The Han Chinese

Discussion in 'China' started by Ray, Apr 12, 2012.

  1. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    One cannot take periods of history as one whole and then judge it by contemporary parameters.

    Each period in history tells a different tale and the environment at that time has to be judged as per what was prevailing then. If one was to judge the Thirty Year War in today’s context and apply today’s parameters when there is the EU, then one would be thunderstruck at the folly and short-sightedness of the people of those times.

    Take the example of UK. In 1707, Great Britain came into being and yet people still claim their identity whatever that be. It is the same for Indians where we maybe one country, but we are different in ethnicity, language, culture, customs and tradition.

    In as far as China is concerned, none claim their identity what their ancestors were, except the Tibetans and Uighurs. The reason is simple. As the Hans kept increasing their Empire, the assimilated the indigenous people through intermarriage, coercion, humiliating them (barbarians) etc.

    There are people who bat for the Hans wherein they state that ‘barbarians’ have many connotations and I infer they mean that the scholars have made an error in interpretation of the word. Indeed, if that be the case, could one explain as to why Barbarians were given generic names in the Chinese classics and histories: the Yi barbarians to the east, the Man to the South, the Rong to the west and Di to the north (when westerners arrived by sea, they were officially designated until the late 19th century as Yi). Until the 1930s, the names of outgroups (wai ren) were commonly written with an animal radical: the Di, the northern tribe, were linked to the Dog; the Man and the Min of the south were characterised with reptiles; the Qiang was written with a sheep radical. This reflected the Han Chinese conviction that civilisation and culture were linked with humanity; alien groups living outside the pale of Chinese society were regarded as inhuman savages.

    Nationalism is relatively new for China in its relations with the rest of the world. Before the twentieth century, the predominate Chinese approach to foreign relations was culturalism. As this Pax Sinica fell apart with the intrusion of the Western powers in the nineteenth century, nationalism eventually found its way into the Chinese mind at the dawn of the twentieth century. Thereafter, it became the key driving force of China’s handling of foreign relations.

    China’s traditional culturalism, as envisaged by leading Chinese writers like Liang Qichao, Sun Yatsen and Feng Youlan, and analysed by American scholars such as Joseph Levenson and John K. Fairbank, dominated the Chinese approach to foreign relations for over 2,000 years before the twentieth century.

    This culturalism articulated a clear distinction of a Chinese ‘Us’ vis-a`-vis the non-Chinese ‘Others’. As the twentieth century Chinese philosopher Feng Youlan observed, ‘what the Chinese were always concerned about was the continuation and integrity of the Chinese culture and civilization . . . from the early Qin dynasty onwards, Chinese had clearly made a distinction between the “China”, or “Huaxia”, with the “Barbarians (Yidi)”’. Feng argued that ‘such a distinction was made according to a cultural criteria rather than racial differences’. James Harrison also pointed out that ‘the traditional Chinese self-image has generally been defined as “culturalism”, based on the historical heritage and acceptance of shared values, not as nationalism, based on the modern concept of the nation-state’.

    From a culturalist point of view, the primary identity of the Chinese was the general acceptance of traditional Chinese culture, namely, the Confucianism that dominated the minds of the Chinese for almost 2,000 years. It is the acceptance, or not, of this culture that separated the Chinese and the Others, or the ‘barbarians’. Furthermore, culturalism did not regard the boundary between the Chinese and barbarians as static or fixed. Once the ‘barbarians’ adopted Chinese culture, they became Chinese, and vice versa.

    In defining the Chinese relationship with the ‘barbarians’, culturalism adopted a view of China-centric universalism (Tianxia zhuyi). Such a view firstly envisaged a hierarchical world system with China sitting at the centre. As the highest developed culture within that system, China saw no other entities that could claim equal status with China. China was the centre of this system, and the Chinese emperor, as the Son of Heaven, had the mandate of Heaven to rule All-under-Heaven (Tianxia). The
    institutional expression of this China-dominated world system was the tributary system that emerged in the Han Dynasty.

    In this hierarchical system neighbouring ‘barbarian’ tribes and kingdoms showed political submission to the Chinese emperors, and in return received material rewards from the Chinese emperors. This Sino-centric universalism was a view mainly about Chinese world order, not about inter-national or inter-state relations. As the line drawn between the Chinese ‘Us’ and non-Chinese ‘Other’ was mainly a cultural construction, inter-cultural relationships constituted the essence of this Chinese world order.

    Within this world, China did not see herself as one state among others, but as the only civilized entity that had to live with uncivilized ‘barbarians’. The relationship with the ‘barbarians’ was one of conversion of these ‘barbarians’ to accept the universal Chinese culture.

    This politics of conversion worked mainly through China’s moral example—though it occasionally employed force. Such a view was a reflection of the isolation of the East Asian international system from the rest of the world before the mid-nineteenth century. For thousands of years, China encountered no other advanced cultures that could pose an effective cultural challenge. Other cultures might be militarily more powerful, and they might conquer the Chinese heartland occasionally. Yet, they had to adopt the Chinese culture when they wanted to rule the vast Chinese population and land.

    The concepts of nationstate, nationalism and patriotism were never strongly rooted in Chinese thinking. That is why Feng Youlan could write that ‘the reason underlying the lack of Chinese nationalism was that the Chinese are used to seeing things from a universal perspective’.

    Likewise, Liang Qichao argued that, ‘we Chinese are not by nature an unpatriotic people. The reason Chinese do not know patriotism is because they do not know that China is a state’. Rather, Chinese people tended to regard China as the universe.

    The transition from culturalism to nationalism is explained in the classical work of Liang Ch’i-ch’ao and the Mind of Modern China, Joseph Levenson presented an elegant culturalism-to-nationalism thesis, which sought to understand the changing self-perception of the Chinese in their relations with other nations.

    This culturalism-to-nationalism thesis sees culturalism and nationalism as the competing ideas among the intellectuals at the turn of the century, the time when ‘nationalism invades the Chinese scene as culturalism gives way’.

    The collapse of this culturalism rested on the invalidation of its central assumption: the supremacy of the Chinese culture in the world. China was invaded by non-Chinese people a number of times before the Opium War. Yet the invasion and conquest of China by these so-called ‘barbarians’ never posed a serious threat to Chinese culture. However, the new ‘barbarians’ from the sea were not only militarily stronger. They also were formidable in terms of culture and religion.

    The Western powers (and then Japan) rocked the very foundation of the long-lived Chinese world order first by defeating the Qing empire militarily, and then by posing an unprecedented threat to Chinese culture. In little more than half a century after the First Opium War, China suddenly found that it was no longer the centre of the universe. Rather it was thrown out to the margins of the world, as a semi-colonized land in a Eurocentric world.

    This ‘biggest change in the Chinese three thousand years’ history’ propelled Chinese intellectuals to search for alternative ideas to save China. Nationalism was thus summoned and culturalism was rejected. As Levenson argued, ‘a culturalism bars foreign ideas, but it may actually invite or not actively oppose foreign material force. Nationalism reverses these relations; it may admit foreign ideas, but it will blaze against foreign material incursions’. With the survival of both Chinese culture and world order at stake, nationalism was enlisted as a non-Chinese remedy to the problem of Chinese survival.
     
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2012
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  3. masterofsea

    masterofsea Regular Member

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    One day we will assimilate Indian friends.:rofl:
     
  4. J20!

    J20! Senior Member Senior Member

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    Haha! Nice thread.. quite original.
     
  5. SADAKHUSH

    SADAKHUSH Senior Member Senior Member

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    We like to rattle the "Birds Nest" and harmonious society.
     
  6. maomao

    maomao Veteran Hunter of Maleecha Senior Member

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    Good read, adds up to the vast material available to understand the Chinese! :)
     
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  7. Armand2REP

    Armand2REP CHINI EXPERT Veteran Member

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    Shots fired in Chongqing riots, several reported dead...

     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 10, 2015
  8. masterofsea

    masterofsea Regular Member

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    YOu can never understand chinese unless you became them.
     

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