Wednesday, October 12, 2005

When will China face up to its history?

Dr Mohan Malik argues that authoritarian states have always used history as a tool to maintain political power. China’s Communist dictatorship has long used history to serve its foreign policy goals and to demonize “enemies”—domestic or foreign—as a way of distracting attention from arising from widening disparities and deepening socio-political contradictions in Chinese society and its own crimes against the Chinese people. Recent state-orchestrated anti-Japanese violent demonstrations bear echoes of the mass manipulation of the Cultural Revolution era and the siege of the Russian and Indian embassies by Mao’s Red Guards in the 1960s. The only difference being the replacement of Maoist slogans of the past with anti-Japanese watchwords (“Hate Japan”, “Kill all Japanese pigs”) and ultra-nationalist slogans. This is largely a consequence of the “patriotic education” [guoqing jiaoyu] initiated by Jiang Zemin following the Tiananmen massacre and the collapse of Communism in the Soviet bloc in 1989-90.

The Chinese are now using the “history issue” as a diplomatic card vis-à-vis Japan to deny their East Asian rival gaining an equal status at the UN. There is a general consensus that the Sino-Japanese tensions have little to do with the past and more to their future struggle for primacy in reshaping the global order. In a couple of decades it would be India’s turn to bear the brunt of Chinese resentment if India’s growing economic and military power is perceived as threatening China. If so, then the present state of China-Japan relations could well be the future of China-India relations. India’s Pakistan-watchers have long argued that to understand the depth of Pakistan’s hostility, animosity, and communal venom directed at India, one must read school history text books in Pakistan. The same is true of China as well if one wants to understand the roots of China’s animosity and perfidy towards India. However, none of India’s China-watchers has ever cared to undertake a critical content analysis of Chinese textbooks even though China has done the most to undermine India’s security through its strategic encirclement and nuclear proliferation strategies over the last six decades.

As a rising superpower, the Chinese government has a special responsibility to ensure that its citizens understand the world as it is, and are not motivated by feelings of resentment and victimhood. Nor can China be seen as a constructive player unless it abandons abandon the victim complex. If peace is to prevail in Asia, far-reaching changes to the school syllabus and the education system in China are needed. Complete article can be accessed here.

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