Globalist Bookshelf

Globalization Studies in China

Is globalization a credible threat to Chinese society?

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Takeaways


  • Some scholars see globalization as a trap and regard supporters of globalization as traitors.
  • Some intellectuals believe that the superior economic and geopolitical influence of developed countries allows them to dominate and control the globalization process.
  • Some view globalization as being strictly limited to economics, and refuse to accept definitions that extend the concept into other domains of human experience.

In the early half of the 1990s the word “globalization” itself was so politically sensitive that Chinese scholars avoided mentioning it in articles and books.

On a practical level, globalization was long-regarded as synonymous with capitalist development, a fact that explains the previous ideological sensitivities it carried.

More recently, however, both inside the country and out, China has come to be seen as one of the biggest winners from globalization.

Currently, Chinese scholars are focusing on several important dimensions of globalization, including definitions of the concept, articulation of a useful typology, the Chinese experience of globalization and globalization’s advantages and disadvantages for China. In each of these areas, Chinese scholars’ views on globalization have tended to cluster around six paradoxes:

Some people think that globalization is a fact — that it has an objective existence that deeply affects human development. They see humankind as entering into a global age.

Others insist that globalization is simply a fiction promoted by Western scholars as ideological cover for a new wave of imperialism. In this latter view, globalization is argued to be a myth because the great diversity of human societies, economies, and cultures can never be globalized.

Many Chinese intellectuals believe that globalization is the necessary consequence of capitalist development and an inherent goal of capitalism. Globalization represents the extension of capitalist modes of production across the planet and signifies that capitalism has entered a new stage of its development.

Globalization, in this view, is simply global capitalism. In contrast, some scholars argue that globalization is ideologically neutral despite its origins in advanced capitalist countries. By its nature, globalization is neither capitalist nor socialist. Like the market economy, it can be combined with both capitalism and socialism.

For many Chinese scholars, globalization is seen as little more than economic integration of capital, products, market, technology, production and communication on a planetary scale. These scholars view globalization as being strictly limited to economics, and refuse to accept definitions that extend the concept into other domains of human experience.

Other scholars, however, believe that the concept of globalization extends beyond economics — even though it originates in economic processes of integration. A process of political and cultural globalization, they argue, is under way at the same time as economic integration is occurring.

In their view, globalization has not only economic implications but also political and cultural ones. Thus, globalization is an overall process of social change, including economic, political and cultural processes.

Some intellectuals believe that the superior economic and geopolitical influence of developed countries allows them to dominate and control the process of globalization to the disadvantage of less developed countries. They suggest that developed rather than developing countries are the true winners of globalization.

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Other scholars have argued that globalization is not a zero-sum game and that all players can be winners. What matters for these analysts are the strategies that governments choose to employ in responding to the challenges posed by globalization. China is a good example of a country poised to benefit from globalization.

Many analysts believe that globalization implies Westernization, and above all, Americanization, for China. Such a development is equated with the loss of autonomy and cultural dignity.

In this view, the international standards, regimes, and regulations that govern globalization were designed to serve the values and interests of Western countries.

Other analysts disagree, holding that globalization is different from Westernization or Americanization. For these scholars, globalization is fundamentally a process of modernization, irrespective of the fact that this process originated in the West.

Some analysts answer this question with a resounding yes, arguing that there exists a specifically Chinese model for development, complete with its own special characteristics. Some analysts even take this view one step further, arguing that the Chinese experience can serve as the basis for a “Beijing Consensus” on how developing countries can best pursue modernization, an idea first noted by the American scholar Joshua Cooper Ramo.

Others, however, firmly reject this argument, holding that there is no specifically Chinese way to modernization, only a path that adopts either more or fewer of the basic features of capitalism. For some in this latter group, the only model China should adopt as it pursues development should be the so-called Washington Consensus, rather than any purported Beijing Consensus.

Given these debates, it is not surprising that intellectuals in China, as much as those abroad, generally divide themselves into two camps. Some are advocates of globalization while others are opponents of it.

The former see globalization as a blessing and warmly welcome it, while the latter resist globalization, viewing it as a disaster.

Some Chinese scholars see globalization as the pathway to a Chinese renaissance. For these thinkers, China’s future — including democracy and economic prosperity — depends largely on its successfully adapting to the challenges of globalization.

Other people, however, see globalization as a trap and regard supporters of globalization as traitors.

Editor’s Note: This feature is adapted from “Democracy Is A Good Thing” by Yu Keping. Copyright 2009 The Brookings Institution. Reprinted by permission of the author.

You can read Part II of this excerpt tomorrow on The Globalist.

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