Discussion with Troy Parfitt, the author of “Why China Will Not Rule the World” – Part 4/12

Third Question [Lofthouse]:

In your book trailer, you claim that China has nothing to offer the world culturally and in a stereotyped blanket statement say that the Confucian hierarchy of China’s culture causes businesses and industries to have a rigid chain of command that exerts total control over the people below them. Due to this, you say it leads to inefficiency and a lack of coordination.

However, how do you explain that under the same collective, cultural Confucian hierarchy you criticize, China was the wealthiest, most powerful and technologically advanced nation on the planet for more than two thousand years until the 19th century?

Answer [Parfitt]:

In addition to directing the reader toward a particular conclusion, begging-the-question language assumes a premise has already been established. However, it hasn’t been established that China was the world’s greatest nation from the Qin (221 BCE) to 1800. Was China really wealthier, more powerful, and more technologically advanced than the Roman Empire (44 BCE – 1453 CE)? Says who?

Most cultures devise a gilded-age myth. Conspicuously, China’s gilded-age spans two millennia, from the First Emperor to the Opium Wars. It speaks to patriotism and victimization, and is a Communist Party fabrication. An eighth-grade social science textbook begins, “Our motherland… was once an advanced and great nation… but after the invasions of the… capitalist powers, a profound national crisis occurred.”

Specious and hyperbolic declarations only obscure a reasoned analysis of China’s contributions. A relevant example is Gavin Menzies’s 1421: The Year China Discovered the World. China’s 15th-century age-of-exploration is truly remarkable, but Menzies overreaches to where the Chinese built a Danish granary in America and a Loyalist farm in Canada. Like many Sinophiles, he specializes in mythomania. The Cambridge scientist Joseph Needham (1900–1995) is guilty of overstatement, too. Needham accurately noted China had made contributions to science never documented, but he grossly inflated their scope and importance, explicating that the Chinese had invented virtually everything – only to forget it all just before the Europeans arrived.

In Jonathan Spence’s The Search for Modern China, no gilded-age appears and European presence is not treated as the prevailing theme. Chinese civilization is portrayed as highly complex but infinitely troubled, by poverty, lawlessness, chaos, violence, warlordism, rebellion, warfare, despotism, etc. Spence, the foremost China scholar, does not indicate China represented the most advanced nation, nor does he propose its achievements were the result of Confucian values.

China’s achievements have occurred despite Confucian values. Overwhelmingly, Confucianism works only to stifle creativity, stymie critical thinking, and nullify questioning. It is a form of authoritarianism, tyranny of the mind and soul. If the Chinese wish to genuinely advance, they must scrutinize this antediluvian rubric. They must ask if it has served to advance them, or kept them subjugated.

Response [Lofthouse]:

Spence is not “the” foremost China scholar. At best, he is widely recognized as “a” leading scholar of Chinese history, among “many” others.

As for China’s Han Dynasty being superior to Rome during Emperor Marcus Aurelius time (161- 180 AD), Discovery Channel’s Neville Gishford and Archaeologist Charles Higham, a world famous authority on ancient Asia, sets the record straight in Xi’an (Chang’ an).

In ‘The Indiscreet Charm of Tyranny’, Buruma writes, “Confucius, and especially Mencius, believed in the people’s right to rebel against corrupt rulers,” and the Chinese people are aware, explaining The Mandate of Heaven.

In addition, “Ancient Chinese Inventions” published by Cambridge University Press reveals that China gave birth to numerous scientific and technological inventions, and for centuries led the world in such innovations.

In conclusion, Spence explored ‘Why Confucius Counts’ and said, “In the hands of major current thinkers it (Confucianism) is neither farce nor fraud.”

Final Word [Parfitt]:

Whether the Han dynasty was “greater” than Marcus Aurelius’s Rome has nothing to do with the claim that China represented the greatest civilization on Earth.

I don’t deny China’s scientific achievments; I have read about them and Science and Civilisation in China, the pertinent, authoritative work. Chinese innovations should not be disregarded. However,  it must be asked why so few have appeared in modern history. Of the 976 Nobel laureates to date, only 1 has been a citizen of China: Liu Xiaobo, awarded the 2010 Peace Prize while in prison for subversion.

If Confucius had focused more on reasoned thinking than tautology, and encourged his compatriots to question and investigate rather than imitate and obey, the Chinese might not have a government working under the directive of an inanimate entity with a dubious existence. The Mandate of Heaven is no more meaningful than the Mandate of Earth, Wind, or Fire.

Continued on December 1, 2011 in Discussion with Troy Parfitt, the author of “Why China Will Never Rule the World – Travels in the Two Chinas” – Part 5 or return to Part 3.

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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47 Responses to Discussion with Troy Parfitt, the author of “Why China Will Not Rule the World” – Part 4/12

  1. jixiang says:

    Chairman Mao attacked Confucius and even encouraged students to criticize their teachers, a very un-Confucian thing to do.
    How can Parfitt present Confucius and Mao as two sides of the same coin.

    • I think Parfitt was out to make China and the Chinese look bad and inferior any way he could (as if he held a personal grudge and was out to get even), but while Mao was out to destroy everything Confucian he relied on piety to insure loyalty from the CCP ranks and the people–that Confucian element kept him in power until his death in 1976. Years before Mao’s death, Deng Xiaoping approached party members and PLA generals and asked them to support him and stop Mao and the Cultural Revolution. Deng was told not until after Mao was gone leading to the arrest of the Gang of Four (after his death), which included Mao’s wife who was planning to rule China after Mao was gone.

  2. […] example may be found in Part 4 of our debate where Sid says, “China’s achievements have occurred despite Confucian values. […]

  3. Roundys says:

    Troy, I haven’t read your book. But the title of your book “Why China Will Not Rule the World” bespoke a mindset that is a product of Western culture that has no relevancy to China. Why would China want to rule the world anyway? Historically China doesn’t have any inclination to rule the world. It just wants to rule herself. Historically to the Chinese people, China IS the world.

  4. Vam says:

    I seem to be a week late but thought i’d comment anyway. Lofthouse states in his question that china was the paramount nation militarily, economically and technologically for 2000-odd years. I’d like to contend that economic and military power dont work like that. Theyre more regional processes, tied to local geographic contingencies more than ‘national’ political ones. Even today, china doesnt have an economy – political china has a revenue stream, but for example, dalian is economically more strongly linked to seoul or kagoshima than to yunnan or ningxia. And to the more substantive point about the role of confucianism in all this, i think lofthouse is getting at ‘how can confucianism have been so crap if china rocked so hard?’ but before you can address that, dont you have to prove that the premodern chinese state was strongly confucian? I dont see much evidence of that.

    • Vam says, “China doesn’t have an economy.”

      This is confusing. How can China not have an economy? Of course it is regional but it is also national on some levels. It is also village, city, province and all of those elements make up China. What you are saying also applies to every country on the planet.

      More of an explanation (definition of what you mean by an economy) may be needed to explain how China doesn’t have an economy. How does the state owned industries play into that claim? What about military spending? What about the private sector? Who pays for the police? Who pays city workers to pick up the trash, etc?

      When roads, railroads, bridges, power plants, hydroelectric power plants, sewer and water systems etc. are built by a city, provincial or central government, who pays the workers and for the materials? And then when all those people and businesses are paid, don’t they spend money at the local market for food supporting other jobs? Don’t they buy clothing, pay rent, pay for electricity and gas, etc, which supports other people by recycling the money into the economy?

      When someone buys a car or an electric or motor bike, someone had to build it, sell it and sell fuel and or parts for those products, which means someone was paid and/or earned a profit and some of that money also is spent by those people to pay for shelter, electricity, food, clothing, etc.

      If the central government owns the largest banks in China and controls them, than the banks are part of a government-controlled economy.

      Did you say, “China doesn’t have an economy” because it doesn’t follow the Western economic model? I’ve read that economists in the West claim China cannot sustain itself because it doesn’t fit any of the accepted economic models that the West developed.

      But does that mean the economic structure of China will not work? After all, it has worked for more than three decades and keeps on working.

      As for “Don’t you have to prove that the premodern Chinese state was strongly Confucian.” Aside from the states (all of them since the Han Dynasty) attempting to use Confucianism to gain the desired “blind loyalty” of the people, Confucianism is more of a philosophy that guides the moral structure within the family and the village and spreads from there on an individual basis. It isn’t taught as much as it is lived and learned by the parents and grandparents [the elders] in every family being the role models that this is the way we interact and treat each other—these are the rules of behavior we live our lives by and if we don’t we face censure, criticism, are shunned and even face excommunication from the element of society we live in.

      I am sure there is no such thing as pure Confucianism according to the Confucian texts, but then how many pure Christians or Muslims or Jews are there according to how they are supposed to live life as guided by the New Testament, the Quran, or the Old Testament?

      In the West, we are mostly guided by the Judaic, Christian, Greek foundation of our cultures and societies. In China, they are mostly guided by Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, etc. In the Middle East, most people are guided by Islamic cultural values and beliefs through the Quran and the local Imam.

      However, no one in any of these cultures comes off an assembly line and is inspected to see if they are a proper Confucian, Christian or Muslim and tossed in the reject bin if they do not fit all the proper guidelines. Every person in all of these global cultures is still an individual because they grew up in a different family, village, town, city, province, country and even the different environments we live in makes us different. Some of us grow up in deserts, mountains, forests, lake country, inland, by the ocean, etc. All of these factors influence who we become.

      If we were to take an infant from China and raise them in Iran or the United States without introducing any of the cultural values of China, and raised that child as a Catholic, Christian, Mormon or Jehovah Witness, that person would not be Chinese from a culture influenced by Confucians, Taoism, Buddhism, etc.

      • Vam,

        Mr. Lofthouse has it right, and on all counts. From the greater evolutionary perspective, an economy is to a nation what a metabolism is to an organism: it is the means by which a biotic structure, alone or as part of a group, acquires and processes energy for greater function in the realm of survival.

        For humans in particular, the trend has been toward increasing cooperation, as bands have given way to tribes, tribes to chiefdoms, chiefdoms to states, and states to empires–based on the universal strength-in-numbers principles. Based on both mutualism and reciprocity, the members of a group will tend to be better off by working together for common cause than they would be by going it alone.

        It is with the strongest economy possible that a nation can provide for the greatest military possible, again with all working for common cause. And then, it is by having the strongest military possible that a nation can protect its economic function and advancement to power an even stronger military, and so on, in feedback fashion.

        Overall, these dynamics have been in effect since the first complex organisms evolved well over a billion years ago–first for microbes, then for large species, and eventually for humankind.

        As for Confucianism, this has indeed served as the ethical core for China for well over two millennia. This occurred during the Axial Age of world religious and philosophical development, when all current systems were either founded or took their current forms generally (from around 1000 BCE to 600 CE, with the latter marking the rise of Islam). Taking elements from Taoism, especially to create an air of inclusiveness for pagans, Confucius strove to design rules for optimal behavior for all societal members, particularly those in government, with a keen focus on rewarding individual and interactive merit. While not gaining official recognition for a couple of centuries, Confucius’ ideals were ultimately adopted by the state leadership over 2200 years ago, and have remained part of the Chinese moral fiber ever since, even if their official recognition has waxed and waned through the ages.

        K.D. Koratsky


  5. Terry K Chen says:

    Jonathan Spence is an example.

    In one of your previous posts you talked about “a Mao with virtually no redeeming qualities”.

    Only an extremely biased source would come to such a conclusion

  6. Troy Parfitt says:

    Terry said,

    “Seeing that you selectively quote sources that are extremely biased towards China,”

    Give me an example.

    Thank you.

  7. Terry K Chen says:


    Seeing that you selectively quote sources that are extremely biased towards China, it appears that you aren’t any better.

    Do students in America know that? Actually, do they even learn calculus?

    • Troy Parfitt says:


      You haven’t answered my questions, and we’re not talking about America.

      • Mr. Parfitt,

        We are indeed talking about America, as well as the West more generally, in competition with China, and the East more generally. Then again, you are well aware of this, as you already asked me:

        How will China go about conquering the West? Hence you are practicing diversionary tactics once again.

        You imply that the US education system embraces scientific rationalism, as opposed to the East which is clinging to ancient philosophical ideals that have become obsolete at best.

        The former could not be further from the truth in the case of the US. For while those on the Left are quick to criticize the Right for being anti-science with regard to Creationism, the Left is far more guilty of imposing its belief structure within academic institutions, from the elementary to post-grad levels. All are being indoctrinated in the ways of relativism and collectivism, with social justice being central to global Marxists pursuits.

        The fact that socialism has failed every single time it has been tried over the last century, including the present implosions taking place in North Korea, Cuba, and the European Union, does not seem to phase the true believers who dominate the Left (including majorities in academia, the mainstream media, and Hollywood). Instead of accepting the overwhelming data at hand, they merely adhere to the notion that socialism has not been tried the right way.

        And the fact that socialism is fundamentally flawed based on various natural laws with regard to mathematics, economics, and biology is no deterrent either, as those who adhere to postmodernism believe that human intellect and technology allow them to make their own rules that render natural laws obsolete.

        None of this suggests the US, and the West overall, holds the intellectual high ground.

        Yet what is most important to note is not that the US is actually quite averse to scientific rationalism, it is that it is averse in ways that could hardly be more self-destructive, as the pursuit of equality is diametrically opposed to the pursuit of performance in an evolutionary sense. So even if the East merely treads water, it can simple wait for the West to destroy itself.

        Why is it again that China will not rule to world, especially when its reforms are in the direction of free market, merit based reforms?

        K.D. Koratsky


      • Troy Parfitt says:


        What’s that? No mention of gluons or the Big Bang Theory re your explanation of the US-China dichotomy? Why don’t we analyze China through jazz, or cubism? Or China as seen from the inhabitants of the planet Zog?

        Questions for you to ponder from the shallows.

        And here’s another question: do you see the Chinese concept of guanxi inhibiting Zhongguo’s supposed merit-based society? What about the giving of hongbaos? Please, based on your first-hand, non-theoretical knowledge of Chinese society, which you certainly gathered from immersion, enlighten us. We shallow enders shall paddle our plebeian selves toward the deep end just to hear what you have to say.

      • What’s that? No mention of gluons or the Big Bang Theory re your explanation of the US-China dichotomy? Why don’t we analyze China through jazz, or cubism? Or China as seen from the inhabitants of the planet Zog?

        Questions for you to ponder from the shallows.

        And here’s another question: do you see the Chinese concept of guanxi inhibiting Zhongguo’s supposed merit-based society? What about the giving of hongbaos? Please, based on your first-hand, non-theoretical knowledge of Chinese society, which you certainly gathered from immersion, enlighten us. We shallow enders shall paddle our plebeian selves toward the deep end just to hear what you have to say.

        Mr. Parfitt,

        Your effort to demean another so you seem superior (at least in your own eyes) is noted once again. Also noted is that you speak disparagingly of something that you know very little about—the Living With Evolution project comprising well over 30,000 hours of time and effort over 20 years. Moreover, the thesis was constructed without any preconceptions or agenda from the bottom up, as stated earlier. Then again, those in the shallows may have difficulty with this concept as well.

        Incidentally, while not mainland China or Taiwan, I spend around two months a year in Hong Kong, which does constitute some level of immersion and first-hand knowledge. You presume much, or perhaps not enough.

        If you are referring to guanxi as a matter of the personal relationships and connections built on reciprocity that are critical to success in China, how is this different from any other nation in the world, now or in the past?

        Indeed, the combination of reciprocity and mutualism is the entire basis for all non-kin cooperation, not only within the human species, but within all species. Perhaps you have a problem with the power dynamic that is part of guanxi in China, leading to imbalances in outcome.

        Well, this too is a universal phenomenon that stems from the status-reciprocity symbiosis, in which those of higher status have leverage over those of lower status in cooperative engagements, with the former able to gain greater absolute benefits than the latter during a win-win exchange. All of this is quintessentially merit-based.

        Generally speaking, high status is earned, especially in free marketplace, and the leverage is one of the rewards for the high status that is earned. This is one way the rich get richer, and deservedly so. Of course, in a nation rife with government corruption, cronyism will be the rule in defiance of the standard of merit. And here it is likely that the China has nothing on America at this point in time.

        I recommend explorations into both evolutionary psychology and game theory to gain a full understanding of the principles and dynamics involved. The Moral Animal by Robert Wright is a good choice, as is my work Living With Evolution, of course.

        As for hong baos: I assume you are speaking of the small gifts that are handed out during the Chinese New Year celebration. This serves as a way to say “thank you,” express friendship, display generosity, and/or to wish others good fortune for the following year.

        Again, such gift giving is a universal phenomenon, one that fosters good will and cooperation among societal members. The societies that generate the greatest degree of cooperation will produce the most economically, based on the increase in the frequency and magnitude of win-win exchanges built upon the existence of non-zero-sum logic. This in turn allows for the strongest possible military, with the combination allowing for the greatest possible survivability.

        In contrast, redistributive systems built on the Marxist model assume that all exchanges are zero-sum, such that the benefit for one can only come through the loss for another. This is one of a handful of fatal theoretical flaws that dooms redistributive societies to the extent they take resources from producers and give them to non-producers, assuming that competitors follow a more-meritorious path.

        Then again, if you are speaking of the greater Chinese worship of Good Fortune, which New Year giving is supposed to facilitate, and where individuals assume that their success or failure is based on a greater force that transcends the laws of nature definable by science, I agree that this will prove detrimental with regard to Chinese advancement. For this encourages many to simply wait around till good fortune comes around, and discourages the pursuit of self-improvement that will increase the chances of one finding success. This combined with the recent rise of gambling meccas, such as Macao, could certainly prove problematic.

        On the other hand, one could argue that prayer in the US leaves religionists in precisely the same situation in terms of counting on supernatural assistance for success, while neglecting the self-improvement and good decision-making required to achieve it.

        In closing, while you have attempted to disprove a rule using an exception or two (cherry-picking once again, and totally neglecting the long view of history), while defining your own rules using exceptions it seems, this tactic will work quite poorly when you are debating against those who have studied history as a whole and/or understand the basic principles that account for it.

        I hope it was worth the paddle.

        K.D. Koratsky


  8. Troy Parfitt says:

    Do students in China learn that they cannot validate a claim by merely repeating their premise? Do they learn that premises must be supported with evidence. Do they learn what an unrepresentative sample is, and why employing such a sample in argumentative logic constitutes a fallacy?

    • Aussie in China says:

      One might ask which students?

      In my own country, these topics are not studied in depth until one enters the tertiary level and it would be a good guess that the same applies elsewhere.

      So, considering that many of the Bachelor, Masters and Doctoral programs in China are in collaboration with overseas institutions are you seriously suggesting that one,Chinese academics educated in Chinese Universities and Colleges are presenting and publishing papers with unsupported evidence and two that the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics are compiling statistics based on unrepresented samples?

    • Mr. Parfitt,

      Again, who are these questions directed too?

  9. Terry K Chen says:

    I don’t see why the International Pisa test, Nicholas kristof, and Thomas friedman can’t be considered as valid sources.

    Have you ever taught in China? If you had you would probably realize that the average quality of the students there is much higher than in the US.

    The problem with China’s education system is that it stifles creativity. Students are forced to do hours of home work every day. On top of that, parents usually send their children to as many tuition classes as possible.

  10. Troy Parfitt says:


    So now, you have three points of view.

    1. According to Thomas Friedman NicholasKristof (whoever that is), China’s education system produces better students than average.

    2. “China’s education system is still in a developing process.”

    3. “According to multi-national tuition agencies, China’s student’s are the best in the world.”

    And you’ve still not told us what a “multi-national tuition agency” is.

    Perhaps China’s education system and its students (and I’m not talking about schools and students in, say, in Shanghai) are above average or top notch.

    Now, if you could just provide us with a vaild source, that would probably settle it.

    Thank you

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