New national story or not, Orville Schell and John Delury’s article whitewashes Western atrocities
If a survey is conducted in the West about the Opium Wars, very few would know about them today. Even the few who actually know about them will likely not hold the Brits and other Western powers responsible. The reason is because the West has been whitewashing this history.
Case in point was the 1997 Hong Kong hand-over. The Western media spent virtually no time educating their audience how Hong Kong was forcibly taken by the Brits (and hence the hand-over). They instead focused majority of their effort vilifying the Chinese political system and sensationalizing an imminent destruction of Hong Kong’s way of life. This clever tactic is willful omission – by not talking about the miseries of the Chinese at the hands of the drug-pushers and Western invaders, the perpetrators were absolved of their sins.
Knowing how ignorant Westerners are of that past, it is not surprising to find the recent Orville Schell and John Delury narrative in the New York Times becoming a dominant perspective in the West. Read carefully how they emotively assign blame to the Chinese while essentially absolving guilt from the Brits and the Western countries.
Perhaps I am a bit emotional, but I find Schell and Delury’s article in cleverly flipping right and wrong repulsive. My critique on the right. (Also, for Black Phoenix’s earlier take, follow this link.)
|A Rising China Needs a New National Story
To move forward, the country must move on from its emphasis on a century of ‘national humiliation’
By ORVILLE SCHELL and JOHN DELURY
|Every July, amid festivities and fireworks, the U.S. and France mark their birth as nations. Accustomed as we are in the West to histories that begin with triumph—the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the storming of the Bastille—it may seem strange that China, the fast-rising dynamo of the East, marks the beginning of its journey to modern nationhood in a very different way: with the shock of unexpected defeat and the loss of national greatness.||This paragraph is convoluted.Look, America marks July 4th with her triumph over Britain’s shackles. The French marks their Bastille day with her triumph over their Monarchy.China’s national day is no different. On October 1, 1949, after centuries of imperialism and finally the defeat of Japan, the Chinese got their independence.
The shock of unexpected defeat was back in the 1800’s when the ‘barbarians’ came with drugs and guns.
Are modern Chinese still shocked? I don’t think so.
So, no, I don’t see how fireworks and parades on October 1 are expressions of “shock of unexpected defeat.”
To the brain-dead, perhaps such a convoluted perspective makes sense.
This is propaganda-speak; to make the Chinese seem irrational.
What is truly irrational is the distancing of the atrocities of the Brits and other Westerners who committed such heinous crimes against another people. “Strange” of China and “shock of unexpected defeat” are all emotively written to assign blame to the Chinese.
They are inappropriate words to assign to the victims.
|Many Chinese date the start of their modern history to Aug. 11, 1842, when the Qing Dynasty, by signing the Treaty of Nanjing, capitulated to Great Britain in order to end the disastrous First Opium War (1839-42). It was from this and many other subsequent defeats that China’s political elites—including the most progressive 20th-century reformers and revolutionaries—wove an entire national narrative of foreign exploitation and victimization. Even today, this fabric of ideas continues to hold powerful sway over China’s relations with the rest of the world.||The narrative here about the Opium Wars and the Treaty of Nanjing is repulsive.To Shell and Delury, the First Opium War was “disastrous” to the Chinese as if the Chinese made the mistake to dare to confront the Brits for pushing opium.They also suggest “an entire national narrative of foreign exploitation and victimization” woven by China’s political elites. Well, if a narrative is woven by the political elite, then what does that say about the narrative? Perhaps illegitimate?
Of course not. The truth is foreign exploitation.
Only morally degenerate deviant would twist truth around this way.
And, also, no, these are not mere “fabric of ideas.” They are reality. Chinese were killed, raped, and pillaged for more than a century!
The problem with the West is that over a century of whitewashing their atrocious past, they seem only more emboldened in whitewashing.
The simple truth that the Chinese don’t want to forget this dark period is precisely because such a period could repeat itself.
Plus, every few years they are reminded by countries like Libya and Iraq that dark age could be just around the corner.
|The artifacts of China’s formative moment can be seen at the Temple of the Tranquil Seas, which sits on a narrow slice of land in the northwest part of Nanjing on the banks of the Yangtze River. It was here, in the oppressive heat of August 1842, that Chinese negotiators were forced to sit with their British counterparts and hammer out the crushing terms of the treaty. The negotiating chamber in the old temple has now been restored to something resembling its original state. A nearby exhibition covers the painful history of “China’s unequal treaties,” which imposed territorial concessions and onerous indemnities that remained in force until the 1940s.||The truly “oppressive” was not the heat, but the Brits. The truly “crushing” were not the mere “terms of the treaty” but rather the wicked Brits who imposed them on China with their more advanced guns and canons.And, what a way to describe these treaties – “China’s unequal treaties.” These were terms a foreign invader forced unto its victims.The authors are playing with words, willing to associate negativity to weather or China; just not the Brits.|
|The Temple of the Tranquil Seas serves as a curious porthole into this bitter past of foreign incursion and exploitation, from which both the Nationalist and Chinese Communist parties later constructed their ideologies. As the historical exhibit’s first panel explains: “Those unequal treaties were like fettering ropes of humiliation that made China lose control of her political and military affairs…. It was one of the major causes that rendered China poor and weak in modern history…and has become a symbol of the commencement of China’s modern history.”||China wants to remind her people of this dark history, and an important reminder becomes “a curious porthole?” That history, truth, would then become “constructed ideologies?”Again, this is propaganda-speak to emotively delegitimize Chinese suffering.|
|For Chinese reformers, however, there was, in this record of impotence and inferiority, also a paradoxical promise of redemption. Being overwhelmed by materially stronger but culturally inferior foreign powers—Chinese leaders called them “barbarians”—may have been a profound humiliation, but it also served as motivation for China to regenerate itself as a great power. As Mao Zedong declared in founding the People’s Republic in 1949, “The Chinese have always been a great courageous and industrious nation; it is only in modern times that they have fallen behind…. Ours will no longer be a nation subject to insult and humiliation.”||This is about the only paragraph in this whole article that is bearable.Still, imagine the United States is invaded by China for over 1 century and having all her wealth pillaged, citizens raped and murdered.
When the United States is finally freed from such tyranny, wouldn’t it be befitting for a president to make a similar declaration as Mao did in 1949?
|This morality play continues to shape the Chinese imagination. As the last panel in the exhibit room of the Temple of Tranquil Seas explains: “It is hard to look back upon this humiliating history…. But the abolishment of the unequal treaties has shown the Chinese people’s unwavering spirit of struggle for independence and self-strengthening. To feel shame is to approach courage.”||Again, this is no mere “morality play” as if there is no legitimacy to what the Chinese experienced.The only imagination this “morality play” shapes is perhaps the Chinese are much more skeptical whenever NATO announces invading yet another country for “democracy,” “freedom,” and “human rights.”|
|In this authorized version of modern Chinese history, 1842 is Year One. Every Chinese high-school student is expected to know the official narrative dividing Chinese history neatly into pre-Opium War and post-Opium War periods. It is China’s counterpart to the familiar American exercise of learning the preamble of the Declaration of Independence.||What a load of crap.Again, the equivalent to July 4th for China is October 1. The year is 1949.Notice how they blatantly calls what Chinese high-school students learns as an “authorized version of modern Chinese history.”
Schell and Delury implied Chinese students are learning propaganda.
Well, which particular account of history do they disagree with? China has a very rich history with many dynasties. Lots are taught.
“1842 is Year One” is a ridiculous statement.
Perhaps they ought to tell the world how much omission and whitewashing goes on in Western high-schools.
Perhaps for once the West might be a little bit repentant and think about its actions today, when it invades another country.
|To fully appreciate the trauma of these historical experiences, one must understand not just the shock of China’s defeat in the First Opium War but also the cascade of further defeats that soon followed. Historically, the Chinese had very little experience in questioning the fundamental assumptions of their culture and ways of governance. When imperial officials finally began to understand that their country had become the hapless “sick man of Asia,” in the words of Liang Qichao, a towering intellectual figure at the turn of the last century, they established an abiding view of China as having been preyed upon by its foreign rivals.||While the Chinese were perhaps too proud of their civilization back in the 1800’s, but that is no excuse for the invaders.I have a better suggestion for Schell and Delury’s readers. Talking about trauma, imagine instead your country being invaded and pillaged for over a century!You have no idea what that trauma is like.
|Today, the psychological and cultural habits developed during this dismal era of Chinese history continue to color and distort China’s relations with the rest of the world, especially the U.S., which has taken the place of Great Britain as the world’s superpower. In one of his first speeches as General Secretary of the Communist Party, President Xi Jinping recollected the “unusual hardship and sacrifice” suffered by his country in modern times. “But the Chinese people have never given in,” Mr. Xi continued.||It is precisely because there is a thinly-veiled “Yellow Peril” in the American and British habits that China still feels a need to remind her people of the atrocious past.It was precisely the Chinese exclusion act and America’s modern military alliances at her doorsteps that remind the Chinese if they are weak, history might repeat.To say that China’s relation with the rest of the world is distorted because of the dark past visited upon her by Westerners is a bit much.
Instead, count up all the countries been colonized or invaded by the West in the last couple of centuries.
Schell and Delury should ask how much of the West’s relations with the rest of the world have been distorted by their propaganda.
|The historical memories on display at the Temple of the Tranquil Seas have had positive effects as well. One can hear their echo in China’s determination to rejuvenate itself regain wealth and power, and become a nation of consequence once again. It is this urge that Mr. Xi tries to encourage by speaking proudly of a “China dream.”||Actually, countries like China that suffered tremendously at the hands of the West have pushed for the principals of coexistence. They are also championing for the need to respect international law.These are positives, and apparently, Schell and Delury were blind to.|
|Still, it is time for China and the more vociferous propagandists in Beijing to move beyond declarations about China’s “one hundred years of national humiliation.” That period has come to an end. The world has changed, China and the West have changed, and a new narrative is necessary for China to achieve its declared aim of equality and a “new type of great power relationship.”||While China reminds her population of the past humiliations, Schell and Delury make it sounds as if such reminders are propaganda.They simply need to put themselves in the victim’s shoes and they will understand such atrocities will never be forgotten.It is precisely Western propaganda – that when they wish to prop up political opposition within any country, they spew propaganda such as “freedom,” “democracy,” and “human rights.”
The truth is, reminding a people of the West’s atrocious past has a negating effect on that propaganda, doesn’t it?
|Only when China is ready to define itself with a more constructive national story will it be able to take its place in full partnership with a nation born, in a moment of affirmation, on a distant Fourth of July.||This is merely Schell and Delury’s delusion. China will continue to remind her people as long as there are forces within West to destabilize Chinese society.As long as propaganda pieces like this article in the West whitewashes, the more China must keep reminding her people of the truth.|
|—Mr. Schell is the Arthur Ross Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society in New York City. Mr. Delury is a professor of history at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea. They are the co-authors of “Wealth and Power: China’s Long March to the 21st Century,” which has just been published by Random House.|