Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Me, victim, you, aggressor

The arm of patriotic education is long and sinewy. From Diana Fu, writing in the NY Times:

Training a massive army of volunteers is not just about showcasing China’s might; it is also a great medium for extending patriotic education. Through volunteering, students are learning a political lesson about China’s place in the world. Olympic student training manuals include sections titled “China’s Olympics journey is the classic text of patriotic education” and “Patriotism is the core spirit of Zhonghua sports.” Every volunteer can track China’s journey from humiliation to triumph. Here’s an extract from the training manual which every student volunteer is required to memorize:
Before 1949, Chinese athletes formally participated in three Olympic Games (10th, 11th and 14th), and came back with no medals each time. A foreign newspaper published a cartoon of a group of sickly-looking Chinese attired in long gowns and sporting the queue. They were carrying a gigantic “0″ on their shoulders. This cartoon was titled, “the sick man of East Asia”… The July 13, 2001, victory marks the
climax of the Chinese nation’s rise from “sick man of Asia” to strong nation status… Beijing, China, finally won the right to host the 29th Games in 2008. Beijing is ebullient! China is ebullient! The Chinese diaspora is ebullient!

So will the Olympic-sized dose of gold medals cure China of its western cartoon-inspired "sick man of East Asia" self-diagnosis? For the dream of not reading such ebullient jingoism, I sure hope not. Then what would I write about?

But seriously, if public discussion ever does get freed up in this country one thing that will (hopefully) be fascinating to watch is the battle to tell the dominant historical narrative. My cynical side tells me that what will emerge is something not very different from what is in this article, a teleological retrospective account of China being a hapless victim of foreign machinations, followed by the CCP saving the country, followed by a long and necessary period of authoritarian capitalism, etc etc. However, it will be interesting to see, in particular, how much more the events of the Cultural Revolution are brought into mass consciousness, and what light they are viewed in. Equally fascinating will be whether more nuanced views regarding Xinjiang, Tibet, and Taiwan become publicly accepted.

No comments: