Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Donald Trump, Xi Jinping, and the contrasts of leadership in the 21st century 18: some thoughts concerning how Xi and Trump approach and seek to create lasting legacies to themselves 6

Posted in macroeconomics, social networking and business by Timothy Platt on May 31, 2019

This is my 18th installment in a progression of comparative postings about Donald Trump’s and Xi Jinping’s approaches to leadership per se. And it is my 12th installment in that on Trump and his rise to power in the United States, and on Xi and his in China, as they have both turned to authoritarian approaches and tools in their efforts to succeed there.

I focused on Donald Trump and his legacy oriented narrative in Part 14 and Part 15 of this, and have continued from there to correspondingly consider Xi Jinping and his legacy oriented actions and ambitions too:

• In Part 16 with its focus on the mythos and realities of China’s Qing Dynasty during its Golden Age, as a source of visionary legacy defining possibilities,
• And in what has followed, leading up to the reign of Mao Zedong as China’s first communist god emperor, with that narrative thread pointed to at the end of Part 16, and with an initial, more detailed discussion of it continuing on through Part 17.

I began that second narrative thread in 1830’s China as the Qing Dynasty began what became a slow but seemingly inexorable decline that led to its end in 1912 with the abdication of its last emperor: Puyi. And I focused in Part 17 on challenges and responses to them that China and its leadership faced through at least the first decades of that period, that can for the most part be seen as endemically Chinese and as arising from within their nation and their system of governance.

That, I explicitly note here includes my Part 17 discussion of a source of challenge that in all fairness at least originated outside of the country and outside of anyone’s control there, and either individually (as for example through the actions or decisions of an emperor) or collectively (as for example through the actions or decisions of a state bureaucracy that would, or would not function in accordance with the dictates of a more central authority in creating a commonly held, unified response to larger scale societal challenges faced.) That source of challenge consisted of the twin stressors of climate change and of environmental degradation as they adversely impacted upon agricultural productively and the basic food supply that China’s many millions would turn to. The adverse climate changes that I wrote of came from outside of China, or at least from outside of any possible direct human control there, even as they took explicit shape there for how they specifically affected that nation and its peoples. But their government’s failure to effectively respond to this seemingly ever-expanding challenge and in a way that might have at least limited its negative impact, was in fact endemic to the nation and its leadership. That failure of effective systematic response was human created and sustained.

And a great many of the environmental challenges faced, and certainly in China’s agriculturally most important lands, were in effect home grown too and even more so than any climate level changes were. But that only tells one half of this story; I focused in Part 17 on endemically Chinese pieces of the puzzle of what happened to end the Qing Golden Age and bring China as a whole into decline, and I have continued addressing that side of this here too, at least up to now in this posting. But China’s history and certainly since the Qing Dynasty cannot be understood, absent an at least equally complete narrative of and understanding of their relationship with the world around them. And I begin addressing that set of issues with some demographics and with what for purposes of this series and its narrative flow, can best be seen as old and even ancient history.

The Ming Dynasty ruled China from 1368 to 1644, and it was the first ethnically Chinese led dynasty to rule that nation in centuries. And it also proved itself to be the last ethnically Chinese dynasty to rule there, at least if “ethnically Chinese” is construed to mean Han Chinese; the Qing Dynasty that followed it as China’s last hereditary dynasty was led by ethnically distinct non-Han outsiders as well. But this is not the type of outside influence that I would primarily write of here when raising and addressing the issues of foreign influence and impact upon and within China.

Still, officially, according to the Beijing government of Xi Jinping, China currently contains within it 56 separate and distinct ethnic groups as of their Fifth National Population Census of 2000, with Han Chinese accounting for approximately 91.59% of the entire population and with the remaining 55 ethnic groups accounting for the remaining 8.41% (and also see this official government release on China’s 2010 national population census.)

Yes, there are grounds for debate there, where a variety of smaller ethnically distinguishable populations are not afforded separate recognition in those demographics surveys and their accompanying official analyses. And that lack of official recognition means a lack of legal protection of those ethnically distinctive groups and their peoples, as such. But even so, China includes within it a range of ethnic diversity that it does officially recognize and that it does offer officially protected status to, for their unique cultural identities. And the non-Han peoples that emperors of earlier dynasties sprang from, that have in their days ruled over China, have for the most part been assimilated as recognized minority groups in what is now the official 56. And they can be and are seen as belonging to a larger single, overall Chinese citizenry. China’s current government certainly sees matters that way, as is recurringly indicated by their efforts to retain and control and mainstream any and all ethnic diversity within their country, and certainly where that might be seen as representing separation in self identity that might become a push towards some form of independence.

And with that all noted, I raise three crucially important points:

• For all of the official acceptance and inclusion of the official census in China with its 56 culturally and ethnically distinct recognized groups, the Han Chinese are still considered in a very fundamental sense to be the only “true Chinese,” and in a way that members of the other 55 have never been afforded. They have always been seen as being different and other, and even when members of those groups have gained hereditary dynastic leadership over the country as a whole.
• And even as the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party that leads it recognize a controlled measure of diversity in their nation and its overall citizenry, they still consider as a matter of paramount importance that all Chinese citizens and of whatever ethnicity or cultural persuasion must be Chinese first and foremost, and that they must believe and act accordingly and with their primary loyalties aimed towards China’s one government and one Party.
• But at the same time, Han primacy of place as representing the true Chinese people, places very real practical day-to-day and ongoing constraints on what members of the other 55 minority groups can achieve, and both as measured by Party membership and opportunity to join, and by opportunity to advance up the Party’s ranks if allowed in as card carrying members. And these de facto restrictions have impact on status and opportunity in general, and throughout Chinese society. For a particularly striking example of how this plays out in practice, and certainly as of this writing, consider the restricted status and the restrictions on opportunity faced in China by their Uyghur minority today.

I am not addressing the issues of ethnic diversity here as a primary source of us versus them of foreign impact on China. But I offer this discussion thread here in specific preparation for delving into that complex of history and ideas. And I do so because it would be impossible to fully understand that, let alone address it absent a clearer understanding of what “us” means in China with at least an outline awareness of something of the historically grounded nuances that enter into that determination. Are Han and Chinese synonymous? No, but there are contexts where they become close to that, even as Party and government calls upon all Chinese nationals to be Chinese, and effectively entirely so and regardless of ethnicity or local cultural self-identity.

I will come back to reconsider the complex of issues that I have raised and at least briefly touched upon in this posting, later on in this series and its overall narrative, and certainly in the context of Xi’s within-China legacy building ambitions and actions. But for what is to more immediately follow now, I am going to focus on what might be considered true outsiders, some of whom as national and culturally distinct groups are and will remain outsiders and foreign nationals (e.g. European and American trade partners and their governments) and some of which, at least for my earlier historical references to come here, were eventually brought in and assimilated – but with nothing like that possible during the times under discussion. And I begin addressing that by turning at least closer to the beginning in China’s early history.

China has faced challenges from outside peoples and foreign cultures that go back at least as far as the construction of the first sections of fortifications that were eventually incorporated into their Great Wall (their 萬里長城), that were themselves initially built starting as far back as the 7th century BCE. (Construction of the Great Wall of China itself is generally dated as having been started by the historically acknowledged first true emperor of China: Qin Shi Huang (220–206 BCE), expansively building out from those earlier more locally limited protective efforts.) I say “… at least as far back” here because foreign attacks and incursions and even outright invasions, were a scourge to the people of then China for a long time before the building of those early walls and their supporting fortifications.

Stepping back from this China-focused narrative for a brief orienting note: I have written in this blog of Russia’s long history of invasion and threat of invasion and from many directions. See in that regard, my posting Rethinking National Security in a Post-2016 US Presidential Election Context: conflict and cyber-conflict in an age of social media 13, where I lay a foundation for discussing Russia’s current foreign policy and some of the essentially axiomatic assumptions that help to shape it from that nation’s past. Foreign invasion and threat of it have held powerful influence there for a great many centuries now. China is not unique in having faced foreign invasion and threat of it, any more than Russia is, or any of a wide range of other nations and peoples that I could cite here. But this history and this type of history is and has been an important source of influence in shaping China for its ongoing impact and persistence, and certainly over the years that I write of here, from the 1830’s on where threat and possibility became an ongoing reality.

I am going to continue this narrative in a next series installment where I will look at China’s international trade and other relations starting in the Qing Golden Age, and how they spiraled out of Chinese control for their side of all of that as the Qing Dynasty began to fail from its center outward and from its periphery inward. I will of course, continue that narrative thread with an at least brief and selective discussion of the first Republic of China, as formally existed from 1912 until 1949 with its final overthrow at the hands of Mao Zedong’s communist forces. And I will equally selectively discuss the Mao years of his Peoples Republic of China, as he developed and envisioned it as a response to what had come before, and that in turn helped shape Xi Jinping into who he is today, with his legacy goals and ambitions and with the axiomatic assumptions that he brings to all of that.

Meanwhile, you can find my Trump-related postings at Social Networking and Business 2. And you can find my China writings as appear in this blog at Macroeconomics and Business and its Page 2 continuation, and at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time and Social Networking and Business 2.

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