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China: Is the West afraid of our patriotism?

Are there factors informing your perception of China circa 2008? Novelist-blogger and researcher of worldly affairs Yang Hengjun moves on from ‘How did America cover up the truth of the bombing of our embassy in Yugoslavia?’ to his post last week, ‘Are Western countries afraid of the Chinese people's patriotic fervor?’

提起这个题目我又要提起一段往事——后来每每回想起来就让我有些黯然神伤的往事。1997年台海危机一触即发,台海周边形势紧张。当时我们在华盛顿做了一个日本和台海问题的研讨会,会议主发言人是来自日本防卫厅的主掌美日情报交换的某君。这位日本情报官在谈到周边各国对当前局势的看法的时候,使用了排列句子。说到美国可能出现的情况,他的排列是:白宫如何看待危局,国会如何做决定(出兵要国会批准),美国的民意又会如何演变(因为美国民意会最终决定总统如何介入台海危机以及介入多深);他说到日本的各界的反应是这样的:日本首相会如何、日本执政党和国会又如何,右派势力会否抬头,以及日本民众的民意走向会如何影响事态发展,影响有多大;在他谈到台湾时,排列也是类似的:总统李登辉的意思、军方的忧虑以及台湾2千多万民众的态度如何决定台湾的政策……

Having brought this up, there's something else from the past I'd like to bring up. Just thinking back to it, though, leaves me a little depressed. In 1997, with the Taiwan Strait Crisis looming, the situation was tense all around the Taiwan Strait. At the time we were in Washington doing a seminar on Japan and The Taiwan Question, and the keynote speaker at that seminar was a gentleman from the Japan Defense Agency who oversaw intelligence exchange between the US and Japan. As this Japanese intelligence official spoke about each surrounding country's views on the situation at hand, he used very ordered wording. Arriving at the subject of the possibility of America's involvement, his ordering went like this: how the White House views dangerous situations, how Congress makes decisions (dispatching of troops needs to be approved by Congress), and how Americans’ popular sentiment will evolve (because American vox populi in the end determines how the president is to get involved in the Taiwan Strait Crisis, and to what extent); He said that across the board the response in Japan was this: What will the Japanese Prime Minister do, what will the ruling party and the Diet do, will right-wing forces lift their heads up, and how will trends in Japanese public opinion affect the outcome, affect to what degree; As he then spoke on Taiwan, the arrangement was similar: president Lee Teng-hui's intent, the military's anxieties, and how the attitude of Taiwan's population of 20 million would determine Taiwan's policy……

最后他说到了中国大陆也是这样排列的:中国政府的看法(他又把它分成了温和派和强硬派),中国军方的一些看法,中国地方政府(诸侯的态度)——文章到此结束。

日本情报官对于可能进一步恶化的台海危机,提出了当时牵涉其中的各国可能持有的态度和采取的措施,基于公开资料和日本情报部门的研判,还是有一定说服力的。可是他的报告刚刚做完,美国前驻北京大使馆武官文某就提出了一个问题:你的报告在谈到各国各方势力的态度时,都提到了政府和民众的互动,比较全面。但是,我也注意到,在你提到中国各方面的反应和可能对最终政策的影响时,你唯独没有论及中国民众和中国的民意。12亿人的意见难道不重要?

Then in the end he said mainland China goes like this: the Chinese government's views (which he even broke down into the moderate clique and the hard-line clique), some of the Chinese military's views, then Chinese local government (attitudes of the mini-bosses)—and then his talk ended there.

In response to the possibility that the Taiwan Strait Crisis could begin to deteriorate, this Japanese intelligence official brought up the likely stances held and steps to be taken by each country involved, basing them on publicly available information and Japanese intelligence agency assessments, so it was rather convincing. But, just as he finished his report, a former American military attache stationed at the embassy in Beijing brought up a question: in your report you discuss the stances held by various countries and powers, mentioning the interaction between government and people, very thoroughly. But, I've noticed one thing, that when you brought up the various responses in China and their possible impact on a final outcome, the only thing you didn't mention are the Chinese people and public opinion in China. So what, are the opinions of 1.2 billion people unimportant?

事情过去很久了,而且我也在一些场合提到了这个例子对我的影响,可是,今天还是想起来了,并先记录下来。也许现在的中国有所不同了?但愿如此。但那天那个日本情报官为自己论文的辩护是这样说的,中国的民意应该是和官方一致的,至少是被控制的,他们自己的发不出来,就是发出来也不会影响政府的决定。而且,在没有任何独立的途径得到中国民意相关数据时,我还是认为不能写进论文里,不严肃。

12亿民众的民意竟然是无法预测的,是被政府控制的,是不严肃的,对于我这位12亿人中的一员,我的心情可想而知。

1997年后互联网迅速崛起,成为西方了解中国大陆民意的重要工具,然而,如果从学术的角度,那些数据还是有些问题的,而且最主要的是,互联网反应出的大陆民意就是准确的?没有被控制和删减吗?

The incident is long past now, and I've brought it up on several occasions the effect this example has had on me. Yet, I'm reminded of it today, so I made note of it first. Is it possible that China is different now? If only it were so. But on that day, that Japanese intelligence official's defence of his paper went like this: popular opinion in China is probably consistent with the official stance, or at least it is controlled. People are unable to express their own [opinions], but even if they were, it wouldn't influence the government's decision. Moreover, at a time when there are no independent channels through which to obtain data on popular opinion in China, I feel I cannot include it in my argument, that to do so is inappropriate.

The public sentiment of 1.2 billion people actually cannot be predicted, and being under control, it is unreliable. As one of those 1.2 billion people, you can easily imagine how I feel.

Since 1997, the internet has quickly risen, and become the primary tool with which the West is able to understand popular opinion in mainland China. That said, if one considers the academic's perspective, this data is still problematic, mainly the question ‘are mainland public opinion responses given on the internet accurate? Aren't they controlled or getting deleted?’

[snip]

Yang spends the next several paragraphs shifting the topic onto the US bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, considering the truth of the matter, the anger in China regardless of one, and proceeds with the assumption that the bombing might have been mistaken, as claimed at the time:

“误炸”使馆事件出来后,中方反应之大,出乎意外,中美关系一下子降到底点,甚至比1996年台海危机时还要恶劣。“误炸”大使馆的一个最大结果就是中国民众的爱国激情被炸了出来,这激情如此之烈,以致让人无法分清是爱国主义还是民族主义了。两年前那位日本情报官已经回到日本情报部门任职,我想这使他一定很吃惊,他会不会说:哇塞,中国民众的声音终于发出来了?

但发出来了是发出来了,问题却在于,这种声音有多少可以进入他的研究报告之中?或者他又会在现在的情报研究中如何评价中国民众的爱国热情呢?他会提醒日本和美国政府不要掉以轻心?研究周边问题的情报分析对于这种爱国和民族主义当然不会错过,但中国这种爱国主义和民族主义的大混合是否是政府处理对外关系的一种重要依据?或者只是政府掌控的一种用来达到自己对外对内政策的一种手段和策略?——相信这是美日情报机关最为关心的事情了。

这也是我今天要说的最主要意思,虽然和轰炸大使馆离得有点远。大家不妨思考几个问题:中国民间痉挛似的爱国激情和时不时冒出来的民族主义对我们国家的对外政策是否有影响?是否影响中国和世界各国特别是西方、日本等国家的关系?是否影响我们的国际贸易?是否影响到中国的经济发展,影响了中国融入世界?那么再思考一下,每一次的爱国热情过后,给中国带来了什么变化?

Following the “mistaken bombing” of the embassy, the scale of China's response went beyond expectations and China-US relations immediately hit rock-bottom, to an extent even worse than during the Taiwan Strait Crisis. The biggest outcome of the “mistaken bombing” of the embassy was that patriotic fervor within the Chinese public blasted out, and this fervor was so intense that one was no longer able to tell if it was patriotism or if it was nationalism. The Japanese intelligence official from two years prior by that time had already returned to his job at the Japanese intelligence agency; I think this must have taken him aback, and I wonder if he said, ‘WOW, the voice of the Chinese people has finally come out!’.

Voice coming out is fine and well, but the real problem is: of these voices, how many of them will end up in his research reports? I mean, how else could he be assessing the Chinese public's patriotic fervor in his reports now? Will he be warning Japan not to lower its guard with the American government? Intelligence analysis of research into neighboring countries’ issues of course will not miss patriotism and nationalism such on this scale, but is China's super-blend of patriotism and nationalism a key foundation of the government's approach to foreign relations? Or was it just a sort of tactical strategy controlled by the government to demonstrate for others its own internal policy? I believe that this was the thing that American and Japanese intelligence agencies paid the most attention to.

This is also the main point I want to make today, even if the embassy bombing departs from that. People would do well to consider a few questions: Chinese civil unrest that appears to be patriotic fervor and the nationalism that occasionally pops out from that, does this have any impact on our country's foreign policy? Does this affect China's relationship with the world, particularly with Japan and the West? Does this affect our international trade? Does it affect China's economic growth, or China's place in the world? And consider also, following every patriotic fervor episode, what changes has it brought to China?

对于我来说,这尤其重要,因为我也爱国,也激情,但无论怎么激情的爱国,我的目标是要中国能够继续经济发展,社会稳定,而且政治不断进行与时俱进改革。而这也是我对一些爱国热情和民族主义非常之担心的,认为任何人不管你高调还是低调爱国,不过你说自己是爱国主义,还是民族主义,如果你的爱国不能够提高人民生活水平,让中国人的人权得到保障,生活安定,政治清明,如果你的爱国不符合人类日益接受的普世价值,你的爱国就是误国,你也就无异于爱国贼。爱国也就是爱民。

这就是每一次看到爱国又起的时候,我最担心的,会不会把国际关系全部搞坏了?会不会破坏我们的经济发展了?会不会,说到这里我是很欣赏“韬光养晦”的策略的 ——你还别说,经过这一段时间的观察和调查,我得出了也许让很多反对冲动爱国的人士不那么喜欢听的结论:中国民众无论是反日抵制日货,还是到抗议美国轰炸大使馆,再到把爱国大游行搞到国外去,保护圣火等等,所有的这些激情大爱国,都没有影响中国政府和外国政府正常交往,没有影响多边经贸关系。

Speaking for myself, this is of the utmost importance. Because I love the country, and fervently so. But regardless of how passionately patriotic I am, my goal is to see China be able to continue its economic development, social stability, and continuous political reforms so as to keep up with the times. But this is also what makes me worry about certain patriotic fervor or nationalism, the feeling that anyone regardless of how high-key or low-key your patriotism is, or whether you call yourself a patriot or a nationalist, that if your patriotism is unable to raise people's standards of living, or guarantee human rights, stable lives, and political transparency for the Chinese people, if your patriotism is incompatible with growing daily acceptance for humanitarian universal values, then your love for your country is actually wrong for this country, and with patriotism like this you're nothing more than betraying the nation. Loving your country also means loving its people.

This is what worries me every time I see patriotism rising up again, wondering if it will completely ruin international relations. Will it ruin our economic growth? Having said that, I really admire the ‘play dumb, keep quiet and bide your time’ policy. Wait now–after some time observing and investigating, I've arrived at a conclusion that many people who oppose impulsive patriotism might not like: The Chinese people, whether in protesting against Japan, boycotting Japanese goods, or even protesting America's embassy bombing, then from there taking the big patriotic protests to other countries, protecting the sacred torch and what have you, none of this super patriotic fervor had any impact on the Chinese government's usual interactions with foreign governments or on multilateral trade relations.

从这一方面说,我对中央政府的清醒头脑大加赞赏。他们显然比爱国的群众更“理智”,你砸大使馆可以,但中美关系特别是和美国人做生意一如既往;你到街上喊两声抵制日货或者砸两部日本汽车可以,但在政府的主导下,一部日本小车被砸倒,千千万万辆日本小车站了起来;你说抵制法货可以,但如果真激情到家乐福门口去折腾,公安会伺候你;你把美国怎么骂都不为过,但中美贸易一日千里,人员交往日新月异……最主要的是,几乎所有的爱国热情都是被政府的某种言行及时划上了一个句号:就在海外留学生爱国爱得要死要活的时候,中央发话了:干好你自己的事就是爱国。就在抵制日货呼声没有停下来时,领导人说了,记住历史,忘记仇恨;就在愤青们都想把CNN吃掉的时候,却发现地政救灾中,CNN是最重要一家被中央政府允许进入灾区的媒体!而且就在部分民众包括那个余秋雨高叫海外反华势力的时候,政府只字不提不说,而且还和这些外国政府打得火热……

一次狼来了,西方人很紧张,两次狼来了,西方政府冷静了一些,等你一而再再而三地折腾以反西方某个国家和个人为主的爱国主义时,西方人终于笑了。他们笑什么?他们笑我们那种奇怪的爱国主义,看上去毫无内容的爱国主义,让他们折腾吧,他们的政府不会怎么样,他们照样和我们做生意,他们照样和我们来往,一切照旧。于是,我们看到了,当中国在西方主要国家的中国留学生挥舞五星红旗宣示爱国的时候,人家冷眼旁观,西方主流媒体甚至于不屑于报道,人家根本不把你当回事。人家知道,你在怎么折腾,你不敢不和他们做生意,不敢宣布自己把门关起来,当然那些留学生更不敢收起皮箱,打道回府,那人家还有什么好担心的,好怕的?

In this one sense, I couldn't be more admiring of the central government's clearheadedness. Obviously, they are more ‘rational’ than the patriotic masses, so you can go smashing up embassies if you want, but China-American relations, especially with those Americans doing business here, have gone on as normal. You can take to the street and shout twice that that you boycott Japanese goods or go and smash up two Japanese cars, but under the government's guidance, for every Japanese car that gets smashed, a hundred million more will take its place; you can say you boycott French goods, but if you really go to Carrefour's front door and agitate, the police will just wait for you to finish; you can curse out the US every which way, but China-America trade goes on around the clock and only keeps growing…..the most important of this is, nearly all patriotic fervor stops in its tracks with just one word: when those students overseas got so patriotic with their patriotism that they almost lost it, the central government spoke out: minding your own business, that's what being patriotic is. Then when calls for a boycott of Japanese goods wouldn't stop, the leaders said, remember history, forget hatred; and when those fenqing wanted to eat CNN up, they noticed that during the earthquake relief effort, CNN was the biggest media allowed by the central government to enter the disaster zone! Then when some people including that Yu Qiuyu started hollering about overseas anti-China forces, the government didn't say a word, in fact just kept cozy with some foreign governments…..

Start acting up once, and Westerners get nervous; twice, and western governments calm down a bit, waiting for you to get over agitating about some western country or another, and get over your personal patriotism, and in the end westerners just laugh. What are they laughing at? They're laughing at our strange sort of patriotism, which for all appearances is completely void of patriotism, so ‘let them agitate,’ they think, ‘their government won't do anything about it, they'll keep on doing business with us, keep on dealing with us, and everything will be just as it was. Then we saw that when Chinese exchange students in major western countries started waving the five-star red flag and declaring their love for China, people just watched with indifference, and western mainstream media didn't even bother reporting it, pretending like you weren't even there. Because those people know, no matter how agitated you get, you won't dare trying to stop doing business with them, or threaten to slam the door and lock yourselves away, and of course those overseas students wouldn't dare start packing up their suitcases and return home. So what else is there for people to be worried about, afraid of?

那么现在让我们涉入最深层的问题,既然中国民众的爱国热情不但对中国政府对外决策不起影响,而且弄得外国人也麻木了,人家不但不怕,而且觉得好玩,那么这种爱国激情为什么还像肌肉痉挛一样,过一段时间就来那么一次,而且每次到来的时候,还往往让你感觉到有人在煽风点火?真得一点作用没有?目的何在?

不抵制外国产品,也不会缩减经贸交往,连国际交往也没有减少,而且我们的爱国主义几乎没有几次能够真正成功迫使西方政府对我们政府让步的,很多时候反而造成西方政府对我们发难。那么这种爱国主义到底有什么作用?

Now let us tackle some deeper issues. Since the Chinese public's patriotic fervor not only has no impact on the Chinese government's foreign policy, but also makes foreigners indifferent, people not only aren't afraid of it, but actually think it's kind of fun. So, why is it that this kind of patriotic fervor ends up looking like some sort of muscle spasm, over in a minute with another following shortly, and why, when they do come, does it always feel like someone's stirring up the flames? Does it truly serve any purpose whatsoever? Just what is the goal?

If you don't boycott foreign goods, you won't reduce trade interaction, you won't even reduce international engagement, and what's more is that our patriotism it seems has rarely been able to successfully force western governments to yield to ours, instead most of the time it just leads to western governments raking us over the coals. So what exactly is the purpose of this kind of nationalism?

[Snip]

可见,中国的民族主义和爱国主义以及激烈的反对西方的运动,并没有阻止中国政府和西方国家的进一步交往,特别是没有影响中国和西方在经贸、科教甚至社会方方面面的交往,唯一影响的是中国老百姓对西方的认识,对西方以人权、民主和自由为主体的价值观的了解!

现在,让我回到这篇文章的假设和我的推论,美国误炸大使馆,可是却搞出了那么激烈的抗美爱国事件,中国人民被激怒了,于是去抗议去游行去示威,去砸大使馆,就在大家快要激动到忍不住要去“援越抗美”的时候,中央接受了美国提出的赔款要求,误炸事件被确认下来,爱国游行倏然收场。

可是,“误炸”大使馆事件却成为一个深深影响中国人的标志性事件。就在几天前,我和一位比较喜欢的80后聊天,他说到自己的思想变化时,说,我以前也会同意你的观点,但1999年美国轰炸我大使馆,让我突然清醒过来,改变了我对美国的看法,对中国的看法。

You can see that China's nationalism and patriotism as well as its intense anti-western movement weren't able to stop the Chinese government from proceeding to engage with western countries, and especially had no impact on China's trade, scientific and social exchanges of every kind with the west, and the only impact it did have is Chinese people's understanding of the west, of their understanding that human rights, democracy and freedom are key values in the west!

Now, let me go back to this post's assumption and my deduction from it, that America mistakenly bombed [our] embassy, and out of that came an intense anti-American patriotic incident. The Chinese people were enraged, and went to protest and went to demonstrate and went to rally, and smash up the American embassy, and right when people were so worked up that they couldn't hold themselves back from opposing America that the central government accepted America's terms for compensations, and once the mistaken bombing incident had been confirmed as such, the patriotic demonstrations ended quickly.

But, the “mistaken bombing” of the embassy incident went on to become a symbolic incident which is deeply affected the Chinese people. Just a few days ago I was chatting with one post-1980s kid that I'm really fond of, and when he began to talk of how his own thinking has changed, he said, ‘I used to agree with your point of view, but after the American bombing of my embassy in 1999, I quickly woke up and changed my views towards America, and towards China.’

我真是太震惊:你不会告诉我轰炸大使馆事件竟然能够改变了你的价值观?那真是太神奇了!!如果这个轰炸是误炸呢?难道你没有发现问题,你的价值观到底是被什么改变的?!轰炸使馆事件是把你震醒了?还是轰炸大使馆事件后发生的那些爱国游行事件把你弄糊涂了?!

有人说,你说了半天,还是基于这次轰炸是“误炸”,可如果不是误炸呢?好,那么就让我告诉你,如果我们的假设是对的,那是误炸的话,那么你如何解释这次误炸竟然阴错阳差地改变了一代人对美国(及其价值观)的看法?用你自己的脑袋想一想吧。

现在我再告诉你:我并不认为轰炸大使馆是误炸,“误炸”只是这篇文章的假设。但即使不是误炸,我也因那件事竟然改变了一些人对世界和自己的看法,而且开始塑造一代年轻人的世界观感到无比震惊。

而且,当你和我一起开始认定那次轰炸不是“误炸”的时候,在你对世界的观点改变之前,你最好和我一起问这样一个问题:以美国为首的北约为什么胆敢轰炸我大使馆?

I was truly shocked: ‘you're not actually saying that the embassy bombing incident was actually able to alter your values, are you? That's truly amazing!! And if the bombing really was an accident? Surely you're not saying you didn't notice any problems, so just what exactly was it that changed your values? Was it the embassy bombing incident that woke you up? Or was it those patriotic demonstrations that came after the embassy bombing incident that in fact messed you up?!

Someone said, ‘you've been going on about this forever, you might as well stick to the bombing having been “mistaken”. But what if it wasn't? Okay, well then just let me tell you, if our assumption is correct, and it was a mistaken bombing, then how do you explain that despite all odds how it was that this mistaken bombing was actually able to change an entire generation's views (and its values) regarding America? Use your brain to think about this one.

And now let me tell you: I don't believe that the bombing of the embassy was a mistaken. “Mistaken bombing” is only the assumption made in this post. But, even if it wasn't a mistaken bombing, because of that incident, I too have in fact seen some of my views of the world and of myself change, and have also begun to form a sense of incomparable shock at one generation's view of the world.

Moreover, when you and I begin to recognize together that that explosion was not “mistaken”, but before your view of the world changes, you'd be best off to do as I do and ask this kind of question: ‘Why would NATO, as headed by America, have the audacity to blow up one of our embassies?’

173 comments

  • Kai

    The suspense. It is killing me.

  • Ben

    Excitable crowd is a perfect bargining chip for a manipulative government to achieve its ultimate goal of self-preservation. Until individuals in such crowds are capable of thinking for themselves, be afraid. Be very afraid.

  • Sonagi

    Yang Hengjun asks a relevant question which I don’t believe any Chinese officials or members of the media ever attempted to answer publicly.

    Shortly afer the bombing, I read in a US public media source speculation that the bombing was intentional and the reason why the Chinese embassy was a target. Before I reveal the reason stated in this article, I’m curious to know what other commenters think. If you think the bombing was deliberate, then you must have some idea of the reason. In a US court of law, proving motive is crucial to proving homicide as opposed to lesser charges like manslaughter. For what possible reasons did the US target the Chinese embassy?

  • Uncommon sense

    If the Belgrade embassy bombing was intentional,
    why did’nt President Clinton proudly admitted it,
    but instead apologized and paid compensation for the damages to China?

  • chan

    They like to shoot whatever target they like without accuracy

  • Thanks for choosing this one John. Really interesting. Am I right in assuming that with his last question he’s prompting the answer something along the lines of, “Because (1) Americans can get away with it because China needs the international trade, and (2) no matter if the 人民 yell and scream their patriotic fervour in the streets, they won’t sway their gov’s foreign policies”? or something like that? Not being familiar with this guy’s general thought, and reading in translation, it’s hard to pick up on the real meanings.

  • chan

    yes, once again it proven they fail to ask themselves inwardly, lack of analyse properly, lack of careful consideration of different in position and culture and lack of ensuring of “accuracy” before an action. And “right in assuming that”, they just like to Assume that they are Right. Lack of accuracy in many apsects “Righteous, opinion, understanding, mutual respect , human right, freedom…….” Another good example, Iraq war…
    Somemore, “proundly admitted”, no sense of “repentance or self-shamefulness” in their serious mistake
    Many times in reality, does not mean that “saying sorry” or”compensation” mean forgiveness, forgotten and repentance……

  • chan

    I am not afraid of patriotism, I am reaLLY frightened by the west “guided” MISS-ILES…:-O SO “THEY LIKE TO SHOOT WHATEVER TARGET ANYHOW WITHOUT ENSURING ACCURRACY” ;-)

  • chan

    Don’t be afraid of Patriotism, but be extra caution and stop shooting “guided” miss-iles :-)

  • Kai

    Guys, no offense, but some of you are missing the point. The author is asking for some incisive, even introspective, thinking here. Some of you are just offering the same tired cliches (either anti-China or anti-US) that everyone usually drags out.

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