National will leads to qualitative leaps in Chinese modernization

By Tullo Vigevani / 03-23-2023 / Chinese Social Sciences Today

There is a widespread common sense that China’s modernization took place particularly after 1978. It is also common sense to state that China’s adaptation to and transcendence of Western values and civilizations, the recognition and revaluation of the idea of global competitiveness, are all factors of the great development achievements. China’s millennial history and its culture contribute to the production of what we could call the national will. National will allows the struggle to overcome the international governance system favorable to central Western countries. It also translates into effort for high-quality competitiveness and creativeness. This is the main explanation to understand the take-off of Chinese modernization, how it took place, and the new qualitative leaps. 

National policies key to modernization 

National policies are decisive for the modernization of any country. Undoubtedly, the Chinese modernization developed from 1978 onwards took this issue into account. Introduction, absorption and internal development and innovation of the most modern technologies came to be considered key. Unlike Latin American countries, while technology was absorbed, a high-quality scientific and technological research system was implemented, absolutely self-sustaining. 

The investments in sectors of technology and science, and the value given to the increase of productivity—these strong reforms allowed a new leap. Hundreds of thousands of young people in research centers and companies, in the army, learned from Western science, but above all, they knew how to advance with their own knowledge. This makes China at the forefront in areas such as pharmacology, molecular biology, artificial intelligence, computer science, astronomy, with advances across the entire economic spectrum, in industrial areas, in aspects of military production and others.

Understanding ‘collective will’

A significant aspect of what is perceived as international competition by the so-called developed capitalist countries, is to avoid Chinese supremacy in all fields, in the economic, military, cultural and soft-power aspects and, what is decisive, in the field of knowledge, science and technology.

Data from the United Nations, and from the OECD, indicate that China’s surpassing of the US in areas of knowledge already exists and tends to expand. This data encourages underdeveloped and developed countries to seek emulation and to understand how progress of modernization has been processed and continues to be processed. Understanding this process is not simple and permeates many issues, economic and social, but above all it is related to the political structure of China, its culture, the organization of the state. In the special case of China, it also has to do with the formation of its collective will. In Brazil these conditions, although recognized as important, represent only a wish. The necessary steps to be taken are many and the social consensus to achieve this goal is far from sufficient. 

Western modernization accentuates dissatisfaction 

The driving force of Western modernization in capitalist economies was and is to reproduce and expand wealth. This relentless pursuit of capital accumulation determines that contradictions, crises, resistance and opposition are intrinsic attributes of Western modernization. Imbalances and lack of coordination among sectors and groups in some Western countries accentuate the dissatisfaction of the majority of the population, the capacity of the various public institutions to serve the whole population is increasingly smaller and, many times, it is not the primary objective of national policies. As scholars including Robert Cox claim, the possibility of meeting the basic needs of the poorest is a top priority in developed capitalist countries.

In democratic contexts, governments must dialogue with the demands of less favored groups. In some Western countries, social tensions, differences in interests are dealt with violence. In facilitating the goal of modernization, the role of the Western states is to mediate contradictions through social forces and public affairs. Pitifully, this is not the fact. 

In comparison, the capacity of the Chinese state and its leading forces to produce a national consensus in favor of development is admirable. Undoubtedly, China’s modernization or social development achieved in recent decades is a reference not only for Brazil, but for all Latin American countries and for all countries in the world, including the most developed ones, even for the US. 

Tullo Vigevani is a professor of international relations from the São Paulo State University, Brazil. 

Edited by BAI LE