China’s Destiny is to Rule the World (manhua blossoms!)

Before I get to the manhua, some background (pics are from My Street, here).

The statement “Chinese civilization has been in decline since the Tang Dynasty” was commonly made and fairly accurate until not so long ago.  Considering that the Tang expired in 912, this means that China went through a period of deterioration of over one thousand years.  From a peak during that dynasty, where conditions in Europe were ridiculously bad in comparison, China became progressively stagnant until it was carved up by imperialist powers and local warlords in the 19th and 20th century.  The interesting thing is that the reasons for China’s rise and the causes of its fall were deeply linked.

The World

The World

1) China attained a concept of national and cultural unity extremely early, based on the very concept of China.

No one liked the so-called First Emperor, who unified China in 221 BC.  But the Han dynasty that followed him kept up the unity of the country while replacing harsh rule with a more benevolent, and very persuasive, culturally founded government.  To this day the Chinese ethnic majority is named “Han” for this reason.  The Han made it a matter of pride and satisfaction to be considered Chinese.  And all of this hundreds of years before the rise of the nation-states in Europe.  (Intellectuals in China were preaching “China” way before this! during the decline of the Zhou dynasty)

People have asked me more than once why there were and are so many people in China.  The question is probably going to miss the point.  Nations are not empty vessels to be filled up more or less according to a birthrate.  There aren’t any pre-packaged ethnic groups waiting to be unified either.  The truth is that there were plenty of ethnic and other differences between the various people in the region we today call China, as much as say between the different European peoples.  So the question is, what drew all of this people to be Chinese?  How did such a large portion of humanity accept China?

2. China considered itself the center of the world.

China’s name of “Middle Kingdom” is over 2500 years old. But this notion really became powerful after the Qin centralization of China and the subsequent sway by the Han dynasty.  This became Sinocentrism with teeth.  Contributions from abroad were accepted, but only after a fair measure of Sinification.  As an example, we see that the massive introduction of Buddhism into China eventually left only two vibrant traditions: Chan (=Zen) and Pure Land, both heavily Sinified.  Other more purely Indian traditions died off.

The French know it.

The French know it.

These two processes fed off each other.  China was large and awe-inspiring, and this helped accelerate expansion.  The more China expanded, the fewer were the neighbors who could rival her politically or culturally, which reinforced the notion of “Middle Kingdom”.  To some extent, China stopped expanding because it felt no need to continue (a very rare situation historically!).

But Sinocentrism could only take China so far, and the empire was a victim of its own success.  When more and more innovations came from farther and seemingly smaller places abroad, the Chinese weren’t interested.  Even when foreigners took over the militarily weak Chinese government (Mongols, Manchus) they were so in awe of their subjects that they failed to promote any change.  And so China went on decline.

A thousand years after the fall of the Tang, China began its Republican period.  Sun Yat-sen denied the second principle to save the first: China was just one nation among many, and with this knowledge it could go on about learning and modernizing to maintain its unity and increase its prosperity throughout the years to come.

The New China?!

New China

For the last hundred years China has been transitioning from the Sinocentric worldview to what I’d call a world-centric view.  First, China adopted Marxism.  It might sound funny these days, but Marxism used to be considered the most progressive, international, modern ideology in the world.  China’s adoption of Marxism signified its intention to concentrate on participation and success in the world stage as just one more nation among others.  Now that Marxist theory is discredited, China is moving to a committed capitalism.

Ironically, this leads to China’s destiny: which is to rule the world.  Instead of defining itself as the center of the world and then hoping other countries will accept this, China is actually looking at the empty void that the world center is, and doing its best to compete on the world stage.  This allows it to reach for the center, not as the Middle Kingdom but precisely as the model modern nation that accepts its status as one among others: China is marching toward a role “first among equals”, i.e. ecumenical patriarch of the democratico-capitalist world order.

Professor Wing-tsit Chan taught that the starting point of Chinese thought was the simple character 仁, meaning benevolence and graphically representing two human beings: in other words, “humanism”.  The long eras of Chinese history are working toward the full realization of this principle, and its universality means that the Chinese are not essentially tied up to any specific configuration of ideas that might hinder their progress.

Marxism?   Take that as far we can.  Capitalism, even better.  China is best qualified to be the center of the world because it can go past particularism.  Chinese products are acceptable to the rest of the world because they are the world’s, pure and simple.  And they become more than acceptable, they become popular and preferred as quality improves since there is no need for acquired tastes, their appeal is universal and meant to be so.

The wonderful manhua artist Nie Jun is proof of this destiny.  His manhua My Street has a fable-like atmosphere accessible to all cultures.  Picking this up after a heavy dose of Japanese manga is like a breath of fresh air: the work offers no racial resistance.  The art is painstakingly workmanlike without being generic; the work is being released in France (by Xiao Pan) without being so in the U.S., usually a sign of good style, solid storytelling or both.

Take it!

Take it!

Nie Jun himself said in an interview: “I’ve always wanted to draw cartoons with Chinese characteristics, work that represents China.  I want my cartoons to look Chinese, not Western or Japanese or South Korean.  If people look at my cartoons and say ‘they’re very Chinese’, then I’ll feel like I’ve done a good job.”
(interview here)

One need only remember Deng Xiaoping’s “socialism with Chinese characteristics” to understand that his quote supports my ideas in this post.  Nie Jun is pledging to work hard as hell as a Chinese artist to come out with the best product from an international standpoint (i.e. Chinese characteristics).

Anyway, My Street rocks.  Check it out!

~ by Haloed Bane on February 5, 2009.

10 Responses to “China’s Destiny is to Rule the World (manhua blossoms!)”

  1. You’re right in that those screencaps don’t really feel like typical mangas, but it’s hard to get a better feel of its style by just those two images. In any case, I love that first picture of fish and upside tree. Is that a concept art?

  2. I think the point is that you should just download the scanlation and see for yourself. 😄

    But seriously, I’ve read quite a few things released by Xiaopan, and I know that at least in France, the manhua have become a little popular – but the most highly acclaimed works there are still Benjamin’s and this manhua called “My Way”. I also think that they are more ‘chinese’ than “My Street”.

    So, I agree with everything you said… except that I really think that chinese manhua are mostly crap, and Xiaopan has released the very few that are somewhat good. Surely China wants to produce ‘for the world’, but right now, I doubt they are able to, at least in terms of comics – and the same goes for many other things.

  3. is dat sum yggrdasil? ( know, wrong country, but w/e)

    I hate that I keep hearing about great manga… I hate scanslations but you bastards are drawing me in!

  4. I’m just going to assume the reason why it may seem your average manhua is crap is because things like Storm Riders or Dragon Tiger Gate are prominent as hell. For some reason or another, scanlators rarely look into the niche stuff, or even Benjamin, who everyone loves yet never does.

    I’ll have to say though, comparing One Day and My Street, One Day feels more universal and My Street is more global. Is that the same thing? To me, universality tends to be something we can all understand but has the double-edge of being more generic. Being global, as ak talked about, has acknowledgment of the world and where China’s place is. All these characters of My Street are immigrants somewhere in Europe. They’re thugs and…I’m thinking one’s a junkie. Not exactly flattering but Nie Jun chose to write about it. But hey, who are you more likely to put yourself alongside? Bullshit martial art street fighters or a couple of kids trying to get by another day?

    What I’m waiting for is for a chinese artist/author to bring out some REALLY fucked up shit. I forget which one of Ben’s books…but apparently one of them couldn’t be published in China because it was ‘too depressing’. I’m not sure if that’s censoring or just publishers pussying out…either way, that saddens me.

    So, to make up for that, we’re going to keep scanlating rocked out manhua that no one else will do. And Sasa…you know, I’ve heard of Ji Di’s My Way. I heard about it from funny, fuhrer of the Rabbits. I wonder what that could signify…?

  5. […] about the releases. That’s because we think the releases can speak for themselves. That said, ak’s got the commentary in the bag. Hit […]

  6. @gaguri

    That first pic is in the beginning of the My Street manhua.

    @ digiboy

    Yes, join the dark side of the force you will.

    @ sasa and prophet

    Absolutely nothing of what either of you said I could disagree with (maybe we were triplets in a former life). Anyway, prophet, it might take a while to see fucked up manhua because, well, in global terms, most people are not really into “fucked up”. It’s “insulting” and “demeaning”. BTW, the PRC called, and they’re kinda pissed…

  7. Reading scanlations just feels weird to me for some reason, but I will definitely give this one a try.

  8. @ Funeral

    Rabbit Reich scanlations are quality. “Read the Reich, save the world” as I like to say…

  9. I’m going to be honest, the Rabbits aren’t the best…or most efficient. But I tell you, we’ll do our damnedest to be quality. But why just believe me? ak’s vouching for us and his word is GOLD.

  10. ak seems like a reliable person so I’ll give it try.

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