Humiliating history feeds an obsession with race
Hong Kong Handover
Friday 03 January 1997
The image of mainland China, humbled by foreign powers over 150 years and now reasserting itself, is one which requires constant reminders of past "humiliations" in order to inspire present-day patriotism.
Professor Lucian Pye, a Sinologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, argues: "It is a xenophobic nationalism, one lacking higher ideals, principles or visions. The test of nationalism is not just its capacity to mobilise people. Equally important is whether it sets standards that can govern the rulers."
Outside the mainland, Chinese nationalism is still be a powerful mobilising force. This was shown in last year's protests in Taiwan and Hong Kong against Japan's claim to the Diaoyu islands.
Modern Chinese nationalism has its roots among the late-19th century reformers who opposed the ruling Manchu dynasty and wished to unite the Chinese people against the foreign powers in China.
It presented an unashamedly racial view of what it was to be Chinese. Sun Yatsen, the father of post-imperial China in 1911, wrote in the Three Principles of the People: "The greatest force is common blood. The Chinese belong to the yellow race because they come from the blood stock of the yellow race. The blood of ancestors is transmitted by heredity down through the race, making blood kinship a powerful force."
Frank Dikotter, of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, points out: "Chinese nationalism has been based on ideas of descent. The Yellow Emperor was a significant founding myth in Chinese nationalism at the beginning of this century; today references are more often made to Peking Man and other archaeological findings that are claimed to indicate that the Chinese have separate origins from the rest of mankind."
Mr Dikotter, author of a book on nationalism in China to be published next year, adds: "One does not become Chinese like one becomes Swiss or Dutch, since cultural integration (language) or political adoption (passport) are both excluded as means of becoming 'Chinese'."
This narrow definition has been keenly felt by Indian and Pakistani families in Hong Kong, many of whom have been resident for generations, but will not qualify for post-1997 Hong Kong passports because they are not ethnic Chinese.
Ethnicity is entwined with a tendency always to blame foreign countries. Patriotic instruction in China today dwells at length on the wrongs of the 19th century, the "Unequal Treaties" with Britain and the Japanese occupation. As part of the 1 July celebrations this year, a lavish mainland film, The Opium Wars, will have its premiere in China and Hong Kong.
China's obsession with historical injustice paradoxically may be linked to the fact that it was never truly colonised, unlike India and Indonesia. Mr Pye explained: "The treaty ports were a Chinese invention to keep the 'barbarian' cooped up. But the humiliation was that the Chinese flocked to the treaty ports, and prospered."
There is a parallel with Hong Kong, and China's threats against the British to open the border - enabling eager mainlanders to flood into the colony.
"Today you have more talk in China about the 150 years of foreign humiliation than in India, Indonesia, or Burma, for example. They have all been able to grow out of this, but China is somehow clinging to it," says Mr Pye.
The basis for a mature nationalism has fallen foul of political upheavals. Mr Pye argues: "You have had 40 years of the Chinese Communist Party denouncing as an abomination all that was great in Chinese civilisation. And now they turn round and wonder, what have we got left? Where are our ideals, where are our values? And there aren't any, except for a sort of racist instinct."
Mr Pye has little doubt about China's response if the Hong Kong transition does not go smoothly. "They will have to find scapegoats - and it will be Britain and the United States."
The magicians using online collaboration to push boundaries
Jennifer Lawrence attacks mass media again over body image
Paris charity auction staged to save the ancient city of Tyre
Jennifer Lawrence: 'It should be illegal to call someone fat on TV'
Colin Farrell reveals ‘affair’ with Elizabeth Taylor: 'She was my last romantic relationship'
Children evacuated from swimming pool after prosthetic leg mistaken for paedophile
Devyani Khobragade: India-US row escalates over arrest of diplomat in New York
Peter O'Toole: Tales of the late film icon
Exclusive: Young people ‘want UK to stay in Europe’: Four in 10 adults aged 18 to 24 are ‘firmly in favour’ of membership, poll shows
Fox News presenter tells viewers it is a 'fact' that both Jesus and Santa Claus are white
You can STILL be jailed for being a republican, government confirms, and it remains illegal to even 'imagine' overthrowing the Queen
Kiss and yell: Italian protester charged with sexual assault after kissing riot police officer
Fighting back: the woman giving a voice (and 49,999 others) to the victims of sexism - by giving an airing to their horror stories
PM denies two child limit for benefits is part of Tory welfare policy
- 1 America's 'virgin births'? One in 200 mothers 'became pregnant without having sex'
- 2 Sun will 'flip upside down' within weeks, says Nasa
- 4 Christmas comes early: Justin Bieber announces he's 'retiring from music'
- 5 Children evacuated from swimming pool after prosthetic leg mistaken for paedophile
- < Previous
- Next >
£25000 - £32000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Business Analyst - Banking...
£21999 - £27001 per annum + Benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: Do you have exten...
£25000 - £35000 per annum + benefits + bonus: Harrington Starr: Business Analy...
£42000 - £51000 per annum + Benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: Are You Receiving...