Copyright Rosita Dellios 1994 

Chinese Strategic Culture:

Part 1 - The Heritage from the Past 

By Rosita Dellios*


Centre for East-West Cultural and Economic Studies

Research Paper No. 1

April 1994 

Bond University

School of Humanities and Social Sciences

ISBN 0 7331 00031


This paper investigates contemporary Chinese defence thinking from the point of view of its strategic culture. Such an undertaking is timely in view of heightened threat perceptions about a militarily strengthening China. While this paper does not concern itself with addressing such suspicions directly, it hopes to contribute to informed discussion by refocussing the issue onto a larger historical and philosophical screen. An identification of the PRC's traditional strategic thinking in the form of people's war and its philosophical antecedents may not at first appear relevant to contemporary China's security needs. It is the premise of this paper, however, that nothing can ever be attempted to be known about China's intentions and actions without such a survey. Consequently, this paper endeavours to show how the past may still be seen to serve the current era in terms of cultural-philosophical orientation.

Chinese Strategic Culture: The Heritage from the Past(1) 

  1. Introduction
  2. Strategic culture pertains to a people's distinctive style of dealing with an thinking about the problems of national security. The intellectual and 'spiritual' modality of a living strategic culture may be found in its strategic philosophy. This is concerned as much with enduring principles as it is with distinctive approaches applied to the problem of a nation's security. In Chinese strategic philosophy there are enduring elements, such as deterrence and psychological warfare, that are applicable across time and across cultures. The Chinese do not have a monopoly on these, but they have moulded them into a distinctive Chinese approach, just as the 19th century European strategists - Clausewitz and Jomini - are distinguished for the skilful application of physical force. Hence, the underlying premise of this paper is that modern Chinese strategic philosophy owes more to its past than to the borrowings from the modern world or from other philosophical traditions. The conscious adoptions or coincidental presence of foreign strategic philosophies are not disputed. As Fung Yu-Lan has observed: 'Every philosophy has that which is permanent and all philosophies have something in common.' (2) Without disputing the presence of the foreign or universal, I will concentrate instead on advancing the view that there is a uniquely Chinese approach to strategy and that it remains even in an age when China has become a powerful nuclear-armed state.

    By way of background, a brief statement on China's current defence policy is in order. It is a policy which rests on the strategic doctrine of people's war under modern conditions, and incorporates the specialist variant of local war doctrine, designed to deal with defence contingencies of limited scope on China's peripheries. Adopted at the onset of the post-Mao era of reform under Deng Xiaoping, people's war under modern conditions (abbreviated in this paper to modern people's war) was a development from the people's war doctrine (or traditional people's war) of Communist China's founder, Mao Zedong (Tse-tung). Modern people's war was a development in that it continued to rely on a victory-denial strategy utilising China's large land mass, population, and fighting forces - calculated to deter an invader by rendering any hope of conquest futile - but added to these traditional elements the need for meeting the 'modern conditions' of late 20th century warfare (of which more will be said later).

  3. The Strategic Problem
  4. China's strategic philosophy, past and present, may be interpreted to address two essential needs. One is inviolability and the other is the attainment of China's 'rightful place under heaven' - the closest approximation in Western understanding being 'destiny' or 'proper place'. The first, inviolability, has a defensive orientation and the second, 'rightful place', an expansive one. They are not opposed but interrelated. Without inviolability, 'rightful place' is difficult to attain. Without the 'rightful place', inviolability is not assured - as far as one can be assured of the complete security to which inviolability aspires. Such an aspiration, incidentally, should be viewed within the Chinese perspective of not courting disappointment but purpose, a moral strength encouraged by Chinese philosophers of whom the most influential was Confucius. The negative (or defensive) and the positive (or expansive) attributes of Chinese strategic philosophy related to the yin-yang concept, which is central to several schools of Chinese philosophy, including Daoism. The concept may be explained as follows:

    Yin and Yang are at the root of all things, and together in alternation they are the moving force to our world and all its manifestations. Yin is seen as passive, yielding, and nurturing, while Yang is active, dominating, and creative. Any circumstance, however intricate, can be described by a string of Yins and Yangs. (3).

    In the words of one ancient philosopher: "Movement and Quiescence, in alternation, become each the source of the other." (4) The West's idea of positive and negative provides a rather poor approximation of yang and yin. Opposition is commonly (but not always) emphasised rather than complementarity. (5) Yin-yang may be likened to the two sides of the same coin, the sides are opposites of head and tail, but the coin on which they are inscribed is one. A way in which the idea of negative-positive and yin-yang are more comfortably associated is the example of the definition of peace. It can be defined negatively as an absence of war. Peace can also be defined as a positive state of affairs, to which particular characteristics and conditions may be affixed. Similarly, with Chinese strategy, there is the desire to prevent something (a war of aggression against China), and the desire to achieve something (to become, as Zhou Enlai phrased it in 1975 'a powerful, modern socialist state').

    The defensive orientation was evident since the early imperial period. Historically, China has feared invasion from its northern frontier. The Great Wall, more than 2,000 years old, was built across 4,500 kilometres of northern China for the purpose of keeping the 'barbarian' armies out. If China's strategic orientation was only defensive, however, it would not have demanded tribute to the Emperor from the outlying 'barbarian' nationalities, and it would not have expanded territorially to the extent that it has. China thought of itself as the 'Middle Kingdom', (6) the centre of its universe. It modelled its foreign relations on the Confucian values associated with filial piety. With the Chinese emperor at the head, lesser kingdoms were expected to show submission in return for Chinese protection. Modern China's identification with the Confucian model was evident in the Sino-Vietnamese border war of 1979. Beijing made it clear that it wanted to teach the Vietnamese a lesson so "they could not run about as much as they desired'. (7) This was a reference, of course, to Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia, its ousting of the pro-Chinese Khmer Rouge and installation of a pro-Vietnamese government in the capital, Phnom Penh. At a deeper level, Vietnam was also 'punished' for challenging China's traditional influence in Indochina. Vietnam understood the state of filial play when one of its publicists responded:

    Seeing Beijing rise up and threaten to punish Hanoi, public opinion sees the image of the stately Great Dragon in its holy wrath recounting the disobedient child's sins, and, in front of the assembled world, slapping him hard in the face as an example. The naughty child, trembling with fear, would throw himself at the Great Dragon's feet to beg pardon, while the witnesses would advise him never to displease his elder again. (8)

    The Sino-Vietnamese war of 1979 illustrated China's endeavours to maintain what was perceived to be the proper hierarchy of relations. The PRC's formal incorporation of the outlying non-Han nationalities, regarded as being historically a part of China, is also illustrative of this practice. Chinese Communist Party (CCP) ideology - derived from the modern European philosophy of Marxism - is as much concerned with maintaining allegiance to the central authority as was Imperial China. Such allegiance, needless to say, has even greater implications for the intra-Chinese relations of ruler and ruled, as the measures taken against the pro-democracy movement of 1989 readily testify. In this respect, it is not without interest that Deng was reported to have told a Politburo meeting in April of that year that: "This is not an ordinary student movement. . . . All they want is to create chaos under the heavens." (9)

    The above observations are suggestive of an enduring tradition which stresses the achievement of one's rightful place under heaven (or the moral universe). The proper cultivation of self, of family relations, of social relations, of political relations between sovereign and subject, and of international relations, reflect a moral imperative derived from Chinese philosophy and is compatible with the modern imperative for China to occupy its rightful place in the international order. Such a place is not so much defined in terms of contest of power - for this, like the concept of 'superpower', is ideologically bankrupt according to Chinese thinking - but in terms of moral power. The PRC, after all, still prides itself as being a member of the Third World. It began its international life as the Third World's self-proclaimed leader, no less. Moreover, the PRC has always regarded its nuclear weapons as morally sound, not only for defence against those who already possessed nuclear weapons, but also, during the Cold war era, in breaking the superpower monopoly by becoming a non-aligned nuclear force outside the East-West camp. Moreover, the 1993 Chinese nuclear test was a clear signal in the post-Cold War era that although 'coalition' forces might be able to freeze nuclear programs in Iraq and pressure (ultimately, without success) those in North Korea, they cannot reassert a closed nuclear club. Therefore, although Chinese behaviour my display the symptoms of classical realist calculations - the power game - the underlying rationale has a stronger affinity to the political idealist concern with occupying the moral 'high ground'. This observation is perhaps more appropriate to China than to the United States and the former Soviet Union whose own ideological (idealist) motivations became subsumed with an overriding concern for the balance of physical power.

    China's Communist ideology and traditional behaviour converge when one considers the Communist doctrinal interpretation of the nature of war. It views war as an outcome of imperialist/hegemonist aggression. Accordingly, a socialist state must prepare to resist such a war but not to initiate it (otherwise it, too, would be an imperialist aggressor). Thus China has been able to justify its own initiation of hostilities by placing itself in the position of the aggrieved party and calling those aggressions 'defensive counterattacks'. Because it does not seek conquest, apart from what it regards as its traditional lands (for example, Tibet), it does not engage in foreign wars, holds no overseas bases and maintains no forces abroad - apart from a few observers and engineers for United Nations' peacekeeping purposes.

    This accords with the traditional Chinese recognition of the superiority of wen (civility) over wu (martiality). Wu was only to be resorted to if wen failed and, indeed, wu was believed to most effective or 'potent' (10) when it was not dominant over wen. This means that: (a) 'War is not easy to glorify because ideally it should never have occurred'; (11) and (b) when war is used, its effectiveness or potency is dependent on how it related to moral order (is it a just war?) and whether it is sparingly used as a means for effecting policy. Here, again, the basic framework of yin-yang thinking becomes apparent: The Way or moral order needs to be pursued and the method of doing so should be subtle and well-timed rather than brazen.

    The moral-cum-political use of wu, not surprisingly, leaves it open to abuse. For example, there is nothing in Confucian philosophy which sanctions the shooting of students; yet the ease with which the army could be used to do so in June 1989, under the justification of restoring political and social order, attests to the double-edged sword of wu moral power. In practice it means that China's rulers - past and present, virtuous or not - had to control the power of wu if they wished to be assured of their own. Hence Mao Zedong spoke of power - the party's power - growing out of the barrel of a gun. Similarly, Deng Xiaoping was also able to retain supreme power through the backing of the army.

  5. Modern Chinese Strategic Philosophy
  6. The yin-yang orientation in modern Chinese strategic philosophy may be found in the doctrine, strategy and concept of people's war. As will be elaborated below, it teaches its practitioners first to yield (yin) and later to take the initiative in destroying a weakened adversary through offensive warfare (yang).

    Having been hailed as the strategy which brought the Chinese Communists to power in 1949, it is understandable that people's war became the PRC's official military doctrine for guiding defence policy.(12) As doctrine, it provides the guiding principles for the application of China's armed force in both deterrence and war-fighting modes. As a concept, however, it may be found among many cultures and throughout history. As I have recounted elsewhere, (13) its guerilla component was employed by the ancient Chinese, by Alexander the Great in central Asia, by Spanish popular resistance against Napoleon, by the Apaches during the American colonisation, by the Arabs against the Turks in 1916-1918, and by European partisans in World War II. The use of non-professional combatants and unorthodox combat methods is evident in these and numerous other examples, including the Communist Revolution in China, prompting the following definitional understanding of people's war:

    A conservative definition of people's war may offer amorphous military forces fighting by unorthodox means within a territory that is to be defended against conquest, or reclaimed in the event that the invader has established control. A radical definition would include this, essentially military aspect of people's war, but would continue in the identification of a significant political component prevalent in modern revolutionary warfare. . . . Whether people's war is conservatively or radically defined it may be said to display one key characteristic, that of the planned achievement of psychological ascendancy which denies the opponent the choice of concepts of how a war is to be waged. The effect is intended to be disorienting, demoralising and therefore debilitating. Theoretically this amounts to a powerful psycho-military determinant of war outcome. (14)

    The psycho-military determinant of war outcome is a distinguishing feature of China's strategic thought. It inspired the development of a strategic doctrine to serve the CCP. As developed by Mao in the 1930s, people's war is "a doctrine of victory denial by means of 'protracted war' . . . Its aim is to erode the adversary's strength by military and psychological attack on weak points (attrition warfare), and to secure opponent defeat in a final phase which is marked by decisive battle." (15)

    The three phases of traditional people's war are strategic retreat ('luring the enemy in deep'), stalemate, and strategic counter-offensive. To the first phase are applied the now famous guerilla warfare tactics, summarised by Mao as: "The enemy advances, we retreat; the enemy camps, we harass; the enemy tires, we attack; the enemy retreats, we pursue.' (16) In other words, the enemy is denied its concepts of warfare: "You fight in your way and we fight in ours; we fight when we can win and move away when we can't." (17) The enemy may enter China but it cannot readily locate or identify the forces of resistance who, in turn, exploit their own advantages of a large population for providing fighters and support bases, spaces for exhausting the enemy, and time for which space is traded. The second stage of the stalemate is "the period of the enemy's strategic consolidation and our preparation for the strategic offensive", (18) when "guerilla units waging guerilla warfare" are transformed into "regular forces waging mobile warfare", thereby altering the balance of force for initiating the third phase "of our strategic counter-offensive and the enemy's strategic retreat". (19)

    This three-phased strategy was Mao's answer to the problem of how to overcome an objectively stronger opponent. This is a problem of defence which has been a perennial concern for the Chinese, as evidenced by the building of the Great Wall, but also in the literature of countless generations of Chinese. As Lin Chong-Pin observes: "Wars in which the inferior defenders, rather than the superior aggressors, won have been emphasised by historians and romanticized by writers." (20)

    The ancient philosopher most readily identified as a defensive strategist is Mo Zi (Mo Tzu). His exploits as a volunteer conflict negotiator and defensive tactics adviser are indeed admirable, not only for his time, but also as a lesson for conflict management in the current international system. Mo Zi deplored war. Given the realities, however, of strong states invading weak states (realities which remain with us in the present), this philosopher-engineer saw fit to devise defensive war-fighting techniques in the event that peaceful avenues of conflict resolution failed. Hence, in his Ethical and Political Works, (21) Mao not only wrote on the 'Condemnation of Offensive War', but also penned practical advice on seigecraft - for example, 'Defence against Attack from an Elevation', 'Defence against Attack with Ladders', 'Preparation against Inundation', and 'Defence against Tunnelling'. (22)

    Mo Zi, in effect, was following a victory-denial strategy, a vital component of Mao's strategic doctrine which holds that should deterrence fail, then defensive war-fighting capabilities in the form of a protracted war of resistance should be in place. Knowing this, the enemy should be deterred even more so in its intention to wage war, for the costs might well outweigh the anticipated benefits. Modern examples of miscalculation were the American forces in Vietnam, the Soviets in Afghanistan, and the Vietnamese in Cambodia. All three were denied victory. In the first, a peasant army of Vietnamese won a protracted war against one superpower, the USA. In the second, Afghan resistance fighters could not be subdued by the world's other superpower, the USSR, whose forces eventually had to withdraw. In the third, Vietnamese who had subsequently become a dominant power among its Indochinese neighbours, suffered protracted resistance to its military presence in Cambodia. It, too, eventually had to withdraw. In none of these cases did the intruder achieve victory. All three were met with physical and psychological opposition which included the pressure of international opinion.

    Mo Zi is not alone in providing a philosophical antecedent to contemporary victory-denial strategy. Mao's own favoured classical reference, The Art of War, a Chinese text ascribed to Sun Zi (Sun Tzu) and dated to about 350 BC, states: ". . . the skilful commander takes up a position in which he cannot be defeated . . ." (23) Where Mao's strategic thinking differs from Mo Zi, but agrees with Sun Zi, is in the interpretation of defensive strategy. Mo Zi was perhaps too much of a defensive strategist in his doctrine of 'non-offense' (fei gong) for both Mao's and the current leadership's liking. In other words, both traditional and modern people's war philosophy hold that victory-denial should not imply a purely defensive strategy; offensive operations for a defensive aim are deemed necessary (hence people's war's final phase of the strategic counter-offensive). On this point, Sun Zi's statement that "invincibility lies in defence; the possibility of victory in the attack" (24) is matched by Mao's ". . . the only real defence is active defence, defence for the purpose of counter-attacking and taking the offensive". (25) In effect, the object of war is "to preserve oneself and destroy the enemy", but this is not unadulterated offensive warfare, for to destroy the enemy means to "deprive him of the power to resist" rather than to "destroy every member of his forces physically". (26) Victory-denial again becomes evident, but so do 'extramilitary factors' (27) as the preferred means to this end.

    Extramilitary factors include the psychological employment of force, social transformation (hearts and minds campaigns), factors of economy, geography and diplomacy, of ethics and morality (be it concerned with the ideas of Confucianism or Daoism in the past or of ideological integrity in more recent times). A distinctive feature of Chinese strategic culture is to hold in even greater esteem the strategist who operates at the extramilitary level to achieve the desired objective, than one who is merely good at the physical employment of force for political or other objectives - a trait associated with the 'barbarians' of ancient times, just as it is with those who are driven by the technological imperative today. The high regard for stratagem over physical force was displayed by numerous ancient strategists, including Sun Zi and his contemporary Wu Qi whose concern for such extramilitary matters as ethics and the Natural Law of Dao occupy the opening chapters of his book on the art of war. (28) As for Sun Zi, he is best remembered for the following advice: "To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill." Moreover: "He who excels at resolving difficulties does so before they arise. He who excels in conquering his enemies triumphs before threats materialise". (29). This is not to say that the classical strategists were better at cerebral games than physical battles. Like Mo Zi with his instructions of defensive tactics, Wu Qi and Sun Zi and others did not neglect the operational and tactical practicalities of warfare. It is simply that, as Edward Boylan expressed it,

    Actual fighting is not considered the epitome of skill. The mark of a superior strategist is his ability to attack the mind of his opponent . . . The army, if it were actually used at all, was the instrument delivering the final blow to an opponent previously made vulnerable. (30)

    So, too, Mao reserved the conventional military mode for the third and final phase of people's war, the strategic counter-offensive, to strike an opponent weakened by unconventional means.

    Mao's unconventional means by which an objectively stronger enemy is rendered vulnerable are entirely in accord with Sun Zi's injunctions:

    Appear in places to which [the enemy] must hasten; move swiftly where he does not expect you;

    If I am able to determine the enemy's dispositions while at the same time conceal my own then I can concentrate and he must divide;

    The enemy must not know where I intend to give battle . . . And when he prepares in a great many places, those I have to fight in any one place will be few. (31)

    On the question of how one is to employ a people's war strategy in this high-tech military age, it is noteworthy that Mao called for flexibility to changing circumstances, without sacrificing one's guiding strategic principles. (32) In his own time he did this when calling the American atom bomb a 'paper tiger'. He did not underestimate the power of the weapon, and indeed saw to that China adapted to changing circumstance - the modern conditions of the post-World War II era - by developing its own nuclear weapons. It was at the strategic level that he ridiculed such power because it was morally questionable, it was "divorced from the people". (33) Here may be found yet another echo from a strategic tradition that begins books on war with issues of ethics, social morale, and other extramilitary factors. This highlights the man-over-weapons concept, so prevalent in China's past (since Mencius) and present (for instance, the Handbook of Military Knowledge for Commanders (34) contains the sub-heading, 'Despise the Enemy Strategically and Respect the Enemy Tactically'.) The psychomilitary determinant of war outcome, as distinct from the techno-military one, is essentially a re-statement of the classical position that "the human factor is more decisive than material factors". (35)

    What would happen, though, if China were forced to face the test of technology? This is not an unreasonable question even if the threat from the north has been removed with the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the USSR. Russia and China have a long history of rivalry across the Eurasian landmass. Both are proud countries. Russia still occupies territory which China lost in the colonial era of 'unequal treaties'. It was a time when China was too weak to resist the imposition of European treaties. A century later, China has strengthened considerably, It has the world's largest armed force, possesses a credible nuclear deterrent with land, air and sea basing modes, and is revitalising its economy to the point where its annual growth rates are among the world's highest. A strengthened China might be seen as posing a threat to Russian interests in its Far East, especially if that region eventually secures independence from Moscow and falls within the economically more progressive Chinese sphere. There is also the United States to consider. Chinese plans to counter US forces in possible conflict scenarios - such as over Taiwan, in Korea, and as a result of sovereignty claims in the South China Sea - are an open secret. (36) These presuppose the failure of resolving conflict, to China's satisfaction by other (wen) means. So what does application of the wu mode mean in the contemporary world?

    Modern military conditions include advanced technology weapons and methods of use, such as combined services and combined arms operations, the blitzkrieg or 'lightening war' method, and the presence of weapons of mass destruction, be they nuclear, chemical or biological. Modern conditions also include electronic communication and interceptions systems, ranging from the military application of satellites to battle command and control uses. Even before the demonstration of the efficacy of advanced technology in the Gulf War, the Chinese were well aware of the effect of these altered material conditions, and in their defence modernisation program they have studied closely problems of modern conditions. As a result, there is modernisation and professionalisation of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), a policy continued even after the 1989 crackdown when it was believed that politics would overtake professionalism. (37) Not only was China able to take advantage of the sale of comparatively sophisticated ex-Soviet equipment at low prices in the aftermath of the Col War, but it was also given greater incentive to concentrate on the acquisition of more and better technology by the lessons of the Gulf War. It was a war which indicated that the world's remaining superpower was able to inflict punishment successfully by virtue of its mastery of advanced technology. As one Chinese commentator stated: "The Gulf War taught China some lessons and showed what sophisticated weaponry can do." (38) Another echoed the sentiment in Beijing when he observed: "America as the only superpower still wants to dominate the world . . ." (39) Indeed, in early 1993, the general secretary of the CCP, Jiang Zemin, advised that the persistence of "power politics and hegemonism" in the post-Cold War world required China to improve its defence through technological advances. (40) China, it must be remembered, acquired nuclear weapons technology to strengthen its defence in the Cold War. It is reasonable to assume that it will continue to do whatever it deems necessary to deter potential adversaries in the post-Cold War period.

    However, just as the PRC's decision to develop its own nuclear arsenal did not entail reversing the preferred order of human or psychological factors over material or technological ones, so too it is not necessarily the case that the present leadership will do so. If nuclear power as the ultimate instrument of physical force did not budge centuries of wen dominance over wu, why should any lesser occurrences since then - like the spectacle of Operation Desert Storm - change the Chinese strategic mind?

    Certainly in any future war, the Chinese are not likely to abandon urban-industrial centres in a territory-yielding exercise, nor are they likely to remain passive in what they call the early stages of war. They may well detonate tactical nuclear weapons in a guerilla fighting mode which avoids confrontational counter-attacks. This inferred aspect of modern people's war I have termed guerilla nuclear warfare (GNW) and defined it as "the use of guerilla methods within a protracted nuclear war fought at the theatre level". (41) GNW could represent the future direction for Chinese nuclear strategy, in service of the strategic need for inviolability. To better understand how the modern nuclear condition may be made to serve the traditional values of moral and psychological superiority, closer scrutiny of the concept of deterrence is required.

    "Deterrence" is the commonly employed Western strategic term for the defensive, yin, facet of strategy. It entails building the capability to resist invasion and communicating the will to use this capability in order to dissuade a potential opponent from embarking on a course of action deemed harmful to oneself. Deterrence is psychological. You create physical force not for use on the physical battlefield but for use on the mental one. If physical force is used on the physical battlefield it has failed on the mental one. This, of course, is the rational for having nuclear weapons: their 'use' is in their 'non-use'' if nuclear weapons are used physically they have failed in their primary purpose of deterrence. If the opponent, however, knows you do not intend to use your weapons physically, then the deterrent is almost sure to fail. This requires an exhibition of 'intention' as well as 'capability' if one is to succeed in one's deterrent posture: the opponent must be convinced that you are indeed prepared to employ your weapons physically and that you are not merely making empty threats. In other words, your threat must be 'credible'. (42)

    The whole problem of credibility is one with which China had to deal during the nuclear age of 1947 to 1989. Obviously, Chinese nuclear force fell far short of either superpower's forces in size and sophistication. Accounting for only three percent of the world's total warheads and holding only a tenth the number of launchers of either superpower, the Chinese had no intention of competing with the mega arsenals of the Soviets and Americans. They were filling the gaps in the people's war deterrent caused by changes in modern warfare. Until the 1980s, China's nuclear weapons were confined to land and air delivery systems. With the addition of ballistic and cruise missile submarines, they were fulfilling the contemporary demands of their total, unified, deterrence concept. This reveals a strategic culture which, like its political culture, refers to internal guidance for changing external conditions. The aim is not to imitate that which is new or foreign, and thereby attempt to become it, but to incorporate or 'civilize' it into an existing system. This is what happened to the Mongol and Manchu conquerors of China, and to concepts of Communism and Capitalism. The addition of the term 'Chinese characteristics' signifies the age-old practice of sinicising that which is new and foreign. So, too, with matters pertaining to defence. In the Chinese cosmology, it is not the fragmentary worlds of nuclear, conventional, army, navy, airforce or industry that count, but how they connect to form the total deterrent force. In this regard it is worth noting that the People's Liberation Army is not just an army but includes all services, having at its disposal nuclear and conventional weaponry, plus multi-billion dollar business interests that 'supplement' its government budgetary allowance. In additional to all this, it has a political role to remind it of its 'proper purpose' - even if its actions are, on occasion (June 1989), improper. That the PLA has not changed its political name is surely significant. An increase in the level of specialization, like the introduction of an elite rapid deployment force, shows that the PLA finds it possible to be both political and professional.

    Within this cosmology, there is a responsiveness to circumstance rather than a reordering of the system: thus the circumstance of peripheral or local war, such as a punitive expedition, calls for force characteristics notably different to one of general war against all-out invasion. It does not call for a new philosophical system upon which to base action. Western analysts need to be careful not to confuse system with circumstance when analysing Chinese military thinking.

    Hence the acquisition of nuclear weapons enhanced the people's war deterrent, rather than having created a separate one based on technology. Whilst the details of how the doctrine of modern people's war translates into battlefield practice have never been clear, they may nonetheless be inferred. Credibility is sought through "the power to force inaction by frightening", (43) which is how the concept of deterrence may be translated literally in Chinese. The achievement of this power tactically returned to the function of GNW, for possible use on Chinese territory by Chinese forces. Below I quote two paragraphs from my book which best capture the essence of how a future people's war may employ the psychology of deterrence - the power to force inaction by frightening.

    Even if guerilla nuclear war is a deterrent strategy which presupposed the failure of the overall Chinese deterrent, in that it cannot operate before China's territorial integrity is violated, yet what is created by the addition of GNW is a multi-layered deterrent, in which the failure of the first element is not . . . a terminal issue. If the Chinese can accept the costs of GNW to themselves then it seems certain that they can render the costs of GNW unacceptable to the enemy and hence succeed in their objective.

    Guerilla nuclear warfare as the culmination of people's war under modern conditions, represents China's mastery of strategic-military survival in the twenty-first century. When a potential aggressor is deterred from provoking GNW it can be truly said that 'a victorious army wins its victories before seeking battle' [Sun Zi]; but should GNW as a deterrent strategy fail, then it will prevail as an effective defence. An invader that 'fights in the hope of winning', under these terms of protracted warfare, is 'an army destined to defeat' [Sun Zi]. (44)

    The 'use' of GNW in the event that its 'non-use' has failed, recalls the Daoist concept of judicious balance between 'use' and 'non-use', (45) as well as the aforementioned concept of martial potency. The latter suggests wu power can be awe-inspiring and hold terror only if it is originally intended as belonging to the sphere of 'non-use' - "wu as latency", as distinct from "wu in constant prominence". (46) Should 'non-use' fail, and to help prevent it failing because of lack of credibility, 'use' becomes 'thinkable', as Herman Kahn has phrased it (47). What is so persuasive about such hypothetical use? According to Daoist thought, its persuasiveness rests in its invisibility (it can be everywhere and nowhere) and in its selectivity. '[M]artial force has its greatest effect when applied at selected chi.' (48) The psycho-military equivalent of the Chinese concept of chi or 'energy' has been articulated by Mao Zedong in his formulation of guerilla war. Once hostilities begin, the threat or even enactment of GNW becomes an attacker's nightmare, combining as it does (a) protracted war (which traditionally benefits the defence) and (b) the 'unthinkable' end of the military spectrum.

    If this seems remote, consider that at the end of a tactical nuclear exercise in 1982, a Chinese strategist was reported to have been in favour of altering China's promise never to be the first to use nuclear weapons. He would qualify this pledge by adding the words 'on foreign territory'. (49) The idea of use on Chinese territory is not new. During the Formosa Crisis of 1958, Mao is said to have suggested using Soviet nuclear weapons on Chinese soil against American troops, who would have been lured into the interior in typical people's war fashion. (50) Fortunately, his proposal was resisted by the Soviets. But that Mao was capable of thinking along these lines is further evidenced from his statement of resolve: that China was prepared to sacrifice up to 500 million of its people. (51) Even if this is pure rhetoric, who would wish to test such resolve? In the end, the effect is psychological, as it had to be in the nuclear-dominated world which China did not create but against which it was determined to survive. Never again would it be at the mercy of technologically superior powers, as it had been at the end of its dynastic life. Another pledge: Never will China be the first to use nuclear weapons. Which is stronger? Fiction is. This is illustrated by adapting a dialogue of the Daoist master, Zhuang Zi (Chuang-Tzu), to explain GNW:

    "If guerilla nuclear warfare's intention is to be useless, why does it serve on the altar for the defence of the land?"

    "Be still and do not declare a doctrine. GNW just pretends to be on the altar. By so doing it can protect us from the injury of those who do not know it is useless. If it were not on the altar, we would be still in danger from the arrogance of those with nuclear teeth. Moreover, what this doctrine maintains is different from what ordinary military doctrines do. Therefore, to judge it with conventional morality is far from the point."

    "All know the usefulness of the useful, but not that of the useless." (52)

  7. The Power of Ideas
  8. Whilst paper tigers with nuclear teeth are held at bay, China must still address the threat of something more akin to its own notion of true power - that is, the power of ideas. In recent time, the internal environment erupted with civil rebellion - specifically in Tibet and Beijing - on a scale sufficient to provoke a military response. Consequently there is a renewed appreciation of the internal environment as a determinant of defence planning.

    Thus, if harm were to come China's way, it could now do so in the form of ideas, which, in challenging the ruling party's legitimacy, can affect internal cohesion; and it could come from the weight of international opinion which is capable of adversely affecting China's access to foreign technology - a necessary ingredient for its modernisation drive. China's presumed desire to create a situation which is unassailable now refers less to physical invasion and more to the invasion of undesirable influences, or 'spiritual pollution' (to use the Chinese Communistic term). Examples of corruption among those holding responsible positions are legion. The authorities have blamed 'money worship' for these ills. Analysts in the West blame the absence of institutional control in a society which emphasises rule by man rather than rule by law. ". . . the West has institutions and laws designed to constrain greed within socially-useful bounds; China does not. The get-rich-quick ethos encouraged under Deng has generated a tidal wave of corruption which now threatens the integrity of the Communist Party itself." (53) Where, one might ask of economically driven China, are the self-effacing ideals of Confucius and Lei Feng, (54) the attitudinal requirements for maintaining the 'correct' relationship between ruler and ruled? Without them, according to the perception of history which informs Chinese strategic culture, chaos or luan befalls a nation.

    Like most other countries, China regards internal cohesion as a vital element of security. How to maintain internal cohesion is often determined by political culture. In China's case, there has long been a dialectical relationship between centralisation and decentralisation, orthodoxy and reform, morality and expediency. From ancient times, China practised a mixture of idealism and classical realism, represented by Confucianism on the one hand and Legalism on the other. Similarly, its history has been punctuated by periods of unity and disunity. The commonly held fear that the loss of central control will lead to 'warlordism' is to a large extent based on this pattern of experience. David Bonavia's biography of Deng notes that "in his 1983 critique of Party organisation, [Deng] said excessive decentralisation was caused by excessive centralisation in the past, concentration of power in the hands of a few people, and the remnants of 'feudal despotism'". (55) Indeed, under Deng the post of party chairman, which Mao had held, was abolished, and the cult of personality was discouraged.

    Yet Deng himself was to become a legend in his own time. Having shed all official titles, he remained China's most powerful man. Routinely hailed by the foreign press as China's paramount leader, Deng would on occasion demonstrate his authority. For example, early in 1992 when it was decided that the post-1989 ideological revival could now safely be allowed to subside, the 'paramount leader' appeared in the prospering southern regions, including the Special Economic Zone of Shenzhen, full of praise for their achievements. (56) Predicably, economic reform once again resumed its dominant place in Chinese domestic policy. Not only does this incident illustrate the power of one man - and one without any formal position - it also exemplifies the dialectical relationship between orthodoxy and reform. This, of course, goes back to classical as well as the more recent pre-Communist times. It was notable, for instance, during the 19th century when enfeebled Imperial China failed to heed the advice of the 'self-strengthening' movement. Idealism and realism are also linked to this condition. Deng and his fellow-reformers have concluded that capitalist means are necessary for achieving socialist ends. It is acceptable to use the one in order to advance the other.

    If confusion should arise as to how China can be socialist if it practises capitalism or how capitalist practices can be championed by a Communist government, one need only be reminded of the method of appending 'Chinese characteristics' to Western concepts. 'Chinese characteristics' may not be self-explanatory or explain how they affect borrowed concepts. The phrase is meaningful, however, when it is suggestive of the enormous capacity in Chinese thought to incorporate polarities and in Chinese language to allow for flexibility. Leaving something unsaid - or open to interpretation - is part of the dynamic of Chinese language and thought. To use George W. Kent's summation: "Sinitic thought is, before anything else, dialectical thought." (58) He cites the culture-counterculture relationship of Confucianists and Taoists, as well as philosophical contradistinction to both by the Legalist school of materialists. (59) The results of this dialectic have been aptly expressed as follows: "The Legalist victory, while seeming to destroy Confucianism, in reality created a stable society in which it could triumph. The Confucian victory, far from destroying Legalism, made the Legalist empire all but indestructible." (60)

    Perhaps Mackerras takes up the contemporary spirit of such interactive enterprise when he concludes: "It is very likely that socialism with Chinese characteristics will turn out to be very similar to capitalism with Confucian characteristics". (61) Closer to the image of things foreign being incorporated into 'Chineseness' or 'Sinism', rather than Chinese characteristics being an appendage, is the notion of Sinism with a capitalist 'strategic counter-offensive', as the subsequent yang-like development of "Sinism behind a Marxist-Leninist shield". (62) Besides reversing the order so that the Chinese component resumes its 'rightful place', there is an imputation here that even the socialist 'ends' (that capitalism is supposed to serve) are not Marxist-Leninist ones, but the more familiar socialism found in traditional Chinese idealism.

    So how does the heritage of the past continue to serve present efforts towards inviolability? The quest for inviolability, as proposed in this paper, refers to the negative or yin facet of Chinese strategic philosophy. The attainment of China's 'rightful place under heaven' represents the positive or yang aspect of the strategic orientation. China, if it is to meet the power of these ideas cannot remain defensive. (63) The US leadership understood this when confronted by Gorbachev's 'new thinking'. By moving with Gorbachev, rather than opposing him, the Cold War became redundant and the USA was in a position to herald a subsequent powerful idea, that of the 'new world order'. As it turned out, this fresh agenda stalled and the idea of the new world order could not sustain credibility. It did serve to spur on China, however. Under Bush's new world order China saw itself as decidedly disadvantaged. Gone was the triangular relationship among the two competing superpowers and an 'equidistant' PRC which would 'tilt' from one to the other as changing strategic circumstances dictated.

    With the peaceful resolution of the Cold War, it became clear that unless China, too, acted in the expansive (or active) yang mode, it was doomed to lose the psychological initiative in world affairs. In 1989 it failed on the psychological battlefield (internationally in the short term and probably internally in the longer term) when it resorted to physical force in Beijing. According to strategic tradition, including Mao's traditional people's war, one does not embark on a counter-offensive unless one is assured of victory. And victory cannot be assured unless the enemy has been weakened first by other means. Thus defensive warfare must be correctly employed, after which the offensive defence - or active defence - must be initiated. I do not presume to predict the way in which China will continue to deal with the pro-democracy ideas that have swept the international arena in recent time, or the way in which it will harmonise the issue of internal relations with Tibet, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. I will, however, call upon the traditional Chinese philosophy of Daoism to provide a possible context for forming, at least my own, thoughts on this problem.

    At a more fundamental level, Daoists have phrased the problem in terms of "how to preserve life and avoid harm and danger in the human world". (64) They have provided an answer in the form of adhering to the Dao (the Way). There are three stages in Daoist development. (65) The first is to retreat from the human world in order to reside in the natural world where the principles of the Dao may be experienced. This first stage, in effect, entails becoming a hermit. The important point here is that retreat in the wilds does not, in itself, qualify one as a Daoist. The action or retreat must be accompanied by an ideological justification for doing so. A parallel in the modern political world may be found in the 'hermit kingdom; of Communist North Korea and in the PRC's almost autarkic life prior to its 'open door' policy as of the late 1970s. Interestingly, when faced with difficulties in its relations with Washington, Beijing simply stated that it was not afraid to be isolated again. For example, this was said in the early 1980s when Deng Xiaoping denounced Washington's policy of supplying weapons to Taiwan. (66) Again, as a result of American-led Western censure over the Chinese leadership's handling of internal protest in 1989, the Chinese response included the threat that:

    . . . if the United States continues to overemphasise the ideological differences between itself and China, China will react strongly and tighten "ideological control" severely and, in the worst possible scenario, close its door and abandon its policy of reform and opening to the rest of the world. (67)

    Such a threat - and its converse, the promise of a stable and prospering China being to the world's benefit - must have been sufficiently credible to persuade the West to keep the communication channels open with China. More recently, in March 1994, Premier Li Peng told visiting US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, that if the US withdrew Most Favoured Nation status to China because of perceived human rights problems, "the losses incurred by the United States would be no smaller than those to China" and that China has "a strong capability of self-reliance". (68)

    In the cases of both North Korea and China, there is a strong ideological justification for retreat into isolation from the international arena. Of course, in practical and philosophical terms, it is not feasible for China to become isolated again. Adequately feeding, let alone improving the lives of a billion people, requires China to be part of the international economic system. Politically, too, it is dangerous to deprive the Chinese people of the expectation of improved living standards, especially now that they have begun to enjoy some of the benefits of economic reform. Above all, from the philosophical perspective being investigated here, there is recognition that retreat is not sufficient. This is shown by the second stage of Daoist development (elaborated below). However, it is also within the character of second stage Daoism to employ such stratagems as the threat of disengagement in order to achieve one's goals. This intention is evident in the document (Neican Xuanpian) circulated internally among the leadership. It stated the Tiananmen incident was not likely to cause a serious rift in Sino-US relations because of a number of fears held by the Americans. One of these fears was "that China would be forced into isolation and hostility towards the West". (69)

    So the first stage of retreat is understood to be a saving mechanism against the dangers of the ideologically corrupt human world. The need for a second stage derives from the inadequacies of retreat. "Things in the human world . . . are so complicated that no matter how well one hides oneself, there are always evils to be avoided." (70) In strategic terms, avoidance behaviour is not enough to ensure inviolability, let alone the acquisition of one's 'rightful place under heaven'. With this in mind, one may develop from the first stage of retreat to the second stage of return. Armed with an understanding of Daoist principles, "the laws underlying the changes of things" (71), it is then possible to employ such understanding when seeking survival - and indeed advantage - in one's dealings with the human world. In Fung Yu-Lan's words: "Things change but the laws underlying the changes remain unchanging. If one understands these laws and regulates one's action in conformity with them, one can then turn everything to one's advantage." (72) The 'use' of Dao in this way means that one is still affected by worldly concerns. While it may be the appropriate stage for the conduct of a nation-state's international affairs, given the present evolution of the international political system, philosophically the quest for advantage represents an incomplete development. Internationally, too, the strategic application represented by phase two is no guarantee against misfortune but a method of minimising its risks.

    Hence the third and most desirable stage of development, from the Daoist philosophical perspective, is to attain a state of mind which is not perturbed by the fortunes or misfortunes of worldly affairs. (73) Such equanimity comes from appreciating the principles of Dao rather than using it strategically or, in the initial stage, escaping from the world's fiction. Fung proposes the idea of transcendence to describe the third stage:

    By seeing things from [the] higher point of view, one can transcend the existing world. This is also a form of "escape"; not one however, from society to mountains and forests, but rather from this world to another world. Here is the third and last phase of development in the Taoism [Daoism] of ancient times. (74)

    While this final phase may be outside the domain of international relations, it is not entirely irrelevant. If stage one is retreat from harm, which can only be effective under particular circumstances for limited time, and stage two is employment of the Dao strategically in the current world of complex interdependence, then stage three suggests a utopian model of international relations to which we have not arrived but which is nonetheless envisaged in the writings of political idealists. While it would be extraordinarily difficult to attain this stage in international affairs without deep structural changes in the world system, aspiration remains a viable force in the conduct of present-day affairs. As stated earlier, aspiration can be viewed in terms of not courting disappointment but purpose. When China condemned both the superpowers as "the source of the world's ills" because of their "fierce contention . . for hegemony", (75) it was being critical of the way in which the world was being run. Such a critical view of the status quo invested China's own foreign policy with a purpose which sought to transcend the international ethos of 'might is right'. That the rule of international law was invoked in the recent Gulf Crisis, and used to remove Iraqi forces from Kuwait, shows that the international community was at least seen to be doing more to promote what is perceived to be 'right' over 'might'. Later, of course, the Gulf episode was criticised by many as illustrative of the 'might' of the US to affirm its 'right' to Arab oil. Nonetheless, such cooperative behaviour followed the end of the Cold War - the end of the "fierce contention of the two superpowers for hegemony". The end of this state of affairs was, in turn, propelled by the above-mentioned 'new thinking' in the then Soviet Union. This was the second time this century that the Russians were propagators of a new thinking to influence the course of international history.

    With the end of the Cold War, however, and the retreat of the Russians on the eve of their empire's imminent disintegration, there loomed the unresolved question as to whose interests the so-called 'new world order' was really serving. That the US President, George Bush, should have made it a catchcry attracted suspicion, just as Gorbachev's 'glasnost' was regarded initially as a clever trick by the Russian bear disguised in Western dress. So too, a post-Gulf War scepticism settled over the 'new world order' of George Bush. The story runs along the following lines. With the US-led allied victory over Iraq in the first major hot war after the end of the Cold War, there emerged one discernible superpower with the law on its side. That is to say, the rule of international law, enforced by predominantly US military means, might provide a case of the USA consolidating its own 'right place under the international heaven'. If the USA is a hawk (or pie-bald eagle, to be precise) disguised as a dove, then there is nothing 'rightful' - or virtuous - about the USA's 'place' in the international moral order. According to the Chinese yardstick, this is because of the ideologically suspect condition of playing superpower. The Chinese continue to caution the world against large powers dominating UN operations in the post-Cold War era. (76)

    It is perhaps instructive that one man's unbridled vision led to self-destruction - more accurately, the destruction of Russia's Soviet incarnation - while the other's expedient 'new world order' led eventually to a loss of both credibility and 'face'. The US could not sustain its heroic role in either the Balkans or Somalia. In the former, it would not become involved. The 'new world order', therefore, could tolerate barbarism in Europe, the fount of Western civilization. Meanwhile, in Africa, US involvement was humiliating. How many Americans and 'American-watchers' could forget the graphic television coverage of the Somali degradation ceremony inflicted on the US through treatment of its dead and captured soldiers? Yet could this merely be a symptom, like failure in the Vietnam War, of US foreign policy suffering from moral over-reach? In other words, the costs of imposing a 'new world order' (American casualties and humiliation) are not worth the benefits (American moral and military leadership as implied by the post-Gulf War epithet, 'global cop')? If the lesson here is that US expediency cannot be isolated from a moral rendering of emerging international realities, likewise, was not Gorbachev's visionary 'new thinking' remembered primarily as a foreign policy coup? Politically, (77) it represented a brilliant strategic move to take the initiative away from the Americans. Gorbachev's diplomatic initiative came without the exorbitant expenditure required by the American Strategic Defence Initiative and was achieved by a hearts-and-minds campaign launched at a susceptible period in international life. Effectively, the Soviet leadership set about wooing international opinion with the promise of that which could only be regarded as a 'new world order'. The Americans were eventually to articulate this sentiment, thereby regaining the initiative in global affairs.

    What does this cycle suggest? Two readings may be offered. One is that it displays the yin-yang characteristics of passive-active modes. Thus the Americans acted in accordance with the Dao of prevailing international relations by not opposing the Gorbachev diplomatic initiative, but flowing with it so that they could achieve their own 'yang'. Subsequently this was to subside into yet another yin phase of either comparative non-achievement or seed-sowing measures like hosting the APEC meeting and extending NAFTA membership. (78) The other reading is the way in which principles and pragmatism, idealism and realism, interact. Gorbachev's 'new thinking' went beyond being a politically astute response to international circumstances. Thus it went beyond phase two Daoism. It could be credited with taking on a proactive character in shaping international life. This indicates a higher order of activity than that of strategic manoeuvre. Phase three Daoism was invoked. As one Western analyst explained it:

    Contradicting the Marxist-Leninist view of social reality as most fundamentally conflictual, new thinking claims that the most fundamental reality is the underlying unity of the world. In contrast to the fundamental emphasis on the interests of the proletariat, new thinking proposes a moral order based on all human or universal values. Dismissing the belief that social evolution will inevitably lead all nations to socialism, new thinking claims that evolution is spawning more diverse social forms but at the same time pressing these diverse forms towards greater harmony and integration. (79)

    Indeed, the official Soviet view could not be clearer when it stated that: "The struggle between opposite systems is no longer a determining tendency of the present-day era." (80)

    If there was any attempt to bring about a genuine 'new world order' via the power of new thinking, then the Dao of international relations would have been well served. That is to say, the higher view of global security would then have become operative. Here security becomes defined in global terms rather than, and transcending, nation-state terms. Furthermore the very notion of security has been broadened and deepened to incorporate concepts of comprehensive and interactive security. This means that security is derived not from one or two key strands of measurable power, these being military and economic, but from many extramilitary strands which incorporate the involvement of other parties. (81)

    Ancient Chinese perspectives are familiar with such an aspiration in international politics. (82) There was the idea of international law called li or 'proper conduct to be observed in interstate affairs; and there was also the concept of unity, achieved in China in 221 BC. Admittedly this was the Chinese empire's unity rather than world unity, but for the Chinese of the time such unity did represent the world - 'all beneath the sky'. The object of unity philosophically derived from the aspiration for peace. On this point, it has been observed that:

    Though the First Emperor was thus the first to achieve actual unity, the desire for such unity had been cherished by all people for a long time previous. In the Mencius we are told that king Hui of Liang asked: "How may the world be at peace?" To which Mencius replied: "When there is unity, there will be peace." "But who can unify the world?" asked the King. "He who does not delight in killing men can unity it," answered Mencius. (Ia, 6) This statement clearly expresses the aspiration of the time (83)


  9. Conclusion

What does the inquiry of this paper tell us about China's future directions? While it is not difficult to trace China's strategic culture unto the concept of modern people's war, or even to infer the development of nuclear strategy with this orientation, the way in which China will deal with the power of ideas cannot be so easily inferred. At the beginning of the paper, 'destiny' is given as a Western approximation for 'rightful place under heaven'. The inadequacy of this approximation now becomes evident. It would be more appropriate to say, 'destiny by moral choice'. To date, China has displayed this characteristic of the pursuit of 'destiny by moral choice'. The unfortunate events of 4 June 1989 would have to be regarded as an exception rather than the norm, though an 'exception' of Legalist lineage in a China which has always sought to underpin its morality with a foundation of decisive (if, at times, misdirected) strength. (By analogy, in the martial arts fighting is avoided, but if it must be engaged in then the blow has to be decisive.) If one is to follow the line of thought which holds that there is a moral compass in modern Chinese strategic philosophy, then the Dao of contemporary international politics was pioneered not by the new thinking of the superpowers, but by China via its independent foreign policy. Plainly, it did not approve of the way in which the rest of the world, including itself, was being treated - that is, as an arena of contest between the two strongest nations. China was the only Third World nation strong enough to challenge the new post-1945 world order of superpower dominance. It was, and stubbornly remains, an international critic.

Until the 1990s, inviolability might have been served by nuclear teeth and the attitude that: "Nothing in the world is to be feared, but there are men who scare themselves." (84) It was apparent then that China did have a sense of rightful place. In the present decade, spurred by an international climate more sensitive to the conduct of li, China will be in a better position to occupy its right place. (85) Though ironic in view of China's reputation of human rights violations, the judgement is still valid in that the human rights campaign against China affords it an opportunity to elaborate its own worldview. After all, the Soviet Union broached the third phase of Daoism in the face of challenge, internal and external. A similar occasion for transformation may now face China. This means that the positive or yang aspect of the strategic orientation would come into full play now that the era of defensive play is almost spent.

Just as the success of the Chinese Revolution of 1949 inspired others in the world who struggled to free themselves from the prevailing ethos of the 'old world order', so too a revolutionary stance in promoting an ethically-driven 'new world system' might well be the Chinese-led contribution to the global politics of the 21st century. The only caveat is that in doing so China does not meet with the fate of the former Soviet Union in which change is accompanied by chaos. Deng Xiaoping's economic reforms are in this instance the safety harness against possible upheaval and the costs (for China and the West alike) of dependence on Western aid. More than that, stability in China is now a determinant of global stability. The unity of all beneath the international sky has never quite been so apparent as in the post-Cold War era of pronounced economic and ecological interdependence.

Morality in foreign policy is, paradoxically, and to employ a Deng quote, the truth that can be gleaned from the facts. In this respect, idealism is realism. That Chinese strategic culture has not only coped with this idea but prospered from it suggests its continued relevance to China's future.



* Dr Rosita Dellios is Associate Professor of International Relations, the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Bond University. She is the International Relations Analyst for the Centre for East-West Cultural and Economic Studies, and Subject Area Coordinator of International Relations at Bond University. Author of Modern Chinese Defence Strategy (London, Macmillan, 1989), she is a Chinese defence specialist, with particular interest in Chinese strategic philosophy.

  1. This is a revised version of an earlier paper entitled 'Modern Chinese Strategic Philosophy: The Heritage form the Past', which was presented at the Asian Studies Association of Australia "offshore" Conference, held at the Centre for Asian Studies, University of Hong Kong, 29 June - 2 July 1991.
  2. Fung Yu-Lan, A Short History of Chinese Philosophy, The Free Press, N.Y., 1966, p.28.
  3. Kerson and Rosemary Huang, I Ching, Workman Publishing, N.Y., 1987, p.8
  4. Chou Tun-yi (1017-73), quoted in Fung, loc. cit., pp.269-70.
  5. Hegel's 'everything involves its own negation', cited in ibid., is a Western philosophical approximation. This requires further comment as to how the two differ. Hegel's thinking emphasises both opposition and complementarity. Opposition entails or presupposes complementarity and vice-versa. Both operate simultaneously rather than in alternation. (My thanks to Bond University's Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Cheryl Walsh, for clarifying this point of difference.)
  6. Even now, the Chinese term for China, Zhong Guo, means Middle Kingdom.
  7. Deng Xiaoping, February 1979, quoted in Gerald Segal, Defending China, Oxford University Press, N.Y., 1985, p.211. This doctrine of 'punitive expeditions' was known in ancient Chinese thought. For example, in Li Ch'uan's Secret Classic of T'ai-po, the term is used in the context of moral order: "If [the employment] of soldiers does not accord with [the Way of] Heaven, one cannot move [them to victory]; if [employment] of an army is not modelled on [the Way of] Earth, one cannot carry out punitive expeditions; if [the employment of] attack methods does not match [the Way of] man, one cannot be successful" (2.3a). - Quoted in Christopher C. Rand, 'Chinese Military Thought', Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 39, 1979, pp.115-6. Also, it is a minor theme in Maoist thought. See Yi-Pao Mei (trans.) The Ethical and Political Works of Motse, 2nd edn, Hyperion Press, Westport, Connecticut, 1973, pp. 93, 111-113.
  8. Hoang Nguyen, 'Chinese Aggression: Origins, results and Prospects', in Chinese Aggression Against Vietnam: Dossier, Vietnam Courier, Hanoi, 1979, pp.34-5.
  9. Quoted in Michael B. Yahuda, 'China', in The Asia and Pacific Review, Vol. 11, 1990, p.53.
  10. The notion of potency is explained in Rand, loc. cit., pp.116-7.
  11. John K. Fairbank, 'Introduction: Varieties of the Chinese Military Experience', in Frank A. Kierman, Jr. and John K, Fairbank (eds), Chinese Ways in Warfare, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1974, p.7.
  12. See Lin Piao [Biao], 'Long Live the Victory of People's War', Peking Review, 3 September 1965.
  13. Rosita Dellios, Modern Chinese Defence Strategy: Present Development, Future Directions, Macmillan, London, 1989, p.10.
  14. Ibid., pp.11-12
  15. Ibid., p.12
  16. Selected Military Writings of Mao Tse-tung [hereafter, Selected Military Writings], Foreign Languages Press, Beijing, 1966, p.72.
  17. Lin Piao, op. cit., p. 19
  18. Selected Military Writings, pp.210-11.
  19. Ibid., pp. 181, 211.
  20. Chong-Pin Lin, China's Nuclear Weapons Strategy: Tradition within Evolution, Lexington Books, Lexington and Toronto, 1988, p.20.
  21. Yi-Pao Mei (trans.), op. cit.
  22. A point made by Herrlee G. Creel, Chinese Thought: From Confucius to Mao Tse-tung, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1953, p.55.
  23. Sun Tzu, The Art of War (trans. Samuel B. Griffith), Oxford university Press, London, 1963, p.87.
  24. Ibid., p.85.
  25. Selected Military Writings, p.105.
  26. Ibid., p.230
  27. Elaborated in Chong-Pin, op. cit., pp.22-4.
  28. A point made in ibid., p.23. Today, too, cultural and economic aspects of conflict are often emphasised as elements of grand strategy. Recent examples are: Samuel P. Huntington, 'A Clash of Civilisations?', Foreign Affairs, Vol. 72, No. 3, Summer 1993, pp. 22-49; Lester Thurow, Head to Head: The Coming Economic Battle Among Japan, Europe and America, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, NSW, 1993; and Edward N. Luttwak, The Endangered American Dream: How to Stop the United States from Becoming a Third World Country and How to Win the Geo-Economic Struggle for Industrial Supremacy, Simon and Schuster, 1993.
  29. Sun Tzu, op. cit., p.77.
  30. Edward S. Boylan, 'The Chinese Cultural Style of Warfare', Comparative Strategy, Vol. 3, No. 4, 1982, p.345.
  31. Sun Tzu, loc. cit., pp. 96, 98
  32. Selected Military Writings, p.131.
  33. 'All Reactionaries are Paper Tigers' (November 1957), Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung, Vol. 5, Foreign Languages Press, Beijing, 1977, p.517.
  34. Parts of this are translated in US Joint Publications Research Service, China Report, 7 March 1988, pp.i-439.
  35. Chong-Pin Lin, op. cit, p.18.
  36. See David Lague, 'Banned Chinese Book Sees US as Military Enemy', The Weekend Australian, 20-21 November 1993, p.16.
  37. Continued emphasis on modernising and professionalising the PLA is evident in the Officer's Handbook of the People's Liberation Army-Navy (Zhongguo renmin jiefangjun junguan shouche-haijun fence), Chingdao chubanshe, Qingdao, 1991.
  38. Qian Jiadong, deputy general of the China Centre for International Studies, quoted in Cameron Stewart, 'Heavy Sleeper', The Australian, 1 July 1993, p.9.
  39. Yan Xuetang, deputy director of the Centre for Chinese Foreign policy Studies at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, Beijing, quoted in ibid.
  40. David Lague, 'Spend More of Defence, Says China Part Chief', The Australian, 24 March 1993, p.14.
  41. Dellios, op. cit., p.91.
  42. There is an interesting parallel here with the Daoist 'use of uselessness'. In this concept one has to balance usefulness and uselessness. See Fung Yu-Lan (trans.) Chuang-Tzu, Foreign Languages Press, Beijing, 1989, pp.73-78.
  43. Identified as hezu liliang by Agatha S. Y. Wong-Fraser, 'China's Nuclear Deterrent', Current History, Vol. 18, September 1981, p.245
  44. Dellios, loc. cit., p.99.
  45. See footnote 42.
  46. Rand, op. cit., p.116.
  47. A classic in Western deterrence theory is Herman Kahn, Thinking About the Unthinkable, Discus Books, Avon Library, N.Y., 1964.
  48. Rand, loc. cit.
  49. Banning N. Garrett and Bonnie S. Glaser, War and Peace: The Views from Moscow and Beijing, Institute of International Studies, University of California, Berkeley, 1984, p.126.
  50. It was recounted in the 1988 memoirs of the then Soviet foreign minister, Andrei Gromyko (Memoirs, N.Y., 1989). His account was corroborated by Mao's interpreter, Yan Mingfu (personal interview, 29 April 1988, Beijing, in Harrison S. Salisbury, The New Emperors - Mao and Deng: A Dual Biography, Harper Collins, London, 1993, p.158). See also Philip Taubman, 'Mao Wanted Nuclear Solution, Gromyko Reveals', Financial Review, 23 February 1988, p.32.
  51. Cited in 'An Asian War: What Would Happen', Asiaweek, 27 May 1983, p.40. Taubman, ibid., quotes the figure of 300 million.
  52. Adapted from Fung Yu-Lan (trans.), Chuang-Tzu, op. cit., pp.74-75, 77.
  53. 'Dealing with China: The Barbarians at the Gate', The Economist, 27 November 1993, p.22.
  54. 'Lei Feng' was put forward in the 1960s, and again in the 1980s, as the paragon of patriotic service and Communist virtue. See Lei Feng: Chairman Mao's Good Fighter, Foreign Languages Press, Beijing, 1969; and Selected Diaries of Lei Feng, PLA General Political Department, December 1989, cited in BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 9 December 1989, FE/0641 B2/1/
  55. David Bonavia, Deng, Longman, Hong Kong, 1989, p.159.
  56. It is interesting to note that the Chinese media called Deng's visit nanxun, meaning 'southern visitation'. The significance of this, as Mackerras points out, is that it is "a term also used in the past to refer to emperors' visits to the south". (Colin Mackerras, 'China in Change: What Kind of Country Are We Dealing With?', World Review, Vol. 32, No. 4, December 1993, p.78.
  57. The Chinese call this, 'social market economy'. See 'Decision of the CPC Central Committee on Some Issues Concerning the Establishment of a Socialist Market Economic Structure', Adopted on 14 November 1993 by the Third Plenary Session of the 14th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, Beijing Review, 22-28 November 1993, pp.12-31.
  58. George W. Kent, 'The Restoration of the Idea that was China', Thought, Vol. 58, No. 231, December 1983, p.378. 'Sinitic' comes from 'Sinism', a term for the different traditions which constitute the Chinese worldview. The term was introduced in H. G. Creel, Sinism, The Open Court Publishing Company, Chicago, 1929.
  59. Kent, ibid.
  60. Edwin O. Reischauer and John K. Fairbank, East Asia: The Great Tradition, 8th edn, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1970, p.108.
  61. Mackerras, loc. cit., p.84.
  62. This term is employed by Kent (loc. cit., p.390) for the same reason: that the borrowed system was only a recent increment to an enduring tradition and should not, therefore be given central place as in the view of 'Marxist-Leninism with Chinese trappings' (ibid). In agreement is Fu who states that: 'There is more evidence to conclude that the Chinese have "sinicised" Marxism more than there is to conclude that communism has "communized" China.' (Zhengyuan Fu, 'Continuities of Chinese Political tradition', Studies in Comparative Communism, Vol. 24, No. 3, September 1991, p.260.
  63. The area in which it is least 'defensive' is the economy, as noted in the discussion of capitalism, above.
  64. Fung, op. cit., p.99.
  65. These are detailed in ibid., Chapters 6, 9, 10. My thanks to Bond University's Associate Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Centre for East-West Cultural and Economic Studies, Martin Lu, for discussing with me the three stages of Daoist philosophical development in the individual. Given my subsequent employment of Daoism in the context of this paper, I must add that I take full responsibility for the inherent risks of transposing these principles from the individual to the nation-state.
  66. 'The Sino-American Chill", Newsweek, 8 March 1982, p.6.
  67. Jurgen Domes, et al. After Tiananmen Square: Challenges for the Chinese-American Relationship ('Special Report 1990', a publication of the Institute of Foreign Policy Analyses, Inc.), Brassey's (US), New York, 1990, p. xxi.
  68. Quoted in David Lague, 'China Defies US as Campaign Against Dissidents Continues', The Australian, 14 March 1993, p.14.
  69. Although not an open source document, a copy had been obtained by the New York Times, which published an article on it. (See Nicholas D. Kristof, 'Strained U.S. Ties Reported in China', New York Times, 5 October 1989, or reference to it in Lucian W. Pye 'Tiananmen and Chinese Political Culture', Asian Survey, Vol. 30, No. 4, April 1990, pp.346-7.
  70. Fung. op. cit., p.65.
  71. Ibid.
  72. Ibid.
  73. The West's philosophical approximation may be found in Stoicism.
  74. Fung, loc. cit., p.66.
  75. Quoted in Far Eastern Economic Review, 28 August 1986, p.26
  76. Liu Enzhao, 'An Examination of UN Peace-Keeping Operations', Beijing Review, 8-14 November 1993, p.9.
  77. See for example, Allen Lynch, Gorbachev's International Outlook: Intellectual Origins and Political Consequences, Institute for East-West Security Studies, New York, 1989, p.3, in which the author reminds his reader that "the 'new political thinking' itself is first of all political rather than an intellectual or conceptual act".
  78. APEC is Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation; NAFTA is North American Free Trade Agreement.
  79. Steven Kull, Burying Lenin: The Revolution in Soviet Ideology and Foreign Policy, Westview Press, Boulder, 1992, p.1.
  80. Pravda, 26 July 1988, p.4, translated in FBIS-SU 26 July 1988, p.430, and cited in Lynch, loc. cit., p.33.
  81. The move towards a "more inclusive definition of security" is documented in Gary J. Buckley, 'Rethinking the Teaching of Security Policy in a Post-Cold War Environment', International Studies Notes, Vol. 18, No. 3, Fall 1993, pp.5-7.
  82. See Fung, loc. cit., Chapter 16, 'World Politics and World Philosophy'.
  83. Ibid., p.180.
  84. Institute of Literature of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (comp.) Stories About Not Being Afraid of Ghosts, 2nd edn, Foreign Languages Press, Beijing, 1979, pp.6, 37.
  85. Certainly, China seems keen to strengthen its presence in the world forum, as demonstrated by the seriousness with which it bid to host the Year 2000 Olympics.


Copyright Rosita Dellios 1994

The Centre for East-West Cultural and Economic Studies,

The School of Humanities and Social Sciences,

Bond University, Queensland, Australia


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