Recently, more and more friends from Latin America, Africa, and the South Asian subcontinent are concerned about China, and have raised many questions. I have some experience in studying and researching in the West, and I would like to take this opportunity to share with you my thoughts on mainstream Chinese discourse in the West from different perspectives. The first topic I want to talk about is the image the West has created for China.
As it is well known that starting from George Macartney, until today, the West has spent more than two centuries creating a deeply rooted image of China, including China’s backwardness in technology and China’s “autocratic” system, the “improper” possession of present-day territory by China, and the “historical error” of the goals and outcomes of the Chinese revolution in the 20th century.
These four images can not only penetrate deeply into the minds of Westerns, but also gradually penetrate the surrounding areas of China that were colonized by Europe, and finally penetrate directly into China’s intellectual circles. The first two of them have become common sense among modern Chinese people, while the latter two have affected China’s relations with neighboring countries, the ethnic politics within China, and the perceptions of some Chinese people at certain times since the 20th century.
For the people of modern Latin America, Africa, and the South Asian subcontinent, China is farther than Europe and the United States in terms of spatial distance or psychological distance, and it is also farther than other parts of Asia.
The image of China in these people’s minds is more dependent on the West, which has the right to communicate and speak. However, these portrayed images of China are distorted. We should first understand the motives of the West in shaping China’s image.
The first is the so-called backward science and technology, which is rhetoric that Westerners use to depreciate the Chinese system, under the logic of “technology is the foundation of the system”. But in fact, from the 16th century to the end of the 18th century, China was behind Europe in some technologies, but not behind in other technologies, and even some technologies were still ahead of Europe. However, Chinese people who have deeply accepted European discourse have often used the phrase “be beaten for backwardness” for more than a century, which invisibly rationalized the Western invasion.
Second, to fully realize the interests of the West in the process of engaging with China, the West has intentionally transformed the Chinese system into one that effectively serves the interests of the West. So before this goal can be achieved, it is necessary to intervene and interfere in Chinese politics. For this reason, it is necessary to describe the monarch-bureaucrat-county system in China as the medieval church + feudal system in Europe. In this way, it can relatively establish a superior image of the Western system, and provide legitimacy for Western intervention in Chinese politics.
Third, China’s vast territory and colossal population are huge obstacles for the West to intervene in Chinese politics. For this reason, the West has described China since the Qing Dynasty as an “empire” and described the formation of China’s territory as the result of the expansion of the Qing Dynasty. In this way, the territorial scope of the Qing Dynasty itself
can be questioned, and the Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China, as nation-states, have no legitimacy to inherit the territory of the Qing Dynasty.
Fourth, because the Chinese revolution in the 20th century achieved the goal of protecting the survival of the nation and gradually decolonizing it, it further restricted the plundering of China’s interests by the West. The West questioned the Chinese revolution from the second and third angles mentioned above.
On the one hand, the West describes the Chinese revolution and state construction in the 20th century as a continuation of “feudalism + autocracy”, especially the resistance that the Chinese were unwilling to die facing the invasion and colonization of the West and Japan, including the Anti-Japanese War, as “tragedy”.
Their reason is that the Chinese people’s war results have consolidated the dictatorship, and the defeated Japan is more progressive, civilized, and democratic than China. So how could this Anti-Japanese War, in which “backwardness overcame progress”, “barbarism overcame civilization”, and “dictatorship overcame democracy”, be a just war?
On the other hand, the West says that China has dressed itself since the mid-19th century
as a “victim”, but China is also an imperial expansionist. The Qing Dynasty acquired Mongolia, Xinjiang, Tibet, Taiwan, and other places that did not belong to China through expansion.
For the Han state, the Republic of China, and the People’s Republic of China, there is no reason to inherit the lands of the Qing Dynasty and maintain their rule over these lands, and 20th century China practiced racial oppression in these areas. The West’s accusation is to establish the legitimacy for the current Western political circles to promote the color revolution and split China. After understanding these motives of the West, we will see that the West’s intention is actually to cover up its technological backwardness in the Middle Ages, its history of feudal and religious persecution, its history of racial oppression and genocide by colonialism, and its capitalist and imperialist history of exploitation.
So the West actually imagines and describes China in its own image.