Tall Tales of Patriotic Glory

A former Chinese premier's aide calls China's land grabs and forced evictions a form of 'territorial dispute.'
By Bao Tong
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Bao Tong during an interview at his home in Beijing, April 27, 2009.
Bao Tong during an interview at his home in Beijing, April 27, 2009.

Lawsuits, legal arguments. Well-reasoned points and common sense. If a situation is going to evolve, it needs to be expressed precisely in terms of time. To cover the whole thing with the phrase "since ancient times" is very convenient, but it's not going to convince people.

For example, "since ancient times" we have had emperors. The Eastern Barbarians, the Western Nomads, the Southern Barbarians, the Northern Tribes were all unfortunate because they didn't have emperors. It is said that this is why they were our vassals.

They were the subjects, the followers, who had titles conferred on them by the Son of Heaven.

Their duties and responsibilities were to pay annual tribute and to send a delegation to the emperor every year. Their tribute could consist of some locally produced goods, of some grass for thatching, but they were motivated by the true feelings of a subject, and by the pride of their rulers.

So what does this kind of "since ancient times" actually tell us?

Since ancient times, there have been a number of small islands to our east. During the Sui Dynasty, there was a country there called Liuqiu (Ryukyu).

The 1983 Source of Words official dictionary published in Beijing, on page 3060 of Vol. 3, gives the following definition: "Liuqiu. Name of an ancient country. Also refers to the modern Ryukyu chain of islands to the northeast of Taiwan, China. They became Okinawa Prefecture of Japan in the fifth year of the reign of the Qing Emperor Guangxu, in 1879, after the defeat of their king."

According to this, this happened in 1879, 16 years before the Treaty of Shimonoseki (1895). There is a historical basis for every word of this definition.

The editors are well known, and the historical documents they base it on are in the Tales of the Eastern Barbarians in the History of the Sui Dynasty, the Records of the Ryukyu in the History of the Ming Dynasty, and the Four Barbarian Peoples of the historical documents of the Qing Dynasty.

But recently, there has been a new breakthrough and a discovery that has meant that the description "ancient country" has been rewritten as "a country with many dealings with our own." The new conclusion reads as follows: "In the Ryukyu island chain, there is a special island whose seas harbor unseen natural resources."

"And this small island has been China's territory since ancient times. Through patriotic education, it has become the object of patriotic love, part of our sacred territory which must be revered by our citizens. It has even found its way into the territories that we have had 'since ancient times'"!

Does this remind anyone of the large tract of land that was delineated as Chinese territory in the Treaty of Nerchinsk, signed between China and Russia in 1689?  Why, by the 20th and 21st centuries, silently, and without anyone knowing quite how, did this become the territory of another country [Russia]?

This was a very complex legal case, and to this day I don't know if there are any elite personages left alive who can explain it clearly.

But a lot of people say—Mao Zedong used to say this-—that there weren't any countries in ancient times. Of course there was no China. From this we can see that the phrase "since ancient times" is rather thought-provoking. Back then, back in ancient times, there were no governments, no armies, and no Party.

There were no politics and legal affairs committees, no "main theme tune."

In ancient times, there were no crippling projects like the Three Gorges dam, or the south-north water diversion project.

There may have been a few disputes that broke out from time to time over where people were going to graze their sheep and cattle, but there was no such thing as the mass land-grabs and other impressive feats that have been carried out in the national interest.

Forgive my ravings, but aren't land grabs and forced evictions and demolitions a form of "territorial dispute"? The differences are that the territorial disputes are resolved through diplomacy, while there is no mediation process for the land grabs and forced evictions.

Also, the area of land appropriated through these land grabs and forced evictions in recent years has exceeded the territory of the Diaoyu islands tens of millions of times over.

Their real-life impact on ordinary people has exceeded the impact of the Diaoyu islands dispute by far more than that.

Patriotism can have any number of different implications. What is the gulf that separates "bringing glory to the nation" and "bringing glory to the province," or "bringing glory to me" from "bringing glory to others"?

And I don't even know how tiny is the tenuous connection between "bringing glory to the country" and "bringing glory to the Party."

Patriotism is better than fire. In the 1930s, Hitler's National Socialism was similar to the militaristic imperialism of Japan. Both were founded on patriotism. From the point of view of we Chinese, this is an extremely disturbing thought.

From the calamity that Mao Zedong unleashed on us in the 1960s, we have the phrase "I love you, my country. But ... do you love me?"

"Patriotism" and "since ancient times" are works of art that never lose their beauty. Like fairy tales and nursery rhymes, sometimes a rhapsody, sometimes an aria, they are destined to become eternal tall tales, like the Water Margin and the Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.

Bao Tong, political dissident and aide to former Chinese premier Zhao Ziyang, is currently under house arrest at his home in Beijing.





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