China and Brazil: the old and the young

Chinese President Xi Jinping with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in Brasilia, 13 November 2019. (Xinhua Photo)

Following the fashion in vogue in today's Brazil to speak using metaphors related to trivial and private aspects of human life, let's start with a metaphor, however, we will enrich it with some concepts and examples from the far east. It is known that, at different stages of life, we are faced with crises of different circumstances, some light, other serious. Today, with 520 years of history, Brazil can be considered a young nation, in front of 5000 years that China has. This young man, just like any other, faces crises, but at that moment there are intense crises that depending on your choices, define the direction and results of the future. At this stage the most sensible thing is to seek advice, references and simulate possible scenarios to follow the best direction. O filósofo Wang Yangming (1963, p.146) in a letter to a friend, wrote: “Innate knowledge is identical to the Path. That is present in the mind is true not only in the case of the wise and the worthy, as well as that of ordinary people. When you are free of impulsive forces and the observance of material desires, and innate knowledge follows, letting it continue to function and act, everything will be in accordance with the Way ”. It can be inferred that, what he calls innate knowledge, we can call it common sense and what he calls the Way, so let's take it for virtues, according to the definition given by Plato in book IV of the Republic. Like this, so let us arm ourselves with common sense to arrive at the virtues. Let us evaluate below some concepts and examples that Chinese history can give us.

   The interpretations that the Chinese have about history are remarkable and are oriented towards the study of methods and theories that can explain the past and foresee the future. Now, in these studies deep calculations and analyzes are carried out in search of immutability or constancy, of the rhythm, of some regularity that can guide us in the study of historiography. There are countless interpretations, but for what we intend to analyze in this text, it is necessary to present only three of them, the most significant. The first and most traditional is the concept of the Mandate of Heaven, this interpretation has a high point, which is the beginning of a new dynasty, initiated by virtuous men, but that over time this dynasty wears out, demoralizing, decaying and ending with weak rulers who do not deserve, lose Heaven's Mandate. It's important make sure that, the loss occurs as a consequence of the weakness in governing, that is, the ruler being weak, the corrupt state and the inefficient administration the likely results will be economic crises, political and social, each of which will be seen as signs of the presumed loss of the Mandate of Heaven. This theory is very similar to Western doctrine, political and religious law of Divine Law, because both define that the ruler governs by divine will, however, the Chinese doctrine goes further and brings other aspects that make it a little bit different, as the very idea of ​​cyclical order and the possibility of losing the mandate by divine signs. The Heavenly Mandate theory was very popular until the sec. XX with the birth of the People's Republic of China, when it fell in academic circles, but even today it remains in the popular imagination.

Another concept that remains in popular understanding is that of the famous writer Luo Guanzhong, author of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, that at the beginning of your book, on the first page, said that “under the heavens, after a long period of division, comes the union; after a long period of union, the division comes ”. That is, history beyond cyclical, moves according to the forces that now act in order to converge, now in the sense of diverging. Indeed, we understand that there are several social elements that act to boost these forces in one direction or another, but the most decisive element is the constant desire for change that belongs to all societies.

The third concept came to the fore with the advent of the Republic. Chinese historiography started to adopt the Marxist interpretation of historical materialism, where the prism is the class struggles, and that these are the driving force that propel societies to the stages of historical development, that begins in slavery, after feudalism, then capitalism and has its apex in communism. Of course, this is a utilitarian version that advocates in favor of communism, implanted by the People's Republic itself, which at that time was established. Anyway, the new concept that this interpretation brought was the idea that the struggle between classes was what drove historical development, concept that is unprecedented in Chinese historiography.

But what does all this have to do with Brazil? Well, concepts were presented, let's get to the facts. At the beginning of the century. XVII in ancient China, who held the Mandate of Heaven was the once powerful Ming Dynasty, but that in the years 1600 headed towards its decline. The emperor was weak, isolated and introverted; the extremely corrupt court; o Inefficient state; crisis in the educational system; individualism without restraint and the constant breaking of general ethical standards. The results of this as predicted by Chinese historiography, were fatal, institutional crisis, politics, economic and social. Some similarity with what is happening in Brazil today? Because there's still more, around 1611, The "Donglin Society" was founded, focused on ethics, for historical study, for political debate and especially to fight corruption. Sounds close to the social political movements that have recently emerged in Brazil? But there's still more, in 1624 the different factions of the system joined in a strong campaign against the anti-corruption movement and annihilated its main leaders. The similarities are still unclear, more is still needed? Well, let's go to the component that came up in 1642, this year China is plagued by an epidemic where according to the reports of the time “there were few signs of human life on the streets, and all that was heard was the buzz of the flies ”. They say that the human losses were so serious that “in the beginning the bodies were buried in coffins and later in pastures, but in the end they were left in the beds ”.

Respecting cultural differences, historical and geographical what is demonstrated here is that both Chinese historiography and Karl Marx's diagnosis in the famous initial lines of O 18 of Brumaire by Luís Bonaparte: "Hegel says somewhere that all the facts and characters of great importance in world history occur, necessarily, twice. He forgot to add: first as a tragedy, second as farce ”,  prove to be true and evident. It is also noted that, equally, Brazil at the beginning of the 21st century with a weak government, corrupt congress, inefficient state, crisis in the educational system, individualism without brakes and the constant breaking of general ethical standards added to the Covid-19 pandemic, presents a scenario very similar to the end of the Ming Dynasty.

China would then have the answer to our mistakes? Obviously not. What is meant here is not to say that we should follow China, it's just the opposite, is to learn from the mistake, because China from that moment accelerated towards the abyss. The results were disastrous, stacks of bodies, hunger and bankruptcy of the state. So would the current China be the model to be followed? We know that China's current situation is nowhere near that of Brazil. Today's China faces other problems, but none of them are related to the decadence of the political regime. The China that can actually teach us is the other, the one at the end of the Ming dynasty, that as exposed, failed. Let's learn from the mistakes of the past. Let us leave the experience of the old man to prevent the boy. Conforme ensinou Wang Yangming, guided by common sense.

What we propose here is to do it differently from ancient China, is to fight the tide, is to understand the importance of institutions, is the relentless fight against corruption, is the permanent requirement for an efficient state, is the reform of the educational system to one that brings beneficial results, is a greater balance between collectivism and individualism and, Lastly, the resumption of high ethical standards, because, as Montesquieu said, “the corruption of the government almost always begins with the corruption of its principles”. Let's make it different from the Beijing citizens of that time, how tired, surrendered and opened the city gates to enemies. Let us boost the sense of history in our favor, converging on themes guided by republican principles and diverging from those fleeing from them. As the greatest speaker of the Portuguese language said, the illustrious father Antônio Vieira in 1654 in the sermon of Santo Antônio preached in the city of São Luís do Maranhão “You…you are the salt of the earth; and calls them salt of the earth, because you want them to do what the salt does on earth. The effect of salt is to prevent corruption… “. Let's go, because, salting and letting common sense act and there will be no difficulties that no young man cannot solve.

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International Relations Director of the IBRACHINA Institute. Master in Chinese Studies at Zhejiang University and Specialist in International Business at FGV (2016).