New Book Suggests Modern China Models the ‘American Dream’

Posted: October 18, 2013 at 5:01 am, Last Updated: October 21, 2013 at 7:03 am

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By Buzz McClain

Patrick Mendis

Patrick Mendis

A new book by a George Mason University professor suggests that modern China is borrowing the ideas and policies of America’s Founding Fathers to create a new “Chinese Dream.”

Peaceful War: How the Chinese Dream and the American Destiny Create a New Pacific World Order” (University Press of America), by Mason distinguished senior fellow in the School of Public Policy (SPP) Patrick Mendis, gives Western leaders valuable insights in understanding the China of today as it invokes the principals of Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson from America’s past foreign policy traditions.

“I look at the American experience of how we evolved and then applied that experimental model to China’s peaceful rise,” Mendis says in an interview. “As a nation, the United States uses the Hamiltonian method of a strong central government and banking system to be economically strong in order to achieve the freedom and liberty that Jefferson wanted to have in his idealized ‘Empire of Liberty.’ Now the Chinese are using Hamiltonian means to a Jeffersonian end.”

There are ironies, Mendis points out, including the overriding idea of the “’American Dream’ of ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,’” he says. “And now [Chinese] President Xi Jinping is using a new buzzword, ‘the Chinese Dream.’ But they don’t mean it the Jeffersonian way for individuals; they are talking about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for the Communist Party; not individual rights but collective rights.”

This intriguing combination of Confucian ideals and American concepts of individual freedoms have brought about enormous changes in modern China, says Mendis. Mendis is a former military professor in the NATO and Pacific Commands and an American diplomat who was raised in his native Chinese-controlled Sri Lanka before emigrating to America as an American Field Service high school student in Minnesota in the late 1970s. “More than 82 million Chinese citizens traveled around the world last year, which is extraordinary,” he says. “If you visit China, you see they enjoy greater economic freedoms than we do in America.”

“This book is an important guide for broader policy dialogue among strategic thinkers in both Beijing and Washington,” writes former SPP dean and Mason professor Edward Rhodes, author of “Global Politics in a Changing World” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). “He probes the historically rooted cultures of these two great Pacific nations and how these shape their ability to understand each other and work together.”

Mason’s Virginia E. and John T. Hazel, Jr. Professor of Public Policy Jack Goldstone wrote the foreword to the book.

Write to Buzz McClain at bmcclai2@gmu.edu

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