US Navy War College Professor Joins List of China Apologists, Why?

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Thursday December 02, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

Anyone who deals with Chinese will sooner or later hear them mournfully bemoan their "Century of Humiliation" and the "Unequal Treaties of the Opium War." These are historical events long past; they date back more than a century ago. Yet you never hear Chinese complain about more current things that were more destructive and outweigh those events. Take for example the shame of how some 30 million Chinese died under Mao's failed programs or the humiliation of how the harmony of their society was ripped apart by the Cultural Revolution. You also don't hear serious concern over the SARS cover-up that endangered the world or any shame over things like the recent 100,000 plus Chinese that caught AIDS because government programs allowed multiple uses of needles. Why?

Why there is a selective feeding of the psyche of shame is for Chinese to answer. My issue here is with American academics who feel duty bound to defend that selective memory and shame. Most recently James Holmes of the US Naval War College felt so obligated to send one such op-ed piece to the "Taipei Times." Why he sent it to a Taiwan newspaper instead of a US paper is anyone's guess. Regardless, I took issue with him in the following published letter to the editor. I share it so that when you hear similar discourse you can think twice. Here read:

I take great issue with James Holmes op-ed piece "Decoding Chinese Sensitivities" on Sunday November 28. Once again we find an American academic waxing apologetic for hegemonic China from a distant ivory tower. For those of us who live in Asia, the wonderment and/or bewildering question is more how did this man come to teach strategy at the US Naval War College? Who is he teaching for?

I present a more Asian way to understand China's position (read paranoid schizophrenic) and a decoding of Holmes' selective sympathy for one of Asia's traditional bullies.

Examine first the phrase paranoid schizophrenic. Paranoia is a psychotic disorder that is characterized by delusions of persecution or grandeur, often strenuously defended with apparent logic and reason. It is followed by extreme irrational distrust of others. Add to this schizophrenia, a condition that results from the coexistence of disparate or antagonistic qualities, identities, or activities. Does anything there ring familiar with those who regularly cover Chinese discourse? Who has not heard of the hurt feelings of entitlement for the court historian created grandeur of the Middle Kingdom or the feelings of persecution when the bully does not get his way?

Next decode Holmes' selective sympathy and one-sided apologies--the usual fare from those who for too long limit their shared discourse to only Chinese academics. Holmes speaks of China's "century of humiliation" while ignoring the "centuries of aggression" that preceded it as the Manchu Qing conquered and humiliated their neighbors. Holmes reiterates another jaded Chinese phrase "unequal treaties." How many treaties that end wars are ever equal? With all the nations that have been at war over the centuries, how many do you know that constantly harp on their unequal treaties of a past century? Get over it. Ask rather, how many unequal treaties has China imposed on the many vassal states it subjugated or wanted to subjugate in past centuries? That China has a selective memory of its past could be understandable; that American academics feel that "poor China's selectivity" needs to be understood and sympathized with is questionable to say the least.

Somehow always lost in China's century of humiliation discourse is the fact that China came into conflict with Japan in the 1890s because both wanted to maintain Korea as their own private vassal state. Lost too in China's schizophrenia is how Han Chinese wanted to "overthrow the hated Manchu Qing and restore the Ming," but they felt entitled to keep the other countries that the Manchu had conquered. Does anyone wonder about the unequal treaties or impositions made on Tibet, East Turkestan and Inner Mongolia? Lost even in the past century is how China attacked Vietnam and fought land and sea battles to teach Vietnam its place in relation to the famed Middle Kingdom. The land battles did not turn out that well for China, but we don't hear that much about that.

Examine another approach. Like China, Japan in the 19th century found itself being pulled out of isolationism as treaty ports were forced open. Somehow, Japan got past that "humiliation." Paranoid? In the process Japan does not feel that the East China Sea bears the shame of forced openings and therefore must be defended. Similarly, many of the countries that border the South China Sea had found themselves colonized by that sea path in the past. But they do not feel that they then have the right to claim the South China Sea as their Mare Nostrum. Finally, "poor China" has no problem ignoring the sensitivities of the people of Taiwan when it conducts war games etc. in the seas surrounding Taiwan. For there the shoe is on the other foot.

It is time for US academics to stop apologizing for China. If they want a better handle on China's continuing attitude of entitled hegemony in Asia, they should ask China's neighbors about their sensitivities. Similarly if they want to get a better handle on the real character beneath China's sense of humiliation, I suggest that they start with Bo Yang's assessment of China's "soy-paste vat" culture in his work "The Ugly Chinaman."