Nationalism sucks

A very sad post from the Economist on the problem of the zodiac heads. Basically, a wealthy Frenchman has agreed to donate two of the bronze heads stolen from the Summer Palace in 1860 back to ‘China’. What I find most depressing is the use of the Summer Palace as a symbol of foreign oppression of the Chinese. Yes, the torching of the Summer Palace was a crime against China, History, and Art, but the place itself is one of the greatest symbols of cultural borrowing and fusion you could imagine. Built by Qing emperors (who were not Han), designed by Jesuits (who by definition identified with no nation), it is also the  perfect place to be all Chinese and write poems about the ruins of the old capital, like Chinese poets used to write about Loyang.  The piece points out that  the site is being used to teach Chinese schoolchildren to hate the Other, which is really very depressing.


P.S. Don’t read the comments.


  1. So let’s say we enter a bizarro world, in which the burning of 圓明園 (the Summer Palace) never happened. What’s not to say that the bronze heads wouldn’t have been smelted away into one-time-use/unusable metals, as part of Mao’s economic goal of 超英趕美 (Surpassing Britain, Catching Up to America)? Or should we entrust these zodiac heads to the Red Guards, who pretty much destroyed anything and everything at a notice’s whim, as part of “building a new China”? Then of course, I suppose it doesn’t matter: A*****es will find any excuse to destroy historic relics (

    But back to your point on nationalism: I agree. This sort of nationalistic education breeds ethnocentrism, and ruins any sort of healthy debate on any topic related to China. One friend told me I had no right to make any comments on China’s history or modern social issues, because I’m “Not Chinese”. I can’t find the specific article, but CCCP membership is now restricted to those born in the country. Ironically, in Chinese communist history books, there were a number of foreigners who believed in the CCCP in its earlier years, and never rescinded their membership. Apparently, the world has nothing to offer China

  2. The funny thing is that foreigners torched it… and red guards smashed it to bits during the Cultural Revolution.

  3. “>Built by Qing emperors (who were not Han)

    What does this have to do with the conversation?”

    Probably this part: “….greatest symbols of cultural borrowing and fusion you could imagine.”

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