Saturday, June 7, 2008

National Identity

I've been reading John King Fairbank's China, A New History recently and one of the key ideas he expresses is the importance of the Chinese concepts of 'wen' and 'wu' in Chinese history. Wen is culture and moral civility and wu is military power. Under the influence of scholars and bureaucrats Chinese culture has typically valued wen much more than wu; indeed for an emperor to employ military might has traditionally meant that he has failed in his moral and ethical duties, causing him to fall back on power rather than culture. That said, military power was needed to consolidate the empire and unify China and Fairbank argues that this was usually supplied from outside China as China did not value or cultivate military power. He argues that the new dynasties that often provided a fresh injection of wu into a society that had become stagnant were often the 'barbarians' on China's borders. Although they provided the military power necessary to re-unify China and impose a new regime the essentially foreign dynasties were soon absorbed into the Chinese cultural system.

In some cases these were obviously foreign powers such as the Yuan (Mongolians) and the Qing (Manchurians) but Fairbank goes further in arguing that many dynasty founders, even of dynasties such as the Tang, were actually barbarian leaders who had married into Chinese society. To some extent this obviously undercuts the element of Chinese national identity that thinks of China as an essentially self-contained 5000 year-old culture.

Of course, this is nothing unusual about this. All nations inevitably contain this intermixing of cultures, ideas and leaders. Many English people would regard England as, until recently, a fairly self-contained island culture, but of course we have been invaded many times. To name a few examples we have been invaded by the Celts, the Romans, the Vikings, the Saxons, the Normans and more debatably (and recently) by the Dutch.

The Dutch invaded in 1688, the army of William of Orange taking London and imposing Dutch rule on England. We like to tell ourselves that it wasn't really an invasion, however, as William was invited to invade in a letter written by six noblemen and a bishop, basically on the premise that they would rather a foreign Protestant king than the Catholic James II. William was followed by Queen Anne and upon her death rule passed to King George, a minor member of the Hanoverian royal family, thus starting the unbroken rule of Britain by German royal families, the House of Hanover being followed the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (or the Windsors as they prefer to be known nowadays as it sounds more British).

Whilst it's fine to admit that we have been invaded many times, it happens to every nation after all, one misunderstanding should be cleared up. Some people have the crazy idea that we were invaded by the French in 1066. In fact the Normans were Vikings (Norman literally meaning North Man) who had invaded and settled in a part of what is now France. After some time they then went on to invade England, another of the Viking invasions of Britain. Admitting that we have been invaded many times and ruled by the Germans for centuries is one thing but accepting that we've been invaded by the French is just too much.


Anonymous said...

"Chinese culture has typically valued wen much more than wu;"

Biggest Bullshit ever. you should learn at first about chinese invasion into forign areas like Qinghai (where chinese genozided whole ethnic of Dshungars) Or Mandshuria where chinese destroed mandshurian culture and history just to replace it with own comunistic shit.

Anonymous said...

""Although they provided the military power necessary to re-unify China and impose a new regime the essentially foreign dynasties were soon absorbed into the Chinese cultural system.""

That is another BIG BULLSHIT. Noone forign rulers were absorbed by chinese. Mandshurians, Mongols and other cultures were destroyed and people who not wanted to be a part of inferior culture of chinese were killed or banned into areas were they died from humine and plauge.

Anonymous said...

I think you're missing the point. Which is the essential balance necessary to rule any nation. Or household for that matter.

Anonymous said...

Mixing the Chinese culture and Communist is always a bad idea, guys.

David Biddlecombe said...

This post seems to have attracted a number of 'anonymouses' but the point of the post is not to suggest that China has been a peace-loving country that has never invaded anyone; clearly this is not the case. China has been an aggressive empire-building nation at many times in its history. The point is rather that it has also been invaded in turn and has been much more influenced by other cultures than its commonly expressed national identity would suggest.

The Mongolia example is a case in point. China has both ruled and been ruled by Mongolia during its history.

Ray said...

I agree with what David said. War is an important element to built up history.