Yesterday we looked at two of the Party’s central myths concerning China’s role in the world, today I want to look at two more myths that might not be working in the way the Party meant.
The important thing to note here with the word “myth” is that I don’t mean to judge these definitively as lies (that’s up to you), but that these are stories told with special meaning to teach a specific lesson to the masses.
If you’ve been reading the People’s Daily these past few weeks in the run up to the Party’s 90th anniversary you are probably more than aware of the fact that China is a family of 56 happy ethnic groups. This is a “fact” that students and co-workers have told me dozens of times, along with the occasional addition that there is “no racism in China”.
This really couldn’t be much further from the truth. In the 4 years I’ve lived in China there have been anti-Han riots in Tibet, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia. So how is it that this myth survives?
While many Han wouldn’t be able to tell you much about the role of the Dalai Lama in Tibetan Buddhism, or why Muslims don’t eat pork, they are sharply aware of the special “privilages” these minorities enjoy. These include: having more than 1 child, receiving bonus points on the college entrance exam, and other perceived advantages. This leads many to believe that they are actually treated much better than the Han people.
CCTV also airs a nearly unending stream of smiling people in ethnic costumes, which over time seems like reality.
So when there are problems in these areas, the gov’t points that these are due to “outside influences” (Dalai Lama in Tibet, Rebiya Kadeer in Xinjiang – People’s Daily report on the two). This idea that ethnic groups are treated so well, make the unrest in minority areas almost incomprehensible to the Han living on the East coast.
China’s Peaceful Rise
My co-workers are also happy to remind me that China has always been a peaceful nation, and that they don’t like war like Americans do. While this might seem like a real head-scratcher, a quick look through Chinese history books helps to explain how this whopper can be believed.
According to the official history, North Korea did not start the Korean war, it only started when US-led UN forces arrived on the peninsula. It was only then that the Chinese “volunteers” rushed to the front-lines in what is known here as the “War of American Aggression”.
A similar story is told for China’s aiding of Viet Cong forces. China’s later skirmish with Vietnam was a matter of “national defense,” and the invasion of Tibet, was actually a “liberation from foreign oppressors”.
An incredibly important addition to this thought is that because the gov’t pushes this myth so strongly, the Chinese people really do detest war. When I have told them about many of the stories that are conveniently left out of Chinese newspapers (like what happened in Sudan) they are shocked and saddened.
These two myths have created a few unintended side-effects that are making it harder for the gov’t to continue the stories that they think provide stability, while trying to take the actions they think are necessary for a strong China (i.e. these past few weeks as China tried to intimidate Vietnam in the South China Sea).
Tomorrow we’ll be looking at a final Myth -> Mao was 70% right and 30% wrong