Inglorious Chinese Basterds

Wait – it’s the author of this article in the Global Times that draws the comparison of an outrageous show for kids at the Summer Palace with Quentin Tarantino’s film. And the analogy is spot-on. This is wild and crazy stuff.

The lotus flowers are in bloom at the Old Summer Palace, a magnificent royal compound destroyed twice by foreigners, in 1860 and 1900.

This catastrophic loss to the world’s cultural heritage occurred more than a century ago, but the ruins loom large as a central symbol of China’s humiliation at the hands of Westerners.

I saw first-hand an example of how this sense of indignity and outrage is kept alive during a stroll on a summer evening, when I stopped and watched the shadow puppet show The Legend of Yuanmingyuan.

….Watching the show, I was confused by what was happening before me. In battle after battle, Chinese soldiers and villagers used martial arts and tricks to defeat the buffoonish French and British invaders.

The foreigners got hatchets in the face, spears in the eye, and bayoneted repeatedly while lying helpless on the ground. Wily Chinese fighters jumped into the air, causing foreign troops to accidentally kill each other… I was wondering if I had stumbled upon China’s answer to Inglourious Basterds, the Quentin Tarantino revenge fantasy in which a group of Jews scalp dozens of Nazis and then kill Hitler.

The delightful show has an obvious intent: to generate in impressionable children as much rage against foreigners as possible.

In The Legend of Yuanmingyuan, the foreigners’ only motivation is greed and spite. When they first enter a Chinese village near the start of the show, a soldier says, “Let’s steal everything.” His commander replies, “Stop it. We shouldn’t act in haste because Chinese people are smart. You don’t know how smart they can be.”

To the laughter of the children and adults in the audience, the solders mispronounce the names of their own countries, for example, saying they are from the country of “Epilepsy” rather than the near-homonym Great Britain.

During one comical scene, soldiers fight over the loot from the Old Summer Palace, staggering like drunkards with their heavy load. The soldiers, played by real pint-sized actors on stage, are so venal that they reach off the stage into the crowd to find even more things to steal, grabbing at audience member’s mobile phones. One foolish soldier, intent on stealing everything that isn’t screwed down, burns his hands trying to steal one of the stage’s footlights….

One of the most disturbing things about watching this spectacle was seeing little people teaching little people how to hate. At the end of the show, the children in the audience were invited onstage to pose with the actors. To my surprise, it was announced that the performers were not children at all, but adults suffering from dwarfism, with an average age of 22 and an average height of 1.26 meters (4 feet). Their particular form of dwarfism makes them resemble children.

…[A spokesman] called the show “very good patriotic education,” and added, without a trace of irony, “It’s a pity that no one knows the history in detail.”

Kudos to the Global Times for running a piece that makes this look like the cheapest, most vulgar and nauseating propaganda. As the writer points out, the park’s Chinese and English web sites have very different copy. The hysteria and anti-foreign sentiments somehow got airburshed out of the English translation.

We really do have to give the writer credit:

Hatred, like forgiveness, can be taught, and hanging on to hurt and outrage is the central message of this show.

To be sure, a clear-eyed look at the history surrounding the Old Summer Palace and the collapse of the Qing Dynasty offers many lessons in arrogance, barbarism, and how regimes rise and fall from power. These lessons are valuable today.

But these lessons were far from the caricatures of history I witnessed in this show. Beyond the looting and destruction of the palace by foreigners amid war as the Qing emperor fled, there was little in the way of history. This puppet show, of course, is hardly unique, but instead a very normal example of the methods by which past hurts are nurtured for purposes that have nothing to do with understanding the past and everything to do with fueling nationalism.

The looting of the Summer Palace is one of those third-rail topics that I learned long ago to avoid at all costs. It’s one where I’m tempted to use the “b” word (it rhymes with “train quash”), and this show confirms it’s justified. The looting was a shameful thing. But to carry that much anger in their breasts nearly a century and a half after the fact is bizarre. But it’s not bizarre – it’s cultivated at a young age when kids are at their most impressionable, and it perpetuates the stereotype of victimhood and keeps it fresh and raw. A friend of mine once talked about it to me with tears in her eyes, as if it happened last week. I just listened, knowing there was nothing I could say except that I understand and sympathize.

______________

Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 168 Comments

Yeah, the same writer had another good piece in the GT today as well. Not sure who it is, but they should be being paid more.

I’m planning to go see the show myself in a week or so, looks like some other foreign devils are as well. Should be interesting, if just further reinforcement than China will never, ever get over that.

July 28, 2010 @ 11:58 am | Comment

How can they possibly get over it when it’s drummed into their heads as near-infants? Thanks for the comment, Mr. C.

July 28, 2010 @ 12:01 pm | Comment

Well it’s an unusual take on that “history is written by the victors” line isn’t it? Looking at the history of Taiwan, it strikes me that, although nearly all significant development of the island’s economy was spurred by Taiwan’s contact with various foreigners, it is really only Zheng Cheng Gong who is today still held up as some kind of hero, with roads and universities named after him and so on. It gives me the creeps.

July 28, 2010 @ 12:13 pm | Comment

King Arthur is still popular in the UK….plucky Britons against savage Saxon hordes. Indeed, saw a movie about it recently…http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Arthur_(film)

Luckily no one ever asks me about stuff like this :-) Guess they don’t know about it here, being mostly Hongkers and young (shit, most don’t even recognise my Lei Feng t-shirt picture and slogan). Lucky because I have the Cultural Revolution card I like to play ;-)

July 28, 2010 @ 12:16 pm | Comment

Great stuff, wholeheartedly agree. Chinese ‘educators’ need calling out on this sort of systematic inducement of nationalism more often.

The looting of the Summer Palace is one of those third-rail topics that I learned long ago to avoid at all costs.

As a Brit I was often asked about this part of ‘my’ history. I’d usually turn it around and get students to tell me about it instead. And jeez, the level of indignation and the expectation and belief that they were owed an apology! Sometimes I’d tell them what German bombers did to Coventry in WW2, but that it would never occur to me to ask any German for an apology. It would be entirely inappropriate.

Then I’d challenge them further and ask if my fellow Brit and colleague (who was black) also owed China an apology. Not so much, apparently. Then I revealed that my forbears come from many parts of Europe. Did that mean every country represented in my lineage owed China an apology? Silence.

These days – as my wife is Chinese – I’d ask them if my children owed them half an apology, or if I owed half an apology to my children. Just to get them thinking, you understand.

Needless to say, I didn’t then – and will never apologise for the sacking of the Summer Palace because I’m Caucasian and British. China has some serious growing up to do to escape its retribution syndrome.

July 28, 2010 @ 12:18 pm | Comment

“a soldier says, “Let’s steal everything.”

He forgot the rape and mass murder of innocent Chinese civilians.

“As a Brit I was often asked about this part of ‘my’ history. I’d usually turn it around and get students to tell me about it instead. And jeez, the level of indignation and the expectation and belief that they were owed an apology! Sometimes I’d tell them what German bombers did to Coventry in WW2, but that it would never occur to me to ask any German for an apology. It would be entirely inappropriate.”

That’s because Germany suffered horribly for their imperialism, and don’t forget they have paid out the ass in reparations, bailouts to failed Southern European states, etc. England, not so much.

“and ask if my fellow Brit and colleague (who was black) also owed China an apology.”

Because he doesn’t. Most Europeans would not consider a black man British.

“These days – as my wife is Chinese – I’d ask them if my children owed them half an apology”

They are not counted among Chinese people, so no apologies owed to them.

“China has some serious growing up to do to escape its retribution syndrome.”

Knowing history is now “retribution syndrome”? I guess you can tell the Uighur to get over their imperialist/revisionism syndrome, or to tell the survivors of June 4th to get over their retribution syndrome as well. When is the cut-off anyway? CR was 40 years ago.

July 28, 2010 @ 1:03 pm | Comment

Obviously each individual Brit and Frenchman doesn’t owe anyone an apology. But they of course have to recognize how vile their imperialism was. Nothing China has ever done in her thousands of years of history compares to the what England did to India or France to Algeria and Vietnam among others.

But since you have no desire to face reality, “patriotic education” is given a reason to continue.

July 28, 2010 @ 1:05 pm | Comment

Merp, no one to my knowledge remembers June 4 or the CR in any way comparable to the never-ending breast-beating over the looting of the Summer Palace. There are no violent kiddie shows indoctrinating children about June 4; the closest you get to any kind of show at all is maybe a Frontline special on a key anniversary; the victimhood over these incidents is in no way institutionalized. No comparison. No one’s taught in school to delight in the beating and deaths of PLA soldiers.

I let you in because your first comment today was actually polite. But if you go back into the old routine of perpetual victimhood and drawing false parallels….well, you know what I mean.

July 28, 2010 @ 1:09 pm | Comment

Nationalism is like the last tool the Chinese government has to rule the youth in this country, and a poor one at that.

I heard about the show but have never seen it. I think the article is exaggerating a bit. Can’t say for sure before I see it, though.

July 28, 2010 @ 1:09 pm | Comment

Any reason you think the writer is exaggerating? Agree with you about nationalism as the “last tool” the CCP has. It never fails. Just add water, stir, and there you go, instant indignation and rallying to support the government.

July 28, 2010 @ 1:16 pm | Comment

“When is the cut-off anyway? CR was 40 years ago.”

Way to reinforce your opponents point. Well done, old sport!

July 28, 2010 @ 1:33 pm | Comment

Richard:

“Merp, no one to my knowledge remembers June 4 or the CR in any way comparable to the never-ending breast-beating over the looting of the Summer Palace. There are no violent kiddie shows indoctrinating children about June 4; the closest you get to any kind of show at all is maybe a Frontline special on a key anniversary;”

My point is not the Chinese perception of June 4th or CR. It’s the West’s constant moaning and red herrings about June 4th. Funny how many of these same Western pundits will tell China to “get over” Nanjing while crying crocodile tears for the millions- no hundreds of thousands- no thousands- or maybe hundreds- of students killed at Tiananmen. I want to say to them, save some of those crocodile tears for the tens of thousands of victims of 228.

“the victimhood over these incidents is in no way institutionalized. No comparison. No one’s taught in school to delight in the beating and deaths of PLA soldiers.”

Cold War indoctrination goes both ways- many places, for example Taiwan, are extremely anti-Communist. All of my older family members were steeped with anti-Communist mythology. I don’t see anything “ultranationalistic” about this puppet show; this is more grievance mongering on the side of poor “reverse discriminated” Westerners than anything else. If the West wished to settle this issue they could easily do so- however they prefer snobbery over dialogue. So much for that.

“I let you in because your first comment today was actually polite. But if you go back into the old routine of perpetual victimhood and drawing false parallels….well, you know what I mean.”

You may be projecting the West’s values on China. China is not, and never will consider herself, a “victim” so to speak. They were wronged by several nations, ethnic groups, and corrupt leaders, but Chinese people move on.

You act as if Chinese people are the ones wallowing in victimhood- or are you saying huge growth year on year is a sign of the average person sitting in a dark room filling up with rage over imperialists? Wallowing in victimhood would be perhaps certain racial minorities in the West- you are just using the same paternalism to address the Chinese without context.

Perhaps this is just culture shock. Chinese people still spit on the graves of traitors who died thousands of years ago; literally. There are statues of a couple in Hong Kong or elsewhere that people used to literally piss on- they were traitors who died over 800 years ago.

July 28, 2010 @ 1:47 pm | Comment

Unless China heals it’s past, it cannot step into future.

July 28, 2010 @ 3:01 pm | Comment

You know, the Global Times does some pretty awesome reporting. Kudos to them. The thing that makes me uncomfortable is that their more interesting, boundary pushing stuff rarely makes it into the Chinese language edition.

July 28, 2010 @ 4:09 pm | Comment

Some of the stuff that pushes Western boundaries might not really register with the domestic audience

July 28, 2010 @ 4:42 pm | Comment

“Because he doesn’t. Most Europeans would not consider a black man British.”
You care to back this up? Sounds to me like a load of bollocks. Heck, when the Chinese executed that Pakistani, there was no problems in making him British – both in Europe AND in China.

“China is not, and never will consider herself, a “victim” so to speak.”
So the constant references to the Opium War in pretty much every sinocentric news article or blog is….? Would you care to tell me how “Chinese people still spit on the graves of traitors who died thousands of years ago; literally. There are statues of a couple in Hong Kong or elsewhere that people used to literally piss on- they were traitors who died over 800 years ago” is in any way an example of “…but Chinese people move on.”?

“Nothing China has ever done in her thousands of years of history compares to the what England did to India or France to Algeria and Vietnam among others.”
Care to back that up?

July 28, 2010 @ 4:47 pm | Comment

It is interesting to see how totalitarian/authoritarian regimes use past grievances for their own “ulterior motives”

The aim is not only to stroke nationalism to give them the legitimacy they lack, but to also isolate the minds of their citizens to outsiders. Sometimes it is so effective as a barb wire along the country borders.

I experienced the opposite in Germany when a colleague apologized for the military aid Hitler provided to Franco in the Spanish civil war.

I told him “Man, you do not have to apologize, you were not even born then!”

July 28, 2010 @ 4:50 pm | Comment

“Nothing China has ever done in her thousands of years of history compares to the what England did to India or France to Algeria and Vietnam among others.”

Easy to justify when the information has been deleted or made not accesible

July 28, 2010 @ 4:52 pm | Comment

A second thought

If the Quin dynasty had won the war with the foreign powers, the the Manchu military domination of china would have lasted longer, even until today. And there would be no Republic of China neither People’s Republic of China neither CCP

Shouldn’t they be thankful to those foreign powers?

July 28, 2010 @ 5:03 pm | Comment

What surprises me is that all this anti-foreigner indoctrination does not actually lead to visible resentment or racist attacks on foreigners in China. I’ve often heard Chinese people muttering about these ‘humiliations’ by foreigners, but never seen this turned into physical or even verbal attacks. In contrast, here in Australia it is not uncommon to hear of racist assaults on foreigners (Swastikas painted on German physiotherapists practice just this week, for example), even though children here are supposedly taught about mutual respect for all creeds, races etc.

July 28, 2010 @ 6:01 pm | Comment

Yo merp – what is communism?

July 28, 2010 @ 6:03 pm | Comment

Richard,

I like your new policy of tolerance (even of the intolerant). The blog is SO MUCH more interesting and fun this way for readers (although I know it is probably more stressful for you). Wouldn’t you agree?

July 28, 2010 @ 6:50 pm | Comment

Why doesn’t anyone ever mention the following facts in connection to the looting of the Summer Palace:

1) As opposed to wanton looting, it was actually a calculated act of retribution ordered by the British Commander, the Earl of Elgin, in response to the torture to death of diplomatic envoys. (And some other prisoners, including a Times journalist.)

This was ordered by the Qing emperor himself.

(Makes me wonder, how would the US respond today to the torture to death of its diplomatic staff in Beijing, ordered by Hu Jintao himself? Hell, even less would be left of Zhongnanhai than is left of the Old Summer Palace.)

2) The looting of the Summer Palace could not possibly have been an insult to the “Zhongguoren” because the “Zhongguoren” just didn’t exist back then. For the British it was simply the enemy leader’s nest. The Qing emperor himself would have flayed alive any commoner who would have dared suggest that his summer home had anything to do with the “people”. That dude treated his “people” – meaning his slaves – with just as much disregard as the British – and possibly more cruelty. (The British weren’t very imaginative in their ways of killing people.)

All this is different from messing up Saddam’s palaces in 2003 or ransacking Osama’s nest (if he is ever found)… how?

————————————

While we’re at it, I would like to declare that a short few hundred years ago my ancestors were slaves toiling under a colonialist’s whip and therefore I claim reparations – with interest accrued – up to a total of, erm, everything valuable in Paris, London, Vienna, Madrid, Moscow, Lisbon and the South Pole research station.

And the International Space Station and the Pope’s submarine fleet and come to think of it I’ll claim his cape and shoes as well. Why the hell not! That dude’s got diamonds in his pockets for sure and they are rightfully mine as previous Popes encouraged slavery, Nazism and Ebola. Or something.

July 28, 2010 @ 6:57 pm | Comment

Sorry, I let that through by mistake, Billy. Keep trying.

Richard

July 28, 2010 @ 9:43 pm | Comment

If you check Chinese blog by foreigners, they have very different attitude about China. Guess most losers are those who are living in China and can not write Chinese.

Back to topic, victimhood is reason for strong army and future aggression. Just check Alexander’s excuse for invasion of Asia. Now it is China’s turn to do the same.

July 28, 2010 @ 10:24 pm | Comment

Thanks ABC, I admire your philosophy: victimhood makes people angry which then gets them to fight wars which is good. I have to write that one down.

Merpy June 4th or CR. It’s the West’s constant moaning and red herrings about June 4th. Funny how many of these same Western pundits will tell China to “get over” Nanjing while crying crocodile tears for the millions- no hundreds of thousands- no thousands- or maybe hundreds- of students killed at Tiananmen.

Another false parallel.With TSM, it’s about acknowledgment. No sane China blogger or critic says the Chinese should forget about the Nanjing Massacre. What they might say is that it shouldn’t be used to manipulate emotions, and keep anger levels high, as it often has been used, especially back in 2005. But with TSM, there is simply no dialogue permitted, and my blog got permanently banned shortly after going there. It’s an erasure of history. If someone tried to do that with the Nanjing Massacre, airbrush it out, I’d join hands with the Chinese and protest.

This is what I mean about you always drawing extreme and predictably false parallels. About the US constantly moaning about the TSM, I would say the moan is less an insignificant whimper that comes to life on and around June 4 for a few hours (and that’s with just a tiny number of people) and in blog comments like these. Most Westerners don’t give a fig about it. That pattern doesn’t apply when it comes to the Nanjing massacre, where it’s kept alive and burning for the entire population, starting when they’re young and continuing throughout their lives.

July 29, 2010 @ 12:00 am | Comment

@abc – Errm . . . insanity is a condition which can in most cases be treated through a combination of therapy and medication, please don’t hesitate in seeking expert advice.

@Merp – I would like you to give me an example of one single “western pundit” who has said that Chinese people should “get over” Nanjing but also “cried crodile tears” over the dead of Tiananmen.

Otherwise, yes, this represents exactly the kind of ‘education’ I saw in Nanjing. I will never forget the time I visited the Nanjing Massacre “Museum”, with its horror-show music and bullet-riddled skeletons on display (at which the locals pointed and laughed), as well as messages instructing the faithful that “only a strong, socialist motherland” could prevent such a thing happening in future.

I should say though that, as a Brit living in Nanjing, I never had the Yuanmingyuan mentioned to me except in passing – people did not want to challenge me with it, and folk in Nanjing are rather more directed to the problems of their own city. Shenzhen was different, although the proximity of Hong Kong also had the effect of making people rather more pro-British than average – the lights over the border tell a story which no propaganda can gainsay.

As for the looting of the Yuanmingyuan, obviously it was an act of vandalism, equally as deplorable as that inflicted by Hong Xiuquan in Nanjing and the Red Guards in Tibet and elsewhere.

July 29, 2010 @ 12:02 am | Comment

Oh, and the whole “it was a massacre but we won” angle? Yes, very Inglorious Basterds, except that was made in irony.

July 29, 2010 @ 12:07 am | Comment

Excellent comeback, FOARP.

Friendly: I like your new policy of tolerance (even of the intolerant). The blog is SO MUCH more interesting and fun this way for readers (although I know it is probably more stressful for you). Wouldn’t you agree?

I’d agree to a point It’s more “fun” when there are arguments and discussions. When it’s not fun is when trolls start the “America is worse” argument and take us fatally off-topic, which is now only a matter of time. Merp seemed to be commenting like a human being when I let his comments slip in yesterday but you can still see the troll that lurks in his DNA. The line is drawn when every comment becomes an angry assault, always backed by the same argument, namely that the US is worse. And then personal insults always seem to follow. So please don’t get too attached to Merp; his appearance here is tenuous and he could disappear at anytime. On the other hand, if he really wants to engage and interact we welcome him with open arms. As soon as he starts derailing threads, however, we know he’s eager to get the boot.

MichaelP: What surprises me is that all this anti-foreigner indoctrination does not actually lead to visible resentment or racist attacks on foreigners in China.

You should have been there in 2005 when angry students, often prompted by the police, attacked Japanese cars and businesses (even Japanese restaurants owned by Chinese). The simmering rage lies beneath the surface, and can be summoned up when it so suits the state.

July 29, 2010 @ 12:13 am | Comment

Why was merp rehabilitated?

July 29, 2010 @ 12:24 am | Comment

He actually wrote a very polite, not-so-stupid comment, and I decided to let it post, and gave him and HX temporary amnesty. And to tell you the truth, the comments had gone to hell after I banned the trolls – maybe we need them to keep things alive. That said, I am banning him again the instant he lashes out at anyone, or if he becomes an “America is worse” parrot.

July 29, 2010 @ 12:32 am | Comment

@Richard – Actually, it was a cheap shot, the looting of the Yuanmingyuan was a deplorable act, inexcusable by provocation.

My point was germane only to those who shout loudly of the wrongness of what happened during the Opium Wars (in which a distant relative of mine was a commanding officer) but who are not bothered by equal wrongs inflicted by their countrymen within living memory. When you find someone who actually does deplore all such acts of vandalism, please let me know.

All this reminds me of a television series I watched on CCTV back in 2003 (just after the May holiday at the university I was working at and universities across China had been cancelled due to SARS). In it, just as the officers of the Allied Nations had reached Beijing, where a German officer (speaking with a Romanian accent) stood up and gave a speech in English saying that they had decided not to conquer the rest of China as a scientific study had shown that Chinese people could make excellent soldiers. Once again, history has shown that Chinese people have no current reason to doubt their martial prowess, but this is a pure re-invention of history of the most pathetic kind. The Allies withdrew because their mission was accomplished, and they had no desire to conquer the rest of China at that point.

As a Brit, yes, we do rather dwell on our military victories – Agincourt, Crecy, the Armada, Blenheim, Malplaquet, Plassey, Trafalgar, Waterloo, Sevastopol, Mons, Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, El Alamein, Goose Green – in Britain’s long history we have also suffered defeats, but we rarely dwell on these (unless they contain some kernel of victory, such as the battle at Arnhem). The idea of taking something like the Blitz, for example, and re-writing it as a victory for anything other than British endurance and willingness to put up with hardship, would be entirely distasteful for most British people.

However, our history has rather more in the way of victories to focus on. For Chinese people, except for the Sino-Indian war, no largely unqualified victory has been won against a foreign enemy in modern times, so perhaps rewriting past atrocities inflicted on the Chinese people as victories is rather more morale-boosting.

July 29, 2010 @ 12:48 am | Comment

Oh. I made two points that seem to have been promptly ignored by everyone…

I suppose I’d be taken more seriously if I wrote in a somewhat more mature manner, but so far, as English is but my third language, this has been too time-consuming for me to contemplate. (Especially as I have a fairly demanding job.)

Still, not being taken seriously on a blog as serious as The Peking Duck rankles me enough that one day I’ll actually spend some time thinking before I type. I’ll start with a short interval (3-5 min) and see where that takes me.

@FOARP

Since you actually admit to having had relatives involved in the wretched business of Empire, I hereby extend my claim to reparations to include property of yourself, your possessions, your family and pets.

What are you guys most productive at?

July 29, 2010 @ 2:04 am | Comment

Merp, none of that long comment you juist sent will be displayed until you clean it up. Here is where I really lose my patience:

Actually I recall hordes of posters here saying that the only reason Chinese people are angry at the Japanese government is because WW2 in China was nothing more than an opportunity for the CCP to whip up nationalist sentiment, implying Chinese people should “get over it”.

You don’t recall any such thing. It’s a fantasy. I’m not letting you use strawmen like that and build an argument on a pure fantasy. Rewrite the comment and include links to back up any claims. People may have said the government has exploited justifiably angry feeling against the Japanese from WWII. But no one ever said ” the only reason Chinese people are angry at the Japanese government is because WW2 in China was nothing more than an opportunity for the CCP to whip up nationalist sentiment,” This is how you work – you weave in falsehoods and then stand on them as facts. (It was a delight to see Jeremiah pull them out from under you earlier on.) And you have the temerity to say that not only did a commenter make the claim about WWII, but you say hordes of commenters said it. That’s using the big lie technique. The truth is no one said it, let alone hordes.

July 29, 2010 @ 2:08 am | Comment

I think this is how I’m going to handle you, Merp: You can put up two comments to each post every day, and no more. This is to keep you from overwhelming and dominating the threads. So take your bile and your bluster and wait until the beginning and end of each day and then put up a comment if you feel you must. But I won’t let these threads devolve into a circus again.

Update: Furthermore, crap like this is why i can’t let you be a regular commenter:

If they stop they lose the game, as America has no desire to rehabilitate their “MILLIONS OF STUDENTS BRUTALLY SLAUGHTER REMEMBER REMEMBER REMEMBER REMEMBER FOREVER!!” headline narrative of Tiananmen.

There has never been a headline like that. Not even close. You are projecting your own perverted view of the US media. Instead of you actually commenting, maybe I’ll just keep taking bits of your blocked comments and picking them apart. You see, once you put nonsense like this in the comments, it derails the thread – it becomes about everyone debunking what is clearly nonsense. If you could just address the issue without these idiotic and groundless assertions, like you did with your first comment yesterday, we’d be fine.

For the record, most US media barely mention June 4 anymore except on key anniversaries (10, 15, 20 years). None say millions were murdered. None. And yet when you throw this shit out and bits of it stick we have no choice but to correct the record, at which point the thread veers hopelessly off topic. Be to-the-point, polite and back up your assertions with links and you’ll have no trouble commenting. Post false parallels, rant against the US anytime China is criticized, and make outlandish statements that bring threads to a screeching halt – do those things and you stay out. None of your comments that don’t meet these simple criteria will see the light of day over here. Thanks.

July 29, 2010 @ 2:24 am | Comment

The thing that makes me uncomfortable is that their more interesting, boundary pushing stuff rarely makes it into the Chinese language edition.

lisa, isn’t that the same with almost any Chinese newspaper? They publish something that pushes the boundaries in English (maybe to impress foreigners and very educated Chinese) and then conveniently forget about it for the Chinese edition?

July 29, 2010 @ 4:23 am | Comment

Resdent Poet
“What are you guys most productive at?”
Ummm……selling our industries to others? ;-)

I would like to ask – were the Qing’s considered Chinese? The emperors and family, I mean (obviously). I ask given the Chinese views of who is an “insider” and an “outsider” – I keep telling people off for calling someone a “foreigner” when they can’t be one. An example is my daughters – one, Emma, the older one, looks like my wife (with rounder eyes) and one, Isabelle, looks a wee bit like me (with slightly Asian eyes). A student here was looking at the picture on my desk top and mentioned that Isabelle looks more like a foreigner than Emma. I asked how any of my daughters can be considered a foreigner as they are born and bred in NZ whereas the student is an ex-Hongker and technically more foreign.
I’ll admit there is an element of translation here – but having someone who is not Chinese being called a foreigner because of their “race” (damn silly concept) does suggest that the Manchus would not be considered one of the family….

July 29, 2010 @ 6:44 am | Comment

Manchus are “Chinese” in the sense that they were part of political China. Culturally, genetically, linguistically, they are different but still closer to Chinese than foreigners.

July 29, 2010 @ 7:09 am | Comment

Yes, just erase everything, Opium War never happened, Nanjing Massacre never happened. I’m sorry, but we are at least responsible to history.

What about the holocaust, should we discuss how the Israelis are using this to build a victimization mentality? How many holocaust movies have there been in hollywood. I’m very tired of it, very very tired.

July 29, 2010 @ 7:43 am | Comment

“they are different but still closer to Chinese than foreigners”
What foreigners? Tibetans? Vietnamese? Russians? Mongols?
http://www.omniglot.com/writing/manchu.htm and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tungusic_languages suggest linguistically there’s no relationship (anyways, linguistic relationships don’t mean much – most Maori are monoglots in English…etc, etc). Cantonese is Chinese and yet some consider it different from Mandarin. Nantong is Chinese but it is also different – and different from the local Shanghainese dialect that surrounds it (which is different from Mandarin too – which brings me to regard what Chinese call a dialect is not quite what the OED would define dialect as). As it is, Manchu as a language appears to be closer to Turkish than most of the Chinese languages.
Genetically – yeah…..http://dienekes.blogspot.com/2005/10/genetic-legacy-of-manchu.html but it seems that they shagged a bunch of local Chinese and so brought the genetics closer. But dig a bit deeper into the Chinese genome and whadaya know – it’s not “pure” either. There’s southern Chinese who are different from northern Chinese and eastern who are different from western due to invasions and admixtures, etc, etc, etc.
Culturally – hmmmm. Would this be the indigenous Manchu culture or the sinified Manchu culture? I read somewehre that Manchu women were not allowed to bind their feet and the queues that had to be grown by men were a cultural imposition by the Manchus (I can be corrected here).

And what did Sun Yat Sen mean by this?
“To restore our national independence, we must first restore the Chinese nation. To restore the Chinese nation, we must drive the barbarian Manchus back to the Changbai Mountains. To get rid of the barbarians, we must first overthrow the present tyrannical, dictatorial, ugly, and corrupt Qing government. Fellow countrymen, a revolution is the only means to overthrow the Qing government!” Indeed, from the ol’ Wikipedia, I find…
“The main political aim of the revolutionaries was to overthrow the rule of the Qing government, rebuild a Han Chinese government, and construct a republic. The Revive China Society, founded in 1894, aimed to “expel the Manchus, restore the Han, and found a united government”. The Hua Xing Hui, founded in 1904, proposed “expelling the Manchus and restoring the Han”. The Tongmenghui, founded in 1905, advocated “expelling the Manchus, restoring the Han, founding a republic and equally dividing the land ownership”, which referred to the Three Principles of the People (三民主義, Nationalism, Democracy, and Socialism) promoted by Sun Yat-sen.

However, when the revolutionary parties promoted their political view, “expelling the Manchus and restoring the Han” became the main element, since the anti-Manchu feelings of the people were the easiest to arouse. More importantly, nationalism appealed to a wide range of factions that had the power needed to overthrow the government. By contrast, most people regarded economic, social, and political reforms to be of secondary importance—issues that would be considered only after the overthrow of the Manchu dynasty.”

So it doesn’t seem like the Manchus were so…..Han or even accepted as such.

July 29, 2010 @ 8:06 am | Comment

Red Star, erase nothing. But don’t cling to the raw hatred of events that took place half a century or 150 years ago. You would never see Holocaust survivors putting on a show like that at Yuanmingyuan. It is remembered in more adult ways, without blaming the current generation for crimes committed by much earlier generations. The Chinese should, must, remember Nanjing and the Summer Palace. But remember them as adults, without fomenting rage in young children and keeping alive the notoin of perpetual Chinese victimhood. Most unhealthy, with no healing or coming to terms, just fury without introspection or hope.

July 29, 2010 @ 8:24 am | Comment

@HX
You touch on a good point – when is histry the facts of events that occurred and when is it a fiction of events that occurred?

Hollywood does this, yes – as do a variety of governments for cheap nationalistic aims…

July 29, 2010 @ 8:27 am | Comment

Red Star, erase nothing. But don’t cling to the raw hatred of events that took place half a century or 150 years ago. You would never see Holocaust survivors putting on a show like that at Yuanmingyuan. It is remembered in more adult ways, without blaming the current generation for crimes committed by much arlier generations. The Chinese should, must, remember Nanjing and the Summer Palace. But remember them as adults, without fomenting rage in young children and keeping alive the notoin of perpetual Chinese victimhood. Most unhealthy, with no healing or coming to terms, just fury without introspection or hope.

Different situations. It’s easy to be “adult” about these events if your side has won convincingly and dominatingly. Americans are very adult and calm about Pearl Harbor. Why? Because Japan today has been neutered by American power and is under Americans’ crotch, American say one, Japan does not dare to say two. Jews are very adult and calm about the Holocaust because today the Jewish state and culture have completely won.

It’s easy to be adult and calm when you are the winner.

For China, it has not yet emerged as the winner from those past events. It has done well relative to its own past, yes, but not nearly “won” enough to heal the psychological scar of these events.

If one day China can have military base in Japan, China can dominate international affairs, can dominate international resource, can dominate international finance, can write the rules of everything in the world much like today’s America, when that day comes, I promsie you, China will also be very calm and adult about Nanjing massacre, about Opium war. Until then, I think China deserves a little room for being “childish”.

July 29, 2010 @ 8:35 am | Comment

China has won, you moron (with all respect). You “won” WWII, you threw out the foreigners, established your Communist utopia, dominated global markets and are in the process of beefing up your military. Face the music: this is all about perpetuating the victim persona. The CCP must do this to retain enough outrage and indignation so the people tolerate its own excesses, going after foreigners and not the CCP. And it works every time. Two words: Grow. Up.

July 29, 2010 @ 8:41 am | Comment

China won world war II? Only in name. China by itself would not be powerful enough to drive out the Japanese if America did not drop the 2 bombs. Today China is better than its past, but compared to traditional powers in today’s world, China is still too weak. This cannot be considered winning.

And it’s naive to say this “victimization mentality” is just a tool created by the CCP. Read the books written about Western invasions much before the CCP was born, and it’s a lot more “hatred-filled” than even today’s textbooks from Mainland. Go through the newspapers and literature of Hongkong and Taiwan from the past, neither place was “infected” by the CCP, and you find them just as “hatred-filled”. And what about South Korea today, a total democracy, much more democratic than China, yet its citizens have even more victimization mentality than Mainlanders (sometimes even Mainlanders get scared of South Koreans’ nationalism and victimization mentality).

So please, dig deeper,it’s not about CCP.

July 29, 2010 @ 10:07 am | Comment

China won world war II? Only in name.

Red Star, that’s why I wrote it like this: You “won” WWII – do you know what quote marks mean? Of course China didn’t “win” the war the way the USSR won over Nazi Germany. But you were on the winning side, the Japanese fled and China was liberated from Japan’s “war of aggression.” Nothing in your comment is new to me. Just know that your wallowing in the “China is weak and needs to rise up” script is further proof of your submission to the victimhood mentality. They molded you well, comrade.

July 29, 2010 @ 12:58 pm | Comment

There is one other country whose fortunes in WW2 were pretty similar to China’s: France.

Sure, France “won” the war, but in reality it was a pitch-black page in its history (between the total humiliation of its military, the atrocities committed by the collaborationist government, the fact that the very last defenders of Berlin were French SS grenadiers… maybe the very darkest one.)

France doesn’t have fenqing though… not because its history is not murky and dark, but simply because it never had a totalitarian government to brainwash its citizens into a drone-like state.

July 29, 2010 @ 2:40 pm | Comment

“Today China is better than its past, but compared to traditional powers in today’s world, China is still too weak”
How so? Remember Korea – seemed the Chinese did fine there – with just a smidge of Soviet help.

This mentality of the Chinese, this “we are soooo weak and poor” is a crock and I dare say most Chinese know it. Seems it’s only the educated “recipients of red envelopes” that love to perpetuate the victimhood China once suffered many many years ago (1st Opium War ended in 1842, fer feck’s sake. The Indians don’t bang on and on about the Indian Mutiny/War of Liberation like the Chinese do about some past military defeat) – but China is not a victim anymore. No one, not even the western media, portrays China as the weak man of the east. China is, if what I read is true, the future.

How the feck is that victimhood? Grow some balls!

July 29, 2010 @ 4:03 pm | Comment

“[A spokesman] called the show “very good patriotic education,” and added, without a trace of irony, “It’s a pity that no one knows the history in detail.””

I’d imagine the official is unaware of the irony. I remember having a discussion with a university-educated friend and mentioning in passing something about the missionary killings that preceded the Boxer Rebellion. This person (who is usually quite cool) immediately corrected me, telling me that Chinese people would never have done that and I must have my history horribly wrong.

I don’t say this to pass judgment on historical events, but isn’t it amazing the sort of extreme cognitive dissonance that goes unchecked because it is politically convenient? When I asked why the Eight Power Army invaded if nothing was happening and what the boxers were up to in the first place, this person didn’t have the slightest clue. Eight countries just showed up to ransack China at the same time.

I remember walking through the historical exhibition at the Beijing Military Museum. There was a massive exhibition devoted to the various Opium Wars, etc., but the coverage of the Boxer Rebellion was a single frame which began with the foreign pillaging of Beijing.

July 29, 2010 @ 5:27 pm | Comment

I think what has been ignored here is that this historical victimization mentality, which is indeed perverse, is tied to the *perceived* current status of Chinese as compared to Westerners.

When you have this image:

http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2009/08/11/business/11extpas.xlarge1.jpg

repeated often, as well as ChinaBounders bragging about how superior they are to Chinese, and just Westerners ‘rubbing it in’ in general, you will have resentment.(Of course, there are also inequalities within Chinese society, perhaps even starker inequalities, but it is still something to think about)

On the other hand, and as a sort of control group proof of the power of politics over cultural memory, it seems that in other countries where you do have foreigners lording it over *some* locals, such as Russia and Vietnam, you don’t have the same level of rage (if there is the same level of rage, please correct me).

July 29, 2010 @ 9:44 pm | Comment

@Mountain
” think what has been ignored here is that this historical victimization mentality, which is indeed perverse, is tied to the *perceived* current status of Chinese as compared to Westerners.”

Status or stature?

July 29, 2010 @ 10:49 pm | Comment

Going back to the issue of China winning the wwII.

Yes, they won not just by being on the winning side, they contributed just by pinning down a significant chunk of Japanese military resources in the mainland

But later the lost it.

China was consider by Roosevelt one of the “big ones” who would contribute to rebuilding a new world order after the war, but with the triumph of Mao the country self isolated and became subservient to the URSS.

What would happen it the Kuomintang had held in power until today.

I may get quite a lot of flak from our fellow nationalisticided blog colleagues, but I would like to propose the following results if CCP had lost the civil war in China.

-No foreign powers would have dominated or be present in China after WWII
-China would have been a member from the security council from the beginning
-Hong Kong would have been returned sooner to China.
-Shanghai would by now a greater financial centre than Hong Kong.
-Most of the proxy wars between east and east block in Korea and South Asia would not have happened, or would at a much reduced state (vietnam, Korea, Laos, Cambodia…)
-Korea would not be divided, and the north’s population will be not living in today’s greatest gulag
-No matter how disastrous the management of the country would be by the Kuomintang after the war, it would be far less worst than what happened during Mao’s great jump forward and cultural revolution
-No GFW or a very diminished one
-Less pollution (by now, but not so much in the beginning)
-Beijing Olympic games would have took place in the late 50′s or early 60′s
-Shanghai world expo some year later.
-China would now be better positioned in most science fields
-There would be more Chinese companies with world status
-Not so much shoddy products made in China
-Not so much IT theft, or arm twisting to get it from companies wanting to make business in China.
-Less prosecuted or vanished activists
-Population would be now between 500 and 800 millions (real one)
-I would today easier to have a conversation over sensitive issues with a chinese without getting him into a tantrum.
-Less hatred against Japanese ( some may remain though)

etc, etc, etc….

About Tibet, Xinghian hard to say.

July 29, 2010 @ 11:09 pm | Comment

Interesting list, Eco. If only we could rewrite the past, the way the CCP does.

July 29, 2010 @ 11:24 pm | Comment

@ ecodelta:

Hope we’re not getting into “racial realism” here! ;)

I meant status.

July 30, 2010 @ 1:35 am | Comment

It’s hard to say how a KMT China would have been. Would they *ever* have been able to stamp out the Communists, even if they had won militarily? We also have to remember, as Richard pointed out in an early post, how brutal Chiang really was. Perhaps that was only a function of the chaotic times, but who knows…

I think modern-day India might be a good model for what a KMT China would be like. Free speech, and some bright spots, but shocking inequality (and I know China would probably have less, due to the different nature of Chinese and Indian society).

July 30, 2010 @ 1:38 am | Comment

Eco you’re probably right, but Tibet and Xinjiang would still be part of China- Mongolia and Outer Manchuria are other possibilities. The Spratlys would be completely under proper Chinese control. Chinese Nationalists, real Chinese Nationalists, would never give those territories up.

July 30, 2010 @ 2:45 am | Comment

@mountain

I was just wondering at the photo.

Why do they usually take photos from Westerners from below? ;-)

July 30, 2010 @ 3:56 am | Comment

@eco
http://www.funnymail.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/chinese1.jpg

One theory, anyway…..

;-)

As for your list – Tibet, maybe under Indian influence for a while before transferring to China (after a war?) or going independent It might have been used as a buffer against Stalins eastward expansion. Xinjiang would now be a free Republic of Turkestan after decades of being the Turkestan Soviet Socialist Republic but with increasing closer ties to China. I think after the Civil war, the Soviet Union would have taken full advantage of China’s initial weakness and carved out a few lands for itself (like it did with Mongolia and Manchuria. Stalin would probably have taken all of Mongolia and Manchuria (who knows, he might have made a larger “Greater Korea” in the north to counter South Korea).

This would then lead to a question – what would SE Asia have been like? Would there have been communism in Vietnam (not sure about this one, mind), Malaya and Indonesia? Thinking of Malaya – it was the Chinese that were behind the communist insurgency there. Would we have a Malaysia today (we’ll take it as read that colonialism would have been dismantled there anyway – Britain, France and Holland were broke and US support for independence would have finalised it)

July 30, 2010 @ 5:46 am | Comment

My take is that it’s useless to speculate. It’s hard enough to know what exactly did happen, let alone what might have happened had X happened.

July 30, 2010 @ 6:27 am | Comment

@FOARP
It is fun, though. Almost as much fun as predicting the future – and there’s been no shortage of that regarding China of recent :-)

July 30, 2010 @ 6:44 am | Comment

If Nationalist China was able to scrounge up nuclear technology from the axis powers, they might have been able to turn the Soviet Union into a nuclear wasteland if they were to try and annex Mongolia and Manchuria.

Same goes for India and Tibet.

July 30, 2010 @ 7:52 am | Comment

rather, India *with* Tibet

July 30, 2010 @ 7:52 am | Comment

If KMT took control of China, China would just be another dog of the US, economically may not be bad, but no independent foreign policy, no independent military, no independent industry, completely subordinated to the US. Whenever US like, China must s**** its c****.

China will just be a bigger version of the Philippines. A loser country.

July 30, 2010 @ 8:26 am | Comment

@Merp
If they could….but I doubt your scenario would have occurred. There is a lot of USSR to destroy…and Stalin wouldn’t have minded. He did allow 20 million of his comrades to die fighting the Nazis, after all. Mao got away with things because Stalin presumably thought him as his puppet. Chiang wasn’t.
I dare say there would have been negotiated resolutions to everything and maybe some form of partitioning a la India (Pakistan east and west, India proper, etc).
All pure speculation – but I think one can safely say turning any land into a nuclear wasteland is in the realms of fevered woo.

July 30, 2010 @ 9:00 am | Comment

There actually isn’t much USSR to destroy. The vast majority of the population is concentrated in European Russia, and a few well placed nukes would have made the USSR collapses in an orgy of cannibalism and ethnic civil war.

As for India, they would have no chance of taking Tibet- even if it looked like China was losing to an Indian invasion/annexation of Chinese territory, toxic waste in India’s main rivers would be granted as a parting gift before a retreat.

July 30, 2010 @ 9:15 am | Comment

I dare say the USSR would have “disposed” of it’s own nukes eastwards too……

Anyway, as Graham Chapman would have said, this is getting silly :-)

July 30, 2010 @ 11:45 am | Comment

The USSR took aeons to master nuclear technology despite privileged access to Nazi scientists, whereas China even under Communist idiocy managed to produce viable missiles within mere years of accessing the information.

If China were under the nationalists, they probably would have obtained nuclear technology through US vassal Japan. The Soviet Union would simply cease to exist upon any attempts at partitioning China.

July 30, 2010 @ 12:28 pm | Comment

“What would happen it the Kuomintang had held in power until today.”

You missed one, Eco:

Acolytes like Fiftycentferomerpingtroid would never have been released from their creator’s laboratory of indoctrination.

July 30, 2010 @ 4:04 pm | Comment

The HK public intellectual Leung Man-tao (梁文道), popular columnist and Phoenix TV host, said this about the Chinese (of which he considers himself one) and their perverse, self-valorizing view of history: “我们中国人学历史就像小孩看戏,任何人物一出场,首先要问:’他是忠臣还是奸贼?’除此之外,再无第三条路。” (We Chinese study history the way a child watches a play – whenever a character appears on stage, the first question we ask ourselves is, “Is he a loyal official or an evil traitor?” Aside from these, there is no third choice.)

This debate reminds me of the whole Freezing Point (冰点) affair of 2006 – i.e., Professor Yuan Weishi and the editors of Freezing Point (a weekly supplement to Beijing Youth Daily) were sacked after an essay written by Prof. Yuan criticizing Chinese history textbooks was published. Freezing Point was allowed to reopen again only after a refutation of Prof. Yuan’s essay by CASS historian Zhang Haipeng (张海鹏) was published a month or two later. In addition to completely dismissing Prof. Yuan’s earlier essay, Prof. Zhang boldly re-asserts the idea that anti-imperialism and anti-feudalism are the only two ways to understand modern Chinese history. For those who don’t read Chinese, the entire back-and-forth was covered (translated) extensively by Roland Soong over at ESWN. It’s worth your time to read it all. Here’s the link:

http://www.zonaeuropa.com/20060126_1.htm

As an aside, I remember watching CCTV news some 8 or 10 years ago on September 18 (i.e., the anniversary of Japan’s invasion of Manchuria in 1931). The news crew had visited an elementary school where it interviewed what appeared to be very young (7 or 8 years old at most) students regarding their thoughts on the anniversary. I remember quite clearly that more than one student said something along the lines of “I don’t know much about Japan, but I know they came to China a long time ago and killed a lot of Chinese people. It was very terrible.” For anyone interested in understanding what’s wrong with the Chinese educational system, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start. In fact, the Ministry of Education’s number one stated goal is to inspire patriotism and support of the Party among students. Brainwashing, indeed.

July 30, 2010 @ 5:52 pm | Comment

By the way, thanks for pointing-out this essay. Not being a reader of the English edition of the Global Times, it’s not something I would have found on my own. Like your first commenter, I now also plan to see the show.

July 30, 2010 @ 6:04 pm | Comment

Let me second Gan Lu here. The Yuan Weishi article for Freezing Point is a must-read regarding the influence of China’s ‘patriotic education curriculum’ on history education in the PRC. I often assign it in class. Thanks for giving it a shout out.

July 30, 2010 @ 6:09 pm | Comment

@Gan Lu-Jeremiah

Could China be risking to repeat the past by preventing a more critical and balanced view history in text books?

Are future/current officials going to behave in a similar way their Qing dynasty counterparts in a moment of crisis?

Could the consequences for China be so dire like in the past?

July 30, 2010 @ 7:33 pm | Comment

Resident Poet: “While we’re at it, I would like to declare that a short few hundred years ago my ancestors were slaves toiling under a colonialist’s whip and therefore I claim reparations – with interest accrued – up to a total of, erm, everything valuable in Paris, London, Vienna, Madrid, Moscow, Lisbon and the South Pole research station.”

Was not going to post this but saw comment 33 where you bemoaned the collective cold shoulder. Who said anything about seeking reparations? There are two camps on this thread. You clearly have pitched a tent in Camp Puppet Show Is Bad yet your line of thought entirely rebukes instead a central argument of your compatriots, which is that we should not hold our contemporaries ransom for crimes committed by our ancestors. Surprised no one has called you out on that yet. Actually not surprised given the “erring on the side of political correctness” tendency of modern society…

July 30, 2010 @ 9:07 pm | Comment

Just a general point about brain washing / media censorship in China – I think something that might be lost on a lot of you (forgive my generalization if this is not the case), given most of you seem to be expats living in China, is the ironic danger of unfettered access to information in the States. By that I mean that I and most people with that luxury operate under the assumption that the news we receive from the various media outlets is accurate to the proverbial “T,” which induces passivity to various degrees on our part as consumers of information. There are two unfortunate, unintended consequences: 1) because human beings are creatures of habit, we latch on to our favorite news service and limit ourselves to a single, monolithic perspective (no such thing as pure journalism these days, everything is tinged with personal biases), whether it’s the conservative Fox News or the liberal MSNBC, creating the current extreme, problematic bifurcation of the political spectrum in the States; 2) sometimes what’s reported in the news is flat-out wrong (e.g. WMDs, Tibet riots) but because it’s so ingrained in our collective psyche that we’re receiving accurate/unbiased information, we fail to question the veracity of what’s being fed to us as gospel truth. On the other hand, if you live in China and are aware the Great Firewall and are savvy enough to get around it, you become a much more active consumer of news and through your quest for reality will inevitably encounter most, if not the entire spectrum of perspectives, thereby becoming an arguably better informed citizen of the world. I realize that this is only true of a small percentage of CCTV’s constituents. What I found in my brief time spent in China as an adult during a few summer months following graduation, however, was that I just completely shut myself off to the ongoings of the world outside of what I was able to observe and process on my own in my immediate surroundings…

July 30, 2010 @ 9:56 pm | Comment

Jack, I disagree with your critique of an open media. I don’t see how/why the GFW makes anyone more savvy by forcing them to get around it (a strange argument).

Sure we need to be diligent and get alternative viewpoints, and depending solely on one news source can limit your understanding of an issue. But the alternative to an open media is too horrifying to consider because in order to not have an open media you have to have government controlling it, and that is an invitation to disaster, to massive state-ordered brainwashing. You can point out literally thousands of examples daily of erroneous news reports and misleading stories. But the alternative to that is state control, and that is unacceptable. There’s a reason why in the US the First Amendment comes first. As soon as you stop having a free press, you stop being free.

July 31, 2010 @ 12:37 am | Comment

He doesn’t want to be free neither others to be

July 31, 2010 @ 2:27 am | Comment

@Jeremiah – I hope you will not mind me asking, but how can you assign such an opinionated piece for class? When I say “opinionated”, I mean that I find the opinions in the piece fairly reasonable, but they are, fairly obviously, opinions and not necessarily facts. I trust, therefore, that you also assign a piece presenting the countervailing opinion equally as strongly, if such a piece exists of course.

@Richard – “As soon as you stop having a free press, you stop being free”

I’m sorry, Richard, but this comes off as self-congratulatory mush from media hanger-onners. Freedom of the press can disappear before actual freedom (the UK during WW2, for example), and Freedom of the press can exist in a twisted form for a long period that he was alive.

July 31, 2010 @ 3:05 am | Comment

FOARP: “[H]ow can you assign such an opinionated piece for class?”

You’d do better to pose this question to the cadres in the Ministries of Propaganda and Education about the current selection of Chinese history texts. In the end, Yuan Weishi and the editors of Freezing Point found themselves in the middle of a class 5 shit storm because they ventured to complicate the received narrative of modern China’s history. By way of analogy, it’s helpful to consider that the subject of modern history in the P.R.C. is in many ways analogous to religious scripture in some fundamentalist circles in the U.S. (and elsewhere) – i.e., change “one jot or tittle” and you risk eternal damnation. It’s a pitiful state of affairs.

That is, the question really isn’t whether Prof. Yuan’s version of history was right or wrong. After all, professional historians in the West disagree regularly about many things, big and small. Rather, the Freezing Point affair was all about freedom of speech, freedom of the press, academic independence, and the reach of the Chinese state. In recent years, there’s been much talk about how to improve Chinese universities and the Chinese educational system in general. One idea that has gained a lot of traction this past year is the need for more institutional freedom. So long as professors and department heads at the best Chinese universities continue to care more about pleasing administrators and bureaucrats than about improving the quality of their research, Chinese universities will be second or third rate. And the problem isn’t just in history departments. It’s worth reminding everyone that revisionism is what good historians do. Prof. Yuan was just doing his job. The idea that a single interpretation of modern history can or should suffice for all time (i.e., Prof. Zhang Haipeng’s argument) is simply ludicrous. I’m embarrassed for every Chinese historian who thinks this way.

July 31, 2010 @ 5:53 am | Comment

FOARP: “Freedom of the press can disappear before actual freedom (the UK during WW2, for example).”

Of course, speech and media freedoms have often been denied during wartime. But it’s important to note that there was tremendous public outcry at the new limits and not everyone obeyed. Likewise, it’s also important to remember that wartime laws limiting freedom of speech were generally soon lifted.

A great book on this subject, written by Prof. Geoffrey Stone of the University of Chicago School of Law, is called “Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime: From the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism.” Of course, the author’s focus is the U.S., not the U.K., but that should bother too many people. Very, very highly recommended.

July 31, 2010 @ 6:04 am | Comment

FOARP,

I assign a lot of opinion pieces in my class, which express many different kinds of opinions and a wide range of views. It’s how you foster a good classroom discussion.

July 31, 2010 @ 6:10 am | Comment

Ecodelta,

I’m not so alarmist as to think the Chinese “patriotic education” curriculum will inevitably lead to some sort of Cultural Revolution conflagration or anything close to that.

But I do think it’s a poor way to create “patriots” and it hardly deserves to be called “education.”

July 31, 2010 @ 6:15 am | Comment

“that he was alive”
I mean “after freedom is gone”. Drunk posting, to be avoided.

July 31, 2010 @ 8:43 am | Comment

@Jeremiah – I understand the intent, nor am I trying to push an opposing point of view to the piece, but isn’t there the risk that your class will think you are trying to push an agenda if there is not an opposing piece?

July 31, 2010 @ 8:47 am | Comment

I do assign opposing perspectives, excerpts from the actual textbooks, or at, for some classes, summarize the opposition point of view. That said, Yuan Weishi’s essay isn’t exactly a raging polemic, is it? Which is why the response by the propaganda bureau seemed like such a staggering overreaction.

July 31, 2010 @ 8:58 am | Comment

I just realized that I might want to clarify, I assign Yuan Weishi for a section I do on narrative and education in the PRC, it’s assigned as a piece of historiography not history.

July 31, 2010 @ 9:03 am | Comment

@Jack

I was not actually being serious in my claim to the South Pole Research Station, the Pope’s robes and FOARP’s family. In fact, my point was very much in line with that of most white devils here but I thought that if I choose irony to express myself it’d get that much better.

Apparently I was wrong :)

July 31, 2010 @ 11:21 am | Comment

@Jeremiah

What would be a “good” way to create patriots?

July 31, 2010 @ 11:23 am | Comment

Hi Richard,

I’m a long-time follower of your site and really enjoy reading what you have to say. This is one of the very few times I have to disagree with you, however. I used to be equally baffled by the Chinese reaction to this topic of the old summer palace, but I really knew very little about what had happened. I am a translator of a lot of materials on antiques and collecting, and I started to learn more about this topic through my work, and the more I have learned, the more I realize how unfathomable this event was. You say “I understand and sympathize”, but I believe there is absolutely no way for us to know the extent of what was destroyed in this event. An almost endless complex of hall after hall of invaluable antiques and materials were destroyed, and we would know so much more about nearly every field of Chinese art and culture if this event didn’t happen. I can’t think of any other event in history that is comparable, however I am by no means an expert. I also don’t profess to be an expert on the old summer palace, but I do know enough that I would not find it strange in the least to see someone tear up when recalling this event today. You are usually quite emotional in your posts on the TMS incident, but at the old summer palace not only lives were lost, but an unfathomable chunk of cultural heritage was lost as well. So I wouldn’t call the looting “shameful”, but basically “unfathomable.” I agree that it is a topic best avoided, but for different reasons than you mention.

August 1, 2010 @ 12:49 pm | Comment

One more thought, if you think about the Cultural Revolution and how much senseless cultural destruction went on, I think that is a good place to start in thinking about the old summer palace. But I don’t think there is any way to overestimate the cultural destruction that took place with the destruction of the old summer palace, and since it all happened in one intense event, that makes it all the more unthinkable. Depending on how you look at it, one could argue that the devastation to Chinese culture was worse with the old summer palace than with the Cultural Revolution.

August 1, 2010 @ 1:05 pm | Comment

Jeff,

All here will doubtlessly agree that the looting of the Old Summer Palace was a barbaric act, as all decent men must mourn the destruction of a civilization’s main trove of cultural artifacts.

The people some of us are referring to dismissively, though, are not honorable, knowledgeable people like the gray-haired academics who dedicate entire lives to painstakingly rebuilding a single ancient work, line by line, page by page (and sadly, nearly always fail). Those people are few and absolutely unrepresentative of the whole.

It it rather the illiterate hordes of morons with more psychological complexes that I can count, racist and ignorant, fearful and cowardly but violent and cruel when in great numbers, it is those many puppets of negligible intellect, slim build and rotten teeth, it is those foul multitudes, hardly worthy of the name “man”, toiling in obscurity and hardship, abused and abusing, careless and never cared for, ill fed, malevolent, it is those many who are from birth brainwashed by the CCP, exploited, oppressed and manipulated, tagged and imprisoned, aborted and executed, threatened, beaten and tortured, it is those men – if there is still humanity in them, for some do turn into robotic, twitching entities like Math – and above all their cruel, murderous, hell-spawned overlords that we mock here on The Peking Duck.

These folk tend to do everything for the wrong reason and in the wrong way – even things unquestionably right to do, like mourning the destruction of the Summer Palace.

August 1, 2010 @ 2:06 pm | Comment

I can’t help but feeling that most CCP folk couldn’t care less about the Summer Palace, but they do see it as an episode that would fit very nicely in the narrative they’re pushing – if seen from juuust the right angle and in the “proper” light.

August 1, 2010 @ 2:14 pm | Comment

@Jeff
“An almost endless complex of hall after hall of invaluable antiques and materials were destroyed, and we would know so much more about nearly every field of Chinese art and culture if this event didn’t happen. I can’t think of any other event in history that is comparable…”

“Depending on how you look at it, one could argue that the devastation to Chinese culture was worse with the old summer palace than with the Cultural Revolution.”

Not really. The Summer Palace was bad but in effect only affected the upper echelons. Sure, Chinese history was affected but in no greater degree than European history after 1945. Ordinary Chinese didn’t get to see these destroyed treasures, did they?
The Cultural Revolution, on the other hand, affected everybody. My wife does not have a whole heap of family heirlooms like my family does due to the fact that everything was destroyed. Her grandfather painted his dishes to hide the pictures on them and burnt his books. Ask most Chinese about the CR and then the Summer Palace – one is history but, really, it didn’t affect them. The other is also history but it is their personal history. and was more effective in “wiping the slate clean”, leading to history being re-translated to suit the new ruling classes….

Anyway, given the pace of Chinese development, the “Summer Palace destruction” apparently is an ongoing process…

August 2, 2010 @ 6:32 am | Comment

One more comment
“I can’t think of any other event in history that is comparable”
Ummm, off the top of my head…since that time, as far as I can know..

WWI
Russian Civil War
Spanish Civil War
Sino-Japanese War
WWII
Chinese Civil War
Korean War
Vietnam Wars
War of Algerian Independence
(insert heaps of other small conflicts here)
First Gulf War (Iran v Iraq)
Afghanistan – iunder Soviets and Taleban, etc
Iraq (2nd Gulf War)
Iraq (3rd Gulf War – remember the looting of the museum?)

There’s a lot I missed out…

August 2, 2010 @ 6:38 am | Comment

Intensely interesting post and comments. I wouldn’t know where to start, but I especially liked Post #69, as well as a great many other comments, pro and con. I’ve worked in a great many countries who cherry pick their history to chose incidents that serve to inflame the masses with indignation over past victimization at the hands of others. I had always ascribed this to ‘third worldism’, but was disappointed to find it alive and well in Asia, particularly in countries that are in other aspects First World performers. Ergo: Beware of paradigms.

August 2, 2010 @ 7:53 am | Comment

Jeff, of course I am emotional about the TSM – I watched it live on TV. I admit, I am less emotional about the Summer Palace, but I am certainly not emotionless about it. It was an act of barbarism, and I understand the outrage and empathize. I also appreciate Resident Poet up above putting it into perspective (which doesn’t mean justifying it). It was a cultural calamity. But it’s not like all that beautiful art and culture were open to the public to enjoy, and it’s not as if it were a random act of violence, with no cause. And as Mike says, there are many other historical events that are just as high up in the awful scale as the looting. When you consider just how inaccessible these treasures were to your ordinary Chinese citizen, the hysteria, 150 years after the fact, seems especially peculiar. The sense of indignation is kept so raw, the wound left gaping and bleeding, it’s hard not to be cynical about the CCP’s manufactured grief.

Lirelou, nice to see you again and thanks for the excellent (as usual) comment.

August 2, 2010 @ 8:53 am | Comment

Wow, ok I didn’t respond to Resident Poet because I thought either Richard would delete the post or he was a troll, but I honestly can’t believe you can say you appreciate his post Richard. Second, it doesn’t matter at all whether or not the old summer palace was open to the public, neither was the forbidden city, now was it? It essentially was another complex as big as the forbidden city that was wiped out. The treasures of the palace museums in Beijing and Taipei are open for the public to enjoy now, but throughout all of Chinese history none of these things were available to the masses to enjoy, so this argument strikes me as particularly ridiculous. Third, there are many other horrible historic events yes, but in none of them was such a huge portion of cultural memory just wiped out in such an intense event. Something like the Louvre being wiped out in a day. Has that happened? I don’t think so.

Yes, I do think the re-enactments done today are probably done in quite bad taste, but the point of my post was that since there is no way to overestimate the damage that was done, there is really no way we can say that people are overreacting to it even today. I think the objective facts of the loss would keep the wound open whether or not the CCP was stoking the flames.

August 2, 2010 @ 9:10 am | Comment

Resident Poet is no troll, and I would never delete a comment unless it was mighty offensive. His comment offered some important perspective on the actual hiustory of the event.

I said it was a cultural calamity. But I find the ongoing hysteria odd for many reasons, and the fact that none of those great cultural pieces were even available to the public is just one of those many reasons. Do I need to repeat that I empathize, that I see it as an act of barbarism?

The open wound would soon be reduced to an annoying sore if the CCP stopped stoking the flames. They were able to completley heal the sore of the TSM by a.) airbrushing it out of China’s history and b.) giving its people enough freedom to make money and do what they want so they were too busy to worry anymore about June 4. Notice how the open wound with Japan, so raw and festering in 2005, has vanished? (Sure, the animosity is there, but the violence and protests and public hysteria of 2005 is long ended). That’s because China’s government decided it was time to stop and improve relations with Japan’s new regime. Issues are kept alive or allowed to die away at the discretion of the government.

August 2, 2010 @ 9:24 am | Comment

“Third, there are many other horrible historic events yes, but in none of them was such a huge portion of cultural memory just wiped out in such an intense event.”

Armenian Holocaust, 1915. What is now Turkish Kurdistan was, I believe, called western Armenia. Now it isn’t. And Turkey doesn’t even acknowledge it – how’s that for wiping out a cultural memory? http://www.westernarmenia.net/

The Holocaust (the famous one) destroyed Middle European Jewry, probably for ever, and was pretty instrumental in the creation of Israel, resulting in the Nakba (http://www.alnakba.org/).

Then, of course, there’s the demolition of Pakistan’s Hindu, Sikh and Christian past (did you know Christians were there since at least the, I think, 4th century?). Or the Taliban’s destruction at Bamiyan, an attempt to erase Afghanistan’s Graeco-Buddhist past.

Forgive me if I can’t see the destruction of a palace and the stealing of a few rather expensive trinkets as destructive as these 3 examples….

“Something like the Louvre being wiped out in a day. Has that happened? I don’t think so.”
WWII. Think artworks being nicked by Nazis and Soviets. Think Dresden. Hey, think Cultural Revolution – more than a few “Louvres” destroyed in that orgy ;-)

August 2, 2010 @ 9:50 am | Comment

Thanks for putting it into perspective, Richard, I always appreciate that.

I just felt the need to weigh in on the unique nature of this event as I see it. To me it really doesn’t matter if there was a cause that triggered the action or whether these pieces were open to the public. I’m sure when the Germans invaded France they kept for themselves every great work of art they found, and the same probably went for Japan when they invaded China. In this case the invaders either didn’t recognize the value of what was destroyed or didn’t care, which is particularly insulting I think, and this, to me, seems like what is ultimately at the root of everyone’s indignation, and the CCP fanning the flames just adds that much more fuel to the fire. I mean this stuff wasn’t taken and kept in a museum somewhere, it was just all burnt to the ground. Kind of like when the Taliban destroyed the giant Buddha in Afghanistan, but 100 times worse. And I think this notion that “foreigners come to China, but don’t appreciate at all what we have to offer” is still very relevant today, and the old summer palace incident won’t be reduced to an annoying sore until the Chinese people believe their culture and hard work is truly valued by foreigners.

August 2, 2010 @ 9:54 am | Comment

“And I think this notion that “foreigners come to China, but don’t appreciate at all what we have to offer” is still very relevant today, and the old summer palace incident won’t be reduced to an annoying sore until the Chinese people believe their culture and hard work is truly valued by foreigners.”
It would help if they didn’t “develop” areas so quickly. Hutongs are written about as historical China but described by the Chinese as festering cesspits ripe for redevelopement. Old Kashgar in Turkestan is being “developed” by the Chinese despite protests…mostly from Westerners, as far as I can read.
As for “And I think this notion that “foreigners come to China, but don’t appreciate at all what we have to offer” is still very relevant” maybe – if only they’d quit nicking our ideas ;-) Sorry, couldn’t resist :-)
Seriously, foreigners do appreciate China – but China is not the CCP. One is a country and one is a political party. See the difference? As for staging a play showing said foreigners as illiterate and stupid invaders also might sour the atmosphere a bit, dontcha think?

August 2, 2010 @ 10:03 am | Comment

Jeff,

While my methods are sometimes troll-like, for I aim to provide not only fresh nuggets of insight, but also comic relief (and I hardly ever see any reason to restrain my over-the-top, foreign-flavored rhetoric) do believe that I write with the best of purposes in mind. Of course, being an angry man, I am tempted to exaggerate, but surely that is a small sin in a conversation about a country like China, the recent history of which is filled with maddening horrors, and in which even now daily life is no walk in the garden.

Cheers and santé.

August 2, 2010 @ 10:18 am | Comment

Thanks for the historical examples, Mike, I am not very good with world history. I think one thing that sets the old summer palace apart from your examples is that there really was not genocide going on, no attempt to wipe out an entire people. And your characterization of the old summer palace as just a palace with some expensive trinkets is what I think gets most people riled up, because it is so off. It was home to probably the second greatest collection outside of the forbidden city itself. It would be like a country going in and just sending a bomb to another country’s second greatest museum.

August 2, 2010 @ 10:22 am | Comment

No problem Poet, I don’t read the comment threads enough to know everyone’s personality, except probably Math, the hardest working troll in troll-business.

August 2, 2010 @ 10:24 am | Comment

@Jeff
“It would be like a country going in and just sending a bomb to another country’s second greatest museum”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Library_of_Alexandria#Destruction_of_the_Library

In fact, here, knock yourself out http://www.google.co.nz/search?hl=en&q=destruction+of+cultural+heritage&aq=f&aqi=g-m1&aql=&oq=&gs_rfai=

Call me a bit callous, but the destruction of artefacts kind of pales into insignificance when the cultural destruction is by genocide and ethnic cleansing… Tell me, how much of Tibet’s treasures were spared in the CR? And what is your views on, say, Old Kashgar?

August 2, 2010 @ 10:37 am | Comment

To me it really doesn’t matter if there was a cause that triggered the action or whether these pieces were open to the public.

Well, it’s still a part of the perspective. We all know the SP was destroyed, but knowing why, and its history, is important, too. I’m a big believer in context. Not that any context will make the looting and destruction of the Old Summer Palace less barbaric, but the narrative is incomplete without it.

August 2, 2010 @ 11:10 am | Comment

@Mike,
I think the comparison with the Library of Alexandria is spot on, and the closest thing I can think of, although it seems that it is still unclear when and how exactly it was destroyed.

Of course ethnic cleansing is worse, but that is different in nature from the old summer palace. I guess I should say it was a huge sudden loss of cultural memory and identity without such a loss of life. Of course the destruction from the CR and still going on today is horrible as well. That is more like a slow, systemic grinding away of all that great culture.

August 2, 2010 @ 11:20 am | Comment

@Jeff
I think the library at Alex was destroyed a few times…food for thought there as the destruction was repaired…as was the effects of the Summer Palace.
You say there was a sudden loss of cultural memories, I say a bunch of stuff was broke – stuff which can be replaced and stuff of which apparently was abundant enough to be destroyed over a century later. I can’t see the identity having been erased – the Chinese after the looting were pretty much the same as the ones before in thought, word and deed, albeit a tad more revolutionary.
If you are concerned about loss of cultural memories and identities, here http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/27/world/asia/27cantonese.html?ref=asia (originally here http://china.globaltimes.cn/society/2010-07/555743.html). Once your language is gone, so’s your history and your identity. As any indigenous person in NZ, Australia, Canada, US, Wales, Scotland, Brittany, etc…..
The loss of artefacts is bad, but repairable. What the western powers did was bad, but not so bad it can be singled out and held as worse that any homegrown event. Remember, the ruling classes that allow this play to be shown to children and that set the curriculum that teach their version of events are the same ruling classes that unleashed destruction on their own culture and identity and on a much vaster scale….and they do so even now (my brother in law’s daughter cannot speak Shanghai or Nantong – the former the “dialect” of where she lives and the latter her ancestral “dialect”. She only speaks Mandarin. The same is true for my sister in law’s son. That is cultural extinguishing, more than the losses of any pottery or stone object)

August 2, 2010 @ 11:56 am | Comment

Sorry to keep pounding away at this, but for some reason I am really fascinated by this topic.

I am all for adding perspective like Richard does, but I take issue with the way the narrative of the old summer palace tends to go. Until recently I really didn’t care about the SP at all, and I think part of this is to blame on the way it is taught Chinese history in the west. I think in the west we have the great advantage of freer access to all of this historical material that lets us put the events and narrative in place very accurately, while the vast majority Chinese aren’t always able to do this from within China. But I think this historical narrative version of the story really trivializes the event, putting it as part of a cause and effect chain of events in a much larger picture. Jeremiah would know much better than me if I am right or not that the way this gets taught in the west is like it is a small bump along the road of the Qing timeline.

But when I came at the old summer palace from the perspective of other cultural avenues like art, architecture, literature, and history, I realized this wasn’t just a bump in the road, but the equivalent of falling off a cliff or slamming into a tree. Basically like the end of the Qing dynasty is to historians. And this is an area in which the Chinese have a huge advantage over us in the west–direct access to the culture and knowledge of what these things really mean to them. So I think if we really want to put this into perspective we have to take into account the cultural side. Most of what was lost was not replaced or fixed, but just lost forever.

So actually the history of the old summer palace is probably being taught wrong on both sides–too nationalist in sentiment on the Chinese side and too much lost in the greater historical narrative of cause and effect on our side.

August 2, 2010 @ 12:29 pm | Comment

“And this is an area in which the Chinese have a huge advantage over us in the west–direct access to the culture and knowledge of what these things really mean to them.”

???

Just how, I have to ask. We all have history, culture and knowledge spanning back thousands of years. Heck, I just been reading about Oetzi – a 5200 year old connection to my Alpine ancestry. So please tell me what the Chinese have which somehow differentiates them from me – and don’t forget, I have a Chinese wife who freely admits the history she was taught was, on closer examination, found to be wrong…

August 2, 2010 @ 2:47 pm | Comment

On the one hand, any event, be it contemporary or historic, can be examined through the prism of our own morals and values, circa 2010. Depending on one’s appetite for such things, Mike’s list in #93 probably only barely scratches the surface as far as historical wrongs are concerned.

On the other hand, how much impact should/could a historic wrong have on the ethos of individuals in 2010. From a very general perspective, I would suggest that wrongs that people personally lived through would probably have the greatest impact. For things that one didn’t personally experience, I would imagine that the magnitude of the impact would result from some interaction between the severity of the wrong and the sands of time that have passed in the interim. So when we speak of Summer Palace artifact looting, were it to happen today, there would certainly be justifiable outrage. That it happened 150 years ago pretty much rules out any personal experience, so what amount of outrage is appropriate today? To each their own, I suppose. But in a general sense, it would seem to me that the further removed one is from any given historic wrong, the more likely or easily it would be for any outrage to be manufactured or manipulated.

August 2, 2010 @ 3:47 pm | Comment

Mike Goldthorpe says “and don’t forget, I have a Chinese wife ”

Uh….. ok?

August 2, 2010 @ 9:33 pm | Comment

In the grand scheme of things, artifacts don’t count, people do. Is the Taiping Rebellion given the same or greater coverage in China than the Opium Wars and the Destruction of the Summer Palace? The two were, after all, contemporary.

August 2, 2010 @ 9:53 pm | Comment

I think people (besides Richard) are really missing Jeff’s subtle points. It’s very easy to sit back and dismiss cultural property as just “trinkets,” but THAT statement is what is so insulting! It is the same thing as pooh-poohing the desecration of American Indian grave sites. In some ways, that is even more wrong than the killing of American Indians. It shows a deeper level of disrespect.

Yes, the killing of people is worse in many ways than the desecration of things meant to be sacred is worse in other ways. If you don’t get way, then you are refusing to escape your presentist, ahistorical perspective.

On this blog, we are all about how just because A is worse than B, that does not make B trivial or not worth talking about. Usually A is something bad outside China and B is something bad in China.

Hypo’s post is great too. Why do so many people feel the need to point out that they have a Chinese wife in EVERY thread in irrelevant posts?

August 2, 2010 @ 11:20 pm | Comment

The reason that it is so insulting to dismiss cultural property as just belonging to an elite is because that dismisses the entire structure of traditional Chinese society. The Emperor and his symbols were the embodiment of Chinese civilization. The connotation is stronger than it ever was for Louis XIV. Although the people did not have access to these things, that really is not relevant in regards to judging the magnitude of the event.

WITH THAT SAID, I *do* think it is retarded to focus on the event today. It has been a long time since it happened, and the past is the past.

August 2, 2010 @ 11:26 pm | Comment

Not sure how anyone said this was about trinkets. I called it a tragedy and a cultural calamity. And also, I’m not sure it’s true that “many people feel the need to point out that they have a Chinese wife in EVERY thread in irrelevant posts.” I think the number is far below many, and I think it’s mainly to make the point that he is no stranger to China or the feelings of the Chinese people. If you find this tiresome, you may want to skip that person’s comments.

Let’s forget the argument about the people not having access to the objects; that was just one of many reasons listed as to why the reaction to the looting is so extreme even a century and a half later and I’m willing to concede it’s not a major factor. People are seizing on that as if it’s all this post is about which drags it off topic, which is the children’s show and what it represents. Thanks.

August 2, 2010 @ 11:27 pm | Comment

Stuart: “These days – as my wife is Chinese”

Mike Goldthorpe “and don’t forget, I have a Chinese wife ”

Who here has had sex with at least ONE Chinese woman?

Raise hand

August 2, 2010 @ 11:32 pm | Comment

Right on point as always, Richard.

I do agree that the puppet show is insane, and that the politics and culture of victimization are bad things.

August 2, 2010 @ 11:38 pm | Comment

So two is many, I see. I have no problem with their mentioning this, even if sometimes it’s tiresome because I know already, but new commenters may not. It’s not irrelevant, just like my reminding readers how long I lived in China is not irrelevant. Not sure why this bothers you. But again, this will get us way off-topic, which could well be the point.

August 2, 2010 @ 11:39 pm | Comment

Richard, the reason it bothers some people is because of the traditional patriarchal-masculine view which associates hypergamy with the relative status of cultures and societies. Whether or not that is true (and I think it is silly), that is the perception among many people in both China and the West. To ignore those connotations, and in fact to “rub it in” as such, will definitely insult many Chinese (rightly or wrongly).

It is like someone always mentioning, whether or not it is really relevant, that he or she went to Harvard. It does not really mean that the individual is superior, but it will be judged by many to be so.

August 2, 2010 @ 11:44 pm | Comment

I can buy that, especially if it’s irrelevant. I think when they bring it up they are trying to make the point that they aren’t unfamiliar with the “Chinese perspective” on the issue, for whatever that’s worth.

August 2, 2010 @ 11:49 pm | Comment

It’s quite clear by now that the prevalent Chinese sentiments regarding the Old Summer Palace have been largely nationalism-based and greed-cultivating. Yet independently, it’s also valid to feel the trauma of loss for any true admirer of the Far Eastern civilization (not the currently juvenile nation in development) and the very core spirit of Humanity. Think along the scale of the Old Testament.
Take Dresden, once coined Florence of the Elbe, ruthlessly bombed to the ashes with thousands of its residents unwarned at tail end of WWII. Was it vengeance? Is it only about justification? Could it be deemed as mere karmic retribution? The Old Summer Palace was really a vast case of Dresden and more. “Cultural calamities” are not to be trivialized; when especially they are not independent events but culminated by other destructive acts and the heart of darkness of yesterday; culture heritage has to do with the staggering of survival wisdom and dignity of people.
Mixing in the Tibetan culture atrocities doesn’t solve one last fundamental: that it was the West, the more civilized “grown-ups” that have set bad examples. Could this perennial shouting match and guilt-trip exercise really are about the ghost of racism and cultural superiority? While facing history will we end self-identifying with the past victims OR the aggressors? Will magnanimity triumph over kernels of malice and grudge in this “Global Age”? I think, in fact, the truly meaningful and incredible daunting challenge has been about how to envision and manage the Yuanming Yuan site by China and its friends internationally.

August 3, 2010 @ 4:34 am | Comment

Jason, thanks for the excellent comment, and I like the Dresden analogy. An inexcusable, horrific tragedy (and not just the art and architecture, but the appalling slaughter of innocent people fire-bombed into ashes). Hitler wanted war, and war he got. Tragedies like these occur in every war, where the main victims are inevitably the innocent, and where massive Sherman-style destruction is a matter of course.

August 3, 2010 @ 5:13 am | Comment

@Hypo, #111…read the rest of the sentence or be quiet. Better have people think you’re an idiot than type something to prove it ;-)

August 3, 2010 @ 5:14 am | Comment

Hypo appeared out of the blue yesterday, and based on his last comment (which none of you saw or will see) I have to conclude he’s here to troll, so don’t worry, Mike.

I’m willing to give him a second chance if he shows he’s really here to interact as an adult, but based on the aforementioned comment I have serious doubts.

August 3, 2010 @ 5:24 am | Comment

With regards to the cultural artefacts lost – yes, it’s terrible. Hell, on the news today, I read http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-wear-10838480
“The main book is intact but the title leaf, which showed ownership by Durham’s Cosin’s Library from Shakespeare’s day, was torn out and the binding was cut off with a knife,” he said.

“This was blatant cultural vandalism akin to taking a knife to Constable’s The Hay Wain.”

It happens – even out of wartime. It’s not excusable, but it is a product of the situation and the time. Blaming subsequent generations, centuries after an event, is both sheer stupidity and shortsighted. Teaching the events focussing only on one tiny aspect is, like reading about Chinese wives, verging on intent – in the play’s case I’d even say criminal.

As to my Chinese wife – I’ll re-write it…
Contemporary Chinese people I know admit their education in history was found, on further examination when they emigrate, to have been either wrong or distorted.

Happy now? Didn’t realise so many people need to be spoonfed. Must be the education nowadays… ;-)

August 3, 2010 @ 5:28 am | Comment

@MD
“To ignore those connotations, and in fact to “rub it in” as such, will definitely insult many Chinese (rightly or wrongly).”
I suppose then that westerners are fair game? Here we have a play that rubs it in the westerner’s face. In every forum or blog or comments slightly associated with China, the Opium War is brought up – a war that happened in the 1840′s before most of the participants had universal suffrage (ie blaming the people for the sins of their ancestors who had no say in the matter).

As a side note – I have noticed the incidence of Opium War mentions increasing. Must be a new directive or something…

August 3, 2010 @ 5:33 am | Comment

From a new white paper that’s getting a lot of buzz this week )(deservedly so – it’s a good read):

To mark the October 1, 2009 sixtieth birthday of the People’s Republic of China, eager crows of Chinese citizens jostle through walkway tunnels under the moat surrounding the titanium-and-glass domed National Grand Theatre. They have come to watch “Road of Renaissance,” a Broadway style show produced by the Communist Party.
In the theatre complex known as “The Egg,” some 3,200 performers sing and dance their way through 170 years of Chinese history – from the mid-1800s Opium Wars, to the 1930s Japanese invasion, to the 1949 founding of the PRC and the 2008 Beijing Olympics – in an explosive spectacle of propaganda wrapped in high-tech stagecraft.

The show opens with elegant Qing Dynasty ladies enjoying a Summer Palace opera until flames erupt as Western troops burn it to the ground. Rag-clad peasants stagger under crates overflowing with gold bars destined for foreign ships. Waterfalls of blood drip down the theatre walls as hundreds of Chinese corpses stacked like timber come alive to rise up and vanquish Japanese troops.

The tragic 1950s Great Leap Forward and 1960s Cultural Revolution are swiftly dismissed. Film clips of China’s first nuclear explosion and satellite launch lead the way to gleaming skyscrapers, Olympic medal records, speeding bullet trains and Chinese astronauts walking in space — all punctuated with enormous newsreel images of top Party leaders from Mao Zedong to Hu Jintao narrating the Party’s record of triumphing over adversity time and time again.

Migrant workers, engineers, bankers, cooks, taxi drivers, farmers, students and bureaucrats lock arms and sing the national anthem. On this 60th anniversary, China is marking its resurgence as a great nation that will soar to ever greater heights as long as all Chinese people stick together.

The show ends with “Long Live the Great Communist Party” flashing on the screen.
“Road of Renaissance” mixes two conflicting sentiments: victory and victimization. These clashing themes of unbridled national pride vs. distrust of foreigners are cross-stitched throughout the fabric of China’s national psyche and political culture. They are also deeply entrenched in China’s vast economic planning bureaucracy and fused into the DNA of the country’s extensive new industrial policies that Party leaders have hung under the banner of “Indigenous Innovation.”

All the victimhood and sense of being wronged by China-loathing foreigners comes from the top down. Make no mistake about that.

August 3, 2010 @ 5:45 am | Comment

What was it I learnt…ever action has an equal and opposite reaction?
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/aug/02/mongolia-far-right
Victimhood can inspire victimhood elsewhere, methinks

August 3, 2010 @ 6:59 am | Comment

For me, the important thing is what anything does for the imagination and what can be created from it. The great American writer Toni Morrison has been described as a ‘Black Nationalist’ and her novels have presented the lingering devastations of slavery but she has also said, in an interview on the Charlie Rose Show, how running around shouting “Kill Whitey” isn’t saying very much. Her critique was for those elements within Black nationalism that do indeed run around shouting “Kill Whitey” and nothing more. In her hands, that nationalism becomes much more poignant and penetrates deeper into the psyche as when she gave a speech at Sarah Lawrence College and said: “What is curious to me is that bestial treatment of human beings never creates a nation of beasts.” Notice, she does not condemn those that say “Kill Whitey”. “Kill Whitey” is loud, obnoxious and ineffective yet such sentiment calls attention to a persistant knot of pain- a pain that needs to be explored with imagination and craft.

In the same way I see maintaining the wounds of the Summer Palace and encouraging the nationalism it whips up as similar to shouting “Kill Whitey”. There is a knot of pain there that is genuine but what is that pain really all about? Let’s use more imagination and craft to explore it and have the courage to face what comes forth.

August 3, 2010 @ 7:26 am | Comment

Thanks for that link, Mike – I am putting up a quick post about it.

Craig, you’ve hit the nail on the head.

August 3, 2010 @ 8:41 am | Comment

“I think this notion that “foreigners come to China, but don’t appreciate at all what we have to offer” is still very relevant today, and the old summer palace incident won’t be reduced to an annoying sore until the Chinese people believe their culture and hard work is truly valued by foreigners.”

@Jeff – The idea that Chinese people will somehow not be won over by foreigners until they are made to believe that we appreciate their culture is slavish nonsense. Yes, if you visit any country you must respect the local culture as far as is possible, but the problem is hardly that foreigners are visiting China and looking down on the place – the vast majority of Chinese have never even seen a non-Chinese person, let alone spoken to one.

Instead, Chinese people are made to believe that ‘foreigners’ (who are always represented as white Europeans or North Americans) are arrogant and ignorant of the country by propaganda pieces like the one described above. Oh, and the looting of the Summer Palace is hardly history’s worst event, or even Chinese history’s worst event. The looting of Nanjing by the Taipings was easily worse, similarly the sacking of Beijing by Gengis Khan. The looting of the Summer Palace was vandalism, pure and simple, but it was hardly the earth-shattering event that Chinese propaganda makes it out to be.

August 3, 2010 @ 8:52 am | Comment

““Kill Whitey” is loud, obnoxious and ineffective yet such sentiment calls attention to a persistant knot of pain- a pain that needs to be explored with imagination and craft.”
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/politics/news/article.cfm?c_id=280&objectid=10663202

“Maori academic Margaret Mutu said that although Mr Harawira’s comments were a shame, they were true.

“That mindset is still strong among many Maori. They still feel a lot of hate, distrust and there’s still a lot of hurt among Maori, by what the Pakeha did to us. The theft of all our land … we’ve got a really raw deal in this country and a lot of Maori are very hurt about that.”

Professor Mutu said it was important that Mr Harawira’s comments were taken in context.

Her first husband was Pakeha and her mother is English and Scottish.

But she defended the mindset of those Maori who continued to feel prejudice against Pakeha.

“They know that when these [Pakeha] kids come in, they bring Pakeha attitudes. And not all Pakeha are bad – you’ll always hear about a lovely Pakeha daughter-in-law.

“But when they first come in, [the Maori family] are suspicious – and those suspicions are grounded.”"

Not sure if I shouldn’t have put this in the Tibet thread…but Craig’s comment reminded me of this article…

August 3, 2010 @ 9:26 am | Comment

@FOARP
I think you are misreading my argument and making generalizations, making most of what you reply appear to be “slavish nonsense” to me.

I never suggested the problem is something as trivial as how visiting foreigners behave in China, of course such behavior only has a minimal effect. The actions of foreign nations and companies, most of whose members never set foot in the country, towards China can be enough for a Chinese person who has never met a foreigner to judge for themselves. I also never said that the destruction of the summer palace was history’s worst event, but I was suggesting that something of its nature has been quite rare, or possibly unique in history. Also, why do you use the word “looting” to characterize what happened? If everything was looted, where did it go? The entire place was razed, not vandalized.

August 3, 2010 @ 9:38 am | Comment

“Also, why do you use the word “looting” to characterize what happened? If everything was looted, where did it go?”

Ummmm, have you read the piece?
“One foolish soldier, intent on stealing everything that isn’t screwed down, burns his hands trying to steal one of the stage’s footlights….”
and
“But these lessons were far from the caricatures of history I witnessed in this show. Beyond the looting and destruction of the palace by foreigners amid war as the Qing emperor fled, there was little in the way of history.”

And unless you live ina bubble, you might remember this http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/mar/02/chinese-artifacts-yves-saint-laurent

“but I was suggesting that something of its nature has been quite rare, or possibly unique in history”

????????

Are you for real? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carthage

“Fall

Ruins of CarthageThe fall of Carthage came at the end of the Third Punic War in 146 BC.[11] In spite of the initial devastating Roman naval losses at the beginning of the series of conflicts and Rome’s recovery from the brink of defeat after the terror of a 15-year occupation of much of Italy by Hannibal, the end of the series of wars resulted in the end of Carthaginian power and the complete destruction of the city by Scipio Aemilianus. The Romans pulled the Phoenician warships out into the harbor and burned them before the city, and went from house to house, capturing, raping and enslaving the people. Fifty thousand Carthaginians were sold into slavery.[12] The city was set ablaze, and in this way was razed with only ruins and rubble to field the aftermath. After the fall of Carthage, Rome annexed the majority of the Carthaginian colonies, including other North African locations such as Volubilis, Lixus, Chellah, and Mogador.[13] The legend that the city was sown with salt has no basis in the ancient sources; it seems to have originated in the late 19th century as a reflection of Abimelech’s salting of Shechem in Judges 9:45.[14][15]”

Heck, as the Biblical reference shows, it’s a pretty old custom…

August 3, 2010 @ 10:00 am | Comment

To Richard #127:
I guess in some countries, people need to be constantly reminded of how lucky they are to live there, in their current circumstances. Actually, the people may not need it, or want it, but the folks in charge may feel the need to offer it nonetheless. I wonder how a similar exercise would go over, on this side of the pond.

August 3, 2010 @ 2:05 pm | Comment

@Jeff-

“I think you are misreading my argument and making generalizations, making most of what you reply appear to be “slavish nonsense” to me.”

From the American Heritage dictionary (couldn’t find a British source so I had to make do):

slav·ish (slvsh)
adj.
1. Of or characteristic of a slave or slavery; servile: Her slavish devotion to her job ruled her life.
2. Showing no originality; blindly imitative: a slavish copy of the original.

From the same dicionary:

i·ro·ny (r-n, r-)
n. pl. i·ro·nies
1.
a. The use of words to express something different from and often opposite to their literal meaning.
b. An expression or utterance marked by a deliberate contrast between apparent and intended meaning.
c. A literary style employing such contrasts for humorous or rhetorical effect. See Synonyms at wit1.
2.
a. Incongruity between what might be expected and what actually occurs: “Hyde noted the irony of Ireland’s copying the nation she most hated” (Richard Kain).
b. An occurrence, result, or circumstance notable for such incongruity.

But seriously, let’s break your argument down to its constituent parts:

“I never suggested the problem is something as trivial as how visiting foreigners behave in China, of course such behaviour only has a minimal effect.”

No big arguments here.

“The actions of foreign nations and companies, most of whose members never set foot in the country, towards China can be enough for a Chinese person who has never met a foreigner to judge for themselves.”

Ahem. Only one story of how foreign companies and nations behave towards China is allowed to reach the eyes and ears of the vast majority of Chinese, and the play described above is a good example of the way in which that story is told.

“I also never said that the destruction of the summer palace was history’s worst event, but I was suggesting that something of its nature has been quite rare, or possibly unique in history.”

And I, and others, have given counter-examples explaining why we believe this to not be true. Now, you have your opinions, and I have mine, but at least I have given what does not appear to unreasonable grounds for believing as I do.

“Also, why do you use the word “looting” to characterize what happened?”

I also used the word “vandalism”. But why wouldn’t I? Is that not what happened?

“If everything was looted, where did it go?”

I’m afraid I’m going to have to resort to the dictionary again:

loot (lt)
n.
1. Valuables pillaged in time of war; spoils.
2. Stolen goods.
3. Informal Goods illicitly obtained, as by bribery.
4. Informal Things of value, such as gifts, received on one occasion.
5. Slang Money.
v. loot·ed, loot·ing, loots
v.tr.
1. To pillage; spoil.
2. To take as spoils; steal.
v.intr.
To engage in pillaging.

There you have it. The soldiers took the goods, sold them, donated them to museums (like the British museum) or passed them on as heirlooms. They now exist as private property.

A nice little comparison I like to bring out on occasions like this is the great mass of property, both movable and unmovable, expropriated from ordinary citizens, some of whom are still alive, by the CCP after 1949, for which no compensation was ever paid.

“The entire place was razed, not vandalized.

I hate having to do this, but it’s dictionary time again:

Vandalise (ˈvændəˌlaɪz)
vb
(tr) to destroy or damage (something) by an act of vandalism

August 3, 2010 @ 8:53 pm | Comment

I think both FOARP and Richard greatly overlook the ability of the Chinese people to think for themselves, and you give the CCP way too much credit. In particular I take issue with Richard’s top-down theory of explaining people’s indignation of the event, which completely neglects the ability of the Chinese people to come to their own conclusions as to the significance of the event. None of the Chinese people I know take what the CCP has to say at face value. When I spend time in the countryside with my in-laws a lot of the time the conversations are all about politics and the CR. These people know very well what happened in the CR and talk about it all the time. This oral history of the CR is very much alive even today, and still discussed at length among ordinary Chinese people.

I assume Richard’s emotion when recalling the TMS incident is based on objective facts–he said it himself that he watched it on TV. Now why should we assume that the Chinese people are not basing their reaction to the destruction of the old summer palace on objective facts? They see a huge gaping hole where an incredible palace complex once stood in Beijing that rivaled the Forbidden City. They read in a book that it was home to a great collection of their national treasures. They learn about Chinese culture and realize what was lost. There is nothing top-down about this. I’m sure Richard would take issue with me saying that his getting emotional about TMS is because his emotions were stoked up by the brainwashing western media’s coverage of what happened. And what I am trying to say is we make the same mistake by assuming the Chinese people can’t come to their own conclusions based on objective evidence and trying to argue that this is much ado about nothing. We in the west have the advantage of having a sometimes more complete picture and better perspective about historical facts, but the Chinese people have the advantage of knowing what their own culture means to them, and for Richard to say this is brainwashing just adds insult to injury.

August 3, 2010 @ 10:10 pm | Comment

“They see a huge gaping hole where an incredible palace complex once stood in Beijing that rivaled the Forbidden City”
They also drive on ring roads that once were great walls that encircled the city….but you can’t blame us westerners for that ;-)

August 4, 2010 @ 6:04 am | Comment

Have you seen what they’re doing around the Gulou area now? And can we even begin to measure the cultural riches that were submerged for the Three Gorges Dam? None of these things mitigates what the barbarians did to the Old Summer Palace, of course. But you wonder at the very selective breast-beating over lost cultural relics.

This is a 100 percent top-down, manipulated, irrational outrage. This is why the CCP left the ruins standing, to be a constant reminder and to rub salt deep into a wound that should have been healed a long time ago. Not erased, not forgotten, but healed. Once healing is seen to be in the interest of the Party, Jeff will be shocked at how quickly outrage over the SP dies away (that will take a generation or two, just as with the TSM).

August 4, 2010 @ 6:33 am | Comment

@Jeff-

“None of the Chinese people I know take what the CCP has to say at face value.”

Which is odd, because I and plenty others here certainly have met people who believe every word that the CCP says, and who are willing to regurgitate it with or without provocation. However, more to the point is your previous statement that Chinese people know enough of how foreign nations and foreign companies behave “to judge for themselves” what their policies are toward China. Since the CCP has done its upmost to make sure that only the facts (or otherwise) it wishes to be known are known, how exactly does the average Chinese person make such a judgement?

“oral history of the CR is very much alive even today, and still discussed at length among ordinary Chinese people”

Once again, this is odd, because I have very rarely found Chinese people willing to discuss this subject, even with their own family members. Most people of my age and younger either never or only very rarely discussed this subject with their parents, and many have absolutely no idea as to what actually happened. That people are so unwilling to discuss such a painful subject is hardly surprising, but it does militate against the idea that the entirety or even the majority of Chinese people are well informed as to what has happened even in their recent history through word-of-mouth.

“They see a huge gaping hole where an incredible palace complex once stood in Beijing that rivaled the Forbidden City”

If you ever visit Nanjing, you will find a similar ‘hole’ there, where the old Ming palace used to be, that is, where it has not yet been built over. The palace, a huge complex housing many treasures, was entirely destroyed by the Manchu when they entered the city in 1645. It seems that some palaces are more equal than others.

“They read in a book that it was home to a great collection of their national treasures. They learn about Chinese culture and realize what was lost. There is nothing top-down about this.”

It seems that you do not yet understand the process of having a book published in China, or, indeed, anywhere.

“We in the west have the advantage of having a sometimes more complete picture and better perspective about historical facts, but the Chinese people have the advantage of knowing what their own culture means to them, and for Richard to say this is brainwashing just adds insult to injury.”

Only if you wish to define “what people learn from state-controlled media” as “culture”. You wish to define Chinese attitudes in terms of emotions by eliding from the ‘facts’ presented to the Chinese people to the emotions provoked by them.

August 4, 2010 @ 6:55 am | Comment

One for Jeff
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/oldest-university-on-earth-is-reborn-after-800-years-2042518.html
“After a period during which the influence and importance of Buddhism in India declined, the university was sacked in 1193 by a Turkic general, apparently incensed that its library may not have contained a copy of the Koran. The fire is said to have burned and smouldered for several months.”

August 4, 2010 @ 8:12 am | Comment

Well, I don’t have much more to add, so I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree gentlemen. Thanks for the lively discussion.

I’m just a little curious as to Richard’s views on brainwashing, so forgive me if I ask to clarify a point here. For example, are there any views on national issues that are widely held in China that the CCP also supports that are not successful top-down cases of brainwashing or that are not irrationally held? I seem to recall that a few years ago when there were so many emotional outbursts against Japan that Richard thought it was a genuine issue that people cared about and that the CCP was just whipping into a frenzy, rather than leading the charge. Are the Chinese people’s feelings toward Japan any different than their feelings about the old summer palace?

August 4, 2010 @ 10:35 am | Comment

“All the victimhood and sense of being wronged by China-loathing foreigners comes from the top down. Make no mistake about that.”

Are you implying that foreigners and their attitudes and policies towards China and Chinese people have nothing to do with it?

What do you think of people who say Arabs hate Americans freedoms because the oil sheikhs tell them America is bad?

August 4, 2010 @ 10:57 am | Comment

FOARP:
“Once again, this is odd, because I have very rarely found Chinese people willing to discuss this subject”

Depends on the type of people you’re hanging around with.

August 4, 2010 @ 11:00 am | Comment

Thanks for the link Mike. I assume the resurgent interest in cultural relics is a result of China’s rising middle class, and really has nothing to do with the CCP. I think one of the greatest cultural disasters in recent history may have been the Three Gorges Dam. Families who had been living in houses since the Ming dynasty were just up and moved, and who knows what else is now underwater.

Just going back to the idea of cultural relics for a moment, I can suggest several hugely popular TV shows that show how interest in these things has broad public support among the Chinese people, and not just people with Ph.Ds or the super wealthy. One is World Collection (天下收藏) hosted by Wang Gang on BTV. It’s like antique roadshow, but if the experts find out the pieces are fake, Wang Gang smashes them with a hammer. The antique experts featured on the show have almost reached celebrity status in China, and the show features three celebrity guests each week. The host Wang Gang is both a major celebrity and expert on antiques–I can’t think of an equivalent in the West. I don’t think Jay Leno and his cars count.

Then there are TV dramas that center around one valuable item, like a bronze. Usually the valuable item is hidden from the bad guys and changes the lives of the main characters, who are just ordinary people. One is the more recent Gong and Drum Lane (锣鼓巷), which is set in the republican period and WWII, and the national treasure is kept hidden from the Japanese throughout the series. There is also Legends of the Antiquarian Street (五月槐花香) from about 10 years ago that stars both Wang Gang and Zhang Guoli, who is basically the quintessential average man or Jimmy Stewart of Chinese TV and cinema. In this show and his other series Ji Xiaolan he is both just an average guy and an expert on Chinese antiques. He is able to fake a priceless bronze to save his life. This show and others have portrayed the republican period as kind of a lost golden age of private antique collecting, and the show ends on kind of a sad note with the coming of the communists and the end of the age of collecting.

There are also stories from real life, like the world’s most valuable bronze, which was dug up by a Hunan farmer in his field.

So in the popular imagination these treasures (which are sometimes called national treasures 国宝) are seen as something the average citizen should learn about even if they will never see or own one in their lives, and the popular stories say that when an average citizen comes across one of them, they should protect it from outsiders with their lives, as they are somehow linked to the fate of the nation. And I think most people believe this means the fate of the Chinese nation in a broader sense, and not just the Chinese communist nation.

August 5, 2010 @ 8:09 am | Comment

“I can’t think of an equivalent in the West.”
From the BBC…http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antiques_Roadshow
Only they don’t smash anything.

“There are also stories from real life, like the world’s most valuable bronze, which was dug up by a Hunan farmer in his field.”
We had something similar in the UK recently (I say we as an ex-Englishman…)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Staffordshire_Hoard

The recent furore over Cantonese shows me that the faceless Chinese do care. My brother in law is concerned about the Nantong dialect – it’s dying. My wife thinks it sad that her niece can’t speak Shanghaiese or Nantongese and finds it a bit odd that her nephew speaks Mandarin to her sister and her sister has started to speak more Mandarin to her son in response.
We in the west apparently care about the Tibetan/Uyghur cultural “assimilation” yet don’t bat an eyelid at local Chinese cultural destruction – and destruction in which no western nation has even got a fingernail in, never mind the hand.
Yet where is the vitriol aimed at? See subject matter above.

August 5, 2010 @ 8:20 am | Comment

I don’t doubt what Jeff is saying and I appreciate his research. I just know that there is a script that Chinese people, including my best friends there, turn to, almost as if they were on automatic pilot, when certain subjects arise, namely Tibet, Taiwan, the Nanjing Massacre, Reform and Opening Up, Russia’s (temporary) descent into chaos in 1991, US imperialism, and the looting of the Summer Palace. While there is sometimes justification for these scripts (we all agree the Nanjing Massacre stands as one of the world’s most deplorable acts of barbarism), the fact that they use the same words and sometimes even the same imagery (Taiwan is a baby that must return to its mother’s arms) causes me to invoke the B word. No matter how much they actually loved these relics and may indeed be pounding their breasts over them today with no encouragement from the government, they were still indoctrinated at an early and impressionable age with the same slogan and the same words.

August 5, 2010 @ 8:56 am | Comment

Antiques Roadshow is on PBS, this show is hosted by one of China’s most well-known celebrities, so its very different.

August 5, 2010 @ 8:56 am | Comment

“Antiques Roadshow is on PBS, this show is hosted by one of China’s most well-known celebrities, so its very different.”
Uh huh….

August 5, 2010 @ 9:05 am | Comment

“We in the west apparently care about the Tibetan/Uyghur cultural “assimilation” yet don’t bat an eyelid at local Chinese cultural destruction – and destruction in which no western nation has even got a fingernail in, never mind the hand.”

I agree that the local culture is always worth preserving, but many European languages like for instance Gaul, Celtiberian languages, etc have long died out.

So in that sense Chinese people should feel fortunate.

August 5, 2010 @ 9:17 am | Comment

“I agree that the local culture is always worth preserving, but many European languages like for instance Gaul, Celtiberian languages, etc have long died out.”
If you go back that far, then even the Chinese people would be weeping over their losses…. but yes, eve now, in Europe, languages are dying. Irish, Welsh, Gaelic, Breton, Basque in France, German in Italy. There are, however, insentives to preserve the languages (though how effective those are is moot). We have Welsh TV, Gaelic television, Sud Tirolers have their radio stations and newspapers, etc, etc. I read that this is not the case in China (one example http://china.globaltimes.cn/society/2010-07/555743.html) – as far as I know there are no radio or television stations in Shanghaiese or Nantongese (despite the latter being a heritage dialect, as my brother in law tells me – here’s more on it http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nantong#Local_dialect)
Ultimately, though, it needs groundroot support. Catalans are strong and there’s not too much danger of that disappearing. Gaelic is, on the other hand….not as supported. Neither is Cornish (pretty much a dead language today). Speaking to some friends of my wife, conversation turned to whether I’d be getting my daughters to learn Chinese. I said yes…and included that maybe they should learn Shanghaiese as well. One of the friends then remarked that Shanghaiese was pointless – a dead end, in his words – and my girls should just learn Mandarin. I didn’t know what to say to that. Seemed rather sad that diversity is so easily culled.
And all that is before we even think of writing – wife has found out she suffers from this http://www.atimes.com/atimes/China/LH04Ad02.html

I am writing this as one who has forgotten to speak Portuguese (it was my first language) and who, despite having an Austrian mother, can barely string a German sentence together (and what I can is delivered in the thickest Tirolean dialect ;-) )

August 5, 2010 @ 9:46 am | Comment

Dude, you are sharing too much. Your daughter, your wife, your mother tongue… it’s getting creepy.

“as far as I know there are no radio or television stations in Shanghaiese or Nantongese”

There are Shanghainese radios out there.

August 5, 2010 @ 10:59 am | Comment

“Dude, you are sharing too much. Your daughter, your wife, your mother tongue… it’s getting creepy”
Dud, get a life. And thanks for the Shanghaiese radio info – that’s good to know :-)

August 5, 2010 @ 11:04 am | Comment

“Nothing China has ever done in her thousands of years of history compares to the what England did to India or France to Algeria and Vietnam among others.”

That’s a pretty loaded, ignorant comment. China is big country with a long history of constant warfare between various ethnic factions and millions upon millions of deaths, just like European powers of old, the Roman Empire, the Persian Empire and all other major powers throughout history, Chinese history is a litany of wars, with peasants and soldiers getting chucked into the meat grinder.

Chinese emperors worked 3 million peasant laborers to death just to build a small northern segment of the Grand Canal. China’s history is complicated and violent, just like any other great ancient power’s. What’s important is that we learn from our histories.

Sure, let’s not be victims of foreign powers, let’s be sovereign, but let’s instill hate and paranoia in our children? How about let’s teach them critical thinking instead? Just a thought…

August 5, 2010 @ 11:18 am | Comment

Thanks for the excellent comment, Stephan.

August 5, 2010 @ 11:31 am | Comment

Re China and foreigners – might explain Hypo’s fascination with “foreigners” married to Chinese women…
http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/08/04/i_was_almost_a_chinese_dating_show_star?page=0,0

Do you know the bloke, Richard? Anyone? Is it truthful?

August 5, 2010 @ 11:42 am | Comment

This comment by “FREEDA” is right on the spot:

“American male dating a Chinese girl is much more controversial. It happens quite frequently, of course, but it seems the government doesn’t want to encourage it”

your right.
and how frequent does it happen that chinese males date american girls?
do you see it on american tv? seems like the media here doesnt encourage it either.

the different is, you have to whinge just like a little ***”

August 6, 2010 @ 8:18 am | Comment

Dude, interracial marriage is interracial marriage. Why is it a big deal wrt the race of the male and the race of the female? Have you moved on to some male chauvinist/misogynistic kick these days?

August 6, 2010 @ 12:49 pm | Comment

It depends. Interracial marriage has, for example, exterminated many indigenous peoples all around the world. You can’t be so optimistic and assume any marriages, interracial or not, are “sacred”- a lot of what drives white males to “marry” Chinese women is a racial domination fetish, what she gets in return is $$$$

August 6, 2010 @ 1:39 pm | Comment

Race – so last century ;-) Heck, at one stage, we shared a mum and a dad…
http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/328/5979/710
“We show that Neandertals shared more genetic variants with present-day humans in Eurasia than with present-day humans in sub-Saharan Africa, suggesting that gene flow from Neandertals into the ancestors of non-Africans occurred before the divergence of Eurasian groups from each other.”

August 6, 2010 @ 4:52 pm | Comment

Using little people to show how truly little they are inside

August 6, 2010 @ 11:42 pm | Comment

“Heck, at one stage, we shared a mum and a dad…”

We shared ancestors with fish once too

August 7, 2010 @ 5:39 am | Comment

By merp,
For that, your concerns for “indigenous people” are juvenile and disingenuous.

August 7, 2010 @ 9:15 am | Comment

“a lot of what drives white males to “marry” Chinese women is a racial domination fetish, what she gets in return is $$$$”
—for one of the few times in my life, words fail me.

August 7, 2010 @ 11:09 am | Comment

@Mike – Interesting link, I too was once a reality show contestant on Jiangsu television. It was a song competition ala Pop Idol, but the voting was rigged, I’m not bitter, I promise . . . .

@Jeff – Antiques Roadshow plays in prime-time on BBC 1, the most widely watched channel in the UK, and has been hosted both Angela Rippon and Michael Aspel, who are both household names. I suppose not knowing that much about the UK is excusable in someone who has never visited there (as I guess you haven’t, for give me if you have), but it seems you are under the impression that the United States is “the west”.

August 7, 2010 @ 11:39 am | Comment

“For that, your concerns for “indigenous people” are juvenile and disingenuous.”

Adequate to describe faux “progressive” moral outrage. Don’t hide behind political correctness when defending the status quo, which is special treatment for white people everywhere. Chinese women aren’t “yours” to “take” as you please.

“—for one of the few times in my life, words fail me.”

Because you don’t want to address the simple truth, which is that interracial “marriages” are overwhelmingly based in exploitation and a high degree of racism and social injustice.

So which of the following do you think can be held up as evidence of multiracial utopia:

- Viking men with Celtic women
- Roman men with “barbarian” women
- White males and Native American, Indian (from India) females
- Japanese men and comfort women

Deny it all you want but the historic and indeed genetic records show that interracial marriage and violent genocide are two main demographic weapons. If you really think even a majority of Chinese/Korean/Thai/Central American/Mexican women marry white men for love and not status and money, you may as well believe that all men ignore looks totally when seeking partners as well.

August 7, 2010 @ 4:12 pm | Comment

Merp-
You forgot the making of today’s Chinese people over history.

August 8, 2010 @ 5:34 pm | Comment

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