A self-righteous impression? Is “Chinese ideology” ingrained in the average Chinese person?
It is said that the Chinese people have had a “Chinese ideology” since its ancient times. This is “the idea that China is the center of the world and that its culture and ideology are the most valuable”, and when the Chinese government shows a hardline stance towards neighboring countries through diplomacy and military action, some Japanese argue that it is due to this Chinese ideology.
However, even if the Chinese government showed a hard stance with diplomacy and military based on Chinese ideology, it does not necessarily mean that ordinary Chinese people have Chinese ideology as well. Do ordinary Chinese people also have Chinese thought?
We ask Ms. Akiko Aoki, a non-fiction writer and expert on social conditions in China, whether Chinese ideology is rooted in Chinese culture.
China as the center of civilization, the center of the world
Q: To begin with, what do you mean by “Chinese ideology”?
Ms. Aoki: “The Chinese, mainly the Han Chinese, have cultural superiority and have an ideology that they are at the center of the world. In other words, the “Chinese ideology” is the idea that they are the center of civilization and the center of the world; an idea that the Han Chinese are a thoroughly elected people. For thousands of years, the Chinese have been thinking this way, and this is the prototype of Chinese ideology.
Q. Why did the Chinese philosophy emerge in China?
Aoki: “It has to do with the fact that China in ancient times was always surrounded by enemies. The word ‘Chinese’ (the ancient name for China) was originally used to describe the geographical situation of ‘a country in the middle of a continent’. At the time, China was already very civilized, but the civilization of the surrounding countries was underdeveloped, which gave rise to the idea that all the enemies around them were barbarians.
Although it is not a commendable idea to regard people as barbarians, it is understandable that one would think so if one looks at it objectively. Emperor Qin Shi Huang united China in 221 B.C., and Japan was in the Yayoi period. At this time, Japan did not exist as a single nation however, China had a nation with its own laws and culture. It is difficult to say “don’t have a sense of superiority” to them, because it was a nation with such outstanding power and was the champion in ancient Asia.
This sense of superiority has been present in the Chinese people for thousands of years, and Chinese thought has been imprinted in their DNA.
Q. Is the Chinese philosophy also rooted in ordinary Chinese people?
Ms. Aoki: “Actually, they don’t have a word for ‘Chinese ideology’ in China. However, if you look at their pride in their own country and their own people, I feel that it is similar to the ancient Chinese ideology. Everyone has a love for their own country and nationality, but the love the Chinese have for their country is no comparison with us Japanese.
China, which has been a continental champion since the ancient times, entered an era of suffering at the end of the Qing Dynasty. They were defeated in the Sino-Japanese War by their neighbor, Japan, and part of their territory was colonized, and later invaded, which was a great insult to the Chinese people, and they could not forget and forgive. Now that we have become the second largest economy in the world, the Chinese have recovered from that past and I think the Chinese ideology is becoming stronger and stronger.
Q. Are there any examples of Chinese ideology in general that you have felt?
Ms. Aoki: “I will never forget the so-called ‘Japan Airlines Ethnic Discrimination Incident’. In January 2001, a Japan Airlines flight from Beijing to Narita was unable to land at Narita Airport due to heavy snowfall, so it was rushed to land at Kansai International Airport. While the non-Chinese passengers were able to enter the country to stay in hotels and other accommodations, most of the Chinese passengers could not enter the country and had to stay in the waiting room.
Unlike the other passengers, they had flown to the United States as their final destination via Narita Airport and did not have visas to enter Japan, so they were treated in this manner.
What surprised me was the reason for the lawsuit. They claimed that Japan Airlines had caused the greatest possible insult to China’s “national character”. I don’t think any other country would say that Japan Airlines has insulted not an individual but “national reputation”. In the end, Japan Airlines and the passengers settled their differences, but there is still the mindset that ‘we cannot allow such insults to be inflicted on the great China. I wouldn’t be surprised if something similar happens in the future.
Although not such an extreme case, when I chat with ordinary Chinese people, I sense that the attitude of ‘we are superior’ comes up frequently.
For example, when I got in a taxi in China, a male driver said, ‘Japanese kimono is really great’. I replied, ‘Japanese kimonos are beautiful, but I like Chinese dresses just as beautiful as kimonos’, to which he replied, ‘Japanese kimonos are beautiful, but don’t compare to Chinese dresses. The Chinese dress is the most beautiful dress in the world.’ This kind of thing happens a lot in chatting. The idea of ‘China is number one’ is ingrained in every single Chinese person.
Q. The Chinese ideology of “we are the best” seems self-righteous and negative in the eyes of the people around us. What do you think the Chinese people think about that way of being seen by their surroundings?
Ms. Aoki: “In the past, Chinese people have been very interested in how foreign countries view China. This is true for both the Chinese government and ordinary Chinese. But nowadays, I think they don’t pay as much attention to what foreign countries think about China as they used to.
The first reason for this is that China’s national and economic power has become stronger. Another reason is that ordinary Chinese people are not getting information that allows them to have an objective view of the situation due to the control of domestic speech. Eighty percent of ordinary Chinese cannot see or hear that China is being criticized by the outside world. They aren’t given the information, so they don’t know how to see it from the people around them.
How should we treat the Chinese?
Q. When dealing with Chinese people with Chinese beliefs, how can we respect their values and how can we interact with them without conflict and build a harmonious human relationship?
Ms. Aoki: “This is too obvious in terms of cross-cultural understanding, but it is important to respect and understand the Chinese people’s mentality and pride. It is important to understand that ‘Chinese people think like this’. There are some things you have to be aware of. Some Chinese intellectuals criticize the Chinese political system, old customs based on feudalism, superstitions, etc., but we, as foreigners, should not agree with them.
Many Chinese people know that China has its own problems in various aspects, but they really don’t want to be told what to do by people outside the country. When we agree with them, Chinese people quickly become cold and distant, and communication between us breaks down.
‘Why do you say that to yourself?’ You may think so, but the bottom line is that we don’t want to be criticized by foreigners even if we criticize our own country. When we Japanese people talk to foreigners about what’s wrong with Japan, of course it’s not funny if the other person goes on and on about what’s wrong with Japan, but Chinese people, who are proud of their Chinese ideology, are violently offended by this.
For this reason, unless you are very close to a Chinese person with whom you want to have deep communication, it’s best not to point out China’s faults straight away. When I talk to Chinese people, I basically try to avoid criticism of China and Chinese people.