On state-controlled media in China and defiant journalists and editors during the 1989 failed revolution. This is an interview with Cheng Kai, former editor-in-chief of Hainan Daily. Mr Cheng presided over the newspaper during the Tiananmen incident.
His decision to veer from the party line (without opening supporting the students at Tiananmen) in 1989, publishing Zhao Ziyang’s photo, giving him significant coverage while putting official editorials on the 4th page, got him into serious trouble with the communist leadership.
While China Daily was the biggest creator of fake news, singing praises for Mao and his policies even when people were starving, the paper had its “golden age” in the 1980s. Former China Daily editor-in-chief Hu Ji Wei (1916-2012) joked that the China Daily during that time had only one truth – the date. Under Hu Ji Wei’s leadership since 1952, the paper gradually found its own feet and pulled away from party propaganda in the early 1980s.
As a member of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, Hu had even wanted to push for legislature to protect press freedom following best practices in Hong Kong. However, the proposal was shot down by Chen Yun who said that freedom of the press provided by the KMT gave the Communists opportunity to smear the KMT and win over the people. Chen admonished that they must never allow communist China to have press freedom and provide dissidents with the same opportunity to jeopardise their legitimacy.
After the departure of Hu Ji Wei in 1985, China Daily continued its advancement as a legitimate newspaper until 1989 when the reins were pulled again. Today’s China Daily is back to being the party’s mouthpiece that it was when Mao was in power. Hu was barred from official duties from 1990 because of his support for Tiananmen protestors. In 2010, Hu told the South China Morning Post: “China nowadays looks strong on the outside, but it’s actually very weak and afraid … the regime is rotten from within.”
Hu’s dying wish was for the authorities to withdraw their accusations against him. That wish was not granted.
“Memory is dangerous in a country that was built to function on national amnesia. A single act of public remembrance might expose the frailty of the state’s carefully constructed edifice of accepted history, scaffolded into place over a generation and kept aloft by a brittle structure of strict censorship, blatant falsehood and wilful forgetting.”
– Louisa Lim, former BBC China correspondent
In the aftermath of the massacre, publishing houses all over the world became inundated with manuscripts from witnesses and attention seekers. 30 years on, only a handful have anything to say. The rest seemed to have “lost interest”. This is a powerful book whose author found all the right people to interview.
A former PLA soldier; a witness turned artist. He remembers being fed by the protesters when the rations didn’t arrive. He keeps painting images from 8964 in an attempt to make peace with his conscience. Because of the sensitive themes of his paintings, he was not allowed to hold any exhibitions in China. He remained under the radar for his feelings of guilt would not allow him to move on.
The mothers who had lost their children. Whenever they sought answers, they were threatened and accused of being manipulated. How can we expect them to forget their loss, even though they are living in the People’s Republic of Amnesia.
The most accurate figure has to be the one initially reported by the Chinese Red Cross. 2,600 dead. Another 100 died in hospital. They were later forced to retract their statement, lending great credence to it.
The stories from the stars of Tiananmen like Chai Ling and Wuerkaixi have been told and retold numerous times. Ironically, a more powerful and revealing story comes from the minor characters. In June 1989, after hearing about the Tiananmen Square protests, Liao composed a long poem entitled “Massacre.” Knowing that it would never be published, he made an audiotape and recited the poem by using Chinese ritualistic chanting and howling, invoking the spirits of the dead.
He was later arrested and sentenced to 4 years in prison. After his released, he began to envy the martyrs who had either died on the square or who were executed. They didn’t have to deal with the heartbreak of seeing his former comrades flaunt their newfound wealth, completely forgetting the democracy movement they had started just a few years before that.
A young Chinese netizen posted the following on social media:
“I’ve not been working for 2 years; just bumming around. My conscience is clear. Stress comes mainly from the people around me scrambling to find their place in the social hierarchy and the traditional values of my elders. And it pokes you anytime, anywhere. Whenever you do a search online, trending stories are all about celebrity romances and pregnancy tips. It’s as if some “invisible animal” is pressuring you to think a certain way. But as humans, we don’t have to conform. I could get into Diogenes syndrome and sleep in a barrel under the sun. I could follow Heraclitus into a cave to contemplate logos. Since this land has never given any room for individual expression, let me create some for myself. Lying flat is the wise man’s exercise. Only by lying flat can humans set a standard for the universe.“
A new term has been trending on Chinese social media and that is 躺平 “tang ping” or lie flat. The author’s rant quickly went viral, resonating with numerous young people in China today. 躺平 reflects the severity and toxicity of the rat race in China, causing many people who are just starting out to find the struggle futile. Young people like the author of that piece above feel hopeless and for a good reason. The rat race in China has become a pyramid scheme.
As wealth is deeply entrenched as a measure of one’s worth in almost all Chinese societies, starting at the base of the pyramid places enormous stress on young people to climb to a respectable level.
With property prices soaring into the stratosphere and with incomes so low that it’s virtually impossible for young people to enjoy the lifestyle they deserve and still be able to support a family, it may not be that foolish to quit the pyramid scheme. Fresh graduates without any connections find it useless to work hard. With the meagre pay being offered to fresh graduates nowadays, many would rather “lie flat” and lead a life of destitution, without the usual pursuits of the well-educated like cars, houses, family and children.
Worryingly, this situation also plagues many societies which are wealthy in GDP terms. The average income rises rapidly, but as many Chinese people clarified, their incomes have been averaged out by billionaires to look good. Similarly in Singapore, there are folks who own 2, 3, 4 or even more properties. This “demand” has driven up prices so much that people buying their first property are struggling to service the mortgage unless they have a fat paycheck.
Soon after “lie flat” went viral, the authorities and supporting celebrities and influencers in China lashed out at these feckless youngsters, lecturing to the public that one can accept one’s fate, but one must never “lie flat”. Lying flat was officially disallowed. Forums sharing grouses and discussing 躺平 have been deleted. And to add oil to fire, the authorities, on 1 June 2021 (Children’s Day), tried to encourage young Chinese couples to have 3 children. It’s financially draining enough to bring up one child “properly” (tuition, music and enrichment classes thrown in) in China. Three children would be a sick joke for the majority of couples still struggling to make ends meet.
Government-approved celebrities sprang into action and exerted their influence, urging young people not to complain about skyrocketing property prices, low wages and high levels of stress. They postulated that high property prices indicate that the country is wealthy. How to afford them? Keep working harder and harder and harder. This shows a major disconnect between those who have arrived and those who still at the start of the rat race. The apex of the pyramid is a crowded place. At the bottom, are the workhorses encouraged to produce more workhorses.
According to a 2019 report, 2% of the people in China own 80% of the wealth in the country. A classless society? Hardly. The most unwittingly telling part of the response from the authorities is the statement 认命可以，躺平不行。You can be resigned to your fate, but you can’t lie flat. What does that mean? Does that mean that plebeians must accept their stations in life and allow the exploitation to go on? Statements like that stirred even more resentment on social media. The censors struggled to block comments.
Why are the authorities so perturbed by 躺平? Well, with only the top 2% of the population entitled to 80% of the wealth in the country, the rest of the 98% are not allowed to complain or change anything! The 98% must continue to struggle, only to maintain the status quo. And the status quo keeps driving home the message that those at the top of the social ladder are extremely important while those at the bottom are worthless. Can the latter be blamed for not having the will to compete with others in the rat race?
The steeper the social pyramid gets, the greater the status anxiety within the population. People become rude, selfish and unfriendly. Comparative studies done in several developed countries have shown that the prevalence in mental illness increases with the degree of social inequality. There has been a spate of random attacks on total strangers on the streets by deranged individuals in China lately. That’s the equivalent of shooting incidents in the US. But if the Chinese people have as many guns that Americans have, what could happen in China? Allowing people to 躺平 might be a better alternative than than turning them into deranged individuals. Depression often results from the inability to stop or escape from a position of defeat and oppression.
Actually 躺平 is not a new phenomenon. In ancient times, government officials who had grown sick and tired of the corrupt system had become wandering poets. Some had also become monks or hermits. The legendary Zhuge Liang was a recluse who had been living in the mountains and lying flat in today’s terms before Liu Bei went on his knees to beg him to save the dynasty.
To lie flat or tang ping is the inevitable result of extreme social inequality. When the majority have no chance to level up with the elite no matter how hard they work, they have every right to choose a different path in life. The results could be disastrous but only 2% are hurt most. The rest may not have much to lose.
Two public security officers recorded their “last words” and hope the world will know why they had disappeared or gotten killed in a perfect “accident”. One was a whistle-blower who had reported his superior for corrupt practices. Another had called his superior a scoundrel on social media.
Famous science fiction writer Ni Kuang was also a police officer in Inner Mongolia during the 1950s. He was also marked for destruction after offending a superior. Accused of a crime that could get him imprisoned for life, he escaped from China and settled down in Hong Kong where he found a new life as a writer. It seems that things have not changed much since then. It’s just that these officers may not be able to escape from China on a horse like Ni Kuang did.
Conflicts between China and Japan go back a long way. The First Sino-Japanese War (25 July 1894 – 17 April 1895) was caused by a conflict over the control of the Korean peninsula between the Qing dynasty of China and the Empire of Japan. The Chinese grossly underestimated the strength of Japan after the Meji Restoration. They were badly beaten and “sued for peace” (conditional surrender) in 1895, their incredible warrior monks and nurses notwithstanding.
During the Second Sino-Japanese War, China fought Japan with aid from the Soviet Union and the United States. The war officially started with the Marco Polo Bridge Incident 7 July 1937, when a dispute between Japanese and Chinese troops in Peking escalated into a full-scale invasion. It only ended when Japan surrendered in 1945 (and not because of these warrior monks and nurses).
抗日神剧 is a special genre of TV drama made in China to promote “patriotism”. Many authoritative regimes harness the common people’s feelings towards historical enemies to evoke nationalism. Going above and way beyond America’s Rambo fantasies, 抗日神剧 appeal to those who hold proletarian ideologies.
What makes one Chinese? Does one have to obsessed with money or support everything that is done by the Chinese government? Certainly not. So what defines you as Chinese? Confucian, Tao and Buddhist values. As simple and as complex as that.
Of this three schools, the Confucian school takes centre stage. It came before the other two schools and played the biggest and most impactful role in Chinese society. But one has to be aware that while Taoism and Buddhism saw only minor changes and adaptations after they were introduced in China, Confucian philosophy underwent significant changes from the time Confucius first created the Analects.
Many generations of rulers and leaders have adapted and interpreted Confucian philosophy in ways which benefited them. The Confucian philosophy that we see today could be a distorted form of what the sage advocated more than 2,000 years ago.
Mencius said that the people come first, followed by society and finally the ruler. This is in no way the precursor of democracy, but Mencius emphasied that leaders must put the people and society before self. Rulers must never see themselves as gods. This is Confucian philosophy.
Confucius encouraged his students to have the courage to voice out their objection to injustice. Mencius told his students that righteousness must be pursued even at the expense of the self. This is authentic Confucianism.
Sadly, Qin and Han emperors picked on Confucius’ family values and respect for ones’ parents and translated that into a pecking order within the imperial court and hierarchical society. After 2,000 years of evolution, a distorted form of Confucianism gave rise to slavery, social stratification, the worship of leadership. The imperial examinations based on a politicised version of Confucianism enabled scholars to take up positions in the government that will lead to wealth and glory.
As for Taoism and Buddhism, the values are in harmony with concepts of thrift, conservation and respecting the natural environment. These are not Western values. In fact, Western societies have been relentlessly constructing, industrialising, pursuing wealth and capitalism, causing serious environmental destruction. America’s military strategies and foreign policies have also caused worldwide disharmony. Statements like “you’re either with us or against us”n are clearly unreasonable. But in the free world, voices of reason and conscience are not beaten down.
Leaders and businesses in Western countries are not unbridled. They are checked and balanced by NGOs like the Red Cross and Greenpeace. These checks and balances laid dormant in Chinese society for thousands of years. The philosophy of Laozi, Zhuangzi and Buddhism; respecting nature and all living beings, thrift, frugality and charity.
All roads lead to Rome. Whether it’s Chinese values or Western values, the good values will lead to good outcomes. As Singaporean Chinese, we do not need to be united or immersed in a Chinese society to be authentically Chinese. As long as we can adopt the values from these three schools of thought, we can call ourselves Chinese.
But one must be careful with adulterated Confucianism. We need to go back to the original Analects and study them. If you set up a Confucian institute, the first word you ought to recognise is compassion. Are you compassionate towards your intellectuals? As a public security officer, are you compassionate towards disgruntled citizens who had their land taken away from them without reasonable compensation? If not, then your Confucian institute is fake.
One does not need to be a scholar or researcher. The basic principles from the three schools are enough not only to give us a Chinese identity but also a healthy spiritual life.
As a child, stories from the Three Kingdoms greatly appealed to me. I was very fond of reading about heroes in battle, military tacticians outwitting one another and not least, the ethics, loyalty and righteousness that distinguished between the good guys and the villains.
But apart from the literary Three Kingdoms, there are several other versions of stories which took place during that time. These versions were more scholarly and academic than the plot-driven version of the Three Kingdoms which is far more popular and engaging to read. But my discovery of these historical accounts made me realise that a lot of what Luo Guan Zhong wrote in his version of the Three Kingdoms is actually fictional. In an age of fake news, there is a rising trend of curious fans of historical romances seeking out the facts behind the legends. I realised that Cao Cao was not as evil as portrayed. Zhuge Liang was not as ingenious and Guan Yu not such a saint. Like Lei Feng (the highly celebrated, exemplary PLA soldier whom no one had actually met), saints and legends are often more the creation of their admirers than paragons of virtues.
What about Confucius? For a man who has been worshipped for thousands of years, he must have been quite a character. By putting Confucius on a pedestal, Chinese culture and character are given a reference point regarded as feudal and backward by revolutionary writers like Lu Xun. Though Confucian ideas probably encompassed all the Four Olds under 旧思想，旧习惯, 旧文化，旧风俗 marked for destruction during the Cultural Revolution, the current leadership sees him as a great source of inspiration and pride for the Chinese people. But was Confucius really the sage that those who want him to worshipped make him out to be? Professor Li Ling did a study and wrote about Confucius the mortal from a historical perspective and not from what devotees wrote about him. Prof Li audaciously referred to the real Confucius as Stray Dog 丧家狗, quite aptly depicted by the image of Chow Yun Fat below.
According to Prof Li Ling, Confucius was not a saint, but a somewhat unremarkable human being. A man of humble origin, he ranked himself based on virtues which he shared with other gentlemen 君子. He was extremely diligent, spending the bulk of his lifetime tirelessly studying ancient texts and teaching them. He held the ancients and texts as sacred. Distilled from his studies, his ideas were by no means original. He was very well-versed in the values of the ancients, but for the greater part of his life, he was unemployed and powerless.
In a time when regional warlords were dividing the land and devouring one another, he extolled the virtues of the defunct Zhou Dynasty. With great courage, he criticised the people in power and tried in vain to get enemies to work together. It's a fact that the warlords didn't welcome him. It's a fact that he was very hungry and even destitute most of his life. Reading from the original version of the Analects and writings from observers of that time, Prof Li revealed that Confucius was a haggard soul wandering and drifting like a homeless stray dog. Still, he would not give up his struggle. Prof Li described Confucius as a dreamy, deluded Don Quixote, just like many of today's idealistic intellectuals or Hindu ascetic.
Nevertheless, Confucius refused to given up. Prof Li opines that he was neither foolish nor enviable. The ancients said that only when a person is fed and clothed can he talk about honour and shame “衣食足而知荣辱”. The fact is, most people, even after being well-fed and clothed, would continue to sell their souls for more. Confucius added to that, saying that "the three guards can still function if you take away their commander, but common men can't function if you take away their will 三军可夺帅，匹夫不可夺志. He also said that "I accept frugal meals and a shoulder for a pillow. There is joy in this. Wealth without virtue is like passing clouds" 饭疏食饮水，曲肱而枕之，乐亦在其中矣。不义而富且贵，于我如浮云. Are these really values which the Chinese authorities are trying to propagate in China and through the numerous Confucian institutes throughout the world?
Not surprisingly Prof Li Ling's book was trashed by the "conservatives" and "loyalists". Many who have not read the book pronounced it as unworthy of their attention. They just knew that it's bad by looking at the title which deeply hurt the pride of the Chinese people. But do these folks even realise that 丧家狗 was a term that Confucius used to describe himself?
How often have you come across random folks who email or message you with an amazing business opportunity? Most people don’t fall for such scams. Sometimes, the person contacting you could be a politician or royalty who needs a small sum of money from you to regain his freedom, after which he would share his millions with you. Again, it takes someone quite dumb to fall for this.
In China, a slightly different tactic is employed. It takes a much greater effort, but the success rate has been considerably higher than the standard Nigerian scam. How does it work? Unlike the Nigerian scam which randomly sends out emails to people the scammers know nothing about, the Chinese scammers choose their targets very carefully. It’s usually an incubating business where the owners (ethnic Chinese preferred) are anxious to make their first sales.
The scammers first ask for a quotation from you. After that, they might ask for your fax number and send you an order that make your eyes pop. You are not expecting to sell so much goods in an entire year. But given the fact that this is the most populous country in the world, it’s a plausible proposal. You get excited; very excited.
Of course, you can’t seal any deals over the phone. They understand. That’s why they would then invite you to meet up with them in China. There are numerous office buildings they could rent to impress you, but the main show is the grandiose banquet. You are satiated, impressed, intoxicated and mesmerised by the host’s hospitality and generosity. They even introduce some high-ranking officials (imposters) whom you must know to get the business going. They then ask for an “introductory fee” which is obligatory for a lot of foreign businesses in China. Once you’ve paid up, they become uncontactable.
This is an example of Lesson 29 树上开花. It’s an elaborate scheme to create an illusion to gain your trust that everything is legitimate and above board (by Chinese standards). As these scams are highly specialised, the numbers are not great. The success rate, however, is high.
It’s Christmas and something strange is happening in China. Many local authorities, like those at Langfang, Hebei, have issued bans prohibiting shops and vendors from displaying Christmas decorations.
That’s not all. Many educational institutions from Chinese universities to primary and secondary schools even prohibit students from discussing Christmas-related content on social media. This may be shocking to many foreigners, but Chinese scholars believe that the local authorities’ boycott of Christmas is not surprising. That’s because China has recently tightened its control on churches and banned online stores from selling bibles – all without concrete directives from the top. Earlier in 2020, government officials at Anhui Province had closed down 99 Christian churches. It is likely that local governments have second-guessed the central governments’ intentions and acted preemptively to avoid undesirable political consequences.
In a document entitled 《关于做好圣诞节期间执法监管工作的通知》”Notice on Effective Law Enforcement and Supervision during the Christmas Period”, the Urban Management Bureau of Langfang City, Hebei Province required law enforcement officers to completely ban Christmas trees, Santa Claus and other items placed along the street. All Christmas-related items like window stickers, cloth banners and light boxes had to be removed.
The document also required law enforcement officers to be fully deployed from December 23 to December 25 to ensure that parks and public spaces are not being misused for the religious propaganda. When contacted by foreign media, local authorities declined comment, but many Langfang merchants candidly confirmed that the Christmas ban is real.
Hebei Province is not alone. Similar orders have been received at grassroots level in Bazhou, Hebei, and Cenxi in Guizhou and Wuzhou in Guangxi. On Chinese social media, many young netizens complained that their schools not only prohibits Christmas celebrations but also disallows the sharing of Christmas greetings in the form of text and pictures on social media. Below is a school directive issued by Huang Wei Central School authorities at Xixian County, Anhui Province.
According to an official report in Si County, Anhui Province, a local elementary school conducted a campaign with the theme of “Boycotting the Foreign Festivals Begins With Me” “抵制洋节，从我做起” on Christmas Eve. Among them, the principal gave a speech entitled “Christmas is a shame to the Chinese”, saying that it was the Western holidays that “brought great shame to China.”
The ban on Christmas has triggered a polarized reaction from netizens on Chinese social media. Some netizens said that Christmas is a religious holiday celebration and China being proudly Chinese, it is “reasonable” to prevent it from entering campuses.
Another netizen pointed out that during the last Spring Festival (Chinese New Year), the Empire State Building in New York lit up with red lights. Many foreigners were celebrating Spring Festival. Why can’t the Chinese celebrate Christmas and demonstrate some confidence in their own culture?
Some netizens even joked that “Sunday is a day of worship to celebrate the resurrection of Christ. Therefore, to resist religious influence, please start working overtime on Sunday.” It’s a good argument, albeit based on some inaccuracy. Sunday is God’s day of rest.
Interestingly, Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the Chinese state media “Global Times”, said that he had never heard of an official directive to “boycott” Christmas in more than a decade. He also posted a photo of a Christmas tree in the cafeteria at the headquarters of the People’s Daily.
Before that, an article entitled “Goodbye Foreign Festival, the country finally takes action”《洋节，再见！国家终于出手！》was widely circulated in WeChat Moments. The article stated that the State Council had in fact issued a statement entitled “Opinion on the propagation and promotion of supreme Chinese culture and traditions”《关于实施中华优秀传统文化传承发展工程的意见》, which advocated the complete ban on “foreign festivals.”
Ding Xueliang, a Chinese sociologist and distinguished professor at Shenzhen University, told BBC Chinese that many young people only regard Christmas as an opportunity for celebration and not a religious obligation. Therefore, there is no conflict between Christmas and traditional Chinese festivals. He believes that the reason why some young people seem to be more enthusiastic about “foreign festivals” is that China’s rapid development has led to the disappearance of the socio-economic factors that support traditional Chinese festivals.
“It is difficult for young people now to understand the traditional Chinese festivals based on agricultural societies.” said Ding Xueliang. Again, this professor failed to grasp the fact that Christmas is based on a society no more advanced than ancient China.
China’s wariness over religious activities is not new. In December 2017, Hunan Hengyang issued a strongly worded notice requiring the city’s party members, cadres and relatives not to blindly observe the “Foreign Festivals” or “participate in any religious activities with a Western background.” The prerequisite for joining the Communist Party of China is to believe in communism and not have any other religious beliefs.
Independent scholar Deng Yuwen pointed out that the authorities have been tightening control of religions such as Christianity in recent times. It is thus not surprising that Christmas, being seen as a religious holiday, is under official scrutiny. In order not to appear overbearing, the central government would not issue any official ban. The latest moves by the local authorities may not have been ordered from the top, but these moves would certainly please the central government more than they would irk them. Diplomatic relationship between China and the vatican notwithstanding, the Chinese authorities’ suppression of religion has not stopped. In early December 2020, more than 100 members of the Qiuyu Covenant Christian Church in Chengdu, Sichuan, were summoned and arrested by the police. The pastor of the church, Wang Yi and many church members had become uncontactable in police custody.
The New York Times previously reported that after Xi Jinping came to power, crosses on 1,200 to 1,700 churches were demolished in Zhejiang Province alone. In March 2020, China also banned the sale of the Bible on online retail platforms. As this wave sweeps over China, local authorities took the initiative to act in ways that would please the master.
In the current tense political climate, many officeholders are afraid of not reading the mind of the boss correctly. There were instances of preachers and evangelists using festivals and holidays to recruit new members. This has made the party nervous. Hopefully, Valentine’s Day would be recognised as what it actually is and not get banned in the name of protecting supreme Chinese culture and traditions.
Written by historian and journalist 梁启超, one of the leaders in the 百日维新 Hundred Days’ Reform Movement who saw the transformation of imperial China into a republic, the text from this 2016 book was published in its original 文言文 or literary form, making it a challenge to read. Perhaps that’s why it was not banned in China.
Taking over from the legendary Zeng Guofan, Governor 李鸿志 Li Hongzhi (15 February 1823 – 7 November 1901) was probably one of the greatest diplomats that China ever had. In the eyes of the conservatives during his time, however, he was more than a little controversial. His success in suppressing the Taiping Revolution can be attributed to the 淮军 or Huai Army which was under his command during his time.
What made Li’s Huai army so effective? It broke all traditions. Li Hong Zhi completely reformed the old system of training and military strategies. It was an army which could have protected China from foreign invasion if only the systemic problems in its governance could be tackled simultaneously. Sadly, that was not the case.
As big fan of Western technology, Governor Li’s Huai Army was trained by German trainers and armed with German weapons. Compared to traditional Chinese soldiers, they were much more disciplined and effective on the battlefield. For his efforts in saving the empire from the Taiping rebels, he was awarded the 双龙宝星 Order of the Double Dragon which he proudly wore whenever he posed for portraits.
Unfortunately, not long after the Taiping battles were won and a few other minor rebellions put down, Governor Li was relieved of his command of the Huai Army.
Without Li at the helm, arrogant Chinese commanders refused to be trained under German instructors. While most of the men were still good fighters, the commanders were incompetent and corrupt, often misappropriating military funds for personal use. As a result, China was thrashed by the Japanese during the First Sino-Japanese War (25 July 1894 – 17 April 1895). Unlike the Chinese commanders, Japanese commanders trained with the men and were equally disciplined. Li was demoted in the aftermath of China’s defeat.
Li was further sidelined for not bargaining hard enough during the negotiation of the peace treaty with Japan. The final blow to his reputation came when the Boxer Rebellion (who were originally enemies with the Manchus) took an ugly twist. The anti-West Boxers received support from the government which was feeling more and more insecure as Western values began to undermine their absolute authority.
Defying the imperial edict, Governor Li forbade southern provinces under his jurisdiction from destroying churches and provision shops selling Western goods. While Christians elsewhere were slaughtered, Governor Li offered them protection. He even secretly negotiated with foreign powers that made up the 8-nation Alliance to leave provinces that safeguarded their interests alone, saving millions of Chinese people from the ravages of the 8-nation Alliance.
Until today, Li’s actions and attitudes are still being debated. Many shallow patriots have conveniently labelled him as a traitor, probably because he did not always treat foreign powers as enemies. He even protected their interests and adopted their methods, thus insulting 5,000 years of greatness. Only a minority regard his as hero for all the lives that he had saved.
This mentality has carried on till this day. During the Beijing Olympics, many Tibetan exiles hit the streets in Western countries calling for a boycott. Many of them ended up being assaulted by Chinese nationals residing overseas. However, there were a few individuals who tried to persuade their compatriots not to resort to violence. Unsurprisingly, they were instantly labelled traitors and their homes in China were splashed with excrement.
The Red Guards haven’t really died out. Getting on the wrong side of these guys still isn’t very good for your health.