A monumental history of China. A gigantic country whose population represents a sixth of all humanity and which has been the main one for centuries, until the arrival of the Industrial Revolution, but whose eventuality over time is, however, very little known in the West. British Michael Wood (Manchester, 1948), historian, journalist, author of Chinese history for the BBC and other documentaries on Deng Xiaoping’s reform and on Du Fu – the greatest poet, he says, of the old and eternal Middle Kingdom – is now being released on chinese history (Aticus of Books) on a journey through a civilization marked by geography, especially by the fierce Yellow River and its unpredictable floods, overflowing on more than a thousand occasions and to which sacrifices and rituals were offered to calm it down.
A river that came to kill seven million people in the flood of 1332 –although the problem today is the scarcity of its flow– and on which grew, he recalls, “the essential Han civilization that would become the State of China a few years ago It’s been so long.” A civilization always afraid that a river disaster would collapse society millennia ago generated the need for a strong state capable of digging dykes, supervising irrigation, or scanning the sky for weather patterns. A story found in the country’s myths, such as that of King Yu the Great, “the one who subdues the flood.” “Rivers create different characters. In the Egyptian civilization, the Nile rose every year on the same day, it was benign, it brought life. The Yellow was unpredictable, killed millions, continually changing its course. Controlling it as best they could was very important very early on,” remarks Wood.
Xi asks to read Confucius and in the new orthodoxy there is no distinction between before and after Deng Xiaoping’s reform
And he points out that “all civilizations have deep-rooted tendencies within them, and in China, when the empire ended in 1912 and the republic came and then the communists took over, if you read the Western academics of the 1950s, they were all stunned. how the communist system replicated the authoritarian bureaucratic regime of the Ming and Qing dynasties”. “Another important factor that comes from the deep past and still works today is monarchism, the idea of the great leader, seen as benevolent, wise, powerful. Mao is an example. Despite the fabulous qualities of the Chinese people, patience, hard work, realism, they end up believing that the great leader has the answers, the solution to political problems. And President Xi sees it today, ”he adds.
And remember that, although China today criticizes imperialism, it took over Xinjiang, Tibet and part of Mongolia. And that if the government of the Communist Party in recent decades has lifted more people out of poverty than ever in history, “there are huge inequalities and the possession of wealth is the same as in Great Britain, 1% has a huge percentage ”.
A system that Wood calls “Confucianist Leninist.” “In Mao’s time the Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution went to dig the graves of Confucius (551-479 BC) and his family to destroy them. Now President Xi writes the sash that wraps the new edition of Confucius’ thought and says: read this book”, he smiles. “The role of Confucianism in China is enormous. It may surprise you, but the central idea of Chinese civilization is a moral order. In the West, our order was guided by religion and morality came from there. In China it came from philosophical ideas, ”he reflects. “In society those values are still there. It is a country with a large population and collective values are important. Many people have felt that the Communist Party did not give them a path and without that order declined. An order that has nothing to do with praying but with loyalty, relationships with your neighbors and the community. I recommend reading the letter 08 written in China in 2008 by three hundred intellectuals like Liu Xiaobo. It talks about what the Communist Party has achieved, but also about what has gone wrong in this regard.”
Wood talks about how the country has oscillated between order and chaos, like the Five Dynasties period, with revolutions, murders and cannibalism, talks about the amazing feminist manifesto in China in 1907 at the time of Empress Dowager Cixi, and why Of course, he talks about Mao, “a nationalist revolutionary, but not a Marxist at the beginning.” “Some believe that he was evil since he was a child, I believe that he wanted to fight against injustice and his power consumed him. With the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward, tens of millions died. What worries me is Xi Jinping’s conception of Chinese history. Deng Xiaoping’s reform since 1979 is downplayed, the new orthodoxy does not distinguish before and after. Mistakes are not talked about, and Mao, whom Xi is an admirer of, is being elevated again. He has returned the cult of personality that Deng hated ”.