Review of Hegemon: China's Plan
to Dominate Asia and the World

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HEGEMON: China’s Plan to Dominate Asia and the World, by Steven W. Mosher

(Encounter Books, San Francisco), ISBN 1-893554-08-2

Population Research Institute web site

Reviewed by China expert Prof. Douglas Lancashire

In this his latest study of Chinese politics and society, Steven Mosher examines, in some detail, the current political scene in China, and offers prognostications as to its significance for Chinese foreign policy, as this is likely to affect East and South-east Asia in the near future, but also, ultimately, the rest of the world.

To give his study and reflections coherence, he sets them against the background of early Chinese history, and, in particular, the emergence of the notion of Ba, a Chinese term usually translated Hegemon or Hegemony, and which, when it first appears in Chinese texts giving an account of the manner in which feudal lords in the seventh century B.C. ordered their relations with each other, one such lord would emerge as the “president” or “leader” - to use word equivalents adopted by James Legge in his translation of this material towards the end of the nineteenth century.

The exercise of this role would stem from the military might of the territory ruled over by the lord, and the political acumen of his ministers. The true nature of such a hegemony emerges more clearly, however, in a couple of passages found in the Book of Mencius. Standing in what is sometimes described as the idealist tradition of Confucianism, Mencius (371-289? B.C.) seeks to distinguish between the Ba and a true Wang or “king”. In his translation of the first passage, Wing-tsit Chan employs the word “despot” for Ba, and the passage reads: “A ruler who uses force to make a pretense at humanity is a despot…. A ruler who practices humanity with virtue is a true king.” In the second passage we are told: “Under a despot, the people look brisk and cheerful. Under a true king, however, the people feel magnificent and at ease with themselves.” (My italics). For Mosher, hegemonism is best understood in terms of the subsequent Legalist ideology and programme, which advocated totalitarian control and regulation of society in the service of the state, and the subjugation of neighbouring peoples.

“The removal of [kingly] authority [between] 772-481 B.C. [resulted in] 483 wars [being] fought between scores of feudal states then in existence.” writes Mosher. Over the succeeding years these states were gradually reduced to seven, the feudal lords of which, without any right to it, since they were supposed to owe allegiance to the dynastic ruler, appropriated the title “king”, until finally the state of Qin emerged supreme. Under its ruler, who styled himself Qin Shihuang (First Emperor of Qin 221-210 B.C.), and who employed the thoroughly worked out political philosophy, which we know as Legalism, the nation was unified, governed and mobilised, and a new dynasty founded. “[B]y means of his Legalist reforms….the Qin emperor sought to make the entire population of China, at the time some forty million people, directly accountable to him. Acting through an enormous cadre of bureaucrats, a complex network of laws, and a highly elaborated ideology, he very largely succeeded….[thus becoming] the archetype for a political monster that has become all too common in our modern age.”

Although repudiated and vilified in succeeding dynasties, which claimed to be based on Confucian moral and ethical teachings, Mosher stresses the fact that for practical purposes of government, aspects of Legalism persisted, notably in an absolute monarchy, a centralized bureaucracy, the persecution of dissidents, and the domination of society by the state. All this, he maintains, “entered China’s cultural DNA” with the result that “China remains a centralized, autocratic, bureaucratic government - an empire in waiting - even today.”

To consolidate his power, Qin Shihuang sought to destroy all records of philosophical thinking he considered inimical to his aims. Fortunately, his dynasty was unable to withstand the growing discontent engendered by his radical social innovations, and rebellious elements brought about its demise in 207 B.C. However, the Han dynasty, which ultimately replaced it in 202 B.C., and which, by the time of Christ “governed no fewer than sixty million souls….[and whose] sway extended from Korea …across Mongolia to Central Asia, and included most of contemporary China except Hainan Island and Tibet….[and which] possessed a standing army of over a million men,” retained, intact, most of Shihuang’s elaborate governmental machinery.

With such a degree of centralized political and economic control, it was inevitable that China’s ever more sophisticated culture should reflect this, and be seen as having an important part to play, both in supporting the state, and in disseminating its beneficial effects to all surrounding peoples culturally seemingly less favoured than the Chinese. In Mosher’s view, “the Hegemon [or, we must say, the continuing spirit of hegemony where the term is not actually used] has no foreign policy other than one of continuous aggression against and absorption of neighbouring states….Other states, by their very existence, challenge the principle of hegemony.”

Mosher cites the edict issued by Emperor Qianlong in which George III’s emissary to China, Lord Macartney, who arrived in North China in 1793, and who had the task of trying to interest the Emperor in British manufactures, was dismissed with the words: “We … instruct the king of England to take note of our charge: The Celestial Empire, ruling all within the four seas … does not … have the slightest need of your country’s manufactures … Hence we have commanded your tribute envoys to return safely home. You, O King, should simply act in conformity with our wishes by strengthening your loyalty and swearing perpetual obedience.”

Mosher might also have cited other examples of China’s sense of superiority to all things foreign by drawing the reader’s attention to the Confucian scholar, Han Yu’s, criticism, in 800 A.D. of his emperor for permitting the display of a supposed relic of the Buddha in the imperial palace. In a memorial to the throne, Han Yu states: “Your servant begs leave to say that Buddhism is no more than a cult of the barbarian peoples which spread to China in the time of the latter Han….Your servant is deeply shamed, and begs that this bone…be cast into fire and water, that this evil may be rooted out, the world freed from its error, and later generations spared this delusion.”

Although not directly a result of Han Yu’s strictures, the Emperor Wuzung (r. 841-6) in 845, reiterated the criticism that Buddhism was a latecomer to China, “instilling its infection…until it has poisoned the customs of our nation…[and] increasingly led [the multitude] astray…. To suppress this source of age-old evil…. The temples of the empire which have been demolished number over 4,600; 26,500 monks and nuns have been returned to lay life…. Monks and nuns have been placed under the jurisdiction of the Director of Aliens to make it perfectly clear that this is a foreign religion. Finally, We have ordered over 2,000 men of the Nestorian and Mazdean religions to return to lay life and cease from polluting the customs of China.”

In the 19th and 20th centuries China was forced by the Western powers to acknowledge, through a series of military encounters and humiliating defeats, and the annexation of territory, that centres of power existed beyond China’s borders. It was therefore with a sense of pride that Chinese listened to Mao Zedong’s announcement from the balcony overlooking the entrance to Beijing’s imperial palace, on October 1, 1949, that: “The Chinese have always been a great, courageous and industrious nation; it is only in modern times that they have fallen behind. And that was due entirely to oppression and exploitation by foreign imperialism and domestic reactionary governments…. Ours will no longer be a nation subject to insult and humiliation. We have stood up.”

The issue facing China, and the rest of the world, is, what does this “standing up” imply? As Mosher points out, by about 1800, “The imperial center directly ruled a vast territory stretching from the Russian Far East across southern Siberia to Lake Balkash, southward across Kazakhstan, and eastward along the Himalayas, Laos, and Vietnam. Through vassal and tributary states it controlled Burma, Nepal, Indochina, Thailand, and Korea. More than 300 million people lived within the celestial Empire, while tens of millions more resided in surrounding tributary states. The economy was the world’s largest and the military, although beginning to fall behind the West in technological innovations, was still impressive in numbers.”

The first of China’s tasks, in its bid to end its shameful loss of status, has been clear; namely, to recover those territories annexed by foreign powers, and which have long been regarded as falling within the boundaries of China proper. The return of Hong Kong and Macao to Chinese control have been major steps in this direction, but Taiwan remains an outstanding issue, exacerbated, in Chinese eyes, by the unwelcome intrusion of the United States into what the Chinese consider to be an internal problem, as well as by the overall presence of American military power and political influence in the western Pacific.

It is for this reason that China has branded America a hegemonic power, determined to impose her will on the peoples of Asia and, indeed, the whole world. America, by its refusal to countenance the resolving of the Taiwan issue by military means, is, in Chinese eyes, deliberately preventing China from exercising its traditional and rightful role, both within her own boundaries, and in the Asian region in general.

Mosher, however, does not see China’s recovery of a local leadership role as the end of the story. For him, China would find itself driven, by an inner compulsion, to seek to dominate the world. He examines critically, and in some detail, the policies of successive American presidents since the end of the Second World War, as they related to China, and concludes that since the manner in which President Ronald Reagan dealt with Soviet power, i.e., through an arms build-up, and by “confronting Soviet aggression wherever it occurred,” proved successful, this same policy “should be adopted in Asia.” “We simply have to maintain,” he says, “our current force levels in Asia, remain on good terms with our existing allies, make clear our intention to defend Taiwan against aggression, and await the flowering of representative government in the People’s Republic.”

Despite a nod in the direction of a fostered “global network of democratic allies,” there will be many non Americans who will find Mosher’s presentation of his country’s role in the world in almost salvational terms as verging on the arrogant. “The Great Game of the twenty-first century,” he says, “will be between the United States and China. America’s success in this competition will reaffirm its role as the leading state in the West…. The peaceful evolution of China into a democratic state would be the final , and greatest, triumph of the American experiment in representative government.”

Clearly, an awareness among the nations of the world of the forces at work in Chinese society, among which is a resurgent and often unquestioning nationalism, is important; but in the twenty-first century, when we have all become acutely aware of our inter-relatedness, it must surely be through the collective deliberations and actions of the nations in the United Nations Organization, who have signed up to the Declaration of Human Rights, that nations must seek to resolve their differences, and individual nations discover their rightful place and role in the world.

Critics of others’ motives, policies and actions should also be alive to the possibility of logs in their own eyes which might cause them not to see sufficiently clearly the nature of the splinters in others’ eyes. The Terra-Cotta Warriors standing guard close to the site of Qin Shihuang’s tomb, should not only be a tourist attraction, but also a reminder to all of the dangers of hubris - a state which, to give Mosher his due, he advises his country to guard against.

A number of printer’s errors have unfortunately found their way into the text, and on page 125 Mosher refers to Jiang Qing, Mao Zedong’s wife, as being regarded in some quarters as “more of a schemer than Empress Wu of the Han.” There was no Empress Wu of the Han dynasty, but it would seem fairly certain that the person Mosher has in mind is Wu Zetian, who reigned between 684 and 705. The confusion may well be due to a modern play by the playwright Tian Han, in which Empress Wu features, and in which some have seen oblique allusions to Jiang Qing. It is just possible that the second part of Tian Han’s name may have become inadvertently detached, and accidentally turned into the Han dynasty.

Whatever its drawbacks, Steven Mosher has produced a work which, because of its detailed study of an important aspect of China’s history, and the many options he examines for the pursuit of appropriate policies vis a vis China, deserves careful study by those charged with responsibility for decisions governing relations with the emerging China of the twenty-first century, and of Asia in general.

Prof. Douglas Lancashire

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