News / Asia

Q&A with Zheng Wang: Chinese Nationalism Fueled by History

FILE - Students attend class at Pengying School on the outskirts of Beijing.
FILE - Students attend class at Pengying School on the outskirts of Beijing.
School children in China learn from their earliest classes that their country was a victim of wars and natural calamities for a long period of time. Known as “the century of humiliation,” the list of adverse events is taught not only for historic value, but to build nationalistic pride as the Chinese overcame extreme hardship and turmoil. 
 
Zheng Wang is the Director for Peace and Conflict Studies at Seton Hall University, and a Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. In excerpts of his conversation with VOA’s Jim Stevenson, he talks about his new book, Never Forget National Humiliation, and how this teaching, combined with a glaring omission from 25 years ago, has aided the government in Beijing.
 
Q&A with Zheng Wang: Chinese Nationalism Fueled by History
Q&A with Zheng Wang: Chinese Nationalism Fueled by Historyi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

WANG: When people talked about China, very often people focused only on the economic statistics, military statistics – what I’m trying to do in this book is trying to – because I think it’s more important than, it’s more challenging for people to understand China’s intention, because their intentions determine their strength. And I believe to understand the people, this group of people, they understand the history, their historic memory is very important for people outside to understand this group of people, their motivation, their intention and their objectives.
 
One of the key elements, I think, not sufficiently discussed, is about the period of history in China, the people call it “The Century of Humiliation,” from the first Opium War in 1840 through the end of the China-Japan war in 1945.
 
STEVENSON: We in the West tend to talk about China’s rise, whereas in China it’s not so much a rise as it is a return.
 
WANG: Yeah, exactly. Chinese, they prefer to use another term, [that] if we translate it into English, it should be “rejuvenation” or “rejuvenating.”
 
They are emphasizing [that] China is not rising up from nothing, China is returning to its old glory, it has returned to its central position in the world.
 
STEVENSON: How is this so-called “Century of Humiliation” taught to Chinese students in today’s classes?
 
WANG: You will find actually it’s very interesting - the different period of time that the students - they are being taught the different interpretation or different content about their country’s national experience. Many of today’s students, they probably know very little about what happened 25 years ago, the [Tiananmen] student’s movement, but they know very well about what happened 100 years ago.
 
So that is actually, I think, because the education they receive so their memory becomes selective.
 
STEVENSON: The events in Tiananmen Square 25 years ago obviously were something that the Beijing government did not wish to acknowledge. Was the increased emphasis on history before Tiananmen the way that the government was able to recapture a national identity?
 
WANG:  Yes, the reason history is important is it plays an important role in constructing a nation’s identity and perceptions. So at that time, the government, they were facing a major crisis of legitimacy, and a major crisis of people no longer believing socialism, communism and the Party.
 
So they want to use these educations, partially the humiliation education, to try to, especially [for] the younger generation, reshape people’s identity and perception, and trying to use this to strengthen the Party’s legitimacy.
 
STEVENSON: You mention natural disasters as part of national humiliation. Many of the world’s largest national disasters happened in China.
 
WANG: China is one of the few countries in the world that suffers a lot of major earthquakes or major natural disasters because of the geography situation - very frequently [China experiences] flooding and earthquakes.
 
So indeed in my book I discussed that. If we used the 2008 earthquake as an example you can say that this kind of nationalism also played some positive role for this group of people to [fight] and to conduct some reconstruction.
 
STEVENSON: We have so many Chinese students studying here in the United States, and as they possibly do get the other sides of the story and take that home, that could present a dilemma.
 
WANG: You are exactly right. Because I’m a university professor, I know that in recent years there is a rapid, unthinkably rapid increase of the Chinese students coming to the U.S. and to other countries in the world. Now they have the access of information they couldn’t access in the past. But what I’m trying to do in this book is that I’m trying to argue that Chinese nationalism, Chinese understanding of history is very complicated. Oversimplification has been a major reason for many misunderstandings between China and Japan and China and the United States.

Jim Stevenson

For over 35 years, Jim Stevenson has been sharing stories with the world on the radio and internet. From both the field and the studio, Jim enjoys telling about specific events and uncovering the interesting periphery every story possesses. His broadcast career has been balanced between music, news, and sports, always blending the serious with the lighter side.

You May Like

Myanmar Fighting Poses Dilemma for China

To gain some insight into conflict, VOA’s Steve Herman spoke with Min Zaw Oo, director of ceasefire negotiation and implementation at Myanmar Peace Center More

Australia Concerned Over Islamic State 'Brides'

Canberra believes there are between 30 and 40 Australian women who have taken part in terror attacks or are supporting the Islamic State terror network More

Recreational Marijuana Use Now Legal in Washington, DC

Law allows adults 21 and over to privately possess and smoke 0.05 kilogram of pot, and to grow small amounts of the plant More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More