Almost every nation in the Asia-Pacific can claim, with some justification, to be a victim. Some are victims of European colonialism or the injured party of American imperialism. Others were victims of Japanese aggression during the first half of the 20th Century. Even Japan can declare its victimhood, as it was the first (and so far, only) target of nuclear weapons.
Few countries, however, have taken this sense of victimization to its dizzying heights better than the Chinese – or, more properly, than the Communist leadership of the People’s Republic. Indeed, much like the wumao (“50-cent army”) trolls who will almost assuredly attack the author viciously in the comments section after this article, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has raised this sense of past humiliation and subsequent outrage to a fine art. More importantly, it has deliberately done so for political purpose.
This is not to say that the Chinese people have not suffered at the hands of outsiders. China has been subjected to centuries of invasion, including the Mongols, the Manchus (Qing), Europeans and Americans, and the Japanese. They have every right to feel aggrieved by such treatment and to take pride in their country’s recent emergence as an economic and geopolitical great power.
But the current campaign of so-called victimhood has been nothing less than a cynical ploy by the CCP to manipulate Chinese history and the feelings of the Chinese people, as a means to stay in power. Interestingly, this campaign is actually a recent phenomenon. According to Zhen Wang’s excellent book, Never Forget National Humiliation, the official historical narrative of China was quite different immediately after the founding of the People’s Republic.
Under Mao, the emphasis was on “China as victor.” In 1949, the Chinese people had “stood up” – in other words, they had overthrown the humiliations of the past and created a new self-governing state. This triumphalism was actually quite common to communist regimes, and their establishment usually meant, in their eyes at least, the end of history. The National Museum of China, for example, has few exhibitions dedicated Chinese history past 1949, and it certainly does not cover such irksome events as the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, or the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.
This began to change in the early 1990s, in large part, according to the Wang, to the CCP’s consternation that Chinese youth could so be “polluted” by such foreign ideas as democracy and freedom of thought and expression. Consequently, the “China as victim” motif has increasingly become an increasingly dominant, CCP-led narrative.
This shameless appeal to nationalism and the subsequent manipulation of historical memory is due mainly to the fact that the CCP has little legitimacy otherwise. It has pretty much jettisoned Marxist ideology as its foundation for governing. Nor can it base its authority solely on economic performance, especially as GDP growth softens.
Thus, this “us-against-them” theme can be seen everywhere, such as in the expansion of new monuments and museums observing Chinese suffering at the hands of the Japanese during the Pacific War, or in conspiracy theories that the United States deliberately bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade during the 1999 Kosovo War.
All this is one thing, but this victimhood narrative takes a much darker turn when it begins to infect Chinese foreign and security policy. Here is the critical point: international relations is generally about getting along; consequently, it is often a process of negotiation, compromise, and concession. But victims, because they have suffered, feel that they should not have to concede or compromise, especially to their real or imagined bullies. Rather, victims are entitled to indulgences and privileged treatment.
This sense of “entitled victimization” is increasingly seen in China’s dealings with the outside world. A BBC report recently spoke of Chinese foreign policy being driven by a “populist nationalism” fueled by an “official narrative of [Western] humiliation.”
This is apparent in China’s take on the South China Sea (SCS) dispute. This perception of national victimhood has spurred Beijing into becoming ever more intransigent in pressing its territorial claims in the adjoining seas. There is no “dispute,” because China has “indisputable sovereignty” over the SCS, plain and simple. Beijing throws out specious arguments about early historical sightings of the Spratlys by Chinese fishermen, or discovering shards of Chinese pottery or coins on some of the islands (by such rights, Norway could claim Canada). It then accuses other countries, such as the Philippines, of “bullying” China, and that the US and Japanese navies, by conducting freedom of navigation patrols (FONOPS) in the SCS, are operating in places they have no right to be. More recently, it has been used to justify the unsurprising militarization of China’s artificial islands in SCS.
What makes this attitude all the more frightening is China’s growing military might. Beijing has, for at least a decade and a half, invested considerable resources, in terms of both money and human capital, into building up its armed forces – and it is paying off. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is a much more capable force, relative to its neighbors, than it was twenty years ago.
The concern comes when this modernized and revitalized military force is matched by a new assertiveness, obstinacy, and obduracy in international affairs. When coupled with the country’s sense of victimhood and the subsequent need to “reclaim lost status,” the result is a more militarily capable China that may also be much less inclined to negotiation and compromise, because it may feel it does not need to.
These dual trends – the modernization of the PLA in its embrace of modern, high-technology warfare, together with a “China as victim” narrative – is leading to an increasingly assertive regime in Beijing that believes it is due its place in the sun. This “entitled victimization,” in turn, denotes a China that is less and less willing to support the status quo or pursue peaceful routes to dispute resolution in the Asia-Pacific, but rather it implies a regional great power that is increasingly willing to use force or the threat of force in support of its national interests.
OK, trolls, it’s your turn.
Richard A. Bitzinger has failed to provided any evidence to support his claim that the Chinese government is manipulating the emotions of the general population to stay in power.
We’ve heard and read this type of allegations before. Not once have I seen any proof or evidence.
Without providing credible, concrete proof or evidence, Mr Bitzinger is acting like a propagandist. That’s probably why Mr Bitzinger tries to pre-empt allegations of him being a mouth piece of a propaganda apparatus by accusing anyone who will refute his poorly written article as being a "Wu-mao".
I wonder if Mr Bitzinger will take a serious look at 9-11 as a prime example of manipulating public opinions (using a murderous false flag operation).
I agree with you. I just went to China for holiday and been watching their news almost every night when I am back at the hotel. The messages the news station are sending to their public are mostly the government anti-corruption movement and what Xi Jingping are doing to help the country. I think I only saw the news of Japan and their Prime Minister on 1 night.
From chats with Chinese, from the media that they share among their own social media networks on PLA troops, I gauge their sentiments and concur that yes, they strongly feel that South China Sea belongs to to China and that whoever oppposes such notions are challenging their sovereign claims over that region.
So, where and how do they get their perception and sentiments from?
Chinese have made many claims about the stretch and vastness of their borders and far flung islands before. For example, it is a historical fact that Zheng He was an explorer , and an admiral who sailed in the Indian Ocean in the 15th century. He supposedly spotted present group of islands :Lakshadweep and laid claims for imperial China. That is why in the recent years, Chinese army/navy generals have been pushing the notion of ‘string of pearls’ strategic encirclement around India.- that is why a bold claim that ‘ Indian Ocean is not India’s ocean’ whereas they have claimed that South China Sea as China’s Sea!
So unless one is firm in defying these "historic claims", there is bound to be conflicts in the years ahead!
The Chinese are not deliberately playing victims. They just want necessary respects, instead of being made to accept their painful history as deserved, or being made to believe being bullied is their destiny.
Wenjie Lin Just a holiday there is enough to give you a proper understanding of China? How about the other 360 days x 20 years?
Every other day, China is angry at someone.
China was angry at Norway for giving a Nobel Peace Prize a Chinese national whom the CCP didn’t like.
China was angry at Angel Merkel for talking with Dalai Lama.
China is angry with Singapore for having military training in Taiwan, something they have known since the 70s. (And they seize our Terrex illegally. Isn’t that an act of war?)
China is angry with Mongolia because Dalai Lamai paid a visit (it was privte affair).
China is angry with India because a Tibetan they don’t like visited an Indian region near the border.
China is upset because India’s president said hello to Dalai Lama.
China is angry because some Taiwanese ELECTED leader said hello to Donald Trump.
China was angry at Slovakia because their president allowed Dalai Lama to drop by.
China was super upset with UK because Dalai Lama dropped by (again it wasn’t even an official visit).
China wants to blow away Australian naval ships just for sailing thru the SCS.
China is always angry and upset.
This is a 5 year old spoilt brat that needs to be caned.
And hence Someone with only access to secondary source and media reports will be able to give fair comments?
To call something a political campaign that aims to change the mindset, it has to be omnipresent in every aspect of life just like what North Korea has been doing. To be fair to wenjie, if it is CCTV news then he is absolutely right in giving that comment.
I was a resident in Hainan island. The island that is nearest to the conflict region in the South China Sea. And I still go back there every year. I can tell you quite honestly. People there are smart enough to know what the government is attempting to do and most of them do have access/capabilities to access western media as well. There is 0 propaganda museum in any of the 3 major cities ( Haikou, sanya and wen Chang.) which totally contradicts with the writer’s assertion. Most of the China"s military bases are concentrated near the island and hence support of the island residence would be the most important thing to them. If there is almost no evidence in increasing signs of China wanting her people to play the victim card in that island then the report most likely is a baseless assumption that is built upon western media’s report ( OH and didn’t Trump played the victim card to get elected too?..job lost, currency manipulation. Bla bla. Lol what an irony)
Lastly, at least China has a victim card to play to justify for their military presence in the South China Sea? What is US gonna put on the table to justify for their military presence ALL AROUND the world. Hmmm..
Even under your grossly exaggerated claims, it’s nothing compared to the endless wars, murders / mass-murders, illegal military invasions / incursions / bombings / subversive operations the US and NATO crime syndicate have been conducting under false pretenses around the world since the end of the WWII.
Shawn Napper Well, the US hasn’t bombed you, have they? Looks like Uncle Sam has a traitor in his midst.
Hahaha there you are because Shawn doesn’t agree with you, he is a traitor. He is exerting his Free spech, just like you. I am an American too but I refuse to be bullyied by statements like yours. Grow up!
That is call civilized communication , stupid. The opposite is something like Iraq invasion, or embargo, sanction, like on Cuba for the last 50 years.
String of pearl are the name given by anti Chinese strategist for demonizing China in securing it’s energy and raw material import. China have never say Indian Ocean does not belong to anybody, it is your invention. If East and South China Sea is so important to the American who live 5000 miles away, why it is not equally, or more important to the Chinese who live next door.
West lost its dominance, but maintained snubishness. Is it condenscending to be judgemental on Chinese emotion if there is any? where is "danger" from? "West"? you mean West still rpescribe if China should or should not have certain emotion, West still has control over it? Is that self-grandizement? China just took American drone, not steal, but robbery. It is West’s turn to offer "danger", do it. Pathetic losers!
Those of you who may have watch CCTV s, on paid channels… You will get to view, see and know, a propergenda and patriotism being played out in the open regarding SCS, to the public.
If I am a China citizen, I ll surely boiled seeing our "entitlement being disturbed and challenged "
Someone invented the term "entitled victimhood " for china and said it would be dangerous.
Was china victimised by western imperialism during the late Qing dynasty? Did they compensate for China’s sufferings? Did they apologise?
Did Japan commit terribly atrocities in china? Did she apologise?
Mao Zedong even waived Japan’s compensations at the end of WWII (or was it Chiang Kai Sek?) It ought to be China’s entitlement.
Has the PLA ever been aggressive? In Iraq? Libya? China’s version of CIA? Or NED operating abroad? Coloured revolutions?
Is china containing USA or is it the other way round? Which side is more dangerous?
So I would take the warning/ opinion/ term as part of the media aggression of the west.
True, mao’s blunders had led to the death of tens of millions of the Chinese people; but Stupidity A never cancels Crimes B and C.
Repeating the same argument time and again only shows weakness. No other defence could be found.
Read the following poem:
"When We were called Sick man of Asia, We were called The Yellow Peril.
When We are billed to be the next Superpower, We are called The threat.
When We were closed our doors, You smuggled Drugs to Open Markets.
When We Embrace Freed Trade, You blame us for Taking away your jobs.
�When We were falling apart, You marched in your troops and wanted your "fair share".
When We were putting the broken pieces together again, "Free Tibet" you screamed, "it was an invasion!"
�So, We Tried Communism, You hated us for being Communists
When We embrace Capitalism, You hate us for being Capitalist.
�When We have a Billion People, you said we were destroying the planet.
When We are tried limited our numbers, you said It was human rights abuse.
When We were Poor, You think we are dogs.
When We Loan you cash, You blame us for your debts.
�When We build our industries, You called us Polluters.
When we sell you goods, You blame us for global warming.
�When We buy oil, You called that exploitation and Genocide.
When You fight for oil, You called that Liberation.
�When We were lost in Chaos and rampage, You wanted Rules of Law for us.
When We uphold law and order against Violence, You called that Violating Human Rights.
When We were silent, You said you want us to have Free Speech.
When We were silent no more, You say we were Brainwashed-Xenophobics.
�Why do you hate us so much? We asked.
"No," You Answered, "We don’t hate You."
�We don’t Hate You either,
But Do you understand us?
�"Of course We do," You said,
"We have AFP, CNN and BBCs…"
�What do you really want from us?
Think Hard first, then Answer…
�Because you only get so many chances,
Enough is Enough, Enough Hypocrisy for this one world.
�We want One World, One Dream, And Peace On Earth.
This Big Blue Earth is Big Enough for all of us.
Angry is better than sending troops to iraq, or Nicaragua, or keeping camps in Guantanamo, or CIA into every nation except USA, NED to HK….
The author should have writen instead on Israel real dangerous sense of entitled victimhood, and how the world could bring peace to our broken world.
I think the West and the host of other powers both past and present which had done China wrong are horrified at how impossible a broken or burnt out phoenix cound have risen up again against all odd to reclaim its rightful place in the world comminuty of nations.
More so that they certainly fear reprisals or settling of old scores committed by their ancestors as Chinese have long memories.
So they would invent all kinds of negative connotations to label the Chinese hoping to deflect away past crimes.
These reactions are fully understandable.
From convoluted fictions and fairy tales, passed on and taught as history….
Not sure who taught you fairy tales and fiction, as history…just because your history books says that, does not make it accurate…India has said that themselves, Indian Ocean is NOT India’s Ocean…it is a collective wealth of the littoral countries that is touched by its waters. Similarly SOUTH CHINA SEA IS NOT CHINA’S SEA…It is a commonwealth of littoral countries.
Low Shen-Cheang : Being important and laying claims of ownership to SCS are two entirely different things…
Shawn Napper : Ask that to the 30 million Russians that were killed by Stalin, 20 million Chinese that were killed by Mao and 2 million Cambodians killed by Pol Pot…All communists…Uncle Sam has killed far far fewer in the quest to defeate Communisim.
Respect is earned, you may want the moon and the Sun and the Stars…means didlisquat… Every country has some period of painful history, does not mean in present you go on a quest to lay grandious and dubious claims…
One of the reasons China invaded India in 1962 was India’s support and then political assylum to H.H. Dalai Lama. He is the head of Tibetan Govt. in Exile…China is so afraid of this 81 years old monk, that it recently took Mangolia to dry cleaning when they allowed H.H. Dalai Lama to attend a religious ceremony, to the extent that it had to scumb to coersion and undertake never to invite him even for a religious ceremony.
China is too sensitive to everything…best they start using desensitizing lotions, that will allow them to lead a normal life and let others live in peace…
I side with you Richard. Tho I questioned greatly the China lovers’ and China loyalists’ more engrossly exaggerated defense.
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