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Comparison and its Colonial Implications

As we have shown in the discourse of the China Dream in Chap. 2, when confronted with the “novelty” of the revival of traditions, the West’s strategy consists of seeking to order it, regulate it and conform to it so as to divert the movements into a new modern order or to insert it into an already existing one. However, attributing any kind of necessity would then give the Western strategy the power and authority of an ontological foundation that guarantees its legitimacy (McQuillan 2010: 44). This cos- mopolitanized reflexivity is often conditioned upon concentrated nationalist and/or statist development endeavours (Chang 2010: 324). On the other hand, when this appeared impossible, the West shifted the conflict from the level of life to that of doctrine, and as a consequence, condemned those traditions as heretical (Agamben 2013: 93). Consequently, discrepant colonial relations are coded in knowledge forms that capture and control them through the coloniality of knowledge (Wang 2012: 746).

Epistemologically, divisions and oppositions are in fact a dialectical attempt at exhaustive identification and classification, in order to create a community that would subsume the singularity of its members (De la Durantaye 2009: 300). This is what Amoureux describes as “negative dialectical reason,” by which our thoughts become simply the truncated reflexivity of aligning action with values, beliefs and other normative guideposts (2015: 94). It treats thought and action as that which should be chastened (94). As such, divisions and oppositions become a product of the totalizing nature of dialectical thinking and its gradual elimination of differences. But how does this process play out in the context of competing discourse within a discursive field? As Bevir and Rhodes argue:

On the one hand, discourses display a logic of equivalence in that they try both to integrate many views into one worldview and to stress commonalities in contrast to an other. On the other hand, discourses display a logic of difference in that they are formed by an antagonism to the other. This antagonism always limits the extent to which they can achieve integration. Thus, the interplay between equivalence and difference in discourses frames hegemonic struggles. (2010: 54)

Thus, the relations of difference are constitutive in the sense that in any given discourse, a binary structure governs concepts of identity, so identities are necessarily defined as opposition to an excluded other (54). Agamben further clarifies this process:

[T]he complete corruption of minds has taken that hypocritical form and that voice of reason and common sense that today goes under the name of progressivism. Progressivism is compromising. The revolution used to have to compromise with capital and with power, just as the church had to come to terms with the modern world. Thus the motto that has guided the strategy of progressivism during the march towards its coming to power slowly took shape: one has to yield on everything, one has to reconcile everything with its opposite, intelligence with television and advertisement, the working class with capital, freedom of speech with the state of the spectacle, the environment with industrial development, science with opinion, democracy with the electoral machine, bad conscience and abjuration with memory and loyalty. (2000: 136)

The dilemma for us in this book is that the comparative impulse is indispensable to the revalidation and revitalization of Chinese culture, because it is through the comparative unconscious that the discourses of the China Dream and the China Model are admitted to “the cosmopolitan, humanist international that is critical of modernity and its colonial imperialist underpinnings” (Wang 2012: 755). This is also because, as Agamben suggests, capitalism, in pushing to the extreme a tendency already present in Christianity, has a tendency to generalize in every domain the structure of separation that defines religion (2015: 81).

Viewed in this way, there is a notion of the other, which reflects an ecumenical consciousness in the form of “reflexive modernization.” These forms of awareness of the other are not epistemologically open; they are based on the assumption that other tractions were either defective or false (Turner 2010: 316). In other words, only the game of truth and falsity can demonstrate what is true (Foucault et al. 2014: 96). Thus, the China Model discourse is a reflection of certain Western self-imaginations and its quest for certainty and identity in an inherently dynamic and uncertain world (Shirk 1982: viii). This kind of crisis is always in process and it constitutes the internal motor of capitalism in its present phase; as a consequence, much of the state of exception is today the normal structure of political power (Agamben 2000: 133).

The discourses of “Chinese threats” or “Chinese opportunities” contained in the China Model discourse also reflect Western fears of and fantasies about China. Through fear, the West established “a sense of negative certainty about the existential Chinese threat out there, whilst with fantasy, the West can envisage an immensely soothing scenario of opportunity, engagement, and convergence that carries with it, a teleological predictability about how history begins, evolves and ends” (Shirk 1982: 148). In this scenario, “China becomes a reassuring object of aversion and attraction that allows for continued Western self-positioning as the modern knowledge subject” (148). Thus, the revival of Chinese history through comparison becomes a disavowal of the coloniality of knowledge, which in turn attempts to rediscover Chinese subjectivity and tradition in the eyes of the West (Wang 2012: 755).

Using Clarke’s notion of implicated actors, we can see that China as the implicated actor in terms of knowledge production is explicitly constructed and addressed by the authentic Western knowledge system. Thus knowledge production in China is highly consequential of this system. In this field, China is not allowed to be fully agentic in its actual doings. The actions taken “on behalf of’ China are often supposedly “for its own good” (Clarke and Keller 2014: 24). Thus, Chinese scholars have to recreate Chinese civilization by means of Western inspiration and to participate in global modernity coded with uneven relations (Wang 2012: 751); this in turn often leads to simplified understanding of (rather than exposing differences amongst) rationalities and diversities in other parts of the World (Clarke and Keller 2014: 3). This also means that although Western values and practices may have contingently produced modernity, they may prove transitory and their political selfunderstanding may not appeal to a modernized China formed by a different history which has been influenced by different ethical practices (Jones 2014: 132).

In this sense, the “moral fabric of Confucian discourse” in China was reconstructed by Western ideas rooted in Enlightenment mentality. Similarly, the argumentation, such as the “domestication of modernity” or “alternative modernities,” also endorses oppositions, such as local versus global, Western versus non-Western, modernity versus tradition and the like, which again are created through real struggles (Marshall 2009: 6). Thus, scholars are dragged into the order of colonial modernity by means of compulsive comparison (Wang 2012: 740). We have little choice but to enter into a comparison between the concept of China and that of the West in order to make the “real China” exist, as “no proposition can ever confront the world in splendid isolation” (Bevir and Rhodes 2010: 67). However, by so doing, we often employ the non-contradictory principle developed in the West to present caricatures of reality through the process of applying Western analytical grids to the understanding of non-Western contents (Fang and Faure 2011: 5).

To address this problem, we need to go beyond the method of pure comparison and look for a more productive way of understanding the phenomenon of globalization. As Clark and Keller argue, “the new geopolitics of globalization, or preferably transnationalisation, are changing how we might think about the ‘conditions of possibility’ for the future in every substantive area and geopolitical location” (Clarke and Keller 2014: 3). In other words, to observe globalization in the form of a historical narrative is to claim that the story is true at the same time that it is contingent to be judged by its consequences as a way of understanding and not as some sort of final word that excludes all others (Beyer 2013: 29). That is to say, the way the story is told and the reasons for telling the tale are themselves part of the story (31).

 
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