Chapter 3: Social Change and the Urbane – Rural Divide in China ~ The Irish Asia Strategy and Its China Relations

IrishAsiaSocial Change and the Urban-Rural Divide in China*
To most observers, China today is an extraordinary success story. In three short decades the world’s most ancient continuous civilization, most populous state, and the former “sick man of Asia” has been transformed into an economic powerhouse that will shape the global political economy for the rest of the 21st century and beyond. In comparison with the former Soviet Union and its East European satellites, China seems to have made a remarkably smooth and successful transition from a centrally planned socialist system to a dynamic, market-oriented economic engine. Yet beneath the surface China’s social and political order suffers from paradoxical internal contradictions which that society’s reformist leaders have not been able to resolve.

The current essay deals with perhaps the most important such unsolved institutional problem in China today, the sharp cleavage between its urban and rural citizens. As Ireland and other countries heighten their economic interaction and diplomatic engagement with China, it is important that they be aware of the deep-seated social conflicts and injustices that have characterized rural-urban relations in China since 1949, as continued failure to address and rectify these problems may threaten China’s continued rise.

It is now clear that the revolution led by Mao Zedong, usually seen as dedicated to creating a more egalitarian social order, in actual practice created something very much akin to serfdom for the majority of Chinese citizens – the more than 80% of the population residing in rural villages, who were effectively bound to the soil.[i] Despite some weakening of the bondage and discrimination faced by rural citizens in recent years, China is still struggling with the legacy of the system the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership created during the 1950s. That a peasant army led by a son of the soil, Mao Zedong, established “socialist serfdom” for rural citizens is a major paradox of the Chinese revolution. Before discussing the grounds for these claims and pondering how this situation came about and was sustained over time, it is worth considering how much at variance this development is with the conventional view on inequality trends in China since 1949.

Conventional Views on Inequality Trends in Post-1949 China
In most conventional accounts, the history of the People’s Republic of China can be divided into two very different eras, the socialist order presided over by Mao Zedong from 1949 to 1977, and the reform era launched by Deng Xiaoping, from 1978 to the present. In the first era, so the story goes, Mao and his colleagues (including Deng) relentlessly worked to attack feudal remnants left over from Imperial and Republican China and to promote greater social equality, even when such egalitarian interventions interfered with economic growth. In the closing phase of Mao’s rule, the Cultural Revolution decade (1966-76), Mao and his radical followers criticized the social order they had built during the 1950s, as well as the Soviet model on which it was based, as still too hierarchical and unequal. It is believed that the resulting Cultural Revolution reforms transformed China into an even more egalitarian (but also more economically inefficient) social order.[ii] In the reform era, in contrast, the conventional wisdom is that Deng and his reformist colleagues switched gears and began pursuing economic growth at all costs, while ignoring the goal of promoting social equality. As a result of this switch, China today is characterized by both high growth rates and rising inequality.

While there is much truth in this conventional account, it doesn’t fit the reality of the changes over time in what has become China’s foremost social cleavage – the rural-urban gap. What actually happened to China’s rural residents was very different from the scenario of systematic promotion of equality under Mao followed by widening inequality in the era of market reforms. As indicated at the beginning of this essay, the actual trend looks much more like descent into serfdom for rural residents in the Mao era, with only partial liberation from those bonds in the reform era. In other words, in multiple ways the social status, mobility opportunities, ways of life, and even basic citizenship claims of China’s rural and urban citizens diverged sharply under the socialist system that Mao and his colleagues created, producing a caste-like division that did not exist prior to 1949. Mao’s socialism led to a fundamental aggravation of the rural-urban cleavage, not the reduction implied by the conventional discourse.[iii]

Since 1978 the picture is more complicated. In some respects the rural-urban cleavage has been weakened and reduced, while in others it has widened still further.[iv] What is clear, at least, is that the extraordinary status gulf between rural and urban residents in China, substantially a product of socialist policies and the practices and institutions of the Mao era, has left a legacy that has endured to the present. This persistence has occurred even as those socialist policies and institutions that were its basis have been increasingly dismantled, replaced by market distribution. This institutional inertia poses a second major paradox: why has it been so difficult in the midst of so much other hectic change to dismantle the systems of urban privilege and rural discrimination that were originally embedded in China’s distinctive form of socialism?
This inertia contrasts sharply with what happened after Mao’s death to another very important caste-like division created by Mao-era socialism. All Chinese families had been classified during the early 1950s into class origin categories based upon their economic standing, property, participation in labor, and other characteristics prior to 1949. These categories (e.g. landlord, poor peasant, worker, capitalist) became the basis for a system of class origin labels that persisted over time and were inherited in the male line. By the 1960s and 1970s your class label, by then based upon past history rather than current social position (for example, those with landlord labels had not owned any excess land since 1953), had a strong influence over whether you were favored or discriminated against in many spheres of life (access to higher education and good jobs, entry into the Party or the army, whom you could marry, etc. – see Kraus 1981). In 1979 China’s reformers declared these class labels outmoded and harmful, required that they be removed from personnel dossiers and other identity documents, and forbid favoritism and discrimination based upon class labels. Almost overnight this class label caste system began to disappear from public consciousness, and it appears to play no significant role in influencing access to opportunities in China today.[v] Read more

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Chapter 4: Towards A Creative China – Education in China ~ The Irish Asia Strategy and Its China Relations

IrishAsiaI. Introduction
This paper discusses creativity and independent thinking in Chinese culture and education. Though focusing on China, it also poses the deeper pedagogical and philosophical question of how to make people creative. The question is something of an oxymoron. For it would seem that in the process of making others creative, the actively creative agent is the one who makes them so, and the outcome, namely the creative student, a passive creation. In fact, the oxymoron reveals an illuminating point. We most probably cannot make others creative. We can only enable them to make themselves creative or facilitate their enhanced creativity. In order to become creative, one must make oneself so.

Creativity is therefore not something to be taught, and in many cases, teaching may even reduce creativity. From the moment of their birth, human beings display a most tangible kind of creativity by inventing, entirely on their own, ways to interact with their surroundings. But then many unlearn their inventiveness through the systematic standardisation of our schooling system – they learn how not to be creative. This is far from being a problem restricted to China but is present in all places presiding over a institutionalised school curriculum.
Institutionalisation and standardisation contain the danger of excessive concentration of the uniform structure per se at the expense of generating diversified outcomes to which the structure should be conducive. Thus, ever since creativity and independent thinking began to be considered desireable traits in the West a few centuries ago, they have been and still are among the most consistent conundrums of the various Western education systems.

But in contemporary China, it seems, the problem is particularly pressing. Chinese educators, entrepreneurs, parents and even the odd politician worry in particular about the inability of the Chinese education system to produce creative and independent thinkers. Among these, many believe that without such characteristics, China’s future capacity to maintain economic growth and a continually stronger position in global politics will be endangered. There is certainly a strong element of truth in this, as will be discussed in the following, but I also argue that the concentration tends to start on the wrong end, to be, so to speak, on the “wrong” kind of creativity, a kind that can be sustained only with great difficulty if a deeper, more underlying kind of creativity is not fostered as a basis.
Before proceeding further in this analysis, some of the vocabulary applied in these pages require clarification. For “creativity” is far from being a self-explanatory concept. Rather, how it should be defined and understood has for a long time been and is still being discussed and debated in various academic, artistic and other circles.

II. Understanding Chinese Creativity
The meaning of creativity depends largely on certain cultural assumptions that may not always be entirely known to us. Different cultures may rest upon a metaphysics or cosmology that engenders divergent conceptions of creativity. In Western culture, while certainly containing divergent views of creativity, the dominant understanding can be traced back to the Judeo-Christian notion, influenced by classical Greek philosophy, of creatio ex nihilo, creation from nothing, according to which God created the world out of the great void. This fundamental understanding of the world as a “personal creation” seems to have had an impact upon virtually all later conceptions of creativity in the Western (Christian) world. To be creative has been regarded as a production of some thing, idea or design out of nothing but one’s own selfhood. It has to emanate from there, for otherwise it would tend to be considered an insincere act of copying or plagiarism, or a “mere” rearranging of something that already exists. Creativity is necessarily tied to the mysteries of the self and its spontaneous faculty of imagination.[i] Creativity consists, by definition, in originality.

Just as Western metaphysics is fundamental for coming to an understanding of Western notions of creativity, comparable Chinese notions rest upon Chinese views of the world. Traditional Chinese metaphysics, however, travels its own path. In Chinese views of the world, cosmogony, while certainly existing, has never played a prominent role. In other words, how the world originally came into existence has not had a bearing on the way in which the world is understood.[ii] The classical Chinese worldview is that of wanwu 万物, literally “ten thousand beings” or simply “all the things that exist”. The wanwu is in a continuous state of flux, that is to say, it is continuously arranging and rearranging itself according to tendencies inherent in the self-engendering (ziran 自然) process illustrated through the interaction of yin 阴 and yang 阳. Where the wanwu originally came from, or whether it originally came from anywhere at all, is not really an issue. In such a world, creativity is not an act through which something new is generated out of nothing (or the self), but one through which an advantageous or productive configuration is achieved of a certain field within the wanwu on which one happens to be currently focusing.[iii] From this point of view, creativity consists in making use of what one has in the best possible way, in making the most of one’s circumstances.

Both ancient Chinese thought and contemporary practice exemplify this sort of creativity. The Classic of Changes (Yijing 易经) and the Classic of the Way and the Virtue (Daodejing 道德 经) portray the world as a holistic process in which its components are continuously transformed. Even the well known section 42 in the latter, often interpreted as expressing some sort of cosmogony, conveys precisely this continuity of the world process: 道生一,一 生二,二生三,三生万物.[iv] What it does not say here is that the way “originally” created the one, the one two, and so on, but that this is an ongoing process in which one thing gradually gives rise to the multiplicity of all things in the world. The way is not a creator, but rather the ongoing world process itself according to which things both come into existence and cease to exist. Read more

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Chapter 5: Creating an Asia Strategy ~ The Irish Asia Strategy and Its China Relations

IrishAsia5.1 Introduction – the Context
The emergence of the Asian economies as major economic forces over the past two decade has been nothing short of remarkable. Indeed China alone has enjoyed average annual growth rates in excess of 9% over the past twenty years to become the sixth largest economy in the world in terms of GDP and the second largest trading nation. India too has been achieving similar growth rates in recent years and is currently the world’s twelfth ranking economy in terms of GDP. The phenomenon has been such as to lead some commentators to dub the twenty-first century as the ‘Century of Asia’. This growing economic power brings with it an increasing ability to shape and influence political and economic developments throughout the world.

From an Irish perspective it is important in its own right that we should seek to foster strong political relations with these countries and this region. From an economic perspective, the emergence of these economies presents an important opportunity for Ireland. Success in international markets has been at the core of our economic development and will be the driving force for our long-term economic growth.

This then was the background which helped shape thinking about Irish/Asian relationships. Other key issues which helped focus attention on the Asian region included:
– The very high level of sophistication, both in terms of their production methods and their products, being achieved by the more advanced Asian economies. That sophistication presented clear opportunities for Irish companies, especially in the high-tech sectors, both in terms of sales and in partnerships/investment relationships.
– The performance of the Asian economies over previous years and, in particular, the manner in which they recovered from the crises of 1997-1998, reaffirmed the importance of this region to global commerce.
– Average growth since 1990 had been substantial in many Asian economies, most notably China, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Korea and Vietnam. Indeed the term devised to describe this growth, the ‘Asian Tiger’, was subsequently adapted to designate Ireland’s strong economic growth as the ‘Celtic Tiger’. Industrial growth had been phenomenal. The growth in services has also been impressive, reflecting greater productive specialisation as well as higher personal incomes.

5.2 Background to Irish Trade Development
The background to Irish trade development is that since the 1960’s, when Ireland’s trade was mostly with the UK (at one stage accounting for 75% of our exports), the Irish Government has endeavoured to support a diversification of our exports and develop new markets, both to expand the level of exports overall and to avoid over-dependence on any single area. The success of this policy, driven by strong levels of inward foreign direct investment, a benign enterprise environment, the development of the Single Market, and other appropriate framework conditions, has led to the current position (2007) where some 60% of our exports go to EU countries, the USA is our single largest export market (about 20%) and our exports to Britain are now down to just under 20%. Nevertheless, despite this more balanced position, there is an imperative for our companies and enterprises to continually seek out new markets and be aware of regions of the world which are showing strong growth conditions. With increasing globalisation, expanded membership of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the success of the WTO in lowering tariffs worldwide and cheaper transport costs, more distant markets require an increased level of attention and support so as to capture the opportunities they present. Read more

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Chapter 6: Irish-Chinese Political and Economic Relations – An Overview ~ The Irish Asia Strategy and Its China Relations

IrishAsiaThis chapter provides a summary background to current relations between the Republic of Ireland [Ireland] and the People’s Republic of China [PRC]. Subsequent chapters will deal with certain issues in greater depth but it is useful here to provide a quick tour through the development of Sino-Irish bilateral relations. The leading theme behind this overview is to highlight the more important principles behind current bilateral relations and the resources needed to develop these relations in a positive manner to the benefit of both nations. The first section will deal with contacts before the founding of the PRC and Ireland to offer a flavour of early historical connections between the two lands. Then in chronological order selected developments are described bringing us to present day government policy.

6.1 Pre-1949 Relations
Historically there has been little in the way of ‘national’ relations between Ireland and China due to terms of geographic distance and the resources and political realities of Ireland before the declaration of the Irish Republic. However there have been some notable individuals from Ireland involved with China. George Macartney [1737–1806] acted as Ambassador for the first British mission in 1793 to open up trade between the British and Chinese empires. From County Antrim of Scottish descent, Macartney has been widely though perhaps incorrectly blamed for failing to open trade with China by refusing to kowtow[i] to the Qianlong (乾隆) Emperor. Sir G.W. Staunton [1781 – 1859] served as ‘page to the Ambassador’ accompanying his father a Galway man to China, both serving under the Macartney mission. The younger Staunton, having studied Chinese, is said to have been the only member of the British Embassy able to converse in Chinese and read Chinese characters. Staunton was one of the original founders together with H.T. Colebrook and others of the Royal Asiatic Society. Trade did flourish after more successful missions with items such as tea, china, and fabric making it to Ireland.

The extensive Asian cultural treasures at the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin were gifted to the Irish people by Chester Beatty [1875 – 1968] an American who was made the first honorary Irishman in 1957. From his childhood, Beatty developed a fascination with artefacts from the orient and Beatty collected many works and items of interest from Asian cultures including Chinese artefacts that are now on display at the library.

Ireland, from her struggle towards independence had some recognition in China amongst its revolutionaries and activists, especially for an Eamon de Valera speech at the League of Nations in 1932 admonishing Japan’s incursions on Chinese sovereignty. Mao Zedong is said to have once held celebrations in Ruijin[ii] on the 7th November 1931 to mark the founding of the Chinese Soviet Republic[iii] (中华苏维埃共和国) at which
“there were drums and firecrackers and skits, one with a ‘British imperialist’ driving before him prisoners in chains labelled ‘India’ and ‘Ireland’”[iv].

During this period, social upheaval (with the Communists, the warlords, and the Kuomintang, each trying to preserve and gain power) saw danger for missionaries, many of whom were Irish. One such priest was the Very Reverend Fr. Cornelius Tierney of Co. Monaghan, who went to China as part of the Maynooth mission serving in Kien Chang district of Jianxi Province. Reports in the Irish papers of the time relay how when he rang the bells for mass on a morning in November 1930 ‘Chinese Communist Bandits’ who had entered the village, headed to the church and took Fr. Tierney hostage demanding a ransom of 10,000 Mexican dollars[v] for his return. The group charging the ransom were held to be the same group who had killed another Irish priest Rev. Timothy Leonard from Limerick, the previous year. Fr. Tierney was to die on or around March 5th 1931 from illness despite diplomatic attempts by the British Legation in China. Read more

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Chapter 7: Sino-Irish Relations – The View From China ~ The Irish Asia Strategy And Its China Relations

IrishAsia“Formerly we thought than the foundation of our wealth would be established if only western methods were stressed, and that the result would be achieved immediately…unfortunately, we are merely copying the superficialities of the western methods, getting only the name but very little substance…superficial imitation is not so good as arousing intellectual curiosity. The forges and hammers of factories cannot be compared with the apparatus of people’s minds.”
Wang T’ao 1870[i]

For much of the past thirty years both China and Ireland have been involved in radical reform programmes that have placed their respective governments to the fore. In taking the strategic decision to open their economies to the outside world, learning, experimenting with and harnessing new ideas and technologies to the service of their societies each can be said to have achieved an astounding level of success. Neither has allowed themselves the comfort of introversion, working with particular effectiveness since the end of the Cold War to move from the periphery to the centre of the international system. In doing so both countries have found greater opportunities to express and develop their own voice, discovering significant common ground along the way. Both are united in their commitment to a more balanced and effective international system, the maintenance of a peaceful international environment in which countries committed to economic development can seek, find and take advantage of opportunities.
While these distant neighbours find themselves on the opposite extremities of the Eurasian continent it is the similarities between them that draw them together. Both call upon a considerable heritage of cultural and technological innovation in the crafting of their self image. If their political philosophies and social systems have developed along very different tracks then this should not diminish a profound respect for each others successes – few other countries can claim to have so successfully turned the forces of globalisation to the service of their societies.
What follows in this chapter is an insight into the way that China views Ireland. The chapter unfolds first by summarising the general perception of Ireland that exists in China today. Subsequent sections explore the different strands that have contributed to this perception setting these against larger trends in China’s transformation. The final section suggests that for Sino-Irish trends to continue their positive arc much will have to be done to orchestrate an increasingly disparate and potentially fractious set of relations.

7.1 Ireland: A View from Afar
Perhaps unsurprisingly Ireland has not captured the imagination of the average Chinese citizen, most of whom have enjoyed only sporadic and limited encounters with things Irish. There is for example little awareness of the distinctive role Irish individuals have played in the shaping of Chinese relations with the rest of the world, whether through the intercession of Lord McCartney, first envoy of Britain to China or the intervention of Sir Robert Hart in establishing the Imperial maritime custom service which helped prolong the twilight of Qing dynasty. Aierlan, where it exists at all dwells in the collective imagination as a jumble of images and pubic figures spanning the breathtaking beauty of the Cliffs of Moher to Roy Keane, Riverdance and a host of Nobel Prize winners.
Among China’s elite the conception of Ireland is more complex if still partial. The young tiger’s colonial past, its consequent struggle for recognition, and determination to lift itself out of poverty strike a chord with Chinese experience. Beyond these impressions Ireland’s desire to pursue a neutral path in world affairs based on the international rule of law, one respectful of the one-China principle resonates strongly with a Chinese worldview that places multi-polarity and cooperative, consultative approaches to problem solving to the fore. If there are nuances and occasional contradictions to this policy they neither detract nor deviate from Beijing’s fundamental commitment to the creation and maintenance of a stable international environment, built upon the five principles of peaceful coexistence: mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and finally peaceful coexistence sensitive to the needs of developing countries.
Such perceptions are both relatively new and tentative, being formed in the flurry of activity that began towards the end of the 1990s. It is during this period, the height of the Celtic tiger phenomenon that frequent Chinese trips, often with sponsorship from Irish state agencies such as Enterprise Ireland began to generate awareness bringing clarity and substance to what would have otherwise been a relationship of mutual indifference. Read more

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Chapter 8: Promoting Irish Business In China – The Role Of The Government ~ The Irish Asia Strategy And Its China Relations

IrishAsiaThe Irish Trade mission that arrived in Beijing on January 16th 2005 was led by the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. The fact that he was accompanied by no less than four cabinet ministers (Minister Micheál Martin; Minister Mary Coughlan; Minister Mary Hanafin and Minister Noel Dempsey) served to underscore the importance of this particular mission. The trade mission visited Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong and, while the overall management and logistics for the business events were handled by Enterprise Ireland, many other state agencies and private industry associations participated in the mission in some way. Representatives of Irish agencies such as Bord Bia, Tourism Ireland and Shannon Development and members of associations such as IBEC, ISA, Chambers Ireland, and the Irish Exporters Association organised events, working closely with Enterprise Ireland to ensure the success of the visit.
This particular trade mission was in fact the largest ever organised in the history of the state until that time, involving a total of 121 Irish companies and institutions, primarily from in the ICT, Educational Services, Environmental and Engineering Services, Medical Devices and the Food and Drinks sectors. Around 300 Irish people (company executives and officials) travelled on what was an extremely successful but very complex mission. This event marked the culmination of the first stage of a process of engagement with China that had its origins some 6 years earlier – with the publication of the Asia Strategy in 1999.

Enterprise Ireland was set up in early 1998 through the merger of a number of other agencies (including Forbairt and the Irish Trade Board) and charged with responsibility for the overall development of Irish-owned industry. While within Ireland the organisation is involved in many aspects of the growth and development of Irish companies, a very important role of the agency involves the promotion of exports by Irish companies in overseas markets. Though the core of the overseas work involves making introductions for Irish executives to potential customers and partners and providing on-the-ground assistance in countries around the world, in the more distant markets, and especially in Asia, trade missions led by high level Government figures are very important in raising the image of Ireland generally – and of Ireland as a source of top quality products and services.

In late 1998 the Taoiseach had made his first official visit to China and Enterprise Ireland organised its first trade mission to accompany that visit. On that occasion only around 20 companies accompanied the official delegation. Given the recent developments in the China market it was obvious that Ireland’s overall level of engagement with the country was abysmally low and, following the visit, the Taoiseach requested a group of officials and private sector individuals to develop a coherent national strategy that would put Ireland on a stronger footing in terms of its overall relationship with Asia and with China in particular. The document that resulted from the deliberations of that committee was published in early 1999 as the Asia Strategy.
As the lead agency in terms of the development of Irish industry and the promotion of Irish exports, Enterprise Ireland was heavily involved in the development of the Asia Strategy – and its own plans for the growth of exports to Asia formed an integral part of the plans outlined in the published document.
Though the Irish Trade Board had initially established an office in Beijing in 1979, in the same year in which Ireland exchanged diplomatic relations with China, Irish exports to China were always at a low level due to the closed nature of the market and the difficulties faced by Irish companies in trying to access such a distant, different and under-developed market. By 1999 the situation was of course very different: China was developing rapidly and opening up to the global economy – and it was obvious that, in the years to come, the Chinese economy was going to continue to grow at a rapid pace. Following the publication of the Asia Strategy in 1999, Enterprise Ireland moved quickly to strengthen its operations in China, with offices in Beijing and in Shanghai (the two most developed cities in the country) and a further office in Hong Kong, which covered the southern part of the country, including the industrial powerhouse of Shenzhen.
In comparison with other countries in the EU Ireland has had very little history of engagement at a business level with China. While multinational companies with operations in Ireland always traded with Asia, this was to a large extent dictated by their global business strategies. In the early days of industrialisation in Ireland our larger companies, such as those in the food and drinks sectors were generally confined to selling into European and US markets. It was not until the development of new processing technologies and the growth of the software and services sectors that Irish industry acquired the right products and the economies of scale required to tackle the more distant markets in Asia. In addition, unlike countries such as the Netherlands and the UK that have companies that can trace their origins back to older national trading empires and that have had operations in Asia for many years, Ireland lacked a basic network in the region upon which to build new business. Read more

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