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?’
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?
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?’
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:
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?
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.
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?
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?
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.’
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?’