America and China’s Rise

Hello, Cyberworld,

I am happy to be up and running with my first blog post. As Rick said in Casablanca: I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

I would like to provide my latest essay on the United States and the rise of China.

 America: The Middle Kingdom

(Published in the Newport Daily News, February 16, 2011, as “China’s Rise Is Wake-Up Call for United States”)

For an American patriot, recent news on the rise of China can be quite grim. On many fronts China seems to be forging ahead while the U.S. limps.

        On the economic front China maintained over the period 1989-2010 an average quarterly growth in GDP of 9.3 %, growth which it seems likely to sustain for at least the near term. After negative growth rates during the Great Recession of 2008, the US has managed a GDP growth rate of less than 3%. Eighteen months into “the recovery” unemployment is at 9% and the federal deficit for last year was $1.3 trillion. China’s export-driven economy has boosted its foreign reserves to $2.6 trillion. It is using this and its other sources of wealth to build a network of new airports, a new system of high-speed trains, and a state of the art electric car industry. The U.S. continues to spend billions each month in Iraq and Afghanistan. While China’s President Hu had conciliatory remarks throughout his recent visit, the US has been unable to convince China to let its currency rise in value against the dollar, something which would help redress the large US trade imbalance.

        On the international political-military level, China is showing a more assertive foreign policy. It failed to support South Korea when North Korea sank one of its ships, killing 46, even after an international panel concluded a North Korean submarine had attacked it. The Pentagon has indicated that China has “the most active land-based ballistic and cruise missile program in the world.” It is developing the world’s first anti-ship ballistic missile system, and has enlarged its submarine fleet. Richard Armitage, the former deputy secretary of state, has said, “The smiling diplomacy is over.” 

        The gloominess is not just restricted to these traditional spheres of hard power; it shows also in the social and cultural spheres. Hou Yifan, a young Chinese girl of 16, has become the new women’s world chess champion, the youngest person ever to win a championship. Hitting us literally in our own homes, Chinese-American Amy Chua, in her new book, The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom, asserts that the Chinese way of raising children is the best—emphasizing excellence, hard work, high standards, less independent decision-making and less concern for the child’s self-esteem compared to the American approach.

        In 1405 Chinese Emperor Yongle launched a series of maritime expeditions. Under Admiral Zhenghe a fleet of Chinese ships was dispatched into the Indian Ocean to explore, to acquire knowledge, and to show China’s wealth and power, similar to Theodore Roosevelt’s launching of America’s Great White Fleet in 1907. The first voyage included 62 ships and some 28,000 sailors, and eventually 300 ships participated in seven of these voyages. Some of these Junk ships were larger than any ships the world had seen. One account claims at least one expedition even reached North America in 1421.

        Historians offer different explanations as to why the voyages ended after three decades. One holds that a majority of the Chinese elites and Yongle’s son and successor, Hongxi, did not believe the voyages justified the effort and cost. China was the Middle Kingdom—between heaven and earth—and therefore the outside world did not have anything to offer of genuine significance. The Confucian court scholars said that China should end the voyages, destroy records of them, and return to traditional agriculture.

        If there is any silver lining in these trends that mark the rise of China it is that they may collectively shake us in our collective complacency about our centrality in the world system, a mentality which has been called the “omphalos syndrome,” from the Greek word for navel. The omphalos stone was a monument in a number of ancient cities and supposedly marked the center of the world.     China’s rise should give us pause to reconsider our national priorities and where we are spending our enormous yet limited resources. Especially, it should help us to be more open to how others think and order their societies. In the process of considering ourselves less a Middle Kingdom, we may learn another way of thinking about ourselves and our relation to the world.

Fred Zilian teaches Western Civilization and World History at Portsmouth Abbey School, Portsmouth, RI.

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26 Responses to America and China’s Rise

  1. Jim Gladney says:

    Fascinating commentary!!

    • herculesfz says:

      Hey, Jim. Thanks for being the first to reply. Tried to get some of the major newspapers to publish it, but they were not interested. On Nicole’s advice and convinced by some other factors, I started a blog.

  2. Nicole Milici says:

    My eyes have been opened! Thank you for your blog. I look forward to more interesting and thoughtful articles in the future.

  3. meghan says:

    Keep up the great writing. Rick – M

  4. C. McCall says:

    It’s always refreshing to read an informative blog written with the crisp language and hearty structure if a brilliant mind. Thanks, Fred.

  5. Noelle says:

    Hi Fred. Read a recent article of your 40th anniversary trip. Congrats. Also where in Maine would this how be? I love the location and sounds of it and would love to rent it out myself. Would love to know how to reached that great accomplishment 40 years of marriage. The real truth, which only you know. Thanks and look forward to more of your articles. N.

    • Fred Zilian says:

      Dear Noelle,

      Thank you for reading my article. It was challenging, fun to write it, and very gratifying to see in print.

      The house is in Standish, Maine, on Lake Sebago. It is owned by Alicja and Andy Komar. Alicja’s contact info:; (C) 860.241.5028.

      As for reaching a 40 anniversary: Accepting each other for who you are; not trying to change each other too, too much. Also, being sensitive to each other’s needs and dreams.

      Thanks again for the message and good luck!

      Sincerely yours,
      Fred Zilian

  6. Dan Meucci says:

    good article…Americans can never under estimate China’s ability to create a power vacuum
    in the pacific rim…How and what that will mean to America and the rest of the world is yet to
    be played out. Your reflections on Chinese history is a good start in understanding the Chinese

    Best of luck with the start of your blog.


    • Fred Zilian says:


      Many thanks for taking the time to review my essays and to comment on the China essay.

      Please see today’s Newport Daily News for another essay on the Civil War.

      All the best for the new year.


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