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What does it mean to be "Chinese?"

YJ called me this morning and asked, “What does ‘epitomize’ mean?”

集大成, I guess?”

“Oh, okay.”

I wondered about the random vocab word, until I read the China Law Blog today. YJ and I usually read the CLB daily but I’d been busy the last few days and so had not had the chance to read this wonderful post and the equally delightful comments. In the post, CLB eulogizes the late President Gerald Ford:

Forget the politics, he was an American like George Washington was an American. He was what Americans call “salt of the earth.” Modest. Quietly religious. Hard working. Steady. Solid. Genuine.


For days I have been wanting to write something on our late President, but could not think of any way to legitimately link it to China.

CLB then asks the question: If Gerald Ford in some way epitomizes America, then “Who is China’s Gerald Ford?”

I once jokingly suggested Hua Guofeng, but in light of President Ford’s recent passing and the tributes pouring in from all quarters, such a comparison now seems a bit cruel. Jerry doesn’t need more jokes, after all the man outlived Chevy Chase‘s career by a good two decades.

The suggestions and the comments responding to Dan’s question are fascinating, everybody from Yao Ming to Sun Yatsen, it’s quite a range. I myself put in a vote for Zeng Guofan. We all seemed to suggest somebody different.

But then I thought about why this is such a difficult exercise. Dan gave some ideas as to what he feels defines an “American.” I suppose each American has their own definition, but as hard as it is to define the quintessential “American,” how does one define the quintessential “Chinese”? What does it mean to be Chinese? What are the essential characteristics?

A very bright (and committed) fellow named “Leo” and I have been having a bit of a debate regarding nationality as it pertains to Genghis Khan. If nothing else, Leo has shown me how hard it is to define what is (and was) “China” and who are “the Chinese.”

I welcome any and all suggestions to this conundrum and if you haven’t already, have a read at the CLB.

24 Comments on What does it mean to be "Chinese?"

  1. 無名 - wu ming // January 4, 2007 at 2:02 pm //

    gerry ford as hua guofeng is spot-on, no need to flinch away from a good analogy. a blander and politically neutered face slapped on many of the same cabinet members and policies.

    the only thing that rankles with the “china’s ___” game is that the comparisons never seem to go the other way as much, which then calls up the question of an implied western histoprical “standard.” perhaps we could have a bit of fun working the analogies the other way sometime.

  2. davesgonechina // January 4, 2007 at 10:59 pm //

    I’m late to this party, due to the transPacific cable shenanigans.

    On the previous conversation with Leo, I think he’s got some good points and I wouldn’t be so quick to label him as kneejerk nationalist. The Telegraph article is glib, ought to say something as to Zhongguoren vs. Hanzu, and definitely feeds into a boatload of preconceived notions about China. I’ve said before that I believe that alot of the issues about identity and Chineseness would still exist sans CCP, and I think the controversies of historical interpretation in China would be in many way the same if, say, Sun Yatsen’s China had lasted to the present day.

    A quick glance at, the mainland shortcut to Wikipedia, says the real Genghis Khan mausoleums were portable (naiman chaghaan odru) and multiple, like the old Christian roadshows were you saw the finger of a saint for 10 sheckels. That makes perfect sense for a bunch of nomads, and supposedly these were outlawed in the PRC. So if GK is not being honored in a traditional Mongol way, does that make it Han shrine to the big guy?

    Another commenter pointed out GK was a monster who slaughtered millions. Point there as well. If the mausoleum in Baotou functioned like a proper historian imagined, then it would be a reflection on the brutality of GK, as well as acknowledging the Mongolian (inner and outer, which are not as different as some might think) perspective that he united the tribes and reshaped the nomadic societies of the Ordos (along with many others). It would court controversy, but attempt to be inclusive and objective. This mausoleum obviously makes no such attempt.

    On the “quintessential” issue, I think asking who the “quintessential American” was shows how inappropriate this question is for any society. Did West African slaves who died in their twenties at the whip epitomize Americans? How about Iroquois murdered by blanket? Custer? Abbie Hoffman? Nikolai Tesla? John Smith? The Donner Party? Dave Burbank? What on earth do any of these people have in common? The choose someone as the epitome of a national identity is, by definition, to exclude everybody else.

    This leads back to the definition of Han. What makes a Han Han? As a commenter in the GK thread mentioned, he’s got brown hair and a fair complexion. Is he Han? Here in the Southeast everybody and their grandma has a kitchen god and burns incense at temple. Are they more Han than groovy Shanghai’ers? What about all the miscegenation since the Xiongnu? Or the Nanfang Huayi of Indonesia and Malaysia, who mixed with the locals and became Muslim? If we approach “Chinese” as being a matter of self-identification with a modern nation and it’s historical antecedents, it’s alot more straightforward than if we approach it as some sort of racial or cultural set of parameters, because those will become so broad they lose all meaning. Just like Americans.

  3. Interesting point here. Personally I find the whole idea of national character difficult- but being European and a historian I suppose that’s predictable.

    I suppose my worry about the whole exercise is that it makes it seem like a nation has a personality. I personally am not sure that a personality is what emerges from national history. It also makes it seem like all the contenders thought of the ‘nation’ in the same way- whilst I’m sure Gerry Ford thinks of the US in a similar continuum to you- I don’t think George Washington did not to mention going earlier Cotton Mather or John Winthrop- I think its too ahistorical a method of understanding nations.

    I suppose that in the context of CHina this chimes in with your Genghis Khan post- having read your and Leo’s exchanges- one of the things that automatically came to my mind is that Leo was attempting to understand the past via the lens of the present. His argument was this is our past and we can claim it but I wonder if its that clear. How say can I say that King Alfred is a national English hero- when Alfred was King of Wessex and claimed to be ruler of the Saxons and also claimed ot be ruler of Britain but never of England. Fitting Alfred into that world means that I’m distorting Alfred- in a way I’m lieing about him to others and that in my view is shady and it makes me doubt the search for national characters- especially if as in the case of all politicians these characters backed some options and not others- does that make their opponents- say Carter in Ford’s case- not part of the nation.

    I’m overplaying my hand here- but it is something that concerns me. Thanks for provoking me though!

  4. You just love Hua Guofeng, right?:)

  5. 無名 - wu ming // January 5, 2007 at 3:03 am //

    oh, and yao isn’t doing the longhorn sign. that entails the tucking in of the thumb.

    the things you learn when you live with texans…apparently that and the “gig ’em aggies” hitchhiking thumb move are like some secret texan code. i knew this guy in college who would just flash those signs at cars with texas plates, and more often than not they’d return the signal.

    kinda creepy.

  6. 花崗齋之愚公 // January 5, 2007 at 7:09 am //

    Thanks for the great comments everybody, I’ll respond fully a little later.

    A quick note, I agree that one can’t essentialize a nation. My question had more to do with (self-)perception not any kind of objective essential characteristics.

    But we hear a lot from the CCP and from Chinese who post on blogs about a Chinese ‘national identity,’ I’m curious as to what that rhetoric means.

    For example one could (hypothetically) critique CLB’s definition of an “American” as being definitely gendered and somewhat skewed toward Anglo/Northern European values. But that’s okay, that’s CLB’s view.

    There are multiple meanings for “Chinese” just as there are for “American” and all of these meanings come into play when we talk about either historical or contemporary issues.

    This is the crux of my question.

  7. You are continuously misreading my words.

    From your quote: “ […] that Genghis Khan, once famously slagged by Chairman Mao as just another barbarian warlord, was actually Chinese.”

    1. In this text Mao is paralleling five historical rulers, all crème de la crème of all Chinese dynasties, while in no means singling Genghis Khan out or trivializing all of them. You have no idea of the text, a very representative one of contemporary Chinese history.

    2. Shooting a bird is not just shooting a bird in Chinese. Archery is one of the most important arts of Chinese nobility, a must of every Confucian worship ceremony, which has nothing to do with barbarism or being warlord. Here you show no knowledge about the culture and its symbolisms.

    3. Chinese worshiping Genghis Khan has not been news for centuries. It is not commie complots, please don’t get commies in!

    From that starting point you went on to define Chinese nation. How can I begin with you?

    I have quite clearly stated that this is a shitty text, whose every second sentence is based on hearsays, assumptions, and imaginations, no signs of investigation, no trace of research, no cues of really knowing anything, with harsh partisan tones, all indicating obvious external motives. And you put it on a page of a scientific scholar, without slightest tone like critical, instead, paying earnestness of an authority both hands up.

    It is really not about nation, my friend. I try to tone down my frustrations, I hope you won’t get it personally.

  8. 花崗齋之愚公 // January 5, 2007 at 12:53 pm //


    As I tell my students when they become a little overexcited in class:

    “Relax, take a deep breath. You’ll feel better.”

    I understand that the territorial integrity of the PRC is an important issue. But you’re taking a quasi-serious post on what was obviously a puff piece in a UK newspaper about an out-of-the-way tourist attraction celebrating a very dead Mongol a little too seriously.

    I know it’s tough going through all of the comments on a post in a second language (I’m sympathetic as I have a few hundred pages of Qing dynasty memorials to translate in the next month or so) but if you check Dave’s comment for example, you’ll see that he agrees with you about the piece. And upon reflection, I tend to agree with you and Dave, the original Guardian article was glib.

    For myself however, I was using the piece as a jumping off point for a larger discussion of the use of “creative history” in contemporary disputes–clearly not a Chinese invention as any cursory glance at conflicts ongoing around the world will show.

    I have no idea what you’re talking about with the birds. I know, as do most people, that archery is one of the Confucian arts. Not sure what the point of that was.

    I think one misunderstanding here is that of agenda: the “harsh partisan tones, all indicating obvious external motives.” Personally, I don’t really care if Inner Mongolia is or is not part of the PRC. I could either way on this one.

    Let me state now (in part so that I don’t have to sleep on the sofa) that I have no agenda to encourage the dismantling of China. But if I see bunk, I’ll call bunk.

    I think because many historians and journalists in the PRC do start with a contemporary political agenda (or at the very least, they are aware of the ‘correct’ interpretation required), this leads to an assumption by some Chinese that all historians and/or journalists everywhere do the same.

    Some do. I’m not one of them.

    Let’s put it in the universal language of math (which I do not speak very fluently, but I’ll try):

    Some historians/journalists in the PRC (and elsewhere) use this equation.


    They need to get the answer right . That answer is already determined by the political demands of the state. So they start plugging in whatever they can as “x” regardless of how it might fit.

    Generally speaking, we should do this:


    Where we look at the research and the data and then try to find an intepretation that makes sense for x, regardless of how uncomfortable x might make us feel in the present day. I don’t like the fact that my nation was built on the slaughter of the Native Americans or the backs of enslaved Africans, but I am glad that I know it and I would challenge anyone who would argue otherwise simply because he/she doesn’t want the US to “lose face.”

    I think we can move on from Genghis for a time, I’m sensing we are starting to repeat ourselves a bit.

    I do think you need to read the posts/comments more carefully. If you look more closely, it was your insightful comments that made me ask “What is the Chinese nation?” as a way of broadening my understanding of this obviously important issue.

    If you go back and read the comments above, you’ll see quite a few people who were engaged by your comments in a mostly positive way.

    I thank you for your comments and hope you’ll continue in our conversation.

    Ps. In the future, I’ll ask that you mind your language and refrain from using profanity when commenting. This is not that kind of site. There are 500,000 words in the English language, many of them adjectives, and some of them surely superior to “shitty.”

  9. You suppose the integrity of PRC is my concern. I tell you it is not my issue. Territorial integrity is politics, politics is negotiable. And PRC also has a very clean record of showing sanity in dealing with territorial integrity, about which I would worry the least. PRC has given up countless claims, compromised when necessary, ceded here and there when it deemed necessary to buy peace, which was happily exploited by ROC on Taiwan to call it traitor and Russian agent.

    Most communist countries are quite reasonable in this issue. Koguryo and Balhae issue is in North Korea an academia issue and party paper ed-op grudge; in South Korea it turned into a popular mass movement, citizen’s initiatives, and public sit-ins. You’ll think that North Korea is showing weak, but it was North Korea that through negotiations won back a portion of the Baekdu from PRC while the South Korean politicians bla bla about reclaiming the whole Kendo province, though knowing clearly that it is almost eternally impossible.

    There is a presumption in the general public that PRC is chauvinist and expansionist. People think PRC so because they see PRC has occupied Tibet, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, and further claims Taiwan et alias. Those who should know better keep quiet about the facts that ROC had occupied all of Inner Mongolia and 60 % of Tibet anyway, holding the future of Xinjiang with the promises and treaties of Stalin, which PRC really just took over without much bonfire. The later ROC on Taiwan went on claiming a much, much, larger territory than PRC ever fantasized. The communists quite correctly call these claims “Map Imperialism”. When the press ridicules the communists’ claim over Taiwan, they rarely mentioned it was Taiwan that held the claim 30 years in UN over a territory of PRC and Mongolia put together, issuing annual threats of a return with ultramost means (YES, secretly also NUKE!). For the mere sake of getting even, you should allow PRC to hold the reverse claim a few more years.

    I don’t want to play philanthrope, but nation falling apart is really my concern, because it causes physical pains, which you can see everywhere around the globe. Such agonies like nation itself are really imaginational.

  10. 花崗齋之愚公 // January 5, 2007 at 4:01 pm //


    I couldn’t agree more with your last paragrah, yet the question still is out there. For most of the 20th century, many different intellectuals and regimes in China have tried to build (or awaken, or pick your metaphor) a Chinese nation. But I’ve never been clear what exactly that meant, the “Chinese nation.” To Sun Yatsen in 1895 that wouldn’t have included the Manchus. Later it might have. To paraphrase Benedict Anderson, how do/did Chinese imagine the nation?

    @ Gracchi,

    Thanks for the excellent example from European history. It’s a real pleasure having a Europeanist comment on the blog. As I said before, I’m not looking for some sort of objective set of national characteristics, it’s more about perception and rhetoric.

    @ Wu Ming,

    I love your idea. To borrow a popular figure from the CLB discussion, “Who is America’s Zhou Enlai?” Sounds like an interesting question for section…

    You’re right about the Longhorn salute, I forgot about the thumb. Maybe Yao is showing his fondness for Iron Maiden?

    @ Leo,

    Fair enough.

    Thanks for your clarification and again, I encourage you to address some of the issues raised by Gracchi and Dave.

    @ Lemur,

    You know I love Hua Guofeng. The man rocks.

  11. Okey, I venture a few remarks about Gracchi and Daves’ opinions.

    Every ruler in Chinese history was a proven mass murder and multiple rapist. If you find somebody not, it is more possible that you are not reading the right record. The same verdict can be conferred to every king and emperor of every pre-modern history. But that is not what history is about. Because if you have a record of their subjects, it may seem direr – wilful killings for pleasure, robberies as part-time jobs, raping as a necessary procedure of marriage, not to mention males had a larger probability to participate in wars, during which plundering, massacring, and gang raping were daily agenda, all of which are now covered conveniently under anonymity and written off on the head of their leaders. In PRC of 1950s, there were mountain tribes in Yunnan province sending members down every autumn to hunt a few heads of innocent passers-by, how should you treat them? As a homicide conspirators ring? Applying modern criminal codes? So why single GK out.

    If you want to put a show of GK’s evil deeds, you should apply the practice to every king and queen. Then every Chinese, Indian, Egyptian imperial tombs will be a London Tower show. Does it bring anything good? Perhaps we’d better give a more accurate account how the general population then lived.

    Yes, it is important to find facts instead of myths about a historical figure, but should not only be limited so. There were truths and facts of their life, but also afterwards. Otherwise, how can you account for their post-mortem influences and impacts which were often larger than the ones during their life time. A lot of people live on through other people’s memory, narratives, discourses, and imaginations, which is also a history process and should be recognized and addressed. Here you can see the stupidity of calling King Aelfred a county figure while his influence and impact is English. That you find Alf was Essex is great, but when you stand on your limited knowledge to revoke Alf’s Englishness, you are stepping beyond your realm into ignorance. This can also partly explain why GK lived on to become an emperor that he was not during his life time.

    And I think nation is a word of convenience, and it should remain so. If you want to make something substantial out of it, you are close to being criminal.

    Identity is an entity by itself, and it is a concept. A lot of ideas and concepts are dynamic construct. It defines its boundary only when it is confronted with a foreign body. For a person in the deep province without outside contact the nation belonging does not matter. If there is no woman, being a man is meaningless in regard to social life, which explains why homosexuality is so rampant in prison and military. Because this construct is dynamic, it is not strange that its former boundaries will contradict the latter ones, and identity looks like self-lie in a diachronic perspective.

  12. 無名 - wu ming // January 6, 2007 at 2:24 am //

    so when are we going to hear about hirohito as a chinese historical figure? he had as much control over china proper as chinggis, and his armies were merciful by comparison (even the kantô army didn’t make huge towers of glowing putrescent skulls).

    i’m willing to see chinggis as a figure of great import to chinese history, but the notion that he was chinese in any sense of the word is pretty ahistorical. chinese back then spoke of 中國人, but the mongols were definitely not a part of that, not until the qing, really (and even then, not convincingly to the vast majority of 漢人). even the yuan made sure to put the 漢人and 南人 on the bottom of the empire in their administration’s ethnic heirarchy, to keep themselves separate. one can declare the present by fiat, but the past is a stubborn thing, and the historical record will not bend so easily to current political needs.

    one need not prove that chinggus was a zhongguoren to claim nei monggol, any more than americans need keep up the fiction that america was an “empty continent” waiting for american settlers to till its soil in order to hold on to the midwest. posession is 3/4 of ownership, after all. and even if one were to actually push for a china that actually takes its own rhetoric seriously that all minzu are equally considered to be zhongguoren (i could just as easily say the same for american egalitarian racial/ethnic rhetoric), that does not mean that the past has to be changed to fit it. let the past be the past, and let us make the present what we will.

    as for nations falling apart, china managed to keep itself together for centuries without claiming chinggis as chinese, so that’s a bit hyperbolic. nothing said on this or any blog will tear a country apart that isn’t already determined to do it anyways, any more than an online discussion of the systemic genocide of america’s native population will overthrow the united states.

    personally, i don’t think any state, including my own, has any innate right to exist, or control any set plot of land. all is contingent upon how it treats those whom it governs, whether it is seen as legitimate by those under its control, and whether it can hold that territory. but there is no inherent right to exist per se, not from my (admittedly powerless) perspective.

    but then i suppose i’m a bit of an anarchist too.

  13. “I couldn’t agree more with your last paragrah, yet the question still is out there. For most of the 20th century, many different intellectuals and regimes in China have tried to build (or awaken, or pick your metaphor) a Chinese nation. But I’ve never been clear what exactly that meant, the “Chinese nation.” To Sun Yatsen in 1895 that wouldn’t have included the Manchus. Later it might have. To paraphrase Benedict Anderson, how do/did Chinese imagine the nation?”

    You and other Europeans are confused but arrogant. Just in case you don’t know, Chinese civilization is one of a few living ancient civilizations. The lunar calender is counting to 5,000 years. Forget about “Chinese nation”, it is simply China to foreigners and Middle Kingdom to Chinese. Chinese are proud people and know who they are without Europeans or PRC coaching them.

    Hans were people of Han Dynasty which was prosper and strong. Probably that was where Han chauvinism came from. Han wasn’t single ethnicity to start with, it is really just a culture(writing) after two millennia expansion and sinicising and 1.2 billion strong. Some people try to equal Han to Chinese. Hans have sure been the majority and talked and written the same way no matter who rules. In which language do you think Qing communicated with foreigners?

    How can you be so wrong as a Ph.D candidate in history? Sun Yatsen did include Manchurians right at the beginning. Millions of Chinese already migrate to Machuria, why not? They were the residents of Qing Dynasty and paying tax and fighting for the Emperor. Manchurians spread all over China themselve. They spoke Chinese and denied their ethnicity out of fear of Han mob attacks. Sun embraced them and probably avoided lots of violence.

    “To paraphrase Benedict Anderson, how do/did Chinese imagine the nation?”

    This is very funny. What did he mean by “imagine”? China has been multicultural and multiethnic long before America.

  14. 花崗齋之愚公 // January 6, 2007 at 7:42 am //

    I think your views are in keeping with many non-historians in China today. I would argue that theoretically and conceptually they are bit oversimplified and keeping more with the emotions of Chinese nationalism than actual research.

    I also think you should probably read Benedict Anderson, it would likely help you to understand the context for the question. I’m not sure you’ve quite comprehended what we are doing here.

    Most historians today, both inside and outside China will tell you that the extent of Manchu assimilation, an assumption common in the scholarship of the early and mid-20th century, is now up for debate. I refer to you recent works by Mark Elliott, Pamela Crossley, and Evelyn Rawksi among others. While Chinese was widely spoken among Manchu officials and banners (much to the court’s chagrin) during the 19th century, recent research show that many records were kept in the Manchu langugage only and not made available in Chinese to the Han officials.

    I’m willing to accept 5000 years of continuous “civilization” or “culture” if you like. I think these concepts are ambiguous enough to merit discussion in this way. As for a single polity? Well, that is certainly open to more debate.

    You are right that Han probably comes from the Han dynasty. Interestingly, many people from South China refer to themselves as “People of the Tang”, hence certain Chinatowns in the US with 唐人街。 The name America comes from “Amerigo Vespucci.”

    Again, Benedict Anderson is hardly unknown in Chinese academic circles, all of my colleagues from the PRC have read it either in English or in translation. I refer you to it for the appropriate context of this discussion. I suppose a useful addition to the reading list might be something from Prasenjit Duara as well, “Rescuing History from the Nation” would be a good place to start.

    As for the multi-ethnic nature of Chinese history, I couldn’t agree more. Hence my question.

    Thanks for stopping by and next time, you don’t have to be anonymous. Even 无名 has a real name.

  15. 花崗齋之愚公 // January 6, 2007 at 7:52 am //

    Oh and as for Sun Yatsen:

    I refer you to Sun’s own pre-1911 writings on “Manchu oppression of the Chinese people.”

  16. If I were in Dalian at the moment, this post and CLB’s would be making me quit being lazy and finally read an assignment I gave my students months ago but never graded. I asked them, “What makes you Chinese?”

    I’ll say this on national identities, as I’ve studied the subject elsewhere: More important than actual characteristics are those perceived qualities built up by myths and symbols. It’s about the stories told about great Americans or Chinese or Serbs or whomever. Individuals are just stand-ins for those ideas.

  17. @Leo:

    “If you want to put a show of GK’s evil deeds..”

    That’s precisely where you misunderstand me. I believe a decent historical exhibit on Genghis Khan would show his deeds, all of them, comprehensively and concisely. If I made any moral judgments of my own in the work, I’d make it clear they are my opinions, and not to be confused with evidence nor pressure the visitor or reader to conform to my views.

    When this is applied to ideas of nation, I’d let individual Chinese visitors make up their own mind what is “Chinese” or not. Which leads me to:


    “For most of the 20th century, many different intellectuals and regimes in China have tried to build (or awaken, or pick your metaphor) a Chinese nation. But I’ve never been clear what exactly that meant, the “Chinese nation.””

    Perhaps the riddle here is that Chinese elites, post 1840, imagined the Chinese nation as a question in itself. Modern China has always posed the idea of the nation as something to be built or awaken as you put (just look at that new documentary series on the Rise and Fall of Nations) – never as something that is already there to be described and articulated, but rather something latent or pending. It’s not “The Chinese Nation” – it’s “The Chinese Nation?”

    Back to Leo:

    “That you find Alf was Essex is great, but when you stand on your limited knowledge to revoke Alf’s Englishness, you are stepping beyond your realm into ignorance.”

    Uh, no, that’s stepping into the realm of interpretation, which everyone is privvy to do. Some people (English or not) may consider Alf “English”, some may not. To relate this to the GK exhibit (and PRC approaches to history), there should be room for interpretation and questions. PRC history exhibits do no such thing – denying even the Chinese people themselves their right as thinking persons to form their own judgment of history.

    And, to Anonymous (is that you Leo?):

    “You and other Europeans are confused but arrogant. Just in case you don’t know, Chinese civilization is one of a few living ancient civilizations.”

    Who is arrogant? Listen, even if China is the senior here it doesn’t make it automatically the better. There’s no international-intercultural system of filial piety here. And why, pray tell, is “ancient” a virtue? The only way I could see you justifying that is teleologically, and then I’ll slap you down with the Needham Question.

    Along with seconding Jeremiah’s suggestions of Anderson and Duara, let me suggest you check out anthropologist Wang Mingming 王铭 at Beijing University.

  18. 花崗齋之愚公 // January 6, 2007 at 2:42 pm //

    Thanks to everyone for your insightful comments, Dave and Wu Ming, I’ll be interested to see Leo’s response to your commentary.

    Again, if you comment here, please be sure to read all the comments through before responding, there are many different arguments going on here, and it’s important to get a full sense of what is being said.

    Also, while I will post anonymous comments, I STRONGLY prefer that people use a name and stick to that name so as to avoid confusion.


    The Management

  19. To Wu Ming:

    If Hirohito ever becomes Chinese, it must be a future act or process. To ask when is fortune-telling, not history. Chinese imperial pantheon is no hall of fame for righteousness and humanity; anybody’s ascending there will not surprise me.

    If Southern Song ever talked of Zhongguoren (I doubt that), it was more likely that they were playing with a mythical idea without any political reality to back up. This idea could be traced back to Mencius. In the conversation with King of Chu, he mentioned Zhongguo, but there was no political reality behind this idea – Qin People had their Qin patriotism, Zhao people their Zhao patriotism. To think Song people were talking about Zhongguo / Zhonghua in the sense of political entity with rigid borders and citizenship is absurd. There were a lot of evidence showing that when really confronted with Khitanites, Mongols, average Southern Song people thought themselves as “we people of Great Song”, their country as “our Great Song”.

    Yes, the Mongolian empire suppressed its conquered people, but the people of PRC is not the victims. You show contempt for Chinese nationalists, but you are continuously prescribing what is the right nationalism. To archive this, you are continuously evoking their pathetic sentiments, which you actually hold in contempt.

    As for nation falling apart, I have never in my posts drawn any direct connections between GK issue and it. I see GK issue as a problem with a history tradition and ethnic connotation. The fact is that if PRC takes GK into its history pantheon, the ethnic group will take it as a act of assimilation and feel insulted, and if PRC takes GK out of its history pantheon, the ethnic group will take it as a sign of exclusion and feel insulted. The problem is that GK has been proclaimed Chinese for centuries. The best tactic is to keep status quo and this is always the policy of PRC. The most guys in Chinese academia are smart enough to know the precarious situation of this topic and avoid carrying out any serious discussions. And there were this Telegraph journalist and these few Inner Mongolian nationalists who exploited the situation to reach their respective goals – the journalist filled the blank column with an interesting story and the nationalists found a place to dump their sentiments.

    As for nation falling apart issue itself, yes, the state has no innate right to exist, but the political elites, whether in power or in opposition, have no right to stir sentiments, manipulate a country’s wholeness while the people suffer.

    To Dave:

    Is GK Mausoleum a museum? It is not an archaeological site and it has never pretended to show any facts. It is a huge modern monument for pathetic sentiments. If you don’t like it, avoid it. What at best you can do about it is advise people not to go there.

    Every interpretation is a historical event. It has its own backgrounds and actors, rises and development. The interpreters are not alone there. They must have a history figure to back up them and an audience to buy them. There are interpretations acceptable and interpretations unacceptable, which is which quite depends on the history figures living in the broad consciousness.

    And I am not Anonymous.

  20. @Leo: OK, good to know you’re not Anonymous.

    “Is GK Mausoleum a museum? It is not an archaeological site and it has never pretended to show any facts.”

    That’s not true. According to this, the Mausoleum has a museum and a cultural research center, not to mention a hot air balloon ride. It certainly pretends to show facts.

    Moreover it’s managed by a holding company in conjunction with the Erdos city government, and is ranked as a key “patriotic education” site as noted here. That means that, like every other museum, it propagates the official government doctrine on history in order to boost patriotism and build a tourist economy. This is at complete odds with accurately informing the public about history, and means that it subscribes to only one rigid interpretation that does not allow for interpretation. In fact, it means exhibits are constructed so as to dismiss and criticize alternative interpretations.

    You can say that all countries do this, or its simply the way of the world. I disagree. Right now Norwegian museums and libraries, as instructed by the government, are launching exhibits on how Norwegians weren’t heroic in World War II (the myth is they were all resistance fighters) and a history of how Norwegians treat Gypsies like s**t. These are expected to be profitable exhibits as well, so it is possible to be financially successful without engaging in patriotic jingoism. Real historians would find these exhibits refreshing if a) ideas that Norwegians all valiantly fought the Nazis or are kind to Gypsies are commonplace (which they are) and/or b) the exhibits themselves give an accurate portrait of how many Norwegians were heroic/altruistic, how many were not, what role the government played in both, etc. That would be giving a complex picture that allows the audience to make up their own minds.

    When a museum is run specifically for “patriotic education”, by definition it can’t provide good history. But that’s what every single museum in China does. And that’s why it sucks.

  21. 無名 - wu ming // January 7, 2007 at 3:59 am //

    well, leo, i don’t know what i can tell you other than that the song-era texts that i read use exactly those terms – 中國 and 中國人 – along with broader ethnic (some argue cultural) terms such as 唐人,華人,中原人 or much less often (in the song, anyways) 漢人. very rarely did they call themselves 宋人, which in itself is rather interesting. a problem that i’m actually in the process of working out is how exactly zhongguo was defined, whether it included foreigners such as persians, arabs, and such, but nowhere do i see anything that would suggest that they would include mongols in that idea of zhongguo, other than as a serious existential threat to their world. and again, no chinese historian after genghis referred to him as anything but mongol until quite recently.

    even the qing empire’s inclusion of the mongols in their court as junior partners was not predicated on their being chinese (zhongguoren and certainly not hanzu), but rather on their distinctness from china, as part of the broader qing empire. the qing controlled china, but understood themselves to be superior to it, much as, say, queen victoria in the british empire saw itself as posessing india, and played around with indian imperial iconography, but saw herself as a british (if not english) monarch, not an indian empress (although her title was “empress of india”).

    i’m curious what evidence you have to support your assertion that “genghis khan was considered to be chinese for centuries.” who, exactly, wrote that, using which chinese words (since that angle interest you), and in which context? while i have seen him listed retroactively as the founding emperor of the yuan, which made the cut of the official 24 histories)i have not seen him described as anything other than monggol by those writers.

    one need not make genghis “chinese” for him to have been a seminal figure in the narrative of chinese history (although, i will restate my position that khubilai khan and the late yuan grand councillor toghto were in fact far more influential on the course of chinese history). elites do not create nor damage “national unity,” such a thing (if it could even exist in reality) lies with the people themselves. to state otherwise assumes a far more elitist vision of human society and history than i ascribe to. if a society is truly whole or unified, then no elite could possibly rend them asunder. likewise, no amount of message control will negate real popular sentiments against a given government, either in a region or a country bat large.

    better to focus on the root and not the branch of things there, if unity is what you’re after.

  22. To Dave:

    In the pages you referred to, there are only mentions of a museum and a study center for Mongol history and culture on the compound of the tourist area. From the context you can see they are dedicated to themes and topics much broader themes and topics than GK and his Mausoleum. A museum attached loosely in spirit does not make the whole mausoleum a museum.

    Beijing Imperial Palace, Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s Mausoleum, Shanghai Yu Garden, are all rated “Patriotic Education Site”. What’s the consistent coherence here? In Yu Garden, you can only find one small plaque from the whole extensive compound, which reads that this site was shortly used by a secret society that vowed alliance with the Taiping rebels. There is no notable praise, and there is no least pomp and slightest grudge indicated at all. Does this amount to your accusation “That means that, like every other museum, it propagates the official government doctrine on history in order to boost patriotism and build a tourist economy”? From your words I see a picture of huge army of agents sent from the politbureau to manipulate the things to so and so. Does that speak the reality?

    And based on these assumptions you ascribe the mausoleum “run especially for ‘patriotic education’. Then you went on to extend your accusations to every single museum within PRC. How about Beijing Railway Museum? And Shanghai Police Museum? They may be not good, but due to the reasons you cited?

    You went from accusation from accusation based on nothing substantial. You were being angry.

  23. 花崗齋之愚公 // January 7, 2007 at 7:28 am //


    I don’t think Dave was being angry, just offering a particularly pointed critique of your last post. I wouldn’t take it personally.

    (You’ve never met a “friend” of ours named Ivan. Be thanksful.)

    I do think Dave has a point though. Museums and historical exhibits in the PRC are limited in how they can present history and are particularly prohibited from saying or displaying anything that may undermine the legitimacy of the CCP or PRC.

    @ Wu Ming,

    Thanks for clarifying the point about “Zhonguoren” in the Song, I know that’s right in your wheel house.

    @ Chris,

    I think your point is a good one and gets at the heart of the original question (now somewhat lost). Thanks for stopping by.

  24. To Wu Ming:

    Sorry, I lack a deep knowledge in the text corpus in which you are an expert. But my apology does no free me from my fundamental skepsis about your claims.

    This skepsis is based on the simple fact that “nation” is an artefact of modernity. Any assumptions beyond that limitation invite suspicions of retro-projecting. It is just brilliant that you want to seek facts about Zhongguoren in Song, but when you begin to say those are confirmation of Song’s equivalence to so and so, you are over-interpreting the facts in your hand.

    What was the meaning of Zhongguoren for Song people? Were there legal definitions for it? Were there political documents to support it? Can you carry out a survey of public sentiments on a Song market to test and confirm it?

    Or was it just a vague labelling between “us” and persona non grata, a convenient claim to make subjects in concern sound good, a grandiose monologue which shed aside every reality?

    Then back to my point. I never contended that GK was Zhongguoren in his time. It was you who overstretched my views and placed the argument on my head. Whether GK was Zhongguoren is a moot, because Zhongguo was not a political reality in that time. Whatever Song people mumbled or dreamed, there was no country called Zhongguo in their time to ascribe a citizenship to.

    And there was a long history of GK’s naturalization among the people of a place the people of Sinology dept. conveniently call China, which began when Khubilai conferred him the title of Yuan dynasty. Khubilai might adamantly deny the Chineseness of GK himself, but it is him who gave the rise of the later development that when future people in Ming, Qing, ROC, and PRC look at Yuan Dynasty, GK is inevitably standing at the very top of it, although unfairly. And then there was the redeeming of Yuan Dynasty in Qing, the revision of Yuan history in early ROK, and the tussles on and around GK Mausoleum during WWII. When PRC was founded, the country’s consciousness about GK was already a fait accompli. I have told you that the most guys in Chinese academia are smart enough to be evasive about this topic. That is why the fronts have been quiet until recently. To call GK Mongol is convenient as being Mongol itself is ripe for multiple interpretations. To begin to address his modern Zhongguo-ness is only state the facts on the other side of the coin.

    Then to the topic what the purpose to keep PRC. To keep a country whole does not mean maintaining the unjust political structure. When you are happy to see the cease of one certain state, you don’t seem to care about a couple to succeed it, a majority of which history has proven to be not any better. To ask for the responsibility of elites is not elitist because elites are a part of the people that have a potential and a couple of right time points.

    I never see a society that is truly whole or unified; I only see the mass had some moments of illusions. Throughout the human history there has been weaknesses and ignorance for convenient exploitations. The increase of the modern scientific knowledge has made the sale of healing ointment much more difficult. There should be such progresses in other fields.

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