Of the world’s many great civilizations throughout history, few have generated the same amount of fascination as China. Among the reasons for Sinophilia are a history spanning over four thousand years, a rich culture and literary tradition, and a track record of great innovations in science, technology, philosophy, and many other intellectual pursuits.
Despite China’s rightful recognition for its achievements, few recognize that from 1368 until 1644, the ruling Ming Dynasty implemented what can be considered an early form of a political system that the world would not see again for several centuries. This political system, which most people would argue originated in Italy, is fascism.
Since the Second World War, the word “fascism” has developed highly negative connotations for understandable reasons, losing its original meaning in the process. In common parlance, the word is now usually used as a synonym for “authoritarian” or as an epithet to refer to political ideas or views that are at odds with those of the speaker. This colloquial definition of fascism is not the one that I will use for this series of posts. Rather, I will use a more academic definition based on characteristics of the political ideology embraced by and imposed on Italy under Benito Mussolini and such similar societies as Spain under Francisco Franco and Germany under Adolf Hitler.
By applying the commonalities of these societies to China under the Ming, I define fascism as “a political system distinguished by an emphasis on patriarchal, rural values; corporatist economic policy; extreme nationalism and patriotism, often involving extreme xenophobia and/or racism; and militant authoritarianism in both domestic and foreign affairs.” Each future post in this series will discuss one of these four criteria and how the political system of China under the Ming Dynasty wasn’t much different from that of many European nations in the twentieth century.