China needs to em­brace the fu­ture


In Novem­ber 2012, two weeks af­ter be­com­ing leader of the Com­mu­nist Party, Xi Jin­ping vis­ited the Na­tional Mu­seum in Tianan­men Square. There, af­ter view­ing a grand ex­hi­bi­tion called “The Road to Re­vival,” which re­calls China’s cen­tury of hu­mil­i­a­tion be­gin­ning with the Opium War of 1840, Xi is­sued a call for achiev­ing the “Chi­nese Dream,” or “the great re­vival of the Chi­nese na­tion.”

His­tory was on the Chi­nese lead­er­ship’s mind again last year. The Na­tional Peo­ple’s Congress, China’s par­lia­ment, de­creed that, hence­forth, the 1945 victory over Ja­pan would be cel­e­brated ev­ery Sept. 30 and the 1937 Nan­jing Massacre would be re­mem­bered ev­ery Dec 13.

China’s po­lit­i­cal use of his­tory is of long stand­ing. Af­ter the party’s near- death ex­pe­ri­ence in the Tianan­men Up­ris­ing of 1989, it made a key pol­icy de­ci­sion to use “pa­tri­otic ed­u­ca­tion” to nur­ture stu­dents loyal to the party who would not be swayed by West­ern val­ues of democ­racy and hu­man rights. That meant em­pha­sis on the evils of im­pe­ri­al­ism and, in par­tic­u­lar, on Ja­panese ag­gres­sion.

For decades, stu­dents were taught that the his­tory of mod­ern China is a his­tory of na­tional hu­mil­i­a­tion, which ended only with the suc­cess of the Com­mu­nist revo­lu­tion in 1949.

Last De­cem­ber, to mark the 77th an­niver­sary of the Nan­jing Massacre, huge ban­ners urged the public to “Never for­get our na­tional hu­mil­i­a­tion.”

While in­spect­ing mil­i­tary com­mands, Chi­nese lead­ers rou­tinely call on of­fi­cers and sol­diers not to for­get the coun­try’s his­tory of be­ing in­vaded and hu­mil­i­ated.

But now, it seems, in­flu­en­tial voices are be­ing raised call­ing for change. There is no need to con­tinue harp­ing on about China’s ex­pe­ri­ence in the 19th cen­tury and early 20th cen­tury, th­ese voices say, be­cause China has al­ready suc­ceeded in its re­vival.

On March 31, the Global Times news­pa­per pub­lished a com­men­tary ti­tled “Time to bid good­bye to the vic­tim men­tal­ity.”

“We can­not for­get our mod­ern tragic his­tory,” said the un­signed com­men­tary, but “China has fi­nally ar­rived at a crit­i­cal junc­ture of re­al­iz­ing the re­ju­ve­na­tion of our na­tion, and is now po­si­tioned front and cen­ter in the in­ter­na­tional arena.”

“China is now the world’s sec­ond-largest econ­omy, with its mil­i­tary bud­get the sec­ond-largest in the world,” the com­men­tary con­tin­ued. “Our mil­i­tary forces as well as com­pre­hen­sive na­tional strength also rank among the top in the world. Any fan­tasy that China could be threat­ened as it was in the late 19th or the early 20th cen­tury is noth­ing but an illusion.” In Septem­ber, China will hold mil­i­tary pa­rade to mark the

a 70th an­niver­sary of its victory over Ja­pan in World War II. That oc­ca­sion, the com­men­tary said, pro­vides “the per­fect time to bid good­bye to the men­tal­ity of vic­tim­iza­tion in our so­ci­ety, to build a na­tional sense of self-es­teem, and to show our con­fi­dence to the world.”

Four days later, Global Times pub­lished an­other com­men­tary ti­tled “True ma­jor power needs ma­ture men­tal­ity,” which re­turned to the theme of over­com­ing China’s “vic­tim men­tal­ity.”

It re­called that China had “long seen it­self as the cen­ter of the world” and re­ferred to peo­ple in other coun­tries as bar­bar­ians.

Now, it said, China needs to “re­dis­cover our ma­jor power men­tal­ity” but this “doesn’t mean we will go back to the ar­ro­gance of im­pe­rial China.” Rather, China should “build a mind-set that matches our sta­tus of be­ing a ris­ing power.”

The big­gest ob­sta­cle to the cre­ation of such a new mind-set, it said, is “the vic­tim men­tal­ity” as well as “the con­fu­sion of the huge con­trast be­tween an­cient glory and mod­ern hu­mil­i­a­tion.”

“No ex­ter­nal forces to­day can de­feat ma­jor pow­ers like the United States and China,” it said. “We are our own ri­vals. There­fore, pur­su­ing a main­stream mind-set as well as an out­look that matches our re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as a ma­jor power is an up­hill battle that we must win.”

It is ironic that Global Times, which is op­er­ated un­der the aus­pices of the of­fi­cial Peo­ple’s Daily and which is of­ten seen as a na­tion­al­is­tic tabloid, is tak­ing the lead in call­ing for China, in ef­fect, to be­come a more nor­mal na­tion and to stop its ex­ploita­tion of its pre­vi­ous his­tory as a vic­tim.

This won’t be easy, given the decades of in­doc­tri­na­tion to which the Chi­nese peo­ple have been sub­jected, which has re­sulted in a highly na­tion­al­is­tic pop­u­la­tion. But such a de­ci­sion by the party would smooth the way to the in­ter­na­tional har­mony that China says it fa­vors.

Seventy years af­ter the end of the Sec­ond World War, it is time for China to live as a ma­jor power in the present rather than con­tinue to dwell as a vic­tim in the past. Twit­ter: @FrankChing1

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