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How to Understand the ‘Great Changes Unseen in a Century'

如何理解‘百年未有之大变局'

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.

Wealth brings both power and peril. So argues Yang Guangbin, Dean of the School of International Relations at Renmin University and member of numerous expert advisory groups at the intersection of Chinese academia and the communist party-state. Yang has spent his career trying to dethrone Western theories of international relations and political development, especially those that might undermine the legitimacy of party leadership over China. His attacks on liberal theory oscillate between two seemingly irreconcilable standpoints: the thoroughly materialist worldview of a critic steeped in the Marxist classics, and the cultural essentialism of a thinker who takes civilizations, not states or social classes, as the main unit of his analysis.¹ Both of these approaches inform his discussion of “Great Changes Unseen in a Century.

Yang posits that the rising wealth of the non-Western world is the most important development of the 21st century, a development best explored through industrial statistics. By 2050, Yang notes, industrial production in the non-Western world will exceed that of the West. This reversal constitutes the basis of the “Great Changes Unseen in a Century.”

Yang assesses this development from two perspectives. The failure of the Western order is not just a matter of dynamism in the developing world—the old capitalist powers made specific choices that led them to their present failures. “In the process of industrialization,” Yang argues, “each and every country experiences a keen contradiction between social classes.” Some countries deal with these contradictions by exporting their underclass away through emigration; others deal with them through imperialistic conquest. Historical study suggests that with imperial hegemons "the common rule is that [their] industrial economy moves from real to intangible,” as the financial sector swallows the larger economy and manufacturing is relegated to lesser parts of the imperial world system. The 2008 Financial Crisis revealed just how far down this path the American economy had traveled. Now the United States (and the rest of the Western world with it) can no longer ignore class contradictions intrinsic to their system, for they are expressed in debilitating waves of ethno-nationalism on the one hand, and waves of left-wing populism on the other. The largest casualty in this collapse has been “the power of liberal democracy to rally supporters,” both in the West and outside it.

Yang recognizes that China will soon face the dangerous contradictions of industrial wealth itself, but he is “cautiously optimistic” that China will surmount these difficulties. Yang does not focus on this theme: adding China to the story allows Yang to shift his frame from class contradictions to civilizational conflict. Yang insists that China is not just another capitalist power clamoring for its turn at hegemony over the “Westphalian system of nation states,” but the “core state” of its own “civilizational system.” China’s rise is thus the most important event of the last five centuries. America’s internal contradictions are capable of undermining its leadership of the existing world order; China’s rise “may potentially contribute to the reshaping of the world order” writ large.

Yang does not view this as a clear victory for the Chinese people. Rather, “the great changes” of our era mean that in the realm of international affairs “there is no unifying ideology. Universal values have failed.” Liberal ideals were held up only through liberal power; with the collapse of that power, Yang predicts that the liberal international order of the past will be replaced by a “no man’s land.”

For a party that treats liberal ideas as a mortal danger, this is a tolerable, if not ideal, state of affairs. Yang does not imagine it will be a permanent one. He concludes that “whoever first extricates themselves from ‘no man’s land’ will go on to lead this world.” Yang clearly hopes China will be the ‘first to leave no man’s land,’ but he offers no thoughts on how China might do so. Like many Chinese intellectuals, Yang Guangbin finds it easier to critique the present world order than envision its future.²

—THE EDITORS

¹ For similar examples of Yang’s oscillations between these two analytic frames, see 杨光斌 [Yang Guangbin], 自由主义民主“普世价值说”是西方“文明的傲慢” [“Liberal Democracy’s “Universal Values” Show the West’s Civilizational Arrogance”], 《求是》[Seeking Truth],  2016年09月30日 [30 September, 2016], available here and 俄罗斯人的世纪抗争路与世界秩序的重组 [“The Russian’s Century Long Path of Struggle and the Reconstitution of World Order”], 观察 [guancha.cn], 2022年05月01日 [5 May 2022], available here.
² Nadège Rolland, China’s Vision for a New World Order, NBR Special Report (The National Bureau of Asian Research: Seattle, 2020), surveys a dozen other intellectuals who pair a similarly acute picture of what is wrong in the international order with just as vacuous a notion of what should replace it.
Author
Yang Guangbin
杨光斌
original publication
Asia Pacific Security and Maritime Affairs
《亚太安全与海洋研究》
publication date
March 3, 2019
Translator
Samuel George
Translation date
October 2022
Tags
Tag term
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关于“百年未有之大变局”,这里谈三个问题。

世界政治的重要变化———财富权利的转移

 1840年在欧洲第二次工业革命开始的时候,西方国家和非西方国家,关于工业制造品各占50%。那个时候像中国、印度虽然很落后,但是非西方国家的工业制造品在全世界占50%。到1980年,西方国家提供的工业制造品是90%,包括中国、印度在内的非西方国家占10%。到2010年,因为全球化、资本自由流动的原因,非西方国家包括印度是全球化的最大受益者,尤其中国是意外的大赢家。2010年,西方国家制造品占60%,非西方国家占40%。2050年可能就颠倒过来了,非西方国家占60%,西方国家占40%,甚至不需要等到2050年。这是一个有利于非西方国家的财富权力的大转移。

 财富权力有很多意义。西方在发展过程当中,通过“一进一出”而化解国内矛盾。阶级矛盾是一个老的概念,也是事实。在工业化过程中,任何国家的阶级矛盾都很尖锐。靠什么解决这个矛盾?“进”是战略掠夺来解决这个问题,日本在1905年和俄国一决雌雄。

“出”是什么呢?很多人生活不下去了可以移民。爱丁堡1800—2000年这200年,移民数量是80%多,当地人可能不到15%,85%以上都移民出去了。到1920年左右的20年间,意大利的人口是3000多万,移民600万,1/5都走了,就这样还产生了墨索里尼法西斯。现在问题是,“出”不去、也“进”不来了。人口移民是反向的,阿拉伯难民往欧洲,中南美洲往美国。另外,非西方国家抢占了工业品市场,这个财富转移最重要的结果,是引起了西方各国国内的社会矛盾不断加剧,今天欧洲的问题、美国的问题,实际上都是在这个大背景下发生的。财富权利转移引发了西方国内的矛盾。

 财富权力转移在此证明了霸权国家衰落的一般规律,从西班牙到英国再到美国,共同的规律是工业经济脱实向虚,西班牙开始白银资本带来了自己手工业的衰落,周边国家的兴起,法国、德国的兴起。英国19世纪末基本上工业让位美国、德国。这是一个财富转移导致的霸权衰落,具有不可逆性。

财富转移带来文化权力的变化

 西方国家二战以后为什么发达?意识形态当中有自由民主这种政治意识形态的合法性解释。我们看到,当没有财富权力的时候是怎样的,2008年以来财富转移的变化又意味着什么?自由主义民主无论在欧洲、在美国,在非西方国家,其号召力告一段落。

新出现的是自发性的意识形态的复兴,一个是民族主义,一个是民粹主义。这两个东西不是建构起来的,它是天然迸发出来的,因环境的变化而出现。所谓民族主义,事实上就是以民族为单位的政治国家。在欧洲16世纪你问一个人他是什么人?他不会说是法国人、德国人,他会说是基督徒或者是天主教徒,是一个宗教的概念。今天,政治化意识形态式微以后,原生态的意识形态开始复兴,民族主义甚嚣尘上。另外一个叫民粹主义,左翼民粹主义相当于社会主义,右翼民粹主义其实就是民族主义。

 因此,世界政治一下子变得面目全非了,没有一个统一的意识形态,普世价值流产,形成多元文化并存的时代。这是两个现象,一个是物质现象,一个是文化现象。

世界向何处去

 我的总结目前是“无人区”。研究政治学的对于中国持审慎乐观态度,我们知道国内的问题是什么,我们国内的张力是什么?财富权利和政治权利之间的张力,这个张力怎么解决,这是党和政府未来相当长时间需要面对和解决的难题。处理不好就出乱子。处理好的前提下,中国未来的前景在世界上处于什么地位?

 撇下国内问题不讲,我们只谈世界政治。中国作为一个“历史上最大规模的参与者”,一些著名学者比如亨廷顿在著作当中反复使用这个1994年李光耀对中国的判断。假装看不到规模的意义是不行的。它带来的问题很多,“历史上最大规模参与者”的到来,可能会参与世界秩序的重组。

这个世界秩序是什么呢?500年也好,300年也好,1700年以来形成的我们今天这个世界秩序。在世界秩序形成中,出现了很多战争,这些战争都是西方内部争夺主导权的战争,是1648年形成的威斯特伐利亚体系,世界秩序就是威斯特伐利亚体系,是西方人主导的,主导者从英国到美国。

 在西方过去300年里,就是西方人的游戏。这次中国来了,第一次一个非西方国家到来了。从“文明的冲突”角度来讲,伊斯兰文明没有核心文明国家,不会对美国构成根本威胁。但是,中国来了,可能会对基督教文明构成重大威胁。在这个意义上,确实是“百年未有之大变局”。这里的“百年”,不是100年,至少是300年、甚至是500年意义上的“大变局”。这是一方面从文明意义上讲的。另外一个层面是制度体系的不同,即资本主义制度和社会主义制度。

 一个是文明系统,一个就是制度。这些东西的到来,意味着目前的世界秩序进入了“无人区”,向何处去我们不知道。谁先走出“无人区”,谁就能领导这个世界。

The present [essay] discusses three questions regarding the “Great Changes Unseen in a Century.”

1. An important change in world politics - the [global] shift of wealth and power.³

At the beginning of the second industrial revolution in 1840, Western and non-Western nations each accounted for 50% of industrially manufactured goods. At that time, even though China and India were very backward, non-Western countries such as these still accounted for half of the world’s industrially manufactured goods. By 1980, Western nations supplied 90% of all industrially manufactured goods, while non-Western countries, including China and India, accounted for 10%. By 2010, non-Western nations, including India, had become the greatest beneficiaries of globalization and the free flow of capital. China in particular was an unexpectedly big winner out of this process. As of 2010, Western nations accounted for 60% of manufactured goods and non-Western countries accounted for 40%. By 2050 – or perhaps even earlier – these [relative] proportions may be reversed, with non-Western countries accounting for 60% and Western countries for 40%. This transfer of wealth and power [away from Western nations] is advantageous to non-Western nations [such as China].

Wealth and power are concepts of major significance. In the course of their development, Western nations used a strategy of “one step in, one step out” to resolve their domestic contradictions. Class contradiction is both an old concept and a reality. In the process of industrialization, each and every country experiences a keen contradiction between social classes. What methods can resolve this contradiction? To “step in” refers to the use of strategic pillaging to resolve this problem – [for example], in 1905 Japan and Russia went head-to-head in war.⁴

What does “step out” refer to? People who can no longer make ends meet have the option to emigrate. In the 200 years between 1800 and 2000, over 80% of the population of Edinburgh emigrated, leaving less than 15% of the [original] local population – over 85% of people upped and left. In the 20 year period from 1900 to 1920, approximately 6 million people – that is, around 20% of Italy’s population of 30 million – emigrated elsewhere, creating [the conditions for the rise of] Fascism under Mussolini.⁵

The present shift of wealth and power proves the general rule that hegemonic nations [are bound to] decline. From [the historical experience of] the Spanish [Empire], to the British[Empire], and now to the United States, the common rule is that the industrial economy moves from real to intangible; for example, the Spanish Empire’s adoption of “silver capitalism” brought about the decline of its manual industry and the rise of neighboring countries, such as France and Germany.⁶ At the end of the 19th century, the British Empire essentially ceded [its domination] of [global] industry to the United States and Germany. This is [a case of] a shift in wealth precipitating the decline of a hegemon, a process that cannot be reversed.

2. Changes in cultural power brought about by shifts in wealth

Why did Western nations flourish after the Second World War? Among the ideological explanations for this are those meant to legitimize liberal democracy as a political ideology. We can observe the scenario when wealth and power are absent – this is what has transpired since the shift in wealth and power that followed 2008 [the global financial crisis].⁷ Be it in Europe, the U.S. or non-Western nations the power of liberal democracy to rally supporters has abated.

Newly apparent is the spontaneous resurgence of [two] ideologies: one is ethno-nationalism, the other is populism. These two phenomena have not been constructed [deliberately], but have burst forth naturally, appearing in response to changes in the environment. The term ethno-nationalism describes a political nation that takes race as its primary unit. In 16th century Europe, if you asked someone what type of person they are, they would not say French or German. They would say Protestant or Catholic – which reflects a religious frame of reference. Today, following the decline of politicized ideology,⁸ The original ideological ecology has begun to revive. [Resurgent] ethno-nationalism is rousing a great rabble. The other [resurgent ideology] is populism, which in its left-wing form is equivalent to socialism, and in its right-wing form is effectively ethno-nationalism.

Therefore, world politics has suddenly taken on a drastically different appearance. There is [now] no unifying ideology. Universal values have failed. [Their failure] gives rise to an era in which diverse [political] cultures co-exist side-by-side. There are two phenomena here: one is a material, the other is cultural.

Where goes the world?

To summarize my present answer to this question: “no man’s land.” Those [of us] who study politics maintain a cautiously optimistic attitude towards China. We are aware of what our domestic problems and domestic tensions are. For a fairly long time in the future, the party and government must confront and resolve the dilemma of settling the tension between power derived from wealth and power derived from political authority. "If this problem is managed poorly, there will be trouble. On the assumption that it is managed well, what will the prospects be for China's future position on the world stage?

Let us cast aside the talk of domestic problems, as we [at this gathering] are only discussing world politics. Some famous scholars, such as Samuel Huntington, repeatedly use Lee Kuan Yew’s 1994 judgment that China is one of “history’s largest scale participants” in their work.⁹ Pretending one can’t see the significance of [China’s] scale is nonsensical. [China’s] arrival raises many issues; [indeed], the arrival of “history’s largest scale participant” may potentially contribute to the reordering of the world order.

What is this world order? You can say it took 300 years or 500 years to [take shape], or that our present world order took shape from 1700 onwards. As the world order took shape, there were many wars within the West that arose because Western participants were vying for predominance. This is the Westphalian system of nation states formed in 1648; the present world order is [based on] this same Western-dominated Westphalian system.¹⁰ It was once dominated by Britain and now is [dominated] by the U.S.

Over the past 300 years of Western [history], Westerners have been playing their own game [on their own terms]. Now China has arrived, a first for a non-Western nation. From the perspective of “the clash of civilizations,”¹¹ Islamic civilization does not have one core civilizational state, so does not pose a major threat to Christian [Western] civilization.¹² In this sense, we truly are facing “great changes unseen in a century.” In this sense the 'century' [of the slogan] does not [refer to] "great changes" that occur on a 100 year timescale, but rather on a 300 or 500 year timescale. On the one hand, these are major changes in a civilizational sense; on another level, they refer to a difference in institutions and systems, that is, the difference between the institutions of capitalism and the institutions of socialism.

One [aspect of the great changes unseen in a century] are found in civilizational systems and the other is found in institutions. Now that these [changes] have emerged, the present world order has entered a “no man’s land.” We do not know where it will go onto. Whoever can first extricate themselves from “no man’s land” will go on to lead this world.

³ The transcript of Yang's speech uses the two homonyms, 权力 and 权利, meaning "power" and "rights" respectively, in seemingly inconsistent ways. These may be a transcription error. The translator has used context to guide the choice of term throughout.
⁴ The Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 was fought between the Japanese and Russian Empires  to settle their conflicting imperial ambitions in Manchuria and Korea; without victory in this war, Japan would never have established an imperial presence in northwestern China. Russia’s poor performance and ultimate defeat in the war also contributed to the First Russian Revolution of January 1905, an uprising of the working classes against the Tsar and the nobility that was a prelude to the October Revolution of 1917. Yang may be implying that the failure of Russia’s “step in” policy exacerbated its social contradictions and led to revolution.
⁵ Around the turn of the 19th century, Italians, especially in the south of the country, were facing dire poverty and unemployment. From 1901-1927, Italy pursued a nationalist policy of emigration under the Commissariato Generale dell’Emigrazione, guided in part by the belief that the problem of Italy’s unemployable masses could be transformed into a national resource. Yang implies that the rise of the Fascists under Mussolini – rather than the rise of a socialist party – was aided by the emigration of vast numbers of the working class Italians who might have agitated for socialist reform.
⁶ During the Age of Discovery, the Spanish Empire acquired vast amounts of silver from its New World colonies in America, notably the Viceroyalty of Peru and the Viceroyalty of New Spain. The large increase in the supply of precious metals as well as the Spanish Empire’s misjudged policies created problems with inflation and debt that ultimately contributed to the decline of the Spanish empire.
Yang’s description of financialization as prelude to decline Yang is neither original nor especially Marxist. For brief a literature review of this thesis (which was first articulated by American historians at the turn of the 20th century), complete with discussion of imperial Spain and Britain, see Kevin Phillips, Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich (New York: Crown, 2003), pp. 171-2003.   
⁷ Chinese analysts have referred to the 2008 financial crisis as the beginning of the end of American hegemony for more than decade. For a particularly influential example, see this 2009 essay by Yuan Peng, now President of China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), the think-tank linked to the Ministry of State Security: 袁鹏 [Yuan Peng], “金融危机与美国经济霸权:历史与政治的解读” [“The Financial Crisis and American Hegemony: Interpreting the History and Politics],” 《更新时间》[Renewal Times], available at http://www.aisixiang.com/data/88470.html.
⁸ The implication here is that the norms of liberal democracy, unlike the more ‘natural’ alternatives like populism and nationalism, are an artificial construct promoted by the West and imposed on other societies solely to legitimize its hegemonic power. Yang has stated this belief more explicitly in other pieces. In May of 2022 he argued that the financial cost of relying on “hard power” to maintain hegemony
is too high for a hegemon [like the United States], so it must supplement it with “soft power.” …[But] The rule of law, human rights, and the sacrosanct inviolability of private property are [in reality] just a thin veil that they draped over [their deeds] after the United States had already developed. America’s development process was full of slaughter and robbery. For the Indians who died in genocide, where was the rule of law and human rights? Where was the protection of property rights when the forces of the Eight-Power Alliance looted Yuanmingyuan?

霸权国只靠“硬实力”是维持不了霸权的,代价也太大,必须辅助于“软实力”…美国的“软实力”被打回原形,什么法治、人权、私有财产神圣不可侵犯,都是在其发达起来以后挂起来的一层薄薄面纱,其发展过程充满了杀戮、抢劫的强盗行为,对印第安人的种族灭绝哪里有什么法治和人权,八国联军抢掠圆明园哪里讲什么保护财产权?
杨光斌 [Yang Guangbin], 俄罗斯人的世纪抗争路与世界秩序的重组 [“The Russian’s Century Long Path of Struggle and the Reconstitution of World Order”], 观察 [guancha.cn], 2022年05月01日 [5 May 2022], available here.
⁹ Yang is likely referring to Lee Kuan Yew’s famous interview with Fareed Zakaria, published in the March-April 1994 edition of Foreign Affairs, in which Lee asks whether the world can accommodate “a country the size of China” into the management of international peace and stability. See Fareed Zakaria, “Culture is destiny - A Conversation with Lee Kuan Yew,” Foreign Affairs, Mar/Apr 1994, p. 122.
¹⁰ The Westphalian system, traced back to the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 that ended a catastrophic period of war within Europe, is typically used by Chinese thinkers as short-hand for the Western-led world order that benefits Western interests. The Westphalian system is commonly credited for the principles of sovereignty and non-interference that China uses rhetorically to contest U.S. and Western power politics and interventionism. 
¹¹ Yang takes seriously the “clash of civilizations” thesis first published by Samuel Huntington in the Summer 1993 issue of Foreign Affairs. Huntington observed a shift in power away from the West and predicted coming civilizational challenges from the Islamic civilization, unified by religion, and the Confucian civilization, centered on China and unified by common cultural roots. In the author’s view, then, the “changes unseen in a century” involve not only rising global wealth, but a clash of civilizations brought about by a rising China.
¹² In Huntington’s piece, the category of “Western civilization” is based on the older category of “Western Christianity”—in essence, the Catholic Church and its Reformation offshoots. Regions where these religions were historically the most important comprise Huntington’s “West.” Orthodox Christianity is considered to be the basis for a different civilization.
Yang describes this civilization with the term 基督教, which is generally used only for Protestants (with 天主教 referring to Catholics). However, in the context of Huntington’s piece, 基督教 maps onto the “Christianity” associated with Western civilization.

关于“百年未有之大变局”,这里谈三个问题。

世界政治的重要变化———财富权利的转移

 1840年在欧洲第二次工业革命开始的时候,西方国家和非西方国家,关于工业制造品各占50%。那个时候像中国、印度虽然很落后,但是非西方国家的工业制造品在全世界占50%。到1980年,西方国家提供的工业制造品是90%,包括中国、印度在内的非西方国家占10%。到2010年,因为全球化、资本自由流动的原因,非西方国家包括印度是全球化的最大受益者,尤其中国是意外的大赢家。2010年,西方国家制造品占60%,非西方国家占40%。2050年可能就颠倒过来了,非西方国家占60%,西方国家占40%,甚至不需要等到2050年。这是一个有利于非西方国家的财富权力的大转移。

 财富权力有很多意义。西方在发展过程当中,通过“一进一出”而化解国内矛盾。阶级矛盾是一个老的概念,也是事实。在工业化过程中,任何国家的阶级矛盾都很尖锐。靠什么解决这个矛盾?“进”是战略掠夺来解决这个问题,日本在1905年和俄国一决雌雄。

“出”是什么呢?很多人生活不下去了可以移民。爱丁堡1800—2000年这200年,移民数量是80%多,当地人可能不到15%,85%以上都移民出去了。到1920年左右的20年间,意大利的人口是3000多万,移民600万,1/5都走了,就这样还产生了墨索里尼法西斯。现在问题是,“出”不去、也“进”不来了。人口移民是反向的,阿拉伯难民往欧洲,中南美洲往美国。另外,非西方国家抢占了工业品市场,这个财富转移最重要的结果,是引起了西方各国国内的社会矛盾不断加剧,今天欧洲的问题、美国的问题,实际上都是在这个大背景下发生的。财富权利转移引发了西方国内的矛盾。

 财富权力转移在此证明了霸权国家衰落的一般规律,从西班牙到英国再到美国,共同的规律是工业经济脱实向虚,西班牙开始白银资本带来了自己手工业的衰落,周边国家的兴起,法国、德国的兴起。英国19世纪末基本上工业让位美国、德国。这是一个财富转移导致的霸权衰落,具有不可逆性。

财富转移带来文化权力的变化

 西方国家二战以后为什么发达?意识形态当中有自由民主这种政治意识形态的合法性解释。我们看到,当没有财富权力的时候是怎样的,2008年以来财富转移的变化又意味着什么?自由主义民主无论在欧洲、在美国,在非西方国家,其号召力告一段落。

新出现的是自发性的意识形态的复兴,一个是民族主义,一个是民粹主义。这两个东西不是建构起来的,它是天然迸发出来的,因环境的变化而出现。所谓民族主义,事实上就是以民族为单位的政治国家。在欧洲16世纪你问一个人他是什么人?他不会说是法国人、德国人,他会说是基督徒或者是天主教徒,是一个宗教的概念。今天,政治化意识形态式微以后,原生态的意识形态开始复兴,民族主义甚嚣尘上。另外一个叫民粹主义,左翼民粹主义相当于社会主义,右翼民粹主义其实就是民族主义。

 因此,世界政治一下子变得面目全非了,没有一个统一的意识形态,普世价值流产,形成多元文化并存的时代。这是两个现象,一个是物质现象,一个是文化现象。

世界向何处去

 我的总结目前是“无人区”。研究政治学的对于中国持审慎乐观态度,我们知道国内的问题是什么,我们国内的张力是什么?财富权利和政治权利之间的张力,这个张力怎么解决,这是党和政府未来相当长时间需要面对和解决的难题。处理不好就出乱子。处理好的前提下,中国未来的前景在世界上处于什么地位?

 撇下国内问题不讲,我们只谈世界政治。中国作为一个“历史上最大规模的参与者”,一些著名学者比如亨廷顿在著作当中反复使用这个1994年李光耀对中国的判断。假装看不到规模的意义是不行的。它带来的问题很多,“历史上最大规模参与者”的到来,可能会参与世界秩序的重组。

这个世界秩序是什么呢?500年也好,300年也好,1700年以来形成的我们今天这个世界秩序。在世界秩序形成中,出现了很多战争,这些战争都是西方内部争夺主导权的战争,是1648年形成的威斯特伐利亚体系,世界秩序就是威斯特伐利亚体系,是西方人主导的,主导者从英国到美国。

 在西方过去300年里,就是西方人的游戏。这次中国来了,第一次一个非西方国家到来了。从“文明的冲突”角度来讲,伊斯兰文明没有核心文明国家,不会对美国构成根本威胁。但是,中国来了,可能会对基督教文明构成重大威胁。在这个意义上,确实是“百年未有之大变局”。这里的“百年”,不是100年,至少是300年、甚至是500年意义上的“大变局”。这是一方面从文明意义上讲的。另外一个层面是制度体系的不同,即资本主义制度和社会主义制度。

 一个是文明系统,一个就是制度。这些东西的到来,意味着目前的世界秩序进入了“无人区”,向何处去我们不知道。谁先走出“无人区”,谁就能领导这个世界。

The present [essay] discusses three questions regarding the “Great Changes Unseen in a Century.”

1. An important change in world politics - the [global] shift of wealth and power.³

At the beginning of the second industrial revolution in 1840, Western and non-Western nations each accounted for 50% of industrially manufactured goods. At that time, even though China and India were very backward, non-Western countries such as these still accounted for half of the world’s industrially manufactured goods. By 1980, Western nations supplied 90% of all industrially manufactured goods, while non-Western countries, including China and India, accounted for 10%. By 2010, non-Western nations, including India, had become the greatest beneficiaries of globalization and the free flow of capital. China in particular was an unexpectedly big winner out of this process. As of 2010, Western nations accounted for 60% of manufactured goods and non-Western countries accounted for 40%. By 2050 – or perhaps even earlier – these [relative] proportions may be reversed, with non-Western countries accounting for 60% and Western countries for 40%. This transfer of wealth and power [away from Western nations] is advantageous to non-Western nations [such as China].

Wealth and power are concepts of major significance. In the course of their development, Western nations used a strategy of “one step in, one step out” to resolve their domestic contradictions. Class contradiction is both an old concept and a reality. In the process of industrialization, each and every country experiences a keen contradiction between social classes. What methods can resolve this contradiction? To “step in” refers to the use of strategic pillaging to resolve this problem – [for example], in 1905 Japan and Russia went head-to-head in war.⁴

What does “step out” refer to? People who can no longer make ends meet have the option to emigrate. In the 200 years between 1800 and 2000, over 80% of the population of Edinburgh emigrated, leaving less than 15% of the [original] local population – over 85% of people upped and left. In the 20 year period from 1900 to 1920, approximately 6 million people – that is, around 20% of Italy’s population of 30 million – emigrated elsewhere, creating [the conditions for the rise of] Fascism under Mussolini.⁵

The present shift of wealth and power proves the general rule that hegemonic nations [are bound to] decline. From [the historical experience of] the Spanish [Empire], to the British[Empire], and now to the United States, the common rule is that the industrial economy moves from real to intangible; for example, the Spanish Empire’s adoption of “silver capitalism” brought about the decline of its manual industry and the rise of neighboring countries, such as France and Germany.⁶ At the end of the 19th century, the British Empire essentially ceded [its domination] of [global] industry to the United States and Germany. This is [a case of] a shift in wealth precipitating the decline of a hegemon, a process that cannot be reversed.

2. Changes in cultural power brought about by shifts in wealth

Why did Western nations flourish after the Second World War? Among the ideological explanations for this are those meant to legitimize liberal democracy as a political ideology. We can observe the scenario when wealth and power are absent – this is what has transpired since the shift in wealth and power that followed 2008 [the global financial crisis].⁷ Be it in Europe, the U.S. or non-Western nations the power of liberal democracy to rally supporters has abated.

Newly apparent is the spontaneous resurgence of [two] ideologies: one is ethno-nationalism, the other is populism. These two phenomena have not been constructed [deliberately], but have burst forth naturally, appearing in response to changes in the environment. The term ethno-nationalism describes a political nation that takes race as its primary unit. In 16th century Europe, if you asked someone what type of person they are, they would not say French or German. They would say Protestant or Catholic – which reflects a religious frame of reference. Today, following the decline of politicized ideology,⁸ The original ideological ecology has begun to revive. [Resurgent] ethno-nationalism is rousing a great rabble. The other [resurgent ideology] is populism, which in its left-wing form is equivalent to socialism, and in its right-wing form is effectively ethno-nationalism.

Therefore, world politics has suddenly taken on a drastically different appearance. There is [now] no unifying ideology. Universal values have failed. [Their failure] gives rise to an era in which diverse [political] cultures co-exist side-by-side. There are two phenomena here: one is a material, the other is cultural.

Where goes the world?

To summarize my present answer to this question: “no man’s land.” Those [of us] who study politics maintain a cautiously optimistic attitude towards China. We are aware of what our domestic problems and domestic tensions are. For a fairly long time in the future, the party and government must confront and resolve the dilemma of settling the tension between power derived from wealth and power derived from political authority. "If this problem is managed poorly, there will be trouble. On the assumption that it is managed well, what will the prospects be for China's future position on the world stage?

Let us cast aside the talk of domestic problems, as we [at this gathering] are only discussing world politics. Some famous scholars, such as Samuel Huntington, repeatedly use Lee Kuan Yew’s 1994 judgment that China is one of “history’s largest scale participants” in their work.⁹ Pretending one can’t see the significance of [China’s] scale is nonsensical. [China’s] arrival raises many issues; [indeed], the arrival of “history’s largest scale participant” may potentially contribute to the reordering of the world order.

What is this world order? You can say it took 300 years or 500 years to [take shape], or that our present world order took shape from 1700 onwards. As the world order took shape, there were many wars within the West that arose because Western participants were vying for predominance. This is the Westphalian system of nation states formed in 1648; the present world order is [based on] this same Western-dominated Westphalian system.¹⁰ It was once dominated by Britain and now is [dominated] by the U.S.

Over the past 300 years of Western [history], Westerners have been playing their own game [on their own terms]. Now China has arrived, a first for a non-Western nation. From the perspective of “the clash of civilizations,”¹¹ Islamic civilization does not have one core civilizational state, so does not pose a major threat to Christian [Western] civilization.¹² In this sense, we truly are facing “great changes unseen in a century.” In this sense the 'century' [of the slogan] does not [refer to] "great changes" that occur on a 100 year timescale, but rather on a 300 or 500 year timescale. On the one hand, these are major changes in a civilizational sense; on another level, they refer to a difference in institutions and systems, that is, the difference between the institutions of capitalism and the institutions of socialism.

One [aspect of the great changes unseen in a century] are found in civilizational systems and the other is found in institutions. Now that these [changes] have emerged, the present world order has entered a “no man’s land.” We do not know where it will go onto. Whoever can first extricate themselves from “no man’s land” will go on to lead this world.

³ The transcript of Yang's speech uses the two homonyms, 权力 and 权利, meaning "power" and "rights" respectively, in seemingly inconsistent ways. These may be a transcription error. The translator has used context to guide the choice of term throughout.
⁴ The Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 was fought between the Japanese and Russian Empires  to settle their conflicting imperial ambitions in Manchuria and Korea; without victory in this war, Japan would never have established an imperial presence in northwestern China. Russia’s poor performance and ultimate defeat in the war also contributed to the First Russian Revolution of January 1905, an uprising of the working classes against the Tsar and the nobility that was a prelude to the October Revolution of 1917. Yang may be implying that the failure of Russia’s “step in” policy exacerbated its social contradictions and led to revolution.
⁵ Around the turn of the 19th century, Italians, especially in the south of the country, were facing dire poverty and unemployment. From 1901-1927, Italy pursued a nationalist policy of emigration under the Commissariato Generale dell’Emigrazione, guided in part by the belief that the problem of Italy’s unemployable masses could be transformed into a national resource. Yang implies that the rise of the Fascists under Mussolini – rather than the rise of a socialist party – was aided by the emigration of vast numbers of the working class Italians who might have agitated for socialist reform.
⁶ During the Age of Discovery, the Spanish Empire acquired vast amounts of silver from its New World colonies in America, notably the Viceroyalty of Peru and the Viceroyalty of New Spain. The large increase in the supply of precious metals as well as the Spanish Empire’s misjudged policies created problems with inflation and debt that ultimately contributed to the decline of the Spanish empire.
Yang’s description of financialization as prelude to decline Yang is neither original nor especially Marxist. For brief a literature review of this thesis (which was first articulated by American historians at the turn of the 20th century), complete with discussion of imperial Spain and Britain, see Kevin Phillips, Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich (New York: Crown, 2003), pp. 171-2003.   
⁷ Chinese analysts have referred to the 2008 financial crisis as the beginning of the end of American hegemony for more than decade. For a particularly influential example, see this 2009 essay by Yuan Peng, now President of China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), the think-tank linked to the Ministry of State Security: 袁鹏 [Yuan Peng], “金融危机与美国经济霸权:历史与政治的解读” [“The Financial Crisis and American Hegemony: Interpreting the History and Politics],” 《更新时间》[Renewal Times], available at http://www.aisixiang.com/data/88470.html.
⁸ The implication here is that the norms of liberal democracy, unlike the more ‘natural’ alternatives like populism and nationalism, are an artificial construct promoted by the West and imposed on other societies solely to legitimize its hegemonic power. Yang has stated this belief more explicitly in other pieces. In May of 2022 he argued that the financial cost of relying on “hard power” to maintain hegemony
is too high for a hegemon [like the United States], so it must supplement it with “soft power.” …[But] The rule of law, human rights, and the sacrosanct inviolability of private property are [in reality] just a thin veil that they draped over [their deeds] after the United States had already developed. America’s development process was full of slaughter and robbery. For the Indians who died in genocide, where was the rule of law and human rights? Where was the protection of property rights when the forces of the Eight-Power Alliance looted Yuanmingyuan?

霸权国只靠“硬实力”是维持不了霸权的,代价也太大,必须辅助于“软实力”…美国的“软实力”被打回原形,什么法治、人权、私有财产神圣不可侵犯,都是在其发达起来以后挂起来的一层薄薄面纱,其发展过程充满了杀戮、抢劫的强盗行为,对印第安人的种族灭绝哪里有什么法治和人权,八国联军抢掠圆明园哪里讲什么保护财产权?
杨光斌 [Yang Guangbin], 俄罗斯人的世纪抗争路与世界秩序的重组 [“The Russian’s Century Long Path of Struggle and the Reconstitution of World Order”], 观察 [guancha.cn], 2022年05月01日 [5 May 2022], available here.
⁹ Yang is likely referring to Lee Kuan Yew’s famous interview with Fareed Zakaria, published in the March-April 1994 edition of Foreign Affairs, in which Lee asks whether the world can accommodate “a country the size of China” into the management of international peace and stability. See Fareed Zakaria, “Culture is destiny - A Conversation with Lee Kuan Yew,” Foreign Affairs, Mar/Apr 1994, p. 122.
¹⁰ The Westphalian system, traced back to the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 that ended a catastrophic period of war within Europe, is typically used by Chinese thinkers as short-hand for the Western-led world order that benefits Western interests. The Westphalian system is commonly credited for the principles of sovereignty and non-interference that China uses rhetorically to contest U.S. and Western power politics and interventionism. 
¹¹ Yang takes seriously the “clash of civilizations” thesis first published by Samuel Huntington in the Summer 1993 issue of Foreign Affairs. Huntington observed a shift in power away from the West and predicted coming civilizational challenges from the Islamic civilization, unified by religion, and the Confucian civilization, centered on China and unified by common cultural roots. In the author’s view, then, the “changes unseen in a century” involve not only rising global wealth, but a clash of civilizations brought about by a rising China.
¹² In Huntington’s piece, the category of “Western civilization” is based on the older category of “Western Christianity”—in essence, the Catholic Church and its Reformation offshoots. Regions where these religions were historically the most important comprise Huntington’s “West.” Orthodox Christianity is considered to be the basis for a different civilization.
Yang describes this civilization with the term 基督教, which is generally used only for Protestants (with 天主教 referring to Catholics). However, in the context of Huntington’s piece, 基督教 maps onto the “Christianity” associated with Western civilization.

Cite This Article

Yang Guangbin, “How to Understand the ‘Great Changes Unseen in a Century.” Translation by Samuel George. 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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