East is East and West is West

Editorial note: If you have not yet read our mission statement above, please do so in order that you can put our blogs in context. 

8 November 2012

Il y a aujourd’hui sur la terre deux grands peoples qui, partis de points différents, semblent s’avançer vers le même but: ce sont les Russes et les Anglo-Américains….leur point de départ est différent, leurs voies sont diverses: néanmoins chacun d’eux semble appelé par un dessein secret de la Providence à tenir un jour dans ses mains les destinées de la moitié du monde.

There are, at the present time, two great nations in the world, which seem to tend towards the same end, although they started from different points; I allude to the Russians and the Americans….Their starting point is different, and their courses are not the same; yet each of them seems to be marked out by the will of Heaven to sway the destinies of half the globe.

This is an excerpt from “De la démocratie en Amérique” by French historian and politician Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859). It is taken from page 431 of volume 1 of the 1951 text edited by J.P.Mayer. The translation is an 1841 version by H. Reeve. De Tocqueville was briefly French Foreign Minister in 1849. The book was much quoted at the time by advocates of political liberalism.


At the time that de Tocqueville’s text was published (volume 1 in 1835 and volume 2 in 1840), Russia was the rising power in the East, China the sick man of the Orient. Today the relative significance of these two powers is reversed so that the text makes more sense, in a contemporary context, if one replaces “Russians” by “Chinese”.

That being so, it seems appropriate to recall de Tocqueville’s words on a day – a mere 30 hours after the election of the next American President and the US House of Representatives – on which the 18th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (founded in 1921) opens in Peking to rubber-stamp the party hierarchy’s nomination of the next generation of leaders at the apex of the dictatorship’s top political organs, the party apparatus (Central Committee, Poltiburo and Standing Committee) that wields supreme authority in the state and to which the Government is subordinate.

A blogger from the central Chinese city of Wuhan, commenting on the dramatic contrast between the passage of political power in these two mega-states, makes the following point on the Chinese microblog Weibo:

American election: you only find out at the last minute that Barack Obama has won and, what is more, that he has been congratulated on his win by the loser Mitt Romney. Chinese election: a year before the election, everyone knows who is going to win and who has lost, the family of the loser being thrown into prison.

The reference is to Xi Jinping, long time the anointed  successor to the incumbent Hu Jintao as the next President of China, and to the former party boss in the southwest Chinese megalopolis of Chongqing, Bo Xilai, Xi Jinping’s rival. A rising star in the party firmament until his wife was found guilty of ordering the murder of a British businessman, Bo Xilai was recently accused of corruption and expelled from the party. Since then he has disappeared from public view.

Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,

Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat…


These are the  opening lines of “The Ballad of East and West” published in 1889 by the English author Rudyard Kipling  (1865-1936). Born in Bombay (now Mumbai), Kipling was a short-story writer, poet and novelist, much of whose work relates to India, then part of the British Empire.


 You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts.  For instance:

1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)

2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)

3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)

4. Capitalism in practice  (4 July 2012) 

5.Ladder  (21 June 2012)

 6. A tale of two cities (1)  (6 June 2012)

 7. A tale of two cities (2)  (7 June 2012)

 8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)

Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.


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