It is surprising that a century of Chinese Communism would bring so much fear and anxiety to the whole world, something that believers in Communism back then, both foreign and domestic, could hardly have imagined. This is not because they did not believe that communism would eventually triumph, but because the power of the Chinese Communist Party today is irrelevant to belief in communism. People are now afraid not of communist China, but of the bad emperors of China under the banner of communism. Historically, bad Chinese emperors could bring great disasters to the whole of China, but such disasters did not seem to have much impact on other civilizations. This time it is different, the bad emperor of China has become a nightmare not only for the Chinese, but for all mankind. Although we are sure that this nightmare will end, no one can predict how it will end and at what cost.
Today, the whole world has to accompany the Chinese in their “suffering”, highlighting the fact that the “bad emperor” problem in Chinese history has not been solved by “modernization”, but by “economic development”. Instead of being solved by “modernization,” it has become a worldwide problem through “economic globalization. Recently, the Beijing authorities’ political torture of Hong Kong has cut into the most painful part of Hong Kong people – the freedom of the press. Each cut has sent a message not only to the people of Hong Kong but also to all those who sympathize with their struggle: Who can do anything about it?
Why is it so difficult for China to solve the problem of “bad emperors”? This is not a question that can be clearly explained in terms of left-right, hegemony, or even identity politics, but it is a difficult question of how to understand Chinese political culture. The fact that the Chinese Communist Party has not died for a century, but has instead become the world’s greatest scourge, is a cognitive challenge that cannot be avoided by the Chinese cultural elite who still have a conscience. Xi Jinping’s trashing of Chinese history has become a global laughing stock of the 21st century and a disgrace to all serious Chinese historians. It is not enough just to “not downgrade” but to explore the deep logic of Chinese history, especially the deep logic of Chinese political evolution, from a global perspective, as the Chinese historian Chen Yinke did, and to discover the local sources of humanism. Although such an effort may not directly help to solve the problem of the “bad emperor,” without such an effort it will be impossible to rebuild the dignity of Chinese cultural identity, and thus will not help the inevitable reconstruction of order.
When it comes to order reconstruction, many believe that some form of “international co-optation” is inevitable to solve the problem of the “bad emperor” in China today. Whether it will be a German or Japanese version of the end of World War II, or even an upgraded version of the “Gengzi Treaty” in the 21st century, are questions that are completely unimaginable at this point. But there is one challenge that all those who care about the fate of China and the world need to face now, and that is how to imagine the future order of China and the world. This global pandemic of the Chinese virus has in fact fully initiated the reconstruction of China and the world order, because the post-Cold War world order has been completely deconstructed by this global plague. The U.S.-China relationship cannot go back, the past trade model cannot be restored because the past technology exchange model and cultural exchange model cannot be restored.
One might ask, since the future is so uncertain, including the form of war, the form of international siege of China, the way in which China’s internal crisis will erupt, and so on and so forth, is there any point in imagining the future order of China and the world? Looking at the logic of history over a relatively long period of time, that is, understanding the causality of history, it is not difficult to see that imagining the future is a major factor in the evolution of the human drive for order. In fact, the centenary of the Chinese Communist Party itself provides this insight. Without Marx’s imagination, without Mao’s imagination of combining peasant rebellion with Leninism, there would be no centennial celebration of the CCP today. Therefore, the real challenge facing the Chinese in the centennial year of the CCP is whether they can go beyond the imagination of their predecessors to construct a future Chinese order. The assertion that “there is no alternative to a unified China” and “there is no way out without dividing China” are actually symptoms of a lack of imagination.