Expansionism no balm for a century of humiliation

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Highlights

The fourth-largest empire in the world at its time, the Qing dynasty lasted for almost three centuries commencing 1634. It was not only the largest but also the last dynasty in Imperial Chinese history.

The fourth-largest empire in the world at its time, the Qing dynasty lasted for almost three centuries commencing 1634. It was not only the largest but also the last dynasty in Imperial Chinese history.

Its true downfall began in 1839 when it lost to the British in the First Opium War. Soon, the French, Russians, Japanese and Germans nibbled away various parts of China. The final nail in the coffin of humiliation came about with the Eight-Nation Alliance comprising Germany, Russia, Britain, France, Austria-Hungary, the United States, and Italy quelling the Boxer Rebellion 1900.

The Chinese Communist Party or CCP has been propagating the theory that the period 1839 to 1949 was a Century of Humiliation. The CCP also wants the world to believe that it was CCP alone that brought an end to this subjugation in 1949 completely deleting any references to the giant contributions made by Sun Yat-Sen or Chiang Kai-Shek or the Kuomintang in the first half of the 1900s.

Since 1949, the CCP has gone all out to publicise the injustices meted to the Chinese during the Century of Humiliation. The CCP itself was founded in 1921. An accurate reading of history would reveal China does not have the exclusive tag to the harshness of colonial history.

Most poor countries of the 18th to 20th Century experienced similar or worse conditions by the colonial powers. Whether it was South America, Asia or Africa, colonies were exploited and humiliated in their lands. While today there are no colonies, many are still recovering from the effects of that exploitation. The British were the largest colonisers and today have a Commonwealth of Nations in its attempt to heal injuries it inflicted.

The French too have been following the healing approach with former colonies. It is but natural that any country which experienced such torrid times would want to be an ambassador against colonisation; championing the cause of mutual trust and dignity. Modern ex-colonies such as Vietnam, Brazil, India, Indonesia, China, South Africa, and many more would perhaps be expected to lead such a cause.

A peek into the giants of CCP since 1949 and their attitudes would enable us to understand the present and the future that CCP has to offer the world. Mao Zedong, the CCP founder, strongman and first Chairman famously quipped, "Political power grows out of the barrel of the gun".

And Mao was himself the architect of one of the ugliest genocides perpetrated anywhere in the world. His 'Great Leap Forward' followed shortly by the 'Cultural Revolution' resulted in an estimated 70 million deaths -- all Chinese. The figure is comparable to the death toll all over the world due to World War II. For many Chinese, it appeared Mao was aiming at 100 million deaths to compete with the Century of Humiliation.

After Mao's death, under Deng Xiaoping, China saw an economic boom during this period, shedding its Communist ideologies and moving more towards a free-market Capitalist approach. If there was one blot on Deng, it was the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. The 1990s witnessed Jiang Zemin lying low and biding China's time. Hong Kong too changed flags from a British Protectorate to a Chinese Special Administrative Region during the period. In the 2000s, Hu Jintao executed military modernisation with his concept of scientific harmonisation (kexue fazhanguan).

The period also saw world powers attempting to reconcile with China and the Tiananmen Square incident no longer affects the present. Finally, the world was hoping that China would be a proponent of Human Rights along with development.

The world was in for a rude shock. After assuming full control of China, Xi Jinping not only emphasised the need to return to Mao's principles by ordering mass re-prints of his famous 'Little Red Book' (that contained a realist Mao's policies of the world within and outside China) but has also stressed the eventual realisation of the great Chinese Dream. It dwells more on the nationalist need to reclaim their rightful place in history.

If Mao was responsible for over 70 million deaths, Xi has started in earnest by subjecting inhuman unspeakable atrocities against the Uyghurs. From mass internment, organ harvesting, forced religious conversions, forced marriages, et al – indeed Xi has arrived.

The CCP is diligently gobbling up small countries through its debt-trap diplomacy. In its elaborate plan, it is not just debts that are employed. Taking over of local telecommunications, transport and perhaps most importantly control of the media have become the standard tools to colonise the host countries.

From Papua New Guinea to Vanuatu; from Kenya, Nigeria, Zambia, Djibouti, Egypt, Democratic Republic of Congo to South Africa; from Ecuador, Venezuela to Argentina; from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Mongolia, Laos, Maldives, Cambodia, Malaysia, Philippines, Tajikistan to Indonesia; from Montenegro to Ukraine and counting, CCP it seems is giving the 21st Century a lesson in neo-colonialism.

It is time someone reminded the CCP that having endured the miseries of colonialism, one would expect a 21st Century China to heal itself and other past colonies, with a humane approach; instead of turning into the Marshal of the very same devouring behaviour and mete out the exact treatment to lesser privileged.

Humiliating one's population and subjecting others to neo-colonialism is no balm to heal the century of humiliation is perhaps the most important lesson that the CCP needs to draw as it commemorates its centenary.

(N C Bipindra is Chairman, Law and Society Alliance)

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