Xi pledges national renewal; cites Opium War, of course

Can there be any talk of China’s greatness without bringing up its past humiliation and bullying? Does every call to inspire the Chinese people need to be larded with references to its past degradation? Xi Jinping makes his pledge to the people of China:

Xi said that socialism with Chinese characteristics, which has made huge progress, has proven to be the right path to realize China’s rejuvenation.

Xi said after the nation’s 170 years of hard struggle since the Opium War, it has become clear that a weak nation would be the target of bullying, and only development can make it stronger.

“It is so difficult to find the correct path, and we’ll resolutely carry on our cause on this road,” he said….

“Everyone is talking about a China Dream. I believe the revival of the Chinese nation is the greatest dream of the nation since modern times,” Xi said.

I do wish China the best as it seeks “national rejuvenation…of its past glories,” and think they’ve done a pretty good job thus far. I just find it odd that in a forward-looking promise to your nation that you’d reference its most painful defeat. Unless you’re using the reference strategically to remind your citizens of China’s perennial victimhood and arouse a greater sense of nationalistic indignation. Why else bring up the Opium War?

Last time I checked, the Opium War was over more than a century and a half ago. Is there a reason to bring it up as if it were yesterday? Sure there is.

I mean, imagine a US president — or the president of any other country — using what is in effect his inauguration speech to unify the nation making reference to its most humiliating episode from more than a hundred years ago. Usually you use these speeches to speak to your nation’s greatest strengths, not its most painful defeats.

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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: 40 Comments

More likely than not, this is one of many signs Xi will pay a pretty steep price for the PLA’s unprecedented loyalty and political involvement of the past few months.

http://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/1091637/xi-jinping-cements-his-control-over-pla-his-unique-background

November 30, 2012 @ 12:45 pm | Comment

The CCP transacts in fear mongering. ‘If you didn’t have us, the sky would fall’…’if it weren’t for us, you’d have no economic growth’…’if we weren’t around, the Brits would be coming over hawking opium’…’if we didn’t constantly keep the screws on people, we would not have harmony’.

It’s variations of the same thing. In order to try to achieve legitimacy, the CCP has to extort it. Instead of protection money, the CCP instead demands that ongoing power be granted it by those it “protects”. They’re the neighbourhood bully…who happens to be in every neighbourhood.

November 30, 2012 @ 2:36 pm | Comment

Makes you so optimistic for the future….

November 30, 2012 @ 4:17 pm | Comment

It’s variations of the same thing. In order to try to achieve legitimacy, the CCP has to extort it. Instead of protection money, the CCP instead demands that ongoing power be granted it by those it “protects”. They’re the neighbourhood bully…who happens to be in every neighbourhood.

Hate to equivocate, but all governments pretty much are a mix between extorting legitimacy and achieving it with social welfare. The CCP’s record has really backslid during the post-2008 era, though. Here’s to getting the Party back on track.

November 30, 2012 @ 5:16 pm | Comment

@SKC – Most governments trade in this kind of rhetoric to an extent, the problem is the CCP right now has an almost total abscence of new ideas. It’s very, very hard to distinguish the actual difference in the substance of the policies of the present government and those of, say, the late Jiang Zemin period.

November 30, 2012 @ 7:00 pm | Comment

@FOARP

I’d advocate a little patience with the Xi/Li administration until after the Third Plenary in 2013. Loads of policy initiatives coming into play then. Noises from some Beijing think-tanks indicate legal reforms and additional “non-coercive social management” mechanisms.

November 30, 2012 @ 10:53 pm | Comment

Agreed. I hope XJP’s party can get China back on track and utilise all the tools in their political and guanxi kit to drag China back on track. And CRUSH all those corrupt (leaders) leeches who are draining China of their hard earned position as the one of the world’s superpowers. At China’s people’s expense no less.

December 1, 2012 @ 12:37 am | Comment

The Opium War is a reference more than apt, because Opium War 2.0 is going full force right now.

Massive derivatives trade IS Opium 2.0.

In the most recent round of financial debacle around the globe, China came out doing relatively well mostly because of the refusal of the Chinese banks to “play” in any big way in the derivatives arena. But going forward that is not sufficient. In the West and Japan, the derivatives (financial AIDS) is continuing to grow unabated, and projected to reach A QUADRILLION DOLLARS (US$1,000,000,000,000,000) in a few short years.

It is hard to understand why derivatives are not banned. Today the casino is already close to $700 Trillion. Derivatives began decades ago as ways of spreading business risks, and thus serve a legitimate function. BUT when it is already almost 5,000% of the total GDP of America (standing at US$14.5 Trillion), it is no longer an economic activitiy – it is pure gambling and FRAUD.

Narcotics share the same characteristics – takes very little cost to produce, and can generate humongous profits for the “players”. But the external costs are insidious and horrible from society’s viewpoint.

Using threat of war to force weaker nations to change trading practices – now why does that sound familiar??

Last time it was over opium, and it turned out rather badly for China. This time around, it is in the guise of the TPP, which strips member nations of their last line of defense against the financial AIDS, by forbidding sovereign capital flow controls.

China and any nation interested in “vaccinating” against such massive financial fraud should immediately adopt legislation that criminalizes financial fraud, such as mandatory jail sentences for the CEO of the entities involved, death penalty for frauds above US$10,000,000, and treble damages measured by the face amount of the fraudulent instruments. You’d see the likes of vampire squid withdraw in a flash.

December 1, 2012 @ 2:00 am | Comment

I fail to see how this relates to the post.

December 1, 2012 @ 2:02 am | Comment

More random CCP-sponsored musings from the zoo-keeper. Even if there is such a thing as opium 2.0 (which there isn’t), Xi was referring to the original version (y’know, the part about 170 years ago). And that’s just stupid fear-mongering, as the CCP is repeatedly known to do.

December 1, 2012 @ 3:24 am | Comment

Opium was about the greedy West (UK, and Yankee traders) imposing a deleterious “product” upon a weak nation by force, in the name of free trade. Derivatives is similar.

December 1, 2012 @ 3:41 am | Comment

Wow, zhuzhu sure knows how to change the subject.

December 1, 2012 @ 3:47 am | Comment

“Derivatives is similar” in the way apples and oranges are similar…as in they’re not. Crappy logic. Faulty comparisons. Lack of relevance to the topic of Xi using hopeless fear-mongering. Man, zoo-meister is taking that CCP apologist checklist and ticking stuff off one by one.

December 1, 2012 @ 3:53 am | Comment

Don’t forget what happened before, [as it can be] teacher in what happens next [前事不忘,后事之师]

China definitely should never forget the Opium Wars, and how foreigner forced, in the name of free trade, a narcotic that sapped China’s strength for decades. This is especially true since Opium War 2.0 is going on as we speak. If Xi did not say it, he should have.

December 1, 2012 @ 7:33 am | Comment

Richard, I agree with you wholeheartedly. Quite a few years back I wrote the following (part of a larger piece published in the Taipei Times):
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“Towards any country standing in the way of its designs on Taiwan, China behaves less like a modern civilized nation, than like a primitive and crude barbarian.

If we look at China’s history, we can see why. Over the last 5,000 years, China has again and again been conquered and ruled by barbarians — barbarians from the outside, and “barbarians” from the inside. Never once has it been conquered and ruled by its own people, like newly democratic Taiwan. This is the real threat Taiwan poses to China — it is free. And so long as it sits there free — prospering, and making China prosper; thriving, and making China thrive; bristling with enterprise, and making China bristle with enterprise — democratic Taiwan shows up the lie of China’s barbarian rule and the lie of Chinese history. China wasn’t made weak by foreign invaders. It was invaded by foreigners because it was made weak by its own corrupt despots. China’s weakness has been its lack of freedom. This is still true today. Where there is freedom people can speak out and put an end to corruption and the abuse of power that tear a country apart at its root.

The huge military buildup underway in China today is not to protect China and the Chinese people from any outside enemy because China has no outside enemy. Its purpose is to protect China’s rulers from the Chinese people. It is poised to strike Taiwan because Taiwan is an embodiment of the pre-eminent danger felt by those rulers — Taiwan is a shining example of Chinese people successfully governing themselves, making their own decisions, being free — and thriving as a result, and making everyone thrive all around them. The very existence of Taiwan’s huge success cries out to China’s tyrants something they are terrified the rest of China might hear — “The people can rule themselves.”
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Since that piece was published nothing has changed. With these new rulers, nothing changes. China’s problem is that nothing changes. And after it finishes stealing all America’s industrial technology and making the most that it can from it, it’ll stagnate again, like it did before — until it can find somewhere else to steal things from.

December 1, 2012 @ 8:19 am | Comment

” If Xi did not say it, he should have.”
—there’s no “if”. He didn’t say it, full stop. What he did say was the standard issue fear-mongering, mashed in with some of that victim card.

Sure, learn from history. You don’t need to invoke the victim card to do that. I don’t think your little phrase is getting much traction. Maybe stick a “#” on it, tweet it, and see what happens. That’d be fun.

December 1, 2012 @ 8:32 am | Comment

@It is poised to strike Taiwan because Taiwan is an embodiment of the pre-eminent danger felt by those rulers

“Poised to strike”. You can be serious.

@because China has no outside enemy.

Riiight. More than 200 U.S. bases that have encircled China for decades in Japan, South Korea, Guam, and Hawaii, and now Australia. Yet China is being called a bully for tit for tat. More yellow peril tactics.

December 1, 2012 @ 9:20 am | Comment

@Stimson 15

HOW does this “huge military buildup underway in China today” compare with that in America?? WHAT foreign country has threatened to take away American sovereign territories?

December 1, 2012 @ 9:21 am | Comment

Do any of the crack-smokers above actually think the US will attack china? Not only are they smoking crack, but sniffing glue as well.

Who is threatening to take away Chinese sovereign territory?

December 1, 2012 @ 9:51 am | Comment

zhuzhu: China definitely should never forget the Opium Wars, and how foreigner forced, in the name of free trade, a narcotic that sapped China’s strength for decades.

No one ever said China should forget the Opium Wars. Never. And America should never forget its debacle in Vietnam. But it would have been utterly bizarre for President Obama in his inauguration speech to refer to America’s failure in Vietnam nearly 40 years ago. Just as it is bizarre for Xi to refer in his pledge to China’s humiliation of 170 years ago — unless he wants to use that humiliation to stoke feelings of nationalism and victimhood, one of the CCP’s oldest and most effective tricks.

December 1, 2012 @ 9:56 am | Comment

The 1st Opium War in itself was relatively minor — it didn’t last that long or produce much physical damage, and the war indemnity was about 10% of the one for the 1st Sino-Japanese war, or 5% of the final amount (including interest payments) for the Boxer Rebellion.

However, it was the beginning of a century-long downward spiral with very high misery. In the next 100 year or so, the Chinese population barely had gone up 10% while the worldwide population had more than doubled. When the PRC was founded, likely the literacy rate was lower than in 1840, and the life expectancy was not much higher. Famines were common occurrences. Historical data is nowhere close to be accurate enough (of course it doesn’t stop the great number inflation on “how many Chinese did Mao murder?”) — judged by the before and the after, Mao’s famed famine in scale might not crack top 5 after 1840. Heck, it probably wouldn’t be the #1 famine in KMT’s “golden decade” (1927 – 1936).

Partially the downward spiral was self-inflicted, by the civil wars, i.e. Taiping Rebellion, warlord wars, the war between CCP & KMT, etc. But in my opinion, what tipped this over and made Chinese fight with each other to begin with, was the ungodly sum of all war indemnities. All told, the total payouts were about 1.5 billion troy ounces of silver, about 12% of the total worldwide production from the beginning of the human history to 1900. It’s hard to gauge the real value of the lost silver and assess the real damage, but bear in mind:

* China was on silver standard and this practically destroyed the Chinese monetary system.
* The currency silver price reflects, 1. the paper currency era we’re in, 2. the silver production since 1990 (230% increase of total stock).

Imagine in a parallel universe the silver was never lost, but rather it was invested wisely and fueled something like a Chinese “Meiji Restoration”, Mao might have had some decent college education…

Plundering of China and India, in my opinion, ranks top 3 with a. mass murdering of native Americans, b. African slave trade / slavery, as the greatest evil deeds since the Mongol expansion. If the Chinese civilization is rejuvenated, unlike its Western counterpart, it doesn’t lack the moral authority to lead the mankind into the next phase.

December 1, 2012 @ 1:18 pm | Comment

JXie, even if the indemnities and 19th century war losses are to blame, the real question isn’t how to “make up for it”, but rather, how to move forward no matter what happened in the past.

Germany, for example, was devastated after the Thirty Years’ War from 1618 to 1648. 30% of its adult population had died from war or the plague. It was divided up into dozens of tiny principalities that squabbled over that most terrible of human differences–religion. Yet, even after getting invaded by Napoleon, Germany was able to eventually pull itself together, unify itself under a set of strong and competent rulers (von Bismarck, von Roon, and von Moltke), and make a lasting imprint on Europe and the World.

If Germany could do that, even while bordering a country (France) that was perennially out to keep it down, then there is no reason why China cannot do the same. It is the unstated hope of myself and many other Chinese reformists that the leaders of China can take China to a level of competency and greatness to rival the German Empire circa 1900.

December 1, 2012 @ 3:01 pm | Comment

Freaking awesome:

http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2012/11/kung-fu-expert-in-china-beats-up-mob-of-50-trying-to-evict-him.html

On October 29, as Mr Shen went to work and his wife popped out for a packet of instant noodles, a mob of “30 to 50 men” materialised at their front door.

“My wife tried to close the door, but they pushed it back and she tripped over. That is how the fight started,” said Mr Shen.

With a flurry of kicks and punches, he and his 18-year-old son, a fellow kung fu devotee, set about the attackers, rendering seven of them near unconscious in the hallway.

“It was self defence. I really cannot remember what kung fu skills I used.

It was quite messy. Only seven people were injured because the rest were scared and stayed outside. Some of them ran away,” he said.

December 1, 2012 @ 3:38 pm | Comment

Bill, the main problem isn’t “stolen technology” – unless one would suggest that the Reagan administration “stole” a real lot of it. Industrial policy? WTF?! That’s Socialism!

I’m glad that the Obama administration will be more likely to listen to people like Ralph Gomory than to Thomas Friedman. Mitt Romney would have applied more of the 1980s medicine.

A trade policy with China should reflect China’s state-capitalist nature (and long-term plans). Don’t know if that can be done. But nobody forces us to do business with China at their terms.

December 1, 2012 @ 4:10 pm | Comment

@jxie. It is easy to kick the immediate neighbors, but the Mongols (by the standard of the day) were positively enlightened empire rulers. Opened up east west trade routes, didn’t persecute religions and were generally sublime if race nations played by their rules. I refer you to Jack Weatherford and a host of subsequent researchers.

Typical Han arrogance. And to finish, Mongolians have a 21st century attitude to the environment. In contrast.

December 1, 2012 @ 4:19 pm | Comment

Apol, to continue. In contrast to the Han, who have positively trashed their own backyard, as well as Tibet (with military roads), Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia (mining).

The only worse environment I can imagine today is Azerbaijan.

And lets be certain about this. Mongolian folk, whether from Hohhot or Ulaam Bator, hate the guts of their Han neighbors.

They regard them as vermin who have absolutely no respect for the environment.

The best memories of my time in the PRC was long-term friendships with a couple of folk from Mongolia.

December 1, 2012 @ 6:24 pm | Comment

At least I talked about the Opium Wars.

December 1, 2012 @ 7:11 pm | Comment

jxie

“If the Chinese civilization is rejuvenated, unlike its Western counterpart, it doesn’t lack the moral authority to lead the mankind into the next phase.”

Don’t listen to Tubby. Naturally, with the best environmental impact of any civilization in history, elephants still romping as far north as the sweet flowing waters of the Clear River and the lush forests embracing it, with slavery and its moral turpitude completely eradicated at the end of the Shang dynasty, with no record of African slave trading via Islamic connections, no record of systematic expansion into tribal areas and other civilizations’ lands, no religious rebellions or wars, no nuclear proliferation to disturbed states, and a level of respect for women unlike any other, China will clearly be recognized as a global moral authority.

t_co

“If Germany could do that, even while bordering a country (France) that was perennially out to keep it down, then there is no reason why China cannot do the same. It is the unstated hope of myself and many other Chinese reformists that the leaders of China can take China to a level of competency and greatness to rival the German Empire circa 1900.”

Unstated? How did you get to be a Chinese reformist?

Zhu

“HOW does this “huge military buildup underway in China today” compare with that in America?? WHAT foreign country has threatened to take away American sovereign territories?”

Growth rates, Zhu, growth rates. Remember those?

December 1, 2012 @ 8:14 pm | Comment

Naturally, with the best environmental impact of any civilization in history, elephants still romping as far north as the sweet flowing waters of the Clear River and the lush forests embracing it, with slavery and its moral turpitude completely eradicated at the end of the Shang dynasty, with no record of African slave trading via Islamic connections, no record of systematic expansion into tribal areas and other civilizations’ lands, no religious rebellions or wars, no nuclear proliferation to disturbed states, and a level of respect for women unlike any other, China will clearly be recognized as a global moral authority.

African slave trading? Record of systematic expansion into other civilizations’ lands?

December 1, 2012 @ 10:33 pm | Comment

Which country are you describing, Handler?

December 1, 2012 @ 10:33 pm | Comment

Moral authority: tricky, that. Particularly when it is something of an ethnic fetish for those claiming it.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavery_in_China

http://books.google.co.kr/books?id=UmxhQgAACAAJ&dq=islam%27s+black+slaves&hl=en&sa=X&ei=Xh26UOPcDIiPiAfk4IDgBA&redir_esc=y

December 1, 2012 @ 11:11 pm | Comment

Handler, the Chinese government in place today is not the Yuan dynasty or even Qing dynasty. Claiming that their moral authority is somehow besmirched by the actions of a long-deposed emperor is fallacious.

But I think we would be wise to bury the hatchet regarding history as a source moral authority, lest we launch into a massive equivocation round including the United States, where the same government has been in continuous operation since the 18th century.

December 2, 2012 @ 1:42 am | Comment

And the desire for China to get its own house in order to project strength (富国强民) is the unstated desire of Chinese reformists–or at least the young people I’ve met. Handler, if you have evidence that suggests the contrary, could you share it?

I’m surprised you don’t read me as a Chinese reformist. I’m not sure what distinction you see.

December 2, 2012 @ 1:49 am | Comment

As the PLA claims China’s purity stems from ancient history and civilization, and as jxie specifically referred to Chinese civilization, and as you see yourself as a Chinese reformist not in the sense of being, correct me if I’m wrong here, a citizen but for broader, “civilizational” reasons, my comments are far more appropriate (and less fallacious) than your own.

“But I think we would be wise to bury the hatchet regarding history as a source moral authority, lest we launch into a massive equivocation round including the United States, where the same government has been in continuous operation since the 18th century.”

Why would you choose to do that as a response to me pointing out that Chinese civilization hardly has the moral authority jxie imputed? Weird.

“I’m surprised you don’t read me as a Chinese reformist. I’m not sure what distinction you see.”

I’m surprised you see yourself as one. Naturally, I would be suspicious of anyone who prioritizes PRC power projection or thinks it will help better the lives of the Chinese people, but even if I wasn’t suspicious of that, I frankly don’t believe anyone who regards “any means necessary” an acceptable method for China to attain the goal of primacy a reformist in the proper sense of the word.

December 2, 2012 @ 2:42 am | Comment

Jxie is not a CCP cheerleader like some of the others. He’s more of the Han primacy type, though clearly not nearly as deranged as the Jings of the sphere. But when Jxie speak of moral authority, I think it’s appropriate to account for more Chinese history than simply that of the last 65 years, as Handler has done.

Besides, moral authority is something you can’t control, or plan for. One can claim moral authority, but a claim alone is rather pointless. Moral authority is something others have to recognize in you, and give you credit for. Just like with any “authority”, it’s only present if you have other people’s respect for it. And if it is “moral authority” that China seeks, sometimes she has a peculiar way of going about it. Lately, that seems to be in the form of funny naval maps, and questionable choice of artwork in passports.

December 2, 2012 @ 3:51 am | Comment

Besides, moral authority is something you can’t control, or plan for. One can claim moral authority, but a claim alone is rather pointless. Moral authority is something others have to recognize in you, and give you credit for. Just like with any “authority”, it’s only present if you have other people’s respect for it. And if it is “moral authority” that China seeks, sometimes she has a peculiar way of going about it. Lately, that seems to be in the form of funny naval maps, and questionable choice of artwork in passports.

This makes a lot more sense. What I was getting at was that if Handler chooses to judge a nation by her history, then Handler should logically assign no one any moral authority at all, which means China shouldn’t even waste time trying to convince people like Handler and people who share his/her type of thinking that they are right. Instead, they can be dealt with via a policy of carrots and sticks.

That being said, SKC does raise a very important point in that China’s most recent foreign policy is either nonsensical or being spun in a very disadvantageous way. If it’s the former, it needs to change. If it’s the latter, China, perhaps, should look into joint business ventures with Art Sulzburger or Donald Graham.

December 2, 2012 @ 4:06 am | Comment

@KT, the enlightened Mongol rule started at Genghis Khan’s grandson and below. There were 8 million families in the Jurchen Jin before the existential fights and the toughest fights Mongols had to put up. In 3 decades, the population in the old Jin land was reduced to barely over 1 million families — near 90% depopulation in 3 decades! Western Xia, the Tanggut empire, had their distinctive culture and language, and several million people. As a people they were exterminated by the Mongols.

Then Mongols went west and sacked Baghdad, killed everybody in the city, and burned down everything including libraries and hospitals. They practically ended the Islamic golden age, and indirectly triggered the rise of the West later (the West had nobody to copycat from).

Song was lucky when it was their time to face the Mongol onslaught because the Mongols became kinder by their standard. Even then, the musical element of ancient Chinese poetry was mostly lost during that time.

Sure the fact that the bulk of Eurasia was controlled by one empire allowed many positive developments later, but make no mistake about it, even the killing of Native Americans can’t be compared to what they did.

@Handler, you raised a lot of points. Pick a couple and I will debate you. W.r.t slavery, if we take out serfs and indentured servants, how many were real slaves that are comparable to plantation slaves? I wouldn’t use Wikipedia as a source because in this topic the citations include a couple of wacky books. The important question is how prevalent the practice was. Just because it was recorded in the Chinese history (e.g. Tang) doesn’t mean it’s a common practice — much like rhinos were reported in the history records or even Tang poetry doesn’t mean there were many rhinos in China back then.

December 2, 2012 @ 5:57 am | Comment

T_co, sometimes I wish I can port you into another forum and continue our conversation there…

[E]ven if the indemnities and 19th century war losses are to blame, the real question isn’t how to “make up for it”, but rather, how to move forward no matter what happened in the past.

Exactly.

December 2, 2012 @ 6:04 am | Comment

Naturally, I would be suspicious of anyone who prioritizes PRC power projection or thinks it will help better the lives of the Chinese people, but even if I wasn’t suspicious of that, I frankly don’t believe anyone who regards “any means necessary” an acceptable method for China to attain the goal of primacy a reformist in the proper sense of the word.

You’re going to have to explain this one. All I have been proposing is an ends-based, utilitarian, political philosophy. What means-based restrictions do you think are necessary before one can be properly qualified as a reformist?

December 2, 2012 @ 5:05 pm | Comment

I think since he’s new on the job, he is trying to appeal to his predecessors with such rhetoric, but I wouldn’t interpret too much into this. It will need a few months for him to really get a good understanding how to lead the country in the best way and it will take equally long for the old guard to realize, that they have to sit on the back seats, while he’s driving. That won’t stop them from giving him directions, though.

For me it will be more interesting to see, what he will actually do, when there is a big challenge inside China or foreign policy wise and I’m especially curious about his approach to Taiwan.

December 2, 2012 @ 5:54 pm | Comment

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