Monday, March 21, 2016

From Illusion to Empire: Chuang on the Creation of the Chinese Economy

“China” was very much a product of the Occidental imagination. The people Pereira asked had trouble even understanding the question of what “country” they were from, as there were no clear indigenous correlates to the concept. Ultimately they explained that there was one ruler, but many countries, which still used their ancient names. The combination of these countries composed the “Great Ming,” but each retained much of its local specificity. This detail was a mere curiosity when the account was published in Europe, which had established “China” as its arcane, ancient counterpart—less the name for a country than a designation for the external limits to early capitalist expansion and colonization. Such projects tended to run aground on the East Asian mainland, which proved capable of massive trade in goods and silver but resistant to true incorporation into the new global economy. China designated an obstruction of sorts, an ominous exception to the new rules being established in the west. [2]

Today, in a crisis-stricken global economy, China is again defined by its exceptions. Its staggering ascent seems to promise an almost messianic escape from decades of declining growth: the mirage of a new America, complete with a “Chinese Dream” and the moral zeal of its Puritanical CCP-Confucianism. For the Western economist, this takes the form of a steady-handed Sino-Keynesianism, as new infrastructure projects are initiated by more charitable global financial institutions such as the China Development Bank, promising the salvation of the world’s final far-flung hinterlands. In the official discourse of the Chinese state, this represents nothing more than the slow transition to communism, with a long layover in the stage of “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” wherein capitalist mechanisms are used to develop the productive forces until general wealth is possible.

In both narratives, China remains an obscure, somewhat ominous exception, despite its complete incorporation into the global economy. Somehow it seems exempt from the rules, with a vague intuition that, with such a large population, such a powerful government, such a massive concentration of fixed capital, etc., the Chinese thereby hold some sort of deus ex machina for the drama of our current global economic decline. The problem in this reading is the same as that confronted by Pereira centuries ago: the very object of inquiry proves illusory. The mercenary enters the heart of the empire only to discover that the empire does not exist.

One of our primary aims in Chuang is to disperse this mirage..."

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