History presents three famous cases of elites abandoning their Civilization:
The abandonment of the Western part of the Roman Empire and salvaging the Eastern part, which survived till 1453
The abandonment of the Timurid Empire in about 1500 by Babur, who instead conquered India and set up the Mughal Empire
And recently, the abandonment of 99.5% of all of China’s people and resettling in Taiwan, in 1948. Chiang Kaishek brought a large portion of China’s elites to Taiwan and as a result Taiwan prospered. However, Chiang forgot to eliminate the native Taiwanese.
With study, common elements of a successful relocation can be distilled:
Make sure its smarter members make it alive.
Make it a secret, or at least hide the fact that elites are downsizing. Sow confusion via misdirection, so the masses are left in the dark when it takes place.
Never apologize—Blame the victims.
Like George Orwell’s perpetual war, keep a vigilant attitude against those left behind. To keep cohesion, suppress dissidents, and keep the system alive by creating a common enemy, which becomes the common rallying ground.
There is a general tendency to reduce territory. The Roman Empire became the Byzantine Empire; the Umayyad dynasty surviving in Spain after losing all of the Middle East and North Africa; and the Southern Song dynasty of China surviving in the south after losing northern China may qualify for profitable study.
Since downsizing a Civilization to a manageable level is historically rare, we can assume it is a difficult endeavor that requires excellent vision, leadership and execution. Using Taiwan as a modern example, we can contemplate the necessary elements: A visionary leader is required, Chiang Kaishek in this occasion. It has to be one leader, or otherwise different factions will fight and undermine the whole effort.
Intellectuals on Board
In modern times, the most successful downsizing occurred in 1948-1949 when the Republic of China, led by Chiang Kaishek, downsized to the island of Formosa. The country is still officially the Republic of China, although everyone calls it Taiwan now. Taiwan was not even part of China until 1945; it was under Japanese rule until the Americans awarded it to Chiang.
There are quite a lot of spectrums about being “Han”. The people in Taiwan, who could be called “Han” in a broad sense, spoke a dialect called “Minnan”, which is only spoken in a small corner of Fujian province, especially in Xiamen, which is the closest mainland city to Taiwan. It was not comprehensible to speakers of Mandarin or other major dialects. So although mostly ethnic Han, the indigenous Taiwanese were separated from the mainland long enough to be identified as a distinct ethnicity.
During late 1948, when things were not going well for Kaishek and his men, he made a plan to relocate to Taiwan if things went sour. To prepare for that contingency, he sent a trusted aide to Taipei, Taiwan’s chief city, to get rid of anyone who could cause trouble.
It did not hurt that Japan had built some infrastructure on the island, which was not damaged during World War 2, so there were enough assets to continue business as usual without starting from scratch.
However, downsizing was not easy. To make sure it was done correctly, Kaishek assembled intellectuals from all across China, especially those who had studied in the West. This was easy since most intellectuals were within a short distance of the capital, Nanking, or the chief northern city, Peiping (which the communists renamed Beijing). Some of them refused to go and the Cultural Revolution burnt them to death 20 years later. Some others emigrated to the USA and Europe, but Kaishek was able to bring a good portion of China’s most important intellectuals to Taiwan, providing a learned and high tech edge.
Secrecy and Brutality
The relocation plan was a well-guarded secret. Only Chiang’s trusted aides were in the know, and anyone of questionable loyalty was kept in the dark. Many soldiers, for example, caught up in the relocation, were unable to bring their families.
The failure to keep the plan a secret can be detrimental. In 1975, when the North Vietnamese attacked in earnest and South Vietnam tried to build a strong line of defence around Saigon, the soldiers were eager to bring their families out and that created a general panic which South Vietnam never recovered from.
Not so in China, those with enough connections to bring their families out did so discretely. Those who could not just left them behind. Chiang ran a very brutal secret force, so those who knew him knew the consequences of spilling the beans.
Chiang confused his enemies, and potential refugees, by remaining in the mainland for as long as possible. Many people assumed that as long as Chiang was there he was going to fight to the death, so they did not make their move. When the communists finally closed on him, he and his most direct cohorts made a dangerous dash to the getaway plane, the route already cleared by his loyal men who were promised seats in the future; and some of those promises were honored.
Chiang abandoned a huge number of his own troops to the Communists when he fled, leaving behind many who assumed he was as loyal as they. Some of them made it to Thailand and Burma and remained there to become drug lords, because Chiang refused to bring them to Taiwan.
Chiang did not need these men, and simply wrote them off.
China had millions of ounces of gold and silver stored physically on the mainland; which were siphoned off to Taiwan with utmost secrecy in three shipments. They became the collateral to obtain financing from the West after the relocation was over. Chiang’s men raided the banks; and the safe deposit boxes were seized, on the pretext of ‘keeping the treasures safe from the commies’. They were returned to their former owners if the latter could make it to Taiwan and remained in Chiang’s good graces—which encouraged the wealthy to move to Taiwan.
This was basically a policy of blackmailing the elites.
Chiang also moved the best of China’s treasures to Taipei, to claim cultural superiority over the mainland.
Finally, and the most important element, is continued vigilance. In addition to killing about 20,000 of the more educated Taiwanese who may have opposed his rule, Chiang’s forces also disenfranchised the Taiwanese. The mainlanders who moved to the island and the Taiwanese lived in separate neighborhoods with little interaction. Since the Taiwanese used a slightly different dialect, it was easy for the new elites to single them out. Taiwanese insurrection was considered tantamount to communist activities and treated as such. Martial law in Taiwan remained until 1987, for 38 years; and anyone suspected of aiding the communists met a quick, brutal end.
As a result, the most successful downsizing of a Civilization in the modern age seemed to stick, until 1991 when Communism mostly fell in Europe and with Chiang and his son both dead, the native Taiwanese demanded power. Although those who came with Chiang still hold most of Taiwan’s wealth, by the weight of numbers the Taiwanese now hold political power.
In total, China had a population of around 600 million people in 1948, and 2 million of them escaped to Taiwan; which had 6 million people. Those who escaped included the who’s who in Chinese intellectual circles, plus about half of China’s parliament (China had its one and only election in 1948), ensuring the political tradition would continue for a long time. A lot of wealthy Chinese had investments all over Southeast Asia, which also helped Taiwan to prosper.
In the final analysis, five elements make for a successful downsizing: One leader, the ability to select the best and smartest people, secrecy, the securing of economic resources for recapitalization and brutality against any factions which may undermine the process.
In addition, Religion and eternal vigilance may be required to continue the Civilization. After Chiang Kaishek’s son Chiang Chingkuo died in 1988, the KMT, Chiang’s political party, failed to find a suitable successor to carry on the Civilization Chiang and his people brought in. Power eventually fell to Lee Tenghui, a Taiwanese who seemed to be loyal to the Chiangs when they were alive, but he showed his true colors once he became strong enough to wield his own power. It was during his tenure that the Taiwanese regained power. Those who came with Chiang slowly left Taiwan for the USA and other Anglophone countries, and Taiwan is now declining.
The Byzantines, the Spanish Umayyads and their successor Moor kingdoms, and the Timurids/Mughals kept their downsizing and cohesion much longer because they were religious minorities surrounded by ‘infidels’.
So after the Reset, if the Elites want to keep their Civilization and avoid being overwhelmed in the long run, they may require a new Religion, a new kind of mythology that keeps and justifies their separation from the masses they Abandon.