A recent article in WSJ by Orville Schell, “A Rising China Needs a New National Story,” suggests to China to “move on” from a traditional national narrative of “Century of Humiliation” to some thing more positive, like July 4th fireworks.
The article surprised me a bit, because I would have thought a student of Chinese culture like Orville Schell would have understood the rather Asian culture theme of motivation by “negative feedback”, a lesson that the Tiger Mom have practiced consistently with her own children.
The Tiger Mom, like my own Chinese mother, does not overly praise her children, but rather tend to emphasize her children’s mistakes and urge them to do better.
Some Westerners perhaps do not understand/ agree with this method, and just wish that the Chinese would just be more positive in self-motivations, but surely Mr. Schell (and any one who claim to know China) should have understood that Chinese do not talk about “humiliation” as some kind of insult to the West (despite the obvious connections), but rather as a lesson to remind themselves to be better.
It is simply a different cultural approach to self-identity. The Asian cultures emphasize on self-reflection and self-examination of one’s own weaknesses. Despite Mr. Schell (and others’) suggestion that the Chinese government act more Western in this regard, the “negative feedback” motivation resonates with Chinese people, (indeed as Mr. Schell admits, with overseas Chinese as well). Perhaps Mr. Schell should examine the “WHY” more in detail.
First, the “Century of Humiliation” does not imply that it is over and done, as much as some Western nations would like to suggest. The West, despite its willingness to forget its own past atrocities, continues to remind the Chinese people, on a daily basis, how backward they are. Beyond the actual differences in technologies, the Western media and “culture” assails China via outright stereotypes to mock Chinese culture and traditions. Some of it is just general stereotyping of Asian cultures, but I don’t think the Korean people find it any less offended by periodic occurrences of incidents like San Francisco TV station reading out loud fake names from a racist joke gone wrong.
Consciously or unconsciously done, Asian people in general are continually being humiliated in the Western society, to remind them of their past humiliations. That’s a fact of life for Asians. Thus, the “Century of Humiliation” is turning into “CENTURIES of humiliation”. This is why it continues to resonate with overseas Chinese people.
In the realm of international diplomacy and politics, the Western governments and politicians also continue to denigrate China’s legitimate claims and concerns as “childish” or “irrational”, while continue to use various forms of “Yellow Peril” theory to harm Chinese economic and political interests.
Mr. Schell and others complain that the Chinese government continues to talk about “century of humiliation”, when such reminders are barely done as reminders and vague symbolic declarations.
Far away memories would not mean much to the hip young Chinese and overseas Chinese, except they too share the continuing “humiliation” in their own life time.
As long as the “humiliation” continues, the “Centuries of Humiliation” continues, and it is reality. And nothing motivates better than reality.