Mon, Apr 25, 2005 - Page 8 News List

China's victimization syndrome

By Orville Schell

Indeed, surges of organized anger when China is attacked or insulted are hardly new. The reaction of China's leaders after the US' accidental attack on China's embassy in Belgrade in 1998, and to the collision of an American spy plane with a Chinese plane over the Pacific in 2001, was to permit, if not foment, large anti-foreign demonstrations. In keeping with this syndrome, Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing (李肇星) has accused Japan of having "hurt the feelings of the Chinese people" by not apologizing for their crimes, as if he were minister of psychology, rather than foreign affairs.

Of course, China's wounded psyche and the desire for restitution from its former tormentors deserve sympathy. In this sense, China, like many countries, could be said to have something of a bi-polar personality. Much of the emotional force of Mao Zedong's (毛澤東) revolution derived from the widespread sense of unequal treatment and humiliation by foreign powers, and this revolutionary fervor has never been properly interred.

Just as Mao's portrait has never been taken down from The Gate of Heavenly Peace, so whole elements of his revolution continue to survive in China's institutions, ways of thinking, and modes of interacting with the world. Like recessive genes, they sometimes suddenly re-express themselves.

The role of victim is all too familiar to the Chinese, perhaps even somewhat comforting, for it provides a way to explain -- and explain away -- China's problems. But it is also dangerous, because it derives from China's old weaknesses rather than its new strengths. The era of Japanese militaristic and imperialist power has long gone, and the world is beating a path to China's door. The last thing the country needs is to remain trapped in the past.

Orville Schell, the author of many acclaimed books on China, is a dean at the University of California at Berkeley.

Copyright: Project Syndicate

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