china International Politics Yáo Zhōngqiū

From 2008 to the Present: Changes in China and the World

Comparing the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China's zeitgeist and national mentality have changed significantly. So what has happened in the past 14 years to make such a big change in the Chinese mentality?
From Tomas Roggero via Flickr

By Yáo Zhōngqiū / Dongsheng

The 2008 Summer Olympics and the 2022 Winter Olympics were held in succession, showing Beijing’s unique geographical advantage; 14 years apart, the two sets of opening and closing ceremonies, directed by Zhang Yimou at the same venue, have a very different aesthetic orientation and spiritual temperament: the beauty of fullness and eagerness and excitement has changed to the beauty of grace and elegance and a calm and generous temperament. Referring to the developments before and during the Games, we can see that the world landscape and China’s spirit of the times and national mentality have changed dramatically: 14 years ago, the West used the Olympics as a bargaining chip to exert all kinds of pressure on China, and the Chinese were anxious to justify themselves; in this Winter Olympics, Western politicians and media had nothing to do, and the Chinese laughed it off in the face of some malicious additions.

What has happened in the last 14 years that has caused such a dramatic change in the Chinese mentality? This article will examine this within the framework of the dynamic evolution of the world system: between the two Olympic Games, China’s position in the system has changed dramatically, and with it the Chinese self-perception and perception of the West, especially the United States; in turn, the U.S. perception of China has changed dramatically; a series of actions taken by both sides in response have driven structural changes in the system, and the systemic. The dynamics of the struggle have become clear – China has prepared itself internally for this, and a new phase of world history has begun.

The analytical framework of this paper is the theory of the modern world political system. It has two origins: first, Marx articulated the formation of the modern capitalist system in Western Europe within the dominant Atlantic system in his works such as The Communist Manifesto and Capital; second, Lenin developed the theory of imperialism and colonies in his works such as Imperialism as the Highest Stage of Capitalism, which contains a theory of the modern world political system, the basic proposition of which is that there is a dominant The basic proposition is that there is a dominant structure within the system, and that multiple political subjects with conflicting interests engage in struggles of various natures and forms, which drive the dynamic evolution of the system and the position and gains and losses of each nation and state. The system becomes the basic perspective through which people understand the world and themselves.

Over the past two centuries, the world system has undergone several structural changes. A brief examination from the perspective of the Olympic Games reveals that the 14 years between the Beijing Summer Olympics and the Winter Olympics were a period of major systemic transitions.

In the first stage, Britain initially completed industrialization and established a huge technological and military advantage over other countries. Other European and American countries, facing competitive pressure and pursuing a strategy of catching up, also acquired industrialized military capabilities one after another, incorporating almost all peoples and countries of the world into the capitalist-imperialist world system for systematic oppression and exploitation. The industrialized imperialist countries thus presented a modern, prosperous scene, while the colonies and semi-colonies were gradually peripheralized, de-industrialized and de-structured, resulting in absolute impoverishment – China falls into the latter category.

At that time, a racist notion of civilizational hierarchy prevailed in all sectors of European and American society, and the civilization of Europe and the United States relative to other regions was demonstrated through the holding of large transnational celebrations such as the Universal Exhibition. The modern Olympic Games, founded in the late 19th century, were also part of this planning. The introduction of modern sports by the dominated and semi-barbaric late-Qing elite with the concept of “military nationalism” revealed the connection between modern Western sports and militarism, while expressing the strong desire of the Chinese to achieve national prosperity through physical fitness, a perception that shaped the basic orientation of the Chinese towards the Olympic Games. This perception did not fade until the Winter Olympics.

In the second stage, the two major industrialized catching-up players, the United States and Germany, clashed with the pioneers’ interests, triggering imperialist wars. Lenin found another way to form and lead the vanguard political party to win the revolutionary victory in the weak link of imperialism and establish a socialist country; he also led the establishment of the Communist International to build a revolutionary world system and a comprehensive resistance to the capitalist-imperialist world system. The Communist Party of China was founded in it, with the gene of resistance to capitalism and imperialism. The Kuomintang also joined this cause for a time, but betrayed the revolution in 1927 and entered the capitalist-imperialist world system again. Liu Changchun’s participation in the Olympic Games in 1936 alone, with nothing to show for it, illustrates China’s dependence.

In the third stage, the two great wars dismantled the colonial empires of Europe and the United States, and many revolutionary parties in colonies and semi-colonies seized the opportunity to break away from colonial rule, establish independent states, and seek autonomous development; the liberal-capitalist countries used their first-mover advantage to curb their autonomous development. For the new China, which achieved revolutionary victory through anti-imperialism and established itself as a socialist state, the capitalist countries imposed a total blockade and Chinese athletes had no right to participate in the Western-controlled Olympic Games. However, being in the Soviet-led socialist world system, China embarked on a different path of modernization, creating as its integral part a system of mass sports and national competitive sports.

The fourth phase, the 1960s, saw the breakup of the Soviet Union and China’s reform and opening up in the 1980s, and its accession to the WTO in 2001. accordingly, China resumed its seat on the International Olympic Committee in 1979 and began sending athletes to the Games. China’s economy was lagging far behind that of the West at this time, its people generally lacked cultural and political self-confidence, and the country had high political expectations for participation, with medals to lift national spirits – it was this intention that drove China’s bid to host the 2008 Olympics.

The fifth stage began in 2008, when China’s development was already in its infancy, and the opening ceremony was a strong and full visual display of China’s civilizational heritage and developmental achievements, showing that the Chinese were eager to achieve self-affirmation and gain respect from others through the Olympics. On the other hand, just before and after the Olympic Games, the financial crisis broke out on Wall Street, and the whole world became skeptical of liberal values and the capitalist system. However, Obama was elected as president as a black man, saving some face for American values.

After the Olympic Games, China’s economy entered a take-off phase. In 2010, the total manufacturing output surpassed that of the United States and the total GDP surpassed that of Japan, leaping to the second place in the world. On the other hand, China’s economy has continued to grow thanks to an increasingly close global division of labor, and the U.S. and China have become the “two best” countries in the world. However, the American growth comes from the increasing globalization and virtualization of finance and high technology, which is increasingly disconnected from the lower and middle classes in the United States, and the growth has exacerbated social tensions.

It is evident that since the Beijing Summer Olympics, the national fortunes and national mindset of China and the United States have shown a reverse trend. It is widely recognized today by the Chinese that China stands in the center of the world stage and has the combined power to defy the hegemon.

The 14-year history of China and the world between the Olympic Games can be roughly divided into three stages: a few years after the Summer Olympics, Chinese people still generally believed that “the world is flat” and had strong expectations of “international integration”, recognition by Europe and the United States, and “integration into the international community”. There was a strong expectation of “integration into the international community”. However, the Western-dominated world system has never been flat. As China’s renaissance has shaken its dominant structure, the West has turned to firmly and brutally contain and disrupt China in order to preserve its monopoly interests. China was forced to take self-protective measures, so that the relationship between China and the United States, which was based on cooperation and division of labor, gradually evolved into a “great power competition. The Chinese community was once quite shocked by this change. China then made a comprehensive adjustment of its national policy, and achieved great results. Let’s briefly sort out the adjustment in China and the United States.

First, partial decoupling.

At its founding, the Chinese Communist Party adopted a “one-sided” policy of decoupling from the U.S.-dominated capitalist world system and linking to the Soviet-led socialist world system. However, as the Soviet Union suppressed China’s autonomy, the two parties broke up in the 1960s and China turned around and re-linked itself to the capitalist system. The United States’ acceptance of China was both intended to induce China to convert to American values and institutions and was driven by the intrinsic logic of capitalism’s pursuit of profit maximization. However, the Chinese Communist Party has maintained a high degree of national autonomy, and China has actively opened up to the outside world without falling into peripheral capitalism, but has instead advanced industrialization autonomously and successfully. Economic enrichment has built cultural and political confidence, and since the 18th National Congress, China has clearly and firmly rejected the liberal-capitalist path. Frustrated and even desperate by this, the U.S. political and cultural elites have turned to great power competition with China and adopted a decoupling strategy. China has turned to a double-circle strategy. In this way, the U.S. and Chinese economies have in fact partially decoupled.

China has also partially decoupled from the West in the intellectual and cultural spheres, and since the 1970s, intellectuals have rapidly shifted their ideology to the West, especially the United States. The United States, based on its puritanical tradition, has also been actively engaged in an ideological warping of China. In this way, liberalism became the dominant value of the emerging middle class, a situation that gradually changed after the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, with a full-scale revival of Confucianism as an important symptom. With Trump’s actions removing the aura of American values and the new crown epidemic exposing the failure of American state governance, liberalism ebbed globally and rapidly marginalized in China; Chinese Marxism and the excellent Chinese culture centered on Confucianism gradually became the main body of ideology, which largely decoupled from Western-style ideology, and the academy has begun to establish a Chinese system of philosophy and social science.

Second, active internal integration and mobilization.

For its part, China has, politically, reversed the party-government separation-style reforms that have lasted for more than three decades, reaffirmed the leadership of the Communist Party of China as the country’s fundamental political system, and accordingly improved the party’s overall leadership, providing comprehensive coverage of emerging social sectors and deep penetration of grassroots society. Comprehensive poverty eradication and the fight against the epidemic show that political integration has reached a high level.

In terms of ideology, since the 18th National Congress, the CPC has made clear its position of respecting Confucianism and other outstanding Chinese traditional cultures, and actively promoted the integration of Marxism with outstanding Chinese traditional cultures. The nation has generally gained cultural confidence and patriotic spirit.

Economically, the strategic importance and political status of the state-owned economy has been reaffirmed. In recent years, strong measures have also been taken to reverse the trend of economic de-realization, re-layout the economy with manufacturing as the center, and promote the laddering of domestic industries; curb the disorderly expansion of capital and block the channels for capital to dominate political power.

Militarily, armaments were rapidly strengthened, relying on the technological and industrial accumulation of industrialization. The military ideology and strategy were comprehensively adjusted, and the focus shifted from the mainland to the sea. Accordingly, the military leadership system and command system were reformed.

In the United States, economic policy, Obama first proposed the “re-industrialization” strategy, Trump and Biden followed. In the history of the United States, it is still very rare for two parties, three people and four administrations to maintain the continuity of economic strategies, which shows that at least the political elite has recognized the problems of the U.S. economy, but de-industrialization-financialization is the internal logic of capitalism, and its political power is controlled and constrained by capital, so the re-industrialization efforts have not been effective. The alienation and confrontation between the globalized financial and high-tech capitalism and the de-industrialized rust belt of the South Central region are becoming more and more serious.

Ideologically, liberalism came under suspicion and White Puritan (WASP) racism made a strong appearance. This was the foundation of America’s nationhood and did have a strong mobilizing power for its subject peoples. But it was in direct conflict with liberalism and with America’s identity as a nation of immigrants, and increased racial conflict inevitably led to national disintegration.

Politically, American values and institutions are long on offensive national mobilization, and the common expectation of foreign plunder can have a cohesive effect. This time, however, it is a defensive integration that will lead to the “inward roll” of interests, resulting in the deterioration of its political ecology: the polarization of party disputes, the numerous political conflicts during the Trump-Biden power transition, and especially the Capitol Hill riots that erupted on January 6, 2021, marking the end of American-style democracy.

Militarily, although the United States has made it clear that great power competition is the center of its strategy, it is unwilling to take the risk of giving up global manipulation and is slow to make strategic decisions. The failure to rebuild Afghanistan and the hasty withdrawal, the loss of an important stronghold into the heart of the Eurasian continent; manipulation of the Ukraine crisis, although it can take advantage of the opportunity to control Western and Central Europe, but is bound to distract its forces operating the Indo-Pacific strategy. De-industrialization is a serious constraint on the renewal of its warfare capabilities, and it is rapidly losing its military technological advantage over its competitors.

Third, the system was built separately, and the systematic struggle posture has become clear.

For its part, China, as the world’s largest industrial producer and physical trader, has put forward the “Belt and Road” initiative, the concept of a community of human destiny, and global development initiatives, and a new “world system of development” has taken shape. The Olympic Games showcased the new values offered by the Chinese to the world in the form of art: all the participating entities converged into a big snowflake to embrace the Olympic torch, reflecting the value of equality; the extensive use of new technologies in various places and links praised the achievement of development; the closing ceremony directly expressed the vision of the world as one and the world as one. Equality, development, and the world as one family, these are the core concepts of the world system of development.

For its part, the introduction and successive implementation of the “America First” program marked the abandonment of its ambition to fully defend the liberal-capitalist world system in favor of a defensive system, with the hastily established “Australia-UK-US Alliance” (AUKUS) as its The core of this is the hastily established “Australian British American Union” (AUKUS), which shows that white Christian racism has become the dominant value in American internal and external politics, and that this will deprive the United States of its universal moral appeal.

Based on the above sorting out of the strategic adjustments of China and the United States in recent years, we try to make the following three judgments about the trend of the world system in the post-Olympic-post-epidemic era.

First, the two world powers are moving apart, and the single liberal-capitalist world system has collapsed and fractured into two systems: a “developmental world system” led by China, with equality as a value and development as a goal; and a liberal-capitalist system led by the United States, after a significant contraction, with freedom as a goal. The other is the U.S.-led liberal-capitalist system, after a significant contraction, which strives to defend the vested interests of a few developed countries in the name of freedom. The two are already struggling on all fronts, and world history has entered a new phase.

Second, the root cause of the system split and the struggle between China and the United States is not the so-called “Thucydides trap”, nor is it entirely an ideological dispute, but more importantly a dispute between the right to development and monopoly power: the United States uses the liberal-capitalist system to maintain the West’s technological and industrial monopoly power, which is the basis for its strong military power, high standard of living, and maintenance of its so-called material basis for its so-called liberal values and democratic system. On the contrary, China, after its semi-colonial experience and after a hard struggle, has achieved initial modernization and has broken many Western monopolies. If China is to pursue further development, more Western monopolies will have to be broken. At the same time, the success of China’s independent development is of great world historical significance, as stated in the Resolution of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China on the Major Achievements and Historical Experiences of the Party’s Centennial Struggle: China has “expanded the way for developing countries to modernize, offering a new choice to those countries and nations in the world that wish to accelerate development while maintaining their independence. ” China is also providing the necessary technical and industrial support to the Third World, fundamentally shaking the West’s worldwide monopoly with the concept of “a community of human destiny that it wants to stand up for itself and to reach others”. The fundamental conflict of interest drives the developed Western countries, led by the United States, to regard China as their biggest rival. This struggle is not a struggle for hegemony, but a struggle of justice against injustice: the United States is a reactionary force, striving to preserve the old civilization that relies on monopoly power; China is a progressive force, initially creating and continuing to expand a new form of universal, equal and autonomous human civilization.

Third, it can be expected that the struggle between the two systems will be intense and comprehensive. But on the whole, China’s internal integration has been significantly more effective than that of the United States. Western-style liberal values are the values of the powerful, and Western-style democracy is a system for monopolies to distribute the “windfall” of external plunder; once world monopoly power is lost, it magnifies group conflict. China’s values and institutions grew out of the historical process of anti-oppression, anti-hegemony, and autonomous development through internal mobilization, and are themselves distinguished by their organizational and internal cohesion, and the U.S. pressure on China has improved China’s level of national integration.

The impact of the new global epidemic, which has lasted for more than two years, on the world landscape is similar to that of World War I, in which the Western liberal-capitalist system was severely damaged. On the contrary, China has proven its values and the superiority of its system by its outstanding performance in the fight against the epidemic and its growth, which was fully demonstrated to the whole world through this Winter Olympics. This change in power dynamics was evident even to ordinary Chinese, and thus the national mindset was generally confident and relaxed in the face of the malice of Western politicians and elites against China during the Winter Olympics, a mindset that was vividly reflected in artistic form in the opening and closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics. This shows that our internal integration was successful.

The successful hosting of the 2008 Summer Olympics was the beginning of China’s renaissance and the turning point in world history. The successful hosting of the 2022 Winter Olympics marks the end of this turning point, and the next post-Olympic-post-epidemic era will see a fierce, long-term struggle between the two systems. At the opening and closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics, China ardently expressed its vision of a world that is one and the same. However, this bright future can never be achieved with ease or by beating a gong. Only through the “Great Struggle”, breaking the military and political hegemony of the United States and the technological and economic monopoly maintained by the Western countries for two hundred years, can we finally achieve the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation and unite more nations and countries to open up a straight path to build a new form of human civilization in the world. Therefore, after the Winter Olympics, we can make full use of our strategic advantages, go straight ahead and be active. Before the Winter Olympics, the Americans held a so-called Global Democracy Conference, but it was so cold and quiet that it did not make a single ripple in world politics, showing that Western-style freedom and democratic values have lost their appeal; in the post-epidemic era, the fundamental issue facing all countries is development, and China should follow the sky and respond to people by holding high the banner of “equality” and “development. “In the post-epidemic era, the fundamental issue for all countries is development. In order to implement global development initiatives, China can consider holding regular “global development conferences” to explore the necessary leadership, organization, and cooperation mechanisms for a “developmental world system,” which is a millennial plan to promote the building of a community of human destiny.

Yáo Zhōngqiū
Yáo Zhōngqiū

Yao Zhongqiu is a professor in the Department of Political Science, Renmin University, and a professor at the Advanced Institute for Confucian Studies, Shandong University. After 2008, he became the leading intellectual who had abandoned the neoliberal school. He is currently working on a framework for the Chinese new school of thought called Historical Politics.

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