Hey, weren’t the opium wars good for China, too?
The anti-Chinese yellow-ribbon crowds don’t care whether the controversial question about the Japanese invasion of China was appropriate for a public exam, but only about embarrassing the authorities in Hong Kong and the mainland
In 1853, Karl Marx wrote an interesting opinion piece in an American newspaper on the first opium war.
The old revolutionary thought the war and humiliation was the best thing that could have happened to the Chinese.
“It would seem as though history had first to make this whole people drunk [i.e., high on opium],” he wrote, “before it could rouse them out of their hereditary stupidity.
“The Celestial Empire [was forced] into contact with the terrestrial world. Complete isolation was the prime condition of the preservation of old China. That isolation having come to a violent end by the medium of England, dissolution must follow …”
Interestingly, Marx then speculates – correctly, it turns out – whether China, with its backward agrarian undeveloped economy, might have a revolution with the dissolution of its dynasty before Britain, then the most advanced capitalist and industrialised economy in the world, which on subsequent orthodox Marxist theory, should be the first to have a communist revolution.
But I digress. What I am trying to suggest – in light of all the “yellow-ribbon” intellectuals and pundits rushing to defend the history exam question about the Japanese occupation of China being a good thing – is that there are other similar questions you could ask that would guarantee to upset Beijing and other Chinese nationalists.
How about: weren’t the two opium wars good for China? Marx thought so, the Brits too. Where would Hong Kong be without them? The Black Death was good for modern Europe, too, because it made the Renaissance possible. Maybe Jews should be thankful for the Holocaust because it forced the world to support the founding of Israel.
Mao Zedong himself had declared the Japanese invasion a good thing – because it brought him to power. Never mind that Mao was among the most cynical and amoral men who ever lived.
But his claim was well within the Marxist tradition, for which anything that brought down L’Ancien Régime was a good thing, however violently, whether it was the Bourbons of France, the Hohenzollerns of Germany, the Romanovs of Russia, the Qing dynasty or its successor, the bourgeois-fascist Kuomintang.
What the anti-China yellow-ribbon crowds really want – rather than asking whether that actual question was appropriate for a public exam for university admissions – is to embarrass and undermine the mainland and Hong Kong authorities.
The welfare and education of young people? Well, who knows?