Different understandings of history

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。


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. 


  1. It is never wrong to compare two situations/countrys/events. The issue is how is the comparison made. I can compare an ant with an elephant, or a drop of water with the Himalayas. These may not be interesting comparisons, but it is perfectly all right to do so as long as I get the facts right, and I can point out what’s the same and what’s different.

    Actually, there is a lot of similarity between China today and Germany of 1930’s. China today is bitter because of what happened in 1800’s. Germany in 1930’s was bitter because of what happened in 1918. Youth in Germany in 1930 was super nationalistic. Chinese youth today is super nationalistic. Chinese today think China can do anything it wishes to. German in 1930 think it can conquer the world.

    There is a lot of similarity between China today and Japan of 1920 to 1940’s too. Japan had shortage of resources. China will face the same shortage real soon now. Japan had the industrial means to create a great military. China is creating one now. Japan send a lot of students to foreign countries to learn their ways. There are hundreds of thousands of Chinese students overseas. Japan was trying to get at resources from other countries. China is trying to do the same. Japanese government taught their youth of how vulnerable China was. Chinese government is teaching their youth how vulnerable USA is.

    The rest is history.

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