Chinese Industrialization Will Determine the Fate of China and the World: A study of the “Industrial Party” and the “Sentimental Party”
I. Why has Chinese aircraft research and development progressed so quickly?
The debut and first test flight of the J-20 fourth-generation fighter jet was a joyous occasion for the Chinese people.1 But the significance of the project is not limited to national defense.
Nobody would now doubt the validity of the J-20 fighter program. Why was it able to be put into development so quickly? Song Xiaojun2 addressed this question in a recent television interview and summed it up with three statements:
First, our population is large. This means that we have a lot of engineers. We have a lot of technicians. We have a lot of people working in research and development programs.
Second, we have a lot of money. Even if many may be utterly incredulous at this second point, it is true. Many people do not know that China's manufacturing value-added output, even adjusted for exchange, already ranks at the same level as the United States.3 From this point forward, it will grow at a speed that leaves all competitors behind.
Third, from the first and second points, we can infer that we can do things quicker than America could at the same point.
I agree with Song Xiaojun’s appraisal. Are we more accurate than the pessimists? We’ll come back to that later.
II. The capacity and determination for realizing China's industrialization
Independently designing and manufacturing advanced aircraft embodies a nation’s combined industrial and technological capacity. The greatest significance of the development of a fourth-generation fighter is that it clearly shows the capacity and determination of the Chinese [people] on the road of industrialization.
The matchless determination of the Chinese nation to wipe off the stain of humiliation by industrializing has no peer. Since 1840 and the Opium War, we have sought to cast off our fate of being bullied and enslaved by foreigners, to catch up with and then surpass the West in science and technology, to return to the glory of our ancestors, and to become strong and prosperous.4 For more than one hundred and seventy years, this was the pursuit of our entire nation. No one could subvert this drive. As Chairman Mao said, our desire was for China to once again stand tall among the nations of the world.5 This was a rather tactful way of putting it. Chairman Mao also said that China should make even more impressive contributions to the world than other nations.6 What does that mean? To state [the point] in other words, it means we need to surpass other countries.
This view of things, this pursuit, and this determination is not invested solely in the Communist Party that Mao Zedong represented. It transcends political parties, changes in regimes, political systems, and whatever so-called cultural trends are popular among intellectuals of a particular period. From Zeng-Hu-Zuo-Li7 to Kang-Liang8 to Sun Wen9 to Jiang Jiesh,i10 it has always been this way. Of course, the actual achievements [of these figures] are another matter entirely.
Determination is not enough; capacity is required, too. In that respect, we benefited greatly from the traditions of our ancestors, accumulated over thousands of years. I believe, first of all, that a nation capable of creating intricate works of art will also necessarily excel at producing high-end manufactured goods. The quality of a nation’s craftsmanship during agrarian civilization will determine the quality of output during industrial civilization and the size of a nation's population of skilled craftsmen will be a determining factor on the road to industrialization, perhaps to the extent that it might decide global leadership. In light of this, we must respect European civilization—however, given our long tradition of craftsmanship, we also have a claim to excellence.
In addition, as everyone knows, we have a great tradition of emphasizing education and study. According to statistics from the West, we also have a high IQ. With these traditions, when it comes to mastering modern industry and technology, we are in no way inferior to Westerners.
This is not a novel statement! In fact, it was advanced in the 1930s, precisely when China was in its darkest hour, by British historian of science J.D. Bernal in a volume called The Social Function of Science.11 He said quite clearly that the Chinese have no problem with science: “...[F]rom what has been done [in science and learning] it is possible to see that Chinese cultural traditions, suitably modified, give an extraordinarily good basis for scientific work. Indeed, with the care, steadiness, and sense of balance shown in all other forms of Chinese culture, there is reason to believe that China may have at least as great a contribution to make to the development of science as the West, if not greater.”
The result of the above-mentioned pressures and cultural traditions is the development of an educational foundation much more impressive than that of other countries. This means that we have the capacity to compete with and even surpass the West. The contemporary competition over technology and industrialization is multifaceted, but crucial to it is having a high quality workforce12 that ranges from the average worker to engineers and technicians.
Of course, many countries, especially in the developed world, have high quality workforces, but we still have an advantage, since we have the talent and also the numbers. Take the United States as an example: if you exclude China, America has the best quality and largest labor force, which has allowed them to attain their hegemonic position. India has a population close to our own, but, for reasons that we will not get into now, the quality of their workforce is much lower. It's really that simple. But some people still can't see that China has the advantage over the United States. In Unrestricted Biochemical Warfare,13 Chai Weidong says that it is easier to transmit a library of lies than a single sentence of the truth. Why do I speak so forcefully on these matters? What are the advantages that the Chinese possess that others do not? To make it simple, there is only one point: China has a greater number of high quality workers.
Song Xiaojun once told me this: In our present world, as the industrial system grows more complex and supply chains stretch longer and longer, the only country that can encompass all of this is China. The United States does not have this ability, even if it used to. I emphatically agree with Song Xiaojun on these points. The United States does not even have independent and complete industrial supply chains to support its military, so it is forced to subcontract much of this work to allies. Of course, we must concede that their vast number of allies is one advantage they have over us. As the venerable hegemon, they have many servants, so this work can be given to them. But China doesn’t need servants; China can go it alone, which is something the United States cannot do. By itself, China can encompass the entire industrial supply chain, using its many excellent engineers, scientists, and technicians.
Competitiveness in an industrial age relies on these factors: making things that others cannot, making things better than others do, and making things cheaper than others can. To do those things relies on skilled technicians, scientists, and workers. China has a good supply of all of them. There are many countries where labor is cheaper than it is in China, so why do they fail to compete? It's because the quality of their labor force is not as high [as ours].
After expressing gratitude to our ancestors for this, we should thank China’s primary and secondary school teachers. Perhaps they do not see this bigger picture. They might not have any knowledge of the things we have discussed so far. However, the work they do, without attracting any public attention, produces students that outperform their peers in developed countries in both math and science. This is why we can be so confident about the present global competition. A short time ago, students from Shanghai, representing China in a standardized international exam, captured first place in language, math, and science. By comparison, American students do not place among the upper echelon except in language. It is precisely because we have so many talented students that we will be able to realize future inventions that will one day surpass the fourth-generation fighter. I realize that many people might disagree with this point, so I will set it aside for the moment and return to it later.
Industrialization requires a high quality workforce. Conversely, there is a great danger in continuing to produce a high quality workforce when the nation is in a state of industrial stagnation. This is a great danger. You must find an outlet for all of these young people with talent in math and science. You can’t simply ignore them. The Foxconn suicides can be taken as an example of this problem.14 Although conditions at the plant were relatively good for China, with all the facilities that workers might desire, they still killed themselves. This is proof that our high quality workforce cannot be satisfied with [only] basic living and working conditions.
To merely offer China’s high quality workforce jobs at Foxconn is an insult and a misuse of talent. Many people have a misconception, dismissing the type of people that work at these facilities in places like Dongguan as merely migrant workers from the countryside.15 In fact, although they may have grown up in the countryside, most have been educated at universities in the city. Even if we are talking about workers without a university education, their problem is not that they lack quality, since they very likely outstrip the average American college graduate in this regard, but rather the problem for them is often the lack of resources for post-secondary education. Last year, when Time Magazine named the Chinese worker their “Person of the Year,”16 the people they chose to photograph for the cover were quite representative—not dumb brutes but clearly intelligent and confident. Of course people like that will refuse to work under the conditions experienced by the first generation of migrant workers. In the past all that workers arriving in the city expected was a job and a hot meal, but that is no longer the case. Because they are of higher quality than the first generation, they demand a job and lifestyle worthy of their abilities.
Therefore, Chinese politicians, whatever their predisposition, must find a way to create space for this next generation of scientists and technicians to develop themselves. They cannot be confined to a production line at a Foxconn plant. This is an important measure to ensure future social stability. After all, what if the disaffected worker decides not to jump off the building but to go and do something more extreme? So, maintaining social stability means finding a use for future scientists and technicians, which means pursuing industrialization. Is there any other way? The key variable for determining the course of China’s future development is thus the massive number of talented technical and scientific workers. This will hold true no matter what political system China may adopt or who our political leaders may be.
III. Let the Americans sing and dance for us while we smelt our iron
[Song] Xiaojun called me up the other day and said: We need to make it clear that what Steve Jobs accomplished does not count as high-end. I replied: What he accomplished with the first two generations of Apple, improving the mouse, and developing a graphical interface before Microsoft did–that counts as high-end. Now he is working on the iPhone and things like that. Despite being very profitable, they do not qualify as high-end.
Moreover, what is there to admire in the American financial industry, in Hollywood, in the Grammys, or in the NBA? We should keep smelting our iron and let the Americans do the singing and dancing. Iron and copper contain strength, and those things they pass their time with are like the decadent playthings of the Eight Banners.17 At present, we are building the world's largest 80,000-ton stamping die,18 which will allow us to make aerospace parts much more efficiently than the Americans can. That is truly high-end!
IV. Industrialization must become China’s universal value
On the foundation of a high quality workforce, industrialization has the potential to transform not only China’s appearance but the face of the entire world. It has the power to determine not only the fate of China, but the fate of the planet. Industrialization cannot be restricted to China, after all. We must go out to meet the world.19 Not only do we want our products to “go global,” we also want our industrialization to go global, and our high-quality talent to go global. We can spread industrialization to every corner of the world. Many of our scientists and technicians will travel around the world to work, bringing with them civilization, a dignified existence, and relief from poverty. This is one thing that Westerners have been unwilling or powerless to accomplish.
It’s true that Westerners were the pioneers of industrialization. They invented and created many things. There is no denying their contribution to the world. However, they have failed to bring the radiance of industrial civilization to everyone in the world. In Africa, for example, they plundered and pillaged, from the slave trade to the exploitation of oil and diamonds, but they refused to allow Africans to enjoy the rewards of industrialization. They did not allow Africans to live like them.
I started with the fourth-generation fighter, but I am not saying that a few great weapons should allow us to lord over the world. We want the lives of others to improve. This is where the Chinese approach differs from the Western approach. As a matter of fact, Chinese industrialization is already spreading, without any top-down planning, ideology, culture, or public opinion building. The economy of Africa has grown from Chinese contributions. The African people are better off than they were before. Chinese industrialization is already benefiting the world and bringing the light of industrial civilization. We have done what the West could not.
In The Chinese in Africa,20 the author asks an American expert if he is worried about China’s expansion. The American expert answers that he is grateful. God bless them, he says, they are doing good things in Africa, and the West is not. The book argues that Chinese contributions have put Africa back on the path of development. This is high praise. But isn’t it a meritorious achievement to have pulled a continent on the brink of extinction back from the edge? That is a universal value. Giving hundreds of millions a chance at a better life, with clean water to drink, and access to electricity—how are these not universal values? This is much more powerful than empty words [offered by Westerners].
Who says we lack universal values? Democracy is not the only universal value. Science is a universal value. Industrialization is a universal value. Unlike Westerners, we want to make sure industrialization benefits everyone. This is China's universal value, which is the universal value at our present stage of development. We acknowledge that our present way of life has problems. It is not good enough yet. This means that we must improve both how we live and our social system. The goal must not be merely to be better than present-day China but to be even better than the West. By that point we will benefit everyone around the world not only with our industry but also with our superior social system.
Those Chinese intellectuals that refuse to endorse the pursuit of the West, who say that we need our own [essentially Chinese] values, and who assert that we have a special system, are showing a lack of self-confidence. They refuse to embrace universal values and speak instead of values essential to China. In fact, our ancestors spoke of universal values and called on the entire world under heaven21 to learn from the universal values of Confucius and Mencius. Later, we fell behind, became afraid of the West’s talk of universal values, and started to emphasize our own particular values. But when we have once again risen in strength, we can bring forth new universal values of our own.
In terms of China’s strategic international position, we do not need to press for any further territorial claims to be addressed. Nine point six million square kilometers is sufficient as a base of operations. Of course, even if we do not press on territorial claims, we must exert an influence in other regions. Those are two different matters.
V. The Sentimental Party: the greatest obstacle to China’s industrialization
Regarding China’s future prospects and industrialization, my optimism might surprise many people. In fact, all of the things I have pointed out are obvious facts. Why would anybody be surprised? It's simple: mainstream opinion does not take any of this seriously. The intellectuals with discursive power will not admit any of it. Many turn a blind eye. Why?
Here, I would like to introduce another dimension: the Industrial Party and the Sentimental Party. There are many possible dimensions [on which we can] discussing and analyze human society: rich and poor, men and women, ethnic divisions, racial divisions, and so forth. The present situation in China requires understanding this other dimension—the Industrial Party and the Sentimental Party. According to Song Xiaojun, these terms were invented by a lady reporter at a major newspaper.22 Members of the Industrial Party, as the name implies, are inclined toward further industrialization. In terms of their intellect, they are more suited to work in industry. That does not mean that everyone in the Industrial Party is an engineer, since I consider myself a member but do not work in industry. People in the Industrial Party are similar to scientists or engineers in the way they think about things. That is not to say that they are without emotion. They have their own sentimentality. When I saw the fourth-generation fighter take flight, I did not break down and sob as some young people did, but a tear did come to my eye. That is emotion, but it is the emotion of the Industrial Party.
The Sentimental Party, in contrast, prefers to focus on emotion in their lectures about morality and culture. They have a limited ability to use logic or scientific concepts, and they lack technical knowledge. In terms of their values, they tend to downplay achievements made in industry. In many ways, they are like the literati of pre-industrial and agricultural period. ①
At present, the main ideological factions in China are the left and the right (that is, the liberals).23 Both left and right belong to the Sentimental Party. What they have in common is that they underestimate the achievements of China’s industrialization and tend to look at America as a god. They believe that it is not possible for Americans to have flaws, or for them to be inferior to us. The right worships and adores America. They want to stand with America, to the point that some of them have become part of what may be called the Lead-the-Way-Party, as they would gladly march at the front of an invading American column. The left may be anti-American in outlook, but they also believe completely in the myth of American invincibility. So, whatever happens in Chinese-American relations, they will say we came out worse. The United States always wins. They are unwilling to see the difficulties that America faces. They even believe that the financial crisis was simply a trap set for the Chinese.24
By the reactions of both left and right to the fourth-generation fighter, we can see the essence of the Sentimental Party. The rightists got online to say that the plane was fake. They said it must have been concocted in Photoshop by paid posters. After they were forced to admit that it was real, they changed their line to say that the plane was simply no good. Later, they took to saying that the plane was not meant for resisting foreign invasion but suppressing local people. One young man’s comment on them was quite amusing: he said that China must really have gotten wealthy if the stealth capabilities of fourth-generation fighters are required for forced demolitions.25
The average internet leftist was also quite funny. They are anti-American, so had to take a different approach from the rightists. But they also downplayed the fourth-generation fighter, claiming that the Y-1026 [a narrow-body jet airliner developed in the 1970s] from back in the day was far more important. The Y-10 was a great achievement of the Chinese people, but it doesn’t in any way negate the fourth-generation fighter. To place the two aircraft in opposition is unreasonable. Another thing they said was that since the leadership is no good and the masses are no good that any weapons they possess are also useless. Further, they said that modern China is a society that celebrates material wealth, rather than uplifting the poor. Anyone excited by the fourth-generation fighter, they said, was practicing “Chinese revisionism.”27
These comments are representative of the state of standard [online] commentary from the left and the right. As for right and left intellectuals, they mostly chose to ignore the J-20, and to remain silent, not knowing how to explain their positions. How could it be? A young person summed it up quite well:
“The rightists would say that a fourth-generation fighter could not be developed without constitutionalism. The leftists would say it could not be developed without the four freedoms (the free expression and airing of views, mass debate, and big-character posters) [enjoyed during the Cultural Revolution but removed from the country’s Constitution after Deng Xiaoping came to power].” But we have a fourth-generation fighter! How can they explain that?
I won’t completely deny the complaints of the Sentimental Party, since, as they say, there are many gaps in the political and social system that must be made up. However, even with those remaining [gaps], we have made great progress in industrialization. This is the truth. There is no denying that. Both the left and right suffer from the same problem [in their thinking]. They think of the world according only to the dimensions that they pay attention to. They cannot see the forest for the trees.
That is why I classify both sides of political opinion as belonging to the Sentimental Party. The world is not only about democracy versus dictatorship, leftism versus rightism, and socialism versus capitalism, but also has the dimension of industrialization. When it comes to the dimension of industry versus sentiment, both the left and right are stuck at the same point. They are both in the Sentimental Party. They do not understand Chinese industry. They do not realize that Chinese industrialization will eclipse the dimensions that they are fixated on. I believe Chinese industrialization is more important than those dimensions they pay such close attention to.
I have many friends on both the left and right that belong to the Sentimental Party. They often say that they have no sense of China’s industrial and technological development. I point to the high-speed trains they ride and the highways they drive on as achievements. They always have clear cellular signals and fast internet, don't they? Do they have no conscience?
This is the difference between the Industrial Party and the Sentimental Party. Sentimental Party does not talk about facts but only what they feel. China has so many excellent engineers and scientists, toiling unknown to the public, making great contributions to the nation and humanity. Meanwhile, the intellectuals that skim along the surface of things have a limited perspective on these contributions, sometimes even denying them. The useless Sentimental Party looks down on other people. We need to figure out why.
While the right and left wings of the Sentimental Party bloviate, China’s industrialization has stealthily reached a higher level and is wider in scope than they know. Will any other country in the world be able to break our stride? I believe they cannot stand in our way. Some people may believe it is possible, but I do not see it. Perhaps it might have been possible ten years ago for some countries to unite to contain China, but that is now impossible, even with all their forces combined.
With that said, does China still face any danger? Yes, but it principally comes from within. China still has many weaknesses, like corruption, [problems with] the political system, the gap between rich and poor, and so forth. But if China’s industrialization can continue to proceed in the right direction, these problems are not fatal and can be gradually resolved. The only critical problem would be the stagnation of industrialization itself. In that case, the rejuvenation of the nation would fail. The Sentimental Party would likely be the reason for any interruption to this process. Here the Sentimental Party would be the likely “stumbling block.” The danger we face comes from within. The only thing that can trip China up is China itself. That is the present situation. If the Sentimental Party gains the upper hand, it could halt the process of China's industrialization. Therefore, the most important struggle at present is not between left and right but between the Industrial Party and the Sentimental Party.
VI. The Sentimental Party lets the bullets fly and the Industrial Party lets the fourth-generation fighter fly
At the same time the fourth-generation fighter appeared on the stage, a movie called Let the Bullets Fly28 captured the attention of the country. The Sentimental Party was unsure of what to say about the jet, but they enthusiastically embraced the film.
Let the Bullets Fly is a metaphor for the Chinese revolution and Chinese history. It expresses the director’s understanding of the Chinese revolution, the Chinese people, and Chinese history. The left and right both took what they wanted out of the metaphor and applauded the film. The right believes that the film reveals the true face of the revolution. The left believes that the film affirms the revolution. The interpretations of both sides have merit. This was intentional on the part of the director [Jiang Wen 姜文].29 But what do these metaphors really amount to?
Before anything else, I believe Let the Bullets Fly is an outstanding comedy, with many enjoyable storylines and gags. But that's all it is. The metaphors that the left and right delighted in pale in comparison to the reality of present-day China.
We have no use now for these historical metaphors. Why? The general trend in China is now industrialization, which is bound to expand to the entire world. This is an unstoppable force. This general trend will bring great change to China in the future. You can call it revolution, you can call it reform—call it whatever you want! It is possible that things like Let the Bullets Fly are of little use. These historical metaphors and contemporary historiographical conventions are of little positive use to today’s new path. The young people in the audience only understand enough to laugh along without understanding the deeper implications. It is of no use for their psyches to be contaminated by these gloomy, depressing things. We have already produced our fourth-generation fighter and there are plenty of movie plots to pull from that experience. But [the Sentimental Party] turned a blind eye, more interested in a guy waving a Mauser. Aren’t they all out of date?
Our filmmakers should emulate their American peers and make use of futuristic settings. They should make more science-fiction films. They should make movies that explore how science and technology will impact humanity. Some people say that the Chinese film industry does not make science-fiction films because of financial constraints. Does it really come down to money? I do not think so. It is because of the knowledge structure of our filmmakers. Industry, science, and technology have made great strides, but culture has lagged behind.
Chinese artists and literati have no sense of industrialization or our achievements as a nation on this front. They have no feeling whatsoever [for these things] or for the general trend in which the world is moving in. Chinese industrialization has entered the fourth generation, while, culturally, we are still brandishing Mausers. The Sentimental Party, which gleefully promoted Let the Bullets Fly, took no interest in the fourth-generation fighter, revealing their intellectual discomfiture.
That’s why Song Xiaojun said that the Sentimental Party let the bullets fly and the Industrial Party let the fourth-generation fighter fly. I suspect many people didn’t understand Xiaojun’s point, which is a pity. He didn't bother to explain. I believe Xiaojun was absolutely correct.
① See: Wang Xiaodong, “Gongchenshi Zhiguo Qiangyu Wenren Zhiguo 工程师治国强于文人治国 [Engineers Are Better Than Literati at Governing a Country],” Luye 绿叶 [Green Leaf] 7, 2010.
1. Though Wang describes the J-20 as a fourth-generation stealth fighter jet, it is described in most sources as a fifth-generation fighter. It had its first test flight in January 2011, a few months before the publication of this piece. The development of the J-20 can be traced back to the early 2000s when reports of a new Chinese stealth fighter program started to emerge. Officially unveiled at the Zhuhai Airshow in 2016, the J-20 is designed to rival other advanced fifth-generation fighters like the U.S. F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II. The jet incorporates cutting-edge technology to enhance its stealth capabilities, speed, and maneuverability, making it a crucial part of China's efforts to modernize its air force. On the maiden flight, see Jeremy Page, Julian E. Barnes,“Chinese Stealth Fighter Makes First Test Flight,”The Wall Street Journal, 12 January 2011. For recent assessments of the capabilities and significance of the fighter, see Rick Joe, “J-20: The Stealth Fighter That Changed PLA Watching Forever,” The Diplomat, 11 January 2021; Matthew Jouppi, “Face It: China’s J-20 Is A Fifth-Generation Fighter,” Aviation Weekly, 5 April 2021.
2. Along with co-authors Huang Jisu, Song Qiang, and Liu Yang, Song Xiaojun wrote the 2011 book Unhappy China: The Great Time, Grand Vision and Our Challenges [中国不高兴：大时代、大目标及我们的内忧外患] with Wang Xiaodong. Born in 1957, Song is a well-known military commentator on CCTV and Phoenix TV, two of the biggest state-owned news networks in China. He studied radar and sonar at a military academy and served as a naval communication officer before starting a career as a commentator in 1997.
3. Manufacturing value added (MVA) of an economy is the estimate of the total output of all resident manufacturing industries. According to a recentPeople’s Daily report, China’s total industrial value added exceeded 40 trillion yuan in 2022, accounting for 33.2% of its GDP, and of which the manufacturing value-added accounted for 27.7% of its GDP.
4. Wang’s understanding of 19th century China follows the standard narrative of most Chinese nationalists. For a longer discussion of this narrative see the CST glossary entries CENTURY OF NATIONAL HUMILIATION and GREAT REJUVENATION OF THE CHINESE NATION.
5. The proclamation that China would stand tall among the nations of the world likely comes from Mao Zedong’s report to a communist meeting in 1935 tilted “On Tactics Against Japanese Imperialism.” The original quote reads: “We Chinese have the spirit to fight the enemy to the last drop of our blood, the determination to recover our lost territory by our own efforts, and the ability to stand on our own feet among the nations of the world.” See Mao Zedong, “On Tactics Against Japanese Imperialism,” Selected Works of Mao Zedong, Vol 1, available on marxists.org.
6. This sentiment is most clearly presented in Mao’s writings about China’s development and its relation with the broader world. For a longer discussion of Mao’s development concept, see Wang Yuyao 汪裕尧, “Mao Zedong de Fazhanguan He Xin Zhongguo de Fazhan 毛泽东的发展观和新中国的发展 [Mao Zedong's Development Concept and the Development of New China],” Central Party History and Documentation Research Institute, 5 September 2013.
7. Zeng-Hu-Zuo-Li refers to the four statesmen and military leaders during the late Qing Empire: Zeng Guofan 曾国藩, Hu Linyi 胡林翼, Zuo Zongtang 左宗棠, and Li Hongzhang 李鸿章. All played an important role in suppressing the Taiping Rebellion and leading Qing’s Self-Strengthening Movement to modernize the imperial military between 1861 to 1895.
Zeng Guofan (1811-1872) was a local Han official who advocated for the adoption of Western military technology and the translation of Western scientific knowledge. His private westernized militia played an instrumental role in ending the Taiping Rebellion.
Hu Linyi (1823-1894) served as governor of Hubei province during the Taiping rebellion and successfully defeated Taiping forces across the province. He later became a diplomat during the late Qing Dynasty and served as Qing's ambassador to the United States during a critical period in Sino-American relations.
Zuo Zongtang (1812-1885) led the imperial forces against the Taiping Rebellion. Zuo oversaw the construction of the Fuzhou Arsenal and naval academy, supervised the industrialization in Gansu Province, and served as an Imperial Commissioner in charge of military affairs in Gansu.
Li Hongzhang (1823-1901) was a general and diplomat and the most important leader in Qing’s modernization movement. He built the Nanjing and Tianjin Arsenals, founded foreign language schools and military academies, supported the addition of Western technology into the imperial examinations along with a host of other policies to promote industrialization and entrepreneurship in the empire.
8. Kang-Liang, i.e. Kang Youwei 康有为 (1858-1927) and his protegee Liang Qichao (1873-1929) 梁启超, were the imperial advisors who initiated the radical reform movement of the Qing Empire in 1898 known as the Hundred Days’ Reform. Together they advanced a series of imperial decrees that included the abolition of the civil service examination system, the founding of a new system of national schools, the introduction of Western patent system, and the reformation of the military. The Hundred Days’ Reform was cut short by a conservative coup-d'etat. Kang and Liang were forced into exile, where they continued to advocate for reform and supported a constitutional monarchy. After China’s republican revolution in 1911, Kang and Liang returned to China and played an important role in the republican government under Yuan Shikai.
9. Sun Wen (1866-1925), the original name of Sun Yat-sen 孙中山, was a Chinese revolutionary, politician, and the founding father of the Republic of China. He played a pivotal role in overthrowing the Qing Empire. Sun's political philosophy was encapsulated in the "Three Principles of the People": nationalism, democracy, and the livelihood of the people. These principles were central to his vision for a modern and democratic China.
10. Jiang Jieshi–the mandarin pronunciation of Chiang Kai-shek 蒋介石 (1887-1975)i–was a key military leader under the leadership of Sun Yat-sen and later served as the President of the Republic of China after Sun’s death. Chiang led the China during the Sino-Japanese war and fought against the communists in the Chinese Civil War, which ultimately retreating to Taiwan after the communist victory and the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949.
11. John Desmond Bernal was an international scientist who pioneered the use of X-ray crystallography in molecular biology. Raised in a Catholic family in Ireland, Bernal became a communist during his study at Cambridge University and subsequently joined the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1923. Published in 1939, The Social Function of Science was one of the earliest works on the sociology of science, in which science was presented as a social activity that was integrally tied to the whole spectrum of other social activities. A partial translation of the book was published in China in 1950 and a full translation was published in 1981. This quote about China’s capacity to develop science is excerpted from chapter 8, “An International Overview of Science.”
12. The word “quality” [suzhi 素质] is a commonly employed in contemporary Chinese social thought. It describes a person’s qualities measured in terms of his or her behavior, education, ethics, and life ambitions. Rudeness and bad behavior are commonly considered marks of “low quality.” Invoked in a political context, the “poor quality”–or low suzhi–of the citizenry is frequently cited as justification for autocratic oversight of the Chinese population.
For more extensive discussions of the term in contemporary Chinese, see The Australian Centre on China in the World, “Suzhi 素质,” The China Story, access 9 October 2023; Andrew Kipnis, “Suzhi: A Keyword Approach,” The China Quarterly 186 (2006): 295–313.
13. Popular in online fringe political circles, engineer and independent researcher Chai Weidong's book claims to reveal the hazards of vaccines, genetically-modified food, and modern pharmaceuticals. Chai Weidong, Zhongguo fazhan chubanshe 生化超限战: 转基因食品和疫苗的阴谋 [Unrestricted Biochemical Warfare: The Conspiracy of Genetically-modified Food and Vaccines] (Beijing: Zhongguo Fazhan Chubanshe 中国发展出版社 [China Development Publishing Inc], 2011).
14. This was a hot topic of discussion at the time when Wang Xiaodong wrote this piece. Fourteen Foxconn workers successfully committed suicide at a Foxconn plant in Shenzhen, China in 2010. The spate of suicides was ended through various adjustments on Foxconn’s part, including an infamous series of suicide nets, marginally better labor conditions, and the movement of many facilities inland, where the work force was closer to home.
15. Dongguan [东莞市] is an important industrial city in the Pearl River Delta that manufactures electronics and communications equipment. The city is the fourth largest export region in China, behind Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Suzhou.
16. “The Chinese Worker” was a runner-up. A paragraph by Austin Ramzy, attached to portraits by Song Chao of migrant workers in Shenzhen, describes “tens of millions of workers who have left their homes,” contributing unknowingly to the recovery of the global economy.
Austin Ramzy, “The Chinese Worker,” Time Magazine, 16 December 2009.
17. Bāqí bàijiā, [八旗败家] literally the “decadence of the Eight Banners,” is a historical reference to the corruption and indulgence of the Manchu military class (organized into eight groups known as Banners) in the 18th century. According to traditional Chinese historiography, the descendants of the Manchu nobility who conquered China and established the Qing dynasty lost their martial vigor during this century of peace and prosperity. Due to their decline, the Machu military was powerless in the face of the Taiping Rebellion (1850-64). Consequently, the Qing regime had to rely on militias organized by local Han officials to counter the internal turmoil, leading to the weakening of central power. In this analogy the Americans are a stand in for the Manchu bannermen: like them, Wang seems to say, the American preoccupation with amusement and wealth has weakened their ability to keep their country vital and strong.
18. A stamping die is a specialized machine tool that cuts and forms sheet metal into a desired shape or profile. The 80,000-ton stamping die referenced here was completed in 2017. See Xinhua Military News, “China's 80,000-ton die forging press ranks first in the world,” 27 September 2017.
19. Literally, “going out” [走出去], the slogan was advanced by Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao to describe official efforts to encourage Chinese exports, external investment, and growing connections with a globalized economy.
20. Written by Zhao Zunsheng [赵遵生], The Chinese in Africa (2010) is a history of Chinese assistance to Africa in the 1970s, covering projects like the TAZARA Railway. While it does not cover 21st centuries ties between China and Africa,, it does connect Maoist period aid to a larger view of China's relationship with Africa, contrasting it favorably with Western exploitation. Zhao Zunsheng 赵遵生, Zhgongguoren zai feizhou 中国人在非洲 [The Chinese in Africa] (Beijing: Zhejiang Renmin Chubanshe 浙江人民出版社 [Zhejiang People’s Publishing Inc.], 2010).
21. The term tiānxià [天下], most literally translated as “all under heaven,“ and regularly rendered as “the empire,” or “the entire world” was used in imperial times to describe the reach of the emperor’s remit. The phrase has a universal ring that speaks to a sense of mission wider than any single nationality. For the struggle modern Chinese intellectuals have had adapting this term to contemporary Chinese politics, see Nadège Rolland, “China’s Vision for a New World Order,” NBR Special Report, The National Bureau of Asian Research, 27 January 2020.
22. CST editors could not locate any usage of the term “Industrial Party” prior to Wang Xiaodong’s article.
23. See footnote 6 of the introduction.
24. Wang is referring to common conspiracy theories on the Chinese internet that assert the 2008 financial crisis was a trap that the United States set for China in order for it to default on its debts. For an example, see Qiu Lin 邱林, “Mei guo yi po chan shi Mei guo ren gei Zhongguo she de xianjing 美国已破产是美国人给中国设的陷阱 [The Claim that is United States is bankrupt is a trap set by Americans for China],” Sina Finance, 20 August 2010.
25. “Force demolition” [强拆] refers to the government and real estate developers’ practice of forcefully evicting residents and demolishing their houses for land sales or development purposes. For a longer explanation and analysis of this practice, see Demolished: Forced Evictions and the Tenants' Rights Movement in China, (Washington DC: Human Rights Watch, 2004).
26. Wang Xiaodong treads a fine line here, since the Y-10 is a project beloved by leftist boosters of industrialism. For them, it's an example of a success under Maoist autarky, killed unfairly by the reformers, who wanted to import foreign technology.
27. Since the days of Mao, “Chinese revisionism” [中修] has meant the ideological revision of Chinese socialism in favor of capitalism.
28. A blockbuster film released in 2010 directed by Jiang Wen that stars Chow Yun-fat and Ge You, Let the Bullets Fly is one part political satire and one part action film. Set as an American style Western in the warlord era of the 1920s, Jiang’s film could be seen either as a critique of the warlord and capitalist mentalities that justified Mao’s revolution, or as a critique of Chinese society during the reform era. For an introduction to the problems posed by the film, see Shelly Kraicer, “Let the Readings Fly: Jiang Wen Reaches for the Mainstream,” CinemaScope, iss. 47 (2011).
29. Readers would have known the director's name without it being given. Jiang Wen is associated to some extent with artistic decadence and skepticism of the revolutionary period. His two other major films as a director, In the Heat of the Sun 阳光灿烂的日子 (1994) and Devils on the Doorstep 鬼子来了 (2000), are about the Cultural Revolution and Sino-Japanese War, respectively. Both have been subject to official suppression at various times, despite being recognized as classics of Chinese cinema.