China has a unique history. Since turning to Communism it has conquered Tibet and fought America over Vietnam. Ken Crawford analyses the factors that enabled China's rise. 

The Industrial Revolution catapulted Britain to global leadership but for much of history it is China that has been the world's most advanced civilisation.  This has been true not only in technological feats such as the Great Wall but culturally too.  Sun Tzu's The Art of War is taught today in the British military's Higher Command and Staff Course.  Lao Tzu established Taoism, a philosophy that has filtered through to the West in the concept of Yin and Yang, the need to balance opposites.

When Buddhism arrived in China from India, the Chinese could not accept the Indian sutras at face value, rather blending it with Taoism to create Zen and its paradoxical koans intended to provoke reflection.  China created the I Ching, a sophisticated divination text, recently featured in the BBC series His Dark Materials and the Amazon series The Man in the High Castle.

China has tended to live a relatively introverted culture through history, influenced no doubt by its spiritual works that encourage a slow pace of life and deep inner reflection.  Chinese empires have risen and fallen through history, but they have never sought global domination.  That has been true while China lived an introverted culture, but we are perhaps at a tipping point in China's cultural outlook.

The contact with industrial Europe and later Japan was a great shock to the Chinese who found themselves hopelessly outmatched in military terms.  The last Emperor of China was deposed in 1912, bringing an ancient legacy to a close, and China went on to adopt Communism after the Second World War.  Finding itself economically outmatched by the West, China's Communist Party has proved ideologically adaptable, incorporating aspects of Western capitalism in order to compete on the global stage.

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The all-important question is what will happen to the Chinese cultural mentality now that it has begun to adopt capitalism and its extroverted, non-spiritual focus on economic growth.  There are clues to this in European history.

It is true that European colonialism needed the industrial revolution to provide the technological edge in warfare but there was also an important cultural shift around this time.  The Roman Empire brought not just Christianity to Europe but also the Roman Catholic Church with its symbols and ritual of the Mass.  The purpose of the Mass is to bring Christ into relation with the congregation in time and space, an awe-inspiring spiritual experience for a more innocent age that was able to believe and participate.  The European Reformation shattered the power of the Catholic Church, and Protestantism excused itself from the ritual of the Mass.  The resultant release of energy sought a new home and colonialism provided an outlet.  Christian missionaries may have followed in the wake of colonialism, but it was a ruthless material enterprise, not a spiritual one.

Would it be so surprising that if China's own introverted spiritual heritage was crippled or disregarded this energy should not also find an extroverted outlet? Since turning to Communism, China has conquered Tibet, fought a war against the United Nations in Korea, fought America over Taiwan and Vietnam, and fought with India over disputed border territory, a tension that still simmers today.  Australia, with its small army and vast natural resources looks a tempting target, and it is understandable that Australia allowed US Marines to establish a base in Darwin in 2018.

American policy appears to be hem China in as best as possible with military bases in Japan, South Korea, and Australia, provide military support to Taiwan and form strategic alliances with other nations that border China, notably India.  In purely military terms this seems logical enough, but the stakes are high.  China, India, Pakistan and North Korea all possess nuclear weapons.  It seems to me that a more extroverted and assertive China, ringed with multiple tripwires in the surround nations, adds up to a high potential for conflict, one might even call it a racing certainty, given enough time.

However, in a quirk of fate that the Zen and Taoist Masters would likely approve of, there has been a swing to the opposite.  For all its many wrongs, colonialism has delivered the spiritual treasures of China into Western hands and these are slowly being digested and assimilated by small numbers of interested individuals.  These will be blended with our own Western culture to create something new.

The results of this are yet to be realised but my guess would be a spiritual awakening in a narrow stratum of Western society the likes of which none of us have seen before in the decades ahead.  If this new, reinvigorated spiritual culture found its way back to China, it may find fertile soil and deflate China's new-found extroverted tendencies in a way that hard power could not.  The wrongs of colonialism in the Orient would then have been atoned for.

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