Last month, video footage of a lecture by Huang Heqing (黃河清), an archeology professor at China’s Zhejiang University, was picked up by Hong Kong media. In the lecture, Huang said that ancient “Western” monuments, including the Egyptian pyramids, the Great Sphinx of Giza, the Parthenon in Athens and the Pantheon in Rome, were forgeries — faked in the 19th and 20th centuries by the West to diminish the “glory of China.”
Huang’s outlandish claims are the latest worrying sign that Chinese nationalism is overheating to dangerous levels.
Huang backed up his assertion by citing a fringe theory by French chemist Joseph Davidovits, who in the 1980s posited a hypothesis that the pyramids were not carved from stone, but were instead cast using a type of limestone concrete.
Davidovits does not dispute the date of the pyramids’ construction.
Huang also cited as “irrefutable evidence” illustrations and sketches made in the 18th century, which he said prove that the pyramids and the sphinx are modern creations, highlighting supposed “discrepancies” with their modern-day appearance and locations. Huang’s main thesis is that Western academics spent vast sums of money, including in India, in a “historical conspiracy” to “belittle,” “suppress” and “negate” Chinese civilization.
It is not the first time that Chinese academics have engaged in historical revisionism. At an event at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People in 2006, three replica paintings, believed to date to the Yuan and Ming dynasties, depicting members of the Chinese nobility hitting balls with sticks, were unveiled to the world to “prove” that China invented golf.
Move over Scotland.
Chinese academics have also laid claim to soccer, pizza, rockets, the decimal system and much more.
Chinese can be justifiably proud of their long and illustrious civilization, yet this apparent need to prove that China “got there first” and invented almost everything before anyone else smacks of an inferiority complex. More worryingly, it points to a rising power that seeks to rewrite history, and weave a narrative of racial and cultural superiority. This rising nationalistic sentiment is evidenced in other areas, too.
In the past few years, Chinese state media have begun to fill the airwaves with a constant barrage of reports on China’s military, designed to telegraph the might of its army, navy and air force to domestic and foreign audiences. Taiwan, of course, features prominently, often in strangely hypnotic videos that project a highly idealized version of the nation.
In June last year, a border clash in the Himalayas between Chinese and Indian troops resulted in the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers. It took Beijing until Feb. 19 to announce that four People’s Liberation Army soldiers perished in the skirmishes. Few outside observers believe that the number of Chinese casualties can have been that low, yet Beijing turned it into a propaganda coup to demonstrate the superiority of its soldiers. State media aired footage of a military ceremony for the four soldiers, during which the voice of a male narrator audibly trembled as he eulogized the “heroic fallen soldiers.”
Taken individually, these instances of nationalistic fervor can appear benign, sometimes even comical, but taken together they paint a worrying picture of a society that is becoming more totalitarian and jingoistic by the day under Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平).
The problem is compounded by a victim complex over perceived historical grievances that are often exaggerated and stripped of all historical context — China was and still is an empire that has enslaved and subjugated other peoples.
A toxic mix of victimhood and jingoism suggests that the world is in for a bumpy ride as long as Xi remains in power.
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