Humanities & History

For much of China's imperial age, Confucius served – unwillingly – as a tool of autocratic emperors. Today, China's new emperors – the leaders of the Communist Party – are again turning to Confucius to build support for their dictatorial rule. However, the Communists can't ensure their political future by relying on the country's philosophical past. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of Confucius's enduring influence on East Asian civilization is that he has become so intimately associated with authoritarianism. Confucius the historical philosopher spent his life preaching that good government should be based on benevolence and authority must be earned by virtuous acts, not imposed through coercion.

Christianity is thriving in China. Reports that there may be more religious believers than Communist Party members has made Beijing unsure how to respond. Beijing’s sensitivities to religion are well known. Government secular ideology sees religion as offering a competitive worldview to the hegemony of the Party, with legitimate fears that many Christians, especially Catholics, have loyalties beyond China’s borders. Religion brings people together in ways that might eventually influence politics.

“We cannot have a society in which some dictator some place can start imposing censorship here in the United States,” said President Barack Obama on December 19, referring to Sony’s North Korea fiasco. That is exactly what is happening, however, and with a far more important global actor, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which is censoring not just our movies, but also our universities. Efforts to influence, if not corrupt, our culture-making industries and indoctrinate the American people in a favorable view of the PRC regime may pose a threat to our long-term national security. The U.S. Congress is right to ask the Government Accountability Office to look into the matter, and its probe should be expanded beyond the GAO.

For Richard Nixon’s foreign policy, 1971 was the best of years and the worst of years. He revealed his opening to China, but he connived at genocide in East Pakistan. Fortunately for him, the world marveled at the one, but was largely ignorant of the other.

Recent criticisms of US-China academic exchange programs miss what these exchanges can do for US-China relations.

"We were the underdog," says Rudy Vetter, senior vice president for international business development at the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, a public-private partnership that works to attract investment to the greater Phoenix area from around the world.

Americans have been interested in China for a long time. In 1784, when the American War for Independence was barely over, the first ship to sail under an American flag left New York. It was the merchant ship Empress of China, bound for Canton (now Guangdong), China. At first, the American interest in China was economic. Americans were looking for new markets to buy goods, as the British refused to deal with Americans. And the Chinese preferred to work with Americans, who bought Chinese goods. The Europeans only wanted to sell them things. By the middle of the 19th century, though, the relationship had grown. American churches led the way, seeking converts to Christianity among China's enormous population. American missionaries began preaching in China in the 1830s, even when they could not legally visit many areas. Missionaries were among the first Americans to study the Chinese culture and language, and helped to shape American perceptions of Imperial China. For their part, many Chinese saw America as a land of opportunity, just like immigrants from Europe did. Many Chinese immigrated during the California Gold Rush, and more helped to build the Transcontinental Railroad. The United States signed a treaty to encourage Chinese immigration and guaranteed them protection from discrimination. Some Chinese leaders were inspired by the American political system. Sun Yat-sen, the father of modern China, is said to have modeled his political philosophy of the "Three Principles of the People" after Abraham Lincoln's belief in government "of the people, by the people, for the people." When Sun helped to overthrow the Qing Dynasty in 1911, and to found the Republic of China, his principles became part of the new republic's constitution.