Featured Student: Alessandro Benedetti

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“Women Hold Up Half the Sky”

Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong declared his commitment to gender equality through his famous saying that ‘women hold up half the sky’. Did Mao’s view transform underlying gender relations in China? Bachelor of International Relations student, Alessandro Benedetti, investigates this engaging topic. The following is a short excerpt from his paper for INTR13-301 Strategic China.

alessandro benedettiChinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong declared his commitment to gender equality through his famous saying that ‘women hold up half the sky’. Did Mao’s view transform underlying gender relations in China? Bachelor of International Relations student, Alessandro Benedetti, investigates this engaging topic. The following is a short excerpt from his paper for INTR13-301 Strategic China.

The condition of women in pre-revolutionary China was one characterized by a long story of misery. The binding of the feet, female infanticide, concubinage, loveless marriages were just some of the many humiliating customs to which Chinese women were subjected during imperial times (Clark & Wang, 2004). The condition of women in China at the beginning of the 20th Century was dismal compared to the rights that women were already holding in western countries; this era could rightly be identified as the ‘feminine-humiliation’ within China’s ‘Century of Humiliation’. However, with the rise of Mao Zedong in 1949, proclaiming his commitment to gender equality with his famous statement, ‘women hold up half the sky’, it was clear his ‘Chinese road to socialism’ was going to break forever with the traditions of the past, making women ‘comrades’ with the same rights as their male counterparts.

Taking on the heritage left by Sun Yat-Sen, Mao and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have changed forever the underlying gender relations in China. The newly founded People’s Republic of China (PRC) after the victory of Mao’s troops in 1949 saw as one of its first laws the Marriage Law of 1950. This clearly reflected the importance that gender issues played during the Revolution. With this law, old practices such as concubinage, brideprice and child betrothal were abolished and at the same time more freedom was given to women in regards to marriage and divorce. Furthermore, provision was made for maternity leave and kindergartens were established (Bailey, 2012). One of the reasons for Mao’s success in the Communist Revolution was his appeal to young women in rural China; they rose to the promise of reform (Johnson, 1985). The 1950 Marriage Law represented a stepping stone in the advancement of human rights. This was coupled by redefining a women’s work role. The image of women in the workforce was communicated through the model ‘female worker’. She was usually represented, in propaganda pictures, as a peasant with a confident smile, strong and capable, using technology and sometimes instructing…READ MORE

China: An old hand at soft power

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Our Associate Professor of International Relations, Dr Rosita Dellios poses that Beijing’s approach of resolving difficulties before they arise is helping the region realise its human and economic potential.

Her writing was featured on the Asia & The Pacific Policy Society (APPS) Policy Forum.

Rosita Dellios

China: an old hand at soft power – Policy Forum

The West may worry that China is unwilling or unable to solve global problems. But if you look more closely, Beijing has a knack of solving problems before they arise.

Despite China’s rapid rise and its plans to build ‘silk roads’ of development from Asia through to Africa and the Middle East, it is still regularly dismissed as unfit for global leadership – neither willing nor able to solve global problems. The reasons for this vary, but much rests with China being perceived as more foe than friend. The absence of multi-party democracy puts China at odds with prevailing international norms. Many among the West’s opinion-makers do not believe the world has anything to learn from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), or that a CCP-ruled China could find legitimacy in the international order.

Lately, this sentiment has been expressed through the popular concept of ‘soft power’ – the power of attraction rather than coercion. An article by China specialist David Shambaugh in Foreign Affairs investigated China’s soft-power credentials and found them severely lacking. Despite admitting that China had pledged to invest US$1.25 trillion worldwide by 2025, he finds that it is to no avail as ‘’soft power cannot be bought.’’  It would be interesting to hear what the beneficiaries of this investment would have to say.

Shambaugh mentions Joseph Nye, the political scientist who coined the term ‘soft power’ (but did not invent the condition); and Nye himself quotes Shambaugh’s findings that China spends about US$10 billion a year in ‘’external propaganda’’, but still lacks trust and respect.

This is ironic as China itself is an old hand at soft power. ‘’Come and be transformed’’ (lai hua) was the motto of the Celestial Empire with its civilisational attributes that included trade and economic incentives. As to how soft power may be used to solve problems, China’s best known classical strategist, Sun Tzu, observed that whoever ‘’excels at resolving difficulties does so before they arise.’’ In the military sphere, he advised that it was best to win a war before it reached the battlefield. The Daoist concept of wu-wei – or ‘actionless action’ – is also relevant here. It is better for China’s critics to belittle and diminish Beijing’s achievements, which are nonetheless real even if not readily recognised, than to engage in a dramatic clash…READ MORE

International Symposium: Confucianism and Modern Society

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Did you miss the 2015 International Symposium: Confucianism and Modern Society? Click on the video above for a glimpse into the event and don’t forget to participate in our online discussion!

In the News

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Temple of Confucius undergoes major renovation

Image Credit: gbtimes.com
Image Credit: gbtimes.com

For the first time in a century, the Temple of Confucius in Qufu is undergoing a full-scale renovation. Since 1994, the Temple has been on the World Heritage List of the UNESCO. It covers an area of 16,000 square metres and has a total of 460 rooms. Visitors (approximately 10 million each year) of the vast Temple gain an insight into the life of the ancient Chinese philosopher and his role in Chinese culture.

The renovation of the Temple is a decision made by the ruling Communist Party to restore the legacy of Confucius. Restoration work was launched by the Qufu Confucius Ancient Building Engineering Management Office on July 18, 2015 and is expected to take three to five years with government funding of USD 48 million (300 million yuan).

Click on the video below for a virtual tour of The Temple of Confucius including the Cemetery of Confucius and the Kong Family Mansion in Qufu.

Further reading:
Temple of Confucius Gets First Facelift in Century

China offers USD 17 million for Kenya projects

Image Credit: Wantchinatimes.com
Image Credit: Wantchinatimes.com

An agreement has been signed by China and Kenya to finance three projects in Kenya, including the construction of the largest Confucius Institute in Africa in addition to the repatriation of Somali refugees.

The Confucius Institute will be hosted at the University of Nairobi and will “be an importance center for the dissemination of Chinese culture in Kenya and Africa,” Cabinet Secretary for the National Treasury, Henry Rotich, said during the signing ceremony.

“Chinese financial support is a strong indication of the cordial bilateral relations between the two countries,” he said, adding that the growing status of China has made it essential for understanding Chinese culture (1).

The grant will also be used for humanitarian support of Somali refugees during the resettlement back to Somalia.

Further Reading
Kenya receives US$17m Chinese grant for Africa’s largest Confucius Institute

Featured Student: Cindy Minarova-Banjac

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Confucianism in the Chinese World Order:
From Madam Harmony to Mr Science
by Bachelor of International Relations student Cindy Minarova-Banjac

CindyConfucianism strongly influenced pre-modern Chinese political thought and society. According to Tongdong, political thought in traditional China flourished under the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods (SAWS, 770-222 BCE). It was during this time that the feudalistic, pyramid-like structure of the Zhou was beginning to collapse due to the overexpansion of the empire (Tongdong, 2012). In addition to the pre-modern emergence of independent Westphalian-like principalities, this period was also characterized by a rich source of statecraft known as the ‘Contention of One Hundred Schools of Thought’. This, according to Bell, referred to the growing influence of the major philosophical schools of thought that were led by the Pre-Qin masters (Bell, 2008). The most famous of these masters was Confucius or Kong Zi (551-479BCE), the founder of Confucianism. As Confucius notes, one of the most pressing issues that he and his followers tried to address was the issue of modernity: “I transmit but do not innovate; and I believe in and love antiquity” (Legge, 2012). However, instead of advocating a return to the earlier “Golden Age of Zhou” (Murphey, 2008, p. 40), Confucius responded to his external environment and innovated a quasi-religious system by reviving old knowledge that was relevant to his time….READ MORE

Download the full excerpt here

Is China’s Defence Strategy Misunderstood?

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Great Wall of China in Summer
Img Credit: news.com.au

‘The Great Wall in northern China was the most magnificent and largest strategic defence project in ancient China. It is the materialization and epitome of strategic defensive thought of the Chinese nation, as well as the symbol of China’s defensive national define policy. China’s defensive national defence policy is deeply rooted in the country’s outstanding strategic cultural heritage . . .’

– Peng Guanqian, Zhao Zhiyin and Luo, China’s National Defense (Beijing: China Intercontinental Press, 2010), p. 23.

China has now developed what some are referring to as a Great Wall of Sand while others call it the Great tunnel of China (1). This new initiative has caused concern among some of China’s neighbours, notably the Philippines and Vietnam, as well as the United States. A recent US military report states that China poses one of the largest security threats. “China’s actions are adding tension to the Asia-Pacific region,” the document states, in reference to China’s recent land reclamation efforts to build islands in the contested South China Sea to boost its military and civilian presence (2).


China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying has said the US should “throw away the Cold War mentality, and take an unbiased perspective of China’s strategic intention.” (3) How can this be done? One way is to examine how strategic culture was expressed throughout imperial China. Another, complementary, method is to observe China’s 21st century strategic focus on developing new “silk roads”.  In this way, a better perspective can be gained on assessing Chinese strategic intentions.

Silk Road Economic Belt

Andrew Scobell, a specialist on Chinese military affairs, notes that culture influences the way strategists think about matters of war and peace. Culture is especially influential in a country like China, with an ancient civilization and strategic tradition dating back thousands of years (4).

How does Confucianism influence Chinese strategic thought?

Confucius was concerned with the problem of how to build a just and stable society. Strategies for creating a virtuous society involved a way of force (wu) versus a way of culture (wen). Confucius put a significant importance on the way of culture as being the “best” strategy, however he also never denied the validity of force. When the Master was asked, who he would take with him if he were leading the armies of a great state, he replied as follows: ‘If I took anyone it would have to be a man who, when faced with a task, was fearful of failure and who, while fond of making plans, was capable of successful execution’ (Analects 7.11). This shows Confucius viewed the way of force – wu –  as a serious matter that needed competence in theory and practice.

Wu , however, could not be one sided. Confucius taught that force had to be in the service of culture and in an effort to defend and protect the people.  Scobell believes China’s actual strategic culture is one that is the result of interplay between Confucian and Realpolitik strands. He explained in his article titled, “China and Strategic Culture,” that because of Confucianism, China tends to favour harmony over conflict and defence over offense.

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, the Great Wall of China represents a major historic and strategic defence project of ancient China. For many outsiders this wall seemed to serve as China’s deliberate isolation from the world. China is no longer using the wall as a barrier between itself and the rest of the world, but instead creating new opportunities that represent strategic cooperation. Indeed, in their book, China’s Quest for Global Order,  Bond University academics Dr Rosita Dellios and Dr R. James Ferguson spreak of  “strategic theatres of cooperation” where a Confucian-style soft power prevails (ch. 6).

They are not alone in their view: “A more reasonable perspective is that [China] the world’s second largest economy is trying to play its part. It has not only taken on the responsibility in economic issues such as international trade and investment but also contributed new ideas and strategies to global governance. Promoting the Belt and Road Initiative, founding the Silk Road Fund, hosting the APEC summit and pushing forward the AIIB, the country is not only pulling down ‘the Great Wall’ but also building a wide bridge to the world.” (4)

What do the new Millennium Development Goals and Mencius have in Common?

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The UN announced the 2015 eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on Monday July 6th. The goals range from halving extreme poverty rates to halting the spread of AIDS and providing universal primary education. (To view all 8 goals and a summary of the MDG Report click here.) The UN works with governments along with the civil society and other partners to carry out the 2015 agenda. This brings us to the question of whether we can be held socially responsible to help advance the goals of improving the lives of people everywhere? Better yet, do we all have what it takes and the goodness of our hearts to make a difference without expecting something in return?

If we asked the ‘Second Sage’, Mencius, he would say yes, as he believed in the goodness of all humans. Mencius, a Latinization of the Chinese “Mengzi,” meaning Master Meng was a famous Confucian philosopher, second to Confucius himself. His full name was “Meng Ke” and his ideas are recorded through the Mengzi (Mencius), a collection of his dialogues, debates, and sayings. Mencius’ book is much longer than the Analects of Confucius and very rich in ideas. Among Mencius’s most important expansions of the vision of Confucius was his belief that all human nature is good (1).

Mencius image 3

Mencius said that innate goodness could be seen through the example of a person naturally wanting to save “a child about to fall into a well”; and that this was because people “will without exception experience a feeling of alarm and distress—not so they may gain the favour of the child’s parents, nor to seek the praise of their neighbours and friends, nor from fear of a reputation of having been unmoved by such a thing.” (2)

If Mencius was correct that all human nature is good, does that mean we should be more responsive to the world’s problems? Like the child in the well, Mencius would believe that it is part of our being human to help others in need.

But what about people who have lost their original good nature and cause harm to others? Are people like this capable of offering their benevolence to the greater good of society? One argument is that if a person is “constantly subjected to negative influence”, there will be a negative impact on his or her character. This does not reflect a person’s “true character” or their “original nature”, which according to Mencius is good. In other words, a person becomes bad as a result of “external influence.” (3)

Besides the issue of dealing with destructive external influences, such as through education, how can productive ones be encouraged? One Confucian (and universal value) value that stands out is learning to help others without expecting anything in return. Corporate social responsibility (CSR), for example, should be an active component of every business. Not all businesses take CSR seriously, arguing instead that their first responsibility is to their shareholders, and that entails making a profit. Countries, too, think of national interests as their first priority. Foreign aid and humanitarian assistance are often considered secondary.

As Mencius had said, “Heaven sees according as the people see; Heaven hears according as the people hear.” (p. 357). Therefore “the people are the most important element in a nation; the spirits of the land and the grain are the next; the sovereign is the lightest.” (p. 483).

The eight MDGs would sit well with the teachings of Mencius. Armed with this attitude, do you think we can make a difference?