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A civilization state (or civilization-state) is a country that represents not just a historical territory, ethnolinguistic group, or body of governance, but a unique civilization in its own right. It has been used to describe continent-sized civilizations with long histories such as China and India, but has also been used to describe more recent nations such as Russia, Turkey, and even the United States. It is distinguished from the concept of a nation state, which author Martin Jacques describes as having arisen from the European Westphalian system of many states, roughly equal in size and power, competing amongst each other.
The idea was first described and popularized by Jacques in his book When China Rules the World. Some of the main arguments were that it was western global power that allowed the idea of the nation state to flourish; but with the rise of Asian powers such as China and India in the 21st century, it signals a decline in the west and an embrace of a new model of sovereignty: the civilization state.
According to Jacques, China's history as a nation-state only dates back to around 120 years, perhaps with the collapse of the Qing dynasty in 1911, paving the way for the Republic of China (1912–1949) and then the People's Republic of China. However China's history as a civilization is much longer, with many Chinese dating it to at least 5000 years. Jacques says that Chinese people refer to China not just as a country or nation, but as Chinese civilization altogether--including its history, dynasties, Chinese food, Chinese characters, Confucius, Mencius, guanxi, legalism, daoism, filial piety, etc.
Difference between nation and civilization state
Jacques likes to use China as an example to illustrate the difference between a nation state and civilization state. He says that China has two attributes as a civilization state: 1) its longevity, existing mostly unified since the days of the Roman Empire; whereas Europe mostly fragmented since then; 2) its size, stretching from its east coast to Xinjiang and Tibet; having the largest populations for a country, with all the diversity geographic and demographic that entails. Given its size, it is impossible to govern all of China directly, going against the western stereotype that China is highly centralized.
Difference from western values
Jacques has argued that when westerners approach China, they largely see it in terms of western values. This typically means they see China's lack of democracy, lack of human rights, pollution, etc. But he has said that attempting to understand China using western standards makes us fail to understand China using China's own standards; and he warns that if we follow the former we will never understand China. For example even after the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, China has experienced 30 years of 'unpredicted', unprecedented double-digit economic growth. This attests to a 'strong and resilient' culture that is able to withstand modernization and huge changes. So he argues that China is different from the west in the most basic ways, including being a civilization state rather than a nation state.
In his book The China Wave: Rise of a Civilizational State, Zhang Weiwei of Fudan University explains that China has modernized successfully not because it has 'westernized' but because it has returned to Confucianism and a meritocratic system (see imperial examinations). This leads to societal and political norms, such as the importance of family, relation between individual and state, and Mandate of Heaven that are different from those of western civilization.
However Guang Xia concedes that China has adapted certain aspects of western modernity, first by Sun Yat-sen's bourgeoisie revolution, then Mao Zedong's communist revolution, and then the Chinese economic reform.
Continental size: unity in diversity
Moreover as a civilization state, China allows a one country, two systems policy, which goes against the nation state norm of 'one nation, one system'. Notwithstanding the status of Taiwan and the PRC's claims to the island, this is illustrated by the fact that Hong Kong, Macau operate largely independently with their own political systems, while still being part of mainland China. Jacques says that with such diversity and size, China must be flexible, allowing these multiple forms of governance.
Even with its diversity, over 90% of the Chinese population think of themselves as being part of the Han ethnicity, a huge unifying coverall term when in reality the Han are an amalgamation of multiple ethnicities. This also differs from how Brazil and the US think of themselves as multi-ethnic nations.
Even with its diversity, and as opposed to how Europe fragmented, the Chinese state has placed a fundamental importance on maintaining unity and social harmony (和谐), a testament to China's continuity as a unified civilization.
Zhang Weiwei also notes that China is able to embrace large populations of Confucians, Daoists, Buddhists, and Christians living in peaceful coexistence without the bloodshed and religious wars of the west (for example, the crusades). He uses this to argue that China is 'inclusive' and 'open'.
According to Diana Lary, since the Qin dynasty (221 BC), China has been disunited for only 470 years and mostly unified for over 1700 years; Jacques says this is 'remarkable'. These periods of unification include rule by Han and non-Han Chinese people: the Han dynasty, Tang dynasty, Song dynasty / Liao dynasty (proto-Mongol), Yuan dynasty / Mongol Empire, Ming dynasty, and Qing dynasty (Manchu). In the cases of non-Han rule, the Mongols and Manchus 'went native' and were completely absorbed and sinicized into the greater Chinese population. Even nowadays most Mongolians live in China (Inner Mongolia); and along with Manchurians are considered Chinese, albeit non-Han and an ethnic minority of China. China was even able to sinicize Buddhism over a period of centuries since its introduction from India.
Huang Ping writes that China is 'living history'. Jin Guantao argues that China's 'only mode of existence is to relive the past'. Tu Wei-ming adds that the Chinese tradition is preserved in the longevity of Chinese characters (hanzi, 漢字) used since at least the time of the Shang dynasty. Guang Xia notes that it is a writing system accessible to both 'literati and laypeople'.
Wang Gungwu asks rhetorically: 'Of what other country in the world [are] the writings on its foreign relations of two thousand, or even one thousand, years ago seem so compellingly alive today?'
Authority of the state
China's status as a civilization state also has implications for how Chinese citizens view the government. Jacques argues that the Chinese state enjoys more legitimacy than any western nation. Citizens view the state as its guardian, protector, and defender of Chinese civilization, from elites to taxi drivers. They view themselves as part of the greater Chinese 'family', with the state being its 'father' (also see Mandate of Heaven). There is a sense of paternalism in dealing with the state, with a certain reverence and deference towards it.
In Chinese, China is written as 中国 (zhongguo) which means 'middle kingdom'. This mentality of being at the center of the world defines how China sees itself and its relation to other states. Since Roman collapse, European nations have been mostly equal in size and power, and have competed against each other on more or less equal grounds. However, for most of China's history, it has had a largely different relationship with its immediate neighbors, with a massive gravitational pull drawing encircling vassals and tributary states into its orbit.
Other examples of civilization states
India has roughly the same population as China, with over one billion people each. The concept of India is a creation of the British Raj but the Indian civilization has existed for thousands of years longer than that. Members of the Bharatiya Janata Party like to think of India as being more than a mere nation, but a civilization state in its own right. For them, Hinduism is the main unifying factor of India. However this disregards muslims in India.
Parts of Vladimir Putin's administration are embracing the idea of Russia as a distinct Eurasian civilization state. Vladislav Surkov has argued that Russia no longer fits into western civilization but is a civilization in its own right, that has absorbed factors from both the west and east, being the 'half breed [it] should be'.
The idea of a Turkish civilization state may have started with the Ottoman Empire.
Compared to Chinese and Indian civilizations, the USA is a younger state, formed since 1776, but one of comparable size (at least in land area) and power. Just like China, the USA's relationship with its direct neighbors, Mexico and Canada; the European Union; and its allies (or 'vassal states' as Jacques calls them) South Korea and Japan is hardly equal, with the US often playing the dominating broker.
- Rachman, Gideon (4 March 2019). "China, India and the rise of the ‘civilisation state’" (in en-GB). https://www.ft.com/content/b6bc9ac2-3e5b-11e9-9bee-efab61506f44.
- Jacques, Martin. (2014). When china rules the world : the end of the western world and the birth of a new global order. Penguin Books. ISBN 9781101151457. OCLC 883334381. http://worldcat.org/oclc/883334381.
- Xia, Guang (2014-08-22). "China as a “Civilization-State”: A Historical and Comparative Interpretation". Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences. 2nd World Conference on Psychology and Sociology, PSYSOC 2013, 27-29 November 2013, Brussels, Belgium 140: 43–47. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2014.04.384. ISSN 1877-0428. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877042814033102.
- Jacques, Martin (2014). When China Rules the World. pp. 244-246.
- Pye, Lucian (1992). Spirit of Chinese Politics. Harvard University Press. pp. 235.
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- Jacques, Martin. (2014). When china rules the world : the end of the western world and the birth of a new global order. Penguin Books. pp. 250-252. ISBN 9781101151457. OCLC 883334381. http://worldcat.org/oclc/883334381.
- Zhang, Weiwei. The China Wave: Rise of a Civilisational State.
- "An apt example of 'civilizational-state'". http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/opinion/2011-04/27/content_12401986.htm.
- Lary, Diana (Summer 2019). "Region and Nation: The Present Situation in China inn Historical Context". Pacific Affairs 70:2: 182. https://www.jstor.org/stable/2760770?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents.
- Jacques, Martin. (2014). When china rules the world : the end of the western world and the birth of a new global order. Penguin Books. pp. 249. ISBN 9781101151457. OCLC 883334381. http://worldcat.org/oclc/883334381.
- Zheng, Yongnian (2004). Will China Become Democratic?: Elite, Class and Regime Transition. Singapore EAI. pp. 81.
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- Henry Kissinger, On China, (London: Allen Lane, 2011) p. 2
- Wang Gungwu, Early Ming Relations with Southeast Asia: A Background Essay
- Fairbank, John King (1968). The Chinese World Order; Traditional China's Foreign Relations. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. pp. 61.
- Jacques, Martin. (2014). When china rules the world. Penguin Books. pp. 248. ISBN 9781101151457. OCLC 883334381. http://worldcat.org/oclc/883334381.
- "Russia in global affairs is a journal on foreign policy and international relations - diplomacy, international laws, foregn policy, international conflicts / Vladislav Surkov. Foreign policy research foundation". https://eng.globalaffairs.ru/person/p_3447.