I’ve been trying to check out articles from one of China’s most famous (and liberal) journals lately, called《南方周末》, based in Guangzhou. The photograph above was featured in a news story I read yesterday, which discussed an international peace conference held at Tsing-hua University earlier this month. The meeting is the first of its kind to be hosted by China and marks an important development in China’s effort to secure international peace.
The article summarized China’s emphasis on supporting global harmony while acknowledging the marked differences between the East and West. What I found most fascinating, however, was a quote from a graduate student of the National University of Singapore’s East Asian Studies program, which concluded the article by stating, “Western culture is like chess–it’s a zero-sum game; Chinese culture, in contrast, is like “Go”–it’s a win-win game. Chinese culture is the world’s only secular culture– it is inclusive, which makes China’s understanding of international relations different from that of Western countries. Chinese people emphasize harmony; they have a tradition of peace.” ( 西方文化是象棋文化，是一种零和游戏；中国文化是围棋文化，相对而言是双赢游戏。“中国文化在世界上是唯一的世俗文化，有一种包容性，使得中国人对国际关系的理解不同与美国等西方国家不同，中国人非常强调和谐，有和平的传统。” http://www.infzm.com/content/78406)
There is typically only one winner in “Go”, which makes it difficult to describe it as a “win-win” game. Still, the student’s analogy is useful in understanding the difference in strategy and approach to conflict between China and Western nations. In “Go”, one’s objective is to claim as much territory as possible, while never directly “attacking” one’s opponent (although one can capture another’s territory by surrounding it). Thus, in “Go”, one is focused primarily on improving oneself–on expanding one’s territory. In contrast, the goal of chess is to eliminate one’s opponent completely–to capture their army and crown.
From the perspective of many Western countries (as evidenced by articles in the New York Times, the Economist, and the Wall Street Journal), China’s economic rise to power illustrates its desire to be the next world superpower–to replace the current position of the United States. If Western culture is like chess, as the Singapore graduate student suggested, the West would assume that China’s goal in international relations is to eliminate its opponent completely. One glance at the headlines of the New York Times would prove that this assumption does exist in the West– that is, we fear China’s rise and see it as a direct threat to our power.
But now let’s consider the situation from China’s perspective. If we continue using the student’s analogy (which has proved reasonably accurate thus far), it’s possible to conclude that China’s goal in economic growth and territorial expansion is pursued benignly or in a relatively non-confrontational manner. If Chinese culture is like “Go”, China will be more interested in improving its own position than in directly threatening the position of its opponent. Of course, in the process of expanding its territory and influence, China will undoubtedly come into contact with its opponent, and may even “capture” its opponent’s territories merely by default of its own vast expansion. But in the end, the mind-set and overall strategy required in “Go”–Chinese culture– is less confrontational and more self-reflective than that in chess– Western culture.
Bottom line: Acknowledging fundamental differences between the perspectives of the East and West is critical in securing future international peace. If we want to accurately predict the actions of our “opponent”, we need to first recognize that we’re currently playing two entirely different games.