The Ancient Chinese Super State of Genetically Coded Primary Societies and its Implications for Modern Democracy


            You-Sheng Li   (Written in June 2012)

            (Submitted to and accepted by the Ninth ISUD World Congress. ISUD=International Society for Universal Dialogue)

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Comparing Chinese and Western cultural traditions, scholars often label the former with immanent, aesthetic, intuitive while the latter with transcendental, rational, and postulating. (Hall and Ames, 1987) Theoretically all human societies can be divided into the genetically coded primary society, which is the natural society we are born with, and the man-made secondary society. Those adjective words that describe Chinese and Western cultures fit well into the genetically coded primary society and the man-made secondary society. Since the primary society suits humans the best, this paper dedicates to the definition and difference of the primary and the secondary society and their implications for modern democracy. Why Mediterranean civilizations started with secondary societies while Chinese civilization started with primary societies is also discussed.

Genetically Coded Primary and Man-Made Secondary Societies

When all human societies are divided into genetically coded primary societies and man-made secondary societies, it is not difficult at all delineating the major differences between the two by deduction from the definition with reference to ancient tribal and modern societies. Those differences include: 1) the former primary society is based on genetics, and human nature and instinct are enough to keep it harmonious and functional while the latter secondary society is man-made to serve its goal, and has an ideology or value system with a social structure to support that goal. 2) The former has no need for forceful authority while the latter does. 3) The former is a psychological/emotional whole because of a subconscious social bond and face-to-face interaction while the latter relies on a uniform ideology and goal. The religious culture is animism and remains part of the former society while the latter often has organized religions with different belief systems. 4) The philosophy of life or world view is different: The former is able to view the physical world, the social world, and the inner world of human minds from a relaxed mind while dictated by the social ideology, the latter has a focused view. European visual artists created only human figures until the sixteenth century when Holland and Britain developed paintings of scenery and landscape. (Chi, 1983) Navigation enabled them to escape from the grip of the continental military powers and therefore gave them a relaxed mind to see more of the world. 5) Subjective consciousness is present in both but only the latter allows its members to become men of their own making.

Unlike other classifications of human societies that focus on cumulative gradual changes other than human nature, the division of human societies into two levels, genetically coded and man-made, focuses on the underlying transformation or a jump, which fits well into the multi-level operation of the universe (Table 1).

Table 1. The Universal Evolutionary Pathways


1. Physical World

2. Life

2. Culture

4. Consciousness

Level 1





Level 2





Level 3

Elementary particles




Level 4

Atoms and electrons




Level 5





Level 6

Matters and objects




Level 7

Stars and planets




Level 8


Organs and limbs



Level 9





Level 10


Primary society


Subconscious or aesthetic

Level 11


Secondary society


Conscious: rational thinking systems

Level 12




High spirituality and aesthetics?

The definition justifies the following: A primary society will form automatically under the following conditions: 1). The population is less than a few hundred, and the population is free to divide when it is too large; 2). The population is engaged in face-to-face interaction; 3). There is no contact with and no ideological influence from a secondary society; 4). There is no outside force threatening their survival.

Ancient Mediterranean civilizations did not meet those conditions while Chinese civilization did. Multiple civilizations and multiple states threatened each other’s safety in the Mediterranean world while the ancient Chinese formed a super state to function as police to keep peace among local powers in their isolated world. This relatively peaceful environment allowed the Chinese people to still live in primary societies until the Warring States Period (476-221 BC). (Li, 2010) Evidence from different lines can be easily gathered to indicate the presence of primary societies and the absence of secondary societies in ancient China. (Li, 2010) As a result, the secondary society as a man-made system is much more developed in the West than in China, which was one of the reasons for frequent uprisings of peasants in stagnant but continuous Chinese imperial history.

The author notices that not everybody agrees with the Big Bang model of the universal evolution or other details of the author’s arguments but to save space, the author adopts the view that those details do not affect the main conclusion of this essay.

The Primary Society is the Most Democratic Society

From a humanist view, the primary society suits man the best while an ideal secondary society has yet to be found out, though modern democracy is closer to the primary society than totalitarianism. If democracy means the majority rule or free of feeling being controlled, the former primary society is democratic in every sense: free expression, equality, no forceful authority, consensus, and so on. Modern democracy is based on the latter secondary society. The former democracy is based on a social subconscious bond or aesthetic value while the latter democracy is based on rational thoughts expressed in words. The former is not socially manageable by man while the latter is, because of its manageable social structure and ideology.

There are impassable gaps between those levels as shown in Table 1. In a way, tissues are the primary society of cells and organs are the secondary society of cells. Normally, cells cannot leave their tissues to reach the organ level. Although humans build secondary societies, our history also suggests an impassable gap between the two levels of society.

From the unearthed skeletons, one may see how healthy the ancient people were by measuring their heights and the numbers of teeth they had lost. A study shows a clear decreasing trend of human health in history: On average, adults lost 2.2 teeth in 30,000 BC, 3.5 teeth in 6,500 BC, and 6.6 teeth during the Roman Period. The average height of adult males was 177 cm thirty thousand years ago, 165 cm ten thousand years ago, and 175 cm for American males in the 1960s. (Harris 1977) According to Chen (1979), the Chinese population suddenly dropped more than half for at least ten times between 221 BC and 1911 when the secondary society was established. There was no single such drop recorded from 2200 BC to 476 BC when this super state of primary societies was in place.

War and Democracy: Chinese vs. Western History

Since the secondary society has different types and different directions, conflicts and war are inevitable. William Eckhardt (1995) found a close correlation between war measured in the frequency of battles, empire measured in the total area of empires, and civilization measured in numbers of geniuses whose superiority was established by the consensus of encyclopedia and textbook authors. The whole world tended to spiral upward, as a general rule during the last 5,000 years of human civilization. In all cases, the way up not only increased the quantity of civilization, empire, and war, but also changed the social structure to one of greater inequality, indicated by slavery, caste, class, social stratification, and so forth. The ancient Chinese super state led to an unusual stability among a world of prevailing instability. (Cioffi-Revilla and Lai, 1995) It is obvious that our history was a deviation from our ancient democracy. The ancient Greek democracy was eventually defeated by a more totalitarian regime but only modern democracy managed to win the Second World War over totalitarian regimes.

Throughout human history, war was a major factor that shaped our culture, our society, and our minds. Only the recent relatively peaceful world after the Cold War Era allows broader views of life, and allows us to move one step closer to the primary society. If democracy essentially means free from feeling being controlled by others, such a democracy can in a way be measured by subjective expressivity, which is the unsuppressed expression of our subjective consciousness. The author cited the frequency of the word “I” in poetry as a subjective expressivity in history, and found a remarkable decreasing trend of such expressivity in Chinese history while an increased subjective expressivity was shown in Ancient Greek, Roman, and modern English poetry. (Li, 2010) The Western started with secondary societies but trying to improve its social conditions for humans while the Chinese started with primary societies but transforming its society to a secondary society. The Middle Age Europe was no doubt more humane than the ancient Greek and Roman era characterized by slavery on a large scale.

            Germans were for a long time a tribal people and then became a loose confederation of many states but gradually transformed into the major military power during the two world wars. The frequency of the word “I” in German poetry showed a steady decreasing trend from 1.97%(61/3093), 1.08%(43/3984), 0.88%(21/2397), 0.64%(18/2497), to 0.49%(19/3852) while the trend was the opposite in Holland, from 0.81%(10/1236), 1.07%(9/840), to 1.82%(29/1593).1

In the West, Christianity provides a strong social moral guide at the secondary society level, which was the main force of maintaining social order after the Roman Empire collapsed. Both Taoism and Confucianism are based on the primary society and so even as a religion, Taoism was not enough to organize life at the secondary society level. So Chinese population dropped more than half at least ten times but the West dropped only once in history. (Chen, 1979) Socrates and Plato saw clearly that human nature is not enough to stabilize a secondary society, which should be guided by law, a mechanism of balancing power, or a voting system. China lacked those social apparatuses in history and therefore went into more chaotic crises.

The Separation of the Two Levels of Society

Both Lao Tzu and Confucius advocated the separation of the two levels of society. Lao Tzu said, “The best government is hardly known to its people…The government follows the natural way so that the people do whatever they want without feeling of being ordered to.”(Tao Te Ching, 17)2 Confucius held such a view: “Let the people behave according to certain principles but never let them understand why.” (Analects, 8:9)2 When a state inscribed its law in detail on a metal ritual vessel, Confucius voiced his disproval immediately.

An ideal democracy will theoretically emerge if we separate primary and secondary societies and run both as if they were ancient primary societies. Human history has gone through an opposite course to let people run their own affairs at the secondary society level. Humans were apparently unable to run a secondary society well especially in its early phase. We need thousand years to try out the right course that leads to a better secondary society. A common error is to consider our modern society as a mixture of the two levels of society. Our society is actually an entirely secondary society but with social institutions to fit our different needs such as emotional, spiritual, and aesthetic needs.

Chinese history did try to separate the secondary society of the imperial government from the villages where peasants lived inside their clans, which were nearly primary societies. A thorough survey of all emperors, 611 in total, in Chinese history found that emperors were the most unlucky subpopulation. As high as 45% of them ended in unnatural deaths; and their life spans average 35 years while that of the general populace was 57 years, after infant deaths were excluded. Due to lack of security and increased stress, a high proportion of emperors showed symptoms of psychological and mental disorders. (Yang, 1989) In a way, Chinese history restricted its chaotic disorder of the secondary society within the government but spread out occasionally to the whole country in chaos. Western history spread out a similar disorder all over the society but dealt with it seriously.

Spare Time and Play

            Hall and Ames (1987) considered Confucian social order as aesthetic and the author (Li, 2006) also noticed the aesthetic social order in the primary society. In an aesthetic primary society, life is nothing but a play. If democracy means free of feeling being controlled, a playing life is much more democratic than the current real and serious one. Since Taoism often uses animals and children as a model to explain its way of life, it is justified to go into details to see their play and attitude towards life.

Our children play all the time and see their world as a fascinating wonderland. If we define spare time as the time left after one’s basic needs such as food, water, and safety are fulfilled, it is interesting to note that animals spend their spare time relaxing and enjoying themselves while civilized humans spend a major part of their spare time working. Marxism claims: Work or labour creates man, but the contrary is true: Work is invented by man. (Fernandez-Armesto, 2003) Furthermore, the spare time and the leisureliness of mind are the basis for any development and advancement of culture and civilization. (Li, 2005)

            Anthropologists believe that humans only began to work after the invention of agriculture and stockbreeding, which made it possible to invest for future, though in many simple agrarian societies, tilling the soil is also a collective rite, often treated as a form of fun. Only after civilization created a class of idle people to supervise other people’s work, did humans work as hard as today’s people, whose hours of working are much longer than the time for their recreation and relaxing. (Fernandez-Armesto, 2003) Therefore, the people who lived in the ancient primary society still spent their spare time idling around as animals do today. Apart from relaxation which may have deep aesthetic soothing effects on the nervous system, young mammals often play together. Their play shows the following characteristics:

1)      Young mammals switch to a special mode. Here we call it the aesthetic mental state, which is above the reality of their daily life and free of any utilitarian goals. The nervous system has been built to balance itself to an optimistic condition during such play.

2)      Such play is always collective, namely a group of animals play together. A puppy may play with its tail but we suppose that it is playing with an imagined partner. For the same consideration, our individual creative activities, as an expression, are always intended for others to appreciate.

3)      The play is in a fixed pattern but leaves room of freedom for each player’s creativity. A fixed pattern means that each player has to refrain itself to follow rules. They may even obey a temporary leader.

4)      The play contains elements from life and its memories. Like our literature and artistic works, such play is always a reflection of the real life. So are our dreams.

5)      The play gives its players an enjoyable aesthetic effect. Such play has its social psychological function, which strengthens the players’ social bond felt deeply in their minds. The word “aesthetic” or “aesthetics” mainly indicates such enjoyable emotional and psychological exchange among members of the primary society. Such exchange may take place between humans and their surrounding at least in our minds. After language is introduced, interpretative semantic meaning may appear but stays within the play.

            Zoologists believe that mammals lose their playing habit after they grow up. But primates have a life-long habit of grooming each other, which strengthens their social bond. Naked humans are believed to chat with each other for the same purpose. Conceivably the language that replaces primate grooming has to be aesthetic with high musical quality and is fundamentally different from today’s language, which suits a modern secondary society for exchange of information.

            Mammals may even have the ability to think and imagine a social situation in which they play a role. Five or six chimpanzees cooperate to catch a monkey. Two or three chimpanzees chase and force the monkey to jump down from a tree to the ground where the other chimpanzees are waiting to catch it. It is justified to say that those chimpanzees share a common imagined situation at the beginning, and they all expect the same thing to happen.          As to how such sophisticated cooperative techniques have been invented and carried through generations, it is likely an accumulation of numerous piecemeal inventions either during relaxing play or during real life hunting. In the latter case, the piecemeal invention would not have been made by the one whose mind was fully occupied by chasing the monkey but by the one who was idling beside. Thus in either case, the invention came from a relaxed playful mind.

            This leads to an important conclusion: Animals may not be much different from the primitive people who lived in the primary society. They both mix up their play or imagination with their real life: They used their imagination to improve their life in an accumulative way, and it becomes their culture. In the same way, our dreams serve to integrate and consolidate our memories, and balance our emotions.

            Only humans have mastered sophisticated language and communicate their imagined situations clearly and precisely, which enable us to plan and discuss plans. Nothing prevents humans from applying their collectively imagined situations to their real life. It always spells trouble when their imagined life incompatible with their genetic makeup. Such a highly imagined life runs its own course to alienate and enslave humans when it is put into practice. The invention of the secondary society is such an example.

            In comparison with other mammals, we are the only species that keep our playing habits fully throughout our lives. Traditional view holds that young mammals play to get prepared for their adult lives. Thus, our life-long playing habits may well serve as a preparation for a much higher life in the secondary society. Even this is the case, it is apparently out of normality for us to turn our preparing play into a real life in the secondary society. The upgrading war of history was the price humans have paid for their jumping the gun of biological evolution.

In a way, different cultures and different secondary societies correspond only to different ways of play in a primary society. Modern democracy has to be able to gradually switch from materialism to aesthetics in order to free its citizen from feeling being controlled by monetary power. If our life is only a play, no player owns the by products of a collective play. Such a view justifies modern democracy’s redistribution of income through tax. The so-called industrial democracy sometimes allows the workers to control their factory. If such factories are divided into the size of a primary society and the life itself is the productive activity organized in a playing fashion, such factories can be run in the same way as a primary society. Theoretically the whole human world can be built into numerous “factories” which are playing at the primary society level but serving a function at the secondary society level. The playing quality is maintainable if workers are allowed to move from one factory to another at their free will. Only such a democracy is in its ultimate perfect form.

Conclusion: The Implications of Two Levels of Society for Modern Democracy

The concept of the primary and secondary societies bears the following implications for modern democracy: 1) in the primary society, majority rule exists but its application is very limited, and the social order is anarchical. Although free of feeling being controlled can be measured by the subjective expression in human history, such a definition of democracy often spells confusion at the secondary society level. It may lead to the rejection of any controlling measurements, which is apparently impossible in current democracy. In a way, majority rule applies to the secondary society, and free of feeling being controlled applies to the primary society. 2) The limitless possible types of the secondary society provide the fundamental ground for personal preference at democratic voting when one type of society may not be better than but only different from the others. Different parties and different proposals represent different possible directions of the secondary society. 2) Considering the broad horizon and multiple dimensions where a secondary society can develop and evolve, the present democratic systems in our world have all been influenced by war and therefore provide a relatively narrow view of life with few choices. One way to go is to let local communities run themselves like a secondary society in fundamentally different ways and limit the interference of the government. It requires a shift from the present national democracy to a community-based democracy. 3) The primary society is the only society where democracy is in its perfect form and where people feel free of being controlled. Considering tissues as the primary and organs as the secondary society of cells, neither livers nor lungs have governments or a voting system. The two levels of society provide a perfect form of democracy for our future. With today’s human conditions, it is okay if we move towards this way whenever it is possible. An easy way to do so is to make our life more like a child’s play.

Winston Churchill said, “Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.” With the Cold War Era behind us, people will realize the foolishness of such bludgeoning. Churchill also said, “Democracy is the worst form of government other than all the other forms we know.” “Democracy never lasts long.” And “There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.”


1. All quotations from Chinese classics were translated by the author.

2. All poems are in English translation. According to poets’ birth years, German poems were grouped into five periods: 1137-1100, 1100-1800, 1800-1900, 1900-1940, and 1940-1975, and Dutch poems were grouped into three periods: 1581-1750, 1750-1900, and 1900-1967. All poems are from the website:


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         Fernandez-Armesto, F, 2003, Ideas that Changed the World. London: DK Publishing. P70-71.

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         Harris, Marvin, 1977, Cannibals and Kings. New York: Random House. Pp. 4-25.

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Li, You-Sheng, 2006, A New Interpretation of Chinese Taoist Philosophy. London, Canada: Taoist Recovery Centre. (In Chinese)

Li, You-Sheng, 2010, The Ancient Chinese Super State of Primary Societies. Bloomington, USA: Author House. p6-42; 58-97; 222-30.

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