Home > Uncategorized > Orville Schell Does Not Understand “Negative Feedback” Or Tiger Mom’s Lessons.

Orville Schell Does Not Understand “Negative Feedback” Or Tiger Mom’s Lessons.

Malcolm Greensmith Collection/The Image Works

The capture of a Chinese Imperial Dragon Standard at the Battle of Chusan during the First Opium War. Painting by Malcolm Greensmith.

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.


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  1. July 23rd, 2013 at 13:05 | #1

    Mr. Schell should tell the Jewish people to grow up too. Why keep harping on the centuries of persecution and holocaust.

    The reality is the “century of humiliation” brought drugs to China. The subsequent invasions killed millions of Chinese. Oh, and thanks to law like Chinese exclusion act, it made the Chinese deeply aware not to be self complacent.

    Today, the mass media narrative in the west also encourages the Chinese to never let their guard down. If the Chinese are manufacturing goods, they are stealing jobs and polluting the environment. Any technological improvement like space launch, telecom, aerospace etc are called theft of intellectual property. And Chinese also shouldn’t be allow to set foot in Tibet, Xingjiang etc.

    The common Chinese across the globe just want a better life for themselves and their children. Mr Schell should realize the day of telling people what to feel and think is over.

  2. Black Pheonix
    July 23rd, 2013 at 13:36 | #2


    Perhaps Mr. Schell and others are simply oblivious to the irony of their own making:

    A bunch of Westerners, YET AGAIN, thinking that they know what’s good for the Chinese people.

    I have an image in my mind:

    A Bully goes to the kid he bullied in the past, and says, “Hey, I think you should stop complaining about me bullying you, RIGHT NOW, or ELSE! See I moved on. I’m not bullying you any more, RIGHT?!! So quit calling me a bully. You need to move on. If you keep complaining, you are just being childish.”

    Yeah, the West is so “post-racism”, and also so “post-colonialism”, and China should just be “post-humiliation”.

  3. N.M.Cheung
    July 23rd, 2013 at 15:08 | #3

    I thought Jonathan Schell just wrote a book about a dozen or so modern Chinese thinkers and the use of shame as a motivating force that drove China to the front rank of economic powers. Now he wants China to forget the century of humiliation and do what? Sit back and join in the decadence of the West? True, when I was in grade school in Shanghai, The Opium Wars were drilled to all of us on Chinese history. We have certainly come a long way since then, but China still have a long way to go. I suspect we’ll seeing more incredible things in the next 30 years from China. I await the day when water diverted from Tibet irrigate the Gobi Desert and flowers bloom there.

  4. July 23rd, 2013 at 16:43 | #4

    Schell writes China needs “a more constructive national story” – suggesting two things:

    1.) the current version is destructive.
    2.) the version is a poor choice by Chinese.

    Two problems. First, it suggests that China’s history can – and ought – to be whitewashed. Problem is that there is nothing wrong with remembering certain segments of history in clear detail. There are other national stories that also takes root in, and does not whitewash, its traumatic pasts. Israel is one obvious one. But modern Germany, though for different reasons, also choose to remember certain segments of history in clear detail.

    Second, it suggests that China’s victimhood is a choice. Unfortunately, China’s victimhood is forced upon China. It is that victimhood that currently unites China and emboldens China to reclaim its history. If you ask most Chinese whether they would prefer to have a different national identity, by going back in time and changing history, most would say yes. No one really wants to be a victim. But history is history.

    By embracing that past and developing a resolve to conquer that history, the people of China has lifted itself out of poverty, and transformed a beaten nation into a pillar of the world’s economic engine. It is on a trajectory to become the world’s pre-dominant economic power, and is seriously considering a revival of its civilization – a civilization that was the world’s pre-eminent through much of the world’s history, a civilization that was the engine that drove European’s age of discovery (pushing for trade routes to China), which resulted in European’s own renaissance…

    If China’s current path and story is not “constructive” – I wonder what is?

  5. pug_ster
    July 23rd, 2013 at 18:01 | #5

    Gees, when western propaganda ‘remembers’ the boston marathon attack and especially 9/11, this is not humiliation?

  6. ersim
    July 24th, 2013 at 08:47 | #6

    westerners never had the capacity to respect China when it comes to it’s ancient culture and history. even those who claim to “understand China” are equally arrogant with their condescending ways. westerners have been consistent in their barbarian ways of acting like thugs and bullies if things don’t fit in their distorted and sick view of “their world”.

  7. July 24th, 2013 at 12:16 | #7

    I some time wonder why do people like Schell expect the Chinese to whitewash history in favor of the aggressors.

    For one, he knows many Chinese read English. As Ray summarized nicely above, the dominant narrative in the Western press against the Chinese is basically thinly veiled racist nonsense against whatever achievements they make.

    How are those two stupid things suppose to come together, and voila, the Chinese ought to have a more “constructive” national story?

    For the West to have a more positive image with the Chinese, they have to own up to history honestly. For example, during the 1997 Hong Kong hand-over, the West should be teaching the Opium Wars to their people so they understand why. Instead of doing that, they propagandized against China’s political system and focused on the imminent destruction of Hong Kong’s way of life. They whitewashed the Opium Wars atrocities.

    They have to stop the on-going thinly veiled racist accusations in their media against everything Chinese.

    Schell does the opposite of what he hopes to achieve: the Chinese are naturally supposed to be on guard unless the nonsense towards them stops.

    Despite all that, the Chinese are in fact incredibly gracious towards the West.

  8. Black Pheonix
    July 24th, 2013 at 12:39 | #8

    Schell is far too quick and simplistic to declare “That era (humiliation) is over.”

    Let’s put it even more clearly for academics like Schell (and other expats): If it really is over, there would be no PR value for Chinese government to keep talking about a dead issue.

    The practical reality is that it is NOT over, the humiliation continues, hence, there is PR value in it.

    And it is beyond simple “racism”.

    The thing is, it is “national humiliation”, because when cases like Wen Ho Lee and Bo Jiang happened, they were just some street level police “profiling”, they were elevated to NATIONAL level conspiracies by Western media and politicians.

    China didn’t blow up cases like Wen Ho Lee or Bo Jiang (or even the Chinese company trying to buy a US pork company).

    Western politicians and media proceeded PUBLICLY (along with quite a few expats) to drag China and Chinese people through the mud.

    This is far more elevated form of “humiliation” than some unlucky encounter with a drunken racist.

    Incidentally, Committee of 100’s 2009 survey found interestingly enough, that US born Chinese Americans actually more likely to feel discriminated against, than Chinese immigrants born in China!


    Page 94

  9. pug_ster
    July 25th, 2013 at 07:19 | #9


    I am glad that there’s at least one American who understands what China’s “humiliation” means.

  10. Black Pheonix
    July 26th, 2013 at 07:13 | #10


    There is something important in confronting “shame” as part of one’s development process. Confronting “shame” requires courage. Thus, to know shame is to confront shame.

    Concept of “shame” in one’s development process is not completely Asian. Westerners do it too, but they often don’t recognize it.

    For example, the well known “12 step recovery” process used by organizations like “Alcohol Anonymous” has the very 1st step of “admitting one’s problem/wrongs”.

    BTW, this step requires that one confronts “shame”, instead of merely admitting “guilt”, because it requires that one PUBLICLY admits wrongs committed in relationships to others, more than what one perceives as wrong to one’s own identity.

    The problem with many modern emotional problems and addictions is that people are too detached from “shame”, and at the same time, justify/excuse their own behaviors as “guiltless”. (Thus, you see guys like Anthony Weiner doing the same wrong over and over again).

    So, the 12 step programs actually emphasize on reestablishing and confronting one’s deep buried feeling of “shame”, and use “shame” as an emotional connection to one’s society, which spurs deeper courage and desire to change one’s self to align better with society (which brings emotional and spiritual harmony).

    *Indeed, I do think Westerners need to get more in touch with their inner sense of “shame”. It’s not an alien concept to Western culture, but Western emphasis on “individuality” has caused many to become too detached to it.

  11. Black Pheonix
    July 26th, 2013 at 08:15 | #11

    Perhaps I should post something in more detail about “shame” vs. “guilt” cultural concepts. But here are some nuggets.

    “Shame” is sometimes defined (by Western sociologists) as a feeling of one not living up to the expectations of others. “Guilt” is sometimes defined as a feeling of one not living up to the expectations of oneself.

    The problem I see with the West (which some Western sociologists have self-characterized as “guilt-based” culture), is that over-reliance on guilt and insufficient shame cause individuals to continually “reset” their own “expectations” of themselves to ever LOWER and LOWER bars, in terms of morals, ethics, principles, etc., until “guilt” hardly exists any more than “shame”.

    Afterall, if one does not feel the need to live up to the expectations of others, why would one feel any need at all to live up to one’s own expectations? And why should one’s own expectations of oneself be anywhere close to expectations from others??

    China and other Asian societies have sometimes been characterized by Western academics as “shame-based cultures”. I rather disagree with that.

    It is true that Asian societies do have more “shaming” as social mechanisms of enforcing social standards, as compared to the modern West. However, this was not always the case.

    Medieval Europe were full of ritualistic and public “shaming”, far more than even traditional Asian societies.

    Asian “shaming” often came in form of social gossips and ridicules.

    Western “shaming” were long histories of public flogging, public egging, public stoning, religious excommunications, etc., and other far more draconian measures.

    The reason why “shaming” still works in Asia, is because it never rose to the level of draconian punishments as it did in the West.

    Hence the key difference. In Asia, “Shame” is used effectively, NOT to punish people, but to motivate them to do better.

    In contrast, the West shied away from “shame”, because it was linked to cruel punishments that didn’t really achieve any results.

    *This difference is also evident in the criminal justice systems.

    In Asia, the criminals are expected to confess and repent their crimes by detailing them and asking for forgiveness. Legal punishments are designed to “shame” but not permanently shun the criminals.

    In the West, however, because of a historical abhorrence for “shaming” punishments, criminals do not ever want to confess or repent. They nearly always opt to maintain their innocence or find some excuses. Inevitably, the criminals always want to portray themselves to be the “victims” of the system.

    The lack of appropriate “shame” in the West has resulted that even many in the West now perceives a problem of “self-victimization” in the Western culture, where no matter what errors or mistakes, individuals perceive themselves as “victims” and seek to blame others and refuse to accept personal responsibilities.

  12. perspectivehere
    August 5th, 2013 at 06:27 | #12

    I watched this DVD and thought it was a balanced discussion, i.e., I strongly disagreed with some of the commentators and strongly agreed with some of the commentators, and there were some I felt went partly one way and partly another. So overall, it does of good of of presenting different points of view, and illustrating the diversity of perspectives. For teaching purposes or for introducing people to the general topic and initiating a discussion, I think it is a good resource.

    China’s Century of Humiliation (2011)

    I really don’t like the cover illustration however.

  13. ersim
    November 13th, 2013 at 13:42 | #13

    It sounds like how the First Nations within the U.S. are being told to “get over it” when they are being reminded about the atrocities and land theft committed against the indigenous peoples for the past 4 centuries.

  14. bgdavis
    March 18th, 2017 at 10:03 | #14

    Like most academics, Orville Schell has built a nice career on a combination of theoretical background plus generous helpings of self-promotion. Like all academics aspiring to stardom (or at least nice jobs and tenure), he has continued to churn out opinions and papers and talks on his chosen subject(s) regardless of their real merit; the pressure to do so and the desire to keep his name in the public eye has resulted in speculation and personal opinion being passed off as truth and reality. It would be a mistake to take anything he says too seriously.

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