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China’s Involution: Origin


Chinese traditional culture contains a deep competitive factor, such as the hope that the son will become a dragon, jade tree Yingdi, fame or death, and other expressions. Out of all ideologies, Confucianism generates the most amount of those ideas. Therefore, it can be said that Confucianism occupies a pivotal position in traditional Chinese culture. Although Confucianism emphasizes the concept of harmony, it also fully embraces the idea of competition. 

An ancient book, Zhou Yi said, “Heaven is healthy, and the gentleman will not rest until he is strong.” Moreover, Confucius claimed openly in one of his lectures, “I am the only one who can accept what the people do not accept, and I am the only one who can.” Xunzi said, “We are born with desires, and if we cannot have desires, we cannot have no demands, and if we have no measure and division, we cannot not fight.”

In the value system of Confucianism, there are phenomena such as dissimilarity and incompatibility, and there is competition, but it is believed that only competition for the sake of harmony and friendliness has value legitimacy, which basically forms the concept of competition with morality as the core.

Limited Resources

Competition is essentially the confrontation of organisms for scarce or limited storage resources, which contains both competition between different species for survival resources and competition between different individuals and groups within the same race for survival resources. The Austrian ecologist Lorenz says that Darwin’s term “competition for survival” is sometimes misunderstood as competition between different species. In fact, what Darwin meant by competition and competition-induced evolution exists between close relatives. It is never the enemy that directly threatens the survival of a species, but the competitor that preys on it.

Competition is prevalent, and the phenomenon is extremely complex in Chinese societies. The huge scale of social organization, the high level of development of production and technology, the variety of ways of competition and the emergence of money, etc., make human competition more intense and more brutal, not only for survival, to satisfy themselves and take possession of resources, but also for their families to thrive. 

In my research on this point, I found out that Chinese students are ordered and disciplined just like Roman soldiers, which I will call the “battalion commander phenomenon”. The history of the Roman legions is the history of Rome’s continuous expansion and conquest. After Marius’ military reform, Roman soldiers were paid a fixed salary according to their rank, had better medical and logistical support, and were given a piece of land by the state after they were discharged, which should have solved the problem of survival resources. But why did the soldiers obtain a higher rank? It was because of the concern about the uncertainty of survival resources. Because if they die in a battle tomorrow, all the resources they have acquired will be reduced to nothing. To ensure survival, soldiers need to be promoted through combat and performance (competition) to positions that do not require direct physical combat, and the battalion commander is one such position. The higher the rank, the greater the security, and this is the “battalion chief phenomenon”. 

This phenomenon is also adapted to today’s society. China has the seventh most inequal economy in the world, with the highest Gini Index among all nations since 2020. With the wealth concentrated in less than 1% of China’s merchants, the rest of China’s society must rely upon the trickle-down effect to maintain basic necessities of survival. Therefore, fierce competition occurs as the rest 99% of China’s population competes for the remaining resources and means of production. 

What’s Enough of “Competition”?

The Olympic spirit of “higher, faster, stronger” is an incisive summary of this mentality, which undeniably has a positive effect on social development. The great development of Chinese society, the increase of economy, technological progress and the improvement of social system, is largely due to the enthusiasm stimulated by the competitive mentality. Competition stimulates individual initiative and motivation, stimulates human growth, stimulates human potential, and promotes the continuous progress of all kinds of people. Competition encourages innovation and creativity. In competition, enterprises take advantage of their strengths and weaknesses, create new products, update production technology, strengthen management, break monopolies, promote the continuous development of science and technology, and promote a vibrant society.

On the contrary, if society is in a state of under-competition, the problem is obvious, all kinds of personnel in the lack of pressure, the state of twilight, learning, work lack of motivation, like to “lie flat”, lack of innovation, hinder social progress, social development will be stagnant.

To sum up, moderate competition psychology will promote economic and social development, over and under competition are not conducive to human survival and social development.

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