Saturday, 12 February 2011

China: a new Cultural Revolution?

What happens in China is crucial to world peace. The stability of the entire developed and developing world will largely depend on how it behaves in the future. It is buying up resources of all kinds – agriculture, minerals, energy and labour in many parts of the world -  as its population’s living standards grow. See, e.g., the BBC2 TV series 'The Chinese Are Coming'.

China has 10,000 R&D staff working on high speed train technology. It is rapidly supplanting Japan and Germany, with its latest prototype running at over 300 mph. According to a BBC World Service report China will soon have more track than the rest of the world put together, thereby opening up the rural areas to economic development and providing work as well as linking up with Europe.

This is just one example of a range of new leaps forward. There are numerous other technologies where China is either already ahead of the West or coming up fast:
  • Nanotechnology (5000 researchers, largest of any country)
  • Zhongguancun in Beijing, is trying to emulate Silicon Valley
  • Non fossil fuel technology – wind turbines, solar voltaic generation, nuclear
  • Life science as a precursor to medicine and biotechnology
  • Space exploration
The Chinese people have been very inventive at times through history (e.g. gunpowder and magnetic compasses). Possibly they have been held back by a culture and philosophy not conducive to the thriving of science and technology.  Now their rapid advances are being achieved in two ways.

First, the West are planting the seeds of R&D growth into the Chinese society. When a western firm wants to sell in China it has to set up its R&D effort there, as well as manufacturing, and train indigenous engineers and scientists. The technology itself is also directly copied and emulated, frequently with Intellectual Property Rights transferred.

There is also another way that China is competing with the West, which is to follow the example of the peer reviewed academic research which arguably started with the publication of Philosophical Transactions in England in 1665 and led to an exponential growth in scientific knowledge, a fact of which the world only became aware in the 1960s. Many Chinese academics have for decades been working in US and European universities, and can see the effectiveness of the methods used.

However, to do this they need to eliminate misrepresentation in their research papers (see BBC Knowledge magazine, Jan/Feb 2011, p.33) and this in turn requires a reverence for truth, something of which the Chinese Communist Party appears to be only too aware. They are also looking for a self perpetuating ethical system more rooted in the search for truth and more permissive of creativity and innovation than Taoism or Confucianism.  Is it a coincidence that this officially atheist regime is turning a blind eye to the rapid growth of Christianity, the very religion which provided an environment conducive to the growth of science and invention in the West, because God is rational, creative and reveres the truth, and we are made in his image.

There are now estimated to be 100 million Christians in China, more than the 70 million members of the Communist Party. Soon 1 in 10 Chinese will be Christian, mostly evangelicals worshipping outside the officially permitted churches (Protestant and, I believe, Catholic).

There is another reason which could explain the CCP’s tolerance of Christian activity. Social stability. If the property bubbles in Beijing and Shanghai were to burst China might have to sell its dollar reserves which would revalue the yuan and make its exports uncompetitive, thereby causing unemployment in China as well as stagflation in the West. This could precipitate social unrest in a country where expectations of ever rising living standards are high and where there are many fairly young unattached males. It could also cause upheaval in the West.

 A population at least nominally bound by John 13:34-35, even though comprising the whole spectrum of human nature, would, I suggest, be less prone to  slaughter than under  Mao Zedung (70 to 90 million died during the 1949 -1976  period of Mao , who 'boasted' that he had buried 46,000 scholars alive).

This is not just a matter of Christians being glad to see their faith thriving. It could be contributory, or even fundamental, to the way China interacts with the world in the future and moderates or prevents conflict at home.

Author, 2077 AD