge and insight about China into informed decisions and concrete outcomes in practice.

The second question I want to raise is what are the areas of contemporary China studies.

China's national conditions are quite complex. Its development is all-dimensional and the challenges it faces are manifold. The contemporary China studies should cover political, economic, social, cultural, ecological and other realms. A balanced view is required in all these areas.

For example, a study of China's politics may reveal areas where further progress should be made, but should at the same time recognise how far China has come and what the Communist Party of China is doing to improve itself and the country. An analysis of the Chinese economy should look at China's economic challenges. But one should also see the sources of growth in China that contribute to a positive economic outlook in the long-term. An assessment of China's diplomacy should discuss the new international responsibilities China should take on. But just as pertinently, one must not forget the limits to China's capabilities and how much contribution China has made to the world.

Many Chinese know the story of a blind man touching the elephant. One needs to have a comprehensive perspective on China, and not allow secondary issues to dominate the bigger picture. Otherwise, it would be difficult to understand China or predict where it is going.

The third question is how to study today’s China. This is at the heart of contemporary China studies.

I genuinely believe what matters most in China studies is to do away with three stereotypes.

First, “cold war mentality”. We live in the 21st century world. It has been 33 years since China started reform and opening-up. And it has been 20 years since the Soviet Union broke up. But even today, there’re always people who see China as “an outlier”, or another Soviet Union.

Let’s look back at history. In the early days of the New China in 1949, some Westerners predicted the collapse of China. In early 1990s, there was a sense that China would soon follow in the footsteps of Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

Even today, I still kept the leading UK newspapers published on 1 July 1997, the day of Hong Kong’s handover. The tone of many newspapers was the same. Every story was predicting Hong Kong’s doom. But they turned out to be wrong. Why was that? Because people’s judgment was affected by their own preference and mentality. If they see things from a narrow perspective, their judgment would be naturally affected.

Second, a “Western-centric” mentality. Many in the West are talking about a global shift to the East. The jury may still be out on this debate, yet undeniably our world has changed. Some people remain stuck in the “Western superiority complex”. They see and judge China from Western standards and push China to play by Western rules. They want China to be more like a Western country. If the global power structure is shifting, then why shouldn’t those people readjust their mentality along with it?

Western values, political and economic systems have served Western countries well. But are they “one-size-fits-all” solutions? And are they the only viable options?

Even without talking about the China exceptionalism, we should recognise the unique realities of China.

Huge population, serious regional and urban-rural disparity, and a country yet to be fully reunited, to name but a few. Each of these must be profound challenges for any developed country. We have no precedent to fall back on in addressing these challenges. We have no choice but to learn and explore a path forward. Over 30 years of reform and opening-up have shown that China’s development path has served the country well.

To study contemporary China, a sense of equality is a must. China’s history, culture, her choice of development path and Chinese people’s work and creation deserve respect. Our world is quite diverse. The Chinese civilization and the Western civilization, and China’s development path and the western development model are both part of human progress. China and the West need more exchanges, equal dialogue, mutual learning and common development.

Third, “hegemonic power concept”. Some westerners have made a world hegemon list over the last couple of centuries, Britain came first, followed by America, and then China is said to be the next in line. They have even given a timetable for that to happen, the year 2025.

Such projections can’t provide a convincing guide to China’s role in the future. China’s per capita GDP remains low today, merely ten percent of the average level of the developed world. And it’s very hard to predict whether China will overtake America in total GDP 14 years from now.

Even if one day China becomes the world No.1 economy and its military became stronger than America, does it mean China will claim hegemony and bully the weak? Does it mean China will be a “world cop”? And does it mean China will go to war with other countries, as some keep asserting?

Seeking expansion and hegemony is not part of China’s culture and tradition. Quite the contrary, our eminent philosopher Confucius taught us “Do not do onto others what you don’t want to be done to yourself”.

China’s tragic modern history has deeply entrenched our belief in the value of peace, sovereignty and dignity. Even China grows stronger, it will never pursue hegemony. On the contrary, China will always be a force for good, upholding world peace and promoting common development.

Contemporary China studies are still a new subject and as such, it has great potential and broad appeal. Let me pay tribute to you for your involvement in this important and meaningful area of learning. I hope that you will be a bridge that connects China and the world and make more contribution to the world’s understanding of China.

I wish this forum a great success.

Thank you.

*     *     *

The International Forum for Contemporary China Studies was created by the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies of the University of Nottingham in 2008. Over 150 experts and scholars from nearly 20 countries, including Britain, the United States, Germany, Sweden, India and China, participated in the Forum this year.

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