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Month: March 2015 Page 2 of 3

China, An Urban or Rural Society?

Is China a rural or urban society? Is this likely to change over the next decade?

The answer to the question of to what extent China is a “rural” versus “urban” society depends largely on how one chooses to quantify and qualify “rural” and “urban.” This choice is particularly complex and complicated for the case of China; as a result of China’s enormous territorial and demographic size, massive populations live in both “rural” and “urban” areas, making it difficult to come to a single, general conclusion about the overall character of Chinese society. Furthermore, various factors blend the distinctions between “rural” and “urban.” The difficulties which arise in answering the question because of these factors will be discussed later in this response. However, to provide a simple response to the question, and using population statistics as a measure to quantify the “rural” and “urban” nature of Chinese society, I would conclude that China is now an “urban” society. Over half of China’s population lived in urban areas by the end of 2013. In addition, migration into urban areas is likely going to only increase over the next decade, as both governmental forces, such as plans to move millions of people into developing cities, and nongovernmental forces, such as work-related migration, drive continued urbanization. Indeed, official predictions for 2020 state that at least 60 percent of the population will live in urbanized areas.[1] As such, China is slated to become even more of an urban society in the coming years.

Approaching the question through the lenses of structural and elite analysis also brings about the conclusion that China is arguably more “urban” than “rural.” Various structural and organizational features of the Chinese political system give more importance to urban areas than to rural areas. For one, China’s cities and other major urban areas are more directly connected to the state and party apparatus than its rural areas. Individual cities exist at the same level in the regional organization of China’s government as large rural areas, and a particular few of China’s largest cities exist at the same level of government as entire regions. Accordingly, China’s urban areas are more directly governed by, influenced by, and in turn more directly influence, the higher levels of the Chinese Communist Party than China’s rural areas, which often operate with a degree of independence and autonomy. In a country where party and state are so intricately linked, these connections serve as important measures of the significance of urban versus rural areas in Chinese society. Furthermore, the prominent road to higher power for aspiring members of the Chinese Communist Party is to administer major urban areas. For the political elite, urban areas represent career advancement and a chance to make a name for themselves far more readily than rural areas, thereby reinforcing the importance of urban China over rural China in Chinese political culture.

Historically, too, the heightened political importance of China’s urban areas over its rural areas is apparent. The countryside has long been neglected by the party elite, who have, through policies and patterns of investment which have benefited urban areas, created a significant discrepancy between high urban and low rural levels of development. Even during the Maoist years, which gave rhetorical and theoretical importance to the rural peasant and rural society, were China’s rural areas given secondary importance behind the urban areas; such can be seen as an explanation for why the famines and poverty of the Great Leap Forward struck China’s rural population hardest. Not only have such patterns of inequality in Communist Party policy persisted into the Reform Era, but the party’s ideological stance has grown to incorporate and highlight the importance of distinctly urban populations. Jiang Zemin’s idea of the “Three Represents,” which highlighted “high culture” and served in part as an ideological justification for allowing private entrepreneurs to be members of the Communist Party, is representative of the growing political importance placed on these developing urban trends and groups.

Yet these answers fall short of truly addressing the question, again perhaps because it is difficult to distinguish China as either an urban and rural society. While some states with small populations and territories can be clearly defined as “urban” or “rural,” China, with its massive population divided between intensely urbanized areas and deeply rural areas, is perhaps best defined as “both.” Defining China’s society with a broadly general term overlooks the complexity of and divisions in China’s population, with the lives and livelihoods of China’s rural and urban populations often being very dissimilar, and ignores the separate and often very different issues that China’s government faces when dealing with and administering urban and rural areas. In the particular case of China, there are also issues with the method by which “urban” and “rural” is usually quantified and qualified. Much of China’s “urban” population is actually comprised of “rural” migrants who have moved into the cities for work, and who often then return to the countryside. Accordingly, the distinctions between urban and rural populations are often blended, complicating the task of clearly defining who is an urban versus a rural resident. Furthermore, rural and urban areas are often mixed together in China’s administrative system; the administrative areas of some cities extend over both urban and rural zones. The fact that there are people living rural lifestyles in urban areas in China further complicates the answer to this question.

China is thus perhaps most appropriately defined as both an urban and a rural society. It is otherwise too difficult, and perhaps poor political science, to broadly generalize and define Chinese society. While a number of lenses of analysis and units of measurement would point to China being more of an urban than rural society or would indicate that China’s urban areas are more important than its rural areas, the fact nonetheless remains: more Chinese than the total populations of many of the world’s countries live in China’s rural areas and live rural lifestyles, and, despite increasing urbanization, the issues and characteristics which define and make distinct rural China are likely around to stay for a long time.

[1] “China’s urbanization level to reach 60 pct by 2020,” Xinhau Net, accessed March 15, 2015, http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/china/2014-03/16/c_133190605.htm

The Importance of Understanding China’s Imperial Heritage

Is knowledge about China’s imperial heritage important for understanding Chinese government and society today?

Not only would I argue that knowledge about China’s imperial heritage is important for understanding Chinese government and society today, I would say that knowledge about China’s imperial heritage is necessary for doing so. As an aside, I believe that this question touches upon a broader characteristic of political science, in which no country’s political system, political culture, or geopolitical role can be properly understood outside of that country’s historical context. If the field of history describes what major political decisions have been made, the field of political science describes how and why those political decisions came to be; underlying these two fields is the fact that events in the past come to intimately shape and define the characteristics of a country’s contemporary policy-making and political systems. It is thus impossible for the political scientist to adequately understand a country without first grounding themselves in the major characteristics of that country’s past. Nonetheless, in the specific case of China, a number of specific features and characteristics of China’s past and the legacy of its imperial heritage have shaped, and continue to define, contemporary Chinese government and society. Among them are the legacy of Imperial hegemony and China’s “national humiliation,” which drives contemporary Chinese nationalism and assertive foreign policy, the legacy of the “peasant rebellion,” which underlies the agrarian, peasant-based foundation of Maoist theory and China’s Communist Revolution, and the legacy of Imperial China’s bureaucratic and Confucian traditions, which continue to lend cultural legitimacy to China’s bureaucratic, authoritarian, single-party political system.

The Chinese civilization is among the oldest in the world, having lasted continuously for thousands of years. Throughout the breadth of Imperial history, China had not only been a center of rich artistic, religious, cultural, scientific, and technical advancement, but had also been among the strongest powers in the Asia-Pacific. The strength of Chinese civilization was reflected in the fact that foreign conquerors, rather than imposing their cultural norms and values on the Chinese, instead took Chinese culture as their own. As such, when it comes to their heritage, the Chinese have much to be proud about, and this pride manifests itself in growing contemporary nationalism. Connected intricately to this rich history and the nationalism which it breeds is the period of “national humiliation” China suffered at the hands of Western imperialist powers in the 19th and early 20th centuries, during which China was relegated to a second- or third-tier colonial status and in which Chinese values and culture came under increasing attack by the West. The period of “national humiliation” was a striking blow to the Chinese psyche, and almost all subsequent political events in China can be seen as an attempt to overcome that humiliation; indeed, the Chinese Communist Party, by premising a great deal of its legitimacy on its continued success in bringing economic and geopolitical growth to China, has taken on the role of restoring China to the eminence it once possessed. The increasingly assertive and aggressive foreign policy that characterizes Xi Jinping’s administration, which is driven by and in turn drives Chinese nationalism, is just another manifestation of the Chinese attempt to restore China to its “rightful” position of power and prestige on the regional and global stages.

The tradition of the “peasant rebellion” is a distinct, and perhaps unique, characteristic of Imperial Chinese history. Throughout much of the Imperial period, mass peasant movements, frustrated by the failure of ruling dynasties to uphold the “Mandate of Heaven,” challenged, and occasionally overthrew, the ruling regime. Near the end of Imperial history, the Taiping and Boxer Rebellions, both mass peasant movements, further challenged the Chinese state. Indeed, the proto-communist elements of the former and the anti-imperialist motivation of the latter were harbingers of the rhetoric which would serve as the basis of China’s Communist Revolution. Mao based the ideological and theoretical premises of his communist movement on the agrarian peasant and mass mobilization, no doubt drawing inspiration from the historical precedent set by past “peasant rebellions.” There are, to be fair, endless criticisms of Mao’s ideological basis, which was arguably less peasant-based than the usual narrative portrays it to be, and, especially since the Reform Era, China’s peasants have played an increasingly less prominent role in the Chinese state. Yet, nonetheless, in order to understand the contemporary Chinese state and Communist Party, one must first understand its origins in the Maoist era, and, in turn, to understand the Maoist Era, one must first be grounded in an understanding of the precedents set by the tradition of the “peasant rebellion.” Also of growing significance in contemporary China is the issue of rural agitation, in which disgruntled peasants are increasingly willing to organize and protest against perceived offenses by the state. These modern day “peasant rebellions,” too, are grounded in and likely influenced by the historical precedent set by those of the past.

There is also the legacy of Imperial China’s bureaucratic and Confucian heritage, which today influences the character and culture of China’s political system. The Imperial Chinese system was long characterized by a massive, well-trained, and competitive bureaucracy that was ultimately answerable to the ruling Emperor. The contemporary Chinese state, characterized by a well-organized hierarchy of power, a large state sector, and a significant wealth of bureaucratic institutions ultimately answerable to the highest echelons of the Chinese Communist Party, can be seen as a continuation of this organizational tradition from China’s historical heritage. China’s Confucian tradition, which instilled values of deference to authority and respect for elders, is, despite various attempts during the Maoist years to undermine or eliminate it, still a pervasive part of the Chinese political culture. Most of China’s upper leadership, who wield the bulk of power in the Chinese system, are “elderly,” and, though other, modern factors such as improvements in the quality life may keep China’s population politically subdued and apathetic, the underlying Confucian value of deference to authority undoubtedly plays some role in reinforcing authoritarian, one-party rule. After all, cultural norm and values, especially those as long-lasting and deeply entrenched as China’s Confucianism, serve as the foundation by which individuals perceive, interact with, and form expectations of their state and society.

Accordingly, knowledge of China’s Imperial heritage is crucial for an understanding of contemporary Chinese government and society. Many facets of the Imperial era, such as the tradition of the “peasant rebellion,” the bureaucratic and Confucian organization of the Chinese state and society, and the period of “national humiliation” in Chinese history, all directly and indirectly influence and shape the modern day characteristics of China. Of course, China is not a unique when it comes to the necessity for a background understanding of its history; a political scientist studying any country must first ground themselves in the historical context of that country before they can truly “understand” its present day characteristics. After all, political science and history are two deeply intertwined fields, perhaps even more interconnected than political scientists and historians often wish to them credit.

An Analysis of Post-2008 U.S.-G.C.C. Relations

The strategic relationship between the United States of America and the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is perhaps one of the most long-standing and pivotal partnerships in the Middle East, and is critical for maintaining regional prosperity, security, and stability. The United States has a number of major interests in the GCC region, which extend from the strategic into the economic, political, and commercial realms, while the countries of the GCC have long looked the United States for a closer and more beneficial relationship.[i] Since the beginning of the first Obama administration in 2008, the Middle East has undergone a series of tumultuous changes, has faced significant challenges and threats, and has evolved in a considerable manner. The relationship between the United States and the GCC, meanwhile, has equally evolved, with a number of evident successes and failures. This brief paper analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of American policy toward the GCC since 2008.

The period before 2008 saw the GCC play pivotal roles in the United States’ involvement in the Middle East; GCC states helped supported the international effort to end the Iraq-Iran war, prevent the spread of the Iranian revolution, reverse Iraq’s aggression against Kuwait, and topple Afghanistan’s Taliban government[ii]. Frequently, GCC support for these endeavors was manifest from a close alignment of interests between the United States and the states which constitute the Council. In the beginning years of the first Obama administration, however, the United States’ response to a number of critical events saw the misalignment of interests; in a number of ways, this departure of aligned policy preferences between the GCC and United States set afoul their relationship. Relations were strained by the United States’ indecision over the conflict in Syria; GCC states were prepared to support the United States for a military intervention which ultimately did not materialize.[iii] The United States’ muted and confused reaction to political instability in Egypt disillusioned GCC states, which had supported the ouster of Morsi’s Islamist government. The failure in Washington to engage in productive and conclusive diplomatic talks with Iran, along with the continuing prolongation of the issue of a nuclear Iran, has been a further cause of concern for the GCC states, which fear the strategic threat nuclear proliferation may cause. Not only this, the United States’ unwillingness to engage the GCC in dialogue over these talks has been a continued source of concern. Some have seen Saudi Arabia’s refusal to accept a seat on the UN Security Council as an expression of frustration over these developments, a reflection of broader GCC perceptions and concerns.[iv] Furthermore, for many in the GCC who saw Obama’s commitment to an “Asia pivot” as an intention to rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific Theater, there have been concerns that the strategic relationship may be irreparably damaged. This fear has only been abetted by the United States limited engagement against the Islamic State and its continuing vacillation on Syria.[v] In many ways, the GCC-US relationship has seen better and brighter days.

Yet, despite these failures, and despite the weakening of the US-GCC relationship during the crucial years that have followed 2008, there have nonetheless been a number of successes along with areas for continued success. The developments in Iraq, with the collapse of the Iraqi army and advancement of the Islamic State, have realigned GCC and American interests in a critical way. It has become evident to many that a strengthened US-GCC relationship is the only practical method for the United States to counter these new developments. The United States’ acceptance of GCC participation in the coalition against the Islamic State has reaffirmed the importance of the GCC-US relationship. Meanwhile, the September 25th, 2014 meeting of the GCC-US Strategic Cooperation Forum signaled a renewal and reaffirmation of American commitment to assisting and enhancing the construction of GCC maritime security, missile architecture, expanding counter-terrorism activities, furthering cooperation in economic development and modernization, and expanding trade and commercial cooperation. Such developments are likely harbingers of a strengthening and re-commitment of American policy toward the GCC.[vi] Furthermore, despite the weakening of relations between the GCC and the United States, strategic arms sales continue to grow unabated, signaling at least the United States’ continued strategic involvement, engagement, and support for the GCC.[vii]

As such, the relationship between the United States and the GCC has seen its successes and failures in the period since 2008, successes and failures which have largely been a result of American policy toward the Middle East. While there are signs of a renewed strengthening of the relationship, there are issues that nonetheless remain which must be ironed out in order to reestablish a strong partnership between the GCC and the United States. America must align its policies, or at least reconsider its strategic interests, on Syria with those of the GCC if a deeper cooperation between the two is to exist. The United States must take steps to reassume the GCC that a nuclear deal with Iran will not bring about Iranian strategic dominance in the region, nor will it lessen the United States’ commitment to GCC stability and security. Nonetheless, going forward, GCC-US relations are likely to show extensive attempts at correcting for misunderstandings and missed opportunities; as developments in the Middle East continue to threaten regional, and global, security, prosperity, and stability, it is deeply within the interests of both partners to see the continued success and strengthening of this key relationship.

Works Cited

[i] Anthony, John Duke. “The U.S.-GCC Relationship.” National Council on US-Arab Relations. December 15, 2006. Accessed January 23, 2015. http://ncusar.org/publications/Publications/2006.12.15-JDA-US-GCC Relations.pdf.

[ii] Ibid

[iii] Despite Tensions, US-GCC Military Relations Strong.” Defense News. November 10, 2013. Accessed January 23, 2015. http://www.defensenews.com/article/20131110/DEFREG02/311100004/Despite-Tensions-US-GCC-Military-Relations-Strong.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Harb, Imad. “Anaylsis- Return of Strong GCC-US Strategic Relations.” Saudi-US Relations Information Service. November 28, 2014. Accessed January 24, 2015. http://susris.com/2014/11/28/analysis-return-of-strong-gcc-us-strategic-relations-harb/.

[vi] Ibid

[vii] Despite Tensions, US-GCC Military Relations Strong.” Defense News. November 10, 2013. Accessed January 23, 2015. http://www.defensenews.com/article/20131110/DEFREG02/311100004/Despite-Tensions-US-GCC-Military-Relations-Strong.

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