盛世 Shengshi, the Prosperous Age, in the Chinese Media Selections from the CIW-Danwei Online Archive
In July 2010, at the time of the establishment of the Australian Centre on China in the World (CIW), the Centre formalized a relationship with the Beijing-based Danwei Media Group. The CIW-Danwei collaboration is aimed at archiving web-based materials related to the research themes, priorities and interests of CIW academics. Developed on an intranet site, the CIW-Danwei Online Archive is building a research resource for general use. The following is a small selection of materials from the archive aggregated around the theme of 'shengshi' 盛世. This is a draft selection and further refinements will be introduced to make the material searchable by keyword and theme. My thanks to Jeremy Goldkorn, Joel Martinsen and colleagues at Danwei for their work.—Geremie R. Barmé, Director, CIW
Shengshi, which connotes China's glorious past and its new prosperity, has become a pet phrase for the state media, patriotic thugs (aiguoze 爱国贼) and advertisers who want to cash in on people's nationalist pride. Critics however dismiss the idea as a false effort to burnish the government's image. Below is a representative selection of uses of the term. Each article is summarized in English together with a link to the source and the original text.
22 May 2008
The author contends that the 'prosperity' of the Kangxi and Qianlong reigns had more to do with the introduction of new crops such as sweet potato than good governance. In fact, even the prosperity is questionable because technological progress was frozen and commerce and industry were stagnant.
14 March 2009
The Chinese phrase '一盘大棋' literally meaning 'a game of chess', is often used to refer to the high level of coordination and planning in Chinese government's policy making. In this article, the writer questions the validity of 'a game of chess' assumption, calling it 'opium' and 'illusion'. Worth noting is that the author lists a few occasions that the phrase 'shengshi' was used: at the CCTV Spring Festival gala in 2005, the dance performances was called '盛世大联欢'; in 2007 during his visit to mainland China, Taiwanese writer Li Ao gave a speech at Tsinghua University stating that China was experiencing its first shengshi since Tang Dynasty.
18 June 2009
The author contends that apocalyptic turmoil is the prerequisite of any shengshi. Without the total wrecking of Ming Empire, there would never be what was called Kang-Qian shengshi. Therefore, shengshi is not as many people imagine and doesn't represent an ideal; it is rather a natural state after a major disaster.
25 June 2009
'Writing history during a prosperous age' or '盛世修史' is another concept that has recently been revived. This theory affirms that when the country is stable and prosperous, the government should commit more resources to compiling history books. Which is maybe why today's market is awash with low-quality history books ridden with mistakes. One example is a book entitled China General History, in which the author mixes large amounts of fictional details ripped off from novels such as 'Legend of Three Kingdoms'.
6 August 2009
Yan Chongnian is a historian specializing in Qing Dynasty studies. His openly-expressed admiration for the Manchu emperors has made him a unpopular figure among Han nationalists, who tend to blame every problem China faces on what they believe to be three hundred of years of barbarian rule. The article's title is telling enough: Good News! Yan Chongnian's paper 'Kang-Qian shengshi' was rejected abroad.
16 May 2008
In the same vein as the above, the writer of this article aims to expose the myth of Kang-Qian shengshi.
2 September 2009
shengshi is often paired with another catchphrase 强国 (strong country). In this article entitled 'Shadow behind shengshi—the so-called China strong country theory', the writer lists a number of social issues: inefficient government, low innovation ability, and concludes that China is neither a 'shengshi' nor a strong country.
6 September 2009
To commemorate the 30th anniversary of China's Reform and Openning-up, China Enterprise, a business magazine, published an article entitled Focus on a rising shengshi China. The essay, which applauds China's rise in ostentatious prose, is more of a paean of praise for the Communist Party than anything else.
1 October 2009
Xie Baisan is a professor of finance at Fudan University known for his pro-establishment attitudes and bullish outlook on the Chinese stock markets. In this article, Xie contends that China has just entered its fifth shengshi, which will result in centuries of market boom. Despite Xie's uplifting predictions, the Chinese stock market remained sluggish in 2010.
10. 盛世盛典 全球瞩目
3 October 2009
The 60th anniversary military parade gave birth to a new phrase: 'the triumphant ceremony of a prosperous age' (shengshi shengdian 盛世盛典).
11. 60年：軟硬實力比翼齊長- 香港文匯報
5 October 2009
In this article punished in Wen Wei Po, the author says that based on the rule that all the major shengshi happened fifty to one hundred years after the establishment of a new dynasty, Communist China, sixty years after its founding, has reached a shengshi on its own right. The writer also points out that the latest shengshi, unlike its short-living feudal predecessors, is based on modern democracy and social harmony, is unique and will be long-lasting.
10 October 2009
A stone statue called 'seal of auspicious cloud and happy and harmonious shengshi' (祥云如意和谐盛世玺) was unveiled in Beijing's Chaoyang Park in October, 2009. The statue was donated by an overseas Chinese.
28 December 2009
A 120 meter-long Chinese painting scroll entitled 'Portrait of Chinese harmonious shengshi' was unveiled at Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
13. 少些 '盛世'宣传 多点忧患意识--中国共产党新闻--中国共产党新闻-人民网
23 December 2009
In this opinion piece published on a website called CPC News, the author argues that China today is by no mean enjoying shengshi, noting that 'even President Hu Jintao's admitted that China's 'productivity level is still low, innovation power is still weak''.
The author calls for 'more honest self-examination; less shengshi hype' when it comes to assessing the accomplishment of the thirty years of Reform and Opening Up. The author also points out that some government officials are trying to use 'shengshi' to distract people' attention away from more serious problems.
27 January 2010
Wu Xiaobo is a finance writer. In a micro-blog message, Wu stated: in today's China, everyone is hurt and deprived, and feels like losers. Government officials are failures, entrepreneurs are failures, intellectuals are failures... this is a shengshi full of frustrations.
15. 五谈创建和谐盛世 - 吴宗熿 - 吴宗熿 - 专家博客 - 中国网
29 February 2010
Old words such as communism or realm of freedom are obsolete. Wu Zenghuang, a Marxist theorist, would rather replace them with the new catchphrase 'harmonious shengshi' (和谐盛世).
17 March 2010
Prosperity being a relative term, it is hard to argue that any particular time in China has been a shengshi without comparing it to the other countries of the same time. That is probably why it remains a controversy that China under the reigns of Kang Xi Emperor and Qian Long Emperor was a shengshi: despite the relative stability and growth of population, for the first time in centuries, China lagged behind its European peers in a variety of areas and began its slow decline.
The writer reviews the political / economical conditions of China of that time, quoting extensively from accounts of the McCartney delegation members who visited China in 1793, and concludes that Kang Qian shengshi is way overrated.
27 June 2010
In this article, the author agues that China's 'harmonious shengshi' is not even as good as its feudal predecessors.
Also: Another article written by the same author entitled: 'Too Fucking shengshi, Too Fucking Harmonious'
18. '盛世美学'的反思 - 专题策划 - 同舟共进
1 September 2010
Wang Xiaoyu is a professor at Tongji University. In his 'Reflections on shengshi Aesthetics', Wang contends that China's anxiety caused by its lack of soft power has contributed to the popularity of the so-called shengshi aesthetics. A typical embodiment of this shengshi aesthetics is the extravagant and ceremonious events such as Olympic Games and natural disaster relief galas; both create an illusion of unity and prosperity.
5 January 2008
In 2007, Zhou Zhenglong, a peasant from Zhenping County, Shaanxi Province claimed that he had photographed a South China Tiger, a tiger sub-species believed to be extinct in the wild. The claim, which was disputed by netizens, was backed by the local government. The county mayor stated on China Central Television that the tiger was an auspicious indictive of China's prosperity as well as a symbol of China's power and strength.
20. 中国 '最坏的盛世'
24 October 2010 (originally published on 15 April 2010)
The writer questions the validity of calling the present-day China shengshi on grounds of its economic achievement. According to the author, whether China qualifies to be a shengshi depends what contribution it makes to the world, and the amount of happiness that its average citizens enjoy. The writer says that is China is a shengshi, then it most be the worst one in history.
24 October 2010
The Chinese government is often criticized for taking the lion's share of the national wealth, which leads to 'Rich government and poor people' ('国富民穷'). In this article, the writer affirms that to switch the priority from the enriching the government to the enhancing the well being of people is a key to 'harmonious shengshi'.
9 November 2010
One paradox about China is that while the country is purportedly at its best time, but the people have never been so eager to leave this country. This phenomenon is termed as 'shengshi immigration' (盛世移民).
'Walk towards a harmonious shengshi' was sung at China Education Channel's Spring Festival Gala 2009
Related news report in 2007: Popular political singer Song Zuying singing 'Walk towards a harmonious shengshi'
24 May 2010
CCTV's TV series about the 'golden epoch' of the Han Dynasty under Han Wu Emperor has inspired debates. In this article, the author sums up the characteristics of the Han Wu shengshi, affirming that political reform, especially a sound talent screening system is the key to the prosperity.
27 April 2011
In April, Hu Deping 胡德平, son of former Chinese leader Hu Yaobang had an interview with China Youth Daily. Mr. Hu said he believe it is to early to call the current China as a '太平盛世' as China is at a stage marked by many conflicts erupting unexpectedly and to solve the situation, China need to carry on its reform even further. Explaining the nature of reform and opening-up, He said the most important thing is to let the people be able to accumulate wealth and live an affluent life.
26. 巴蜀鬼才发'浮世'危言：勿忘忧患 缓称盛世
20 May 2011
Wei Minglun, well-known Chinese writer and member of CPPCC's national committee, said that the Chinese people need to keep their sense of crisis and hold off celebrating for having a 'shengshi'. Mr. Wei made the above statement on the third anniversary of massive earthquake in Wenchuan in 2008. According to the article, Wei openly objected the use of shengshi at a CPPCC session a few years ago.
Related material from this issue of China Heritage Quarterly: