A Confucian Constitution for China

Discussion in 'China' started by Ray, Jul 14, 2012.

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  1. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    A Confucian Constitution for China

    By JIANG QING and DANIEL A. BELL

    ON Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gave a speech in Mongolia denouncing Asian governments that seek “to restrict people’s access to ideas and information, to imprison them for expressing their views, to usurp the rights of citizens to choose their leaders.” It was a swipe at China’s authoritarian political system. The view that China should become more democratic is widely held in the West. But framing the debate in terms of democracy versus authoritarianism overlooks better possibilities.

    The political future of China is far likelier to be determined by the longstanding Confucian tradition of “humane authority” than by Western-style multiparty elections. After all, democracy is flawed as an ideal. Political legitimacy is based solely on the sovereignty of the people — more specifically, a government that grants power to democratically elected representatives. But there is no compelling reason for a government to have only one source of legitimacy.

    Democracy is also flawed in practice. Political choices come down to the desires and interests of the electorate. This leads to two problems. First, the will of the majority may not be moral: it may favor racism, imperialism or fascism. Second, when there is a clash between the short-term interests of the populace and the long-term interests of mankind, as is the case with global warming, the people’s short-term interests become the political priority. As a result, democratically elected governments in America and elsewhere are finding it nearly impossible to implement policies that curb energy usage in the interests of humanity and of future generations.

    In China, political Confucians defend an alternative approach: the Way of the Humane Authority. The question of political legitimacy is central to their constitutional thought. Legitimacy is not simply what people think of their rulers; it is the deciding factor in determining whether a ruler has the right to rule. And unlike Western-style democracy, there is more than one source of legitimacy.

    According to the Gongyang Zhuan, a commentary on a Confucian classic, political power can be justified through three sources: the legitimacy of heaven (a sacred, transcendent sense of natural morality), the legitimacy of earth (wisdom from history and culture), and the legitimacy of the human (political obedience through popular will).

    In ancient times, Humane Authority was implemented by early Chinese monarchs. But changes in historical circumstances now necessitate changes in the form of rule. Today, the will of the people must be given an institutional form that was lacking in the past, though it should be constrained and balanced by institutional arrangements reflecting the other two forms of legitimacy.

    In modern China, Humane Authority should be exercised by a tricameral legislature: a House of Exemplary Persons that represents sacred legitimacy; a House of the Nation that represents historical and cultural legitimacy; and a House of the People that represents popular legitimacy.

    The leader of the House of Exemplary Persons should be a great scholar. Candidates for membership should be nominated by scholars and examined on their knowledge of the Confucian classics and then assessed through trial periods of progressively greater administrative responsibilities — similar to the examination and recommendation systems used to select scholar-officials in the imperial past. The leader of the House of the Nation should be a direct descendant of Confucius; other members would be selected from descendants of great sages and rulers, along with representatives of China’s major religions. Finally, members of the House of the People should be elected either by popular vote or as heads of occupational groups.

    This system would have checks and balances. Each house would deliberate in its own way and not interfere in the affairs of the others. To avoid political gridlock arising from conflicts among the three houses, a bill would be required to pass at least two houses to become law. To protect the primacy of sacred legitimacy in Confucian tradition the House of Exemplary Persons would have a final, exclusive veto, but its power would be constrained by that of the other two houses: for example, if they propose a bill restricting religious freedom, the People and the Nation could oppose it, stopping it from becoming law.

    Instead of judging political progress simply by asking whether China is becoming more democratic, Humane Authority provides a more comprehensive and culturally sensitive way of judging its political progress.

    Jiang Qing is the founder of the Yangming Confucian Academy in Guiyang, China. He is the author, and Daniel A. Bell is an editor, of the forthcoming book “A Confucian Constitutional Order: How China’s Ancient Past Can Shape Its Political Future.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/11/opinion/a-confucian-constitution-in-china.html
     
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  3. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    Confucian Constitution or convenient confusion?



    China's intellectuals and their sympathisers have begun to peddle a bold new argument. They have started to hit international forums with the claim that China's system of governance, based as it is on pillars of Confucian wisdom, is not just superior to the liberal democratic system, it actually has more legitimacy.

    We discussed one such claim in this column on March 24. In The New York Times of July 11, Jiang Qing and Daniel A Bell argue the case for a 'Confucian Constitution' for China. The political future of China will be better served, they say, by a long-standing Confucian tradition of 'humane authority' than by multiparty elections. Democracy is a flawed ideal in their view. It has only one source of legitimacy, i.e. the sovereignty of the people; political Confucianism offers much more.

    Confucian tradition asserts that political power must have three sources of legitimacy: The legitimacy of heaven; the legitimacy of earth; and the legitimacy of the human. Democracy merely serves that last source through popular elections.

    In modern China, write Qing and Bell, 'humane authority' would require a tricameral legislature: "A House of Exemplary Persons, that represents sacred legitimacy; a House of the Nation that represents historical and cultural legitimacy; and a House of the People that represents popular legitimacy." Only the House of the People "should be elected either by popular vote or as heads of occupational groups".

    For more on this Chinese alternative to liberal democracy, you can read the op-ed. For a realistic assessment of such a proposal to make heaven, earth and people exist in Confucian harmony, we could, however, question the legitimacy of the whole idea.

    Who, for instance, will have the privilege to decide the composition of the House of Exemplary Persons and the House of the Nation? Guess we can assume it will be the exclusive nine-member polit-buro that would continue to approve all such selections.

    In other words, the proposed arrangement would in fact be a variation of the old Leninist concept of a Communist Party, composed of revolutionary intellectuals and their comrades, acting as the "vanguard of the proletariat" to look after the people's interests until such time as the working class has matured to governing ability.

    The vanguard, or the New Class as the late East European intellectual Milovan Djilas dubbed it, doesn't let go the reins of power and privilege unless, of course, the entire edifice crumbles like the Soviet Union's did. In China, party bosses with their families do very well for themselves, living in too many cases way beyond the spending capacity of ordinary citizens. The recently disgraced Bo Xilai's family fell from power because of party intrigue but many other senior members of the party continue to live in extravagant grace thanks to heavenly authority while their children, called princelings, often live abroad in the wretched, liberal West.

    To many of us, any talk of Confucian Humane Authority might sound little more than cleverly confusing mumbo-jumbo. But when thinkers from a globally powerful China start arguing for it earnestly, we ought to sit up.

    Their argument is based, in my view, on three errors. One is a static picture of the current state of liberal democratic nations, particularly the state of their economies. It's a depressing but passing picture. It does not uphold the allegation of Qing and Bell that democracy is "flawed in practice". Sure, at a given point in time, democracy in any country can appear messy; but not if you take a longer dynamic view of the remarkable overall performance of post-World War II liberal democracies.

    Second, any argument for benevolent authoritarianism assumes impartial and just benevolence at the top of the pyramid. Here's a question: What if a comparatively benevolent Deng Xiaoping had not returned to power in the late 1970s and another paranoid megalomaniac like Mao had instead run riot once again over China?

    Third, popular elections are a part of democracy, not the entire substance. Assured access to fundamental rights to life and liberty, including the right to free and fair trial and the right to dissent, for all citizens is what makes a democracy liberal.

    Can a Confucian Constitution, that enables the practice of Humane Authority, guarantee such simple lower-case rights for its citizens?


    Confucian Constitution or convenient confusion? - The Times of India
     
  4. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    The Confucian Tradition and Chinese Television Today

    By YING ZHU

    China's new day in the economic sun is clouded somewhat by a spiraling crime rate, unemployment, corruption, and an increasing wealth gap-social ills that have many people looking to the ancient wisdom of Confucius for solutions. Kang Xiaoguang, social policy adviser to former premier Zhu Rongji, is one of them. Kang argues it is vital for China to rediscover its cultural tradition, especially the Confucian values he believes can rebuild the country's moral and social standards. The nostalgic search for an upright polity that never was has resonated among cultural critics and policy makers alike, including some media practitioners.

    Chinese television drama, particularly the costume dramas set during the dynasty era, has been at the forefront in articulating political and legal principles based on the Confucian influenced traditional Chinese culture. In its effort to engage the audiences who are fed up with rampant political corruption and the society's loss of moral grounding, dynasty drama has presented exemplary emperors of by-gone dynasties. Dynasty dramas are enormously popular among the viewers yet charges of "emperor worship" and "totalitarian nostalgia" have been mounted by some intellectuals. The search for model rulers rooted in Chinese cultural tradition has ignited heated debate concerning the essence and the value of Chinese culture.

    Chinese culture might be defined as the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterize what we conventionally perceive as Chinese. But culture defined as such is inherently unstable, an on-going process of dynamic reinterpretation and redefinition over time and across space. That is, what comprises "culture" is a coherent but not necessarily cohesive universe of meanings, a universe that constantly strives to make sense out of persistent ambiguities and contradictions without pretense to a final solution. What is at stake is the foregrounding -- at different times and as a result of different power dynamics -- of different elements of tradition as the central principle(s) of a culture.

    The central principles of a culture are themselves ambiguous and unstable, subject to constant reinterpretation and redefinition by the ever shifting economic and political ethos, both within and outside the given culture. The social formations that develop in different civilizations are not attributable to 'fixed' tendencies of a culture. The rise of new forms of social organization and activities entails new interpretations of traditional beliefs and institutional premises. These new interpretations may significantly transform their traditional antecedent.

    Cultural beliefs or visions become constitutive elements of a social order by the transformation of their basic premises into a system of rules that address the basic problems of social order.

    It is commonly acknowledged that Chinese tradition is principally Confucian. Yet a few provisos are needed to avoid over-simplification. First, by designating Confucianism culture as the dominant principle of Chinese culture, we run the risk of suppressing the culture's internal contradictions. Of course the search for a coherent cultural identity generally does involve the suppression of internal differences, tensions, and contradictions. The process of identification is invariably a homogenizing, mythologizing one, involving both the production of one set of meanings, and the attempt to contain, or prevent the potential proliferation of other meanings.

    Chinese culture, like any culture, is neither monolithic nor static. Other cosmological ideas like Daoism and Maoism do exist and have historically challenged Confucian thought and institutions. But the reign of Confucianism as China's official ideology from the second century AD down to the late Qing Dynasty and the early twentieth century made it the dominant source of Chinese cultural principles. Even anti-Confucian movements like May Fourth and the Cultural Revolution eras did not radically alter the internalized elements of Chinese society's Confucian cosmology.

    Principal Confucian ideas include avoidance of conflict, a vertical social hierarchy that values seniority and patriarchy, a reliance on sage leadership that locates its safeguards against the abuse of power not in political institutions but in the moral commitment of leaders, an anti-commercial attitude that disparages trading for profit, an emphasis on moderation in the pursuit of all forms of human pleasure that subordinates entertainment to moral enlightenment, and finally the overarching notion of "ren" (humanity) that assumes human nature to be essentially benevolent. These principles are directly at odds both with capitalism's faith in free markets and with modern political institutions. If China has felt compelled to embrace capitalism over the last two decades, so far it has shown little enthusiasm for political reform. China's modernization instead resembles the Singapore model, in which a controlled capitalist economy is coupled with the selective application of Confucian principles.

    A pressing issue is rampant political corruption, a major contributor to China's widening income gap, and the root cause of its disintegrating social safety net and the prevailing political apathy.

    The Confucian idea of sage leadership is particularly relevant in this regard, and Chinese television has not missed the point. A wave of dramatic serials featuring the legendary figures of China's bygone dynasty glory began to dominate dramatic programming in Chinese primetime television in the mid-1990s. The trend climaxed in the late 1990s and the early 2000s with saturation programming of palace dramas set in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), what Chinese critics termed "Qing drama." Dramas set in the Qing palace had also appeared in the late 1980s, with shows like The Last Emperor (1988) and Kang-Liang Reformation (1989) earning popular and critical acclaim. Interestingly, though, while the Qing dramas of the 1980s focused on the corruption and cultural decline of the late Qing, the Qing dramas of the 1990s and the early 2000s, what I term the revisionist Qing dramas, shifted gears, paying tribute to the sage leaders of early Qing who oversaw a period of prosperity and national unity.

    Revisionist Qing dramas -- Yongzheng Dynasty (1999), Kangxi Dynasty (2001), and Qianlong Dynasty (2003), among others -- feature the emperors and patriots who struggled against internal corruption and social injustice as well as external threats, feeding the public's fantasy for a time of heroic figures and events. Mesmerized by the palace politics and nostalgic for an era of upright rule that never was, the Chinese public genuinely welcomed such dramas, delighting in their contemporary relevance. Subjects and themes that would invite censorship in contemporary settings -- government corruption, political infighting and power struggles, moral cynicism, and public unrest, etc. -- get a primetime airing in revisionist Qing dramas.

    Leading the charge of the revisionist Qing drama is the 44 episode primetime blockbuster Yongzheng Dynasty (YD). YD features one of the most controversial Qing Dynasty emperors, Yongzheng. In portraying a moralistic emperor who forcefully fends off his political opponents, attacks corruption, and fights to protect ordinary people, the show covertly insinuates a critical commentary on the state of affairs in contemporary Chinese society and politics. Yongzheng is deftly made to epitomize integrity and inner strength in a leader. In an era of rampant political corruption and moral cynicism, Yongzheng naturally appeals to Chinese audiences. To some, Yongzheng is suggestive of former Chinese Premier, Zhu Rongji, whose efforts to curb government corruption have earned him a reputation as a contemporary graft-buster. Zhu himself was reportedly an ardent follower of the show.

    YD has also drawn attention from overseas Chinese, making the revisionist Qing drama one of the most exportable Chinese television genres among the Chinese diaspora. Yet as the popularity of Qing drama has skyrocketed, the critical reception in China has been lukewarm. Critics charge the revisionist Qing drama with "Emperor worshipping" and "totalitarian nostalgia," sentiment seen as roadblocks to political reform. The status of the revisionist Qing drama is consequently in flux: is it radical or reactionary? The critical tension over revisionist Qing drama reflects the broader conflict over China's path towards economic prosperity.

    Indeed a revival of Confucian values as the solution to the Chinese state's current lack of guiding ideology is not universally endorsed by China's intellectuals and policy makers. Professor Hu Xingdou, a political scientist at the Beijing Institute of Technology, advocates adherence to more tangible systems of accountability like the rule of law and Western-style democratic elections.

    Hu considers Confucius's doctrine of suppressing one's desire and adhering to a high level of moral etiquette unrealistic in a modern society built upon material gains, and he promotes Western concepts of individual human rights and freedoms, democratic government and the rule of law.

    Yet Confucius's notion of a self-sacrificing ruler dovetails neatly with China as a one-party state. Since coming to power three years ago, Hu Jintao's administration has often alluded to the Confucian precept of officials "dedicating themselves to the interests of the public." One role model of this vision the Yongzheng portrayed in Qing drama YD.

    Qing dynasty's first three emperors Kangxi (1662-1722), Yongzheng (1722-1736) and Qianlong (1736-1796) reigned over a time of peace and prosperity for China. The peace allowed for a revival of arts and learning. However, the dynasty was also plagued by official corruption and power struggles. Palace favorites amassed fortunes, bureaucrats diverted public funds, and revolts broke out. The power struggles during the Manchu era in many ways mirror the political situation in China today. As the last dynasty in Chinese history, the Qing may be taken as exemplary either of strong leadership or of corruption and cultural decline. And it is used both ways by the different sides of the debate over China's way forward.

    Yongzheng Dynasty portrays Yongzheng as an exemplary ruler who puts the well-being of his nation and his people ahead of his political gain. What intrigued the director was Yongzheng's unrelenting effort to maintain a strong grip over domestic affairs, particularly his crackdown on political corruption, a theme that goes well in contemporary China. The image of Yongzheng in Yongzheng Dynasty bears a remarkable resemblance to that of China's first emperor, emperor Qin, as depicted in Zhang Yimou's controversial film, Hero (2002). Derided by some as "an aesthetically marvelous but philosophically reprehensible masterpiece," Hero provides a benevolent view of a tyrant who permits the suffering of a few for the good of the nation. While Zhang's underlying message is open to debate, the ends-justifies-the-means message underlined in the film coincides with Yongzheng Dynasty's conversion of an emperor historically linked to paranoia and brutality is transformed into an extraordinary ruler whose determination to build a stronger nation comes at the expense of his personal reputation.

    Paradoxically, Yongzheng himself was never a fan of Confucius and his disciples. In an effort to eradicate what he saw as a corrupt bureaucratic system ruled by Confucian principles, Yongzheng burned books and executed Confucian scholars. Yongzheng's antagonism towards Confucian scholars and his distrust of the Confucian bureaucratic system reminds one of the iconoclastic Mao, whose disdain for and suspicion of scholars and intellectuals alike, along with his demand for absolute loyalty, resulted in the catastrophic Cultural Revolution. Rationalizing Yongzheng's brutality rationalized, YD almost seems to suggest reversing the verdict on Mao and his Cultural Revolution.

    Indeed, Mao enjoyed a renewed popularity from the late 1980s to the early 1990s amidst a wave of totalitarian nostalgia in China. Natural disasters, economic uncertainty, mass protests against corruption, and the subsequent Tiananmen Square crackdown, as well as the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, propelled the paranoid Chinese state to revive old cultural symbols, cults, and practices. As part of the post-Tiananmen campaign to inculcate a sense of positive nostalgia among the shocked and fatigued public, the state released old revolutionary films and classic revolutionary songs, and produced contemporary historical films featuring the founding fathers of the People's Republic.

    With an audience ready for the past, reprises of history proved to one path to market value. Similar to the late 1980s when political and economic reform reached an impasse, the late 1990s was a time of corruption, nepotism, political infighting, and widespread popular disgruntlement, so the re-mythologization of Mao in the popular media fed the public's yearning for an era of simplicity and purity. Mao, a strong leader who in the popular imagination was above corruption, a romantic unfettered by pettifogging bureaucratic constraints, was for many the symbol of an age of economic stability, egalitarianism, and national pride. The reinterpretation of the historical figure Yongzheng provided by Yongzheng Dynasty offers up a similar framework within which Yongzheng becomes the representative of an age of determination and confidence, of cultural and political unity, of economic equality and incorruptibility, and above all of sage leadership indifferent to democratic discord.

    According to Kang Xiaoguang, the ardent advocate for the revival of Confucius, the debate over whether or not to resurrect Confucius is already over and what is being decided now is whether to intergrate his principles as part of the education system, a political ideology, or a national religion. The Chinese state is allocating a $10 billion fund to sponsor a worldwide network of schools to promote Chinese culture and language. The project, termed as the Chinese Bridge program, is perceived as the first step to a wider global acceptance of Confucian philosophy, and China's gift to the world.





    This Companion was written by The College of Staten Island's Modern China Studies Group, an interdisciplinary program involving several departments, including Business, English, History, Modern Languages, Media Culture, Political Science, Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work.

    The Confucian Tradition and Chinese Television Today - New York Times
     
  5. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    AMARTYA SEN
    Published: May 22, 2012


    IF proof were needed of the maxim that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the economic crisis in Europe provides it. The worthy but narrow intentions of the European Union’s policy makers have been inadequate for a sound European economy and have produced instead a world of misery, chaos and confusion.

    There are two reasons for this.

    First, intentions can be respectable without being clearheaded, and the foundations of the current austerity policy, combined with the rigidities of Europe’s monetary union (in the absence of fiscal union), have hardly been a model of cogency and sagacity. Second, an intention that is fine on its own can conflict with a more urgent priority — in this case, the preservation of a democratic Europe that is concerned about societal well-being. These are values for which Europe has fought, over many decades.

    Certainly, some European countries have long needed better economic accountability and more responsible economic management. However, timing is crucial; reform on a well-thought-out timetable must be distinguished from reform done in extreme haste. Greece, for all of its accountability problems, was not in an economic crisis before the global recession in 2008. (In fact, its economy grew by 4.6 percent in 2006 and 3 percent in 2007 before beginning its continuing shrinkage.)

    The cause of reform, no matter how urgent, is not well served by the unilateral imposition of sudden and savage cuts in public services. Such indiscriminate cutting slashes demand — a counterproductive strategy, given huge unemployment and idle productive enterprises that have been decimated by the lack of market demand. In Greece, one of the countries left behind by productivity increases elsewhere, economic stimulation through monetary policy (currency devaluation) has been precluded by the existence of the European monetary union, while the fiscal package demanded by the Continent’s leaders is severely anti-growth. Economic output in the euro zone continued to decline in the fourth quarter of last year, and the outlook has been so grim that a recent report finding zero growth in the first quarter of this year was widely greeted as good news.

    There is, in fact, plenty of historical evidence that the most effective way to cut deficits is to combine deficit reduction with rapid economic growth, which generates more revenue. The huge deficits after World War II largely disappeared with fast economic growth, and something similar happened during Bill Clinton’s presidency. The much praised reduction of the Swedish budget deficit from 1994 to 1998 occurred alongside fairly rapid growth. In contrast, European countries today are being asked to cut their deficits while remaining trapped in zero or negative economic growth.

    There are surely lessons here from John Maynard Keynes, who understood that the state and the market are interdependent. But Keynes had little to say about social justice, including the political commitments with which Europe emerged after World War II. These led to the birth of the modern welfare state and national health services — not to support a market economy but to protect human well-being.

    Though these social issues did not engage Keynes deeply, there is an old tradition in economics of combining efficient markets with the provision of public services that the market may not be able to deliver. As Adam Smith (often seen simplistically as the first guru of free-market economics) wrote in “The Wealth of Nations,” there are “two distinct objects” of an economy: “first, to provide a plentiful revenue or subsistence for the people, or, more properly, to enable them to provide such a revenue or subsistence for themselves; and secondly, to supply the state or commonwealth with a revenue sufficient for the public services.”

    Perhaps the most troubling aspect of Europe’s current malaise is the replacement of democratic commitments by financial dictates — from leaders of the European Union and the European Central Bank, and indirectly from credit-rating agencies, whose judgments have been notoriously unsound.

    Participatory public discussion — the “government by discussion” expounded by democratic theorists like John Stuart Mill and Walter Bagehot — could have identified appropriate reforms over a reasonable span of time, without threatening the foundations of Europe’s system of social justice. In contrast, drastic cuts in public services with very little general discussion of their necessity, efficacy or balance have been revolting to a large section of the European population and have played into the hands of extremists on both ends of the political spectrum.

    Europe cannot revive itself without addressing two areas of political legitimacy. First, Europe cannot hand itself over to the unilateral views — or good intentions — of experts without public reasoning and informed consent of its citizens. Given the transparent disdain for the public, it is no surprise that in election after election the public has shown its dissatisfaction by voting out incumbents.

    Second, both democracy and the chance of creating good policy are undermined when ineffective and blatantly unjust policies are dictated by leaders. The obvious failure of the austerity mandates imposed so far has undermined not only public participation — a value in itself — but also the possibility of arriving at a sensible, and sensibly timed, solution.

    This is a surely a far cry from the “united democratic Europe” that the pioneers of European unity sought.

    Amartya Sen, a Nobel laureate and a professor of economics and philosophy at Harvard, is the author, most recently, of “The Idea of Justice.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/23/opinion/the-crisis-of-european-democracy.html
     
  6. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    Thus spake Swami Amartya Sen! :taunt:

    The first two articles are interesting.
     
  7. panduranghari

    panduranghari Senior Member Senior Member

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    A Confucian Constitution

    A Confucian Constitution for China
    By JIANG QING and DANIEL A. BELL
    Published: July 10, 2012

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/11/opinion/a-confucian-constitution-in-china.html?_r=1&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

    After trying hard for the past few years to promote their way, the Chinese have succeeded in promoting their beliefs. Isn't it ironical, we in India love to ape the west rather than fall back to those things which made us a very long standing successful and prosperous civilization. Kudos to Chinese for achieving things their way. Well done indeed.
     
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