Chinese modernization provides new possibilities for exploring human civilization

By LI YOUMEI / 03-02-2023 / Chinese Social Sciences Today

The world today is undergoing profound changes unseen in a century, and the development of human society is at a crossroads. Compared with Western modernization, which has latent defects in multi-dimensional aspects, Chinese modernization is providing new possibilities for mankind to pursue a better future.

Confusing “dilemma of civilization”

With its origins in Western Europe and embedded throughout the development of capitalism, modernization served as prelude to the transition of human civilization. Although the expansion of Western modernization around the globe fostered the general advancement of economies and the progress of social civilization to a large extent, inherent contradictions also resulted in problems such as economic stagnation, social polarization and regional political conflict. Today, academia has realized that the modernization process is also fraught with problems such as social inequality, social disorder and instability, as well as anxiety, depression and other issues relevant to individuals’ social adaptation. 

The core of capitalist modernization lies in the theory of “creative disruption,” as was stated by the Austrian-American economist Joseph Schumpeter. Therefore, Western modernization which emphasizes capital accumulation has always been inherently full of tension and instability. Since the Industrial Revolution, the modernization path experienced by the West and many third-world countries has been plagued by the dilemma that economic development is incompatible with social stability. Fundamentally driven by capital expansion, this development model means that the country tends to be lured by the interests of capital, and society’s self-preservation functions weaken. The consequence is that the confusing “dilemma of civilization” is formed.

Overcoming paradoxes and dilemmas 

Facing the need of social reconstruction brought by modernization, Max Weber emphasized the analysis of rationalization, émile Durkheim emphasized the reconstruction of civic morals, and Karl Polanyi called for a society that protects itself. They each sought the recipe for social stability from the perspective of the relationship between internal virtue cultivation and the external social system. However, it is difficult for these kinds of explorations to produce fundamental effects due to the limitations of specific political and economic environments. Due to overly strong structural constraints, it is difficult to alter the overall trend of social development by merely emphasizing individual action or even gaming between groups. So far, the Western modernization process has not been able to avoid the above-mentioned dilemma of civilization. Therefore, we need to develop a path that extends beyond individual desires, or one that extends beyond a path that takes a multitude of abstract or specific contradictions as the drivers. It can be said that the practice of Chinese modernization has provided us with new possibilities to overcome these paradoxes and dilemmas of modernization.

Throughout the magnificent historical process of China’s revolution, construction, reform and development over the past century, the Communist Party of China (CPC) has led the Chinese people out of poverty, continually improving people’s lives. At the same time, it has constantly adjusted various social relations and coordinated international and domestic development from strategic perspectives. Rapid economic growth and long-term social stability, regarded as incompatible in the West, have been achieved. 

Pursuing common values 

Human civilization is constantly evolving and developing. Traditional civilization will evolve into modern civilization, and modern civilization itself will continue updating and evolving. Modern civilization is diversified. Different countries and regions, due to different historical and cultural traditions, national conditions and social realities, embark on different paths towards modern civilization. The implications of the new form of human civilization are to break through the myths  on which the path of Western modernization depends, and to provide new ideas and possibilities for exploring human civilization.

It is in this sense that Chinese modernization embodies the values and concepts that human development must adhere to, that is, the pursuit of the common values for humanity—peace, development, fairness, justice, democracy and freedom, which will surely chart the course for a better future for all mankind.

Li Youmei is a professor from the School of Sociology at Shanghai University. 

Edited by BAI LE