With its prodigious development and distinctive model, the Chinese path to modernisation without the support of any western template has offered the world a new kind of modernity defying all narrow theoretical lenses that confined progress to only type.
Unlike the historical trajectory of western modernisation, Beijing’s path to progress remained free from the colonialist mentality and drew on indigenous and 5000 years of civilizational history. Therefore, its modernity represented an opportunity for the world and not a threat.
This was the gist of a discussion between noted panellists during a session at the Boao Forum for Asia recently held under the theme of “Chinese path to modernisation”.
Later, speaking to The Express Tribune, British scholar Martin Jacques said the West has for a very long time regarded modernity to be singular and the intellectual purview saw no alternative to the form of modernity propounded and championed by the West.
He noted that this parochial theoretical purview which remained blinded – and still remains so to an extent – to other forms of modernity cannot be supported by history as evidenced by the rise of China.
Martin Jacques, who is a senior fellow at Cambridge University, said historically this parochial understanding of modernity was just not true, citing Japan’s industrialisation in the 1870s as “a very different kind of modernity”.
Since WW2 and the rise of developing countries, most notably China, there have been many examples of modernity which are very specific to the history and culture of the country. “So, rather than saying the world is composed of singular western democracy, we should talk about multiple maternities,” he emphasised.
At the session discussion, Jacques explained since the middle of the 20th century, many countries have embarked on modernisation, most remarkably of all China from 1949 and especially with the reform period after 1978.
"The nature of China's modernisation in this period is a combination of borrowing inevitably from the experience of other countries further down the roads and a very indigenous adaptation of homegrown modernisation," he remarked.
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"China has continued with the dynamic of change and growth and constant reinvention. China does not get stuck and keeps moving. The mentality that China can't invent has shifted," he said.
China has taken the battle from the United States and becomes the leader of global development, and that has been an "extraordinary contribution," Jacques added.
Guiding hands of CPC
Speaking during the panel discussion, former president of the Philippines Gloria Macapagal Arroyo attributed modernisation to the guiding hand of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and lauded it for its meticulous and long-term planning and execution.
She believed the western path was founded during the industrial period, an era consistent with colonialism. However, the case with China was quite different as it embarked on its own independent journey.
She also noted that the western path was coherently introduced and rose to dominance in the 1980s, when the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was founded.
The main feature of the Chinese path, she pointed out, was the unique guidance of the communist party.
“From the time of opening up, within a short span of time, it took over Japan in terms of development… It lifted 800 million people out of poverty. In the past 40 years, it has managed to build a major infrastructure worldwide. It has the largest highway in the world and the fastest trains,” she commented.
She said that the Western path to modernisation was often thought of as founded on colonialism, and China and the Philippines and many neighbours in Asia were the victims of the colonial behaviour.
"That experience makes you understand that when China speaks of progress and modernisation, it is often in the context of the community of shared future and common prosperity rather than exploitation in the colonial sense," she said.
The panellists at the discussion further noted that while the US was sending mixed signals on the issue of the environment, President Xi Jinping has been emphasising the protection of the environment and ecology on China’s path to modernisation and development.