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Posts Tagged ‘imperialism’

Sometimes you write a post thinking you’re really sort of contributing something to a conversation… and then afterwards, you read it over and the whole thing seems so atari-mae, so obvious, like it really goes without saying. Hm… But, given how many articles I see every week emphasizing career prospects and monetary earning, maybe there is some value in stating what I think should be a rather common sense idea.

An article in TIME magazine from this week asks “What Colleges Will Teach in 2025.”

This is just the latest in a slew of articles on the subject of what colleges should be teaching, what the purpose of college is, what the end goal of attending college is, and how we should be evaluating academic quality or success.

In addressing these questions, countless commentators focus on professional training, and monetary success following graduation. Another major thread focuses on creative thinking skills. I cannot fault either of these, and of course agree that both of these are of great importance. However, recently, increasingly, I have come to believe that college needs to pick up the slack and take up the role once associated chiefly with high school – namely, turning out informed citizens.

I don’t know how much high school curricula have changed in the last (nearly) 15 years since I completed high school, but in my personal experience, there is so much I have learned in college and in graduate school about identity politics, race, (post)colonialism, and feminism and gender relations, and indeed about law, politics, and economics (in short, “civics”) that I never learned in high school.

There is a logic, an underlying reasoning, behind public education in general, and behind the teaching of civics, of US history, world religions, etc. at the high school level in particular, that speaks to the great importance of having our neighbors, our countrymen, ourselves, be informed members of society. Critical thinking skills are a big part of this, but so too are historical/cultural knowledge, among other subjects. I can certainly appreciate why World Religions, for example, might be seen by students, and by many commentators, as somewhat frivolous, as somewhat extra, as not essential for someone’s professional training into being a scientist, lawyer, doctor, or whathaveyou. The classic argument of “when am I going to use this?” The answer: every day.

I could write an entire post on just the value of being able to question your own religious beliefs in order to have a more meaningful relationship with your own upbringing, identity, tradition, and values. But, even putting that aside, if the type of education students receive in a World Religions class were more privileged, more emphasized – that is, if more college graduates, more members of our society, knew more about Islam, Hinduism, and Sikhism, than fewer people on our streets would get attacked for some perceived association with “terrorism.” Imagine where race relations could be today if more people in our society had taken more classes in Black Studies, Chicano Studies, Asian-American Studies, Indigenous Studies. And if students took more courses in History (or certain other fields, certain other departments), especially non-Western history, then, in their everyday lives, in speaking with one another, in writing opinion pieces, in voting for politicians or voting for policies, they could speak and act in a more informed, less misguided, manner, on a myriad of topics, from the war in Syria to atrocities in Africa to the perceived economic threat of China.

The potential topics are nearly endless. Stereotypes and misbeliefs abound in our society, as they do in all societies. Mistaken beliefs about what the Constitution says and what it means. Mistaken beliefs about the history and impact today of colonialism/imperialism. Mistaken beliefs about whites, blacks, Asians, Indians, Arabs, and Hispanics. Mistaken beliefs about Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists. Mistaken beliefs about gender and sex. Mistaken beliefs about the place of America in the world. The list goes on and on.

Of course, I want students to be financially successful, and to be successful in pursuing their career ambitions. And, of course, I want students to be able to think for themselves. And, I suppose that the idea of doing research, taking the initiative to learn about something, to analyze it critically, to choose to want to become informed, and then to do so, could all be included under the rubric of a curriculum that emphasizes critical thinking. But, that research, and the informed opinions that result, are essential; they are absolutely crucial, I believe, beyond the mere condition of being open-minded, and asking questions.

There are a multitude of things I do not understand, the fine intricacies of contemporary American politics, economics, law, health insurance policies, etc. certainly being among them. But, learning what I have in the last ten or so years about East Asian history, about Asian-American history, about Hawaiian/Pacific history, about colonialism/imperialism, about race/ethnicity/identity discourses, about media discourse, and about gender performance, has absolutely opened my eyes to all kinds of things in the world that are profoundly important to my being a more informed member of society – in how I see myself, and how I interact with other people, as well as in how I view political issues and how I act upon those views – and I have come to believe, more and more, that these kinds of things are truly crucial, essential, in the education of our next generation.

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China (and often South Korea) sees everything through imperialism-colored glasses. Everything, that is, except for their own expansions into Tibet, Mongolia, Manchuria, Xinjiang, and other regions not historically controlled by the Chinese, which are then gradually filled with Han Chinese settlers who homogenize the culture and drive native cultures into the ground. But I’m not here to talk about China’s imperialism. Today’s entry is about China’s imaginative view of foreign imperialism, and is inspired by a great opinion piece entitled “Why the Games bring out ugly side of the Chinese.” I must thank Keane Shum, the eloquent and insightful Georgetown student who shared his thoughts with us, and the WordPress blog Ampotan where I discovered said article.

Mr Shum cuts to the core of Chinese nationalism in writing:

What scares me — in addition to a mob mentality in a country of 1.3 billion people — is that I think at least part of this mentality comes from refusing to be the white man’s lackey, from wanting to emerge triumphantly from oppression, from a need to say, “I told you so” to former imperial powers.

This isn’t about Japan. This isn’t about World War II, and this isn’t about the Korean or Vietnam Wars which followed. This has its roots in something considerably older, which the engineers behind Chinese nationalism have chosen to latch onto, to twist and craft, and to refuse to let go of. It has to do with the Opium Wars, with the failure of the Middle Kingdom, center of all civilization, ruled by the Son of Heaven and possessed of the oldest, deepest, most powerful and proud culture in the world, not to mention the largest army in the world, to defend itself, to repel the European and American invaders, and to establish itself as a superpower.

It has to do with ignoring all the ways China fucked itself over over the course of the last two centuries, and blaming it all on the West (and Japan). First, China failed to be organized enough, technologically advanced enough, militarily strong enough, to repel the Europeans (Brits in particular I suppose, if we’re talking about the 1840s) and force them to deal on China’s terms. Next, China failed to modernize, to advance well enough to catch up with the West, and, skipping ahead a few decades, lost to Japan in the Sino-Japanese War. China continued its road to failure by overthrowing its monarchy and descending into roughly four decades of civil war, leaving it far from prepared to fight off the Japanese a second time. Emerging from the ashes in 1949 with the civil war ended and a new government, mainland China threw tradition to the wind, turned its own conception of its own history on its head, invented a new culture, a new national identity, whole cloth, and proceeded to march forward into an imaginary world ruled not by fact, but by a false perception of the world fashioned by the Communist government, a false perception that we now see reaching a climax as one billion Chinese throw a massive tantrum in unison, screaming like upset toddlers about how the Western media is scheming to deceive, and refusing to acknowledge that the view of the world taught them by their government, and by their lack of free access to media, Internet, and books which would reveal to them the truth, is all a lie. I’m not even going to talk about the Great Leap Forward, Cultural Revolution and all that. Let’s save space and not even go into the details.

Shum gets it completely right when he says that the Chinese are hung up on a refusal to be the white man’s lackey, a need to say “I told you so” to former imperial powers, to rise up from oppression. Anything and everything the West (or Japan) does that might be perceived in any way as imperialistic is labeled as such, and is called “imperialist” with all the negative connotations one’s mind can muster. Note that whenever Japan’s government or official representatives so much as mention the word Takeshima, South Korea flies into an uproar, accusing Japan of desiring, of having always desired, to conquer the continent, starting with Dokdo, and then Korea. But who’s the imperialists? No major Western power has had an Empire since the end of WWII, and most of them (starting with Britain) are extremely sore and excessively self-critical about it. Out of the US, Europe, and Japan, no one, and I mean no one, is seeking to act imperialistically today, or any time in the near future.

And China is no one’s lackey today, and has not been anyone’s lackey ever, really, with a few exceptions. The Manchus and Mongols led quite lengthy dynasties, conquering, overtaking, suppressing and oppressing the Han Chinese. But we’re not going to talk about that. China was the Soviet Union’s lackey for pretty much the entire period of the Cold War – the lesser Red Threat, the smaller Communist power. And yet, here too, I don’t sense much antagonism on the part of Beijing’s mood makers.

I suppose I have lost my train of thought, as I always do, and my argument has grown dilute, maybe almost nonsensical. But the point is this – we are no longer living in the Age of Imperialism. It is over, done, past, kaput. China and South Korea need to realize this, need to stop seeing imperialism everywhere they turn, and need to focus their nationalistic energies elsewhere.

It is evident in the immense environmental problems that China is facing today, and the rapid destruction of traditional neighborhoods and homes (see also increasing lack of traditional architecture or historic sites in Hong Kong and Shanghai), that they hate the West (or the US or Japan or foreign people/powers in general) more than they love themselves. Stop looking at us and start looking at yourselves – what does it mean to be Chinese? What are you proud of? Are you proud of the natural beauty of your country? Are you proud of its long and rich history? Its deep traditions and beautiful culture? If so, then stop destroying it out of some misguided attempt to get back at a world which hasn’t been your oppressor for many many years, if ever.

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