Could it be that the current unrest in America and the disintegration of its political, social and cultural institutions are the beginning of its own 21st century version of the Chinese Qing Empire’s Century of Humiliation – 百年耻辱?
Could it even be that the leaders of China – who by the account of Michael Pillsbury, a longtime China expert in America’s security state, are pursuing a hundred year marathon to supplant America as the global super-power – are exacting a symmetrical revenge on the Empire that rose on the back of China’s humiliation by inducing a similar sequence of elite betrayals, commercial treachery, social decay, ethno-nationalism, political decay, armed rebellion and institutional collapse?
The comparison has been made by some American security analysts, although made at a superficial level that does not identify the full scale of the collapse of an imperial order that occurred in China in the nineteenth century.
So, comparisons are drawn between British importers of Opium in 1840s and the flood of fentanyl from China into the United States of America over the last decade. The hawkish analysts highlight the malfeasance or immorality of China trafficking in addiction, but do not question the weakness of American society that led so many Americans to want to use the drug and to partake in its trade.
Other comparisons can be made between elements of the Century of Humiliation. The American commercial elite resembles the Hong Kong merchants of the 1840s seeking to unlock commercial advantages in a complacent confidence that their imperial authority would never be weakened. Is #BlackLives Matter really at its source a millenarian movement of ethno-nationalism challenging a dominant ethnic group, like the Han, similar to the Miao rebellion of 1854 to 1873? Is the unrest and insurrection the beginning of a widespread, devastating civil war – a full spectrum civil war, not only fought as a kinetic war – similar to the Taiping rebellion of 1850-64, driven by radical objectives of social change, a reborn form of religious faith and a charismatic, if delusional, spurned leader in Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez? Is Hilary Clinton the Dowager Empress, never formally in power, and yet through plots, schemes and favourites presiding over an institutional sclerosis of the American Empire?
My knowledge of nineteenth century Chinese history is not strong enough to detail these hypotheses beyond the suggestive. However, it does seem clear that the American Empire and the idea of American Greatness are collapsing. The collapse is engineered by the exploitation by its own and its imperial rivals of the weaknesses of its elites and institutions. The ball has been released from the top of the spiral, and nothing can stop it now.
Image Source: Scene from the Taiping Revolution (1850-64), Regaining the Provincial Capital of Ruizho, created 1886