Responding to an interview by a Swiss publication with Asia Times co-owner and columnist David P. Goldman, AKA “Spengler,” prominent Chinese historian Wen Yang calls Goldman “a smart person” but argues that many of the Goldman views on China are mistaken. This is the concluding part of a 2-part series. To read part 1, click here.
In 719 BC, there was a coup d’état in ancient China’s Wei nation. Vệ Châu Dụ, who killed the leader Huan Gong and declared himself the new leader, was not accepted by the nation’s people. With the help of some senior officials, people chose a different new leader, Xuan Gong, who was the younger brother of Huan Gong.
Referring to the political theory of ancient Greece, this can be regarded as the political practice “classical democracy.” It happened two centuries earlier than the Athenian great uprising in 510 BC to overthrow the Hipparchus.
There is a huge quantity of ancient and modern documents related to ancient Greek democracy, but much less documentation of the historical record of the democracy of the Wei nation.
There are not enough documents to show how the people of the Wei nation collectively negotiated and chose their new leader. And regardless of the historical background of that incident, one thing is worth being highlighted: Such a political practice, which is available only in small countries, became outdated after the rise of many larger states.
The officials who recorded history were thus not interested in this small event as they turned to focus on key issues in the larger states and empire.
After the Qin nation conquered the six neighboring nations, China’s territory had reached more than 3 million square kilometers, equivalent to the size of a dozen Italian peninsulas or more than 20 Greek peninsulas.
Since then, China had entered an era of empire politics. It outgrew the coverage of Aristotle’s political theory or Sicilian political reality. In the Qin Dynasty (221 to 206 BC), China was a territory with the Central Plain as the center. It then expanded to the “forest cultural circle” in the northeast, the “grassland cultural circle” in the north, the “western cultural circle” in the northwest, the “highland cultural circle” in the southwest and the “maritime cultural circle” in the southeast. Each region covered about 3 million square kilometers.
During the golden era in the middle of the Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1911), the Chinese empire had a territory size of 13.8 million square kilometers with people of heterogeneous cultures and different ethnicities. Can this be understood by the western political philosophy originated from the ancient city-state politics?
Goldman deserves recognition as he is somewhat aware of the depth and breadth of things Chinese. He pointed out that “China has always been a very disparate set of ethnicities and languages, and so forth. What holds it together is that the Chinese Empire has recruited, through the Mandarin system, the cleverest people from the provinces and aligned their interests with the center.”
Speaking so, he appeared to be a China expert. But, after all, he isn’t. He is a western commentator and can never get rid of some old concepts. He will never get the right answer by measuring China, which is a giant, against the small rulers of the times of Aristotle and Augustine, and against Sicily in Italy.
Goldman’s comparison of China’s challenges against the United States to the Mongolians’ conquest of Baghdad in 1258 is almost nonsense.
Today, the United States is a superpower that plays the role of “world police.” It has nothing in common with the peaceful and prosperous city Baghdad in the 13th century. Also, China, a developing country working hard for the reunification of the motherland and national rejuvenation, has nothing in common with the Mongolian army that conquered the entire known world at that time.
It remains unclear whether there was any evidence for the “historical fact,” cited by Goldman, that the Mongols had hired thousands of Chinese siege engineers to break through the 12-feet-thick castle wall in Baghdad within three weeks.
Judging by common sense, it was unlikely that the Arabs in the 13th century could distinguish whether the Asians who fought for the Mongols were people from Song Dynasty, Khitan, Western Xia or Khwarazm. People from Asia could not be simply categorized as “Chinese siege engineers.”
In addition, the leaders of the Mongolian army that attacked West Asia at the time were Hulagu Khan, fifth brother of Kublai Khan, and General Kitbuqa Noyan. Their troops went from Central Asia to West Asia and swiftly conquered many cities, like lightning. It remained doubtful whether a team of siege engineers exclusively from China had followed.
If Goldman’s arguments were not correct, his comparison was not providing new insights, but creating an ancient fear – the Yellow Peril.
Read the interview the professor is criticizing: ‘You can never be China’s friend’: Spengler.