井底之蛙

5/12/2008

Different understandings of history

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 9:52 am

Charles links below to an interesting piece from China Digital Times (original from Sina.com ) It is a piece by Xiong Peiyun (熊培云) defending (sort of) Chinese nationalism. Thomas Bartlett analyzes the use of the term “tianxia zhuyi” 天下主义 in the piece, but what struck me was its odd (meaning different from mine) understanding of world history.

That Chinese popular understanding of world history is different from that elsewhere is not surprising, nor is it surprising that most Chinese people don’t understand non-Chinese history all that well. It is not a subject that the Chinese historical profession has (until recently) invested much effort into. One of Xiong’s goals is to deny that the Beijing Olympics should be compared to the Berlin Olympics of 1936. A lot of people have been making that comparison, but what I find interesting is the end of the piece Xiong suggests that this comparison actually works pretty well.

Western politicians and Western media have not made a lot of progress in their political wisdom in nearly a century. The Nazis in Germany were a product of World War I victor nations, whose fear of a rising Germany led to an over-punishment of Germany, thus sowing the seeds of hatred and revenge and feeding the German nation’s nationalism, which were the best yeast to ferment Hitlerism. And all this, of course, is something nobody, from the Chinese government to all others, wants to see happening.

So, if the West continues to hypothesize China as their “enemy,” and stoke up the “China threat” theory, it will surely fan up the emergence of China’s extreme nationalism, and provide support for those who oppose opening up and want to backpedal history.西方政治家和西方舆论界在政治智慧上并没有太大长进。德国纳粹也是“一战”战胜国亲手制造的祸患,他们对德国崛起的恐惧导致他们对德国的过度惩罚,使得德国的民族主义情绪裂变为仇恨和报复,这正是酿造希特勒主义的最好酵母。而这一切,显然是今日中国政府以及所有外国政府都不愿意看到的。

如上所述,如果“西方世界”继续将中国设为假想敌,鼓吹“中国威胁论”,势必激起国内极端民族主义的高涨,同时也为那些反对开放、想着开历史倒车的人提供支持。

I find this a weird sort of historical analogy. For one thing, if I were going to pick an analogy for the possible rise of an ultra-nationalist China (which I don’t see as likely) the obvious comparison would be Showa Japan.1 Perhaps more to the point he is using the Nazi analogy in a way that it is hard to imagine a westerner of any sort doing. If there is one universal lesson that almost everybody in the West takes from the rise of the Nazis it is the Munich analogy. I actually think this is often a bad thing, since any time a suggestion is made that negotiating with a unsavory types might have good (or less bad) results people will start yelling “Munich!” I can’t imagine too many people using Xiong’s argument here, which I think can be summarized as “China’s feng qing 愤青youth are like nascent Nazis. You (we?) should appease them.”

A lot of historical analogies are getting tossed around, by academics and others in China and elsewhere, and it seems to me that we are working not only from different sets of analogies (Who is Hai Rui?) but different understandings of the same events.

  1. Among other things while resentment of foreigners was part of the rise of Nazism, internal enemies, above all the Jews, were far more important. []

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