The brief history of the book that triumphed in China after the assault on the Capitol

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Facts connect in the most unexpected ways to build the story. What does it have to do with a Chinese academic publishing a book in 1991, America against AmericaWhat went practically unnoticed then, with the fact that 30 years later, on January 6, 2021, one of the most unusual events in the democratic history of America takes place, the assault on the Capitol?

Simply that the assault on the Capitol aroused in China an unusual interest in the aforementioned book, reaching the cost of Kungfuzi, a portal on-line, more than $ 2,500, that is, 3,000 times its original market price in 1991.

When its author, Wáng Hùníng (王 沪宁), wrote it, China was just a project, under the baton of the historical Dèng Xiǎopíng (邓小平), and not even the most astute – although Napoleon already said in 1816 that it was better to let China sleep , because with its awakening the world would shake – they expected the Dragon to become what it is today. Much the same could be said of Wáng Hùníng.

China watches America

America against America it is fascinating for a number of reasons. The first is that, like a modern Tocqueville, Wáng Hùníng turned his gaze to the American phenomenon in search of a model that would allow him to answer the question of why the Chinese phenomenon fell off the train of the most advanced nations. As early as 1923, Blasco Ibáñez said in the pages that he dedicates to China in Around the world of a novelist, that in the city of Shěnyáng (沈 阳), “near the station there are modern high-rise buildings that imitate American architecture with all their audacity.”

In many respects what the dragon has done, since the Great Helmsman’s demise, is boldly imitate many of the practices that have made America great. Without embarrassment, it can be said that for many Chinese characteristics that have been tried to apply to the country’s development and growth model, the advances it has made, especially in science and technology, have been based on American teachings. Only well into the 21st century, and more specifically from the second decade of this century, can it be said that the Dragon has begun to be the master of his own fire.

A second interesting aspect of the book is Wáng Hùníng’s young and astonished gaze at the things that abounded in America at that time. Thus, he points out that what was most there were the four ces, because the Eagle was full, at that time, of what the Dragon lacked: cars (cars), phones (call is the word he uses – there were no mobiles yet -), computers and credit cards (card).

Manhattan. February 1990.
Thomas Schilling / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

These four ces that so caught his attention now populate the life of China, where there are more vehicles (300 million) than people in most countries. The Dragon also tops the list of countries with the largest number of telephone devices in the world: 1,382 million per 317 million US cell phones. Regarding the use of credit cards, it must be said that China is far ahead of the rest, because there everything is done with the credit card, which is incorporated into the Wechat application, known in Chinese as Wēixìn (微 信).

It is also true that the country is full of computers. In this regard, the former correspondent of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Filippo Santelli, highlights in his book La Cina is not one, that the telephone (not the computer) is the means by which China has entered the Internet age and has become digitized. In a survey carried out by the University of Peking, cited by Santelli, it was pointed out that 99.8% of the respondents had answered that the medium they used the most to read the news was precisely the smartphone. This trend is global – Santelli concludes – but in China it has something extreme.

It is also extreme, obviously, to observe that when setting an object of study, scholars take the precaution of pointing out that the mentioned object, China, America or anything else, is not monolithic, homogeneous and easily understandable.

Thus, Wáng Hùníng declares that the intention with the title of his book (“America against America”) is to show that America cannot be dismissed with a single sentence. Santelli alludes to the same (“China is not one”). It seems clear that in both countries there are innumerable contradictions. Is it always necessary to affirm it to make the complexity of the matter clear, or is it that we are not in a position to assume that complexity and it is necessary to remember it?

But who is Wáng Hùníng?

Wáng Hùníng was signed by President Jiāng Zémín (江泽民). Surprisingly, as unusual, he also served with Hú Jǐntāo and is still active with Xí Jìnpíng, whom he accompanies on all state trips. He is also one of seven members of the exclusive Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China. All this without ever having been the head of a province or mayor of a city, or anything like it.

Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping at the international forum of the initiative Belt and Road, with Wáng Hùníng in the background.
The Russian Presidential Press and Information Office, CC BY

In Chinese political lies he is compared to historical figures of great significance, such as the sociologist and philosopher Hú Qiáomù (胡乔木), who was always behind Mao. In the West he resembles François Leclerc du Tremblay, better known as Father Joseph, the court advisor to Cardinal Richelieu.

What is indisputable is that for everyone he is the gray eminence of Chinese politics. So much so that he is known by the irreverent and censored name of dìshī (帝 师), the emperor’s teacher. The name is irreverent because the first character means emperor and the second, teacher. This suggests that the president of China is an emperor and that the emperor is simultaneously a student. Both suggestions remove the foundations of political correctness.

A dreamer or a pragmatist

With more than twenty books to his credit and unusual political experience behind the scenes, it is not known whether Wáng Hùníng is a realist or an idealist. Realists tend to limit their dreams, not letting them fill their heads with birds, as they say. At the other extreme are the idealists, who tend to downgrade their dreams and give them free rein. The tension between the two types is evident in all areas of life, and the distinction between one and the other is not as clear as it might seem at first glance.

Those who say they are realistic, does not stop dreaming, and those who call themselves a dreamer, do not stop landing in reality so that their dreams materialize. Realists could not live without elevating the spirit, nor dreamers without descending to earth.

In which category would you include someone highly politically influential who describes himself as a reader rather than a teacher? Someone who has kept his position high because he keeps his head down, according to some of his critics, but who has not renounced his ideas, doing everything possible to make them circulate, as is the case of the Chinese dream, and model the reality of China or the world?

That someone is Wáng Hùníng, whom Timothy Cheek, author of the book The Intellectual in Modern Chinese History, considers one of the great intellectuals of the modern system of China. Wáng Hùníng may be a category unto itself, and it may also be that the assault on the Capitol has created a category, still unclassified, historical fact. Perhaps the most fascinating book has yet to be written.


A version of this article was originally published in English on IE University’s Insights website.


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