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Mar 29

Letter:No Such Thing as China

Written by Lime on Sunday, March 29th, 2009 at 7:31 pm
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A week or so ago, in one of the final classes of the fourth year history seminar on Christianity in China that I am currently taking, the professor, in an apparent effort to coax us into some critical thinking, posed these questions; “Did Christianity become a Chinese religion? And if so, when and how did this happen?” The answers that we came up with in class included when the first Chinese person converted to Christianity, when the first independent churches (meaning churches that were not controlled by foreign missionaries) were established, and when Christianity was indigenized (meaning transformed by existing factors in Chinese culture to create a form of Christianity unique to China).

The prof was obviously not asking whether or not Christianity had assumed a Chinese identity. The focus of the religion is on the relationship between the individual and their church and through it, their relationship with Jesus Christ. Whether or not a state or a society identifies itself as Christian has no bearing on the nature of Christianity or the Christian identity of the individual. Christianity, by its nature and design, can never belong to any one state or society. So what my professor really must have been asking was whether or not China had become Christian, or rather, had Christianity become part of the concept of ‘China’.

But here is my problem; I don’t believe there is any such thing as ‘China.’ I do believe in existence of the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China. Both exist as states in established legal terms that allow us to understand them in a standardised way. Both states define themselves as including more people and territory than they are actually capable of using force to control, but, nonetheless, both their legal definitions and the limits of their physical power can be understood by different people, citizens and non-citizens alike, in precisely the same way. Neither the ROC or the PRC or even the PRC and ROC equal China though. China is a concept which is supposed to span space (the territory of the PRC and the ROC, and possibly much more or possibly much less) and time (6000 years, according to some, but again, possibly much more or less) and includes a whole host of supposedly Chinese cultural concepts. A concept of China exists in each of our imaginations, but what that concept is fluctuates so much from person to person that it is essentially valueless for the purpose of discussion. If each of us were to state our definitions of what ‘China’ refers to, I suspect that the only points that we could all agree on are that it refers generally to a large part of the eastern hump of the Eurasian continent and that it has existed in time since somewhere between the time when the first homo sapiens came to the area and the establishment of the Qin Empire.

The PRC’s government has tried very hard to harmonise their citizen’s concept of China, and have had some success. Most PRC citizens seem to agree that something called ‘Tibet’ is part of China and has been since at least the 1240s. The island of Taiwan, they also seem to agree, has been part of China since at least 1662. Cantonese is supposedly a Chinese language and Zheng Chenggong is supposedly a Chinese hero. On some points, the matter becomes greyer. To return to the question of religion, the five institutionalised ‘religions’ in the PRC are Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, ‘Catholicism,’ and ‘Protestantism’ (the latter two, according to the state, are supposedly two separate religions). In my interpretation, at least, by picking these religions the state is suggesting that they are more a part of China than, say, Judaism or Hinduism, both of which have adherents who are PRC citizens. But, based on my own discussions with a small sample of PRC citizens, there seems to be more than a few that would hesitate to say that either Islam or Christianity are parts of China or Chinese culture.

When discussions that require a shared understanding of some aspect of China occur between PRC citizens and foreigners, the vagueness of the term becomes even starker. To bypass the obvious Taiwan and Tibet debates, the case of the two bronze animal heads recently auctioned by Christie’s provides a good example. In the opinion of the PRC’s government, the two bronze animal heads had rightfully belonged to the Qing state, and had been stolen. The Qing state is gone, but the ROC succeeded the Qing state as the government of China, and then was succeeded itself by the PRC in 1949, making it the current and the sole government of China, and inheritor of all the rights and properties of every previous government of China, including ownership of the bronze statues in question. Christie’s obviously did not share this idea that China is a series of linked states succeeding one another, as they went ahead with the auction in spite of the PRC’s government’s denouncements and threats.

So, my conclusion is that unless we are prepared to accept the PRC’s definition of China, which appears to include Christianity, the question of whether or not Christianity is a Chinese religion cannot be answered, because China does not exist outside of our imaginations.


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40 Responses to “Letter:No Such Thing as China”

  1. bianxiangbianqiao Says:

    Lime,

    In deed the concept of China has multiple aspects, legal, cultural and political etc.

    The question “whether Christianity has become a part of the Chinese culture” is an interesting one. My answer is “NO!” and “Hell, NO!”

    The part of Chinese culture I am most proud of is that the Chinese world view is thoroughly secular, humanistic and naturalistic. The Chinese have no religion, no lord or creator that is absolute or super-natural.

    We have superstitions, but no religion. Some Chinese believe in Guanyin观音, Mazu 妈祖, Guan-Gong 关公, (from Tri-State era, my favorite), caishen (财神爷 Money God), (zao-wang, 灶王爷, the Stove god). These entities are non-human conscious and purposeful beings, but they are also part of the natural world, just like humans and other animals. There is nothing absolute or super-natural about them. There is nothing holy about them, in other words. In China, the gods and goddess serve the people. They are are charged with the difficult tasks of making humans rich, pregnant, and safe, in exchange for offerings and worship; they have jobs. They are discarded if they do not perform. This is the most gratifying aspect of Chinese “religiosity”. In the West, people serve THE God.

    Religions with foreign origins cannot become part of the Chinese culture without being first turned into either a philosophy (by the Chinese intellectuals) or a superstition (by the Chinese peasants). Buddhism became part of the Chinese culture with the philosophy of Zen and with the miracles and wonders performed by the powerful Master Li of Fa Lun Da Fa (aka Falun Gong). Christianity became Chinese in the hands of the wackos of Taiping Tianguo. Christmas became Chinese only when Jesus and Santa agreed to facilitate conspicuous consumption and wanton commercialism.

    Is Christianity part of the Chinese culture? It is only when it is employed for fun or superstition, activities that serve purely human needs, at least in my opinion.

  2. Lime Says:

    Hi bianxiangbianqiao,
    So, in your opinion what’s the deal with the ~50 million (to use a very low estimate) PRC citizens who follow mainstream Christianity (either government authorised open Churches, or government tolerated ‘house’ churches, and not including the banned heterodox Christian groups like the Eastern Lightning or the Three Grades of Servants Church)? Have they just been suckered in by religious organisations in European and Anglophone states? How about Islam or Tibetan Buddhism in PRC?

    Also, despite the admitted prevalence of Christianity in North America, not all of us serve THE God.

    Thanks for commenting my post, by the way.

  3. yo Says:

    I’m not sure where you are going with this. If there is no China, then similarly, there are no other countries. In addition, I don’t agree with your argument that human created concepts are valueless. I believe things like law has value, despite the fact there are different interruptions to a thing that is a human creation. Other things that are from the human “imagination” are universal human rights, property rights, democracy, etc. while they exists in my imagination and probably take a different form for someone else, I believe they have value.

    I also find your conclusion very suspect, your personal conclusion results in other people to accept your pov, which is to challenge the PRC’s definition of China. IMO, this entire article seems to be a red herring to produce a debate about questioning the PRC’s pov on China. I would rather you just make an article to that end instead of trying to use a very pie in the sky philosophical justification to express it.

  4. Lime Says:

    Yo,
    Not everything has to be about attacking or defending the PRC. I’ll try to make what I’m saying clearer.

    “If there is no China, then similarly, there are no other countries.”
    Yes, this is more or less my point. There are states, but there are no such things as nations. My other illustration of this would be states, like the Netherlands and Canada, where the increasing ethnic, cultural, and linguistic diversity of their citizens is making their ‘national identities’ more and more difficult to define. Because this blog is about ‘China’, and because East Asian history is my particular interest, I decided to use the concept of ‘China’ as my example. China’s a good example because it is supposed to incorporate a whole series of different cultures, societies, languages, and ideas over vast amounts of time and space that have been controlled by many very different states. This makes finding characteristics of China that we can agree on nigh impossible, save for the very fuzzy geographic and temporal boundaries.
    Human created concepts are not necessarily valueless, but they are if there is no shared definitions, at least for the purposes of anything other than daydreaming and introspection. Laws- which you rightly say are also human created concepts- have value because they are written and defined in ways that multiple people can have a standardised understanding of them, This is why I accept the existence of states. You may not like the PRC’s definition of itself, but it is very clear about its territory, citizens, laws, government, and even relgions in it’s constitution and other legal documents. You see what I mean?

    “I also find your conclusion very suspect, your personal conclusion results in other people to accept your pov, which is to challenge the PRC’s definition of China.”
    I’m not sure what you mean by this. The conclusion is my point of view, but nobody else has to accept it.

  5. zepplin Says:

    Why not accept the vagueness and go from there?

  6. TonyP4 Says:

    Religion is a concept, an imagination, a philosophy…

    If there is a God, the west and east should be the same.

    If there is a path to go to heaven/hell, it should be the same too.

    If there is a ghost, the ghost from the west and the east should be the same.

    The west and the east are quite different in all the above. So, using common sense, I cannot conclude there is a God.

  7. Otto Kerner Says:

    This is sort of a reduction ad absurdum: “there is no such thing as China”. By way of analogy, I could argue that when someone says “average”, they might mean the mean, or the median, or the mode; therefore, there is no such thing as “average”. But, in fact, there are three such things as “average”. This has a similarly confusing effect on people’s attempts to communicate, but is really the opposite problem. What’s called for is additional clarity or else, as zepplin suggests, just accepting the ambiguity and being careful.

  8. zepplin Says:

    If I were a God I wouldn’t make everything the same.. that would be so boring.

  9. Berlin Says:

    The Christian apologist C.S. Lewis once got challenged at Oxford by a professor who said there is no universe, no Great Britian, no Oxford, and not perhaps even “myself”. What do you think? C. S. Lewis answered: that would be funny, if I answer questions from a person who doesn’t exist.

    Likewise, it would be somewhat funny if we are “blogging for China” if China does not even exist.

    “China” is a human construct all right, but it is as real as the words we are reading and writing here are real. Do you actually mean that this is a elusive, changing, dynamic concept? That’s exactly why we need to put things in context. You professor could have asked whether Christianity became a Chinese religion among peasants in the 21st Century China, or among contemporary Chinese intellectuals, or something like that. A little narrowing down might make it much more useful. Otherwise we might as well go boil the ocean.

    In the Tang Dynasty it was known as Jing Jiao, and there are many more activities in the Qing Dynasty. Selecting the specific parts of history to inquire about seems to be more realistic.

  10. ronald Says:

    bianxiangbianqiao, as someone who doesn’t hold Christianity in very high regard, I wish you were right. Unfortunately I run into countless Chinese people who go out of there way to tell me (as a Laowai, who are apparently expected to be Christian) that they have embraced this belief and are now respectable worthy churchgoing folk.

    I would love to see the Chinese government act more strongly against the shadow governments that most religions seek to be.

  11. Lime Says:

    I think most of the blogging here is really about the PRC, even when the term ‘China’ is used. When we talk about ‘China’ as a nation or a civilisation that transcends the boundaries of the PRC or ROC, boiling the ocean is an excellent metaphor. As far as accepting the vagueness goes, it’s fine for the purposes organising your own personal understanding of the world, but it’s the vagueness of the term that causes these endless debates over whether or not Tibet and/or Taiwan are or should be or could be part of ‘China’ (and those are only the most emotional debates). If I say Tibet is and always has been part of China, and you say that it isn’t and hasn’t, the problem is that I’m imagining a China that’s quite different from the China you understand of. If China had only three possible defintions like ‘average’, then we could probably come to a shared understanding rather quickly. But China can include so many different ideas (people, places, inventions, states, religions, works of art, ethnicities, cultures, etc.) that the possible ways to understand it are virtually infinite.

    To test the strength of my conclusion, can anybody say what kind of a nation China is?

  12. Lime Says:

    What have you got against shadow governments, Ronald?

  13. Jed Yoong Says:

    Hi

    Just briefly.

    I’ve studied Christianity and other major religions/philosophies in depth, and not just in Wiki. 😉
    I’ve come to the conclusion that Biblical stories reflect earlier erm, “creation stories” from China (eg. Moses went up to Mt Sinai, early Kings/Rulers at that Tai Shan http://www.mount-tai.com.cn/english/about.asp and Chinese philosophy, particularly Mohism and core Taoism minus all the additions and syncretism–pls search Wiki for brief Western perspective which in my view shows their confusion…).

    OK. But that’s just my humble opinion…I am ready to listen and learn from other more knowledgeable posters on this board. 😉

  14. Alex Huang Says:

    “the question of whether or not Christianity is a Chinese religion cannot be answered, because China does not exist outside of our imaginations”

    I think you could have better worded that as:

    “the question of whether or not Christianity is a Chinese religion cannot be answered, because the symbol ‘China’ refers to different things depending on who is asked”

    “does not exist outside of our imaginations” just seems to miss something out, given that you acknowledge laws and states as abstract definitions but do not dismiss them offhandedly simply because they “do not exist outside of our imaginations”. I would also have imagined that the first task in any such study would be to provide a reasonable definition of the term “China”. Otherwise it just feels like an epistemological evasion tactic.

    Also, I’m not certain the example involving Christie’s is such a good one to use.

    “Christie’s obviously did not share this idea that China is a series of linked states succeeding one another, as they went ahead with the auction in spite of the PRC’s government’s denouncements and threats.”

    Your example seems to be more about Christie’s questioning the PRC’s legitimacy to inherit the legacies of its predecessor than about any confusion regarding the symbol “China”. It is not clear that Christie’s and the PRC government’s concept of “China” is different–they may just have different ideas about inheritence laws.

  15. flags of the republic Says:

    Hey Lime,

    Here’s something for you to think about.

    Let say the following series of event happened to you (well doesn’t have to be you in particular)

    1. Gained 50 lbs.
    2. Got a tattoo
    3. Loss a leg
    4. Got a wheel chair to get around.
    5. Finally got a bionic leg a bit later.

    So, would any of these things change the concept of being “you”?

    And which one would you consider as being or more representative of you? How about the people around you? What do they think?

    1. The fat you.
    2. The tattooed fat you
    3. The one legged tattooed fat you.
    4. The one legged and wheel chair riding tattooed fat you.
    5. The bionic, but still fat and tattooed, you.

    Seems silly, but it’s not.

    And one last thing to think about.

    If I stole a TV from “The one legged and wheel chair riding tattooed fat you” (#4), would “The bionic, but still fat and tattooed, you” (#5) have any claims to the ownership of said TV?

  16. perspectivehere Says:

    @Lime

    I think you raise an interesting philosophical question about the nature of “social reality”.

    There are epistemological debates about whether a chair exists and how do I know a chair exists if I see it in a room, what if I go into a next room, how do I know it still exists etc. I don’t think this is what you mean by whether China “exists”.

    In the case of a “nation” (not just China, but all nations) this is entirely a social construction, meaning it means what people think it means.

    That’s not to say it is “only an idea” and “doesn’t exist”.

    It’s certainly real if you try to apply for a visa and cannot enter the territory otherwise. As you pointed out, there is China as a “state” with defined borders (which themselves are the result of a whole history of actions taken by people in the past who were responding to their perceived reality of “China” – in some cases taking up arms to defend or to attack (depending on which side one was on)).

    To put it more plainly – the current “China” exists only because there were some people (brave heroes in the eyes of some, cruel bandits in the eyes of others) who shared a common (although not necessarily identical) belief that this concept of China was worth defending in body and spirit. There were martyrs for China, just as there were martyrs for Christ in the pre-Constantine Roman Empire whose “blood was the seed of the Church”, to paraphrase Tertullian.

    So to say these people died for something that doesn’t exist may be perceived by some as a way of saying that they “died for nothing.” Which is why I think “Yo @#3” finds your point of view suspect. You need to respect that suspicion as much as people should respect others’ religious faith.

    I think your assertion is a bit more like having a discussion of how “chair” is defined and whether what I call “chair” is actually a “table”, and should be treated like a table and used as a table. And since there is no really clear definition of whether a flat piece of wood with four legs should be a “chair” or “table” (or “bed” or “shelf”) that really a flat piece of wood with four legs should not be limited to “chair” but could really mean what anyone wants it to mean. Is that your point?

    But to extend this into “social reality” – if in the course of the discussion you want to define “my chair” as “your table” – which in politics (which is after all about power) so as to take it away from me, I will fight against your definition, because the definition has more than mere academic philosophical consequences for me.

    Now, putting this back to “the meaning of China”, the seeming permanence of China over time as a concept over time (say, the last 2200 years) lies as much in cultural transmission (e.g., language, literature, rituals etc.) as it does the machinery and institutions of the state that maintains the existence of a “China”. The fact that China had an emperor and bureaucracy that administered the empire with certain land under its jurisdiction (but with border areas perpetually acting as sources of instability) is what has maintained China over time.

    The first years of the 20th century represented a destruction of that state machinery and the complete dismantling of the institutions that held the China together. I’m referring to the end of the Qing dynasty and the governing structure (including most importantly the bureaucratic apparatus) that went with it.

    I think if you were living in the early years of the so-called “Republican era” it might have seemed to be an exciting time (if you were intellectual and well-off) or a terrifying time (if you were someone subjected to the economic and strife-ridden upheaval). Back then they were trying to define “what China means”, but having so many people disagreeing and contending simultaneously to define China meant a pretty rough time for everyone.

    Everyone was defining “each others’ chairs” as “their tables” and people fought a lot – including foreigners who took advantage of the discord to define things as “their dining set”.

    This is why I think you’re assuming a bit too much in your (perhaps youthful) philosophical wanderings. For example, you wrote:

    “A concept of China exists in each of our imaginations, but what that concept is fluctuates so much from person to person that it is essentially valueless for the purpose of discussion.” To use my previous analogy, you think that the only thing people can agree with is “flat piece of wood with four legs” (as you think people can only agree on China as “a large part of the eastern hump of the Eurasian continent”).

    That’s something you might say in a classroom or a blog when there is little at stake other than what others might say. That’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s wonderful to have that utter freedom to think anything and say anything you want, without any consequences.

    But if you were living in most of 20th century China (outside of the last, say 30-40 years), there was much more at stake – lives, property, institutions, lands, military entanglements – at how “China” was defined. If you were Chinese (whether as a citizen of China or not), you had to choose whether you would be passive or active in defending your concept of China. Sometimes your life and the lives of your family and friends would hinge in your definition of “China” and what you saw as your place in its future.

    Whether people like the form it has taken or not, the political and economic stability established in China mainland and on Taiwan (and the subsiding of tensions across the Taiwan Strait) as well as actions taken by countries to normalize relations with the PRC has gradually permitted an environment in which one can have discussions around the notion of “what is our concept of China” without civil war being the predictable outcome.

    The active debate about what “China” is continues to have political and economic consequences. There are unresolved conflicts from the 20th century which remain for this and the future generations to solve.

    The last point to be made is, if you substitute “China” with “Alexandrian Empire” or “Seleucid Empire” or “Hellenistic culture” – you might see my point. People can debate the geographical extent of these empires, the extent of their cultural influence, what it meant to be speaking Koine Greek and how that culture might survive up to today (for example, in the text of the New Testament). However, that empire is gone. It no longer exists except in the mind of some historians (and possibly as a source of pride to people in modern Greece). Internal dissension, incursions by foreign parties, civil wars, revolts (including the Maccabean revolt of the 160’s BC in Judea) brought about the collapse of this Hellenistic empire in the century before the birth of Jesus Christ.

    In terms of “existence” I would say that, unlike the vanished Alexandrian/Seleucid/Hellenistic empire, “China” continues to live in reality as a vibrant and flourishing political and cultural concept. Just because people don’t always agree with what “China means” doesn’t matter – the fact that there is a state apparatus that maintains the order of the nation (and by that I mean much more than merely “law & order” like in “repressing protests”, but also the kind of “order” associated with having functional airports, power stations, postal services, clean water supply, hospitals, schools, roads, oil refineries, public transport, supermarkets, ports, telephones, internet, money supply etc. which is always suprisingly underrated in any “intellectual” discussion of China which seems to assume these things come from nowhere when they are the result of conscious planning and decision and active management of the governing authority).

    (Oh, and if I were teaching your class, I would probably say, “nice try, but you still have to submit your paper on the topic at hand!”)

  17. zhihua Says:

    (Deleted for profanity)

  18. Chops Says:

    “The Qing state is gone, but the ROC succeeded the Qing state as the government of China, and then was succeeded itself by the PRC in 1949, making it the current and the sole government of China, and inheritor of all the rights and properties of every previous government of China, including ownership of the bronze statues in question. Christie’s obviously did not share this idea that China is a series of linked states succeeding one another, as they went ahead with the auction”

    Hong Kong and Macao, which was given away by previous dynasties, was returned to the PRC, so UK and Portugal recognized PRC as inheritor of the rights and properties of all previous government of China, including treaties.

  19. Steve Says:

    From reading Lime’s argument, it seems his definition of a “state” is one of political union while a “nation” goes beyond that concept. I’d say that what characterizes a “nation” is belief in the nation by the inhabitants of said nation. If a person living in China believes he/she is Chinese and a member of the Chinese “nation”, then they are. What constitutes a belief in “China”? For most of her history, I’d say it was ethnic; Han Chinese constituted a nation called “China” when political factors caused her to be united politically.

    As an alternative example, the United States has a different definition of “nation”, one that is defined by a set of ideas rather than an ethnic heritage. Since most of its history is defined as being a nation of immigrants, the definition of nationhood as being ethnic has become even more diffused over time.

    Currently, China is caught between both meanings. No longer limiting herself to an exclusive “Han” definition, China wants to include Tibetans, Uyghurs, Mongolians and various smaller minorities under the definition of China as a nation. However, the various heated discussions on this blog reveal that this is still a work in progress, not within the “state” concept but as a “nation”, at least within the mainland. Taiwan represents a different problem, with some feeling Taiwan is part of a “nation” concept called “China” without being part of a unified “state”, while others feel Taiwan is neither “state” nor “nation” in terms of its relationship with China.

    If the idea of “China” is ethnic, then the current Chinese state is imperialistic. If the concept of “China” is as a “nation”, then another meaning needs to be found to take its place. The first meaning was “communism” but that wasn’t viable as an economic system. Today the Chinese government has substituted economic success along with historical bonds to try and create a new definition of “nation” to unite its people. The Han Chinese population has bought into this meaning as illustrated by comments on this blog, but it seems the Tibetan and Uyghur populations have been less willing to do so “en masse”.

    In my experience, China has one of the strongest beliefs in their “nation” status compared to most countries I’ve visited. In some ways, the strength of that belief has been a hindrance in their dealings with the Tibetan and Uyghur minorities, in that those minorities might be willing to accept the idea of “nation” but with a different definition than the one being put forth by the Han Chinese themselves. They also tend to see China’s “nation” status as being ethnic, which precludes them from ever being a part of that “nation”.

    “Did Christianity become a Chinese religion?” For me, that’s a very vague question, which might be why your professor phrased it in that way. It gives you a lot of avenues to explore since your definition of the term determines your answer. What is “Christianity”? What is “Chinese religion”? Defining those terms answers the question.

    In my experience, the Christians in China tend to be very devout because it’s not easy or very socially acceptable to be a Christian, as illustrated by attitudes such as bianxiangbianqiao’s. However, I’ve also noticed that the Christianity practiced in China doesn’t have much depth; it is almost like religion for children. The local leader is more revered than respected, elements of Buddhism, Confucism and Taoism creep into the philosophy of Chinese Christianity, and there is a fervor to convert others that is stronger than in most countries. I’ve also noticed that atheism has achieved an almost religious status, as atheists try to “convert” religious believers to their form of “non-religion religion”. Does the Christian religion have Chinese characteristics? I’d say so from what I’ve heard over there.

    Based on shared human characteristics, my guess is that over time, China will become more religious with the majority being the classic Buddhist/Taoist/Confucist combination. There will be Muslims, Christians and other forms of religion but I doubt they’ll ever convert a large percentage of the Chinese population.

  20. miaka9383 Says:

    @Zhihua
    There is a border line of being non PC and just being out right rude. You may not believe in religion but other people do.
    (deleted for profanity)

  21. Allen Says:

    @Steve #19,

    You wrote:

    What constitutes a belief in “China”? For most of her history, I’d say it was ethnic; Han Chinese constituted a nation called “China” when political factors caused her to be united politically.

    Yikes … I had thought you had a better understanding of China than this.

    Well … we have gone over what is China in several threads before. I am burnt out on this topic for now.

    But in this case I have to continue just a little further because you went on to say:

    If the idea of “China” is ethnic, then the current Chinese state is imperialistic.

    What is ethnicity anyways? Is han an ethnicity?

    Don’t fall into the trap I am setting for you… 😉

    More seriously – state, nation, these are just words. Political aspirations of various sorts are just political conceptions – no less or more valid simply because they are tied to religion or “ethnicity” or whatever.

    Chinese nationalism per se is not more or less righteous than Japanese nationalism. But I know solidly where I stand.

    Ideology aside: what ultimately matters is whether governance provide for the people … but I don’t think I need to lecture, since you’ve made plenty of arguments based on that.

    I shall leave on this philosophical note: truth is best hinted at, not defined and reduced.

    Centralized governance per se is not Imperialism (loaded, conclusory term by the way); dissent (even along religious or ethnic lines) per se does not prove Imperialism.

  22. Allen Says:

    (deleted for profanity) can be a valuable green fuel … I hear.

  23. Allen Says:

    @miaka9383,

    This may not be fair, but I would be interested if you (or anyone here) know where to draw the line between cult, religion, and superstitution.

  24. zhihua Says:

    “You do not believe in religion but other people do”

    What a lame argument. Communism, fascism, racism, there are all kinds of ideology that you may not believe in but other people do. Has it kept people from criticizing them??

  25. Steve Says:

    @ zhihua: You can criticize religion or anything else you like but not with profanity. We deleted it not once but twice. If you continue with the profanity, the next step is putting your comments into “moderation”, which we don’t want to do. Please refrain from the obscenities.

  26. Steve Says:

    @ Allen #21: Hi Allen~ I thought we were on the same side for this one. 😉

    My point was that nations (not states) are composed of people who share something in common that binds them together besides government. Are you saying the Han Chinese are not an ethnic group? The definition of “ethnic” that I found was: “Of, relating to, or characteristic of a sizable group of people sharing a common and distinctive racial, national, religious, linguistic, or cultural heritage.” Sounds to me like Han Chinese are an ethnic group.

    My point was that in the minds of Chinese, they no longer saw their nation as an ethnic entity but as a national one that wasn’t based on ethnicity. I think that was the same point you were trying to make, unless I read you incorrectly.

    You said: “what ultimately matters is whether governance provide for the people”. I said: “Today the Chinese government has substituted economic success along with historical bonds to try and create a new definition of “nation” to unite its people.”

    Aren’t they essentially the same? I’m not arguing that China is imperialistic, I was arguing the exact opposite. But in order for Tibet and Xinjiang not to feel that they are controlled by a hegemonic government, they need to feel a part of China, that they are Chinese and not Tibetan or Uyghur.

    I don’t think “state” or “nation” are just words. When people are willing to fight and die for their state or nation, they’re not doing it because they are brainwashed or deluded, but because they believe in the concept that ties them to their country. They love their country. When someone writes “I *heart* China” on their MSN Messenger, do you think those are just “words”? I don’t; I think they love their nation.

  27. Allen Says:

    @Steve #26,

    Yes – I just re-read your comment – and think on the high level we are on the same page.

    But just to nit-pick, I don’t think we were on the same page as for the details of the reasoning …. e.g., “If the idea of “China” is ethnic, then the current Chinese state is imperialistic.”

    Ethnicity is really hard to define. We can through social, cultural, genetic, or political lens.

    I think with respect to Han, it’s mostly a political construct. Across Han – there are wide diversity in social, cultural, and genetic makeups. In fact, Han in the Chinese context stands for multi-culturalism – sort of akin to the melting pot of the U.S.

    In a different political context, we can easily see provincial nationalism arise – the type that people are willing to fight and die for – all throughout China.

    Taiwanese nationalism is an example (can you believe it? some “deluded” individuals may actually want to fight for a Taiwanese nation; some no doubt might want to fight for a South Taiwan nation … but I digress!).

  28. zhihua Says:

    Aw, the selective enforcement of “profanity” rules!

    Would things have turned out differently if the word religion was replaced with Scientology, or the Great Church of Flying Spaghetti Monster of which I’m a proud member?

    More over, how can you not be profane when the very thesis of your argument is that the subject is nothing sacred?

  29. Steve Says:

    Oh well, zhihua, I guess we stay away from both the sacred and the profane, and pursue the “middle way”. 😛

    We used to be more lenient but it started to get out of hand so we decided to draw a line. The one area we all agreed was that the enforcement would NOT be selective but the same for everyone. We can’t monitor the blog 24/7 so there might be a lag but we’ll delete it as soon as we see it.

    Anyway, you’re creative so I’m sure you can always come up with something better, wittier and more clever. 😉

  30. Lime Says:

    Hi Allen,
    “Taiwanese nationalism is an example (can you believe it? some “deluded” individuals may actually want to fight for a Taiwanese nation; some no doubt might want to fight for a South Taiwan nation … but I digress!).”

    That’s pretty close to what I’m trying to get at here. When I wrote my blurb, I was thinking more of the attempts to (re)construct a historical “China.” But looking at just the modern state of the nebulous concept of “China,” if one person believes is a believer in Chinese nationalism (or nationism), where does that leave the Taiwan nationalists, or the Kenting nationalists? I’m not suggesting that the PRC is an imperialist state; to believe in an imperial relationship you have to perceive one nation (China or Han China in this case) dominating another nation (Tibet, I suppose). Which is as valid a way of seeing it as any, but you could just as easily see it as one pan-ethnic nation based on pseudo-Marxist ideologies or economic success (that seems like a really odd thing to base a national concept on doesn’t it?).

    The title of my post was, admittedly, more provocative than I could have made it. I’m not saying that the concept of a nation is necessarily non-existent to the individual, and I’m certainly not saying that isn’t necessarily important to them. When everyone was writing “I *heart* China” on their MSN, I have no doubt they truly loved their nation, but their nation was something that, in the case of every individual, was very specific to them.

    @zhihua
    Are you familiar with the teachings of the great Malaclypse the Younger?

  31. miaka9383 Says:

    @Allen

    Honestly, the difference between a religious group and a cult (for me) is the level of blind faith and the degree to which can harm a collective of people…

    Religion is something you practice and that you have blind faith in. Usually in a religion, the founder has a miraculous birth or had some miraculous awakening events that associate themselves to it. (Fact from my Religious Studies professor). But it crosses the line to a cult when you are gathering your family and is ready to commit suicide to go to heaven.

    On the other hand, superstition is something that may not be true, but you practice anyways.. it could be associated with culture and religion. The idea of Religions of superstitions are not mutually exclusive. I think that line is blurred…

  32. Allen Says:

    @Lime #30,

    Perhaps your question is in general – what is nationalism?

    Where does it come from?

    When is it just a political movement?

    When is it a righteous movement?

  33. Steve Says:

    @ Allen #27: I agree with you, “Han Chinese” is a political construct designed to create a commonality between people who were united politically but not ethnically. Today it would be called PM, or perception management, where you basically make up a ‘fact’ and spread it around until everyone believes it. Han Chinese has meaning because people believe it has meaning, and I’d be willing to bet that most people in China believe it IS an ethnic description.

    I personally tend to think of ethnicity as being racial but since there is no such thing as a pure “race”, it is really more of a commonality. However, I would not compare it to the American situation. I could live in China for 50 years, speak perfect Chinese without an accent, never make a cultural faux pas but I would never be considered “Chinese” by the people who live there. Yet my immigrant wife is considered an “American” where we live, though I’ll admit San Diego is far more multicultural than most other places in the States. I’m considered American though I have no English blood, though at one time it would not have been so clear cut. It’s an ongoing process here, but the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are the four most successful countries in the world for incorporating a variety of races and ethnicities into their national stock.

    When I read Tibet threads on FM, I see a lot of “we/you” from each side but not a lot of “us”. It’s like two families are arguing, and not a disagreement between members of one family.

    I think “nationalism” is a national movement. That’s why it’s called “nationalism”. 😉

    Seriously, for me Nationalism is simply a degree of separation from others. Ultranationalism is taking that to an extreme; having nothing in common with others almost to a state of paranoia. In the case of Taiwan or Tibet, “nationalists” in either area would be people who see themselves as Taiwanese or Tibetan and not as Chinese, except possibly in a more vague way. For nationalists in Taiwan, they’d see China as an ancestral home as I might see Italy, but feel no political connection and only a vague cultural connection. For Tibetan nationalists, my guess is they’d see themselves as neither political nor cultural, but as historic neighbors. In both cases, it’s really when “we” becomes “us vs. them”.

    When I met my wife, she always described herself as “Chinese”. It even says “born in China” on her passport. But when China shot missiles into the Taiwan Strait in 1996 during the presidential election, she said, “They’re shooting missiles at my country” and after that, she was always Taiwanese. The act of “attacking” her country created her nationalism since to her, China would not attack China. Her perception changed because of that one act.

    Croatians and Serbs lived side by side in peace until they perceived each other as “us vs. them”. Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda lived side by side in peace until they perceived each other as “us vs. them”. When small differences begin to be perceived as large differences, perceptions change and “nationalism” is the result.

  34. Wukailong Says:

    @Steve (#33): “When I met my wife, she always described herself as “Chinese”. It even says “born in China” on her passport. But when China shot missiles into the Taiwan Strait in 1996 during the presidential election, she said, “They’re shooting missiles at my country” and after that, she was always Taiwanese. The act of “attacking” her country created her nationalism since to her, China would not attack China. Her perception changed because of that one act.”

    This reminds me of a book I read about the German invasion of Norway in 1941, saying that “the Norwegians now had a fatherland.” Nationalism understandably grows under threat of war. Using Scandinavia as an example, it’s quite obvious this is true – Sweden is the only country not to have been occupied or invaded the last 100 years, and it has almost no patriotic tradition or education.

  35. Steve Says:

    @ Wukailong #34: You’re right about Sweden, but then I started thinking about Switzerland which has also not been invaded or occupied, yet they are very patriotic. I wonder why there are two such different reactions to the same situation?

  36. raventhorn4000 Says:

    I wouldn’t say Switzerland is similar to Sweden. Sweden is far more secure in its history than Switzerland. Switzerland was a land under constant threat of influence from its larger neighbors.

    For one thing Switzerland has 4 dominant ethnic groups, thus its 4 main languages, German, French, Italian, Romansh.

    Emergence of its modern national identity came from a fundamental desire of 4 different groups of people to coexist peacefully away from the influences of their neighbors.

    Switzerland fended off its larger neighbors by some very desparate tactics. (1) a strong patriotic education system, (2) they buried land mines on all of their roads and highways to maintain their right of neutrality.

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