In the 1930s, scholars made remarkably accurate predictions on the China of 2030Jun 11, 2023
“This nation, after three thousand years of grandeur and decay… exhibits today all the physical and mental vitality that we find in its most creative periods… Very probably such wealth will be produced in China [by 2030] as even America has never known and once again, as so often in the past, China will lead the world in luxury and the art of life.” – Will Durant, 1935.
One of the deepest big thinkers of the 20th century, Will Durant, way back in the nineteen thirties, saw China in much the same way as the Chinese do. This great American thinker, a household name, also saw the rise of China as a return to an historical mean, not as a new development or departure from the pattern of history.
Speaking personally I became reconciled to China’s rise while reading his words.
They were the basis of an essay which I wrote in 2007.
William James Durant (November 5, 1885–November 7, 1981) predicted China’s recovery and rise as long ago as 1931. As far as I am aware Durant’s remarks about China’s rise had, until very recently, at least, been completely forgotten.
Here is what I learnt back in 2007 when I was looking for clues if the price for coal would keep rising.
“China – an historian’s view
May 20, 2007
The China story is one of the most amazing tales of our time. From the incredible turmoil of civil war and war with Japan arose a Marxist State that bemused boomers like myself as we pondered the “Great Leap Forward” and the famine that followed, the happy smiles of contented workers on model farms and iconic images of millions of Chinese waiving the “little red book” on the television.
Real GDP per capita grew 17% in the Sixties, 70% in the Seventies, 63% in the turbulent Eighties and 175% in the Nineties. While this development has been concentrated in the coastal and southern provinces, efforts have been made in recent years to expand prosperity to the inner provinces and the industrial North East.
Since the start of the “China story” we often hear how it will all end badly in civil disorder or economic collapse, whereas Jim Rogers, the commodity guru has argued that the next big correction in China will be a massive buying opportunity, for both commodities and Chinese equities.
Well then, what’s the real deal in China?
Perhaps it might be useful to consult an historian and I found a strong opinion was held by a great one, a man who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for literature and the highest award granted by the United States government to civilians, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. (President Ford in 1977).
William James Durant (November 5, 1885–November 7, 1981) was an American philosopher, historian, and writer. He is best known for his authorship (and co-authorship with his wife Ariel Durant in the later volumes) of “The Story of Civilisation”.
Will Durant received his doctorate in 1917 and worked as an instructor at Columbia University.
The Story of Philosophy was published in 1926 by Simon & Schuster and became a bestseller, giving the Durant’s the means to travel the world several times and allowing Will Durant to spend four decades writing the eleven volume opus “The Story of Civilisation.”
This is what Durant wrote sometime in the 1920’s as he concluded his history of China and reflected on its future. (the emphasis is mine).
“This nation, after three thousand years of grandeur and decay, of repeated deaths and resurrections exhibits today all the physical and mental vitality that we find in its most creative periods.
There are no people in the world more vigorous or more intelligent. No other people are so adaptable to circumstance, so resistant to disease, so resilient after disaster and suffering, so trained by history to calm endurance and patient recovery. Imagination cannot describe the possibilities of a civilisation mingling the physical, labor and mental resources of such a people with the technological equipment of modern industry. Very probably such wealth will be produced in China [by 2030] as even America has never known and once again, as so often in the past, China will lead the world in luxury and the art of life.
No victory of arms or tyranny of alien finance can suppress a nation so rich in resources and vitality… Within a century China will learn all the techniques of … industry..
Roads and communications will give her unity, economy and thrift will give her funds and a strong government will give her order and peace. Every chaos is a transition. In the end disorder cures and balances itself with dictatorship. Old obstacles are roughly cleared away and fresh growth is freed. Revolution, like death and style, is the removal of rubbish, the surgery of the superfluous; it comes only when there are many things ready to die. China has died many times before and many times she has been reborn.”
From the last two pages of Part One “China” in Volume One of “The Story of Civilisation” “Our Oriental Heritage” by Will Durant.”
Before it was a political question, a man of great intelligence in the 1930’s could both look backwards and see what a great power China had been and forward to the new possibilities for civilisation that would come out of the hybrid vigour of the East and West.
Durant would concur that the Silk Road of the past and the Belt and Road of today will continue to be an asset to both East and West.
The Yin and Yang of the World System.