The Rise of Nations

"The Rise of Nations" is a 12-episdoe documentary series shown on CCTV on November 13-24, 2006.  The series covers the rise of nations such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan and Russia and draws the lessons about how and why strong nations emerge.

Here are some translated Chinese netizen comments (ChineseNewsNet).  I would make clear what the meaning and limits of these comments.  The program series was seen by hundreds of millions of people.  Several hundreds thousand people probably posted comments at blogs and forums.  There is no scientific basis for rounding up a "representative" sample of opinions.  Therefore, these comments should not be taken as "representative."  Instead, you read them as a random and possibly unpresentative collage of Chinese thoughts.

- Hmm hmm.  I just finished watching the episode about the Russian empire.  Hmm hmm.  Damn!  It related the story of the Russian empire from the October Revolution to the end of Soviet Russia.  It was generalized, superficial and unsubstantive.  There was not a single word mentioned about the repression in the late 1930's by Stalin.  It was like as if the episode never occurred.  CCTV, I f**k your m****r.  How can anyone be so shameless?

- What does "The Rise of Nations" mean?  Why use this title?  I have not yet watched this series.  But several days ago I saw the commercial for the series.  At the time, I felt uneasy about the title "The Rise of Nations."  When Chairman Mao got up at Tiananmen Square and proclaimed, "The Chinese people have stood up!", we rose  up.  Afterwards we busied ourselves with helping the oppressed people of Asia, Africa and Latin America to fight the imperialists.  Then we became the strategic partner of the United States and we were proud and honored to be sitting with the superstrong Big Brother (unfortunately a few of their guided missiles hit our embassy by mistake and the honor of this strategic partner was shattered).  Consequently, I have no interest in the rise of nations.  I care about the rise of a system of law, democracy and justice.
- I saw a bit of it in the past two days, and I don't like it.  First of all, I am suspicious of the title, "The Rise of Nations."  What is "The Rise of Nations"?  Is this about militarism wanting to rule the world?  When I watched it, this was the strongly hinted meaning.  The theme of this television film was not to tell us about how other people became rich and bountiful, or how they went from having no rights to owning rights or how they attained universal suffrage.  That is not what this is about.  The main theme of the film was about how the nations obtained the means to become strong and hence dominate the world.  Is this a good thing?  

The intent of this film "to learn from the West" is obvious.  But what does it suggest that we should learn?  To make your nation strong, do you get it?  Getting rich, universal suffrage, human rights, constitutional governance and all that are only means that serve to make the nation strong.  There is one and only one true goal: to be a strong nation.  This is Liu Yazhou's viewpoint.  Back then, Japan imitated the West, introduced the Meiji reform and established a constitutional government.  This led to militarism, which initiated foreign invasions that were catastrophic for the entire world as well as their own citizens.  In China today, there are many "patriots" who are nationalists who hope for their nation to "rise."  If China rises, will it repeat the militarism of Japan?

Even in Europe which has a long history of constitutional democracy, Fascism emerged in Germany!  Wasn't Hitler elected by the votes of the German working class?  The German working class destroyed the constitutional democracy and supported foreign wars.  So what is this supposed to mean?  Do not think that majority rule means an acceptable constitutional government.  Do not think that universal suffrage can accomplish everything.  Think about it, if China has universal suffrage to elect the President, what will happen if a situation like the one in Germany emerges.  The workers and farmers like to solve problems by force.  If at that time they advocate the "rise" of the nation and initiate foreign wars to make China strong, what happens?

Therefore, please do not praise "The Rise of Nations" lightly.  It is dangerous to do that.  You must keep calm and not be rash.  We should learn the lessons of Japan and Germany.  We want universal suffrage, but we want to avoid militarism and majority mob rule.

-- Ho ho!  I just watched episode 11.  The others were better, but this one was saying about how wonderful Soviet Russia was.  It was disgusting!  Hitler's Nazis were also wonderful.  The Nazis were better than Soviets, because they developed industrially while also raising the living standards of the people.  Meanwhile, the Soviets developed militarily even as its people lived in hardship!  CCTV only wants to talk about economics, not politics!  This is precisely where America is different from Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany.  America talks about economic development in a free democracy, while Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany talk about economic development in an autocracy with centralized power.

-- Why does the American economy continue to grow while Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia have faded away?  This is because America developed its economy in a free democracy, while the latter developed their economies within centralized autocracies.  Economic development in a free democracy is sustainable, but economic development in an autocracy is not.  Today, America is just as strong, or even stronger than before, whereas Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia have disappeared.  ... Today, we do not study the free democracy behind the success of American economy.  We only want to learn from their economic experiences.  How is this different from the failed late Qing attempt to "base everything on Chinese principles while making use of western knowledge"?

-- Today's episode (the second chapter on America) mentioned President Roosevelt's freedom from want.  I recall that President Roosevelt said that humans have four basic freedoms.  CCTV avoided mentioning the other three freedoms.  For the record, here is Roosevelt's complete list:

The first is freedom of speech and expression --everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way-- everywhere in the world. 

The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants --everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor --anywhere in the world.

-- To put it bluntly, this was just more false voices packaged through a party mouthpiece.  There is nothing new here.  I even think that the series is intentionally misleading the people and advocating the resurgence of the Chinese people.  This is the kind of thing that certain leaders like.

-- First, the chapter on Soviet Russia ended with the dissolution of the system, without mentioning the economic reforms afterwards.  Second, the fall of Soviet Russia was related only to the planned economy and the cult of personality around Stalin.  They did not dig deeper into the causes, and it leaves you hanging.  Third, the chapter on America brought up intellectual property rights once again.  All three industrial revolutions occurred in America, and the protection of intellectual property rights is one reason.  Its importance is that it allowed built a new system for science and technology in relationship to the industrial, commercial and educational systems.  None of this was mentioned.  The reason why there were so many immigrants going to America is related to freedom, human rights conditions and absence of religious persecution.  None of this was mentioned.  

-- I don't understand what Hu Jintao is up to.  On one hand, he is clamping down on speech, arresting dissidents, emphasizing that we must learn from North Korea and purging the party ranks.  On the other hand, he produces this good film.  Or could this film come from anti-Hu forces within the Party hitting back and creating a public wave to begin an attack on Hu?  Or did Hu do all the other things in order to open the way to democracy in order to benefit the people?  Or is Hu involved in a very very very very big chess game?

-- I just finished watching the first chapter on Russia.  I suddenly understood the true intent of CCTV: expansion by force does not work; capitalism does not work; the simple socialism of Soviet Russia was doomed to fail.  So the only thing left is the "peaceful rise of a harmonious socialism with unique Chinese characteristics!"

(SCMP)  Propaganda takes back seat in fêted CCTV series.  By Irene Wang.  November 27, 2006.

"I can't believe it's produced by China Central Television," 28-year-old Beijing finance worker Mike Yin said halfway through the broadcast of CCTV's new epic 12-part series The Rise of the Great Nations.  "Unlike our textbooks, the programme did not attribute western countries' success to their invasions of other countries, and it did not mention Marxism in the section about Germany, which we had to learn when we were at school."

The series, which ended on Friday night, took an unusually clear-eyed look at nine of the world's main powers over the past 500 years and examined why they thrived.

In the fortnight since it started airing, the series has been praised by viewers for its factual approach, and ignited discussion about what China could learn from how countries from Spain to Japan came to the fore.  Stripped of official history's ideological emphasis, the series carried extensive interviews with leading international thinkers, and examined the social, technical, economic and political contexts that forged "greatness".

A contributor to the chat room said: "For the first time they abandoned hackneyed and stereotyped expressions such as `looting' and `bleeding people to accumulate wealth'. For the first time they systematically adopted an appreciative perspective to learn from the rise of the world powers."  Another said: "Even though the documentary talked about things that are universally right, such as liberty, equality and humanity, we did not recognise them before. Now it is a great progress that we can affirm them positively."

History is a sensitive subject in the mainland media. One 1988 television series about the past has even been credited by some with sowing the seeds of revolt.

He Shang, or The Young Death of a River, was enormously popular when it was broadcast 18 years ago on CCTV and then banned. The programme suggested China, a nation shaped by the Yellow River, should learn from the west, suggestions some say helped foment the 1989 student movement.  But with The Rise of the Great Nations, producers are on safer ground because the series emerged from a directive of President Hu Jintao .

In November 2003 the Politburo studied the history of the nine countries since the 15th century, and Mr Hu called on officials and the public to consider not only Chinese history but also world history when pondering how China should grasp the chance to develop.  Then CCTV spent three years shooting the documentaries in the nine countries and interviewing analysts around the globe.

CCTV president Zhao Huayong contributed the preface to a book on the series and said the programmes involved a search for distinctive features and underlying principles. "We are not only showing the distinctive, unrepeatable aspects and national characteristics [of each country], but also exploring some common rules," he said. "It focuses thoughts on what history brings to reality".

The mainland opened up to western ideas in the late 1970s, but most efforts focused on technology and business management. In contrast, the series highlights successes in state governance, including core human values, constitutional government and education.

Gao Dai from Peking University's history department wrote the section about Britain and said it was necessary for China to learn more about the experiences of western countries.  "We seldom had positive coverage before of the western modernisation process, so China needs to absorb more of the advanced experiences of other countries," he said.

Professor Gao said the series was factual because the academic community participated in scriptwriting and set the tone. "We don't force the audience to believe anything, and we want to inspire our audience to draw their own conclusions."

Blogger Jayke, writing on Sina's site, saw parallels between the insecure lives of mainland farmers and the gap between the value of industrial and agricultural output in the Soviet Union in the 1920s, a crisis known as the "scissors gap". He asked: "Will the scissors gap between agricultural product prices and industrial product prices invented by Stalin [continue] to sever the lives of farmers now in China?"

Some respondents also complained about the lack of investment in education after watching the episode highlighting Germany's education policy.  "Germany had compulsory education 300 years ago, and the king used up the nation's last savings to establish a university, but we only spend 3 per cent of our GDP on education," one contributor said.

The dean of Peking University's School of International Studies, Wang Jisi , said the mainland was at a developmental crossroads. "China now has the opportunity for rapid development boosted by its cheap labour, but whether it can find the force to sustain its development is critical," he said.

The mainland should acquire some of the west's respect for knowledge and professionals, and encourage investment in education, but western political systems might not work for China. "The system is driven by people. The reality shows that many introduced systems went off-track in China," he said.

Related Link: The Rise Of Great Nations/What China Wants  Dan Harris, China Law Blog