One of the Chinese idioms that struck me when I was reading my MA in Contemporary China at NTU was 韬光养晦 or to lie low (养晦) and hide your talent (韬光). Deng Xiao Ping (邓小平), the modern architect of Contemporary China Economy, had advocated this policy of 韬光养晦 to slowly but steadily build China into a global power. The implication of 韬光养晦 is to build up one’s strength without raising alarm so that one can buy time to develop into a a formidable power. In this context, I will view China’s rise as more for self-defence, if you have studied China history, it was characterised with a lot of foreign bullying and so she must be strong to defend herself.
Deng was unlike his predecessor, Mao Ze Dong, who wanted to leapfrog China into a super power with drastic programmes such as Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward. Deng was pragmatic enough to target at greenfield experiment like Special Economic Zones so that he could tweak the system to suit China’ interests. With the evident successes of SEZs, he could silence the conservatives in the China Communist Party and thus eventually consolidate his powers and introduced more reforms.
But what struck me was that 韬光养晦 was not a new idiom, it was attributed to an old saying in an ancient annal. What is remarkable about Chinese history is that it offers life’s lessons and strategies which are applicable to modern situation, and it is well encapsulated in the four word idiom; not a word less and not a word more. So if you are interested in knowing China, one way is to study Chinese idiom to understand the grand history of 5000 years and the meanings behind these words.