China's Great Humiliation
Writing in 'Wall Street Journal' and saying China needs “a new national story”, Orville Schlee and John Delury basically claim China has for too long been hobbled and fettered, ideologically, by its modern history of humiliation. This was due to the so-called unequal treaties it was forced to sign with what for Chinese, were the Western Barbarians. These unequal treaties started with the British in 1842.
“Every July, amid festivities and fireworks, the U.S. and France mark their birth as nations”. They claim that in both cases this started with triumph: “Accustomed as we are in the West to histories that begin with triumph—the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the storming of the Bastille—it may seem strange that China, the fast-rising dynamo of the East, marks the beginning of its journey to modern nationhood in a very different way: with the shock of unexpected defeat and the loss of national greatness”.
When or if China experiences a massive financial and economic crisis comparable to that of 2008 in the US, France, other European countries, Japan, and other developed countries this may be as humilating for China as its 1842 defeat by the British in the First Opium War. It will be humiliating in the same way, but possibly not as intensely, as the deep humiliation suffered by the populations of the PIIGS countries, doomed to years (even a decade) of austerity, their youth forced to emigrate.
For Chinese, national mythology makes The Temple of the Tranquil Seas, in Nanjing, the place where Chinese forces signed a humiliating surrender deal with British forces, a “curious porthole into the bitter past of foreign incursion and exploitation”. Today, countries like Cyprus must sign with the Troika, for last-minute bailouts under humiliating conditions. Across the OECD countries and with very few exceptions, the tens of millions of additional unemployeds since 2008 must accept the humiliation of long-term joblessness.
As it is, this July 14, many French towns and smaller cities have quietly shelved their traditional fireworks shows. Even when produced and sold by China, as most are, they are too expensive.