Chengyu for Superpowers
05 Sep 2005
A reader of mine is working on her thesis, and she needs help. She’s looking for chengyu or other Chinese quotes to add some flavor. She needs your help ASAP! Leave your suggestions in the comments.
The thesis is basically about where China stands in relation to superpower status. So the first half of the thesis involves discovering what exactly a superpower is, and how the concept of superpower changes in relation to contemporary world order. And the second part is applying the conclusions of the first part to China and seeing how it fares. I’ve divided it into 5 chapters, plus an introduction and a conclusion, so to be able to use chengyu or other phrases/quotes I need to have one for each. This is the breakdown of chapters:
1. Introduction. In this section I point out that a lot of what is written about China these days as a rising superpower is vague, inaccurate or in some cases alarmist. I explain my basic justification for the thesis, which is to see where China stands in relation to what a superpower is. So I’d like to put something at the start that would suggest that things are not always what they seem, something about the problem of exaggeration etc.
2. What is a superpower? In this chapter I present the development of world power from the inception of the term superpower in 1944 up to the present day, and use this to chart how the concept of superpower has changed. Then I discuss a few theories about the current world order, and on the basis of that decide what forms of power a state must possess in order to be a superpower. These are grouped into military power, economic power, political power, and domestic cohesion, which is the basis for the next four chapters. The only things I can think to use at the start of this chapter are 水落石出 or 画龙点睛. Of these the first is probably better, but I’m sure there’s others out there about power or strength, and the importance of power.
3. Military power. I assess the military development and capabilities of China, including also its natural sources of power: population, natural resources, geography. I thought Mao Zedong’s quote that 抢杆子面出政权 would be good here, but any suggestions are welcome. I read an English translation of a quote by Sun Tzu from the Art of War about how the acme of skill is not to win 100 battles, the acme of skill is to defeat the enemy 100 times without fighting. I’ve tried to find it in Chinese, but the Chinese version I found (on zhongwen.com) didn’t seem to have the
4. Economic power. I look at the growth of the Chinese economy, and how that gives them international power. There’s also a bit about the importance of indigenous technology, and a sound industrial base, as well as something on the impact of multi-national corporations. I found a quote by Deng Xiaoping encouraging people to push ahead with market socialism: 无论黑猫白猫，抓到老鼠就是好猫. But again, any suggestions of chengyu about money, the power of money etc are very welcome.
5. Political power. This is discussion of China’s political role at an international level, including its overwhelmingly realist approach to international relations, its involvement in regional groupings such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and ASEAN, its leading role in the 6-party talks about North Korea etc. A major point of this chapter is that a superpower is only a superpower if it is recognised and treated as such by the rest of the world. And I have no ideas in relation to a
suitable chengyu about the power of politics.
6. Domestic Cohesion. In this chapter I argue that states cannot project power on an international level if they are not stable at a domestic level. So I look at China, especially with reference to the income divide that is building between the wealthier coastal provinces and the inland provinces, the common occurrences of civil disturbances/protests in recent years, and the problem of uniting a nation when market socialism goes against the tenets of communism. These are contrasted with rising nationalist sentiment as a way of uniting the state, and the attempts by the leadership to slow growth in the eastern and southern provinces while fostering growth inland, so as to counteract the growing inequality. I’m sure there are lots of phrases in the general style of an apple looking lovely on the outside but not necessarily on the inside, or some such sentiment. The only one I know is 驴粪蛋表面光 – although I like it a lot, it’s probably a bit cheeky!
7. Conclusion. A general summing up, my basic conclusion being that although China has or is developing great military power, is an increasingly central economy in the world, and is more and more being treated as a political power, it probably does not yet have these types of power to an adequate extent to merit it being labelled a superpower. And its main challenge in coming years will be to maintain domestic stability. I suppose 画龙点睛 would probably do here, although something to do more with looking at everything as a whole would probably be better.