History Textbooks in China
The following is a translation of an article that appeared in the Freezing Point (Bingdian) weekly supplement of China Youth Daily. It was announced yesterday that the supplement had been discontinued and the article below is a precipitating factor.
Famous weekly supplement under China Youth Daily shut down. Interfax. January 25, 2006.
'Freezing Point,' a weekly supplement to China Youth Daily, was closed due to publication of "some sensitive reports," a senior official at the weekly, who wished to remain anonymous, told Interfax. The weekly is well known in China for stories that focus on normal people's thoughts and society in contemporary China.
"Yes, we are closed due to a report by Mr. Yuan Weishi. But that's just an excuse," said the official. According to the official, the decision to stop the weekly was made by a department "even more senior than the Publicity Department of the Central Committee of the China Communist Party." The Publicity Department was formerly the Propaganda Bureau, and is responsible for supervision of all news and publication activities in China.
'Freezing Point' re-published an article written by Yuan Weishi, a professor in Guangzhou's Sun Yat-sen (Zhongshan) University, in mid-January. Yuan said in the article that the Chinese side should bear some responsibility in the triggering of many issues in Chinese history, even actions such as the burning of the Old Summer Palace by British and French armies in the late Qing Dynasty, during the boxer rebellion. Yuan wrote the article in the name of "telling true history to the youth".
"Only if we could say what we did is wrong, the weekly may be resumed. But we will never say that, so the shut down has no end point," said the official.
Beijing muzzles popular media critics. By Mary-Ann Toy, The Age, January 26, 2006.
The Chinese Government has suspended one of the country's most popular and outspoken newspaper sections, accusing its editors of "viciously attacking the socialist system". Authorities have ordered Freezing Point, a weekly feature section of the state-run China Youth Daily that frequently challenges the party line, to stop publication until it is "rectified and fully recognises and corrects its mistakes".
Party officials issued a five-page document on Monday accusing the section of "viciously attacking the socialist system" and condemning a recent article that criticised the history textbooks used in secondary schools. The section was suspended on Tuesday and yesterday's issue of China Youth Daily appeared without Freezing Point.
The section's chief editor, veteran journalist Li Datong, yesterday confirmed the suspension and said the closure was illegal. "Criticism against our weekly has never ceased. But this is not a small newspaper and we have a very good reputation (among readers)," he said. "What they (the authorities) have done has no basis in the constitution or law and is against the party constitution as well. We will find a proper way to fight." Another journalist at the paper said she did not expect Freezing Point to be published again, because the reporters did not accept that they had made any mistakes. Journalists would also be fined, she said.
China shuts down newspaper supplement. By Audra Ang, Associated Press vis Canoe.ca, January 25, 2006.
Employees said Wednesday that China has shut down a newspaper supplement known for its in-depth reporting on sensitive issues, the latest measure by the communist government to tighten control over the media. Production of Bing Dian, a four-page weekly supplement of the state-run China Youth Daily, was halted until further notice late Tuesday, the eve before its latest issue was to appear, the employees said. Chief editor Li Datong said he was called into a meeting at 8 p.m. and notified of the shutdown without being given a reason. Im very angry, said Li, the supplements founder. Well be going through regular channels to appeal.
Staff at Bing Dian which means Freezing Point expressed bewilderment with the closure. Its so unfair, said a woman in the Bing Dian office who declined to give her name because of the sensitivity of the situation. Its hard to tell how long this will last but we were told it can be resumed after improvements. Employees said officials did not say what would happen to Bing Dians staff of five editors and eight reporters.
Leading Publication Shut Down In China by Philip P. Pan, Washington Post, January 25, 2006.
Party officials summoned the senior editors of the China Youth Daily and ordered Freezing Point closed a day after distributing a five-page document that accused the section of "viciously attacking the socialist system" and condemned a recent article in it that criticized the history textbooks used in Chinese middle schools.
Propaganda authorities issued an order barring all media from reporting the suspension, all reporters from participating in any news conference about it and all Web sites from carrying any discussion about it, journalists said.
The chief editor of Freezing Point, Li Datong, confirmed the suspension in a message on his blog before censors deleted the page. "My colleagues and I just finished the full-page proof of tomorrow's Freezing Point, but it looks like it can't come out," he wrote. "Freezing Point tenaciously survived for 11 years, and it has finally died."
Reached by telephone, Li said that it was inconvenient to discuss what happened in detail but that he planned to write an essay to fight the decision. He said propaganda officials issued a notice criticizing him and the newspaper's editor in chief by name and ordering the section closed until it is "rectified and fully recognizes and corrects its mistakes."
Li, a party member and veteran journalist, stunned the propaganda authorities last summer with a lengthy letter attacking a plan to award bonuses to reporters at the newspaper who had won praise from government officials while deducting pay from reporters whose articles were criticized by officials. After the letter was leaked, the newspaper scrapped the bonus plan.
Though some publications ordered to undergo "rectification" by the party resume operations within weeks, others never publish again. Li said he planned to meet with his colleagues before deciding how to proceed, but he indicated that he did not believe Freezing Point had erred in publishing the article about the history textbooks.
The piece, written by Yuan Weishi, a reform-minded scholar at Zhongshan University in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, criticized Chinese textbooks for teaching an incomplete history of China's last imperial dynasty, the Qing, that fosters blind nationalism and closed-minded anti-foreign sentiment.
For example, he challenged the textbooks for portraying the 1900 Boxer Rebellion as a "magnificent feat of patriotism" without describing the violence committed by the rebels or their extreme anti-foreign views. He also criticized the books for blaming the Opium Wars of the mid-1800s entirely on foreign nations, without mentioning the Qing government's record of violating treaties by refusing foreign merchants access to Chinese cities.
The piece was the latest in a long series of articles in Freezing Point that carefully pushed the limits of permissible journalism in China. In November, the section published an essay describing the "White Terror" of authoritarian rule in Taiwan during the 1950s and democratic Taiwan's efforts to cope with that history of political repression. The contrast with events in mainland China was obvious but unstated. [Note: The article mentioned here is A Chairman Bowed Formally Three Times]
China Shuts Down Influential Weekly Newspaper in Crackdown on Media. By Joseph Kahn, New York Times, January 25, 2006.
Bing Dian, or Freezing Point, published as a supplement to the influential newspaper China Youth Daily, was one of the few major news outlets that routinely printed in-depth investigative stories and broached delicate topics. The order to cease publication is effective immediately, the paper's longtime editor, Li Datong, said in a telephone interview. "This is an intolerable step that has absolutely no basis in law and is in fact completely illegal," he said. It cannot be appealed, he said.
The authorities cited the publication of a lengthy study of Chinese middle-school textbooks as a reason for the order, Mr. Li said. The Jan. 11 article discussed what the author, Yuan Weishi, a Zhongshan University professor, referred to as official distortions of history to emphasize the humiliations China suffered at the hands of imperial powers. He criticized the textbooks' treatment of events like the Boxer Rebellion and the burning of the Summer Palace by British and French troops in 1860, which he said were partly the result of mistakes by then-flailing Qing Dynasty leaders. "We are at a critical moment in our modernization and the key to the success of our development is understanding our system and mental model," he wrote. "I was shocked to see that few things had changed since the Cultural Revolution."
Mr. Li said the article, though provocative, was just an excuse for closing the paper. In August, a letter by Mr. Li led to a revolt at the China Youth Daily group after the paper's new party-appointed editor, Li Erliang, sought to impose a review system that graded the staff on factors including the reaction their work elicited from party leaders. The letter, which was posted on the Web, and the backlash resulted in the modification of the review system. [Note: The letter mentioned here is The Letter of Li Datong]
(SCMP) Editor of axed weekly 'planning legal appeal'. By Vivian Wu. January 26, 2006.
Mr Li spent a sleepless night at his Beijing home on Tuesday after the Central Propaganda Department officially issued a notice informing of him of the section's closure. He still had his job yesterday.
The notice specifically criticised Mr Li and several other senior China Youth Daily editors for running a number of articles that had irritated authorities. "For a certain period of time, a number of the articles incompatible with the mainstream ideology have been continuously published on your section and have had very bad effects," the notice said. "The weekly should be suspended until it is rectified and fully recognises and corrects its mistakes."
China Youth Daily management had planned to announce Bingdian's closure in a general meeting at the newspaper yesterday afternoon, but fears that Mr Li would make a public statement prompted management to release the details in several smaller-scale, closed-door gatherings.
Mi Li retained his official title and was at work yesterday alongside his colleagues at the China Youth Daily, the media arm of the China Youth League where President Hu Jintao held sway as chairman for five years from 1982. It is understood that Mr Li will have to take pay cut and will not receive a Lunar New Year bonus. It was not certain yesterday how long Mr Li and his reporting team would remain at the newspaper, but it is clear that Bingdian Weekly will not be resurrected.
(Li Datong's blog) January 17, 2006.
What is going on? Does something go wrong with an issue of Freezing Point?
On January 11, the Freezing Point special article published Mr. Yuan Weishi's essay: "Modernization and History Textbooks." Mr. Yuan used solid historical material to criticize the history textbooks used in junior middle school. The essay was sent to the editor-in-chief for review, and he did not agree with its publication for the reason is that textbooks represent national activities that cannot be criticized. I disagree with this reason. So we can't talk about party history, but why we can't we talk about late Qing history? Mr. Yuan's essay only offered some historical materials and conlcusions known to everyone in the history field. So why can't it be published? Of course, this subverted the sayings in the middle school next book, but the television drama <<Going Towards The Republic>> was even much more subversive and CCTV let a hundred million people watch it.
This reason seemed to have convinced the editor-in-chief, who agreed to publication with some minor deletions and editing.
Fine, but real problems emerged. First, this was a critical notice from a certain department. Later, I heard that a group of "experts" responsible for editing textbooks wrote to the central leaders to complain. The storm is brewing and we"ll wait and see. If they have the courage, they can bring this up openly and Freezing Point will provide the space. Unfortunately, these people open know how to complain secretly.
I am more interested in reader feedback. The readers at the different websites have obviously different stands. Netizens at the more intellectual websites such as Century Academy and Hexun were mostly supportive of Mr. Yuan; the Sina.com netizens were mostly scolding Mr. Yuan as a 'Chinese traitor' with the most filthy language.
The best one is when a senior citizen telephoned me. He first said that Mr. Yuan takes the "position of imperialism" and then he said: "I now know in whose hands the newspaper is controlled by." I asked, "So what kind of person do you think I am?" He hemmed and hawed and coult not say.
I laughed so hard that tears came out ...
Concerning The Handling Decision With Respect To China Youth Daily Freezing Point Weekly Wrongly Publishing <<Modernization and History Textbooks>>
On January 11, China Youth Daily Freezing Point Weekly pubilshed Zhongshan University History Department professor Yuan Weishi's essay <<Modernization and History Textbooks>>. The essay attempted to vindicate the criminal acts by the imperialist powers in invading China; it seriously distorted historical facts; it seriously contradicted news propaganda discipline; it seriously damaged the national feelings of the Chinese people; it seriously damaged the image of China Youth Daily and it created bad social influence. The related central government department has issued a serious critique.
On account of the serious error by the China Youth Daily to publish <<Modernization and History Textbooks>>, the following actions will be made:
1. A notice of criticism will be directed at China Youth Daily party deputy secretary and editor-in-chief Li Erliang and China Youth Daily Freezing Point Weekly editor Li Datong;
2. China Daily will stop publication of Freezing Point for the purpose of re-organization, and impose appropriate economic sanction(s) against the responsible person(s). Freezing Point Weekly will stop publication for re-organization as of January 25, 2006.
We hope that China Youth Daily has learned deeply from this incident and seriously carry out the re-organization of Freezing Point Weekly. They have to correct the publication thinking behind Freezing Point Weekly; increase awareness of political ideology, awareness of the larger picture and sense of responsiblity; rigorously follow the news propaganda discipline; insist on the correct direction of opinion. After the related reorganization work is completed and the errors are corrected, Freezing Point may re-publish again.
China Youth League Central Propaganda Department
January 24, 2006
Modernization and History Textbooks. By Yuan Weishi (Zhongshan University professor)
[in translation; see Chinese original]
In the 21st century, the Chinese people are facing the inexorable globalization trend. At the same time, the modernization of China has reached a key moment. In this age, the system will be the most important factor that determines the success of the development of the nation and its people, and the states of mind of the citizens are also important for their personal development as well that of the nation and society as a whole.
In the late 1970's, after going through the three disasters known as the Anti-Rightist Campaign, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, people have found out bitterly that the root of these disaster includes: "We grew up drinking the wolf's milk." More than twenty years have elapsed. I happened to have glanced through the middle-school history textbooks recently, and I was stunned to find: our youth are continuing to drink the wolf's milk!
The Chinese people have familiar sayings such as "Use history as example" and "If you remember the past, you will have a guide for the future." The modern history of China contains so much in humiliations, setbacks and war experiences one after another, and it should be an educational experience! We have the duty to tell the true history to our youth so that they will never forget. This is the required path to turn them into modern citizens. If these innocent children swallow fake pills, then they will live with prejudices for their own lives and go down the wrong path.
This is the moment when we have to examine the problem about our history textbooks. We start with the discussion of a few concrete historical incidents.
Was the burning of the Yuanming Garden unavoidable?
The burning of the Yuanming Garden was an unforgivable crime committed by the British and French invasion forces. How did things reach this point? More than 140 years have passed, and we should calmly consider the rights and wrongs of both sides to draw lessons, so that the people of different nations can live together in peace. This incident was one of the horrific outcomes of the Second Opium War. The Third Volume of Chinese History edited by the People's Educational Publishers is commonly used as the textbook in the first year of middle school in the nine-year free education system. This is how this war was narrated.
1. The causes of the war.
This textbook said: "In March 1856, the French Catholic priest Auguste Chapdelaine sneaked into the Xilin district of Guangxi to cause mischief and was put to death by the local officials. This was the so-called 'Chapdelaine incident.' Later on, France used that as an excuse to initiate a war of aggression along with England. In October of the same year, the Guangzhou navy arrested the pirates and sailors on the Chinese commercial ship The Arrow. The English consul interfered by claiming that the Arrow was an English ship and demanding that China release all the arrestees while apologizing and compensating the English. The governor of Guangdong/Guangxi Ye Mingchen did not want to magnify the matter, so he released the arrested sailors but he refused to apologize. This was the so-called 'Arrow incident.' In October 1856, the English initiated the war by bombarding Guangzhou. Thus began the Second Opium War."
The description of the Arrow incident was basically consistent with the historical facts. As for the killing of the French Catholic priest August Chapdelaine, this is still a confusing mess. Chapdelaine was executed on February 29, 1856 by the Guangxi Xilin district substitute mayor Zhang Fengming. When the French consul inquired, Zhang Fengming insisted that no such thing had happened. This caused the Guangxi inspector general and the Guangdong/Guangxi governor to believe it to be true up until early 1858, and that was how they replied to the French consul as well as the central government.
According to the Treaty of Huangpo established between China and France in October 1844, French people were allowed to be active only within the "designated territories" in the five ports agreed upon by both parties. "Any French citizen found to violate this rule, or cross the boundaries, or enter the interior, will be arrested by Chinese officials and sent to the nearest French consulate; the Chinese officials must not assault, injure or mistreat any arrested French persons so as not to damage the amity between the two nations."
Chapdelaine began to preach in Guangxi in 1842. After the Treaty of Huangpo was signed, he refused to leave. This was a wrongful act under the Treaty. But it was wrong for the Xilin official to execute him, for this was against the Treaty obligation to send the arrested Frenchman to the consulate. Today, people have still not figured out what Chapdelaine did to deserve being put to death. According to the normal legalistic viewpoint of justice, the Chinese side was no doubt in the wrong. The textbook is therefore inaccurate in the characterization of this incident.
It should also be pointed out that the textbook failed to mention the two basic root causes of this war. First, the English government asked the Qing government to faithfully follow the requirements of the Treaty of Jiangning, in which an important clause was that the English officials and merchants be allowed to enter and leave Guangzhou city freely. Letting the foreigners enter the city seems to be a trivial matter today. At the time, there were similar disputes in the other four open ports as well, but those tussles were resolved without crises. In Guangzhou, it was a total mess that shook the entire government and set the first example of refusing access to the foreigners. This matter went on for more than ten years without resolution, until it had to be settled in the battlefield.
Secondly, according to the Treaty of Wangsha: "All trade and customs matters may be modified according to circumstances. The two nations should negotiate fairly in 12 years' time." The Treaty of Huangpo also said: "If there are articles that require modification ... they should wait until 12 years before negotiating with China again." Modifying commercial clauses should be a simple diplomatic matter, but the Qing government delayed again and again and increased the contradictions between the two sides.
As for the reason why the war was started, knowledgeable people at the time have thought about why. According to insider Shi Fucheng who said in sorrow: "The English originally wanted to enter the city to meet the officials in order to increase communication. But the people of Guangzhou provoked them again and again and Ye Mingchen made mistake after mistake and gave away the city ... since the English knew that China was hapless, they joined with the French, Russian and American gun boats to sail up north into Dagu to block Chinese marine commerce and forced a treaty. The people of Guangzhou had been irate at the previous negotiation and was therefore determined to bar the foreigners from entering and rejected every request over twenty years. The loss of Dagu and the Treaty of Tianjin were the results. Looking at it today, it was pointless." In the late Qing era, Zeng Guofan, Li Hongchang, Feng Guifen, Guo Songdao and others kept reminding each other "do not let the small things create huge trouble" and that included the lesson learned by the argument over letting the foreigners enter Guangzhou.
In another part of the People's Republic of China, the history textbooks for middle-school in Hong Kong are much better edited than those in the mainland. They summarized the cause of the war in four points: 1. The issue of foreigners entering the city; 2. the problem about extending the treaty; 3. The Arrow incident; 4. the Father Chapdelaine affair. This presentation matches the historical reality and does not damage national interests. It also helps the younger generation to calmly analyze the historical problem. It shows that the editors were qualified historians. The puzzle is: Why couldn't the mainland colleagues learn to do the same?
2. The course of the war.
In 1858, Dagu was seized. The English and French invaders were outside the gates of Tianjin. The English, French, Russians and Americans forced the Qing government to sign the Treaty of Tianjin. Although many rights were conceded, the problem was solved. The two sides agreed to exchange the letter of approval in Beijing next year in order to complete the legal procedure. Had both sides followed the agreement, the second invasion (culminating in the burning of the Yuanming Garden) by the English and French armies could have been avoided.
But nobody expected the purely procedural final step would lead to unanticipated developments that brought even greater disasters! The textbook said: "In 1959, the English and French envoys led their respective fleets north to Daguhou in order to exchange documents in Beijing. The Qing government insisted that the treaty envoys land at Beitong and proceed to Bejing through Tianjin, and they also requested the armed personnel on the warships not to disembark. The English and French envoys counted on their military power and insisted that they will land at Daguhou up the White River to get to Beijing. They took their fleet into Daguhou rudely. The Chinese batteries at Daguhou opened fire against the invaders. Four enemy ships were sunk and six were damaged. The remaining three ships hoisted white flags and fled. The people of Dagu brought food to the defenders during the battle and exhibited a high degree of patriotism." According to the pen of the editor, this was a patriotic and heroic paean in which the principal actors were the soldiers and the common people. But there are plenty of doubts upon further thought.
Based upon the results, this battle was an obvious mistake. The next year, the English and French forces invaded again and occupied Beijing, burning the Yuanming Garden during the process. The new Treaty of Peking not only stipulated that the original Treaty of Tianjin was valid, but there were additional penalties. The compensation to England and France went respectively from the original 4 and 2 million taels to 8 million taels each; the Kowloon district was conceded; French missionaries were permitted to preach freely in China and "French missionaries can rent or buy land in all the provinces and build at will." This would lay the groundwork for the continuous disputes in latter years. Would it be better for China if the battle had not taken place?
It is logical for people to follow up with the question: is it all that important which route the foreign envoys took to reach Beijing, to the point of going to battle? Was there any serious negotiations over this difference in opinion? Did the Chinese soldiers open fire on their own or upon orders? If the former is the case, that this was a serious mistake that violated military discipline, and so it cannot be a patriotic and heroic act. If the latter is the case, then what kind of order was issued?
In reviewing the historical data, this was no act of patriotism and heroism. It was a major crime committed by the ignorant Emperor Xianfeng and Lord Sengelinqin. The difference in opinion was not about the choice of which route to enter Beijing as the textbook says. Rather, they wanted the English and French envoys to take a long detour to enter Tianjin. At the time, Lord Sengelinqin's aid Guo Songdao wrote in his diary: On April 10, 1859, "Prince Yi arrived at camp ... he said that he carried special orders from the Emperor: if the foreigners come and refuse to follow the rules, you should attack them by surprise. You say that these were just armed civilians, not soldiers. You are to act properly otherwise, and delay all negotiations. Prince Yi was muddleheaded, and Lord Sen had to review it with him again and again. So the foreigners will be made to enter at Beitong and then detour around to Tianjin ... the debate went on again and again before the decision was made. The details are attached."
After the Treaty of Peking was established, Guo gave more details about the situation at the time: "The foreign disaster began with Lord Sen's attempt to attack by deception. Last year, there were more than a dozen orders from the Emperor to get them to stay outside the river to await instructions. When the foreign ships entered the inner river instead, Lord Sen did not send any messenger with instruction. Instead, the soldiers were told to remove their uniforms and acted as armed civilians to attack." Zeng Guofan told his aides: "In the ninth year of Xianfeng, the foreigners came to exchange the treaty documents. Lord Sengelinqin set up a trap and attacked them, and the nation celebrated. In the tenth year, the foreigners returned ... the capital fell and the nation mourned. I say that Lord Sen caused this defeat and he ought to kill himself in apology to the people." What they said was identical to the report by the English envoy Bruce. The English and French navy arrived on June 16 and received a notice on the morning of June 25 from governor Shi Fu. But by that time, the military action had already started. These historical material can be summarized in the following points.
1. Emperor Xianfeng decided that under certain circumstances, the soldiers can pretend to be armed civilians to launch a "surreptitious" attack on the foreign devils. At the same time, he issued more than a dozen orders that the foreigners must receive notice beforehand.
2. Lord Sengelinqin faithfully carried out the plan to launch a 'surreptitious' attack, but he gave no notice beforehand. He also resolutely rejected the advice of his aides. He was also the person who came up with the plan to ask the foreigners to land at Beitong and make the detour to Tianjin.
3. Faced with this disaster that brought national shame, the more astute officials such as Zeng Guofan, Guo Songdao, Wu Rulun (as well Li Hongchang, Feng Guifen) made severe criticisms and parables about what happened.
But the most shocking is this: In the 90's of the twentieth century, our textbooks are still singing the tune of Emperor Xianfeng and Lord Sengelinqin, with the only difference in replacing the 'armed civilians' by soldiers!
At this point, we can answer the question about whether the burning of Yuanming Garden can be avoided. Faced with the pressure from the powerful enemies, the weaker Qing empire rationally should follow the existing treaties carefully in order to avoid frontal conflicts. They needed to buy time to reform and develop themselves. But the government and gentry at that time were swayed by extreme emotions, and chose to break the treaties on minor points and thereby led to a great disaster. If the Qing government's decision-making class and the local governments were not so ignorant and stubborn, this disaster could have been averted. But the knowledge of the government officials and the dictatorial decision-making method were built up over a long history and could not be changed overnight. The fact that this was an invasion meant that the foreigners could not be a civilized force. Thus, this disaster was also unavoidable.
Was this a patriotic act or an uncivilized act?
Let us look at how the textbook's authors evaluate the Boxer rebels.
The textbook correctly disclosed that "after the United Armies of the Eight Nations entered Bejing, arson, murders and looting was committed"; "when the United Armies of the Eight Nations invaded Tianjin ... the Russians committed the shocking massacre at Hailanpao. The Russian army also forcibly took over China's Jiangdong Liushisitun and butchered the local residents." Apart from the above, everything else was error-filled.
1. The textbook did not mention anything about how the Boxers were hostile to modern civilization or they blindly rejected foreigners and all foreign civilizations through extremely ignorant ways.
The Boxers cut down telegraph lines, they destroyed schools, they demolished railroad tracks, they burned foreign merchandise, they murdered foreigners and all Chinese who had any connection of foreign culture ... any person or thing that had some foreign flavor had to be totally annihilated. Even if the Boxers made great contributions towards "supporting the Qing government and destroying the foreigners," you should not be avoiding those anti-civilization and anti-humanity mistakes. Besides, these criminal actions brought unspeakable suffering to the nation and its people! These are all facts that everybody knows, and it is a national shame that the Chinese people cannot forget. Yet our children's compulsory textbooks will not speak about it.
The textbooks also spoke about the destruction of the railroad tracks. But what did it say? "In June 1900 ... more than 2,000 invaders from the Eight Nations led by British navy commander Moore went from Dagu through Tianjin towards Beijing. The Boxers destroyed the railroad track from Tianjin to Beijing and then attacked the invading force. The invading force was surrounded near Langfang by the Boxers and suffered many casualties before retreating back to Tianjin." On this basis, the destruction of the railroad track was just an unavoidable act required to repel the invaders. But what actually happened?
On May 28, 1900, the local governor Yu Lu telegraphed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: "On the evening of May 27, we learned that the Boxer bandits have destroyed the railroad tracks from Zhuozhou to Liulihe. This morning, all railroad stations, bridges and buildings belonging to the railroad department along the 100 mile stretch from Liulihe to Changxindian have been attacked and set on fire by the Boxer bandits." At the same time, other emergency reports flooded in: "The telegraph is now down ... the line to Changxindian is down; the line from Liulihe to Zhuozhou is also cut off by the bandits and all telegraph messages are stopped." They destroyed these equipment solely because these things came from the outside, and not because there were unavoidable actions that had to taken to stop the invaders. At the same time, these activities occurred everywhere and they were not infrequent actions that took place in isolated areas That is to say, this was intentional destruction of property, and not what some historians credited as heroic measures to resist the invaders. From the timing, Moore's army was forced to retreat back to Tianjin between June 10 and June 26. Prior to this, the urgent reports from everywhere about the destruction of the railroad and telegraph lines, the burning of the train stations and the looting of property had already been coming in. The Boxers burned, killed, looted and deliberately destroyed modern civilization first, and then the United Armies of the Eight Nations came. This chronology is the historical truth and cannot be revised.
2. The textbooks did not condemn the Qing dynasty and the Boxers for killing the innocent and their barbaric and cruel crimes in burning, killing and looting.
The most representative case is what the Shanxi official Yu Xian did. On June 27, he burned down the foreign hospital in Taiyuan. He lured the foreigners in the province to stay together in one place. At the time, there were 211 women, some of whom were old but most of them between 5 to 30 years old, in the church ... on June 13, he personally led the troops to the place where the foreigners were gathered. The foreigners attempted to resist arrest, but the troops overpowered them and arrested 44 foreigners as well as 17 other Chinese converts. All were brought to the marketplace and executed"; "in Shouyang county, Qin Xingui arrested seven foreign troublemakers and brought them there for execution. That night, the Northern Gate church was set on fire by the Boxers. There are no signs of any foreign churches left in the provincial capital city." At the time, the newspapers even reported: "The westerner at Yujin heard about the troubles in the capital, and they asked official Yu Xian for protection. But he told them to gather together and then he butchered them; he was personally responsible for killing several people with his own hands."
The actions of Yu Xian was not isolated. All these obstinate regressives were the inheritors of the most retrogressive and barbaric elements of traditional culture. There were numerous examples in which these obstinate bureaucrats caused trouble. For example, the Hebei province official Dai Lan was ordered to "direct" the Boxers with Dai Xun and Gang Yi, and his cruelty was no less than Yu Xian's: "When the trouble began in the capital, Dai Lan let the Boxer bandits enter the large houses and conduct searches. If they find carpets and other stuff, the occupants were regarded as believers and executed. Not even royal relatives were spared."
Let us look at what the Boxers did. Previously, it has been pointed out that we cannot regard all those people who participated in the Boxer organization should be regarded as bandits because some of them were just blind followers. But there are quite a few bandits and hooligans there. Overall during the Boxer incident between June 24 and July 24 of 2000, 231 foreigners were killed, of which 53 were children. Most of them died at the hands of the Boxers. As for the Chinese believers who were killed, there is no known number. Most of them were killed by the Boxers, and others by the government soldiers. In Shanxi province alone, more than 5,700 Catholic followers were killed. In Liaoning province, "more than one thousand believers." "In Heibei province, killings and arson occurred in every single county. In one county alone, between 1,000 to 2,000 were killed." Even in Zhejiang province, "looting and burning of the homes of believers occurred more than 1,000 times."
"The maximum damage" occurred in Beijing, where there were many records left behind by the victims. On June 18, 1900, "the burning and destruction began in midday and the fire was still going at night ... if you don't like someone, you accuse them of being believers and you murder their entire family. The number of dead was more than 100,000. Most people died from knifes and spears, and their bodies were cut up. Even babies not more than a month old were slaughtered. There was no feeling of humanity left." "The French catholic church was located inside Xian Gate. Gang Yi supervised the soldiers to attack the church, but they could not breach the defense. The Boxers did not dare advance so they ended up shouting a lot. Then they turned around and headed towards Yongding Gate. There were about 70 rural villagers going to the market. These people were seized and accused of being from the White Lotus Sect because they carried some children toys and clothes. Under interrogation, they had nothing to confess to. So they were all executed in the marketplace. One woman was executed while still holding her child in her arms ... Yu Ding tried to appeal on their behalf by saying: 'There has to be evidence for subversion. Old men and weak women are not subversives; toys are not weapons for subversion ...' But it was too late as the sentence had been carried out already."
On June 16, "at 9am, the Boxers set fire to the Deji Pharmacy at the Dasanlan district. The fire moved on to the food stores, the lamp street, the Guanyin temple, the jewel market ... and more then 4,000 shops were burned down. The fire did not stop until daylight. The bandits forbade the fire brigade to fight the fire with water." Thus, the most prosperous and busy section of Beijing was destroyed in one day. Overall, "at its peak, there were more than four million living in Beijing. When the Boxer chaos came, the bandits came and looted the city with no one spared. The market was deserted, and even wild animals can be seen roaming in broad daylight. The formerly busy streets were like graveyards." This was one of the results of the so-called Boxer "revolution."
At first, the contradictions between the people versus the preachers and the converts drew some sympathy. But what they did later far exceeded anything to do with conflicts with outside religions. Afterwards all the way through the founding of the republic, the consensus opinion of the officials and citizens was that this organization should be properly regarded and defined as the Boxer bandits.
3. The most incomprehensible thing is that there is no mention of the fact that this calamity was brought about by the autocracy of the Empress Dowager.
When the Boxers first emerged, Yuan Shikai presented a report to the Emperor: "They deceive the people by claiming to be able to dodge and repel bullets and cannonballs. But whenever they fought against the militia, the Christians and the soldiers, many of them die by gunfire and they dissolve away quickly ... they attempt to sway people by claiming to want to destroy the foreigners. Yet between last Spring and Summer, they robbed the homes of more than 1,100 believers as well as more than 200 ordinary citizens in Caozhou and Jining. Between Autumn and Winter in Dongyang and Jinan, they robbed the homes of more then 600 believers and more than 100 ordinary citizens. There were also many cases of kidnapping for ransom. These people are no different from bandits. Believers suffered at their hands, but so do many ordinary citizens." Certain other more senior officials than Yuan Shikai (such as the Lord of the Northern Sea and the Hebei province governor Yu Lu) also offered similar opinions. But the Empress Dowager refused to listen. So the more perceptive officials can only maintain their silence, while other officials of bad character ran with the trend and looked for favors (such as Yu Lu).
So a weak country which could not even handle a "tiny little country" such as Japan six years ago wanted to simultaneously declare war against eleven nations including Japan! Sixty years after the "International Law" reached China, they wanted to send troops to attack the foreign consulates in China!
To decide between war and peace, from June 16, 1900, the Empress Dowager held a four-day conference with the senior government officials. At the conference, many officials pleaded with the Empress Dowager not to listen to the evil cultists, not to assault the consulates and not to declare war first. The Foreign Ministry officials Yuan Changhu and Xu Jingdeng wrote in a joint petition: "Since ancient history, when two nations go to war, they do not kill innocent travelers. In international law, the consul is a major official of the country. To hold the consul in contempt is to hold the country in contempt. If the orders are sent for the bandits to attack the consulates and kill their officials, the countries will regard this as a huge humiliation and they will united together to seek revenge. For one country to fight against all the other countries is not a matter of winning or losing; it is about keeping or losing the entire country as a result." But the Empress Dowager not only did not accept these obvious commonsense wisdom, but she threw a fit and had those two officials executed!
At the same time, most of the crimes such as Yu Xin killing the foreigners occurred after the order to declare war on the other nations on June 21 and the order to the local governors to kill the foreigners on June 24. Therefore, the head criminal is the Empress Dowager, and people like Yu Xin and Dai Yi were just brutal executioners.
4. The textbook is not serious about handling certain historical materials.
"The Boxers arose from Shandong and by March, the earth was red everywhere. All the children took up knives to become heroes who defend the nation." The textbook highlighted this folksong and said that this was a "Boxer folksong." But this author has never been able to find anything that supports this after reading all the existing Boxer flyers and documents. Usually, the so-called oral tales from such investigations are created by others later on, and are not trustworthy.
The textbook also said: "In Beijing's Dongdan Xibiao Hutong, there is a temple of Yu Qian. In order to learn from Yu Qian's patriotic spirit, the Boxer entered the city in April 2000 and then set up their altar there." All academic viewpoints should reject unfounded assertions. Dai Yi, Dai Lan and other Manchurian lords who brought calamity to the country and its people also had Boxer altars set up inside their homes. So what were the Boxers trying to learn from them?
In our country, apart from the aforementioned textbook published by the People's Educational Publisher, there is another set of textbooks used in the coastal regions. This is known as the coastal edition, and it contains even more factual errors in places and the notion of right versus wrong is even more muddled.
For example, it describing the Boxer incident, it added these sentences: "After mid-June, the Boxer masses began to surround the Xishiku church and the foreign consulate areas occupied by the foreign invaders. The Qing government secretly delivered food, vegetables, wine and fruits to the besieged invaders." Every single sentence is wrong!
First, we ask: Is the Xishiku church "a site occupied by the invaders"? Prior to the Boxer incident, this was just an ordinary French Catholic church. There was nothing to prove that it is "a site occupied by the invaders." During the Boxer uprising, from June 13, 1900, most of the churches and residences in Beijing were destroyed in a few days, together with several thousand civilian homes and shops. The surviving Xishiku church and the Dongjiao consulate area provided shelter for a great many foreign survivors and Chinese believers. The survivors inside this church could not count on the Qing government to maintain normal social order and they were fighting back to avoid being massacred. There is no way to find fault either by reason or law. To say that this church is "a site occupied by the invaders" is irresponsible speech.
Next, the attack on the Dongjiao area was willed by the Empress Dowager. The main assault force was Dong Fuxiang's army and Rong Lu's army. They committed the crime and the Boxers were just helping them. To gloss over this fact and to make out as if the Boxers was a spontaneous patriotic action not only distorts the historical truth but it also conceals the fact that the Qing government had trampled all over international law. Furthermore, the attack against the Xishiku church and the consulate area revealed the ignorance and brutality of the autocracy and its autocrat. If this cannot even be confronted in the late 90's of the twentieth century, then this represents ignorance of international law while praising a national shame and forgetting the duty to oppose the feudal autocracy!
Now look at the second sentence. The Qing government did sent daily supplies to the besieged foreign consulates. This was done publicly and so that "secretly" was not based on historical data. At the time, some more alert officials in the Qing government repeatedly requested protection of foreign diplomats and citizens in accordance with international law. The various governors of the southeastern provinces actually publicly stated that they will not follow the "false order" after the June 21 declaration of war. In the face of these pressures, the Empress Dowagers backed off and besides she also wanted some space left for maneuver. No matter what, the Qing government still had some people inside who had not completely lost their rationality and conscience. But to demean their actions with respect to that of the Boxers is clearly inappropriate.
Again, the Hong Kong textbook presents a more complete picture of the Boxer incident and the United Armies of the Eight Nations. They denounced the Boxers for "large-scale xenophobia, murdering preachers and believers including even those who own foreign books or wear eyeglasses, destroying everything, burning churches, cutting down telegraph lines, destroying railroad tracks." "A secretary in the Japanese embassy and the German consul were killed." But they also pointed out that "the discipline of the United Armies was very poor and they burned, looted and killed at will. Among them, the Russians, the Germans and the Indian soldiers of the English contingent were particularly brutal." They analyzed in detail the background which allowed the Boxers to rise: 1. Nationalism. 2. Poverty. 3. Invasion of the foreign powers. 4. Frequent occurrence of cases concerning religion. They also covered the contents of the Treaty of Xinchou and its deep effect on China then and later. Any unprejudiced person will agree that this textbook contained the true history.
The reason why such phenomena arise is intimately connected to the humiliation and harm that China has endured for so long. Faced with this reality, there can be two states of mind.
The invasion of the west completely changed the historical path of China. What happened afterwards was the breakdown of a venerable empire and the people were reduced to struggling between life and death. Naturally, the people blamed their state of being on the "foreign devils"; and they have also blamed the corruption and ignorance of the rulers. The unceasing point of debate for which consensus is difficult to achieve is: is the principal source of this situation internal or external?
Actually, there is a question from a completely different angle: why did this situation not change for so long? If someone says the imperialists are too brutal, then this is saying nothing. After long-term, complicated and repeated conflicts, it is possible to set up a 'just' order in the international system that will meet the long-term interests of most people and most nations. Before this condition appears, there won't a savior parachuting out of the sky to defend your national interests on your behalf. The problem can only be solved by facing this reality and figuring out how to get out of the situation.
The overseas experience proved this: when underdeveloped countries and areas (colonies and semi-colonies) change their development status, the only path to change is to follow the western powers and undertake the total modernization of social life. The key to success is national reform. This is a total transformation of the social system. For those countries that have their own culture and are historically resistant against outside cultures, this is a very difficult process. For China, from the Opium War to the new politics at the beginning of the 20th century, about 60 years was spent on deciding whether the nation wants to reform! As for the reform process, it is an even more complicated issue to decide between using revolutionary methods or gradual reforms. But one thing is for certain: it is necessary to find a peaceful international environment to win enough time for national reform and construction. If this is more or less right, then we have to look back at the Boxer incident and see how it was a reactionary affair that ran in the completely opposite direction of social progress. Furthermore, butchering foreigners is anti-humanitarian and anti-civilization, as are the violent acts that are extremely stupid and dangerous to the interests of China.
There was a popular judgment over many years that has been used to defend the Boxers: the Boxers avoided the partitioning of China. The historian Li Shiyue who passed away in 1989 refuted that argument in detail. The 450 million tael in compensation (which is equivalent to the total national income for six years) was like a huge bloodsucking syringe plunged into the chest of the Chinese people. It gave Tsarist Russia the excuse to carry out the Heilanpao and Jiangdong Liushisitun massacres in which more than 7,000 Chinese were killed and all of the land of Jiangdong lost and the Russians entering northeastern China. The number of war casualties in the Huabei region was inestimable. Afterwards, the partitioning conspiracies did not end: the English army invaded Tibet and occupied Lhasa; the Germans sent their gunboats into the Dongting lake and wanted to take a lease of the shores of Dongting and Panyang lakes; the English wanted to lease the Zhoushan archipelago as 'compensation.'
Some people like to quote the saying of the German Waldersee who was the commander of the United Armies of the Eight Nations: "No matter it is Europe, America, Japan or any country, they don't have the brains or military power to rule over one-quarter of the population of the world. So it is a bad move to partition China." This proved that the Boxers stopped the partitioning of China. Mr. Li Shiyue spoke well: "Waldersee's personal feelings do not represent the sentiments of Germany. The Germany Kaiser had always assumed that partitioning was the foundation of his China policy, and the aforementioned demand to 'lease' the shores of Dongting and Panyang lakes are the proof. The partitioning of China did not occur only because there were contradictions among the imperialists."
If the vista is opened up, then the problem becomes clearer. People have already pointed out: the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895, the Reform Movement of 1898 and the Boxer incident is an uninterrupted flow of history. To be more precise, the Sino-Japanese War exposed the corrupt nature of the Qing empire and many intellectuals woke up from their dreams of many decades. They realized that it was a fundamental error for the self-renewal movement not to broach the basic issue of "freedom versus non-freedom." This was the first self-discovery step by the government and the reform movement advanced as a result. The key for the rise and decline of China now depended on whether it chooses to reform thoroughly in the manner of the West or refuse to reform and stick to the tradition. This is the key to understanding this piece of history. Unfortunately, the Reform Movement after the devastating defeat of the Sino-Japanese War failed. This reform movement had wanted to follow the West but it suffered a setback. In the Boxer incident, the counter-revolutionary current reached it peak for the traditionalists. In other words, the Boxer incident reflected the continued decline of China as an enslaved subject country from the outside and the pervasive ruin of its people from the inside.
In 2000-2001, there was an international incident that drew the attention of the Chinese people. That was the problem of the Japanese school textbooks. A textbook edited by rightwing elements attempted to cover up the historical truth and deny that Japan committed crimes during the invasions. This aroused the Chinese and Korean nations and peoples to protest vigorously. This was a struggle on behalf of justice and it was the fourth time in the past twenty years. In 1982, 1986 and 1996, there were newly revised textbooks that distort history and aroused public anger inside and outside Japan. This chronic ill in Japanese thought has given many people a deep impression: the Japanese lack the will to be contrite. People asked further: Why is there the phenomenon of refusing the accept any guilt? Is this a flaw of the Japanese people?
When you look at the aforementioned problems in the Chinese textbooks, a logical conclusion is that our modern history have similar kinds of problems. Of course, it is different because Japan was the invader whereas China was being invaded. But the two have something in common: the mainstream culture in society lacks deep reflection on its contemporary history.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, Chinese intellectuals have advocated remaking the national character time and again. These vanguards meant well, but they did not ask: What are the main factors that determine national character? It can be said that the national character is the characteristics of the thoughts and behaviors of the citizens. All people evolve from cannibals. As a group, the deciding factor on the degree of civilization and barbarity is the strength of how the cultural tradition and system can purify themselves.
The humiliation from the insults and injuries gave the Chinese people a new momentum in thinking. This is shown over the long-term in the form of a specious concept: since the "foreign devils" are the invaders, the Chinese are justified and praised in whatever they do. This is required by patriotism.
The current history textbooks are using this concept to guide thinking. It is obvious that we must love our country. But there are two ways to love our country. One way is to inflame nationalistic passions. Traditional Chinese culture had deeply ingrained ideas such as "Chinese and foreigners are different" and "if you not my kind, then your loyalties must be opposite to mine." Our thinking is still poisoned by them today. The latest edition is this: if there is a conflict between China and others, then China must be right; patriotism means opposing the other powers and the foreigners. In the selection and presentation of historical materials, we will only use those that favor China whether they are true or false. The other choice is this: we analyze everything rationally; if it is right, it is right and if it is wrong, it is wrong; calm, objective and wholly regard and handle all conflicts with the outside.
The basic spirit of modernization is rationality. If we accept this basic viewpoint, then we should lead the Chinese people down this path and let rationality and tolerance become the national character of the Chinese people. Then the peoples of the world and their cultures can co-exist in harmony. In an era of rapid globalization, conflict of interest among corporations and nations are unavoidable. Rational understanding and resolving conflicts is the best choice for any nation or corporation. If anything related to the outside is always about "anti-imperialism" and "anti-hegemony," then the matter is bound to be bungled.
For example, law is the crystallization of human civilization and the rules by which society operates. International treaties have legal validity. People can point out that these treaties and laws were created with the foreign powers in charge and that they are therefore disadvantageous to the weak countries and the poor people. People should continue to criticize and expose the flaws and go through various negotiations using different types of pressures to set up new regulations and treaties. But before the revisions take place, we must still continue to abide by them or else we create unnecessary chaos which are detrimental to the weaker nations and the poor people in the final analysis.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, people in China have done many "illegal" things. The Boxer incident is one example. The important thing to note is that there are still people who regard those barbarous activities as "revolution." In the 90's of the twentieth century, there are still people who regard the viewpoint of abiding by international treaties as treasonous surrender that ought to be seriously denounced!
In the end, this is still the poisonous residue of the vulgarization of revolution.
We must wake up and see that in the social domain, the true revolution is one that causes the system to be revolutionized. The Celestial Kingdom of Peace and the Boxers do not fit this requirement. These distortions actually vulgarize the revolution and there will be a price to be paid later on.
You should not underestimate the consequences of this mis-education. It is against commonsense and rationality to distort the historical truth in the name of the "revolution" and the direct ill effects of praising the Boxers were exposed during the Cultural Revolution. The Red Guard setting fire to the British consulate is the replica of the Boxers' action; the mania to eliminate all foreign things in the "Anti-Four Olds," "Anti-Imperialism" and "Anti-Revisionism" campaigns had the same logic as the Boxers' desire to destroy the foreigners.
The logic presented in the above textbooks is no different. Their common points are: 1. The current Chinese culture is superior and unmatched. 2. Outside culture is evil and corrodes the purity of the existing culture. 3. We should or could use political power or the dictatorship of the mob to violently erase all the evil in the field of cultural thinking. To use these kinds of logic in order to quietly exert a subtle influence on our children is an unforgivable harm no matter what the objective intent was.
In order to cultivate modern citizens with rational thoughts based upon the rule of law for the modernization project, now is the moment to correct those errors.
(Ming Pao) January 27, 2006.
Professor Yuan Weishi of the Department of Philosophy, Zhongshan University, Guangzhou was interviewed by our reporter yesterday.
Reporter: How do you look at the shutdown of Freezing Point and the "crime" attributed to the essay?
Yuan: I thought this was awful. I thought that my essay was rational and complete, and the writing clearly showed an opposition to the invasion of China and unforgiving towards the brutal acts. I only reminded the Chinese people to look at the whole picture and to regard at our own national problems head on. I find it hilarious that such a sensible essay was not accepted; instead it was labeled "vindication of foreign powers to invade China" and young people even called me a national traitor on the Internet.
Reporter: But your essay was "seriously criticized by the central government departments" and those people are not young persons.
Yuan: Actually, the intellectuals that I have contact with agreed with my essay. As to the crimes that are attributed, they may or may not be right and I don't think it is worthwhile to discuss them. What is worth discussing is how we determine whether they are right or wrong. I believe that it ought to be done through free discourse. How is an authoritative department, especially the criticism group formed by retired officials at the central propaganda department, going to make any judgment?
I would like to ask, Do you have enough knowledge? If you are qualified, then why don't we write it all out and lay down the historical data to discuss everything. Then we can present the conclusions to the public and let the readers discuss. We cannot use the methods of the Cultural Revolution to take fragments of text to twist the original internet and hand labels to people. You know, everybody listened to what Mao Zedong said and that caused great harm to the country.
Reporter: The world thinks that the sentence in your essay :"We grew up drinking wolf milk" crossed the line for hinting that the Communist Party are the wolves.
Yuan: You are simplifying the problem that way. The "wolf" in the essay refers to a certain xenophobia among the Chinese since the 19th century. It is a certain narrow nationalism. It is a thought process that wants to make the class struggle expansive, absolute and unilaterial. I am not pointing at the Communist Party. I was talking about the thought process that wants to use simplified concepts to describe history in order to harm people.
Related Link: The Open Letter from Li Datong
近30 年的改革开放，中国经济在前进，中国理应涌现一批在世界舞台上有大作为的金融集团、报业集团、企业集团、一流大学，一批可以同默克多、索罗斯等一比高下的传媒、金融巨子 有多少中国人心怀壮志，却郁郁而终。原因无他，有数不尽的天条束缚住了手脚，让英雄气短，热泪沾襟！
55 年的中华人民共和国史教会中国人一个简单的常识：世界上没有句句是真理的圣人！任何人的主张和文章都可能有错，只有自由讨论的制度和民主决策的程序可以发现和减少错误。没有学术研究的自由，包括发表成果的自由，就不可能有学术正常的发展。如果大权在握的官员承认这个常识，承认这是不容侵犯的制度，《冰@ 点》风波无从发生。有人认为我或其他作者的文章错了，写出文章来批判，也让别人反批判，是非愈辩愈明的同时，中国以自由和开放的形象屹立在世界，对国家利益有何损害？假如梦想成真，新的《冰@点》有这样的现代报刊应有的品格，全世界都应额手称庆，为中国报刊走出人治的困境欢呼！