Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Kill, kill, kill

On news.sina.com.cn, a popular Chinese news site, readers can leave comments at the end of stories. While looking through the reader comments of a “news” story entitled “The Dalai Lama clique’s efforts to destroy Tibetan social stability are doomed to fail,” two friendly little cartoon police officers trotted across the bottom of my screen and saluted. The java cops informed me that I should “Stay far away from obscene pornography. Advocate a civilized Internet. Refuse to look at vulgar content. Carry forward harmonious progress.”

“Obscene pornography” is clear enough. But vulgar content? What was on my screen, on this mainstream news site, was some of the most vulgar content I've ever seen on the Internet.

Below is a translation of the first screen of the comments that came up on my computer this evening, out of thousands and thousands. I didn't pick and choose the “best” ones, I just translated all the ones on the screen. Some are typically nationalistic (and quite easy to unpack from a historian's point of view); some are simply shocking; and some, like the long one below, may have been written by government big brothers. It would of course be foolish to generalize this sampling as “typical” of China. But it is striking how widespread it is—I've noted the province where each comment originates—and it is surely a scandal that the Dalai Lama and his “clique” have close to zero sympathy in China. On a scale of hating the Dalai Lama to sympathizing with his cause, extremely few Chinese are past the stage of apathy.

The page is obviously censored (meaning absolutely no pro-Tibet comment would get through), but it's shocking that the censors allow so much violent language (from a government that constantly tells its citizens to avoid violent (and pornographic) websites). Reading this, it makes sense why so many Taiwanese are weary, and frightened, of the prospect of unification.

In fact, it's interesting how many of the comments mention Taiwan, even though Taiwan has nothing to do with the current protests in Tibet. For these kinds of Chinese nationalists, all “splittists” are the same: they want to divide the nation, and they should be condemned.

I changed some of the punctuation to fit more closely with typical English style. Some of the phrases sound a bit silly in English—in Chinese they’ve achieved normality in their ubiquity, but I'm not sure if they’re any less silly.

Firmly suppress! Kill on sight with the authority of the law! (Hunan)

我们不怕 - 因为我们是一家人
We are not afraid - because we are all of the same family. (Jiangsu)

Kill (Xinjiang)

As for the splittist ringleader, [he should be] punished mercilessly, and killed without mercy. (Ningxia)

在打击藏独和台独的势力上,要不惜一切代价,维护祖国的统一,怕啥啊!!!!!!!!!! 有十几亿炎黄子孙做盾牌,我就不信了撒!
When it comes to attacking the influence of Tibetan and Taiwanese independence movements, [we should] not hesitate for any price to safeguard the homeland's unity, fear nothing!!!!!!!!! When over 1 billion descendants of Yan Di and Huang Di [that is, Chinese people] are a shield, I don't believe they could be scattered! (Guangdong)

There is only one word, "kill!" These no-good bastards dare to cause chaos in my China, kill without mercy! Kill without mercy! (Sichuan)

中国是一个爱好和平的发展中国家,广大的人民在和平环境中享受着自由和民主,应该好好珍惜这个来之不易的社会环境,刚刚结束的两会又给我们的发展规划了美丽的蓝图,西藏是 一个民族问题早已有之的地区,是我们国家重点扶住的经济不发达地区,刚刚建成的进藏铁路,就是对未来西藏的发展起到积极作用的举措。
我们的国家正在进行经济建设,只有强大的经济和国力,我们才能稳定和安定,达赖一直以来以和平为幌子以西方国家的价值判断,破坏我们的安全,这种民族败类是我们整个民族的 大敌,只有我们保持了高度的警惕,保持了高度的团结,保持了高度的凝聚力,才能彻底的措败达赖的阴谋。

China is a loving and peaceful developed country, a vast people in a peaceful environment who enjoy freedom and democracy, [and should] truly cherish this hard-earned society. The just-concluded National People's Congress has given us a beautiful development blueprint. Tibet is a region with an ethnic minority problem that has existed for a long time; it's a region whose economic development is supported by our country, [for example] the recently finished railroad is an important and positive development for Tibet's future.

Our country is currently building our economy, it has a formidable economy and national strength, and we are stable. The Dalai Lama has continuously used peace as a pretense towards Western countries to destroy our country's security. This kind of minority group scum is the great enemy of our whole nation. We must simply maintain high alert, maintain strong unity, maintain strong cohesion, [and only then] can we thoroughly defeat the Dalai Lama's conspiracy. (Sichuan)

Resolutely defend our homeland's unity! As for these splittists, we should resolutely counterattack! (Sichuan)

Resolutely defend our homeland's unity. (Hebei)

If we must close then let's close [?], if we must kill then let's kill, we mustn't be softhearted! (Shaanxi)

分裂分子就是要杀无赦 统统枪毙
The splittists should be killed without mercy. All executed by shooting. (Hunan)

Repress Taiwanese and Tibetan independence activists. Don't be softhearted. (Liaoning)

For the police who are in the middle of this situation and have been injured: pay tribute to the public security [forces]!!! (Jiangxi)

Resolutely defend the homeland's security and unity, oppose any scheme that tries to split the country. (Shanghai)

Resolutely defend the homeland's unity, oppose the splittists, severely punish the armed rebels, never be softhearted!!!! (Anhui)

Unite! (Sichuan)

Defending the country's unity is every Chinese person's duty! (Beijing)

Kill all these sluts who are harming the stability of the country! (Hainan)

It is essential to severely punish these rebellious evildoers who are making trouble, [we] cannot be softhearted! (Henan)

Resolutely attack, never be softhearted, [when they] emerge, immediately attack; do not leave behind one opportunity [for them] to keep breathing. (Sichuan)

Kill, kill, kill. (Zhejiang)

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Debating that damn diaspora dilemma

Yesterday I was in a taxi with a couple friends. One of those annoying screens was in my friend’s face – the kind that is attached to the back of the passenger seat and is impossible to turn off (though you can sometimes turn the volume down). I have resorted to covering the damn thing up with a piece of paper when the going really gets tough (such as in one travel show, particularly painful, where a Chinese interviewer asked an American tourist in a European country who was eating some fried street food if she was worried about her weight). Anyway, our taxi’s TV was showing a kind of game show. One of the contestants was a Chinese-American, and he described himself as American. “Oh no!” said my friend (who is Chinese). “He is Chinese, not American!” She proceeded to get rather upset about this, while the two of us looked on, rather bemused. Apparently she was offended by a number of things, including: 1) He opted to describe himself as American rather than Chinese; and 2) His mother apparently didn’t teach him to love his homeland, as she should have done. The idea that someone born and raised in the U.S. should not call himself an American is strange to me; to her, that a (ethnic) Chinese person would not call himself Chinese is what is strange.

As can be expected, the discussion turned to what exactly she believed a Chinese person to be (as far as I could tell it boiled down to race), and, subsequently, what an American believed an American to be (not an easy topic to sum up, but suffice it to say that, for me, inclusion into the “nation” of America does not rely on homogeneity but, to the contrary, includes and embraces diversity).

Chinese newspapers will periodically publish editorials or pseudo-reports exhorting overseas Chinese to come home and help the motherland. However, it is important to remember that the inclusion of the Chinese diaspora in the Chinese nation is not a new phenomenon. Its origin can, at least in the way we understand it today, be traced back to the late 19th century, when Sun Yatsen and Kang Youwei battled for support from overseas Chinese, especially in America, for their respective nationalist projects (revolutionary versus reformist). During this period Chinese intellectuals were working out just what the Chinese nation was exactly (a never-ending question, but a lot more contested then than it is now), and overseas Chinese were appropriated into the narrative (the fact that many of them were wealthy and could contribute to various revolutionary or reformist projects certainly had something to do with it). What did it mean to be “Chinese” and why were overseas “Chinese” included? Race was a big determinant, and much of the concept of race that became so important in Chinese nationalism had as its origin European notions of social Darwinism and racial superiority. The linkage of geography and nation was important as well. These aspects of Chinese nationalism have been extremely well documented and I won’t get into them here.

One thing I do want to mention is a point that another (Chinese) friend brought up: the Chinese idea of hometown, which, I believe, is much older than the 19th century, might have also been fused into the messy conceptualization of “nation.” The Chinese word for hometown, laojia, doesn’t really mean hometown, at least not the way English speakers understand it. For me, my hometown is Muncie, Indiana, because that’s where I grew up. For a Chinese person, her laojia is the place of her ancestors, meaning she might never have set foot in it at all. (Wenlin, a Chinese dictionary, has this definition for laojia: “1. Native place; old home; one's original home. 2. Hell.” I’m really not sure how to interpret that last definition. Too much time with the in-laws?) Your laojia is not simply where you grew up. It’s where your grandparents grew up, or even older generations: it is the geographical home of your family. It’s possible that this idea of “hometown” worked its way into the Chinese idea of nation, and into the modern meaning of “homeland” (zuguo).

If local ideas such as laojia did find their way into Chinese nationalism, that might change the scope of the debate somewhat. I do think that, when discussing Chinese nationalism, historians sometimes put too much emphasis on ideas of nation that, more or less, originated in Europe, and it might be worthwhile to spend more time thinking about concepts of community that survived past the dynasties. Only one thing is certain: as a stimulant of lively conversation, those unbelievably irritating TV screens on the backs of passenger seats just might have some use after all.