Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

China Wields History as a Weapon Its Leaders Invoke the Past to Justify Their Policies, except When It's Inconvenient

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

China Wields History as a Weapon Its Leaders Invoke the Past to Justify Their Policies, except When It's Inconvenient

Article excerpt

For China's autocrats, history is a weapon. This past weekend, for example, a Chinese general told Southeast Asian nations that their territorial claims in the South China Sea were irrelevant because "China has had indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea for around 2,000 years."

Don't like it? Then learn to "respect history" as China's defense minister told his Vietnamese counterpart in late May, after Vietnamese protesters turned violent in response to Chinese incursions into what Vietnam considers its territory.

In this context, history is the rhetorical equivalent of a dismissive wave of a hand that brings an end to a pointless conversation.

In China's ongoing dispute with Japan over territory and the right to be respected as Asia's dominant power, history is used more as a cudgel. Japanese leaders themselves have handed Beijing the weapon, with their highly provocative visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japan's war dead (including 14 Class-A war criminals), as well as their determined efforts to finesse Japan's wartime conduct in school textbooks. For Chinese officials, these acts are affronts, as well as opportunities to lower Japan's standing in the international community.

So it goes, over and over: History used to stake a claim on the present. A search of Google or Baidu reveals dozens of Chinese government statements and official news stories invoking history as rhetoric. Blogs, microblogs and comment sections are stuffed with more.

In China, these repeated references to history are so common that they become most noticeable when they're suddenly absent. Think of someone who falls asleep in front of a noisy television, only to be awakened by the silence left when someone else shuts it off. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.