Recently, the US House of Representatives voted unanimously for a motion to issue an apology for the “Chinese Exclusion Act” passed 130 years ago. Prior to this, one year ago the Senate voted a similar motion. Chinese and American media both gave reports on the vote of this motion a prominent position. For Chinese public opinion, as one can imagine, it is natural to emphasize it. On the American side, if you have some understanding of US society, you can understand that the adoption of this motion was just a question of time. After all, since the Human Rights movements of the sixties, American society has gone through great changes in the area of Human Rights and racial issues. Equality between different ethnicities and cultures has become a mainstream social conviction. After the motion was passed, one of the main supporters of this apology, Maxim Zhao, Congressman for California, said: “We have to understand that these ugly laws are incompatible with the founding principles of the United States…. Our society cannot tolerate discrimination.”
In simple terms, on the 6th of May 1882, the American Congress adopted the first and only motion in the history of the United States directed against a specific ethnicity; that is, the “Chinese Exclusion Act” basically forbid Chinese immigrants from entering the United States, and also severely limited the economic and political rights of Chinese people already residing in the United States. The then president McArthur signed this motion, making it into law. When it expired after ten years, it was extended for another ten years, and in 1902, it became a permanent law. In 1943, in the middle of World War II, after the US entered the war, because the US and China were allies, some changes were made to the law. Finally in 1965, the US introduced a new “Migration Act”, where the principle of immigration quotas based on nationality was abolished, opening the door for Asian migrants, including migrants from China.
For further details on the aforementioned, those interested can look for information on the NPC’s website; however that is not the focus of this article. What has really caught my interest lately is an article in the American “Time” magazine. In this article entitled, “A Nigerian dies in China: tension in ethnic relations”, the writer first mentions that the Chinese media have always been critical of one thing in the Western World’s democracies: the issue of ethnic relations. At the same time, the author also notes that, naturally, in this context, the Chinese domestic media were the primary forum for reporting on the apology from the US Congress for the “Chinese Exclusion Act” which “made people ashamed” of history. But then, the author of this article accurately points out another aspect of this Chinese nationalistic pride, namely that the media tends to avoid the issues concerning ethnic relations in China. “On the same day that Congress voted in favour of issuing an apology, in Guangzhou, a Nigerian man died whilst in police custody. But the news reports on the African demonstrations were limited in their descriptions… the police explanation was that ‘some people were causing serious traffic jams’”.
On this matter, I did not bother looking at reactions on the internet, but according to some information I received from friends, as described in the aforementioned ‘Time’ magazine article, “Although China has always prided itself on being a country free of ethnic discrimination, and is often fixated on a period in the past when there was great unity between the Third World countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America.” However, in this case, social media showed “shocking levels of xenophobia”. Furthermore, as I later learnt, judging from a few comments on the web, this incident incited not only “xenophobic and racist” attitudes towards some Westerners, but even more than that, strong feelings of racial superiority towards specific peoples. As things took this turn, one thing is particularly worth noting, as well as highly ironic: at the same time that many Chinese people were very grateful to have received an apology from America for their historical exclusion, some Chinese people had already started declaring that they wanted ‘African niggers’ to get out of China.
I have read the works of a few left-wing post-colonial Western scholars. Their basic argument is a largely negative view of colonial history, support for ethnic minorities and the liberation movements of the oppressed, criticism of the rule and oppression of Western imperialism, and a reinterpretation of the relationship between North and South, East and West. From a personal perspective, no-one can deny that the centuries of Western imperialism were evil, and are largely responsible for poverty and unrest in the Third World today. But I think the biggest problem with the practices of Western left-wing scholars is that they haven’t found an appropriate theoretical solution. In other words, on the one hand, they respect the self-assurance and resistance to the West of backwards nations； but on the other hand, they are unable to explain the depravity of a number of post-independence regimes, they can only adopt an evasive attitude, which makes their theories weak and unconvincing. Some leftists in today’s China are facing the same theoretical dilemma. Some left-wing propaganda quotes slogans from the Mao era such as: “where there is oppression, there will be resistance”. It sounds very reasonable, but my question is, without an ideological revolution, there can be no so-called liberation, and after the revolt is over, what the masses are facing may well be further oppression and a new generation of tyrants.
Following on from this idea, and returning to the matter of the US apology and people shouting “niggers out” in China, if we put the two together, we can see very clearly the meaning of this: the Chinese have experienced a hundred years of oppression and aggression, shaping their sense of justice and the legitimacy of resistance; however, this experience has had no role in promoting the progress of human consciousness. The change of regime in 1949 and the economic reforms of 1978 had a relatively positive influence only on a materialistic level. The persistence of the household registration system for over sixty years is the greatest evidence of this. A majority of the population who made a significant contribution to China’s economic take-off is still legitimately excluded from economic prosperity, but most of urban society remains silent about this point. To take this assertion one step further, Chinese society not only ignores and tolerates the largest scale discrimination in the world, but people today also seem to be taking the road of Western racism, and casting out certain foreigners.
At this time, needless to say, I believe many people understand what Chinese society needs apart from economic prosperity. The author of the “Time” magazine article mentions at the end of his piece: “We may have to wait a long time for either an official Chinese apology, or an explanation, for the death of that Nigerian man.” If that is really how things are, then this apology from the US, after many years, will probably bring our descendants only shame for today’s China, rather than national pride.
Source: 1510, June 24 2012 – http://www.my1510.cn/article.php?id=79545