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.

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

  1. […] Red Herrings into the argument where he ignored the original argument and changed the subject. In Part 2 of the debate, I asked, “How would you describe the differences you observed between how piety is practiced […]

  2. Roundys says:

    Tony, Terry gave you a very good answer. Like Terry said, Manchus of course were foreigners to the Han at one time. But not anymore as they self sinified. Whether Manchus are considered foreigners to the Han is up to the Manchus and Han themselves. Why don’t you go to mainland China and ask the people there yourself? There are still a lot of Manchus in China’s northeast, and there are Hans everywhere.

  3. Terry K Chen says:


    A certain Mr.Parfitt seems to have realized that calling the qing dynasty as foreign as ridiculous. The funny thing is, the qing emperors probably would have executed anyone who called them foreign. Just a thought. 😀

    • Terry,

      The Qinq executed many people so you probably are correct.

      I recall reading one incident in Robert Hart’s journal when he was working in Canton during the Arrow War. When the rebels broke into the city and fought with the British and French, after the battle, the Qing official in Canton had fifty Chinese people [that lived on the street by the gate that was used by the rebels——it seems someone inside the city opened the gate for the rebels to get into the city] rounded up at random, beheaded and had the heads hung from the wall above that gate as a reminder to the people that lived on that street what happens when someone helps the enemy.

  4. Terry K Chen says:

    The Manchus were assimilated into Chinese society. They were foreigners when they first invaded but you can say they inflicted “cultural genocide” on themselves, as Alessandro kindly pointed out.

    Most importantly, the manchurians chose to take up the template of heaven and instead of taking up the position of khan, the first manchurian leader declared himself as “Emperor of China”. The Chinese character from qing is 清, and it is derived from the Chinese character of ming (the previous dynasty) 明. From the very start, the manchurians made it clear that they were succeeding the ming dynasty, not ruling in the manchurian way.

    The same goes for the Yuan dynasty. Kublai Khan could have taken up the position of “Khan” just like his brothers, but he decided to declare himself as “emperor of China”.

    By taking up the template of heaven instead of ruling by their own respective ways, the mongols and manchurians voluntarily chose to declare themselves as Chinese.

    You talked about manchurians taking up most of the leadership positions. That is rubbish. Most of the officials were han, although manchurians were given notable priveleges. However, this can be seen in nearly every middle eastern country. For example, sunnis were given the important leadership postions under saddam. Would you say sunnis are foreign?

    The mongols and the manchurians were foreigners at first, but they gradually assimilated into Chinese society. The mongols did not assimilate as completely as the manchurians, so there is a degree of debate over that. However, the fact that the manchurians assimilated into Chinese society is widely recognized as a historical fact.

    Finally, would you say that the Norman era was a french era?

    • Terry,

      I want to add something to your comment.

      Both the Mongols and the Manchurians were from East Asia and before they ruled China, they were already influenced by the spread of Confucian values and philosophy within the family unit. Due to this influence on their own minority cultures, they already held many of the same cultural values that existed in China so it was easy for them to be assimilated into the larger Han sphere of cultural influence after they assumed the leadership role.

      In fact, his mother raised Kublai Khan in the Confucian tradition so it was easy for him to assume the mantle of a Confucian emperor after he defeated the Sung Dynasty to rule China. In addition, until his beloved wife’s death, he strengthened China and improved on its infrastructure. After his beloved wife’s death, he fell into a deep depression and the dynasty ministers took advantage of this and corruption spread due to the Khan’s neglect in his later years, which explains why the Ming defeated the Mongols soon after Kublai’s death.

      After this debate was in the can and scheduled to appear (we finished the twelve-part series before I scheduled them), I wanted to challenge Mr. Parfitt’s theory further and did some research on the spread of Confucian values to the rest of East Asia and discovered that China’s influence as a regional super power that was more technologically advanced with a higher standard of living than its neighbors did cause Confucianism to sprout legs and travel as did Buddhism and Chinese architecture and construction technical. Japan may even thank China for its written language. My wife and my father-in-law, who were never schooled in reading Japanese, have no problem figuring out what a passage written in Japanese says since the Japanese copies much that they learned from China over the thousands of years that China was the number one. Two thousand years is a long time.

      In fact, from what I learned, Confucian values in Japan are more entrenched in different ways (that have been studied in depth by Japanese scholars) than they are in China and these Confucian values traveled as far as the Philippians (to some extent–especially when it comes to family structure and the value of working hard to earn an education based on merit). Many of the Philippine students that came to the US as immigrants were my best students bar none and their families exemplified a degree of Confucian values absorbed through contact with China over a period of centuries long before the West arrived in that area of the globe.

      I wrote a series on this that will appear later in the month, which in effect, blows apart Mr. Parfitt’s theory that Confucianism makes China incapable of competing with the West when it comes to innovation.

      In addition, in a conversation I had today with a friend, I learned that another friend, who was a Chinese immigrant to the US in the 1980s that became a US citizen and earned a PhD in the science of nanotechnology that led him to become a department head at a US university near St. Louis has now returned to China to build a small liberal arts college funded by China in Western China modeled on the Western university education system. It seems that China plans to build a string of smaller colleges on this model.

      China is adapting to survive as a culture without giving up its Confucian family values, which I contend is what made China strong in the first place—not the state’s (every government in China has attempted this going back to the Han Dynasty) attempt to use these values to foster some sort of blind obedience among the people (which has not worked), but to keep these merit based values strong in the family unit—something we find missing in most Western/American families.

  5. Troy Parfitt says:

    Terry said,

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

    Ergo, the Manchus were not foreigners?

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

    It’s only ridiculous if you’ve never studied Chinese history.

    Was the Yuan dynasty also Chinese? What have the people you’ve met said about that?

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