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How to Recognize the Great Changes to Come in this Century

如何认识百年大变局之变

Introduction

Note: The following translation is one of six entries in a roundtable discussion convened by two state think tanks in the spring of 2019. Participants were all eminent Chinese academics. Their task was to analyze the slogan “Great Changes Unseen in a Century.” A general introduction to the seminar and the slogan it discusses can be found here.

None of the scholars assembled for this seminar on “great changes unseen in a century” view the future more darkly than Zhang Yuling. A grand don in the Chinese study of international economics, Zhang is a full generation older than other seminar participants. After returning from his Cultural Revolution exile in the countryside, Zhang began to study economics, with a special focus on the economics of technology transfer. In the years since Zhang has written widely on globalization, regional economic integration, and broader questions of international order. He has chaired or participated in a dozen foreign policy research groups and policy tasks forces, and served on the Foreign Relations Committee of the CPPCC, which is tasked with increasing Party influence and shaping narratives about China among foreign elites.1 Zhang’s decades of experience building Chinese influence in the world abroad likely shapes his apprehensions about China’s influence over its own future. 

Like the other panelists in the seminar, Zhang describes the West as on a path of decline. He predicts that when the analysts of 2050 rank the world’s great powers, not even the most “venerable European nations… [will] make the top five.”  Already “the center of gravity for global power and development has shifted from Europe to Asia,” and this means that contours of the international order will no longer be decided by “traditional Western leadership” but “the guidance of the non-Western states.” 

If this seems like a rosy outcome for China, Zhang argues that historical experience suggests otherwise. Failing hegemons are tempted to sustain faltering empires through conflict with rising powers. The last time world order crumbled, Zhang reminds his readers, the human race endured a bloom of revolutionary violence, two world wars, and global depression. To make matters worse, humankind now faces a threat that did not exist a century ago. Because of climate change we are “heading directly toward an existential crisis for humanity.” Only “mutual effort made possible by the mobilization of the international community, including developed Western countries,” can save China’s future, but Western decline means no such cooperation can be expected. 

This contradiction is the engine of Zhang’s nightmare. The problems China will face in the next 50 years, he worries, “require strong international governance, but this is in conflict with predicted global changes.” Growing Chinese strength is insufficient to solve these problems, for “the deepening of globalization” and “the increasing decentralization of finance and technology” also “weaken the existing foundations for domination by a single country.” Zhang argues that if China advances towards the center of the world stage through the existing model of industrialization and development, it invites climate catastrophe; if China climbs to power on the existing pattern of armed hegemony, it invites catastrophic war. 

Zhang holds out hope for the “possibility of a global order without hegemons,” a schema he associates with the Party-slogan “a community of common destiny for all mankind.” His hope is grounded in an ancient Chinese ideal. When Chinese intellectuals and Party officials inveigh against “hegemony” they invoke a term (霸) first used more than two millennia ago to refer to a ruling power that maintains its position through violence and subterfuge. In ancient Chinese thought the coercive order enforced by a hegemon was often contrasted with the order of the “true king,” which was attained by moral suasion.2 Zhang, like most Chinese, sees American leadership as an example of coercive hegemony. Zhang imagines China taking a different path toward global leadership. However, neither in his comments on Western hegemony nor in his warnings about the Western model of industrialization, does Zhang describe how China can avoid taking the path paved by Western powers. This may be the greatest source of Zhang’s unease. 

THE EDITORS

1 The best summary of the CPCC’s remit is Peter Mattis, “The Center of Chinese Influence: The Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference ,“ in Insidious Power: How China Undermines Global Democracy, Szu-chien Hsu and Michael Cole, eds (Manchester: Camphor Press, 2020), 3-41.
2 See Sungmin Kim, “Hegemonic Rule: Between Good and Evil,” in Theorizing Confucian Virtue Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019), 147–177; Yueqing Wang, Qingang Bao, and Guoxing Guan, History of Chinese Philosophy Through Its Key Terms (New York: Springer, 2020), 349-359. See also the glossary entry for HEGEMONISM

Author
Zhang Yunling
张蕴岭
original publication
Asia Pacific Security and Maritime Affairs
《亚太安全与海洋研究》
publication date
March 3, 2019
Translator
Dylan Levi King
Translation date
November 2022
Tags
Tag term
Tag term
Center, The
中央

“The Center” is a literal rendering of zhōngyāng. The phrase is is most commonly used as an abbreviation for the CENTRAL COMMITTEE of the Communist Party of China (中国共产党中央委员会), and official Chinese translations almost always opt for translating it as “The Central Committee.” The term, however, is more ambiguous than most translations into English allow. Cheng Zhenqiu, who directed  the English translation of the Selected Works of Mao Zedong, described his dissatisfaction with his own translation with these comments:

Lexically, there are still many issues…for example, the translation of zhōngyāng [中央]….Sometimes zhongyang refers to the Central Standing Committee [中央常委], sometimes it refers to the Central Politburo [中央政治局], and more often it refers to the Central Committee. Abroad some have begun translating it as “the Center”; on this issue there’s room for further research. (Quoted in Holly Snape, China Law Translate, 1 December 2021)

The kaleidoscopic nature of the term is evident in Party regulations governing the Central Committee, which declares that 

The Central Committee, Politburo and Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) are the brain and central hub of the Party organization. Only the Party Centre has the mandate to make decisions and interpret Party-wide and state-wide important principles and policies  (“Directive on the Operation of the Central Committee,” 2020).

The usefulness of a term whose definition can stretch to describe either the Central Committee, the POLITBURO, or the POLITBURO STANDING COMMITTEE as contingency requires has been recognized since the days of Mao Zedong, when obedience to The Center was first codified as part of the “FOUR OBEYS'' regulating Party life.  In particular, obfuscating the specific source of new directives means that decisions that may have only been made by a small group of leading cadres are cloaked with the mantle of larger party organs, suggesting a shared consensus or collective decision making process that may not actually exist.

See also: CENTRAL COMMITTEE;

Community of Common Destiny For All Mankind
人类命运共同体

In 2018 Yang Jiechi, then the POLITBURO member responsible for Chinese foreign policy, declared that  “Building a Community of Common Destiny for Mankind is the overall goal of China’s foreign affairs work in the New Era.” (Yang Jiechi, Seeking Truth, 1 Aug 2018). This “Community of Common Destiny for Mankind,” also translated as “Community With a Shared Future for Mankind,” refers to the central leadership’s vision for the future of the international order. Party officials and party-affiliated intellectuals have long expressed frustration with the norms and structures of the post-Cold War order, which they believe are neither conducive to their continued rule nor fully compatible with China’s “ADVANCE TOWARDS THE CENTER OF THE WORLD STAGE.” This slogan signals their determination to  build something better. 

At its core, building a “Community of Common Destiny for Mankind” means leveraging globalization and other types of global interdependence to reshape the international order in China’s favor.  Though the slogan is strongly associated with the NEW ERA of Xi Jiping, most of the tenets of the “Community of Common Destiny” predate him. The substance of the CPC’s critique of the existing order, as well as a tentative vision for what might replace it, were laid out by Hu Jintao in a 2003 address at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, where he declared that the aim of Chinese foreign policy was a “Harmonious World” (和谐世界). Hu argued that this “Harmonious World” would improve on existing arrangements for global governance in five specific arenas: politics, security, economic development, culture, and the environment. On multiple occasions Xi has reiterated the importance of these five categories, whose scope reflects both the scale of Beijing’s ambitions and the depth of its dissatisfaction with the existing order, to his own  “Community of Common Destiny” formulation.  

The thrust of the “Common Destiny” critique goes as follows: the existing international order was created by Western powers for Western powers. The legacy organizations at the core of this order speak for the world but are controlled by the West. The “universal values” enshrined in these institutions  are imperialistic impositions of Western concepts on other civilizations. This is just as true of the political institutions and development models pioneered by the West and now seen as normative in international society. Some of these ideas and institutions are useful advances suitable for all peoples; others are simply relics that would have long disappeared were they not upheld by the illegitimate American HEGEMONISM.

The Community of Common Destiny will have no hegemons (in Chinese the word hegemon describes a state whose predominance depends on coercive power). After the defensive blocs and security treaties that make American hegemony possible crumble, bilateral trade will become the central organizing principle of the new order. China will be the center hub of this global community. New international institutions will be founded; existing ones will be altered. All will give China a central role in global governance. None of these institutions will honor dangerous concepts like “human rights” or “universal values.” In light of Chinese wealth and power, the human community will view liberal institutions as the parochial tradition of a few Western nations, not as the default model for development. At this point, as one Xinhua backgrounder explains, humanity will finally enjoy an “open, inclusive, clean, and beautiful world that enjoys lasting peace, universal security, and common prosperity” (Xinhua, “China Keywords: Community With a Shared Future for Mankind," 2018).

See also: ADVANCING TOWARDS THE CENTER OF THE WORLD STAGE; HEGEMONISM

Hegemonism
霸权主义

When Chinese intellectuals and Party officials inveigh against “hegemonism” they invoke a term first used more than two millennia ago to refer to a ruling power that maintains its position through violence and subterfuge. The territory of ancient China was divided between a dozen warring kingdoms; for centuries the only respite from turmoil came when leaders of unusual strategic acumen used diplomatic skill and military power to overwhelm their enemies and enforce a general peace. These kings were known as [霸], or “hegemons.” The order of a hegemon rarely lasted past his death. Ancient Chinese thinkers often contrasted the fragile peace produced by the “way of the hegemon,” with the imagined  “way of a true king,” which promised a peaceful order premised not on violence, but moral suasion. When 21st century Chinese proclaim that they  “oppose hegemonism” it is thus a specific style of leadership they reject–a style reminiscent of the illegitimate hegemons of Chinese antiquity.

Deng Xiaoping described the features of modern hegemonism in a blistering 1974 address to the United Nations. There he condemned the Soviet Union and the United States as 

the biggest international exploiters and oppressors of today... They both possess large numbers of nuclear weapons. They carry on a keenly contested arms race, station massive forces abroad and set up military bases everywhere, threatening the independence and security of all nations. They both keep subjecting other countries to their control, subversion, interference or aggression.

Deng maintained that In response to this illegitimate exercise of hegemonic power, Chinese foreign policy would focus on “strengthening the unity of the developing countries, safeguarding their national economic rights and interests, and promoting the struggle of all peoples against imperialism and hegemonism” (Deng Xiaoping, “Speech By Chairman of the Delegation of the People’s Republic of China,” 10 April 1974). Though Chinese diplomats would take a less confrontational stance during the era of REFORM AND OPENING, Deng continued to describe  “opposing hegemonism” as a central plank of Chinese foreign policy for the rest of his life. 

Chinese propagandists are still preoccupied with the ills of American hegemonism. They often pair attacks on American belligerence with a vow that China will “never seek hegemony” [永远不称霸] . When uttering this phrase, Chinese officials and diplomats are not promising to abandon China’s ADVANCE TOWARD THE CENTER OF THE WORLD STAGE. Rather, they promise that China will rise without adopting the “hegemonic” means America has relied on (such as alliance blocs, nuclear coercion, or an expansive network of global military bases) to maintain its global position. 

 

See also: ADVANCING TOWARD THE CENTER OF THE WORLD STAGE; COMMUNITY OF COMMON DESTINY FOR MANKINDHOSTILE FORCES

Great Changes Unseen in a Century
百年未有的大变局

The phrase “Great Changes Unseen in a Century,” sometimes translated by official party media as “Profound Changes Unseen in a Century,” was first used by Chinese academics following the Great Recession. The phrase is associated with the dangers and opportunities posed by American decline, and has been adopted by THE CENTER as a programmatic assessment of a changing world order. 

“Great Changes” was officially elevated into the party lexicon in 2017, when then-State Councilor Yang Jiechi described it as a guiding tenet of Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy. Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy was formally adopted by the party in a 2018 Central Foreign Affairs Work Conference, where Xi informed the collected leadership of the Chinese diplomatic corp and state security apparatus that

China now finds itself in the best period for development it has seen since the advent of the modern era; [simultaneously], the world faces great changes unseen in a century. These two [trends] are interwoven, advancing in lockstep; each stimulates the other. Now, and in the years to come, many advantageous international conditions exist for success in foreign affairs (Xi Jinping, “Break New Ground in China’s Major-Country Diplomacy,” in Governance of China, vol III).

Xi’s comments followed a tradition laid out in innumerable Party documents, speeches, and regulations, which present declarations of  policy, especially foreign policy, as following from an  assessment of the “overall landscape” (全局) “inherent tendencies” (大势), or “the great trends” (大趋势) of the historical moment in which the Party finds itself. “Great changes unseen in a century” is a shorthand for the central leadership’s current assessment of the future trajectory of the international order.

The slogan invokes a slew of great changes that shook global politics one century ago: the collapse of British hegemony and the European imperial system following WWI and the concurrent rise of the United States and the Soviet Union as the predominant powers of world politics. The slogan implies that a similar power transition is now underway, with America playing the role of faltering hegemon, and China the rising  power.  

More substantive discussions of the slogan by Chinese academics and state affiliated scholars trace this power transition to myriad causes: the growing wealth of the developing world, the rise of right-wing populism in Western countries, the debilitating effects that neoliberalism and identity politics have on American power, the resurgence of nationalism across the globe, advances in novel technologies not pioneered by the West, and the proliferation of non-traditional security threats (such as pandemics and terrorist attacks) are all common explanations for the crumbling of the American-led international order. 

Though the phrase was introduced in a rather triumphal tone, the slogan has taken on a darker valence as Sino-American relations have worsened and China has grown more isolated in the international arena. Party propagandists and Chinese academics alike now pair the phrase “great changes unforeseen in a century” with increasingly dire warnings about the unique risks and dangers China faces in the final stage of NATIONAL REJUVENATION. Thus the slogan has come to also signify a warning that China sails into uncharted waters. As Xi Jinping reported in his address to the 20th Congress:

Great changes unseen in a century are accelerating across the world… the once-in-a-century pandemic has had far-reaching effects; a backlash against globalization is rising; and unilateralism and protectionism are mounting… The world has entered a new period of turbulence and change… [where] external attempts to suppress and contain China may escalate at any time.

Our country has entered a period of development in which strategic opportunities, risks, and challenges are concurrent and uncertainties and unforeseen factors are rising... We must therefore be more mindful of potential dangers, be prepared to deal with worst-case scenarios, and be ready to withstand high winds, choppy waters, and even dangerous storms (Xi Jinping, “Political Report to the 20th Congress,” 2022).

See also: ADVANCING TOWARDS THE CENTER OF THE WORLD; COMMUNITY OF COMMON DESTINY FOR ALL MANKIND; GREAT REJUVENATION OF THE CHINESE NATION;

National Rejuvenation
民族复兴

中央提出我们处在百年未有的大变局,这是一个大命题。围绕新千年的上下100年,即上个百年和这个百年。上个百年如果是从1900年到2000年,这个百年就是从2000年新千年到2100年。这样划分的基本考虑是:其一,时间节点因素,是新千年转换,前后衔接,一般来说,新千年转换期往往是大变局时期;其二,推动转换期大变局的是大事件,影响世界也影响中国。

上个百年发生了许多大事:两次世界大战,“十月革命”及引发的世界共产主义运动,殖民主义体系瓦解,二战后的世界秩序重建,全球化大发展……一般地说,百年转换从世界的角度,前50年、后50年不同。前50年主要是动荡期,很多大事发生在那个时期;后50年呈现稳定治理期,二战以后,建立了以联合国为中心的世界管理体系,由于有了治理和稳定,世界得到大发展。

从中国角度讲,1900年是一个痛苦的开端:八国联军进北京,世界列强直接干预中国国内的政治。二战后,新中国成立,终结中国衰落的下行线,实现了改革开放和快速发展。

新千年开始后,发生了许多大事。从世界的角度观察,发生了美国遭受恐怖袭击带来的世界范围的反恐运动,还有2008年的国际金融危机,世界保护主义、民粹主义兴起等。当然,好的方面,则是新科技革命。

从中国的角度说,2000年中国加入世贸组织,以规则方式加入到世界体系,这是一个大事件,影响巨大。中国的经济总量按GDP计算第一次超过1万亿美元,是个转折点,中国提出了在这个百年中期实现民族复兴目标。

这个百年的大变局趋势,有些已经很明显:

(一)力量对比格局

按照综合的预测,这个百年前50年的最大的变化,就是力量对比。总的趋势是发展中国家力量到本世纪中期占主导地位,经济总量占世界的60%。这恐怕是世界发展近代史上一个重大的转变。西方工业化以后,西方国家一直占主导地位,这个格局变化从各个角度影响都是巨大的,包括上次转换中的制度构造,价值观影响,以及技术科学各个方面,我们可以从多种成果来分析这个问题。一些综合预测也不少,大家都在观察这场大变动到底影响有多大。

(二)大国力量对比

原来的所谓大国大部分衰退了,在本世纪中期以前被排挤出大国行列,老牌的欧洲国家大多连前五位都排不上。从大国结构角度看,是非西方大国的群体崛起。世界发展中,大国主导性很强,格局变化影响深远。

(三)地区力量对比

世界的力量与发展重心从欧洲转到亚洲,亚洲集中在大东亚,包括中国、日本、印度、印度尼西亚至少位列前四的人口和经济力量。

一般来讲,力量转换会发生大的动荡、大的战争。“修昔底德陷阱”讲的是守成大国与新兴大国之间不可调和的矛盾。上个百年后半期主要是美国与苏联,发生了冷战。这个百年看起来是美国与中国,但能不能避免历史重演呢?这是很关键的问题,事关大局。

力量转换的最大影响是导向问题,由传统的西方导向到非西方导向。欧洲工业化以来,主要是西方导向,包括发展范式、价值观、国际关系理论等。非西方导向的含义是什么?是包容性还是排斥性?怎么观察和定位?这些都值得观察与研究。

力量转换导致霸权衰落,未来会出现争霸和形成新霸权吗?人们对霸权秩序不满意,但对争霸深表担心,对无霸权秩序充满疑虑。从以往的历史看,霸权的确立需要经过大战,把别国打下去,自己上来。未来的世界很难会发生类似上个百年的大战,会不会导致人类历史的霸权终结?

全球化会深化,未来经济、技术等的分散型导向也会削弱一国独霸的存在基础。从民族国家制度确立以来,民族国家是国际关系和国际秩序的基础。如今,特别是未来,互联网超越国家,各个方面的超国家力量越来越强。

西方工业化创造工业化现代化模式,推动了世界的发展,让更多的国家步入工业化行列。现在,追赶型现代化模式出现了各种问题,导致了气候变化,威胁人类生存。物质生产为导向的工业化,随着世界人口和消费力的增加已经不能支撑。地球支撑不了100亿人的传统工业化模式。

发展范式需要转变,但转变需要新范式,需要主导型推动力量。尽管人们提出了新发展观,但在认知上缺乏共识,在行动上缺乏跟进。比如,《巴黎协定》,是人类历史上第一个应对气候的公约,但美国退出,落实起来缺乏手段。

这个百年的前50年中,拉动未来发展的力量范式到底是什么?最容易的方法是延续现在的模式,但面临人类生存危机。据预测,到2050年,气温上升3度,如果不能制止上升,则导致灾难。马克思说过,你们的今天就是我们的明天,我们改造的和你们一样。

发展的最大挑战是气候变化,现在看来不乐观。在这个50年,能不能解决发展范式转变的问题,需要非常强的国际治理,但这又与前面的国际转变相矛盾,这是百年变局的最大风险,问题涉及各个方面。

中国自身的战略设计与世界前50年的动荡期有矛盾。中国的明确战略定位是到2050年实现中华民族复兴的目标,成为完全的发达国家,这会遇到世界大变局的一系列挑战。

中国有能力推动世界向好的方向发展吗?这是个大课题。中国提出了推动“人类命运共同体”建设。党的十九大文件英文翻译把“命运共同体”译为“community for a shared future”,直译过来就是“共享未来的共同体”,就是和平与发展的秩序。作为未来最大的国家,为世界带来什么,这个是个大命题,不仅我们自己,世界都关心。“人类命运共同体”是一个理想,理想与现实有距离,把理想变为现实需要卓有成效的实际行动,不仅是中国自身,也需要动员包括西方发达国家在内的国际社会共同努力。

The Center has proposed that we are in the midst of great changes unseen in a century. This raises an important issue. It takes the turn of the millennium as a central division, separating the hundred years before and the hundred years after—that is, the last century and the present century. If the previous century ran from 1900 to 2000, then this century runs from 2000 to 2100. The basic considerations with this division are: first, the millennium serves as a temporal junction, linking what has gone before with what will come after, and, generally speaking, these periods of millennial transition are often times of significant change; second, the major events driving the great changes in this transitional period will have an influence on both China and the world.

A number of major events occurred during the previous century: there were the First and Second World Wars, the October Revolution, the global communist movement that it triggered, the disintegration of the colonial system, the postwar reconstruction of the international order, and the spread of globalization. Generally speaking, looking at things from a global perspective, the first half of the decade and the second half of the decade were unalike. The first five decades was a time of great upheaval, with many major events occurring; the following five decades exhibited stable governance. In the postwar period, a global administrative system was established with the United Nations at its center. Owing to the period’s governance and stability, great progress was made in global development.

Speaking from the perspective of China, the year 1900 represents a painful beginning: the Eight-Nation Alliance entered Beijing and the great powers directly interfered in Chinese domestic politics.3 After the Second World War ended, New China was founded, the country’s downward spiral was halted, and Reform and Opening and rapid development were realized.

From the beginning of the millennium, a number of significant events have occurred. Observing this from a global perspective, the terrorist attack on America spurred a global counterterrorism movement, and there was also the 2008 financial crisis, as well as the rise of both protectionism and populism. Of course, there have been positives, such as the new technology revolution.

Speaking from the perspective of China, accession to the World Trade Organization in 2000 and entry into the rules-based global order represents a major event, which has had a lasting influence. China's GDP exceeding a trillion USD was a turning point. China proposed the goal of achieving national rejuvenation in this century.

Looking at the trends for profound changes in this century, some have become quite clear: 

I. Relative Changes in the Configuration of Power

On the basis of integrating [multiple] forecasting models, the greatest change within the first fifty years of this century will be a change in the relative power of states. The general trend is for developing nations to achieve the predominant position by mid-century, accounting for 60% of global economic activity. This seems to herald a major transformation in the global development history. Following industrialization, Western nations maintained the predominant position, which makes the coming shift in the power structure very important in many aspects, including its impact on the institutional framework built during the previous transition, its influence on value systems, as well as its [impact on] various aspects of science and technology. We can analyze this problem by looking at many possible results. There is no shortage of integrated projections, since everyone is observing these changes to see how significant they might be.  

II. Changes in the relative strength of great powers

The majority of what are now called great powers will decline and be pushed aside by the middle of this century, with most of the venerable European nations not even making the top five. Looking at the composition of the great powers, we see the rise of nations from outside the community of Western superpowers. In global development the predominant [role] of the great powers is an important factor, meaning a change in the structure will be profound and far-reaching.

III. Changes in the relative strength of regions

The center of gravity for global power and development has shifted from Europe to Asia, and in particular Greater East Asia, which includes China, Japan, India, and Indonesia, which will all rank in the top four in terms of population and economic power.

Generally speaking, power shifts lead to unrest and war. The Thucydides Trap4 refers to irreconcilable conflict between a great power that wants to hold onto its status and a rising power. In the second half of the previous century, the major powers were America and the Soviet Union, which resulted in the Cold War. In this century, the major powers seem to be America and China, but is there any way to avoid history repeating itself? This is the critical question regarding the overall situation.

The greatest impact of this power shift will be a change in leadership. It will move from traditional Western leadership to the guidance of the non-Western states. Since industrialization in Europe, the West has set the course for the development paradigm, value system, and the theories of international relations. What are the implications of non-Western leadership? Will it be inclusive or exclusive? How will it observe the world and orient itself? These questions merit scrutiny and research.

Will a power shift lead to a decline in hegemony? Will the future bring new power struggles and new hegemons? People are not satisfied with the hegemonic order, but they are also worried about future power struggles and have misgivings over the possibility of a global order without hegemons. Looking back at history, the establishment of a hegemon invariably requires conflict—other states are beaten down [so that] your own power rises. It is unlikely that the future holds anything resembling the warfare of the previous century, so does that mean that humanity will see the end of hegemony?

The deepening of globalization and the increasing decentralization of finance, technology, and so forth, may also weaken the existing foundations for domination by a single country. Since the establishment of the institutions of the nation-state, nation-states have been the foundation of international relations and the international order. Now, and especially in the future, the Internet will transcend nations; in all aspects, supranational forces are becoming stronger.

Western industrialization created the model for the industrialization and modernization that propelled global development and allowed other countries to enter the ranks of industrialized nations. Currently, the catch-up model of modernization presents various problems; it has led to climate change, which threatens the existence of the human race. Material production-oriented industrialization, as long as it keeps pace with world population and consumption, is unsustainable. The planet cannot support ten billion people with the traditional industrialization model.

The development paradigm must change, but there must be something to replace it. There must be a new dominant driving force. New views on development have been put forward, but, intellectually, there is a lack of consensus, and actions taken have lacked follow up. The Paris Agreement, for example, was the first joint pledge in human history to address climate change, but America withdrew, and there were limited means to enforce implementation.

In the first fifty years of this century, what is the power paradigm that will drag us into the future? The easiest solution would be to continue in our present pattern, but that heads directly toward an existential crisis for humanity. According to forecasts, there will be a three degree rise in temperature by 2050; if we cannot halt it there, we face disaster. Marx said: Your today is our tomorrow, and what we are remaking is the same.5

The biggest challenge to development is climate change, and the situation at present is not hopeful. In the first fifty years of this century, addressing the required paradigm shift in development will require strong international governance, but this is in conflict with predicted global changes. This is the greatest risk we face in this century of profound change; it's a problem that must be addressed in all aspects.

China's own strategic plan is at odds with the global turbulence of this fifty year period. China's unequivocal strategic orientation—achieving the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation and comprehensive development by 2050—faces a series of challenges from these great global changes.

Does China have the ability to push the world to develop in a more positive direction? This is an important question. China has proposed the construction of a community of common destiny for mankind. In official documents from the Nineteenth National Party Congress, the official English translation is "community for a shared future," which suggests an order based on peace and development. As the future largest country, the question is, what does China have to offer the world? This is an important question that must be considered not only by ourselves but also by the world. A community of common destiny for mankind is an ideal. There is a gap between the ideal and reality. Turning an ideal into reality requires effective and pragmatic actions, not only unilaterally by China, but through a mutual effort made possible by the mobilization of the international community, including developed Western countries.

3 Despite its name, the Eight-Nation Alliance was not a formal alliance, but a temporary military coalition that included forces from Britain, France, Japan, Germany, Russia, Italy, the United States, and Austria-Hungary.  The alliance invaded northern China in 1900 to relieve the foreign legations under siege by the forces of the Boxer Rebellion. In the peace treaty that followed the Qing dynasty was not only forced to pay an indemnity to the eight powers, but was required to adopt structural reforms to its government that were intended to make it more responsive to their needs in the future. 

4 The phrase “Thucydides Trap” alludes to the Greek historian’s concise explanation for the origin of the great war between Athens and Sparta. Said he: “The growth of the power of Athens, and the alarm which this inspired in Sparta, made war inevitable” (Thucydides 1.23.6). Harvard professor Grant Allison would popularize the allusion in a 2012 op-ed which argued war between rising powers and existing hegemons was a common pattern in human history, a pattern that threatened to reoccur with China’s rise. The term gained immense popularity in China and soon entered into the official party lexicon. Though Allison portrayed the “Thucydides Trap” as a universal tendency, Chinese commentators often describe it as evidence that the belligerence they perceive in American behavior is in fact a quintessential trait of Western culture with a two thousand year pedigree. 
5 This is a fairly common phrase in Chinese; the editors of the Center for Strategic Translation have not been able to locate the source of it in either the Chinese or English editions of Marx’s works. It is likely spurious.

中央提出我们处在百年未有的大变局,这是一个大命题。围绕新千年的上下100年,即上个百年和这个百年。上个百年如果是从1900年到2000年,这个百年就是从2000年新千年到2100年。这样划分的基本考虑是:其一,时间节点因素,是新千年转换,前后衔接,一般来说,新千年转换期往往是大变局时期;其二,推动转换期大变局的是大事件,影响世界也影响中国。

上个百年发生了许多大事:两次世界大战,“十月革命”及引发的世界共产主义运动,殖民主义体系瓦解,二战后的世界秩序重建,全球化大发展……一般地说,百年转换从世界的角度,前50年、后50年不同。前50年主要是动荡期,很多大事发生在那个时期;后50年呈现稳定治理期,二战以后,建立了以联合国为中心的世界管理体系,由于有了治理和稳定,世界得到大发展。

从中国角度讲,1900年是一个痛苦的开端:八国联军进北京,世界列强直接干预中国国内的政治。二战后,新中国成立,终结中国衰落的下行线,实现了改革开放和快速发展。

新千年开始后,发生了许多大事。从世界的角度观察,发生了美国遭受恐怖袭击带来的世界范围的反恐运动,还有2008年的国际金融危机,世界保护主义、民粹主义兴起等。当然,好的方面,则是新科技革命。

从中国的角度说,2000年中国加入世贸组织,以规则方式加入到世界体系,这是一个大事件,影响巨大。中国的经济总量按GDP计算第一次超过1万亿美元,是个转折点,中国提出了在这个百年中期实现民族复兴目标。

这个百年的大变局趋势,有些已经很明显:

(一)力量对比格局

按照综合的预测,这个百年前50年的最大的变化,就是力量对比。总的趋势是发展中国家力量到本世纪中期占主导地位,经济总量占世界的60%。这恐怕是世界发展近代史上一个重大的转变。西方工业化以后,西方国家一直占主导地位,这个格局变化从各个角度影响都是巨大的,包括上次转换中的制度构造,价值观影响,以及技术科学各个方面,我们可以从多种成果来分析这个问题。一些综合预测也不少,大家都在观察这场大变动到底影响有多大。

(二)大国力量对比

原来的所谓大国大部分衰退了,在本世纪中期以前被排挤出大国行列,老牌的欧洲国家大多连前五位都排不上。从大国结构角度看,是非西方大国的群体崛起。世界发展中,大国主导性很强,格局变化影响深远。

(三)地区力量对比

世界的力量与发展重心从欧洲转到亚洲,亚洲集中在大东亚,包括中国、日本、印度、印度尼西亚至少位列前四的人口和经济力量。

一般来讲,力量转换会发生大的动荡、大的战争。“修昔底德陷阱”讲的是守成大国与新兴大国之间不可调和的矛盾。上个百年后半期主要是美国与苏联,发生了冷战。这个百年看起来是美国与中国,但能不能避免历史重演呢?这是很关键的问题,事关大局。

力量转换的最大影响是导向问题,由传统的西方导向到非西方导向。欧洲工业化以来,主要是西方导向,包括发展范式、价值观、国际关系理论等。非西方导向的含义是什么?是包容性还是排斥性?怎么观察和定位?这些都值得观察与研究。

力量转换导致霸权衰落,未来会出现争霸和形成新霸权吗?人们对霸权秩序不满意,但对争霸深表担心,对无霸权秩序充满疑虑。从以往的历史看,霸权的确立需要经过大战,把别国打下去,自己上来。未来的世界很难会发生类似上个百年的大战,会不会导致人类历史的霸权终结?

全球化会深化,未来经济、技术等的分散型导向也会削弱一国独霸的存在基础。从民族国家制度确立以来,民族国家是国际关系和国际秩序的基础。如今,特别是未来,互联网超越国家,各个方面的超国家力量越来越强。

西方工业化创造工业化现代化模式,推动了世界的发展,让更多的国家步入工业化行列。现在,追赶型现代化模式出现了各种问题,导致了气候变化,威胁人类生存。物质生产为导向的工业化,随着世界人口和消费力的增加已经不能支撑。地球支撑不了100亿人的传统工业化模式。

发展范式需要转变,但转变需要新范式,需要主导型推动力量。尽管人们提出了新发展观,但在认知上缺乏共识,在行动上缺乏跟进。比如,《巴黎协定》,是人类历史上第一个应对气候的公约,但美国退出,落实起来缺乏手段。

这个百年的前50年中,拉动未来发展的力量范式到底是什么?最容易的方法是延续现在的模式,但面临人类生存危机。据预测,到2050年,气温上升3度,如果不能制止上升,则导致灾难。马克思说过,你们的今天就是我们的明天,我们改造的和你们一样。

发展的最大挑战是气候变化,现在看来不乐观。在这个50年,能不能解决发展范式转变的问题,需要非常强的国际治理,但这又与前面的国际转变相矛盾,这是百年变局的最大风险,问题涉及各个方面。

中国自身的战略设计与世界前50年的动荡期有矛盾。中国的明确战略定位是到2050年实现中华民族复兴的目标,成为完全的发达国家,这会遇到世界大变局的一系列挑战。

中国有能力推动世界向好的方向发展吗?这是个大课题。中国提出了推动“人类命运共同体”建设。党的十九大文件英文翻译把“命运共同体”译为“community for a shared future”,直译过来就是“共享未来的共同体”,就是和平与发展的秩序。作为未来最大的国家,为世界带来什么,这个是个大命题,不仅我们自己,世界都关心。“人类命运共同体”是一个理想,理想与现实有距离,把理想变为现实需要卓有成效的实际行动,不仅是中国自身,也需要动员包括西方发达国家在内的国际社会共同努力。

The Center has proposed that we are in the midst of great changes unseen in a century. This raises an important issue. It takes the turn of the millennium as a central division, separating the hundred years before and the hundred years after—that is, the last century and the present century. If the previous century ran from 1900 to 2000, then this century runs from 2000 to 2100. The basic considerations with this division are: first, the millennium serves as a temporal junction, linking what has gone before with what will come after, and, generally speaking, these periods of millennial transition are often times of significant change; second, the major events driving the great changes in this transitional period will have an influence on both China and the world.

A number of major events occurred during the previous century: there were the First and Second World Wars, the October Revolution, the global communist movement that it triggered, the disintegration of the colonial system, the postwar reconstruction of the international order, and the spread of globalization. Generally speaking, looking at things from a global perspective, the first half of the decade and the second half of the decade were unalike. The first five decades was a time of great upheaval, with many major events occurring; the following five decades exhibited stable governance. In the postwar period, a global administrative system was established with the United Nations at its center. Owing to the period’s governance and stability, great progress was made in global development.

Speaking from the perspective of China, the year 1900 represents a painful beginning: the Eight-Nation Alliance entered Beijing and the great powers directly interfered in Chinese domestic politics.3 After the Second World War ended, New China was founded, the country’s downward spiral was halted, and Reform and Opening and rapid development were realized.

From the beginning of the millennium, a number of significant events have occurred. Observing this from a global perspective, the terrorist attack on America spurred a global counterterrorism movement, and there was also the 2008 financial crisis, as well as the rise of both protectionism and populism. Of course, there have been positives, such as the new technology revolution.

Speaking from the perspective of China, accession to the World Trade Organization in 2000 and entry into the rules-based global order represents a major event, which has had a lasting influence. China's GDP exceeding a trillion USD was a turning point. China proposed the goal of achieving national rejuvenation in this century.

Looking at the trends for profound changes in this century, some have become quite clear: 

I. Relative Changes in the Configuration of Power

On the basis of integrating [multiple] forecasting models, the greatest change within the first fifty years of this century will be a change in the relative power of states. The general trend is for developing nations to achieve the predominant position by mid-century, accounting for 60% of global economic activity. This seems to herald a major transformation in the global development history. Following industrialization, Western nations maintained the predominant position, which makes the coming shift in the power structure very important in many aspects, including its impact on the institutional framework built during the previous transition, its influence on value systems, as well as its [impact on] various aspects of science and technology. We can analyze this problem by looking at many possible results. There is no shortage of integrated projections, since everyone is observing these changes to see how significant they might be.  

II. Changes in the relative strength of great powers

The majority of what are now called great powers will decline and be pushed aside by the middle of this century, with most of the venerable European nations not even making the top five. Looking at the composition of the great powers, we see the rise of nations from outside the community of Western superpowers. In global development the predominant [role] of the great powers is an important factor, meaning a change in the structure will be profound and far-reaching.

III. Changes in the relative strength of regions

The center of gravity for global power and development has shifted from Europe to Asia, and in particular Greater East Asia, which includes China, Japan, India, and Indonesia, which will all rank in the top four in terms of population and economic power.

Generally speaking, power shifts lead to unrest and war. The Thucydides Trap4 refers to irreconcilable conflict between a great power that wants to hold onto its status and a rising power. In the second half of the previous century, the major powers were America and the Soviet Union, which resulted in the Cold War. In this century, the major powers seem to be America and China, but is there any way to avoid history repeating itself? This is the critical question regarding the overall situation.

The greatest impact of this power shift will be a change in leadership. It will move from traditional Western leadership to the guidance of the non-Western states. Since industrialization in Europe, the West has set the course for the development paradigm, value system, and the theories of international relations. What are the implications of non-Western leadership? Will it be inclusive or exclusive? How will it observe the world and orient itself? These questions merit scrutiny and research.

Will a power shift lead to a decline in hegemony? Will the future bring new power struggles and new hegemons? People are not satisfied with the hegemonic order, but they are also worried about future power struggles and have misgivings over the possibility of a global order without hegemons. Looking back at history, the establishment of a hegemon invariably requires conflict—other states are beaten down [so that] your own power rises. It is unlikely that the future holds anything resembling the warfare of the previous century, so does that mean that humanity will see the end of hegemony?

The deepening of globalization and the increasing decentralization of finance, technology, and so forth, may also weaken the existing foundations for domination by a single country. Since the establishment of the institutions of the nation-state, nation-states have been the foundation of international relations and the international order. Now, and especially in the future, the Internet will transcend nations; in all aspects, supranational forces are becoming stronger.

Western industrialization created the model for the industrialization and modernization that propelled global development and allowed other countries to enter the ranks of industrialized nations. Currently, the catch-up model of modernization presents various problems; it has led to climate change, which threatens the existence of the human race. Material production-oriented industrialization, as long as it keeps pace with world population and consumption, is unsustainable. The planet cannot support ten billion people with the traditional industrialization model.

The development paradigm must change, but there must be something to replace it. There must be a new dominant driving force. New views on development have been put forward, but, intellectually, there is a lack of consensus, and actions taken have lacked follow up. The Paris Agreement, for example, was the first joint pledge in human history to address climate change, but America withdrew, and there were limited means to enforce implementation.

In the first fifty years of this century, what is the power paradigm that will drag us into the future? The easiest solution would be to continue in our present pattern, but that heads directly toward an existential crisis for humanity. According to forecasts, there will be a three degree rise in temperature by 2050; if we cannot halt it there, we face disaster. Marx said: Your today is our tomorrow, and what we are remaking is the same.5

The biggest challenge to development is climate change, and the situation at present is not hopeful. In the first fifty years of this century, addressing the required paradigm shift in development will require strong international governance, but this is in conflict with predicted global changes. This is the greatest risk we face in this century of profound change; it's a problem that must be addressed in all aspects.

China's own strategic plan is at odds with the global turbulence of this fifty year period. China's unequivocal strategic orientation—achieving the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation and comprehensive development by 2050—faces a series of challenges from these great global changes.

Does China have the ability to push the world to develop in a more positive direction? This is an important question. China has proposed the construction of a community of common destiny for mankind. In official documents from the Nineteenth National Party Congress, the official English translation is "community for a shared future," which suggests an order based on peace and development. As the future largest country, the question is, what does China have to offer the world? This is an important question that must be considered not only by ourselves but also by the world. A community of common destiny for mankind is an ideal. There is a gap between the ideal and reality. Turning an ideal into reality requires effective and pragmatic actions, not only unilaterally by China, but through a mutual effort made possible by the mobilization of the international community, including developed Western countries.

3 Despite its name, the Eight-Nation Alliance was not a formal alliance, but a temporary military coalition that included forces from Britain, France, Japan, Germany, Russia, Italy, the United States, and Austria-Hungary.  The alliance invaded northern China in 1900 to relieve the foreign legations under siege by the forces of the Boxer Rebellion. In the peace treaty that followed the Qing dynasty was not only forced to pay an indemnity to the eight powers, but was required to adopt structural reforms to its government that were intended to make it more responsive to their needs in the future. 

4 The phrase “Thucydides Trap” alludes to the Greek historian’s concise explanation for the origin of the great war between Athens and Sparta. Said he: “The growth of the power of Athens, and the alarm which this inspired in Sparta, made war inevitable” (Thucydides 1.23.6). Harvard professor Grant Allison would popularize the allusion in a 2012 op-ed which argued war between rising powers and existing hegemons was a common pattern in human history, a pattern that threatened to reoccur with China’s rise. The term gained immense popularity in China and soon entered into the official party lexicon. Though Allison portrayed the “Thucydides Trap” as a universal tendency, Chinese commentators often describe it as evidence that the belligerence they perceive in American behavior is in fact a quintessential trait of Western culture with a two thousand year pedigree. 
5 This is a fairly common phrase in Chinese; the editors of the Center for Strategic Translation have not been able to locate the source of it in either the Chinese or English editions of Marx’s works. It is likely spurious.

Cite This Article

Zhang Yunling, “How to Recognize the Great Changes to Come in this Century.” Translated by Dylan Levi King. San Francisco: Center for Strategic Translation, 2022.

Originally published in 张蕴岭,楊光斌,等 [Zhang Yunling, Yang Guangbin, et. al.],  “Ruhe lijie yu renshi bainian dabianju如何理解于認識百年大變局 [How to Understand and Recognize Great Changes of the Century]”,  Yatai Anquan Yu Haiyang Yanjiu 亚太安全与海洋研究 2, no. 24 (2019): 1-15.

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