I have proposed before on VDARE that immigrants from different cultures — even, as David Hackett Fischer showed, from different regions of England — bring quite different notions of governance, nationhood and citizenship with them, and that these attitudes can be very persistent, surviving long after actual memories of the "old country" are forgotten. The first part of this proposition has been brought home to me with great force recently.
A few months ago I signed up for an e-mail list run by and for Chinese software engineers in the United States. A Chinese friend told me it was a good place to pick up software tips, a matter of professional interest to me. He also said that I, as the author of a novel about Chinese people in America, might find interesting some of the occasional opinion pieces posted on the list.
The list turned out to of little use to me. Notices of volleyball games, advertisements for rooms to rent, and advice on immigration issues were the main topics. Software tips were few and far between, and a query of my own went unanswered. The few opinion pieces were mostly Punch and Judy head-whacking exchanges between proponents of Taiwan independence and the mainland One-China crowd. I did notice that the mainlander sides of these exchanges were expressed with extraordinary virulence. A typical line of argument was that the Taiwanese had been psychologically deformed by the Japanese occupation (which ended 55 years ago!) and yearned to abandon their Chineseness and become slaves of the Japanese. A fiercer element thought that China should use her nuclear weapons against Taiwan, to "teach them a lesson." (On historical and oratorical evidence, China must be the odds-on favorite for the title "First Nation to Nuke Its Own People." As far back as the Korean War, Madame Chiang Kai-shek asked the U.S.A. to use atomic weapons against her countrymen.) The Taiwaners mainly responded with patient explanations that they didn't want to fall into the hands of the Chinese Communist Party, and that on the CCP's historical record, nobody could blame them.
Eventually I decided to put my two cents in. The topic of Taiwan seemed a bit inflammatory, so I offered some fairly commonplace remarks about whether a democratized China would be able to hold on to the western territories of Tibet and East Turkestan. The base populations of those territories are non-Chinese and do not want to be ruled by China, and presumably would say so at the ballot box. If China was to have democracy (I said), this conundrum would have to be faced. I signed myself off with my Chinese name; not out of any real intent to deceive, only because this was a Chinese e-list, and I thought they might throw me off if they knew I was a round-eye. At this point I was still hoping the list might be useful.
The response to my mild, questioning remarks was astonishing. What kind of Chinese was I, that wanted to dismember the Motherland? Didn't I know that those territories had been Chinese since the beginning of time? That their inhabitants were sunk in slavery and oppression under wicked priests and landlords until rescued by Chinese occupation? (Yes, these two assertions were often made by the same person.) That all the countries of the world recognized Chinese sovereignty over them? That China's right of possession had been acknowledged by the Nationalist governments of the 1930s and 1940s, even before Mao came along? The range of tones was from baffled to furious. How could a Chinese person cast doubt on the integrity of the national borders?
We went back and forth a few times, until someone noticed that my sign-off Chinese name, "Yuehan," was the common Chinese transcription of "John." Was I really Chinese? I confessed frankly that I am not; that I am an Englishman living in America, with a mainland-Chinese wife and two half-Chinese children.
Now the floodgates of race hatred opened. One of the subsequent e-mails addressed me as: "England Big Nose." Another offered, as part of a long, labored attempt at sarcasm, to "kiss my hairy hand." Yet a third laid out a very complicated psychological theory trying to demonstrate (if I have understood it correctly) that for a white man to wish to marry a Chinese woman was a form of mental illness, dooming both partners to misery and their offspring to madness. Hardly any of these charming epistles failed to remind me that the British were notorious imperialists, of infamous rapacity and cruelty, whose dream of everlasting world domination now lay in ashes. There was a general opinion that we British must be fuming with rage at the impudence of our once-subject peoples in throwing us out, and that this impotent fury was what accounted for our willingness to say such incomprehensibly shocking things as that Tibetans might prefer to be ruled by other Tibetans rather than by Chinese.
Bear in mind, please, that the writers of these e-mails are the intellectual cream of mainland China. Few do not have Master's degrees; many have Ph.D.s. The average age is around thirty, I suppose. Their academic and professional qualifications, and their command of English, are sufficient to have impressed an American consul into awarding them a visa — no easy matter nowadays. Yet for all this, their notions about national sovereignty were essentially those of the Ming dynasty mandarinate, and their knowledge of history a collection of false and preposterous clichés.
Underneath all this were some even more disturbing currents: a deep, atavistic hatred of the West and all its works; a profound scorn for Western "civilization" and "democracy" — the quotation marks seem to be obligatory. Also, a rooted conviction that China had never done anything wrong, and never could. Here are the words (I have polished the grammar a little) from a correspondent who has a Master's in Sociology from Peking University, a very prestigious institution:
Every time I read recent Chinese history, I can't help crying. What did we do in the past to make this nation, this race suffer so much? Nothing we did! It was those "honorable," "democratic," and "noble" western "civilized" people and culture! … I suffer as my nation suffers, I cry as my people cry.
Now, the greatest catastrophes to afflict the Chinese people this past 50 years have been: the "Great Leap Forward" famine (1959-61), the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), the Anti-Rightist campaigns (1957-58) and the land reform of 1949-52. Total deaths: about 65 million. Total foreign involvement: zero. If you go further back, to earlier horrors like the Boxer uprising (1900) and the Taiping rebellion (1852-64), the West does indeed share some small part of the responsibility; yet even here, the overwhelming majority of Chinese dead (12 to 15 million in the Taiping) were killed by other Chinese, acting on Chinese orders. "Nothing we did!" All the fault of the foreign devils!
That writer is by no means a lone eccentric. This is the voice of the new generation of mainland Chinese, born in the 1970s and 1980s: puffed up with self-pity and self-righteousness, all their rage and frustration directed against the outside world, utterly ignorant of the modern history of their country. A well-adjusted Chinese citizen is expected to have "moved on" from the horrors of the Mao period (1949-76), yet to be seething with indignation about the Opium Wars (1839-42).
This mindset has been fostered by the communist educational system. As Steven Mosher has documented in his new book Hegemon, the communists have been at pains to replace the discredited Marxist-Leninist justification for their rule with appeals to nationalism of the grossest and coarsest type. Chinese school history textbooks make no mention of the 1959-61 famine — in terms of the number dead, a greater human calamity than WW2 — but dwell bitterly on the tale about a sign saying NO DOGS OR CHINESE at the entrance to a Shanghai park in the 1920s. (Does anybody know if this story is true?) This hyper-nationalism is not limited to the schools, either; it is carried over to movies, TV shows, popular magazines and even roadside billboards.
Cherish the Motherland, which never has done, and never could do, any wrong. Hate the foreign devils, who have inflicted untold miseries on our people, and who never cease plotting to weaken and dismember our country. The borders of the People's Republic [which are actually those of the Manchu empire, minus Outer Mongolia] are sacred and inviolable, and must not be questioned. This is the world-view with which Chinese people emerge from their schools and universities. "England Big Nose" and "hairy hand" are the terms in which China's M.A.s and Ph.D.s address foreigners who question these dogmas. What thoughts swirl in the minds of less well-educated, less-privileged young mainlanders, one can only wonder.
Now, an American — especially, perhaps, an American who has logged on to VDARE — might say: "Good luck to them! I only wish our people would be that fierce in their nationalism." He might also point out that I could have gotten some similar responses from an e-group of Irish software engineers. Both reactions miss the point. Modern western nationalisms like the American and Irish are tied up with a longing for freedom from oppression, and have been tempered and civilized by Enlightenment rationalism. The emotions let loose in my little encounter were pre-modern, primitive; uninformed by anything from the Enlightenment, or even from the Reformation or the Renaissance for that matter, and unconnected to — in fact, rabidly hostile to — any concept of liberty, self-determination or government by consent.
I have sat with Irishmen for long evenings, discussing their history and their nationhood as topics on which different points of view might be exchanged, different opinions passionately, yet reasonably, held. No such discussion is possible with these younger mainland Chinese. When you raise their "national question," they just lose their temper, and ask how you dare be so impudent as to offer an opinion on something that only concerns Chinese people. If you ask them whether they would prefer a free, democratic China without the "three T's" (Tibet, Turkestan and Taiwan), or the present corrupt despotism with them, they unhesitatingly go for the latter.
Moreover, this Chinese group feeling is consciously racial and explicitly anti-white. Irish immigrants do not have this reflex working to alienate them from their new countrymen.
The The U.S. now has several million Chinese immigrants and soon-to-be citizens who are at least susceptible to these prehistoric attitudes. Across the Pacific, there are a billion more — armed with nuclear weapons. Be afraid; be very afraid.