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

    US Leaders Who Served in Vietnam War Look Back and Ahead

    In New York Times opinion piece, Secretary of State John Kerry, Senator John McCain and former Senator Bob Kerrey say as US strengthens relations with Vietnam, it is important to remember lessons learned from war

    Who Are US Allies in Fight Against Islamic State?

    There is little but opportunism keeping coalition together analysts warn — SDFs Arab militias are not united even among themselves, frequently squabble and don’t share Kurds' vision for post-Assad Syria

    Learning Foreign Language Helps US Soldiers Bridge Culture Gap

    Effective interaction with local populations part of everyday curriculum at Monterey, California, Defense Language Institute

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora