Historic-Cultural Discourses: Tension Between the Self and the Other
The discourse of the China Dream is not only expected to counter “problems” caused by China’s path to economic development, it also attempts to produce a triumphalism towards the West (Horesh 2013: 95-96). This triumphalism indicates China’s grand aspirations and also its future in the world (Callahan 2013: 5). A number of recently published high- profile books, such as China Is Unhappy, Currency Wars and Liu Mingfu’s China’s Dream, are good examples of the Chinese attempt to increase national pride and overcome national humiliations (Fewsmith 2013: 4). In this regard, China’s vast historical and cultural tradition is seen as a rich resource to be used to improve China’s international status, and shore-up national pride and identity (Edney 2012: 909).
The collapse of the Soviet Union, the Taiwanese Guomindang’s loss of power, economic globalization, the impact of Western culture and technology, and the Internet revolution have all contributed to the Party’s active search for alternative ideologies (Holbig 2009: 41). As Callahan notes, in the process of modernization, China refused to gauge its progress relative to Western reference points, since they viewed this approach as potentially leading China either to a situation like the “collapse” of the Soviet Union, or to the “trap” of Westernization (2013: 9-10).
Thus, China has avoided following “any set economic and political prescriptions” (Huang 2011: 3). Chinese leadership consistently emphasized that China should experiment rather than rigidly enforce a fixed ideology (23). Instead, China developed a national “discourse of resistance” based on its “past greatness” discourse in order to counter Western demands for universal norms (Jones 2014: 131). In many respects, Confucianism was revived and co-opted in order to enable the Party to develop in a direction that diverged from the dominant Western trajectory (Cong 2013: 907). In this sense, the China Dream can be described as a cultural shift designed to restore China’s place in the world (Chen and Goodman 2012: 185). The rationale of this kind of discourse of resistance is to divert China from the path of uncertain development in order to place it on the road to revival. That is, to facilitate the revisiting and a restoration of China’s own past glories rather than to entrust China’s future to external models such as Soviet-style communism or Western-style modernity (Cong 2013: 911).
However, the local discourse of resistance argument, which suggests that China’s attempt to master and control the effects of globalization and the transformations it imposes upon local societies, has been described by Marshall as being both circular and inadequate (2009: 18). In the context of the availability of texts devoted to the deconstruction of the nationalism in the West, these texts ironically provided many Chinese intellectuals with a rationale for developing their own variety of cultural nationalism (Yeh 1998: 204). However, the globalization of Western discourses heightened rather than lessened the insecurity and the concomitant desire to establish “Chineseness.” The appropriation of different discourses is in direct proportion to its desire to assert Chineseness—the more prevalent the former is, the stronger the latter seems to become (210). Thus, in this sense, China is always already implicated in the West (212). For example, even if notions such as national identity and Chineseness are themselves the products of Western influence in the modern world (212). The dichotomy between China and the West is itself a modern construct in which both sides tend to oppress dissenting approaches. However, between the two, there is a zone of both domination and mediation (213).
We agree with Pan that it is China’s ambivalence about its identity and its aspirational global role that makes the resurgence of history possible in the context of globalization (2013: 42). The promotion of the China Dream will be largely dependent upon maintaining strong economic growth in China and appearing as “a strong military power” in the face of external challenges (Kalha 2014: 267). In this sense, the China Dream has become associated with strong state power and military might, and both of these elements are viewed as guaranteeing the prosperity of the country (Hoffman 2013: 63). This, in turn, contributes to China’s soft power diplomacy along with its fast-increasing economic power through its aspirational global discourse of the China Dream (Horesh 2013: 94).