How China Can Help Create the Shift to a Peaceful, Sustainable, Healthy, and Prosperous World

By Stephen Dinan, Founder of The Shift Network

The great challenge and opportunity of our day is to upgrade the operating system of planet earth so that we can live in a peaceful, healthy, sustainable, and prosperous way during a truly global era. The growth into a global operating system will require a new kind of global consciousness and a stronger sense of global citizenship.

We are accustomed to thinking about the globalization of the economy and the Internet, but it is also true of consciousness: we are beginning to think, act, and feel like one global village and treat our fellow humans around the world as brothers and sisters rather than “foreigners.” We are unifying at the level of mind and, more subtly, at the level of our hearts.

In The Shift Network, my company that serves 250,000 worldwide, we talk about this upgrade to our collective operating system as the Shift, which requires both inner and outer evolution, working in concert. Just as we green our economy, we are simultaneously greening our hearts as we begin to care for species besides our own. As we link our telecommunications, we are simultaneously linking our minds as we take on the perspective of other people.

The end result is that we’re beginning to have the first glimmers of what philosophers and spiritual teachers around the world have long reported: there is a oneness at our core. This global oneness is beautifully evident when seeing our world from space, hanging against the backdrop of a vast darkness. We are one indivisible Whole. On this precious pearl of a planet, we are interconnected in ways that we are just barely beginning to understand.

The Shift amounts to making evident what is already true and building a new world accordingly.

While the Shift to a global era is inevitable in certain ways, it is a perilous transition in others. As we gain greater power to create, we gain greater power to destroy as well; virtually all our ecosystems are strained to the point of collapse and the statistics show us precariously close to a point of no return.

I believe, however, that we are not going to choose the path of self-destruction but the path of evolution to a new era. I believe that this is the decade in which we begin to make that Great Turning and that by 2050 we will be at the point of inevitability in creating this new era, which has sometimes been imagined as heaven on earth.

Why heaven on earth? Because it’s a dream that has been long held in our collective imagination: a time of peace, sustainability, health, and prosperity. It’s a natural result of our aspirations for a better life. It’s a natural extension of our yearnings to not leave behind a forsaken and denuded planet but a radiant gem for our children and grandchildren and their grandchildren beyond them. It unites our aspirations to make this world the place of our dreams.

So if we’re to make this great Shift real over the coming decades, how do we do so? And what role do different cultures have to play in this Shift?

While I could talk about many cultures’ unique gifts to the Shift, the focus of my presentation today is China. China has a unique, even essential, leadership role to play in this upgrade, building upon its heritage, philosophy, health practices, culture, and economy, especially acting as a evolutionary counterbalance to the West.

For the rest of this talk, I will offer a broad overview of insights and strategies for how the unique strengths of China can help to both advance and stabilize the Shift of the larger world. I am not an expert on China and please forgive me for any inaccuracies; my goal is to simply paint the broad brushstrokes and allow others with greater expertise to flesh out the details.

Chinese culture has a vast root system to draw from in supporting our global cultural evolution. Its understanding of civilization draws from 5000 years of growth and experimentation, a considerable body of wisdom. Similarly, its medical traditions pre-date Western medicine and its understanding of the role of subtle energy or Qi in our lives is much more sophisticated than anywhere else. Furthermore, China will have, within a decade, the largest economy in the world and a leadership role in many of the clean technologies we need to make the shift to sustainability real.

By consciously choosing to lead the way into a new, global era, China can bring more prosperity to its people and receive great respect on the global stage. The more “mature” economies of the world have too often become stagnant or stuck in political polarizations. They are responding to the next business or political cycle and are often not able to take a 50 or 100-year view of what is good for their peoples or the world. China is uniquely positioned to do so by virtue of its governing council, long history, and a philosophy that values patience.

China can be seen as a natural balancer of some of the excesses that have led to an unsustainable path for much of the West. To use traditional Chinese terminologies, the West has developed an excess of yang energy – driven, grasping, assertive, impatient, masculine.

China has naturally taken on some of these qualities as its economy has grown but there remains at the core a much deeper appreciation for yin qualities as the necessary and vital balancer. Whereas Western philosophy tends to focus on the individual and personal freedom, Chinese culture tends to balance that sentiment more with the good of the collective and the importance of stability to the society. 

Indeed, the very yin-yang symbol itself is a perfect expression of the masculine-feminine, right-brain/left-brain balance that is at the foundation of cocreating a new possibility in our world.

By itself, Western culture can lead to excessive focus on the individual, which then promotes imbalances such as social unrest, gun violence, and loneliness. It also promotes excessive spending versus saving in the ever-acquisitive drive for more. When unchecked, it can also lead the culture as a whole to be less healthy, more stressed, and hyper-masculine rather than masculine-feminine balanced.

Traditional Chinese medicine focuses on the flow and harmonization of Qi in the body through meridians, which is a subtle but effective way of producing health and healing. Similar principles can be applied on the cultural body – often it is through the subtle rebalancing of the energies of a system that health is created.

On a planetary scale, the emergence of China as an economic equal to America can be seen through the lens of restoring the yin-yang balance on the planet. It’s also an effective rebalancing of excessive “fire” elements within the body of planet earth, which the more militaristic and polarizing culture of the West has sometimes fostered.

By offering more grounded, patient, receptive qualities that include more water and earth elements and that prioritize the social good, China can help to create systemic balance and health. If we think of the planet as having something like collective qi meridians, it’s vital that a culture as large and influential as China is helping to bring balance and health into the system as a whole.

Let me give an example of a philosophy that can help balance. Wu wei is a wonderful Taoist phrase that is often translated as “non-doing” but is really about blending with the natural flow of life rather than fighting it. This philosophy has a more watery quality, often likened to the flow of water around stones in a river rather than trying to hammer through them. It’s about blending, flowing, and harmonizing. China’s historical strengths have come from this kind of core philosophy of blending and harnessing energy rather than using force and will power alone.

China’s spiritual philosophies can be seen as very pragmatic and grounded rather than otherworldly or transcendental. They are often focused on the health and wellbeing of the individual and the wholeness of the society. At this level, they offer a counterbalance to the transcendentalism of India, for example, or the excess materialism of the West.

Some of these more aspirational values may not be as prominent right now as China goes through its accelerated growth spurt into becoming a mature economy, which has required a fiery drive that is more akin to the West. However, I believe its historical strengths and ancient wisdom will increasingly come to the foreground as more people achieve material sufficiency in the decades ahead.

What has happened in America is a natural shift to more economic activity in higher spheres as our cultural evolution has proceeded. One hundred years ago, most people worked in agriculture or industry and very few people were employed in the knowledge economy and almost none in what I call the “transformation economy,” which is in the business of ongoing growth, creativity, and expanded experience.  Today, that equation has reversed, with a solid majority of people in knowledge or service sector industries and a burgeoning economy of people focused on adult education, coaching, personal growth, yoga, bodywork, healing, and massage.

To use Abraham Maslow’s famous self-actualization pyramid, as the economy gets more efficient at dealing with lower physiological needs, we move more of our attention to higher self-actualization needs.

China is going through a similar shift in its economic foundation, moving from a primarily agriculture economy into industrial manufacturing and into the information economy in the last 50 years. The future will likely reveal an increasing expansion of what I am calling the “transformation economy” – people who are helping others to grow and achieve their full potential. I believe that is why books such as Chicken Soup for the Soul have received a massive readership here – I’ve heard upwards of 300 million copies. Books like this speak to our aspiration for growth of the soul and the higher expression of our individual and social potential.

As China’s economy moves into first place globally by around 2020 and more people transition into the middle class, there will be a growth of this evolutionary impulse –likely it will generate both interest in other world philosophies but also an increasing sophistication in relationship to traditional Chinese philosophies and practices from Taoism to Tai chi and traditional martial arts.

In other words, as China’s economy matures, it will naturally expand its human potential sector, which in turn influences the entire culture. This is a good thing if fully embraced as it will create more enlightened, healthy, peaceful, and prosperous people who are more creative in their work. It will be an especially good thing to have cultural exchange between the deep historical traditions of China and the emerging technologies of human growth from the West and other countries.

China can then emerge as a pioneer of a philosophical and spiritual culture that is more whole, balanced, and grounded than much of what we have today. So that is some of what I see on the more philosophical and spiritual level in the decades ahead – a growing Chinese human potential movement that helps to balance the energies and philosophies of the rest of the planet, much as acupuncture needles do with an individual’s energies.

Now I want to discuss what I see as the four foundational pillars of the new global era ahead: peace, sustainability, health, and prosperity. They are all ultimately pre-requisites for a thriving world.

Let’s begin with peace. One of the truisms around peace is that it begins in each of our hearts: we create peace in the world through peace in ourselves. So technologies that help us to produce and enhance peace in our hearts will eventually translate to greater peace in the world. However, it goes deeper than just our hearts; it’s our whole body-minds that need to be in a state of harmony. Many methods to create inner peace look at only the mind or emotions and neglect the subtler flows of energy.

This is one area where the Chinese capacity for research and development and focused programs for achievement could be fruitfully applied, drawing upon the widespread practice of qi-harmonizing activities from Chinese medicine to tai chi.

What if the Chinese were to launch an Inner Peace Program that trains emissaries and teachers of the principles of whole-systems peace, from our bodies to our minds to our society? This could be applied in schools and universities, tested scientifically and contribute real advancements in our global knowledge for how to create peace in our world.

There’s even a promising body of scientific work by groups such as Transcendental Meditation that shows collective crime reduction effects when a group of meditators creates a coherent “field” effect. What could be done with simultaneous practitioners of tai chi or qi gong for instance, focused on sending peaceful energy into the world during times of crisis or trauma? The science involved could lead to fascinating discoveries.

China has a long history with martial arts, which originally evolved as preparation for warriors to do battle and eventually became practices for the cultivation of higher potential. The martial ideal grew into the ideal of the peaceful warrior and the general population benefited through the popularization of techniques like Tai Chi or Qi Gong that used the energy-circulating practices for personal health. The ancient insights from war can thus eventually be consecrated to peace.

Long-term, a commitment to piloting new programs for personal and social peace could create enhanced social harmony and be cheaper than a military approach to creating peace, which is currently breaking the budget of America’s government.

As a yang-imbalanced society, America spends an excessive amount of its GDP on the military, a percentage that is sapping its economic strength in other arenas. China has a choice of whether to emulate this path and eventually face the same economy-draining imbalances from the military or whether to pursue a path in which personal and social peace is in the foreground, allowing it to focus more of its resources on the education and improvement of quality of life for its citizens.

It could eventually become a real exporter of the understanding for how to create personal peace in one’s own being, with people coming from around the world to train in Chinese methodologies. What if China devoted the same kind of focused attention that its Olympic sports programs receive to developing the training regimens necessary to create vibrant health, well-being, and peace in individuals? By advancing the science and practice of personal peace – and showing the benefits for the society as a whole – China could become an exporter of peace around the world, thereby winning great respect and trust.

Health: Another area where China stands to play a global shift leadership role is in the evolution of integral health care. Western medicine is adept at treating emergencies but often poor at dealing with systemic health issues: most doctors receive only basic training in nutrition, for example, and virtually nothing in practices like meditation or working with subtle energy. The end result is a health system that is very expensive and not very effective in creating real health.

The emergent integral model for health needs to combine the best of the Western technological medicine with the best of Chinese and Eastern medicine, which has much more sophistication around low-tech, energy-based and mind-based interventions. As more of this research becomes systematized, there is the opportunity for Chinese medical facilities to offer best-in-class care for medical tourists from around the world as well as be a training ground for practitioners. Again, in this arena, the Chinese culture’s focus on practical results can be a plus, allowing an integration of many schools that often have a more ideological bent.

Acupuncture is the only Chinese modality that has really achieved penetration and scientific study within Western medicine but I am sure more will follow, especially as more good science is completed. The opportunity for China is to become the world pioneer in creating truly affordable, effective, integrative health care for the new millennium so that we can have a healthy global population, which is itself a precondition for sustainability and slowing population growth. As that happens, China’s medical system will become the envy of the world and will be the premiere place to receive training.

Sustainability: The focus of this year’s World Cultural Forum is the transition to a sustainable world, with good reason: we don’t have a lot of time left. Clearly China’s work at the forefront of the solar and clean tech industries is helping to lead the way to the shift to a new energy foundation. However, what if China were to make an explicit commitment to lead the way forward with the kind of bold goal that only China can accomplish: 50% of all energy used in China to come from solar by the year 2050. In this way, it would become not only the largest economy in the world but the first truly solar economy, thereby paving the way to undisputed leadership in the new era.

The switch over to solar-based energy versus carbon-based energy will be a laborious process, requiring a vast turnover in infrastructure from power stations to buildings to cars. In the West, it is often blocked by special interest lobbying groups that profit from the carbon economy. If China leads the way not only in the production but the consumption of solar and the redesign of social systems, the economies of scale will eventually lead these technologies to be cheaper than existing carbon-based energy technologies. Once China has built a fully solar-powered economy, it will be able to live in a more sustainable way at a greater level of prosperity as well as outcompete the rest of the world in efficiency relative to quality of life. The quality of living will also improve dramatically in China as air and water quality improve. Living in a clean, healthy, and green way will be in alignment with the ancient philosophies of China.

Prosperity: To lift the world to the next level of collective prosperity requires massive amounts of grassroots entrepreneurship, which in turn depends on good business training from a young age as well as right management of money. In all these realms, China has proven itself to be a strong leader, with a rapidly growing economy and high rates of savings and investment.

A culture of frugality and saving reflects a sustainable balance of our social systems: keeping some money on reserve helps us weather the inevitable challenges that emerge. China can thus help shape a new definition of prosperity that is not just about accumulation of material things alone but the creation of a fulfilling and balanced life with adequate financial (and energetic) reserves.

Furthermore, as one of the nations most skilled at saving, China can become the micro-finance leader in the world, offering loans throughout the developing world that empower small-scale entrepreneurs. Micro-finance programs, from the work of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh to the Internet-based loans of Kiva, have proven remarkably effective at generating long-term prosperity at little cost. No other nation could likely have as widespread effect in the realm of micro-lending as the Chinese in the decades ahead, with a high rate of savings individually and nationally. By pioneering large-scale micro-finance that also earns a good return, this can lift millions from poverty while also building prosperity in China.

China also has an opportunity for selective experimentation in different areas of economic innovation, as its currency is still more protected from the flows of global capital, which allow some freedom to behave in ways that don’t conform to the expectation of capital markets. This can allow it to be an innovator of new economic models that can, in turn, positively feedback on the system as a whole.

Social innovations: While Barbara Marx Hubbard will go deeper into this discussion in her talk, China can also become an innovator in the design and construction of new patterns for communities, combining the efficiencies and social benefits of shared spaces with ecologically designed homes. The call here is to begin to template new kinds of social engagements, housing projects, and eco-villages on a large scale, giving people beautiful spaces in which to live while also creating supportive, natural community. China is uniquely positioned to experiment with models for this, with urban, suburban, and rural models.

Media: One of the last key areas for China to take leadership in the Shift will be media that showcases that kind of cultural innovations that I have already discussed. China needs to have a media presence that is as sophisticated as Hollywood but perhaps focused more on the useful innovations that are happening in everything from education to medicine manufacturing to solar villages. Whereas Hollywood media tends to focus just on entertainment, Chinese media might focus more on innovation, exporting inspiring media focused on cultural and economic innovation to other countries.

One way to do that is to create bridges and joint ventures with Western producers for content featuring everyday pioneers. What this will do is to create a more heart-centered relationship between Chinese culture and the rest of the world, which in itself is good for peace and business. Human beings like to do business with people that we like and understand. The more that people from around the world have a tangible feeling for and understanding of the Chinese people, the more naturally the business connections will build.

Concluding Big Idea: What if China were to declare a national initiative to create a 2050 vision for leading the way to a peaceful, sustainable, healthy, and prosperous world, building upon elements such as those I’ve chronicled above? Such a vision would paint a clear picture of what China can become in relationship to the rest of the world: a leader not only economically but culturally, philosophically, and even philanthropically. It could identify the think tanks, design experiments, eco-villages, health clinics, and media opportunities that will provide the infrastructure for the Shift.

Such a Grand Plan for the future would both be inspiring to its people as well as reassuring to the rest of the world, which often fears increasing Chinese strength. By seeing a benevolent and beautiful vision for where China is going and how it is committed to a leadership role in the shift to a new global era, it could win more friends and allies, as well as investment.

This 2050 Plan might include goals such as 50% of power from solar sources, the best performance in the world on integral health programs, scientifically validated programs for the cultivation of inner peace, a sustainable growth model for the economy, leadership training academies and more.

The key to such a Grand Plan influencing the evolution of our world would be to support it with positive media that chronicles the innovations as they emerge and encourage their replication. By broadcasting China’s “Next Evolution,” it creates the kind of shifts in consciousness that leads the world to see the Chinese with eyes of appreciation and gratitude.

In summary, the more that China can proactively lead the way into a new era, the greater the health, peace, and prosperity it will generate for its citizens and the people of the world. In thousands of years, global citizens may look back with gratitude on the hard-working, pioneering innovations from China that successfully helped us make the great Shift to a sustainable, thriving planet.

Catalyst is produced by The Shift Network to feature inspiring stories and provide information to help shift consciousness and take practical action. To receive Catalyst twice a month, sign up here.

This article appears in: 2013 Catalyst - Issue 9