Posts Tagged ‘nationalism’

For those expats in China distressed by the recent anti-foreign atmosphere online and in the media, you now something to be thankful for: You don’t live in South Korea.

Recently Korea’s MBC ran a program called “The Shocking Reality About Relationships With Foreigners” (Link has the full 5-minute segment with subtitles). The piece presents itself as an exposé on how foreign expats easily seduce Korean women, only to taint, abuse, rob them and leave them with AIDS. It completely forgoes any sense of journalistic integrity by using hidden cameras and adding wholly unsubstantiated commentary. At one point, a Korean girl is cold-called by the producer and asked if she was “a victim of a foreigner.” When the girl replies that she doesn’t know what the producer is talking about, the narrator jumps in to say, “Most victims avoid telling the truth.”

For all the times the Chinese media has hyped the non-newsworthy transgressions of foreigners in China, I’ve never heard of any newscast being this despicably ignorant and unprofessional. As much as it pains me to say it, we probably have China’s censorship apparatus to thank for that.

The Chinese government (and ergo the state media) needs a healthy dose of nationalism, but the key is moderation. In 2010, when anti-Japanese sentiment flared up over a Chinese fisherman being detained in disputed waters, I saw a first-hand manifestation of how the government tries to channel nationalism. At the Japanese embassy in Beijing, protestors were allowed to congregate – but only at a distance from the entrance. Periodically, police would let a handful of the most vocal protestors go right up to the gate and media were allowed to film it. But when the crowd gained a certain mass, it was broken up and told to leave – only to re-form again slowly with tacit police approval.

This push and pull-back of nationalism has become the rule after some past debacles. Some 2005 anti-Japanese demonstrations were gleefully allowed by the government…until they turned violent and Japanese businesses (many of which were Chinese owned) were destroyed. Back further in 1988, anti-Africans protests  broke out in Nanjing, which unexpectedly shifted to calls for the Chinese government to reform. The incident was one of the preludes to the Tiananmen uprising. Today, nationalism is still crucial and encouraged, but only to the point that it doesn’t affect stability and support for the authoritarian government.

Korea and China have similar histories of being subjugated by foreigners, and Korean leaders have likewise relied on nationalism in the past to achieve political goals. The difference now is that Korea has some lingering xenophobia combined with a free media wholly dependent on ratings for revenue. The result is this highly sensational and populist program targeting foreigners. If China’s (state subsidized) media wasn’t on its current leash, we’d probably see much more of the same here.

This is far far FAR from an endorsement of China’s media restrictions. The harm is much more compelling than any redeeming factors. But for this very narrow issue, expats can probably begrudgingly thank China’s censors.

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This week Vladamir Putin was announced the winner of the *ahem* prestigious Confucius Peace Prize. Many have already been quick to point out the irony of “The Butcher of Chechnya” getting a peace prize. I think, however, this is a very apt metaphor for the greater political discourse in China.

The Chinese committee who awarded this is obviously pretty nationalistic, as the entire premise of the Confucius Prize is a rebuke to the Nobel Peace Prize awarding to Liu Xiaobo. And to many Chinese nationalists, awarding Putin a peace prize makes perfect sense. He had the courage to stand up to renegade separatist territories like Chechnya and Georgia to ensure Russia’s territorial integrity and peaceful unity. The subtext here is pretty obvious.

During the class discussion question “What would you do if you were president of China?” I would always inevitably have 2-3 students say something like “send the military into Taiwan” (and sometimes into Japan). Chinese nationalists would love to see their leaders have the brass to reclaim the island and other disputed territories.

But this is obviously not something the Chinese government wants. They’re smart enough to realize that vastly superior military might doesn’t necessarily translate into a swift conquest (See USA vs. Iraq/Vietnam). So as much as the government likes to selectively use nationalism to prop themselves up, they don’t want it getting out of hand to the point that they’re forced into a war they’re not ready for; or even suffer large scale business disruption. So they tone down this kind of sentiment as often as they inflame it to ensure it’s at the appropriate level.

The Confucius Prize wasn’t endorsed by the government. In fact, the organizers defied a direct order not to continue it. Guessing why the government tried to shut it down would be pure speculation (The Peking Duck has some good analysis). And who knows if they knew the winner would be Putin ahead of time (although they definitely knew he was nominated). But if you look at it from the Chinese perspective, Putin does make the Chinese government look fairly weak by comparison. It’s hard to imagine they’re happy about this.

I recently did a feature for Asia Times about China’s Graduate School entrance exam which can be seen here. These are some select translated questions leftover from my research that came from from the 2010 and 2011 Chinese graduate school entrance exams. Exams are different based on school and major, but there’s a politics section which is uniform across most of the country and accounts for 20% of the final score. The “correct” answers to the multiple choice/multiple mark questions are highlighted in bold, but often the “incorrect” answers are just as telling. You’ll notice several questions are extremely long and seem more about making a point then testing knowledge. But overall I think these questions give a pretty good picture of exactly what the government wants  young people to think.

2010

13) In 2001 the CPC Central Committee issued the “Implementation Outline for Improving Civic Morality,” which explains the main content of civil morality. It focuses on_______

  • A. Patriotism and abiding by the laws
  • B. Honesty and trustworthiness
  • C. Diligence and self-improvement
  • D. Unity and friendliness

[Study guides refer to this as a “memory question.” It tests a very specific time, governing body, or policy that must simply be remembered. Educated guessing doesn’t help.]

14) Our Constitution clearly stipulates the implementation of the rule of law in building a socialist country. The root of the rule of law is______

  • A. that according to the law, the law must be observed and strictly enforced
  • B. to safeguard citizens’ right to information, participation, expression and right to supervise
  • C. an open legislature, public enforcement, and a public judiciary
  • D. legalized social life and democratization

[Study guides refer to this as a “common sense question” that should be easy to guess from the wording]

15) On March 28, 2009 in Tibet, thousands of people from all circles of life dressed in their holiday best to rally at the Grand Potala Palace Square in Lhasa. This was to celebrate_____

  • A. The 58th anniversary of the peaceful liberation of Tibet
  • B. The 44th anniversary of the establishment of the Tibet Autonomous Region
  • C. The Second Session of the Ninth National People’s Congress held in the Tibet Autonomous Region
  • D. The first annual Serf-Liberation Day in Tibet

19) There is a fable about a fox who served fish soup in a flat plate and invited the crane to drink the soup “equally.”  But it turned out the crane couldn’t drink at all and the fox drank all the soup. This fable shows us that the bourgeois declare “everyone is equal before the law”, but_____.

  • A. Nominal equality in laws conceals the true inequality
  • B. This form of equality is the essence of capitalism
  • C. Its nature is to legalize the inequality of economic interests between employers and employees
  • D. The right to equality is built on the basis of the property rights of inequality

[Using animal fables to illustrate political points is a standard question format on exams at all levels]

20) In 1989, former U.S. State Department advisor Francis Fukuyama dished out the so-called “End of History” theory which says the western democratic system is “the end of human progress in social formation” and “the last regime of human society.” However, 20 years of history has shown us that history didn’t end. What ended was the Western sense of superiority. On November 9th, 2009, 20 years after the collapse of the Berlin wall, BBC published a survey of 27 nations. More than half of the respondents were dissatisfied with the capitalist system. One of the organizers of the survey was a company called “Global Scan” whose President Miller told the media that the survey shows the fall of the Berlin wall didn’t bring a landslide victory for capitalism. The financial crisis especially supports this point. So the bankruptcy of the “End of history” theory shows: 

  • A. Social and natural law both function blindly
  • B. Setbacks in the development [of socialism] in human history will not change its progress.
  • C. Particular regimes in some countries and societies cannot change the universal law of historical development
  • D. People’s understanding of a particular social development stage cannot replace the whole process of social development

[Test agency analysis: The universal law is that socialism will overtake capitalism. There are some special cases that seem to contradict this but overall the law cannot be stopped. Westerners think capitalism is great, but it can’t change the laws of social development.]

23) In September 1954, the First National People’s Congress held its inaugural meeting in Beijing, marking the establishment of the people’s congress system. This is China’s fundamental political system where people are the masters. This system is_____

  • A. The Chinese Communist Party’s great creation of combining Marxism and China’s reality
  • B. The Chinese Communist Party’s achievement of leading Chinese people through a long struggle
  • C. A reflection of the common interests and aspirations of the people of all nationalities in China
  • D. The inevitable choice in the social development of modern China

[Study guides refer to this as an “informative question.” All the answers are correct and it’s basically just meant to make a point to students]

24) China is a multi-ethnic country. Dealing with ethnic issues in the socialist period, the basic principle is ____

  • A. Protecting regional national autonomy
  • B. safeguarding national unity
  • C. Opposing ethnic separatism
  • D. Adhering to ethnic equality, national unity, and multi-ethnic co-prosperity

[This is another kind of “memory question.” Choice A is indeed very important, but not the “basic principle.” Students would need to recognize this distinction.]

25) Since reform and opening up, China has successfully embarked on improving national conditions and adapted to the road of peaceful development. Adhering to the path of peaceful development is in line with China’s historical and cultural traditions. This is because______

  • A. The Chinese nation is a peace-loving nation
  • B. Peace and development is the trend of the times
  • C. In foreign exchange the Chinese people have always stressed “loving neighbors” and “finding common interests among diversity “
  • D. Chinese culture is a culture of peace. Longing for peace has always been a spiritual characteristic of the Chinese people

30) In 1955, Qian Xuesen overcame numerous obstacles and finally returned to his cherished motherland. When someone asked him why he returned to the motherland he said, “Why do I return to the motherland? The reason is simple. Since the Opium War Chinese have been working hard and fighting for a stronger China. They’re even willing to sacrifice their lives. As a Chinese I will follow their example and keep exploring, disregarding all other things. Think about the founders and builders of the Republic. They’ve worked hard on this poor nation which has suffered national poverty and an international embargo for years and years to make the new China stand tall in the East. Thinking of this, why can’t I sacrifice personal interests?” Qian’s heartfelt words tell us what about practicing patriotism in the new era?

  • A. Science has no borders but scientists do have a motherland
  • B. We should connect personnel ideals and dreams to national destiny
  • C. Patriotism and loving socialism are synonymous
  • D. Patriotism is a combination of patriotic emotion, patriotic mind and patriotic action.

[Qian Xuesen is regarded as the “Father of Chinese Rocketry.” He did work for the U.S. army and space program, and applied to become a U.S. citizen in 1949. But during the Red Scare of the 1950’s he had his application and security clearance revoked out of unsubstantiated fears he was a communist. When he subsequently decided to return to China, he was put under house arrest for five years but eventually was returned to China in exchange for 12 U.S. pilots captured during the Korean War. Given his circumstances the authenticity, or at least the sincerity, of this statement is highly questionable. ]

31) Political rights and freedoms include______

  • A. personal freedom
  • B. freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, procession, demonstration, voting, and standing for election
  • C .freedom of religion
  • D. Political freedom

[Test agency analysis: Choice B and D are political rights guaranteed by China’s Constitution. Choices A and C are also fundamental rights of citizens, but do not match with the wording of the question.]

Essay Prompt

October 1, 2009

At 10 a.m. sharp in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, the celebration marking the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China commenced. Soldiers and civilians had huge parades and mass rallies to celebrate this grand festival for the great motherland.

In the middle of Tiananmen Square the red walls were draped with a huge color portrait of Mao Zedong, the founder of the new China. The Monument of the People held a portrait of Sun Yat-sen, the great revolutionary forerunner. Wide electronic screens to both sides of the monument said “Long live the great People’s Republic”, “Long live the great Chinese Communist Party” and other eye-catching slogans. To the east and west sides of the square there were 56 images depicting people of all nationalities dancing in a pillar of national unity… a symbol of China’s 56 nationalities, hand-in-hand, celebrating the great motherland’s prosperity and strong foundation.

Hu Jintao delivered an important speech. He pointed out that “60 years ago today, after 100 years of bloody battles, the Chinese people finally won the great victory of the Chinese revolution. Chairman Mao Zedong solemnly declared to the world the establishment of the People’s Republic. Chinese people have stood up. With the Chinese nation’s 5000 years of civilization we have now entered a new historic era of development and progress.”

-Excerpts from the October 2, 2009 “People’s Daily

Questions:

(1) How do we interpret what [Sun Yat-sen’s wife] Soong Ching Ling said about “Sun Yat-sen’s efforts finally bearing fruit”?

(2) Why did the establishment of the People’s Republic mark the “Chinese nation entering a new historic era of development and progress”?

2011

10) On September 10, 1953, Peng Dehuai  [a Chinese General in the Korean War] wrote in a report, “For hundreds of years western invaders could occupy a country by laying down a few cannons. The Korean War victory brought this era to an end. The victory of the war_____

  • A. ended the hegemony of western powers
  • B. broke U.S. forces’ undefeatable miracle
  • C. Laid the basis for national independence and people’s liberation
  • D. was China’s first complete victory in fighting against foreign aggression in modern times

16) On March 16, 2003, the U.S. and its allies launched the Iraq war, which up to this point has lasted 7 years and caused a serious disaster for the Iraqi people. On August 19, 2010, the U.S. military withdrew the last of its combat troops from Iraq. This indicates that under the pressures of the world, the United States has_______

  • A. realigned its military deployment
  • B. changed its pre-emptive strike strategy
  • C. shifted their anti-terrorism focus domestically
  • D. abandoned unilateralism

[Test agency analysis: The United States believes Iraq is no longer a threat. The growing economic and military power of China and Russia pose a threat to America’s global hegemony. The U.S. redirected its troops from Iraq to Central Asia and the Asia-Pacific region to enhance the strength of their strategic encirclement of China and Russia.]

18) In a capitalist society, the banks’ monopoly on capital and the industrial monopoly on capital combine to produce a new type of monopoly capital: Financial capital. On the basis of that financial capital, a financial oligarchy came into being. These oligarchies use which means to control society?

  • A. They achieve domination in the economic sphere through the “participation system” [participation system =  when a handful of companies buy up shares of many companies in order to control the economy as a whole]
  • B. They achieve control of the state apparatus through the “personal union” of the government  [personal union= when companies hire a lobbyist to speak for them in congress or become official themselves, bribe government officials, or hire high officials in their companies ]
  • C. They influence foreign and domestic policies through policy consulting institutions
  • D. They achieve unity of ideology through controlling the media

27) During World War II, Which of the flowing documents clarified Taiwan and Penghu shall be restored to China?

  • A. Tehran Declaration
  • B. Cairo Declaration
  • C. Yalta Agreement
  • D. Potsdam Declaration

[The Cairo Declaration and Potsdam Declaration both actually say Taiwan shall be restored to “The Republic of China”, not simply “China” as this question states. The Republic of China is the current ruling government of Taiwan]

Essay Prompt

Cheng Siwei, a famous economist, former Democratic National Construction Association Central Committee Chairman, and former Vice-Chairman of the 9th and 10th Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, commenting on our country’s party system, he observed:

“The Western party system is like a football game. One team must defeat the other. Ours is like a singing chorus. The democratic parties and the cooperation of the Chinese Communist Party work for a common goal in order to maintain social harmony. For a chorus, we must have command. In terms of history and reality, the Communist Party of China is the only competent one to command.”

People overseas have commented that China’s democratic parties in government are mostly just “filling empty space” and “have no real power.” Cheng said that this does not reflect the actual situation of China’s democratic parties. They’re not simply a “political vase.”

“When serving as Vice Minister of the Ministry of Chemical Industry, I was responsible for our own work and completely had the right to make decisions. As Vice-Chairman of the NPC I am responsible for securities law, law enforcement and inspection of rural finance. I’m like the Communist Party’s vice chairman, but also work independently.”

QUESTIONS:

(1) From the “playing football” and “singing in a chorus” comparison, demonstrate our political party system’s characteristics and advantages. (5 points)

(2) How do China’s democratic parties have a role of political participation within socialist construction? (5 points)

Analysis 

Contrary to what some might think, you can’t just go into Chinese political exams with the basic mindset of:

  • The CCP/Marxism/the motherland/various social policies = Good
  • The U.S./capitalism/ethnic separatism/Taiwan independence = Bad

Obviously that mindset is necessary, but if that’s all it took, it’d be too easy for cynics to fake their way through. I cherry-picked what I thought were the more interesting questions, but most questions on the full test are like the first one I listed. They test some minute detail of an obscure speech or policy made years ago…and they often try to trip students up with redundant choices and trick wording. As such, getting through the test is a crapshoot unless you’ve memorized hundreds of pages of speeches, laws, anecdotes, and political fables…often written in Mao-era ideological language.

This is undoubtedly the real endgame for test writers. In theory, once those slogans and thought processes are etched into students’ minds, they can subconsciously resurface in pre-packaged, government-dictated form later whenever some incident or foreign country shows conflicting information. From the government’s standpoint, it’s pretty useful for keeping a firm control over the ideology of the educated population, but not exactly conducive to building the scientific and creative capabilities they also crave. But it seems it’s hardly effective. If you read my Asia Times piece, there’s interviews with students studying for this test and some Chinese political expert opinions, as well as more about it’s role in China.

While disasters usually have a tendency to bring out the best in humanity, as soon as I heard about the massive 8.9 magnitude earthquake in Japan earlier today, I cynically predicted it would be the other way around here in China. I went to my Chinese Facebook and some forums and sure enough, I saw comments like this:

– “Japan earthquake, tsunami, oh ha ha ha ha ha. Brings satisfaction to everyone! Retribution, retribution ah!”

– “Japan earthquake, too cool”

– “Why did so few Japanese die?”

– We’re not small like Japan because we’re human beings, not pigs. Let little Japan suffer this little holocaust.

– Japan’s earthquake is worth celebrating. We should gloat. In the face of natural disasters, people are a country. Japanese people do not deserve sympathy. Give up the Diaoyu Islands, change the textbooks, then nothing will be wrong.

I was actually happy to see that comments like these only made up about 20% of the earthquake mentions. In fact some of the first comments I saw posted were preemptively imploring other Chinese to have self-respect and not celebrate the earthquake. After all, no Japanese celebrated the Wenchuan earthquake in 2008. In fact, they sent rescue teams and aid. But even those comments met responses like:

– “They didn’t laugh at the Wenchuan earthquake, but they killed 300,000 people in Nanjing. They were not so friendly and calm to the Chinese then.”

For three years I taught at a university in Nanjing and I must have heard the exact same thing a hundred times. Whenever I made someone justify hating Japan, they would inevitably cite what Japanese soldiers did 74 years ago in Nanjing. Then they would go on to say Japan never apologized and doesn’t teach about its atrocities in textbooks.

I tried showing evidence to the contrary, arguing that 1937-era soldiers don’t represent all Japanese, and even resorted to highlighting China’s own whitewashed history. It was like throwing stones in a pond though. It rarely made a lasting impact. Even when confronted with these things, most would still say, “I don’t know why, but I just have the feeling that I can’t accept Japanese.”

One year I started doing a stereotypes lesson and had students finish the sentence “Japanese people are______.” True to today’s form, about 80% would say neutral or positive things like “serious, hardworking, or efficient.” But there was always that 20% that would write things like “animals, pigs, garbage, brutal, or not human.”

The strange thing was that the 20% were very educated and internationally aware. Some of my smartest students would be the ones going off on the most belligerent and hateful anti-Japanese rants.

Criticizing the US was also common, but in that case, they were almost always able to separate the American government and military from the American people. Why couldn’t they do the same for Japan?

Anti-Japanese nationalism has been a staple of Chinese government legitimacy since the Party was seriously challenged in 1989. Graphic emphasis of Japanese atrocities in school textbooks and an almost universal downplay of anything positive has created a generation that hates Japan even more than the one that actually lived through the war.

When the lion’s share of the exposure you get to a country is seeing pictures of your dismembered countrymen killed at their hands, I suppose the hate isn’t surprising. And when there’s an out-group regarded as sub-human, it’s always tempting to decry them further together with your in-group as a cheap means of achieving unity.

In the last few years the Chinese government has seen this sentiment backfire violently and has backed off in fanning anti-Japanese feelings; but as some reactions today showed…there won’t be a dramatic shift in attitudes anytime soon.

But I have to give a lot of credit to the majority 80% for disproving the stereotype that all Chinese are brainwashed nationalistic drones. In the Chinese blogosphere there were many intelligent and sensitive responses that frankly surprised me. I’ll end with a few of those, and hope that this majority can influence the 20% still clinging to their senseless prejudice. Maybe some good can come out of this tragedy for China and Japan.

– *Sigh* Pray for the Japanese. There are so many narrow-minded nationalists shouting online.

– The Japanese launching a war several generations ago does not mean all Japanese should be dead now. Like China’s invasion during the Sui Dynasty of Korea and the Tang. The Yuan invaded numerous countries, but this doesn’t mean we are damned now.

– Blind hatred is irrational ignorant performance without virtue in the face of disaster. We have to overcome hatred. Under the conditions of the new era, patriotism is to have a sensible spirit.

– Remember when [the Sichuan] primary schools collapsed? Thinking of those children’s pain and fear, I feel sad. Hope that the Japanese victims can be saved as soon as possible.

– China as a great power should have power of mind.