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April 5, 2010 in The China Beat


Copyright April 5, 2010 Christopher R. Hughes. Used by permission.


Liu Mingfu 刘明福, China Dream: The Great Power Thinking and Strategic Positioning of China in the Post-American Age (Zhongguo meng: hou meiguo shidai de daguo siwei zhanlue dingwei). (Beijing: Zhongguo youyi chuban gongsi, 2010).

China Dream, by Colonel Liu Mingfu, a professor at Beijing’s National Defense University, is the latest of several books to speculate on how China can displace the leadership of the United States after the global economic crisis. Understandably, Liu’s military background has led to conjecture over whether his views reflect the ambitions of the PLA or even China’s leaders. Yet China Dream is most interesting not so much for what it recommends for foreign and defense policies, as for what it says about the deployment of nationalistic themes in the debates over China’s domestic politics.

As with works like Jiang Rong’s Wolf Totem (2004), and the 2009 title Unhappy China (co-written by Huang Jisu, Liu Yang, Song Jiang, Song Xiaojun, and Wang Xiaodong), China Dream contains much that will be of interest to anyone monitoring the belief in China’s racial supremacy, militarism and political voluntarism. Yet, although Liu joins the chorus calling for a stronger military, it is wrong to present him as an adventurist hawk. He is even prepared to acknowledge that the United States has made some positive contributions to the world, quoting Mao’s view that the good American people should be separated from the bad interest groups who drive its anti-China policies. He proposes that war can be avoided if the United States behaves itself and China gives it enough time to adjust to the age of “yellow fortune”, a synthesis of the superior civilisation of the East with the best elements of the West.

This is quite different from the venomous anti-Americanism found in some of the authors of Unhappy China, or the influential geopolitical thinker Zhang Wenmu, a professor at the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Combined with other elements of the book, this raises the possibility that China Dream reflects concerns in the military to divert the nationalist wave away from a show down with the United States. This view becomes more compelling when the book shifts its focus steadily towards a strong critique of what it regards as the low status of the military and the corruption of the current political elite.