Discussion with Troy Parfitt, the author of “Why China Will Not Rule the World” – Part 2/12

First Question [Lofthouse]: Since 1949, Taiwan and mainland China have followed significantly different paths. While Taiwan held onto the old culture, the mainland went through a painful metamorphosis to rise from the ashes of the Civil War (1926 – 1949) as if it were a phoenix to be reborn.

One example of these differences may be found in the written language. While Taiwan held onto the old style of writing Mandarin, which goes back thousands of years, Mao simplified the language and instead of writing vertically from bottom right in columns toward the top left, the written language on the mainland was simplified with fewer strokes and is written from the top in horizontal lines from left to right ending in the lower right corner as Western writing does.

In addition, Mao saw Confucianism as a weakness that led to China’s decline in the 19th century as the world’s wealthiest and most technologically advanced nation on the earth — a position it held for about two thousand years. To rid Communist China of this weakness, Mao declared war on Confucius.

However, piety, which is a result of Confucian ethics and morals since the Han Dynasty, remains strong in both cultures. Since you lived in Taiwan and taught ESL for ten years and then traveled as a tourist through mainland China, how would you describe the differences you observed between how piety is practiced in mainland China and Taiwan?

Answer [Parfitt]:

First, as the term pertains to Taiwan, there is no such thing as mainland China. There is China, and there is Taiwan. The word ‘mainland’ denotes a connection, but there isn’t one and never really has been. The Dutch, not the Chinese, were the first to establish controls over Taiwan. When the Dutch arrived, there were a few thousand Fujianese farming families living on the Western plains (they had fled China despite a Qing ban on emigration) and aboriginals living in the mountains. The Dutch were eventually sent packing by the Ming loyalist, Koxinga, who in turn was toppled by the Qing. The Qing asked the Dutch if they wanted Taiwan back. They didn’t, so, mainly to prevent the island from falling into other foreign hands, it was annexed in 1885. The Qing, remember, were Manchus, considered foreign rulers by the Han Chinese.

Even today, the Chinese commemorate their demise. The Manchus admitted they held no jurisdiction over half of Taiwan. The other half they ruled badly.

In 1895, Taiwan was ceded to Japan, and though the Japanese exploited it, living standards exceeded any province in China.

In Cairo, in 1943, Chiang Kai-shek argued that Taiwan had been stolen by the Japanese and ought to be returned.

Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin agreed, hence the mainland myth, perpetuated to this day by the Communists and the Nationalists. Approximately 90 percent of Taiwanese want nothing to do with China, and why would they?

In addition to retaining some of the finer aspects of traditional Chinese culture, such as complex characters, Taiwan has liberalized through democratization and represents a major step forward for Chinese civilization.

As for the Confucian concept of piety, it is a core cultural component, virtually identical in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Macau. This is unfortunate because Confucianism is dogma. “The plague of heterodox theories can be eliminated by fierce attack,” says the Analects of Confucius. Until people realize the Analects represents only stone-age logic and dictums posing as wisdom, they will remain slaves to tyranny and history.

In China, I was no mere tourist.

Response [Lofthouse]:

The history of Taiwan is interesting.

However, if history decides who rules a territory, the US would not exist, and Hawaii’s native population would still rule an independent country instead of being the 50th state.

Taiwan’s fate was decided by Chiang Kai-shek (a Han Chinese) when he ordered KMT troops to slaughter Taiwanese natives. He ruled Taiwan as a dictator before and after he lost China’s Civil War.

As for democratization, America’s Founding Fathers despised democracy and saw it as a path to mob rule.

Regarding Confucianism, — under Mao, it was seen as a weakness and a brutal war was waged on the philosophy during the Cultural Revolution.

Indeed, Confucianism is but one element of China’s culture, which is a blend of Face, Guanxi, Confucianism, Legalism, Taoism , and Buddhism, etc.

In addition, the Mandate of Heaven plays an important role that often cancels out the negative aspects of Confucianism.

Final Word [Parfitt]:

Taiwan’s history has been irrevocably altered by Chiang Kai-shek, but its fate regarding China has not been decided.

Face is a puerile concept, a license to behave however one pleases.

Guanxi is important in all societies. It only seems more prevalent in China because people discuss it.

Confucianism, Legalism, and Taoism are enlightened philosophies to those who’ve never read them. The essence of Confucianism is obedience. Legalism is Machiavellian. “A weak people means a strong state…” says The Book of Lord Shang. The Tao Te Ching urges rulers to eradicate knowledge and desire. The strains of despotism in these native ideologies speak to communism’s appeal.

Nowhere in Jonathan Spence’s Mao does it say Mao’s Cultural Revolution had to do with waging war on Confucianism. Spence notes Mao “never wrote a single comprehensive analysis of what he intended to achieve by the Cultural Revolution, or… how he expected it to proceed.”

Continued on November 29, 2011 in Discussion with Troy Parfitt, the author of “Why China Will Never Rule the World – Travels in the Two Chinas” – Part 3 or return to Part 1.

See Discovering Intellectual Dishonesty – Part 1


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

Subscribe to “iLook China”
Sign up for an E-mail Subscription at the top of this page.

About iLook China

40 Responses to Discussion with Troy Parfitt, the author of “Why China Will Not Rule the World” – Part 2/12

  1. Terry K Chen says:


    Every dynasty has had its unique features and the manchus brought in some of their own culture.

    I have yet to meet a Chinese who considers the manchurians as foreigners.

    There was some han resistance the whole time, but most of the han considered the manchurians to be legitimate. If that were not the case, the qing dynasty would not have lasted so long. Inter-ethnic tensions are part and parcel of every multi-racial society.

    The Normans were french and there was a similar caste system in England for quite a bit a time. I doubt any historian would consider England as a french colony at the time.

    The demise of the qing, like the demise of every dynasty, is celebrated and mourned in China. Chinese celebrate the demise of the qing because the dynasty had gone corrupt and a new system was needed.

    Its ridiculous to claim that the qing dynasty was a foreign dynasty.

  2. Troy Parfitt says:

    Aussie in China said,

    “the Manchus of the Qing Dynasty became fully assimilated into Chinese culture”

    If that’s the case, why were the Han Chinese forced to wear cues (not wearing a cue was punishable by death)? Wearing cues was a Manchu tradition, not a Han one. The Han did not wear cues before 1644, nor after 1911.

    Also, why did the Qing force the Han out of positions of power?

    And why wasn’t this ‘full assimilation’ enough to appease the Han, who conspired for decades to topple the Qing? Were the Han somehow ungrateful toward Qing assimilation efforts?

    Why is the demise of the Qing still celebrated in the Republic of China and still remembered/commemorated by Han Chinese people elseswhere?

    Why do Han people hold two contradictory points of view about the Qing? 1. That the Qing represented an illegitimate foreign government that were hopelessly corrupt and weakened China, and
    2. The Qing were seamlessly assimilated into Han society.

  3. Someone thinks this story is fantastic…

    This story was submitted to Hao Hao Report – a collection of China’s best stories and blog posts. If you like this story, be sure to go vote for it….

  4. Aussie in China says:

    The process of cultural assimilation is well documented and with few exceptions, immigrants are fully assimilated into the culture of their adopted country from the second and third gerenations on.

    I doubt that any historian would ever consider postulating that the succesors of George I of Great Britain namely George III through Queen Victoria and down to the current Monarch were not British but German and the same applies to the descendents of the first Qing Emperor and most definitely from Qianlong on.

    That the Manchus of the Qing Dynasty became fully assimilated into Chinese culture as did the Georgian Monarchs of Great Britain must be recognised as a historical and ethnographical fact.

  5. Alessandro says:

    I think that everybody who knows China at least a little, knows this kind of things…..Apparently Mr. Partiff doesn’t, and this tells A LOT about him and his knowledge of this issues..

  6. Terry Chen says:

    Alessandro, I was just about to make that point. Well, seems like you beat me to it.

  7. Alessandro says:

    The Qing were Manchus, invaders, and considered by the Han Chinese to be foreign, illegitimate rulers.

    That could have been true at the beginning, but soon Qing emperors where out of their ways to amalgamate themselves to the countries society, so much so that Manchu language was virtually forgotten very soon during Qing rule (it is known that some emperor himself complained that even people of the court couldn’t any longer speak manchu language.

    Anyway I always find funny how some kind of foreigner decides themselves what is Chinese and what isn’t, as long as it serves their own point…China’s history is full of foreigners being assimilated/let themselves being assimilated into becoming chinese…after all China has been a multiethnic society for many many centuries.

    • Tom C says:

      China has been multiethnic but is now predominantly Han. It is the Han who now guide the country so calling it multiethnic would be using multiethnic pretty loosely.

      • Tom C,

        You say, “China has been multiethnic but is now predominantly Han. It is the Han who now guide the country so calling it multiethnic would be using multiethnic pretty loosely.”

        There is nothing unique about the Han Chinese guiding the country. For most of China’s history Han Chinese ruled China. The exceptions were during the Yuan and Qing Dynasties and even then, there were Han ministers in the government.

        Compared to the ratios of minorities in the United States, there is no comparison.

        The U.S. population distribution by race and ethnicity in 2010 was as follows:

        White (Caucasion) 72.4%
        Hispanic-Latino 16.3%
        African American 12.6%
        Asian 4.8%
        American Indian or Alaska Native 0.9%
        Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander 0.2%

        However, although China has a population of more than 1.3 billion people and most are Han Chinese, there are 56 recognized minorities (with their own unique spoken languages) in China that add up to almost 114 million people, which is about a third of the population of the United States. In addition, those minorities live in semi autonomous zones and are encouraged to hold onto their ethnic cultural heritage with one exception–their children must attend public school and cannot be sent to work jobs during those school age years. Of course, that doesn’t mean everyone obeys those laws. China is a big country with a huge population that offers challenges to any governing body and the Chinese people have a history of disobeying national laws when no one is around to catch them.

        Now, for China’s demographic ethnic breakdown:
        Han Chinese = 91.51%
        The fifty-six recognized minorities make up 8.49%. In addition, because the one-child policy did not apply to these minorities, their proportion of the population in China has grown from 6.1% in 1953, to 8.04% in 1990, 8.41% in 2000 and 8.49% in 2010.
        Large ethnic minorities (data according to the 2000 census) include the Zhuang (16 million, 1.28%), Manchu (10 million, 0.84%), Uyghur (9 million, 0.78%), Hui (9 million, 0.71%), Miao (8 million, 0.71%), Yi (7 million, 0.61%), Tujia (5.75 million, 0.63%), Mongols (5 million, 0.46%), Tibetan (5 million, 0.43%), Buyi (3 million, 0.23%), and Korean (2 million, 0.15%).

        A better question might be to ask how China treats its minorities compared to the West and the rest of the world.

        We can find out from e-International Relations (e-IR), which is an online resource for students of international relations. Established in November 2007, and registered as a UK non-profit company in 2011, it is maintained by a dedicated team of volunteers, and is unaffiliated with any institution.

        e-IR says, “The CCP has, consequently, treated ethnic minorities better than 20th century perpetrators of genocide as seen in Rwanda.[2]
        “To a lesser extent, the CCP has not even implemented institutionalized racial discrimination at the level of the South Africans under apartheid rule or the Americans and their Jim Crow laws.

        “And while the unruly events of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) certainly left a traumatic impact on easily distinguishable ethnic minorities, as seen in the irreparable damage done to Tibetan temples, it was not so much a suppression directed specifically at ethnic minorities as an arbitrary attack on “any kind of difference—whether it be ethnic, religious, cultural or political” (Gladney 2004, 22; Schein 1997, 71).
        “One can, thus, tentatively establish a lack of intent to destroy or methodologically limit opportunities for the advancement of ethnic minorities in the majority of CCP’s official policies, which should not be taken for granted in light of all the tragedies that have occurred in the world.”

        Source: http://www.e-ir.info/?p=2932

  8. Troy Parfitt says:

    Again, I should have been more careful with my words, just like I should have been more careful about my mention of the Qing ban on emigration. I make it sound like the ban was in effect when the Dutch arrived in Taiwan, but, naturally, it being a Qing ban, it came into effect after the Qing began to rule, in 1663.

    By saying there never really was a connection between China and Taiwan, I mean: the tenuous link established by the Qing doesn’t count for much. The Qing were not Chinese, just like the Yuan were not Chinese. The Qing were Manchus, invaders, and considered by the Han Chinese to be foreign, illegitimate rulers. Qing rule on Taiwan was notoriously lax (even the emigration ban wasn’t strictly enforced). They only ran the show in the lowlands, and they didn’t even do that well. More importantly, when Japan had a legal beef with the Qing re Taiwan, the Qing threw up their hands. ‘Out of our jurisdiction’ (quotation marks are mine). I hope this works toward clarification. It was hard to squeeze complete answers into 150 word responses. Hopefully, I get better at this, and providing clear and accurate information, as the debate continues.

    Thank you for your intelligent comment.

  9. Aussie in China says:

    Mr Parfitt writes:

    “There is China, and there is Taiwan. The word ‘mainland’ denotes a connection, but there isn’t one and never really has been”

    It is my understanding that Formosa was ruled as part of Fujian Province by the Qing government from 1683 up until the Japanese took over in 1895 thus establishing a connection for 212 years which makes it difficult to present an argument that there has never really been a connection between the Mainland and Taiwan.

  10. Xiaohu Liu says:

    Well Troy Parfitt hasn’t exactly helped my opinion of English teachers in Asia. I’m definitely going to ask a Taiwanese friend to look over his version of Taiwan’s history. It just seems too dogmatic and black and white to make for a convincing or articulate argument.

    Nevertheless this series should make for an interesting read.


Comments are welcome — pro or con. However, comments must focus on the topic of the post, be civil and avoid ad hominem attacks.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: