Can Contemporary China Learn A Lesson From 1421?

For those who are unaware, during the early part of the 1400’s, China was far and away the most impressive trading empire in the world, with trading bases as far from China as Cape Breton Island (also called Cibola or the Island of Seven Cities).  Now that China has entered into one of its periodic “open” periods where it seeks to dominate world trade, as opposed to its xenophobic “closed” periods, like the Cultural Revolution, it can learn some lessons from its early 1400’s period of glory.

As Paul Chiasson wrote in his historical mystery The Island of Seven Cities:  “If the Mi’kmaq legends can be believed, the colony of strangers, living under harsh circumstances far from home, seems to have followed the Confucian code that all Chinese memorized as children:  “Dwell at home in humility.  Conduct your business in reverence.  And in your dealings with others be faithful.  Even if you go east or north to live among wild tribes, these are things you must never disregard.” [1]”

China would be wise to listen to the Confucian advice that guided the Chinese to be faithful and honest even with savage native American tribes.  After all, the Mi’kmaq (like most of the world’s peoples), tend to treat others the way they are treated.  The Chinese of 1421 came to Cape Breton Island peacefully, and freely and respectfully shared their wisdom in astronomy, herb lore, good government, writing, farming, fishing, and mapmaking with an isolated tribe.  They did not come to exploit or dispossess the native peoples, unlike the European imperialists who followed, and therefore the Mi’kmaq dwelt in peace, adopted the high culture of the Chinese immigrant (including a form of Christianity) and considered the hero of their culture to one Kluscap of Cape Dauphin, the long-forgotten site of a sizable Chinese settlement involved in gold smelting and shipbuilding activities.

What is the point of being honorable to people who are as clearly inferior in culture as the Mi’kmaq were to the Chinese?  For one, it never hurts to be kind to anyone, for who knows what kindness we will all need in return.  So far as depends on us, we ought to be at peace with all men.  Additionally, regardless of what nation or tribe we come form, we all share the same heavenly Father, whose offspring we are, and we are all of one flesh and one blood, one common human nature in myriad forms and varieties.  We are all diverse threads in one common human tapestry.  Therefore, to mistreat or abuse any other human being is to attack at our own human dignity.

What does this have to do with contemporary China?  China appears once again to be in a periodic phase where it flexes its demographic and economic muscles for influence in the world.  May it be wise enough to recognize the truths its ancestors knew and practiced in previous centuries in winning the respect and honor of others through being generous and honorable themselves, rather than being imperious and demanding.  China certainly could, if it wished, throw its weight around and be a world bully, but it would be better served, in the long run (and what other timetable is ultimately worthwhile for an empire, playing for eternal stakes), to be a world benefactor rather than a world bully.  There will be some who automatically hate power and mistrust those who are wiser and more talented and more blessed than they are.  They must be watched, but can be safely disregarded as envious and bitter souls.  The real task is to show one’s self as honorable so as to win the respect of other honorable men and women.  That is how one’s culture spreads and how one is remembered fondly for ages to come.

Despite the fact that China has rejected much of the wisdom and folly of the Confucian era during the push for Communism, let us hope that at least the silver of that wisdom has not been tossed aside with the dross of human tradition.  If that is the case, then China might gain its natural resources (as in the old days–Cape Breton Island is full of gold and iron, after all) while also spreading its cultural excellence and winning itself friends in far away places.  China (and many other nations) would do well to follow that example today.

[1] Paul Chiasson, The Island of Seven Cities:  Where The Chinese Settled When They Discovered America, (New York, NY:  St. Martin’s Press, 2006), 277.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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1 Response to Can Contemporary China Learn A Lesson From 1421?

  1. Pingback: As If We Never Existed At All | Edge Induced Cohesion

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