A Chinese translation by Guanfang Translation of an interview with David Paul Goldman, the American philosopher, economist, mathematician and music critic, has drawn a lot of attention and inspired discussions among readers.
The article had been published in English on October 16 in Switzerland. Goldman, according to the translator, Kris, is a co-owner of Hong Kong’s English-language news organization Asia Times (where the interview article was republished) and often writes about the Western world’s crisis, using the pen name “Spengler,” which is borrowed from Oswald Spengler, author of The Decline of the West.
This article was translated into Chinese because Kris wants to present an interesting perspective on how a smart, decent opponent sees China.
In terms of his views on China, Goldman is a smart person. In the interview, he talked about the Sino-US trade war, Huawei Technologies, 5G and quantum communication and also matters related to China’s history, political system, strategy and military capabilities. He talked about China’s weaknesses and problems, mentioning a lot of good points as well.
Goldman is indeed a “decent opponent” with some of his assertions, such as, “They want to have everybody in the world pay rent to The Chinese Empire” and “I see the Communist Party as simply another manifestation of the Mandarin administrative cast that has ruled China since its unification in the third century BC.”
These points, whether right or wrong, are not matters that can be raised by mediocre observers.
But that’s it. Even if Goldman is smarter and more decent, he is still a “Western media person.” The reality is that the popular critics in the Western media are unlikely to be experts on China affairs at the same time. These two roles are fundamentally contradictory. There is no need to say the reason.
Thus, some of Goldman’s remarks are only partly correct while most other parts are completely wrong.
Unlike most Western media critics – who have no sense of history, do not understand what a big country is and like to judge China freely – Goldman understands that “contemporary China is the continuation and development of historical China.” It doesn’t represent a sudden change and a mutation. This is a correct point that he has made.
This is why he pointed out that the biggest misunderstanding of the West about China is to regard China as an evil government that oppresses its good people.
He concluded that “the government and people of China have been shaping each other for 3,000 years.” With this knowledge, he at least could understand the unique and ancient “home-state-empire” conceptual structure of the Chinese people and the fact that there is no such structure in the Western civilization. And of course, in the Western world, there was no similar history in which the government and the people were shaping each other.
From these, he should have reached some deeper conclusions – for example, miracles can happen when the Chinese government and its people have the same goal; there will be a global impact when China tries to redefine the world. Unfortunately, he obviously lacks this kind of analytical knowledge and falls into the quagmire of fallacy with his narrow Western centralist standpoints before he can get close to the truth.
For example, the following paragraph is full of logical confusion and cognitive errors:
“The institution in the West that most closely resembles the Chinese system is, in fact, the Sicilian mafia. You have a capo di tutti capi who prevents the other capi from killing each other. Because they’re natural anarchists, they don’t like any form of government. They’re loyal to their families. The emperor is nothing but a necessary evil. The idea of public trust and subsidiarity that’s fundamental to democracy is unknown to the Chinese.
Goldman does not understand that the so-called “public trust and subsidiarity” that’s mentioned by Westerners is merely what Chinese political philosophy classifies as the “city-state politics” of the pre-Qin period.
This sort of politics is not common. It has remained an orthodox concept that is popular only among small political systems with autonomy, or special groups of citizens.
He is mistaken to think that “the Chinese are completely unfamiliar with these concepts.” Rather, these concepts are completely outdated for the Chinese. From the city-state to the territorial state and from the territorial state to the empire, the Chinese people already completed the evolution of their civilization through dramatic social reforms and state mergers 2,000 years ago.
Goldman is unlikely to be familiar with China’s history from the Western Zhou Dynasty to the Qin and Han Dynasties, so he does not understand how many major issues need to be resolved from the transition between city-state politics and empire politics.
By using the Western civilization as a standard, he rashly believes that the Chinese have “no Augustinian sense of common love to hold a country together;” that we “don’t have the Western idea of political friendship, which goes back to Aristotle;” and that the Chinese system is similar to the Sicilian mafia with a Chinese society similar to the “amoral familism” in southern Italy.
This is ridiculous. I don’t know if he realizes that when he judges China with these Western concepts of China, his points of reference are the history and geographical scope of several small city-states on the northern shore of the Mediterranean that were only equivalent to small ducal states including Qi, Lu, Wei, and Song in the early period of the Western Zhou Dynasty.
The evolution of Chinese history is iterative. The aristocratic politics of the city-states basically gave way to empire politics since the Qin and Han dynasties. Even though in the pre-Qin period what we could call “Western concepts” similar to Plato’s and Aristotle’s political philosophies had appeared in China, they disappeared quickly. It is meaningless to use these examples as historical references to compare with the political reality in newer eras.
This article was written by Wen Yang, a professor at Fudan University, and was translated by Jeff Pao. It is part 1 of a 2-part series.