Thoughts on China by Farzam Arbab
Documents on the Shaykhi, Babi and Baha'i Movements, Vol. 4, No. 1 (July 2000)



Farzam Arbab

Historical Context for Analysis

To begin with, I believe we must examine China's past - both its accomplishments and its shortcomings - in light of the enormous processes of change that are sweeping human society in every land, processes that necessarily will continue to accelerate until humanity has fully entered its age of maturity and a new World Order is established. The modernization of China, a concept so intensely discussed in every circle of that society, also has to be analyzed within the same context. An examination of the past, of course, is most useful if it helps us shape a better future. We are historical beings and must understand our aims and challenges in the context of the forces of history and the direction of historical processes. Yet the past has to be examined dispassionately, as too much emphasis on mistakes and failures invariably has a paralyzing effect. A more essential function of historical analysis is to identify those strengths and accomplishments that can be used as building blocks for future construction and progress. We must be extremely careful not to join forces with those who, ignoring the gross problems of their own societies and exaggerating the importance of their own material achieve1nents, tend to interpret China's adoption of a new direction as an indication of failure. We must entirely focus our attention on the nature of China's future development, which potentially can be unique, precisely due to the sacrifices of the Chinese people and their achievements in the past few decades. Such achievements, which include abolishing long-standing structures of injustice and domination, conquering absolute poverty for one-fifth of the population of the planet, and sweeping aside deeply rooted belief systems based on superstition, have endowed China with the capacity to tread a path of modernization that can lead to material prosperity and at the same time enhance the spiritual life and the culture of its people. Furthermore, as China becomes more and more involved with other nations, it can, through its own example and its concerted efforts to foster world peace, become a most effective participant in the development of a new world civilization. China does not need to follow the same path already trodden by other nations; it can open a new path that will lead it directly to an honored position in a new World Order that China, itself will have helped to build.


The Principles of World Order

One of our first tasks, therefore, will be to put forward for the consideration of the Chinese people those numerous passages from the Writings of the Baha’i Faith that refer to this new World Order and to the historical forces that are inexorably leading to it. The passages that come most immediately to mind include the following by 'Abdu'l-Baha on the significance of the present stage of human development.

"All created things have their degree or stage of maturity. The period of maturity in the life of a tree is the time of its fruit bearing . . .The animal attains a stage of full growth and completeness, and in the human kingdom man reaches his maturity when the light of his intelligence attains its greatest power and development . . . Similarly there are periods and stages in the collective life of humanity. At one time it was passing through its stage of childhood, at another its period of youth, but now it has entered its long predicted phase of maturity, the evidences of which are everywhere apparent . . . That which was applicable to human needs during the early history of the race can neither meet nor satisfy the demands of this day, this period of newness and consummation. Humanity has emerged from its former state of limitation and preliminary training. Man must now become imbued with new virtues and powers, new moral standards, new capacities. New bounties, perfect bestowals, are awaiting and already descending upon him. The gifts and blessings of the period of youth, although timely and sufficient during the adolescence of mankind, are now incapable of meeting the requirements of its maturity." -The World Order of Baha'u'llah, p. 164

Baha’u’llah, Himself, has characterized in unequivocal terms the transformation that human society is to undergo in this age of transition from childhood to maturity:

“The world's equilibrium hath been upset through the vibrating influence of this most great, this new World Order. Mankind's ordered life hath been revolutionized through the agency of this unique, this wondrous System . . .” - Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 136

In another passage, He states emphatically that “Soon will the present-day order be rolled up, and a new one spread out in its stead." (Gleanings from the writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 7)


Shoghi Effendi, in his writings, has amply described both the characteristics of the new World Order and the nature of the organic change that must be brought about in human society. We need to examine China's past and future in light of some of his explanations. Referring to this World Order, in the development of which we feel China must play such an important role, Shoghi Effendi states:

“National rivalries, hatreds, and intrigues will cease, and racial animosity and prejudice will be replaced by racial amity, understanding and cooperation. The causes of religious strife will be completely removed, economic barriers and restrictions will be permanently abolished, and the inordinate distinction between classes will be obliterated. Destitution on the one hand, and gross accumulation of ownership on the other, will disappear. The enormous energy dissipated and wasted on war, whether economic or political, will be consecrated to such ends as will extend the range of human inventions and technical development, to the increase of the productivity of mankind, to the extermination of disease, to the extension of scientific research, to the raising of the standard of physical health, to the sharpening and refinement of the human brain, to the exploitation of the unused and unsuspected resources of the planet, to the prolongation of human life, and to the furtherance of any other agency that can stimulate the intellectual, the moral and spiritual life of the entire human race.” - The World Order of Baha'u'llah, p. 204

Commenting on the processes that must lead humanity to the World Order, he points out:

“As we view the world around us, we are compelled to observe the manifold evidences of that universal fermentation which, in every continent of the globe and in every department of human life, be it religious, social, economic or political, is purging and reshaping humanity in anticipation of the Day when the wholeness of the human race will have been recognized and its unity established. A twofold process, however, can be distinguished, each tending, in its own way and with an accelerated momentum, to bring to a climax the forces that are transforming the face of our planet. The first is essentially an integrating process, while the second is fundamentally disruptive. The former, as it steadily evolves, unfolds a System which may well serve as a pattern for that world polity towards which a strangely disordered world is continually advancing; while the


latter, as its disintegrating influence deepens, tends to tear down, with increasing violence, the antiquated barriers that seek to block humanity's progress towards its destined goal." - The World order of Baha’u’llah, p. 170

The Process of Revolution

What are some of the conclusions we would reach if we analyzed, in light of passages such as these, the recent history of China and, in fact, the entire chain of revolutions that in modern times have sought to destroy prevalent structures of injustice and develop new societies? One immediate conclusion might be that the existence of these statements in the Baha’i Writings should dissuade us from passing hasty judgement on these revolutionary processes. Although Baha'is reject violent solutions to human problems, we are also aware that violence does not begin at the moment of a revolution; rather, it is firmly established in the oppressive systems that precede it and are in the final analysis, the primary causes of the indiscriminate destruction that subsequently sweeps society at all levels. Baha'is are firm believers in the fact that, more often than not, violence breeds violence. But history has also taught us that revolutions by themselves do not guarantee success and that the initial ideals are never achieved in their entirety. Quite often, new tyrannies develop when even highly motivated and idealistic individuals change in the face of opportunities to exercise unlimited power. For some, violence and conflict become a way of life, and the original ideals of a peaceful society are easily forgotten. Yet, the conditions of humanity do change as the result of great upheavals. The American, the French, the Mexican, the Russian, the Chinese, and numerous other revolutions are integral parts of human history, and the sacrifices made towards reaching their ideals cannot be forgotten as we endeavor to build a new World Order. It is possible to argue, of course, that many of the later upheavals in modern history could actually have been avoided. By the middle of the 19th century, significant changes were beginning to occur in the mental structures of the diverse peoples of the world. The great ideals of social justice and freedom were being propagated in most regions. The possibilities of scientific progress, and the effects of new technology, both beneficial and pernicious, could already have been envisaged. And above all, Baha'u'llah's teachings were offering humanity the framework of a different approach to society, thus creating a concrete possibility for rapid transformation to a new order built on the two pillars of unity and justice.


Yet, from the beginning, it was clear to the Baha'is that radical change in the course of human history depended on the will of the rulers of the time to heed Baha'u'llah's warning and follow the prescriptions for the establishment of justice and unity expounded in His teachings. The rulers, of course, chose to continue the path of oppression. The upheavals that have followed, therefore, cannot be analyzed, applauded or rejected in simple terms: they are the natural consequences of historical forces that were unleashed as the result of the choices made by tyrannical rulers and dominant classes, decade after decade. The first result of these upheavals naturally was the destruction of the very systems that opposed the vision of a new World Order. But the utopias hoped for by the leaders of revolutions could not be realized as easily as expected. What is more, in the course of each revolution, the distortion of ideals led to unbearable nightmares that have been causes of great disillusionment. Distorted views, of course, do not persist forever. Invariably, dedicated and courageous souls arise to lead the people to a path of development more in accord with the original ideals of social transformation. However, as change occurs and new lessons are learned from experience, it becomes necessary to go further than correcting distortions, to a re-examination of the concepts and positions that in their time might have appeared obvious, but now have to be reformulated, discarded or replaced. For those revolutions that closely followed the path formulated initially in 19th-century Europe, a most urgent matter is the reconsideration of attitudes towards spirituality and religion. This does not imply that the validity of well-founded criticisms of the organized religions of the time should be questioned. It is simply that the nature of the belief system that must replace superstition and oppressive religious organizations is in dire need of reconsideration.

The New Socia1ist Man and the New Race of Men

One of the basic arguments used historically to justify the sacrifices inherent in revolutionary processes is that, once a new society is created at whatever cost, a new type of human being will emerge: more fraternal, more just, more social minded, and therefore capable of inaugurating a new era in human civilization. That social structures greatly influence human behavior is, of course, an undeniable fact; and the need to incorporate profound structural change in plans of social transformation is clear. But while accepting the inadequacy of ideologies that overemphasize the individual, we must admit that the emergence of a new breed of men is a far more complex matter than revolutionary zeal might initially have indicated. To assume that human beings are mere products of natural and social processes, and therefore, are


entirely determined by the structures of society, is untenable in the light of the experience of the past few decades.

A most crucial question, then, for a country such as the People's Republic of China that has advanced enormously in overcoming structures of dominance and injustice, is how to educate new generations of men and women who will not allow society to stagnate, and will successfully carry it to the next stages of its development. The validity of this statement, of course, would be readily accepted by the majority of those who are concerned with the future of China. But, unfortunately, there is a tendency to reduce the challenges of such an educational process to a few considerations of the characteristics of an economically productive individual - such as efficiency, initiative, and managerial skills, - and to the enumeration of a few desired qualities such as social responsibility, cooperation and courtesy. It is the reduction of the process of the emergence of a new race of man to a few, admittedly important, material and social considerations that China must avoid if it is to demonstrate to the world the great necessity of a new model of modernization.

The Spiritual Foundations of Social and Personal Transformation

The transformation of the individual and of the society are two closely connected processes that must be fostered together as we strive to create a new World Order. It would be totally erroneous, however, to assume that the forces that determine the direction of these two processes are entirely material in nature, and to ignore the supreme necessity of the spiritual forces that, in the final analysis, must control and direct the material means in the unfoldment of civilization. Unfortunately, religion, the mainspring of the spiritual education of humanity, has been so misused in the past that essential religious truths have been questioned by sincere individuals who see in religion yet another instrument for the consolidation and the perpetuation of structures of dominance. But in light of developments of recent decades, should we not reconsider the conclusions reached by materialist thinkers in the past two centuries? Was it warranted to reject religion in its entirety and block away the very inner forces that, when properly guided, lead men to self-sacrifice, solidarity and altruism? To use a simple image, does the undesirability of polluted waters contradict the absolute necessity for clean water for life and for human existence? Rather than trying to construct on the foundations of materialistic ideologies patterns of behavior that in the final analysis are religious, should we not have searched for a religion that defines in a new way such essential concepts as God, spirituality, moral behavior, religious practice, and those inner conditions that lay the foundations of just and productive social and economic relations?


Our purpose, of course, is not to deny the importance of material progress. A rapid process of technological change, widespread participation in the generation and application of science, and a highly accelerated increase of productivity are unquestionable priorities that the Chinese people must address without hesitation. What we are convinced of, however, is that without paying attention to the inner forces of man, without creating an educational system that responds to spiritual aspirations as well as to physical and intellectual needs, China will not be able to establish the desired path of modernization for itself. It is not the religion and the God brought to China by missionaries that we wish to defend. We are simply stating that the challenges of constructing a new China, and beyond that a new World Order, imply the establishment of new moral structures which derive their strength from the power of inner conviction, and are based on a desire to transcend selfish desires and live in harmony with the laws of the universe and the Creative Force that continues to be active in all aspects of its unfoldment. We should often remind ourselves and our friends that our concept of God and morality is far more akin to Chinese thought than to the imagery created by a futile desire, especially in the West, to describe the Unknowable in precise terms.

If productivity, the hope for material comforts, or even the ideal of common prosperity under new social and economic structures, is to constitute the only motivation for the people, how can they be told to reject the modes of production and social organization of those countries that clearly have achieved impressive degrees of material prosperity for their inhabitants? Having recognized that absolute equality cannot be forced on humanity, and that a properly guided desire for personal excellence and growth is essential for an advancing civilization, what educational strategies will China now adopt to prevent the people from rapidly returning to the absolute reign of the profit motive and unbridled individualism? If the spiritual eyes of the masses are not opened to the deeper realities of existence how are they to avoid being lured by the attractions of consumerism? As they come into contact with an aggressive outside world, how are they to struggle against rampant social disintegration, some of the signs of which are enumerated by Shoghi Effendi as: "...the recrudescence of religious intolerance, of racial animosity, and of patriotic arrogance; the increasing evidences of selfishness, of suspicion, of fear and of fraud; the spread of terrorism, of lawlessness, of drunkenness and of crime; the unquenchable thirst for, and the feverish pursuit after, earthly vanities, riches and pleasures; the weakening of family solidarity; the laxity in parental control; the lapse into luxurious indulgence; the irresponsible attitude towards marriage and the consequent rising of divorce: the degeneracy of art and music, the infection of literature, and the corruption of


the press . . .”? How are they to withstand the influence of those “prophets of decadence” who, according to Shoghi Effendi, "would, if given free rein, lead back the human race to barbarism, chaos and ultimate extinction"?

A Call for Consultation and Scholarship

Obviously, the above ideas need to be developed and extended much further through our consultative process, but parallel to that, we can also direct our attention to at least two interrelated tasks. The first, already mentioned above, is to bring to the attention of the Chinese people those passages from the Writings of the Baha'i Faith that delineate the characteristics of a new World Order and the historical processes that must lead to it. The second is to enter into extensive discussions with appropriate Chinese institutions on the content and methods of a process of moral education that responds to the needs of a modernizing China. To this discussion we would have to bring an extensive analysis of topics varying from highly abstract concepts of the nature of man and society to practical ideas on specific human qualities; we would have to describe in detail the way these qualities reinforce and modify each other, and the manner in which they must be fostered through educational processes that appeal to the inherent nobility and dignity of the human being. For this analysis we will draw primarily on numerous passages in the Baha'i writings that deal with these subjects in detail. We will also bring to this collaborative effort the understanding gained during a century and a half of ceaseless efforts to apply these teachings among peoples of every race, nationality and culture. A salient characteristic of this analysis will be the recognition of the inherent difference that exists between a morality based upon self-interest, social pressure, or custom, and one that is motivated by deep religious conviction. Another characteristic will be an appreciation of the great distance that separates the Baha'i concept of morality from antiquated religious views based on personal salvation or the preservation of oppressive political and religious hierarchies. Our treatment of moral structures, while highly spiritual in content and language, will be fundamentally scientific in outlook and concerned with the needs of modern man, who, enlightened by science, is faced with fundamental individual and collective choices that staggering technological advances require him to make. The following quotations from 'Abdu'l-Baha can help inform the analysis we are to undertake.

"God has given us eyes, that we may look about us at the world, and lay hold of whatsoever will further civilization and the arts of living. He has given us ears, that we may hear and profit by the wisdom of scholars and philosophers and


arise to promote and practice it. Senses and faculties have been bestowed upon us, to be devoted to the service of the general good; so that we, distinguished above all other forms of life for perceptiveness and reason, should labor at all times and along all lines, whether the occasion be great or small, ordinary or extraordinary, until all mankind are safely gathered into the impregnable stronghold of knowledge. We should continually be establishing new bases for human happiness and creating and promoting new instrumentalities toward this world. How excellent, how honorable is man if he arises to fulfill his responsibilities; how wretched and contemptible, if he shuts his eyes to the welfare of society and wastes his precious life in pursuing his own selfish interests and personal advantages. Supreme happiness is man's, and he beholds the signs of God in the world and in the human soul, if he urges on the steed of high endeavor in the arena of civilization and justice . . . "

“And this is man's uttermost wretchedness: that he should live inert, apathetic, dull, involved only with his own base appetites .When he is thus, he has his being in the deepest ignorance and savagery, sinking lower than the brute beasts . . .”

“We must now highly resolve to arise and lay hold of all those instrumentalities that promote the peace and well-being and happiness, the knowledge, culture and industry, the dignity, value and station, of the entire human race." The Secret of Divine Civilization, pp. 3-4

"The spiritually learned are lamps of guidance among the nations, and stars of good fortune shining from the horizons of humankind. They are the fountains of life for such as lie in the death of ignorance and unawareness, and clear springs of perfections for those who thirst and wander in the wasteland of their defects and errors . . . The spiritually learned must be characterized by both inward and outward perfections; they must possess a good character, an enlightened nature, a pure intent, as well as intellectual power, brilliance and discernment, intuition, discretion and foresight, temperance, reverence, and a heartfelt fear of God. For an unlit candle, however great in diameter and tall, is no better than a barren palm tree or a pile of dead wood.” The Secret of Divine Civilization, pp. 33-34.


“The first attribute of perfection is learning and the cultural attainments of the mind . . .”

“The second attribute of perfection is justice end impartiality. This means to have no regard for one's own personal benefits and selfish edvantages, end to carry out the laws of God without the slightest concern for enything else. It means to see one's self as only one of the servants of God, the All-Possessing, and except for espiring to spiritual distinction, never attempting to be singled out from the others. It means to consider the welfare of the community es one's own. It means, in brief, to regard humanity es a single individual, and one's own self as a member of that corporeal form, and to know of a certainty that if pain or injury afflicts any members of that body, it must inevitably result in suffering for all the rest. "The third requirement of perfection is to erise with complete sincerity and purity of purpose to educete the massesJ to exert the utmost effort to instruct them in the various branches of learning end useful sciences, to encourage the development of modern progress, to widen the scope of com- merce, industry and the arts, to further such measures es will increase the people's wealth. For the mass of the population is uninformed es to these vital egencies which would consti tute an immediate remedy for society's chronic ills. .,. " -The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 39 "

Other attributes of perfection are to fear God by loving His servants, to exercise mildness and forbearance and calm, to be sincere, amenable, clement and compassionate: to have resolution and courage, trustworthiness and energy, to strive end struggle, to be generous, loyal, without malice, to have zeal and a sense.of honor, to be high minded and magnanimous, and to have regard for the rights of others. Whoever is lacking in these excellent human qualities is defective. If we were to explain the inner meanings of each of these I. .attributes, 'the poem would take up seventy maunds of paper."' -The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 40

MAY 1989

Reprinted November 1991 by the National Chinese Teaching Committee, a committee of the

National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States. [Headings added].

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