Unification & Harmony – China’s Strategy For Self, Nation, And The World

By Prof. Vera Schwarcz – MEMRI  – Inquiry and Analysis No.1557


There are many weapons in China’s arsenal for imposing autocratic control within and for seeking hegemony in the world arena. Two of the ideological tools are the concepts of “unification” and of “harmony.” Both are tooted in Confucian tradition, both are used to strengthen the Chinese Communist Party (CCPT) and the reign of President Xi Jinping. The Chinese regime has been actively promoting the traditional values of obedience to family and state for the past decade. Newspaper articles and editorials as well as publicly displayed propaganda that looks like classical poetry have reversed the attacks on “feudal Confucianism” in the late-Mao era. School children are forced to memorize the Analects (along with passages by Xi Jinping). Their textbooks contain stories about benevolent emperors and kings who unified the country at all cost.1 Behavioral reinforcement for sitting up straight, for not asking contentious questions, for giving the one correct answer to tests (even in highs school and college) reinforce the Communist Party’s claim to be heir to the best of Chinese traditional culture.

This does not mean that youth is not allowed to indulge (in a very controlled fashion) in “Western” activities such a rap concerts or dancing in bars. What matters is that regime has codified those key themes in Confucian culture which emphasize the harmonizing powers of the autocratic state. Advancement within the Party and society in general requires filial piety — respectful self-sacrifice toward elders both within the family and in society. 2 Unity and harmony are presented as cultural values relevant to cultures beyond the Chinese borders.

Xi’s current vision of a world threaded by a common, China-defined order goes beyond its prowess in 5G technologies. Ancient culture valorized unity at the cost of diversity over millennia. When Global Times published a recent image of a man mapping the globe with a touch of his phone, it was pointing beyond map-making software. Acknowledging the imperial past which had preferred calligraphic cartography to accuracy, the article suggested that China was now poised on a totally different path. The “China Dream” now includes the know-how and the will to create a monopoly of networks so that no one will ever need to worry about being lost in space, about disparate opinions or even about injustice.

China Aims to Unify the World through Party-Produced Technologies (Source:

While Americans and Europeans remained riveted by questions of racial prejudice, the threat of war, unemployment and fundamentalist Islam, Chinese intellectuals are encouraged to engage in “patriotic worrying” (忧患意识 youhan yishi, literally “anxiety and distress”) that will lead them to find the “correct formula” to solve China’s problems. The assumption of political leaders is that a single solution will emerge which will be in accordance with Party dictates and also in keeping with traditional conceptions of state-enforced harmony. These conceptions have deep roots in Confucian culture, which has penetrated deeply into Chinese society since the 2nd century BC.

Confucius’ own Analects were required study for the official examination system. For the masses, a distillation of this classical text became a moralistic creed as well as the subject of village operas and songs. With the emergence of the autocratic imperial system, Confucianism became a useful tool to enforce familial obedience as well as loyalty to the Emperor. The Communist Party under the reign of Xi Jinping has made concerted efforts in the last decade to reinforce Confucian teachings which emphasize duty to the state and compliance with directives from the political center. This continuum of spirit between tradition and modernity has been especially emphasized in current propaganda about the “unification of thought (统一思想 tongyi sixiang).” To be patriotic in this sense is to be loyal at once to Confucian values, to the Party, as well as to one’s own higher self.

Utopian Visions Of A Grand Unity —大同 理想

Heaven, earth and man are all part of a grand totality which the Confucian tradition has been exploring since pre-imperial times. Long before the draconian First Emperor brutally defeated all the warring kingdoms in 221 BC, scholars had argued that a truly noble-minded person seeks to embody the personal and the natural universe in a cosmic totality which benefits all of humanity. Although this idea was not practically useful for running an autocratic empire, it did become incorporated into state Confucianism during the Han Dynasty (200 BC – 200 ADE).

The adaptation of Confucian classics to the needs of the imperial state was facilitated by the ideal of 大同(da tong) “Grand Unity” found first in the ancient text, the Book of Rites. Keeping a large population in order required rituals of obedience codified within the family. The ideal of a cosmic totality made compliance into the highest moral virtue by painting a world of no conflict: “Thus, people did not only love their own parents, did not only nurture their own children…In this way, selfish schemes did not arise. Robbers, thieves, rebels and traitors had no place and thus outer doors were not closed. This is called the Great Harmony (大同da tong).”

Who would not want to live in a world without robbers and thieves? Which state would not treasure a society without any rebels or traitors? For commoners as well as rulers this Utopian vision of universal peace remained a powerful inspiration. In fact, when large scale revolts arose throughout Chinese history, this ideal came to the fore again and again, as was the case with White Lotus Rebellion of 1774 and the Taiping Rebellion of 1850. The state accused leaders of these mass uprisings of promulgating “false religions,” (Buddhism and Christianity). Despite its connection to heterodox uprisings, the concept of Da Tong remained part of state ideology and was used to enforce the imperial order within and beyond China’s borders.

Read The Full Report  :

A Review Of China’s National And Global Strategy | MEMRI