Masters of History

The commenters at InMediaHK are having a good time with a couple of articles by Li Yi (李怡) published in Apple Daily (History and Reality and The Second Coming of the Boxer Rebels).  The author was a long-time ultra-leftist radical who has perhaps seen some light of day now, and he could certain speak knowledgeably about the system.  Whether you (or anyone else) would agree with his extremely provocative position is another story.  What is for certain that people are worked up!  I remind you that this is Hong Kong, and people can say anything that comes to their minds.  Whether this freedom is purposeful or productive is another matter.

[History and Reality, in translation]... The British writer George Orwell has a famous saying: Whoever controls the past controls the future; whoever controls the present, controls the past.  Therefore, history is controlled by whoever controls the present for the purpose of controlling the future.  The Chinese authorities want to control the interpretation of the June 4 incident for the purpose of controlling the present and the future. ... Similarly, Japan revises its history textbook because it wants to rid itself of the constraints of the post-war "anti-war constitution" so that it becomes a free country with unrestrained sovereignty, including a permanent seat at the UN Security Council. ...

Once you understand this point, you will know what is 'history.'  Someone once said: apart from the date and the names of the people, everything else in history is false.  What a brilliant observation!  Since history is interpreted by those who control the present based upon the interests of today, there is no such thing as truth.  This author has observed Chinese history for decades, from childhood during the War of Resistance.  I have even seen events that I personally experienced being distorted, and I am therefore appreciate the above saying very much.


All this talk about the problem or history or the integrity of sovereignty is just nonsense to stir up popular opinion, because the true objectives are strategic interests and political reality!

Okay, here are some comments:

Rubbish!  Even if the Chinese Communists tell lies all the time, what is wrong about wanting to protect the integrity of China?  What kind of logic is it to say that as long as the June 4 incident is not vindicated, then the Chinese must permit the Japanese to occupy our territory and steal our resources?  To exaggerate somewhat, if China and Japan should go to war tomorrow while the Chinese Communists have not yet apologized about June 4, are we supposed to turn our guns around to help the Japanese ghouls?  Stupid!

June 4 must be vindicated.  China must become democratic.  But our national interests must not be damaged.  If the Chinese Communists let the Japanese get away with this one, it is one more crime committed by them and should be condemned by everyone.

Here is an allegory:

Once upon a time, two brothers fought fiercely at their home, and one expelled the other to a small house of the family. During the fight, an evil neighbor came to their house to steal property and rape their sisters.

After the fight, the evil neighbor was not brought to justice for some reason, i.e. neither sent to jail nor fined. But both brothers claimed credit for protecting the juniors from the evil neighbor, even though both were not honest about telling the whole truth.  Ha!  The evil neighbor said, "As you guys are not telling the truth, I am not obliged to tell the truth to my children either."

As the descendants of that family, what should we do?  Should we forget the fact that our aunts were raped and our property stolen, and forgive the evil neighbor just because our elders  don't tell us the truth?

唔係下化? [translation: This can't be the case?]

Rejoinder from another commenter:

The moment that people begin talking about fighting the Japanese ghouls, they can't even remember the names of their own fathers, much less June 4.  What is easier than telling the Japanese not to forget history in order to make our own people forget about June 4?

The above story was wrong.  It was not the case that the brothers were busy fighting each other and the evil neighbor broke in to rape their sisters.  The truth was that their father just raped his own daughter last week.  The daughter refuses to forget and wants her dad prosecuted.  But the horrible father said, "Last week's events will have to await for history to render a proper verdict.  Besides, our family must look ahead.  Ten years ago, we were robbed by our evil neighbor and your mother was raped.  If you get me prosecuted, you will allow the evil neighbor to get away.  We must unite as a family and seek revenge against the neighbor and tell him not to forget history."

Actually, the guy next door raped his own daughter first ten years ago, before coming over to rape and plunder this family ...

And now from the second article of Li Yi:

[The Second Coming of the Boxer Rebels, in translation] ...

Any country can claim that a popular demonstration was the result of a 'spontaneous' popular action, except for China.  Under the dictatorship of "One Party", a march of several tens of thousands of people will be banned unless there is official "encouragement."

Any country can use a popular demonstration to indicate "popular opinion" to support its foreign policy in terms of acceptability, except for China.  There is no such thing as "popular opinion" in China, there is no independent opinion and there are no representatives of popular opinion who are elected as a result of direct elections.  There are not even any independent public opinion survey organizations.  Besides, the mainland media have declined to mention these large demonstrations and acted as if they never occurred.


When Japan revised its history textbooks to distort the historical facts, Korea can protest, Taiwan can protest, Hong Kong can protest, and the Southeast Asian countries can protest, but the Chinese government is not entitled to protest.  In terms of distorting history, revising history and refusing to face up it, no one else does it better than the Chinese authorities.  In the Anti-Rightist Campaign, the Cultural Revolution, the Lin Biao affair, the June 4 Tiananmen Square incident and the assessments of Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang, when has the Chinese government ever respected history?  When did it not distort history?  Does a government that distorts history to affirm its own legitimacy have the right to demand other countries to respect history?


During my childhood, I experienced the War of Resistance Against Japan.  Thirty plus years ago, I passionately supported the Diaoyutai movement in North America.  My experiences over the past few decades tells me that a person cannot improve his health unless he enhances his physical resistance against invading viruses.  This is the same for a country.  A country that exercises totalitarian control is just a reproduction of the Boxer rebellion with all the howls about nationalism.

Here is one interesting comment.

When people talk about Communist Party, they think of it as a totalitarian country, and they are forgetting about the most important nature of the Communist part.  The fact is that the specialty of the Communists is to organize mass movements.  On the subject of organizing mass movements, the people of Hong Kong can only be said to be totally clueless.  Only the people of Li Yi's generation can be said to have some sense.  Look at the last two July 1 marches in Hong Kong.  The people have absolutely nothing to show for it afterwards (得個吉).

To characterize a demonstration as being not spontaneous because the government used buses to move people around is a superficial view.  According to the Communist Party's own terminology, it is narrow leftist "empiricism" to counterpose "spontaneous" against "not spontaneous."  No one who has ever been involved in organizing mass movements will speak in those terms.

Many Hong Kong people still indulge in wishful thinking.  The June 4 incident occurred many years ago, but they still have not reflected on it enough.  Which stage of the 1989 democratic movement was spontaneous?  Which stage was not managed as a result of power struggles within the Chinese Communists?  If the Hong Kong people don't analyze this carefully before making their assessment, then they are just playing with themselves.  If the Zhao faction did not have some use for the student movement at that time, it would have been over early already!

You people can go back to read history from the Anti-Rightist Campaign through the Cultural Revolution.  Which of these movements rose spontaneously from the civic sector?  And how did they all end?

You people take a simplified view of China, distinguishing clearly between the civic sector and the government.  I recommend that you watch a little less television, and go back to China to get a little more "education" about what is really happening inside the country.

On this particular matter, everybody thought that people were getting emotional over this matter.  Have you thought about why there are thousands of other things that make people emotional and unhappy, but none of those other things ever turned into mass movements?  What makes this anti-Japanese thing so special?  If you don't understand that "people's attitudes can be manipulated", then I don't know what to say to you.

Here is a compact response:

I don't deny that the people can be used by the Chinese Communists.  So what?  We are being used for the purpose of protecting the national interests.  We are not being used to attack someone's political enemies.

And then comes the instant rebuttal case:

Every politician knows how to position his/her own personal interests as the national interests.  Knocking down one's political enemies is always in the national interest.  During the Mao era, political interests were identical to national interests.  It was called the struggle over the political line of thought.  So maybe they don't use that term nowadays, but it is still the same thing.  The Chinese Communists have many problems today.  Certainly knowledgeable people and scholars have debated about whether China should use liberalism or nationalism to solve the many problems of China and resolve the political legitimacy of the Chinese Communist, but these are all just arguments over the correct political line.

And some more expansion:

It is problematic for Hong Kong people to use their familiar ideas to think about politics.  For example, the "spontaneous" versus "non-spontaneous" dichotomy is a very mechanical idea.  It is hard to tell which mass movement does not have elements of spontaneity, or was not incited, or was not organized.

To regard spontaneity as the sole standard of goodness is also a very narrow angle.  Someone like the Communists who are experienced in mass movements would not look at things in this simple manner ...

If you decide to use spontaneity as the standard to judge an event, you may forget to discuss the merits of the event itself.  Would anti-Japanese sentiments be acceptable if the movement were spontaneous?  Might you ignore what the people are actually thinking (hypothetical example: let's use atomic bombs to annihilate Japan)?

In Hong Kong, the problem with the July 1st marches is the adoration of the spontaneity.  Because there was no organization, it rapidly lost any direction.

But if you realize how complex the world it, you might be able to look at it properly and ask, "Where does the force that is directing the movement want the masses to move towards?"  You can also discuss the advantages and disadvantages.  So we need to look at this anti-Japanese movement and think about what are the games being played by the various forces behind the crowds.

Concerning "spontaneous organization without the participation of the Chinese Communists", I think it depends on what you mean by the term 'Chinese Communists.'  The Chinese Communists Politburo may not be the black hand behind the curtain, but which part of Chinese society is free from the Communists?  There are tens of millions of CCP members; there are numerous factions with the party; there are numerous front organizations in the form of civic, official and semi-official bodies.  It shows ignorance to consider the Chinese Communists as a block of steel and ask whether that block is present in the movement or not.  During the 1989 democracy movement, people in Hong Kong thought that it was spontaneously organized by students, but it turned out later that there were numerous ties and connections with various political powers.

In the end, there was this question:

Would anybody try to forward the discussion related to the articles pasted here to the columnists for comment?

I don't know about those columnists, but this blog is at least presenting some of the discussion to the English-reading world about an interesting happening.  Yes, this is Hong Kong and not China.  But it is also more nuanced than the simplistic presentations in the western media.