In ‘tianxia datong’, China has a Chinese dream that befits the times
- The world has little use of aggressive nationalist dreams nor materialist aspirations like the American dream of upward mobility
- China has held tianxia datong as the highest ideal since ancient times, and it’s time for the original Chinese dream to return home
For instance, the broad Pacific Ocean is vast enough to embrace both China and the United States, but it is not big enough to accommodate both the Chinese dream and the campaign of “Make America Great Again”. When two of the world’s most powerful countries become nationalist simultaneously, a Thucydides trap will be inevitable.
If other powers also adopt nationalist dreams, the world will never be at peace. Meanwhile, although the American dream of upward mobility is attainable for everyone through their actions appears applicable to all countries and does not create a contradiction between them, it is materialistic and consumerist.
The reality shows that the pursuit of upward mobility can lead to spiritual emptiness and overconsumption, leaving society indifferent to pressing social issues such as mental health problems, the widening wealth gap, mounting debt, climate change and biodiversity loss. The American dream is neither eternal nor universal.
Accordingly, China needs a new dream that goes beyond those two. It can draw inspiration from its ancient philosophy. A hundred schools of thought competed during the pre-Qin period, and among those Confucianism had the greatest impact on future generations.
Confucianism expects obedience and loyalty to parents, superiors, officials, the emperor and the state. However, the ultimate and most important is to tianxia – one should strive to bring peace, love and happiness to the people in the world. This is what Confucianism sees as the highest dream a person should have.
At the time, China was so impoverished and feeble that it could not even defend the legal rights of its subjects within its borders. In pursuing the dream of tianxia datong, the Chinese people first had to attain national independence, and then seek national prosperity.
Today, China has become a global economic, trade and innovation powerhouse and an indispensable member of the international order. It has the power to make a meaningful contribution to the world.
Today, datong should first require inclusivity. At a societal level, we must treat people of different races, colours, ages, sex, languages, religions, disabilities and so on equally so everyone can pursue their dreams and happiness without being hindered by their differences.
The sustainability of technological advancement is also desirable. Current economics literature is largely in agreement that sustained technological progress necessitates population growth.
Forms of democracy are tied to the local culture, history and geography, so the democracy in one nation is not necessarily adaptable to others. Diverse practices can inspire humanity’s quest for a better democracy.
China has held tianxia datong as the highest human ideal since ancient times. It is time to welcome the original Chinese dream – a better world for all – to return home.
Fang Zihao is currently studying for a PhD in economics at Koc University in Istanbul.