Friday, October 23, 2009

A poisonous thorn

To a large extent, nationalism isn’t natural, but merely a product of power struggle among countries.

Author: Hefan

Link to original essay: (Chinese)

This essay is taken from this year’s eight issue of the magazine “the Soho tabloid” (SOHO 小报), named “The balance between profit and soul”(利润与心灵的平衡).

This translation was made for information purposes only. The views expressed in the article are that of the author and him alone.

A poisonous thorn

To a large extent, nationalism isn’t natural, but merely a product of power struggle among countries.

Something that has restricted the people of China (in terms of nationalism, translator's note), and strengthened its ideology, is “the idea of community”.

More than 10 years ago, I had just arrived the US to study. It was the first day of school. The school held an orientation for all the exchange students from “ethnic minorities”. What left a profound impression on me was that the teacher speaking, partly serious, partly joking, told us that upon arriving in America we needed to learn an important word: The powerful D. She said that if we ever run into trouble, e.g. getting a ticket for double-parking, we could just say “D…D..D…”, and before we had even finished our sentence, the police would meekly walk away. What kind of word possess such powers? Well, it is Discrimination, in Chinese qíshì (歧视). What Americans really fear the most is being labelled a racist.

Hearing this, I just dismissed it with a laugh. However, gradually getting to know the Americans more, I discovered that being a racist is America’s biggest taboo. White Caucasians love to make friends with African Americans, are very fond of the black culture, like adopting children from abroad, enjoy eating at foreign restaurants, believe in religions from other countries, and no matter if they’ve been to Tibet or not, they all put a sticker saying “Free Tibet” on their car bumper, all because they wanna prove they’re not racist. In America, if you’re not cautious about what you say, you will easily end up being labelled a racist. On one occasion, I sat in on an econometrics class. The teacher wrote the symbol “∧” on the black board, stopped cold turkey and made a joke: “This looks like a small Chinese hat”. Before he could even finish his sentence, an American Chinese cried out: “Teacher, what did you just say?”. The teacher’s face went blanch with fear, hasten to explain, he spent about five minutes repeating over and over again that he did not intend to mock neither Chinese or Asian people. He really loved Chinese culture, and explained that his child even was learning Chinese in kindergarten. I was sitting there, both laughing and sighing: Not even Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution behaved like this.

Looking on it from the point of progress, to oppose racial discrimination, is Western people’s reaction to their own wrongs of the past. An American friend once told me, the reason why white Caucasians have a guilty conscience about African Americans, is that the ancestors of African Americans were abducted and sold as slaves by white Europeans, clearly not emigrating out of own free will. Therefore today’s white Caucasians feel that they should atone for their ancestor’s sins. Frankly speaking, what white Caucasians in America really should bear the cross of guilt for is their crimes against Native Americans; killing their people, stealing their land. Unfortunately, it seems as though Americans are reluctant to reflect on their maltreatment of Native Americans. I am eager to continue exploring this topic with Americans, but they completely lack interest.

This can hardly be considered thorough rethinking, it doesn’t help solving problems of ethnic minorities, it doesn’t raise the moral standard of the West, is also makes the West weak and helpless. Nationalism is the demon the West got after opening Pandora’s Box, this special treatment of ethnic minorities as well as the popular culture pluralism being the angel flying out from the bottom of the box. Regrettably, this feeble angel cannot recall the demon, on the contrary, she has agreed to marry him. The result is that not only won't the demon go away, but instead it continues to multiply.

After the collapse of the Roman Empire, Western Europe was left with many small countries, and entered a time of tangled warfare. Originally, the poison of nationalism grew out of this political chaos. To a large extent, nationalism isn’t natural, but merely a product of power struggle among countries and the desire to control a countries population, on the contrary, what strengthens one’s ideology is “the idea of community”. Nationalism increases the differences between communities and leads to hatred and killing. As a quote from Samuel P. Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” goes: “Unless we hate others, we can not love ourselves”. This is exactly what after many years of warfare, ultimately evolved into the national state and capitalism. In the rest of the world nationalism didn’t exist. The West conquered the world and spread their poison all over the place. The Balkans are called “The powder barrel of Europe”, where you have numerous ethnic groups and religions. However, before the Western powers arrived, the local ethnic groups were getting along just fine, everyone living in peace with each other. But after nationalism spread to this area, it exploded into constant warfare. The African country of Rwanda was originally home of many different tribes. In the 1930, the Belgium rulers decided to split the country in two, one called Hutu, one called Tutsi. In the movie “Hotel Rwanda” a Western journalist asks the locals what the difference between the two ethnic groups really is, and the answer is that they have different noses and styles of walking! The conflict that broke out in the 1990’s and ended in genocide, was directly causes by the nationalism introduced by the West.

Today's culture pluralism is still causing differences among rigid communities. Despite not being as aggressive as nationalism of the past, forbore and yielded by the West, but the gene is the same. This concept requires differential treatment by ethnic minorities, giving them more compensations and liberties (than the majority, translator's note). Yet, this kind-hearted aspiration have not resulted in satisfaction. The black and white boundaries of the American society are still very distinct, black people are not only unsatisfied, on contrary they are getting more and more indignant. Where's the problem? I'm afraid it's a sidetrack. A long time ago the founders of the United States warned reminded the people to be "United as One". America has always claimed to be "a big melting pot", and what's the outcome, the melting pot has turned into a separator. The situation in Europe is even worse then in America. America is the country in the world most open to immigration, in a steady stream new immigrants bring fresh blood to the country, while Europe has already entered a stage where the population is aging, step by step nearing death. Aging of the population raises immigration issues, but Europe is doing bad job with aspect. On the one hand, Europe's nationalism is even stronger, especially as the racists who make up the drags of society once again gain the upper hand, on the other hand in order to restrain the domestic extreme nationalists, Europe's culture pluralism gets more pacified and weak. In the light of the speed of today's population changes, in 50 years, Europe might be a Muslim world. If Europe doesn't seriously reflect on how to mix and unite different crowds, how to handle the ongoing withering Anglo-Saxon population and differences between the tidal wave of people coming from Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, then sometime in the near future Europe will disintegrate.

Perhaps an archaic state is able to provide the West with some wisdom. Since ancient times China hasn't had a concept of ethnic groups, the Han population include people who in an anthropologic sense are of completely different races, including different religious beliefs, the radiant splendour of various languages, customs and cultures. Actually this is the true melting pot. I once read a book called "Jewish history". The book mentions Jewish people wandering all over the world, encountering supercilious looks from locals, and therefore they chose to preserve their own customs and traditions while being in alien land. One branch of Jews arrived in Henan, China, and was assimilated by the good-hearted peasants. This is the greatest success of ethnic policy.

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