Tianxia 2.0

Image: Lian Rodriguez


The exercise of soft power Chinese culture does not involve ostensible investment in a cultural industry with global reach. A nuance that the American mind seems incapable of understanding

As an inhabitant of a city the size of São Paulo, it is safe to say that, in one way or another, China is always present in my daily life. Like billions of other people around the world, I am surrounded by Chinese-made technologies and products. Chinese restaurants, with different degrees of authenticity, are not difficult to find, and there are even neighborhoods in the city where it is possible to hear conversations on the street in Mandarin or Cantonese.

However, as much as I have access to kung fu academies, Chinese culture and language courses at university, and establishments where I can taste century-old eggs and other unconventional delicacies with friends on the weekends, the culture of China, in places As far away as Brazil, it is not nearly as visible as, say, the United States. This occurs despite China being the largest trading partner not only for Brazil, but also for countless other Latin American countries (Jourdan; Aquino; Spetalnick, 2022).

It also occurs despite trillion-dollar cooperation projects, such as those of the Belt and Road Initiative, through which China invests in the infrastructure of several countries, many of them in the so-called Global South (Kuhn, 2023). But why, after all? Could we say, for example, that the culture of the United States would be, in some way, naturally better or more seductive than that of China?

We cannot fall into the temptation of ready and easy answers. What happens, in fact, is that the power projection strategies of these two countries are quite different, even diametrically opposed, one could say. In addition to the constant display of its immense economic-military power, the United States is betting on gaining global sympathy by promoting consumption, whether of material goods or cultural manifestations, notably those of a cinematic nature, for example. It is a civilizational project that involves the export of a very particular model of modernity, which often occurs to the detriment of local interests and idiosyncrasies in other countries. Ready-made expressions like american dream e American way of life have long since become common and recognizable around the planet. It's like the Rammstein song: We're all living in America.

Obviously, the same does not happen with China, which is not interested in exporting its own pre-made civilizational model, just like a package of frozen food to be reheated in people's microwave ovens. The exercise of soft power Chinese culture does not involve ostensible investment in a cultural industry with global reach, capable of disseminating Chinese narratives and sensibilities with the intention of making them universal. This is a nuance that the American mind seems incapable of understanding (Gao, 2017).

The lean pragmatism of Chinese economic cooperation initiatives with other countries may even seem superficially simple and narrow-minded to some, especially when compared to the American way. It is not new, however, that this American way has been showing signs of exhaustion (Rose, 2020).

The cultural sensibilities of the United States hardly coincide, and often come into direct conflict, with those of other societies, so that the project of power underlying the products of the American cultural industry, allegedly subtle, becomes apparent. Paradoxically, behold, in his quest to win hearts and minds, the soft power Americans don't show themselves as soft like this.

There are times when less is more, and that is when the Chinese way proves new and invigorating. But it would be a mistake to interpret as a mere strategic difference something that, in truth, is an expression of two profoundly different ways of conceiving modernity and globalization.

With the end, in 1991, of the old world order that characterized the Cold War, the world entered a period in which international relations were guided by the unipolarity of American power, with the United States, the only global superpower, taking on the role of of “world police”. It was in this context in which Francis Fukuyama (2006) infamously declared the “end of history”, with the victory of American-style neoliberalism as the gold standard and definitive model of human civilization.

Fukuyamic modernity and globalization, therefore, could be characterized as the acceptance and emulation of this supposed gold standard. In this model of modernity, values, dreams, ambitions, sociocultural sensibilities, institutions and material cultures become uniform, in a great monoculture that extends from the Aleutians to Tierra del Fuego and from Taclamacã to the Mojave. The supreme expression of these values ​​took place in the first half of the 2000s, a period in which American foreign policy was characterized by adherence to a neoconservative doctrine, an unholy legacy from the Cold War era.

It was at this time that the then American president George W. Bush (Voice of America, 2009) externalized his Manichaean and polarizing maxim to the world, an expression of what Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (2010, pp. 365-372) call fascist delusion -paranoid in the social field: you are either with us, or against us.

The supposed values ​​of this Americanizing planetary civilization were always wrapped in very noble rhetoric. Such nobility, however, did not translate perfectly into the field of practice. It is notable how, for example, the Rules-based international order led by the United States can be used for hidden purposes, such as stealing other people's resources (Mattei; Nader, 2013).

Since then, the rise of other poles of global power, including China, has substantially altered the status quo international, tracing lines of flight that point to other ways of conceiving modernity and globalization. At the conceptual core of this new multipolar horizon lies the concept of tianxia 2.0.

the notion of tianxia (天下), which can be translated as “Everything under Heaven”, is quite complex and multifaceted, with political, moral, geographic dimensions, among others. It derives from classical Chinese thought, more specifically from the times of the Zhou dynasty (1066-256 BC), a time when China was balkanized into several smaller states. In this context, tianxia it represented an ideal of reciprocity and interdependence between these Chinese states, in a system of international relations that fostered universality (or we could say pluriversality (Teixeira, 2011)) through the establishment of certain common commitments.

One could say, incurring, of course, a serious anachronism, that the tianxia of those times was for international politics just as the methodology attributed to Deleuze by Brulin (2020), based on the concept of multiplicity, is for the production of knowledge. Both produce a patchwork quilt from a set of heterogeneous elements. Not by chance, the term patchwork (“patchwork quilt”) has been used to designate political models marked by extreme fragmentation, with high connectivity and low integration between their constituent elements (Moldbug, 2017). Even though the model has its origins in neo-reactionary political circles, left-wing readings are perfectly possible, and also quite fruitful (Xenogothic, 2018).

In later periods, such as the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) dynasties, when China was firmly unified, tianxia began to designate a system of international relations that placed the emperor of China, holder of the Mandate of Heaven, in the central position of receiving tributes and formal tributes from the rulers of smaller nations within the Chinese cultural sphere, such as Korea and Vietnam.

Already tianxia 2.0 is a reinvention of this old concept, aiming for its reinterpretation and application in a contemporary context, in a world marked by the advancement of globalization. Conceived by Chinese thinker Xu Jilin (2015), tianxia 2.0 dispenses with the Sinocentric character of the old tianxia from imperial times. It is a new approach, which recognizes the cultural, political and economic diversity of nations, while promoting global cooperation, multilateral governance, social justice and the common prosperity of people. What is expected, therefore, is a search for shared solutions to current global problems, such as climate change and geopolitical conflicts, always bearing in mind the relationship of deep interdependence between the countries involved.

In contrast to a unipolar world order, the multipolarity of tianxia 2.0 seeks to create a more inclusive and sustainable global order, in which all nations have equal voice and importance, and in which modernization and globalization take place in a plural and collaborative way.

This all sounds very beautiful and inspiring, of course, but the inspiration that this Chinese model offers to the rest of the world is not restricted to the words of a philosopher. Here is the expression of tianxia 2.0 in the dimension of praxis is known by another name: BRICS.

Throughout the first decade of this century, under the shadow of American unipolar power, a concept emerged to designate a group of nations that were very different and distant from each other, but that despite this had certain characteristics in common: extensive, tellurocratic, populous countries, multiethnic and ecumenical, with rapidly growing economies and great potential, large consumer markets and abundant natural resources. Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa. In English, their names formed the acronym BRICS (O'Neill, 2001).

Today, the BRICS constitute an economic and political bloc that seeks to promote cooperation and joint influence of its member countries on the global stage, strengthening their trade relations and increasing their joint power vis-à-vis international institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF). and the World Bank. In the world economy, these countries play an important role, representing a significant portion of global GDP and international trade. Thus, this bold Sinomodernism contributed greatly to the development of its partner nations, including Brazil.

Although the BRICS are a platform for cooperation between these countries, there is not always consensus on all issues. This is natural and even healthy, since they have different political systems, levels of human development and internal challenges, which inevitably leads to divergences. In any case, it is a valid attempt to promote a more balanced multipolar world order, in the best spirit tianxia 2.0, which includes, as already explained, the synthesis of the new through the agency of difference.

There is a certain aggregating force at work in this arrangement, whose appeal is strong, without being too ostentatious and/or ideological. Quite the contrary, it is an above all pragmatic arrangement. A great example of this is the recent change in stance of the recently elected Argentine president Javier Milei, who, after having made unfavorable comments to Lula and Xi Jinping throughout the campaign, now adopts diametrically opposite rhetoric, quite friendly towards the current rulers. from Brazil and China. Obviously, part of this is due to what gave rise to the BRICS, that is, the great relative economic power of these countries. After all, Brazil and China are Argentina's two largest trading partners (Jourdan; Araújo; Lee, 2023).

It is precisely through this practical dimension, that is, the BRICS, that the concept of tianxia 2.0, at first exotic and distant, takes on palpable contours, which are already quite familiar to us at this point. As a founding member of the BRICS, Brazil reveals itself to be a valuable part of the globalization and alternative modernization project that China extends to the rest of the world, one of the most robust pillars of our tianxia 2.0.

But the BRICS are no longer alone, as other countries from the so-called Global South have expressed interest in joining the bloc. In 2023, Venezuela, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the aforementioned Argentina, among others, presented themselves as fronts for the bloc's expansion. Thus, the BRICS become BRICS+ (Prazeres, 2023).

Therefore, whenever I leave home to buy Fujian tea flavored with jasmine flowers at a Chinese market on Rua da Glória, in the heart of the city of São Paulo, I find myself reflecting. The Land of Santa Cruz is very far from the Middle Kingdom. These are countries that, among themselves, occupy almost antipodal positions. But this great distance is just a detail, because despite it, there is something substantial that unites us: Everything under Heaven.

*Eberval Gadelha Figueiredo Jr. holds a bachelor's degree from the Faculty of Law at USP.


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