Historian Speaks About China’s Past


    By Emily Roche

    Studying the continuing historical characteristics of a country may tell more about the nature of the country than looking far into the future, said Dr. Jonathan Spence of Yale University at the Forum, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2006.

    ?I?m a historian not a futurologist,? Spence said. ?China?s history does lead us as we think about the future. I feel that with China, however, we have to think of the past. There are enduring aspects of China and these enduring aspects constrain China?s actions both at home and at the world at large.?

    Spence also recognized China?s great recent growth and attributed that growth to their new political system and the widely recognized industrial and technological strength they are establishing worldwide. That growth can be seen just glancing over one of China?s major cities and seeing the cranes and trucks for construction, skyscrapers, new energy sources and subway systems, Spence said.

    ?Recent headlines show that China is at the center of global concerns in many ways,? Spence said. ?It has become a key member of the United Nations after years and years of being kept out of the body altogether. Recently we?ve seen how it plays a major role in managing North Korea and the possibilities of North Korea becoming a nuclear power.?

    Since China?s history is so extensive, Spence divided his approach into four major categories: closed political leadership, questions of religion and society, questions of population and size and consequences and approaches to the world.

    ?We think of China as part of the world, part of our world and the world that we have been rather accustomed to dominate,? Spence said. ?So sharing aspects of power is confusing and complicated to us.?

    Spence spoke at great length about China?s political system and some of its implications. Until recently, China has been ruled by a central government, which may draw some consequences for China?s political involvement at home and abroad.

    ?China had until very recently an inheritance of 2,000 years of central, imperial rule,? Spence said. ?This was aided by a highly sophisticated and well-educated bureaucracy. Consequently, China had no deep traditions of broad political participation in any institutional or easily recognizable way.?

    Spence briefly spoke about China?s population and size restrictions such as the One Child Policy, and how that may restrict their expansion abilities. He also touched upon the religious beliefs in China and referred to it as one of the most open religious systems in the world.

    ?One thing we should be aware of in terms of the past is that China has accepted a wide range of different religious beliefs over time,? Spence said.

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