Two thousand years before the fall of Constantinople, Thales of Miletus was introducing geometry and astronomy to the Greek world, and founding the field of natural philosophy. The city thrived, the wealthiest in the world, famed for its architecture, impenetrable defences – and its sophistication, with a vast Imperial Library holding over one hundred thousand ancient texts. In 1453, with the Ottoman Empire laying siege to the city, the intellectuals of Constantinople were debating the sex of angels. The city, centre of Byzantium, fell on the 29th May.
Cities and civilisations rise and fall (No matter how stable the foundations are upon construction, entropy will inevitably enter and eat away at the structure just as threats will consolidate their latent forces and jeopardise what remains).
Of all the lost civilisations, Byzantium, and its’ jewel of Constantinople, are pertinent reminders of the ephemeral nature of human societies for us in the modern West. Both of our constructions are built on Christianity, with rich histories of intellectual and technological advancement. And on the cusp of decline, when everything is starting to crumble and wolves are at the door... What have both of our civilisations become obsessively preoccupied with but sexual identity and entertainment. It’s not a matter of if Western civilisation will fall but when, how – and who will replace us. There can be little doubt that it will be China.
In 1978, 90% of Chinese citizens lived below the extreme poverty line. Life expectancy has risen from 65.9 to 76.4 years. In 2018 the number was fewer than 1 in 100. China opened their first highway the same month I was born, October 1988. Between 1996 and 2016 2.6 million miles of road were built by China, including 70,000 miles of highways. Presently they are embarked on a Belt and Road Intitiative that is expected to cost more than one trillion dollars, connecting 71 countries, and accounting for half of the world’s population. Smaller projects that take Western nations years to complete are completed by the Chinese in a matter of hours. The equivalent of Europe’s entire housing stock has been built by China in just 15 years. “Never before have so many people risen so fast, on so many different dimensions.” President, Xe Jinping announced that by 2025 he wants to see China dominating advanced technologies. Already, China has seen its’ share of the market in high tech consumer goods increase from 7% in 2003 to 27% in 2014. China turns out close to 30,000 PhDs in science and engineering per year and leads the world in patent applications. By the 100th anniversary of the People's Republic in 2049 they most certainly will be a “fully developed, rich, and powerful” nation. At that point, China’s economy is expected to triple that of the U.S.
China is implicated in autocracy, enslaving poorer nations through debt, and human rights abuses.
On March 11th 2018, the Chinese National People’s Congress voted through a raft of constitutional amendments. The fixed term limit for the role of President has been abolished. One-party rule has been reinforced by the addition of the following declaration to Article 1: “The defining feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics is the leadership of the Communist Party of China.” A state “Supervisory Commision” has been established, to combat corruption – with “extraordinary power over the fate of China’s public servants, subjected to few legal constraints”. The Communist party has dominated every sector of Chinese society since the revolution, but constitutional amendments in 1982 were designed to avoid such concentrations of power as had occurred under Mao Zedong, and the prospect of another dictator. The sweeping and imbued power of the party and the President has greatly intensified in recent years though, under Xi Jinping.
The Belt and Road Initiative is connecting the world – but it’s also saddling poor nations with unsustainable debt. Sri Lanka, for example, has handed over commercial activities in its main southern port in the town of Hambantota to a Chinese company in December 2017 as part of a plan to convert $6 billion of loans that Sri Lanka owes China into equity. The Centre for Global Development predicts that 8 other countries are facing similar prospects: Djibouti, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, the Maldives, Mongolia, Montenegro, Pakistan, and Tajikistan.
Accused of locking up hundreds of thousands of Muslims without trial in “re-education schools" located in the western region of Xinjiang, the state claims that the camps (whose residents are exclusively made up of Muslim minorities) exist to combat extremism. Within Xinjiang, headscarves, long beards, Islamic names and Islamic faith schools have been banned. Government officials are prohibited from practising Islam at all.
And yet, millions in China are being lifted out of poverty. Their scientific advances are astonishing: they became the first nation to successfully land a discovery probe on the far side of the moon in January of this year. Chengdu, in Southwest China, plans to raise an artificial Moon to replace streetlights in 2020. China is leading the way in clean transportation, with 9,500 new electric buses every 5 weeks and being the biggest exporter of electric vehicles globally (and plans to build solar expressways to charge electric vehicles as they drive). In 2017, Chinese scientists grew lambs in artificial wombs and another violated state law in 2018 by editing the genes of human babies. Whether the latter will be punished remains to be seen, but the technology that is being pursued at an astonishing rate in China, including gene-edited humans, has the potential to vastly improve the world for all.
The rise of China is not an unmitigated good or bad, we can but hope for the best. Over the last 500 years, ruling powers have been threatened by emergent powers 16 times. It ended in war 12 times. Xi Jinping is building an army which will “be able to fight and win wars”. Such is the right and responsibility of a “fully developed, rich and powerful nation” – but a war between China and the U.S. (which would naturally rope in the rest of the world) is one that needs to be avoided. Especially for the West.
We must bolster what we have in the West (in terms of freedom and democracy), be a light of hope to dissident free thinkers in China (I fear that’s the most that we can offer), and work towards continuous peace and mutual prosperity.