Recently, the US House of Representatives unanimously voted a motion to issue an apology for the “Chinese Exclusion Act” passed 130 years ago. Prior to this, the Senate voted a similar motion a year ago. 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, after the Human Rights movements of the sixties, American society has gone through great changes in the area of Human Rights and ethnic questions. Equality between different ethnicities and culture has became 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 Parliament 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 to enter the United States, and also severely limited the economic and political rights of Chinese people also resident of 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.
Regarding details on what I mention above, anyone interested can look for information on the NPC’s website, this is not the focus of this article. What really caught my interest these days 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 Democratic systems: the question of ethnic relations. At the same time, the author also notes as a matter of course that, naturally, in this context, the Chinese domestic media were the primary forum for reporting that apology of the US Congress for the “Chinese Exclusion Act” which “made people ashamed” of history. But then, the author of this article quite trulypoints out another aspect of this Chinese nationalistic pride, namely that the media tend to avoid the question of ethnic relationship in the country. “On the same day that the Congress voted in favour of issuing an apology, in Guangzhou, a Nigerian man died while in police custody. But the news reports on the African demonstrations only provided limited description. … the only declaration of the police is that “some people were causing serious traffic jams”.
On this matter, I did not bother to observe reactions on the internet, but according to some information I received from friends, as described in that article from “Time” magazine mentioned above, “Although China has always prided itself on being a country free of ethnic discrimination, and is often repeating that we should not forget the times of 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 learnt later, judging from a few declarations on the web, this incident inspired not only “xenophobic and racist” attitudes like those shown towards some recent bad behaviours of Westerners, but even more than that, strong feelings of racial superiority in relation to specific populations. As things took this turn, one thing is particularly worth noting, as well as highly ironic: at the same time as many Chinese people felt please to receive American excuses for historical exclusion, some Chinese people started shouting they wanted ‘African niggers’ to get out of China.
I have seen the writings of a few left-wing post-colonial scholars from the West. Their basic argument is a fully negative view of colonial history, support for the liberation movements of ethnic minorities and oppressed nations, criticism of the rule and oppression of Western imperialism, and a reinterpretation of the relationship between North and South, East and West. Just in terms of personal feeling, noone can deny that the few centuries of Western imperialism are sinful, and have a great responsibility for today’s poverty and unrest in the Third World. But I think the biggest problem with the reflection and practice of Western left-wing thinkers is that they haven’t found an appropriate theoretical way out. In other words, on the one hand, they respect the self-awareness and resistance to the West of backwards nations, but on the other hand, they are unable to explain the perversion of a number of post-independence regimes, they can only adopt an evasive attitude, which makes their theory unconvincing, and its influence decline. Some lefists in today’s China are actually facing the same theoretical dilemma. Some left-wing propaganda likes to quote this slogan from the Mao era: “where there is oppression, there will be resistance”. It sounds very reasonable, but my question is, without 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, but 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: Chinese has just lived through a hundred years of oppression and aggression, 塑 造了反抗的正义感与合法性，but had no role in promoting the progress of human consciousness. The change of regime in 1949 or the economic reforms of 1978 had a relatively positive influence only at the material level. The ongoing existence of the household registration system for over sixty years is the greatest evidence of this. A majority of the population which made significant contribution to economic take-off is still by law and reason excluded from economic prosperity, and most of urban society is silent on that point. To take this assertion one step further, this society not only ignores and tolerates the largest scale discrimination on the planet, but people today seem to be taking the road of Western racism, and cast out the foreigners.
At this time, needless to say, I believe many people understand what Chinese society needs apart from economic prosperity. The author of that “Time” magazine article mentioned above says at the end of his piece: “to receive an official Chinese apology for the death of that Nigerian man, or to receive a complete explanation, we may have to wait a long time.” 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 pride in our national rise.
Source: 1510, June 24 2012 – http://www.my1510.cn/article.php?id=79545
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