Never Forget National Humiliation: HIstorical Memory in Chinese Politics and Foreign Relations

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Zheng Wang follows the Communist governments ideological reeducation of the public, which relentlessly portrays China as the victim of foreign imperialist bullying during one hundred years of humiliation. By concentrating on the telling and teaching of history in todays China, Wang illuminates the thinking of the young patriots who will lead this rising power in the twenty-first century.


<p>Copyrighted Material</p> <p>iNtroduCtioNfrom tanK man to Chinas nEW Patriots</p> <p>W</p> <p>about China, many in the West tend to conjure up an image of the young Chinese man who stopped the advance of a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square on June 5, 1989, the day after the Chinese government began cracking down violently on protests in Beijing. This famous picture no doubt depicts a confrontational relationship between Chinese people and the Communist regime. Many, in fact, gained the view from the pro-democratic student movement in 1989 that the Chinese government was illegitimate and people wanted it to be overthrown. However, some twenty years later, what shocks the world most in recent eventsfrom the Tibet unrest of 2008 to the tragic earthquakes of 2008 and 2010, and from the 2008 Beijing olympic Games to the 2010 Shanghai expois the new relationship between the Chinese people (especially the younger generations) and the ruling party. Recent experiences seem to indicate that the current Beijing regime has a very patriotic and supporting populace that many governments would be envious to have. As a New York Times reporter observed in the disputes over the 2008 olympic torch relays, educated young Chinese rank among the most patriotic, establishment-supporting people youll meet.1 But why is this young generation in China, many of whom attended elite schools in the United States or europe, so patriotic and nationalistic? Certainly todays Chinese young people are no longer the Red Guardshen thinking</p> <p>Copyrighted Material</p> <p>2:::introDuCtion</p> <p>from the isolated country of forty years ago, but neither are they the antidictatorship Tiananmen generation of twenty years ago. They are the Internet generation, and many of them speak english. Chinas opening up and the international communitys engagement with China in the last thirty years seems to have resulted in a new generation of anti-West patriots. But, assuming these young people are more than brainwashed xenophobes, how can we understand the genuine outrage toward the West apparent in Chinas youth today? What are the sources of Chinas new nationalism? All in all, what has happened during the last twenty years? These questions about Chinas current affairs are actually closely related to two major questions that have puzzled observers of China since 1989. After the Tiananmen Square incident, many scholars predicted that the regime in Beijing would not last long because the official socialist ideology had already lost credibility. So, first, how did the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) survive and then regain popular support in the 1990s? Was it simply through prosperous economic development, or were there other influential factors? And second, how can we explain the rapid conversion of Chinas popular social movementsfrom the internal-oriented, anticorruption, and antidictatorship democratic movements of the 1980s to the external-oriented, anti-Western nationalism of the 1990s and 2000s? The purpose of this book lies in explaining the relevance and importance of historical memory in understanding these questions. While it may not offer straightforward answers, the aim is to provide important background information, perspectives, and insight to consider these complicated multilayered questions. In particular, this book argues for the relevance and importance of historical memory in explaining Chinas political transition and international behavior during the recent two decades. It suggests that even though existing theories and literature illuminate certain aspects of Chinas political transition and foreign affairs behavior, a full explanatory picture emerges only after these phenomena and actions are analyzed through the lens of historical memory.</p> <p>history and memory</p> <p>The subject of this book is historical memory, but what exactly is that? Why does historical memory matter? And how could the study of a peoples collective memory and history education answer questions about this countrys political transition and foreign relations?</p> <p>Copyrighted Material</p> <p>introDuCtion:::3</p> <p>When I present my research, I always begin by showing four photographs to introduce what historical memory is. These photos (see figure I.1) show young people in China who are connected in various ways with four Chinese charactersWuwang guochi ()meaning never forget national humiliation. From a little girl painting those deeply emotional words on the back of a car to a group of schoolchildren pledging in front of the slogan written on their classroom blackboard, these four images demonstrate the pervasive correlation with the idea of actively remembering the historical events that happened a long time ago. While most of the people photographed are far too young to have actually experienced the national traumas of the so-called century of humiliation, the one hundred years of national humiliation, they appear to acutely feel the emotions of its victims. Anyone viewing these photos will feel compelled to examine the deep emotional bond of these young people with this phrase and to wonder where they might have cultivated these ideas. This book seeks to explain how and why these young people have become so engaged with this rallying cry. Through their family stories, history textbooks, and gatherings at government events, I will show how they have all developed a relationship with this national phrase and how this will inform their understanding of who they are and their perception of the rest of the world. Historical memory can be linked to a single event. While only a fraction of Americans actually witnessed the fall of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, future generations of Americans will undoubtedly remain connected to this national trauma through its retelling in the news, family stories, and history education classes. Just as the national humiliation of China is used to teach the Chinese people who they are and how the world looks, so, too, will 9/11 inform future Americans about the world they are living in? often it is hard for us to see the forest for the trees. our historical memory is intangible, and it is nearly impossible for us to cleanly divorce our own perceptions of history from the semiorchestrated construction of our national narrative. A societys elites often use the construction of national monuments to create symbols for its citizens to remember a nations story. But the elites select which parts of a history to remember, and which parts to forget. The national Mall in Washington, D.C., reminds Americans of the glories and traumas of the United States. each year, millions of students visit their nations capital to see these grandiose symbols and hear the stories that define what it is to be an American.</p> <p>Copyrighted Material</p> <p>(a)</p> <p>(b)</p> <p>Figure i.1. The</p> <p>same four Chinese characters appear in each of these photos: Wuwang guochi, never forget national humiliation. (a) A nine-year-old girl writes the characters on the trunk of her fathers car during an anti-Japanese protest, Zhengzhou, 2005. (Photo courtesy of Asia news Photo.) (b) Policemen form the four characters during an educational ceremony for the seventy-seventh anniversary of the 1931 Japanese invasion, Shenyang, 2008. (Photo courtesy of Asia news Photo.)</p> <p>Copyrighted Material</p> <p>(c)</p> <p>(d)</p> <p>(c) A victim of the Japanese invasion describes her story to children in front of the four characters engraved on the big bronze bell at the September 18 Museum, Shenyang, 2002. (Photo courtesy of Xinhua news Agency.) (d) Primary schoolchildren pledge in front of the slogan written on the blackboard, never Forget national Humiliation, Strengthen our national Defense, Changchun, 2009. (Photo courtesy of Xinhua news Agency.)</p> <p>Copyrighted Material</p> <p>6:::introDuCtion</p> <p>Chapter 4 of this book provides a detailed account of how and why the Chinese government constructed and remodeled more than ten thousand memory sites nationwide as a central component of its patriotic education campaign that started in 1991. national holidays and anniversaries are always more than just an extra day of rest; rather, the significance of these dates and the special attention given to them are used by elites to remind the citizenry repeatedly of their history as a people. every year, each of these holidays retells the story of why it is a day of celebration, with each holiday serving as a reminder of part of the national story. The selection of which days to celebrate, however, also reveals which stories a nation may wish to forget. For example, 2009 was a significant year in China, with many important anniversaries. The world witnessed an enormous celebration of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Peoples Republic of China. The government designed every detail of this ceremony to remind its people about the national experience. To begin the ceremony, Chinas elite color guard began by marching in perfect lockstep exactly 169 strides from the center of Tiananmen Square to the flagpole to raise the national colors. each of these literal steps forward was meant to represent one year since the beginning of the opium War in 1840. This symbolism highlights something very deep within the Chinese culture, and by understanding simple events like the marching of the color guard we can learn a lot about Chinas perception of itself and inform our understanding of where China hopes to march into the future. equally instructive are dark anniversariesevents like the 1959 Tibetan uprising, the closing down of the Xidan Democracy Wall in 1979, and the Tiananmen Square tragedy of 1989that have been formally ignored by the Chinese government.2 When planning which anniversaries to celebrate, the Chinese government turns a blind eye to certain parts of Chinas history. Beijing has even gone so far as to ban the mere discussion of specific events it would choose to forget. Choosing what to remember and what to forget is not a simple sorting process for history education. Historical memory is more than an understanding of history. How the government defines history is a deeply political issue that is closely related to the legitimacy of the government and rightly shapes the national identity of China. While historical events themselves have been viewed and reviewed in scholarly works around the world, the governments portrayal of these events is not adequately analyzed.</p> <p>Copyrighted Material</p> <p>introDuCtion:::7</p> <p>As Anthony D. Smith has argued, no memory, no identity; no identity, no nation.3 It is this collective memory of the past that binds a group of people together. on the national level, identity determines national interests, which in turn determine policy and state action.4 Understanding a peoples collective memory can help us to better understand their national interests and political actions. Powerful collective memorieswhether real or concoctedcan also be at the root of prejudice, nationalism, and even conflicts and wars.5 Historical memory is still an understudied field because it does not fit neatly into one specific academic discipline. Both the subject and its implications are so scattered throughout many fields that few scholars have attempted to tackle it through comprehensive analysis. As a scholar of international relations, I have chosen to study this subject in a different way than a historian, anthropologist, sociologist, or psychologist might. I am exploring this concept because without understanding how the Chinese people see themselves, it is impossible to know their national interests. national interests are the fundamental building blocks in any discussion of foreign policy, and historical memory is the prime raw material for constructing ethnicity and national identity.6 That is the reason why I believe historical memory is the key to understanding Chinese politics and foreign relations. To understand a country, the orthodox research approach focuses on collecting political, socioeconomic, and security data and then conducting a macroanalysis of institutions, policies, and decision making. Such an approach, however, has critical limitations for comprehending the deep structure and dynamics of the country In this book, I argue that to under. stand a country, one should visit the countrys primary schools and high schools and read their history textbooks. A nations history is not merely a recounting of its past; what individuals and countries remember and what they choose to forget are telling indicators of their current values, perceptions, and even aspirations.7 Studies about history and memory in China can answer such basic questions as, What is China? and Who are the Chinese?</p> <p>Chinese historiCal ConsCiousness</p> <p>Modern historical consciousness in China is powerfully influenced by the century of humiliation from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s. Chinese remember this period as a time when China was attacked, bullied, and</p> <p>Copyrighted Material</p> <p>8:::introDuCtion</p> <p>torn asunder by imperialists. Many authorities on Chinese affairs have highlighted the special significance of this period to Chinese history and memory. For example, political scientist Peter Hays Gries writes: It is certainly undeniable that in China the past lives in the present to a degree unmatched in most other countries. . . . Chinese often, however, seem to be slaves to their history.8 Similarly, sociologist Jonathan Unger argues, More than in most other countries, history was and is considered a mirror through which ethical standards and moral transgressions pertinent to the present day could be viewed.9 Adding another dimension to the picture, we can look to Anne F. Thurstons comments about national psychology, which tell us, everything we know about individual psychology suggests that the traumas so many Chinese have suffered in the past dozen, 30, 50, 100, 150 years are both exceptionally painful and exceedingly difficult to overcome.10 Although most scholars readily acknowledge the prominence of history and memory in Chinese politics, the bulk of research touching on their relationship to Chinese foreign affairs behavior does so only indirectly and tangentially. The insights that do exist are scattered among diverse bodies of literature on history, politics, culture, and communication. Given the abundance of works directly exploring the role of history and memory in politics in other parts of the world, the absence of similar studies in Chinas case is surprising. The few direct discussions about this topic are found in short policy articles written by China experts from think tanks. For example, in a newspaper opinion article, Minxin Pei states that Chinas national experience and collective memory constitute a powerful force in foreign-policy decisionmaking.11 However, such insights need the support of empirical research. Moreover, systematic research exploring the deep structures and implications of history and memory in Chinese politics and foreign pol...</p>