Would you hit this man?
Chinese people today only care about making money. While quick to boast of China’s vaunted 5,000 years, the Chinese don’t really remember their history or value it, conservatism having been banished by more than half a century of Communism.
These views in no way represent those of China Expat. Nor do they represent reality. They are a distillation of what the vast majority of Western media either implies or states directly. However, the recent physical assault on a scholar during a bookstore appearance confirms that today’s Chinese perceive themselves as the fringe in an endless tapestry, viscerally enough to throw punches.
The Sixty Yearsand Serious Talks on 12 Qing Dynasty Emperors
The fracas started at Wuxi’s Xinhua bookstore October 5th. 74-year-old Yan Qongnian was there promoting his books, including one that can be translated as “The Sixty Years between the Ming’s Dying Out and the Qing’s Growing Up.” Quite a crowd had turned up, the result of his appearance on the popular CCTV program, Lecture Room. Chairman of the Beijing Manchu Academy, Yan had given a lecture called “Serious Talks on 12 Qing Dynasty Emperors”.
Yanon ‘Lecture Room’
For those who don’t know, the Qing Dynasty marked the advent of rule by the Manzu, or Manchu, a people ethnically distinct from China’s 98 percent Han. Although like most invaders the Manchu quickly adopted Han customs and culture, fierce resistance to their reign continued up until the end of Chinese monarchy in 1911. Today, politically correct pundits would describe those few remaining of unmixed Manchu blood as entirely assimilated, like a sixth generation O’Reilly in Boston. Even though there are a few scattered enclaves in northeast China where the Manchu language can still be heard, and Manchu students get a few extra points tacked on to their college exam scores, that’s about the end of the difference.
But in China, blood is still much thicker than watery sociology. Those in adolescence during the 70s and 80s may recall the slew of iconic kung fu films churned out of Hong Kong. Almost without exception, the villains were beetle-browed, mustachioed Manchus, who invariably murdered the Han hero’s father and brother, leaving the hero to swear vengeance in poorly dubbed profanity. The formula never varied precisely because it never failed to fill movie seats with Han posteriors. The catharsis of seeing Manchu usurpers vanquished gratified as much as the crash course in Iron Palm technique.
Thankfully, the Han avenger who struck out against Manchu advocate Yan has yet to find a drunken master. Leaping the table of books dividing author and crowd, he was able to deliver only one glancing blow to the face before being restrained by security. Another Han patriot wrestled with security for a shot at Yan, yelling “You deserve it!”
Emperor Kangxi The Great , another of Yan’s “traitorous” books
The incident might be dismissed as the passion of under-romanced academics, were it not for the resulting storm of internet debate. Cyber-giant Sohu gave a fairly objective account of the altercation, touching off thousands of comments that quickly went from reasonable to vitriolic, in the hallowed tradition of internet “debate”. Sohu followed up with opinion polls. While a majority of netizens disapproved of the assault, more than fifteen percent held that the assailant was provoked, and seventeen percent saw Yan’s views as incendiary and contrary to fact.
It’s important to note that this wasn’t just an extended circle of history buffs airing opinions. Close to 165,000 have so far taken part in the debate, of which an astounding 153,000 recommend not punishing the assailant too seriously, citing rampant cultural treachery as an extenuating circumstance. Many were in agreement with one commenter’s sentiment that academics were getting far too big for their britches, and that the punch would hopefully serve to clear Yan’s muddled head.
Popular blog site Tianya has over 34 pages of posts and ensuing debate on its public forum. The issue only touches on the validity of Yan’s remarks; most of the discussion centers on to what extent Yan provoked his attacker, and how inappropriate it is to hit a senior citizen, if it is inappropriate at all. In fact a great deal of comments praise Yan’s attacker for literally taking the matter in hand. Most of these comments, unsurprisingly, come from southern China, where anti-Manchu sentiment has its historic, apparently undiminished home. Here are some of the more pithy remarks, included to show the palpable emotional investment in the issue, rather than take sides:
“Like Confucius’ Analects say, being old and still alive is the same as being a thief.”
“Our current ethos is far inferior to older values. We only hear of how the person attacked, not of his higher moral authority.”
“If violent behavior is now permissible, then all minorities in China should stand up for their independence, and drive the Han people back to the central plains where they came from.”
“It’s wrong to strike a human being, but not to strike a dog.”
“Nazis should be slammed. Yan the Nazi deserved a lesson to let him know the power of justice.”
“The issue isn’t whether Yan should be hit, but whether he should be sent to trial.”
“Good beating. Too bad I wasn’t there or I would have joined in.”
“You people are too extreme. How can you speak like this about an old man? Abusing Yan is too extreme, although I don’t like him either. His unrealistic boasting about the Manchu Qing Dynasty is disgusting.”
Naturally, this is all an easy opportunity for Sino-bashers to wax superior about Chinese racism and nationalism. There’s little hope that those who pick at this mote will first address planks such as racist reactions to Obama and Europe’s burgeoning Muslim population. The hope lies in seeing that East and West are far more alike than different, for better and worse. No economic miracle or cultural revolution can make people forget where they come from.