China: Is The World’s Longest Running Big Kahuna Restoring its Place In World History? 中國：世界上運行時間最長的 Big Kahuna 是否正在恢復其在世界歷史上的地位？ By MARIO CAVOLO Apr 27 2023
It is no exaggeration to state that the Chinese empire is the world’s longest running superpower. Let me note some quick background on the earlier centuries of the empire. Throughout much of history, and I am talking thousands of years, China’s GDP was well over 30% of the world’s GDP. The Three Kingdoms period from 220 to 280AD came after the Han Dynasty which was well marked by expansionism and colonization and right before the Jin Dynasty. Of course China experienced the ups and downs of civil wars yet we know that from around 600 to 1500 which include its highly prosperous Tang Dynasty from around 600 too 900, China shall we say, was the big kahuna of the world.
This success would continue though the Song and Ming dynasties China would continue throughout the Song and Ming dynasties from around 960 to 1644, followed by the last dynasty, the Qing Dynasty. However, we did also have Genghis Khan’s Mongol invasion around 1205 and they ruled til around 1241. Note that simultaneously, Europe had been in its Dark Ages period from around 300 to 1300 followed by its flourishing Renaissance period which lasted ‘til around the early 1700s according to most historians.
Into the 1800’s China’s population swelled to around 450 million people and experienced significant turmoil from such growth including famines and government instability. More formally, let’s remember that this period from around 1839 to 1949 is China’s Century of Humiliation, which began with the ceding of Taiwan to Japan in the Treaty of Shimonoseki in 1895. Britain was smuggling opium from India into China. Obviously the Chinese government didn’t like that and we had the Opium Wars from 1840 onward leading to the Treaty of Nanking whereby China ceded Hong Kong to the British. Ouch.
Hong Kong was handed back over to China in 1997. Oh by the way, while Hong Kong was under British rule, all government decisions and leadership of the island was handled back in England. There was no democracy in Hong Kong governance and the local Hong Kong people were treated like sh*t.
Back on the mainland, China’s civil conflicts continued, culminating in the famous Long March of the early 1930s when Mao’s side split off from the nationalists, ultimately defeating them with Chiang Kai Shek fleeing with his ass in hand to Taiwan. Most people have no idea that Chiang was amongst the worst nasty dictatorial brutes, both when he was governing on the mainland and after fleeing to Taiwan, during which most of the time the island was under brutal Martial Law.
In 2021, I enjoyed 30 days on the road as the show host of The New Journey documentary, with a CCTV film crew shooting a documentary of the last 1/3 leg of the Long March through Gansu and ending at Ya’an in Shanxi province. Visiting all the historical museums along the way was an amazing experience revealing so much detail about this period in China’s history leading of course to 1949 and the formation of the People’s Republic of China. During this period, the many successes of Mao’s era rose hundreds of millions out of poverty yet ended on a dark note with the terrible turmoil of the Cultural Revolution.
Into the 1980s under Deng Xiao Ping’s reformation period, China began to build up once again toward its current and regained status as a world superpower. Please note, the above description is pretty accurate but leaves out a zillion layers & details which I encourage any reader to further explore on their own to more deeply understand China’s history. I feel quite fascinated to learn the history of any country, most of them have amazing, remarkable stories for us to discover. Along that line, I will highly recommend a book called The Discoverers, by historian author Daniel Boorstein, a wonderful history page turner.
What I conclude from coming to understand this story and the subsequent period of United States world dominance which began during World War II and is now on the decline, is that China is once again reclaiming its #1 Big Kahuna ranking in world history. The problem is, this time around, the world we live in is vastly more complex than ever and the U.S. as the current #1 Big Kahuna that is on the decline is an extremely powerful empire with a well known bent toward domination by war, its 800 military bases scattered around the world supported by an annual military budget working its way toward an astonishing one trillion dollars, all in the name of democracy & peace, of course.
Despite the many geopolitical hot spots in this story, one foundational narrative continues on & on and that’s China’s rise. The 2008 financial crisis and the pandemic both served as further accelerants to China’s rise while the third factor to be mindful of is that China has risen this entire time in peace. First, the 2008 financial crisis in the United States was saved by China’s purchase of U.S. Treasuries. According to a 2009 piece at the Council of Foreign Relations, we consider that “…central banks and sovereign funds, led by China’s reserve managers, were huge buyers of Treasuries in 2008. The work I have done (this piece is written by Brad Setser) with Arpana Pandey suggests that central banks bought close to $600 billion Treasuries in 2008 — with China accounting for a bit over half the total.” And second, China’s rise, both its domestic growth and its external presence in the global economy via rising imports/exports and continued outreach, accelerated to even greater heights as a result of the ‘08 financial crisis.
Moving forward another decade or so and we come to the global pandemic. Tolerating some of the worst criticism ever along the way, China remained vigilant in a three year lockdown which we can confidently conclude did a better job of protecting its people and its economy than the vast majority of other countries. It is the only country during the pandemic that maintained positive GDP growth, all the more remarkable considering its big kahuna population of 1.4 billion people.
When the country finally did determine that the lastest Omicron variants were of acceptably lower severity and officially opened, dropping the domestic lockdown policies, opening its borders, the ensuing first wave of Covid proceeded to rip through 80% of the country in about ten weeks with only around perhaps 250,000 deaths. I’m really not sure of the exact figure but am delighted to say this was one point about China on which I was entirely wrong. I had feared opening up would lead to more like a million deaths, the Chinese govt had alot more data than lil ‘ol me and knew better.
Post pandemic opening, China’s domestic economy surely has some wounds to lick; there was quite a bit of damage to the retail/merchant sector from three hard years of lockdown and it will take time for that to turn around. It understandably has put some pressure on the banking & real estate sectors as well but that is to be expected and are not nearly as bad as the many absurd “China is about to collapse” narratives” endlessly spewed all over western media with no basis in reality.
Many of us were bemused when a few months back all of a sudden about a dozen popular Youtuber accounts all started airing the same ridiculous “China collapse in 28 days” narrative. They obviously had all been contacted and offered a decent enough chunk of money to be stupid enough to join in whilst themselves not knowing a thing about China. All of us sane China watchers noticed and knew they would all look like fools after tarnishing their reputations with such drivel.
On the contrary, since opening up, China is back to higher growth once again, reporting impressive GDP and trade numbers including very healthy travel/retail/leisure sector as we move through 2023. In addition, there has been a spat of stories on how China’s chip sector including developments by Huawei have been and will continue to reach greater dominance in the industry as a response to the US. Chip Act and other various ill-thought out foreign policy & trade decisions made in Washington.
Meanwhile, President Xi hits the road doing what every country leader on the planet ought to be doing; calling for peace & diplomacy to achieve it regarding the Ukraine War. China, in other words friends, just keeps stepping up to meet the wall of difficult circumstances built on every manner of bricks & stones you might think of.
Said the Wall Street Journal in April, “SINGAPORE—China’s economy rebounded in the first three months of the year after Beijing dismantled its heavy-handed Covid-19 controls, teeing up a revival in growth that is expected to buoy the global economy as the U.S. and European economies slow. China’s economy expanded 4.5% in the first quarter of the year compared with the same three months a year earlier…”
We wrap up this piece noting yesterday President Xi was finally on a call with Ukraine’s Zelensky, continuing to support peace & diplomacy, China will once again have joint military drills together with Singapore to safeguard stability in the region as the U.S. ramps up cooperation with the Philipines, Taiwan tensions remain, China is currently building out 24 more nuclear power plants, and Yaya the panda is returning home looking rather shabby after two decades at the Memphis Zoo.
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