Take a closer look
I take great issue with James Holmes’ opinion piece (“Decoding Chinese sensitivities,” Nov. 28, page 8). Once again we find a US academic waxing apologetic for hegemonic China from a distant ivory tower. For those of us who live in Asia, the wonderment and/or bewildering question is more: How did this man come to teach strategy at the US Naval War College? Who is he teaching for?
I present a more Asian way to understand China’s position (read: paranoid schizophrenic) and a decoding of Holmes’ selective sympathy for one of Asia’s traditional bullies.
Examine first the phrase “paranoid schizophrenic.” Paranoia is a psychotic disorder that is characterized by delusions of persecution or grandeur, often strenuously defended with apparent logic and reason. It is followed by extreme irrational distrust of others. Add to this schizophrenia, a condition that results from the coexistence of disparate or antagonistic qualities, identities or activities. Does anything there ring familiar with those who -regularly cover Chinese discourse? Who has not heard of the hurt feelings of entitlement for the court -historian-created grandeur of the Middle Kingdom or the feelings of persecution when the bully does not get his way?
Next, decode Holmes’ selective sympathy and one-sided apologies — the usual fare from those who for too long limit their shared discourse to only Chinese academics. Holmes speaks of China’s “century of humiliation” while ignoring the “centuries of aggression” that preceded it as the Qing imperial court conquered and humiliated its neighbors. Holmes reiterates another jaded Chinese phrase: “unequal treaties.” How many treaties that end wars are ever equal? With all the nations that have been at war over the centuries, how many do you know that constantly harp on their unequal treaties of a past century?
Get over it.
Ask rather how many unequal treaties China has imposed on the many vassal states it subjugated or wanted to subjugate in past centuries. That China has a selective memory of its past could be understandable; that US -academics feel that “poor China’s selectivity” needs to be understood and sympathized with is questionable to say the least.
Somehow always lost in China’s century-of--humiliation discourse is the fact that China came into conflict with Japan in the 1890s because both wanted to maintain their sphere of influence in Korea. Lost too in China’s schizophrenia is how Han Chinese wanted to “overthrow the hated Manchu Qing and restore the Ming,” but they felt entitled to keep the other territories that the Manchus had conquered. Does anyone wonder about the unequal treaties or impositions made on Tibet, East Turkestan and Inner Mongolia? Lost even in the past century is how China attacked Vietnam and fought land and sea battles to put Vietnam in its place in relation to the famed Middle Kingdom. The land battles did not turn out that well for China, but we don’t hear that much about that.
Examine another approach. Like China, Japan in the 19th century found itself being pulled out of isolationism as treaty ports were forced open. Somehow, Japan got past that “humiliation.” Paranoid? In the process Japan does not feel that the East China Sea bears the shame of forced openings and therefore must be defended. Similarly, many of the countries that border the South China Sea had found themselves colonized by that sea path in the past. However, they do not feel that they have the right to claim the South China Sea as their Mare Nostrum. Finally, “poor China” has no problem ignoring the sensitivities of the people of Taiwan when it conducts war games in the seas surrounding Taiwan. For them, the shoe is on the other foot.