Monday, January 5, 2015

Digital Scrapbook Entry #6 - China
Author: NPR Staff
Author: Stephanie Jeffery L. Watkins

Change in Management

          Many governments have grown and fallen since the start of the Agrarian Era, each with their own backgrounds and process. Governments can fall due to internal crisis', external pressures, or simply through social evolution. Governments can be overthrown peacefully through non-violent protests and demonstrations, or violently through revolutionary conflicts and guerrilla tactics. The overthrowing of governments is a way for people to attempt to make their own life better by replacing one existing institution with another, in the hopes that the new system will be better and more beneficial. Revolution can also be a tactic to remove one's enemies through ridding them of their power or status. Revolution and the toppling of governments is a topic which can occur in a number of ways, and cannot be tied to a single reason, nor does it occur in the same way two times. Many people seek to explain revolutions, stating that the social movement of a revolution can spark others in different nations, often citing the French and American revolutions as examples. Usually these "waves" of revolutions can be tied to a concept or ideal which has grabbed hold of its people at the time. The French and American revolutions were both revolutions attempting to create democracies which could replace the current monarchies and grant more rights to the common people. Several other parts of the world have attempted to explain series of revolutions as well.
          One example of a series of revolutions, and possibly the first example of an attempt to explain why revolutions occur, is the idea in Chinese history of the Mandate of Heaven and the Dynastic Cycle. The Mandate of Heaven is a concept which was brought to China by the Zhou dynasty, who overthrew the Shang dynasty, and which is at the center of the Dynastic Cycle and Chinese history. The Zhou, who were a noble family under the Shang, violently overthrew the Shang dynasty, who were currently ruling the Chinese people, and took control of most of Central China. In order to justify their revolution to the people and especially the nobles of China, the Zhou introduced the idea of the Mandate of Heaven. The Mandate of Heaven was the notion that a ruler governed by divine right, a right which was given to them by Tian, or Heaven, who was a god introduced by the Zhou. It also stated that losing to a rebellion proved a ruler had lost their Mandate of Heaven by ruling poorly or displeasing Tian and the gods. The Zhou used this concept to both justify their rebellion while at the same time solidify the legitimacy of current and future rulers. The concept of the Mandate of Heaven took hold in Chinese culture after this, even long after the Zhou dynasty and the worship of Tian. The Mandate of Heaven formed the center stone of the idea of the Dynastic Cycle. The Dynastic Cycle is a concept which the Chinese people used to explain, justify, and increase stability during and after rebellions. The cycle follows three stages, the first, is the stage during which a new dynasty takes over China. This stage is probably the best time in the cycle, as it is characterized by the fact that the new dynasty brings peace, builds infrastructure, grants lands to peasants, and protects the people. This new dynasty has the Mandate of Heaven, after having taken it from the previous dynasty, and so they are blessed by divine rule and peace. The next stage of the cycle occurs several generations after the new dynasty arrives, and is marked by the new dynasty becoming an old dynasty. This old dynasty raises taxes, can't protect its people, doesn't rebuild infrastructure, and is usually marked by extreme class distinctions and social inequality. After this, the dynasty loses the Mandate of Heaven, causing the nation to no longer have divine protection. This is when the problems start, as there are more natural disasters, revolutions, invaders, and bandits than any other point in the cycle. All of this strife leads to unrest and eventually rebellion, which ends in a new dynasty taking control of China and the restart of the cycle. The Mandate of Heaven is a key part to this cycle, and the most likely reason that this concept survived is that later rebellions needed the concept to justify their own rule, causing it to become more and more ingrained into Chinese culture until it became simply a justification for any and all revolutions. This concept and cycle is interesting as it allows for both unhappy peasants to justify their revolutions, and new rulers to keep the peace. In this way, this concept did not develop after the fact as a way for historians to explain revolts, but as a way for current populations to understand and accept revolutions. This idea of a concept being used during revolutions to justify multiple, successive revolutions has continued to the Modern Era.
          A region which has experienced large amount of turmoil during the Modern Era is the Middle East and northern Africa. The nations of these regions are relatively young in their current state, as many of them were created during the Cold War, and in the years directly following WWII. The regimes of these young nations started out as either democratic-republics or parliamentary republics, however over time, due to different factors in each nation, many became equivalent to dictatorships who had characteristics similar to those found during the old dynasty stage of the Dynastic Cycle. The causes for these revolutions have been described as similar across the Arab Spring, as it is called,
stating that most of the protests and rebellions have been against absolute monarchies and dictatorships, as well as violation of human rights and censorship of media. The Arab Spring has been described as a movement that has a goal to install fair and free democratic governments in nations currently ran by unfair dictators. The methods of the participants have varied greatly from nation to nation, from minor protests to full blown civil wars. In this way each revolution in the Arab Spring is different, as they each have different ideas and limits as to how far they will go in order to achieve their goals. Government response to these movements have differed from nation to nation as well. Some nations, such as Bahrain, have experienced police brutality towards non-violent protesters, while others such as Syria have been extremely aggressive. In Syria, the movement started as peaceful protests about freedom and the release of political prisoners. The Syrian regime at that time however, started to crack down on protesters, moving in the military to arrest and break up protests. This situation escalated until reaching the point of being a full civil war.
          The Arab Spring is a broad term for different movements in an attempt to explain and categorize the revolutions happening at around the same time in that area. It is, however, not a justification for these revolutions, unlike the Mandate of Heaven and the Dynastic Cycle. This is what makes the Mandate of Heaven so unique, is that it isn't an attempt to just explain the revolutions, but instead a tool and spark for the revolutions. The Arab Spring and Dynastic Cycle differ in several other ways as well. The Arab Spring is an attempt to change the form of government within the nations that the movement is occurring, while the Dynastic Cycle is a cycle which creates a government system that is more or less the same as before, just with different rulers and possibly different philosophies. The Dynastic Cycle is a cycle for this reason, because inevitably a hereditary system will create a poor leader who will cause the populous and nobles to revolt. The Arab Spring, on the other hand, wishes to create a new system which will cause their to be no need for future revolutions. The Arab Spring is also a term which is used for different types of protests and movements, as there have been peaceful and violent revolutions. The Dynastic Cycle, however, is a cycle specifically built around the idea that out of the ashes of a violent civil war, the winner shall have proven their possession of the Mandate of Heaven, and their divine right to rule all of China. The Dynastic Cycle is also centered around religion, as the Mandate of Heaven is a concept based around divine rule, while the Arab Spring is a concept based around freedom and human rights. The differences between these two attempts to explain revolutions shows historians can and will attempt to explain revolutions, as well as the people who live during them, however inevitably revolutions differ from each nation. There is no universal explanation for all revolution, and in order to understand the social complications behind a revolution, the unique situation and facts must be analyzed. This is an important fact for current leaders to realize, as they cannot fix civil unrest and prevent a revolution with a fix-all solution, and that they must attempt to find the background to their specific issues.

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