I apologize for not blogging much lately. I have finished summer school and have been enjoying my week off from rigorous studies. Back to the grindstone!
In China, protesters have been surrounding the Japanese embassy in Beijing and recently begun hurling debris at both policemen protecting the embassy and the embassy itself. In other parts of China (but not in the “special economic” [free trade] zones) Chinese citizens have been burning Japanese flags and calling on their government to take a harder line on a territory dispute and in trading policies with Japan.
The violence is not limited to the embassy or Japanese flags, of course. Japanese businesses have also been vandalized, threatened, and shut down due to the violence currently raging throughout the Chinese state.
Readers of this blog will no doubt recall my short blog post on the Chinese state’s growing pains a few months ago explaining exactly what we are seeing today, namely the emergence of a bellicose nationalism on the part of the dominant Han majority, but I want to point out some other parallels today.
But first: I think it would be a good idea to put the current situation in its historical context. As dispassionate observers, do you agree that this is indeed a good idea? Doing so will help us to better understand what is going on in the region, and may provide a key to helping us unlock the answers for solving this seemingly perplexing puzzle, right?
So, basically, Japan invaded China during World War 2 and committed war crimes mainly against the dominant ethnic majority, the Han, in what is now the Chinese state. I am unsure if the Japanese state has ever apologized, but given its trajectory since the end of the war I think it is highly probable that Tokyo has issued at least one apology addressing the grievance. I am sure, again not positive though, that Tokyo has made reparations as well. This week marks the anniversary of the invasion of Manchuria, in northeastern China.
In addition to the historical enmity, there is also a territorial dispute: Beijing and Tokyo have both laid claims to a chain of islands off the coast of both states, and Japan currently has official control over them.
The militant nationalism of the Han majority is to be deplored, of course. The response of Beijing elites is reprehensible as well, although it is predictable. I have also assumed the best about the Japanese side as well. I do not know for sure if the Japanese state has ever apologized for the war crimes in Manchuria. I do not know if Tokyo has ever made reparations for those war crimes. It may be that Washington allowed Tokyo to forego reparations due to the takeover of the Chinese state by communist factions. I am too lazy to look any of this up right now, but suffice it to say that I have given the Japanese side a favorable position to begin with.
Now that the historical background is out of the way, I can begin to apply a rational analysis to situation. Is the nationalism of the Han protesters irrational? Yes, of course. Are the protests themselves irrational? Yes, of course.
Does this nationalism stem from something inherent in Han culture, or is it a result of the institutions in place and the elites in charge? In California, the Han students who come here to study and to earn an honest living in the land of dreams have nothing but awe for the sub-cultures here. There are Han students who dress like punk rockers and go to Bad Religion concerts. Most Han students, like everybody else under the age of 25, fall in love with hip-hop. Han girls dress like all the other girls in Los Angeles. Sometimes, sexily so, they wrap some cultural relic around their Western garb to add a bit of exoticism to their day. I love it, and am truly grateful for their creativity.
China as we know it today began as a redistributive communist state. In order to solidify power at the center and eliminate the cultural, political, and economic discrepancies prevalent throughout the region, Beijing implemented social policies aimed at unifying the opposing factions. Most of this policy was carried out through violence, plain and simple. Other policies, though, were carried out with the aim of creating a Chinese citizen out of the old empire. These other factors included promoting a new nationalism based on a specific Chinese identity, and because the Han were the ethnic majority, most of what has come to constitute Chinese has been Han in character. Often creating this new Chinese identity was undertaken through the educational and media establishments – both of which were (and are) directly controlled by Beijing. What has emerged from these non-violent (but still coercive) policies is a nationalism that many leaders in Beijing are probably now ruing.
On to the parallels. Hopefully you know where I’m going with this.
Is the Islamism (a distinctly political movement) of the protesters in the Muslim world irrational? Yes, of course. Are the protests themselves irrational? Yes, of course.
Does the Islamism of the protesters stem from something inherent in the culture of the protesters (from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans and in many places between the two), or is it a result of the institutions in place and the elites in charge?
Update: the protests have spread to the more affluent free trade zones as well.