A large parade commemorating the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China was held recently in Beijing. It included the top Chinese Communist Party leadership of the present such as Xi Jinping and his predecessors Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin.
Also included was a military display of 15,000 troops along with assorted military hardware including cutting edge military hardware such as China’s supersonic DF-17 missile that can hit anywhere in the United States within 30 minutes.
China does not come close to matching America’s military might toe-to-toe since, for example, America’s 18 Ohio-Class nuclear submarine each equipped with 24 Trident missiles, with each capable of delivering independently-targetable eight 100 kiloton warheads as just a component of the overall land, sea, and air nuclear triad in support of the rest of America’s military assets makes the ending of any hot war a foregone consclusion despite the relative number of military personnel involved.
Furthermore, China does not match the economic might and political leadership of the United States.
However, this may change in the coming decades. There exist forecasts ranging the following and everywhere in between.
- China’s growth is fragile, illusory, and ultimately unsustainable and it’ll never surpass the United States such as espoused by Peter Zeihan in his book Accidental Superpower: The Next Generation of American Preeminence and the Coming Global Disorder.
- We’re in a period of changing world order where China will take leadership from the United States in a new world order such as espoused by the British journalist Martin Jacques in his book When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order
What will actually transpire is anyone’s guess despite the most well-researched and knowledgeable forecasts.
However, I’d like to consider what China’s rise will imply for the citizens of China as well as for Chinese-Americans, even one that does not mean China’s replacement of American hegemony around the world.
I speak as someone who’s keenly grateful for being becoming a naturalized US Citizen, who is genetically greater than 90% Chinese according to genetic ancestry profiling on 23andme. I never even considered my Chinese ancestry and only ever considered myself as American up until a couple of years ago. The reality is that however I self-identify or want others to identify me, other Americans may view me as different, and increasingly so as China becomes more prominent in the world stage and clashes with America.
Chinese Citizens in China
China Has Been Weak Until Now
“Observe calmly, secure our position, cope with affairs calmly, hide our capacities and bide our time, be good at maintaining a low profile, and never claim leadership.”
— Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s
This phrase from Deng Xiaoping implied and publicized attitudes about never claiming leadership served China well as it reformed and opened up to trade in the 1980s leading to the economic miracle that we witness today.
(As a side note, China was more aligned with the United States than with its fellow ideologically Communist ally, the Soviet Union. It was China’s invasion of Soviet-allied Vietnam in the brief 1979 Sino-Vietnamese war along southern China and northern Vietnam that claimed about 60,000 casualties, roughly 50% killed in action and 50% wounded, on “both” the Chinese and Vietnamese side that can be construed as China’s own way of sending a clear message to the Soviet Union of influence by proxy and encirclement, with Vietnam playing the role of China’s Cuba.)
It is possible to interpret Deng Xiaoping’s statement as indeed having humble deference to America in particular and the rest of the world in general.
However, other interpretations are not so benign such as from prominent neoconservative Michael Pillsbury, author of Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower, who is also an ex-CIA agent and consultant to the US Department of Defense, one of President Trump’s top advisors on China who Trump called the “leading authority on China.” Pillsbury interprets Deng’s statement as misdirection and concealment of true intentions until there’s enough strength to warrant reveal overt intentions.
Regardless of whether the true intention of Deng Xiaoping, the fact does remain that the Chinese have only known weakness in recent modern history, and the generations born in the 1990s and onwards may be used to seeing only China as strong.
Growing Up In a Strong China
There may be some implications of the kids now growing up only knowing a strong China.
There might be a racial consciousness that’ll emerge from a strong and wealthy Chinese population that may make the current Alt Right and White Nationalism in America look relatively mild in comparison. Why? These movements are more defensive and reactive in nature and not “necessarily” White “supremacist” and rather predicated on the diminishment of White identity, in contrast to a strengthened and potentially racially self-conscious Chinese racial “supremacy.”
It can be construed that the Alt Right is the White poorer Right-wing version of White wealthy Left-wing activists. In many ways, Left-leaning ideology may be a way for wealthy and more-educated Whites living closer to larger metropolitan population centers to point out the folly of and flaunt status at the expense of poorer and less-educated Right-leaning Whites predominantly in rural areas.
Progressive values like multiculturalism and diversity may not be as pervasive in China since it contains a much more racially homogenous population in contrast to the multicolored and multicultural tapestry existing in America.
Chinese Communist Party Priorities
There is hope though if we further contextualize an enhanced racial consciousness and ethno-nationalism with respect to the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
If the Communist Party pushes too much for strong nationalism and/or ethno-nationalism, then it risks a situation where the normal Chinese person may wonder why it must be the Communist Party in charge, and why not another ruling power.
For example, the Chinese government may speak to stoke emotions like in such protests like that against the NATO bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade on May 7, 1999, but also careful not to let it get too out of hand. Nationalism and ethno-nationalism are useful to strengthen the legitimacy and popularity of the ruling regime, but only so far as it can be controlled and channeled properly.
I also could imagine that some of the more stronger ethno-nationalist elements within China who may border on racial supremacist views would be wondering why it’s a ruling party based more publicly on “Marxist” ideology that could be interpreted as coming from outside of China, from the West, in particular from Karl Marx.
That renewed racial consciousness and ethno-nationalist pride might lead to wondering why it’s not called instead Confucianism — which is what today’s Chinese Communist Party is trending towards — and why they must cede the name and source of legitimacy to some ideology that came from the outside.
It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out, but this is my interpretation of the future of Chinese citizen’s self-identification in the coming decades.
Chinese-Americans in America
As a Chinese-American myself who doesn’t strongly identify with Chinese culture and certainly not a fan of Communism, I’m greatly interested in the historical and civilizational of China, especially as China rises in prominence. It’s with this new consciousness and enthusiasm that I would like to speculate on the future of Asian-Americans in America.
Views From Across The Political Spectrum
As more Americans lose their jobs in the coming years due to offshoring or creeping and pervasive automation of unskilled, semi-skilled, and even skilled labor that makes entire occupations and industries evaporate forever, there will be heightened emotional responses at the individual level and even activism that’ll predictably looking for scapegoats that may stand in the way of “equality.”
I expect there to be incoming hate from the Left and Right but in different ways.
The Left and Chinese-Americans
The Left will start to pay more attention to Chinese-Americans (and similar-looking such as Korean-Americans) because they will tend to be more successful with higher educations and incomes than the average American. Chinese-Americans in particular and Asian-Americans in general (South Asian and/or Indian depending on the expansiveness of the term “Asian”) are the bewildering exceptions to the narrative that America is a terrible racist place that subjugates and oppresses as the far Left alleges.
In fact, we already see the start of this, such as the discriminatory practices in elite universities like Harvard that may engineer their admissions criteria to include such components as personality and character as a legal way to enforce racial quotas so that the percentage of Chinese-Americans in particular and Asian-Americans do not stray to noticeably from their representation in the general population.
If criteria were applied without respect to race, then the elite institutions like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton would have an Asian makeup similar to MIT, CalTech, and UC Berkeley in general, and in particular, Chinese-Americans would be represented disproportionately to their relative percentages in the general population.
On a smaller scale, we also see this racial targeting of Asians in general in the rhetoric surrounding New York City’s Gifted and Talented high schools such as Stuyvesant High School or Bronx School of Science where admissions are based on a high stakes exam. There is a perceived problem since Asians are viewed as represented in too high a proportion to their population numbers would suggest. Some remedies include changing the criteria of exams to be more expansive, to simply dictating by fiat that there is no such thing as “Gifted and Talented” in order for racial egalitarian ends.
The very best intentions of ideology in pursuit of utopian ends tend to willfully ignore unpleasant realities and may unintentionally harm those standing in the way.
Basically, the Left will hate Chinese-Americans because of their success.
The Right and Chinese-Americans
The Right will celebrate the success of Asian-Americans and Chinese-Americans and tout them as proof of the superiority of conservative ideas of meritocracy and America’s fairness and implied greatness. For this, they should be commended.
However, I can easily imagine that there will be a latent and increasing suspicion that perhaps that those of Chinese descent will harbor latent loyalties to China, because of the physical appearance and because of language and culture, even if they have only known America. This could be further worsened if there exist familial ties in China.
This suspicion will manifest itself in terms of increased scrutiny of Chinese-Americans in influential positions such as in scientific research, government bureaucracy, or leadership roles in technology companies.
Finally, this may be worsened if the words of nationalist or ethno-nationalist leaders of China or prominent Chinese are spun by right-leaning news outlets and conservative pundits such as Steve Bannon or Michael Pillsbury to induce greater xenophobia.
Basically, the Right will be suspicious that Chinese-Americans will harbor latent loyalties to China.
I Hope I Am Wrong
I sincerely hope that my interpretation and forecast of how I and others who look like me by those across the political spectrum turns out to be wrong, despite much of the evidence I see that originally spurred the views.
Regardless of how the normal population across the political spectrum will view me, I will remain a true believer in the American system that guarantees fairness, individualism, and the dignity of the individual no matter their identity.
All evidence shows that this will be maintained by the official government stance due to current and existing laws, regardless of the emotional whims of the population or future demagogue politicians.
The political rhetoric concerning “the other” may mean Muslims and Hispanics, but in the future with a resurgent and potentially menacing China, “the other” may very well be viewed as Chinese-Americans.