Humiliation No More

Oct 2, 2015 by

Tom Watkins –

China and the “West”‘often see the world in different ways. This has been apparent going back centuries. This was clearly on display during the military show of force also a celebration of the 70th anniversary of the defeat of Japan and the end of World War II. The defeat and driving Japan out of China was the icing on the cake for China.


The Rape Of Nanking

On September 2, 1945, China accepted the Japanese surrender, after 14 years of devastating war, which started with Japan’s invasion of China in 1931.

As many Chinese watched the live broadcast of the Victory Day Parade in Beijing, viewed the prideful comments on Chinese social media and then read the starkly contrasting and negative coverage of western mainstream media it had the youth of China shaking their heads. Two worldly different perspectives were presented.

Clearly not everyone loves a parade. Many world leaders, including President Obama snubbed China’s invite and did not participate in the grand parade and celebration. Many in the West are worried about the perceived Chinese aggression in the South China Sea and other territorial disputes.

Many on the outside suggested the parade had turned an event supposedly celebrating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II into a flexing of China’s new found military muscle.


While Chinese young and old saw the parade as another China milestone of recapturing its rightful place as the “Middle Kingdom” and washing away the humiliation a weaker China once endured. As one 20 year old physics major Liu Yanyan put it, “China is shaking off its century of humiliation and the parade left her feeling “very proud of the motherland.”

“Our generation is lucky to be born at a time when the country will not be bullied by others,” she said. “And we should never forget the humiliations we suffered back then.”


Aug. 11, 1842 marked the date that many Chinese note as the start of modern history when the Qing Dynasty signed the unequal treaty of Nanjing, which allowed for Great Britain to end the devastating First Opium War (1839-42).

Things have taken a miraculous turn for the better since that century of humiliation.

If Mao Tse-tung could come back for a day he would see what the leaders and the people of China have accomplished since October 1, 1949 when he stood at the gates of Tiananmen Square, proclaiming the founding of The People’s Republic of China.

At the time, it was reported that Mao proclaimed, ” The People of China have stood up.”

As the second decade of the 21st century unfolds, it is apparent to the world that China and its people are still standing.

In their book, Wealth and Power: China’s Long March To The Twenty-First Century, old China hands Orville Schell and John Dulury brilliantly walk us through “how a nation, after a long and painful period of dynastic decline, intellectual upheaval, foreign occupation, civil war, and revolution, manage to burst forth onto the world stage with such an impressive run of hyper-development and wealth creation, culminating in the extraordinary dynamism of China today.”

The authors weave a tale through Chinese history about the lives of eleven influential officials seeking ways to end China’s “century of humiliation” in a quest for fuqiang, “wealth and power.” Clearly, since the days of Deng, China’s aim has been on target to produce fuqiang.

Yinuo Li grew up in China and is the Director for the China Program for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation explains China’s pride this way: “The emotion behind this positivity is not for the “show” itself, rather a memory of history and the long way China has come in these 70 years. The 100 years of history in China following the 1840 Opium War has been an endless stretch of darkness — invasion, defeat, failure and humiliation. Troops from multiple countries came and invaded, looted, and colonized. This stretch culminated with the Japanese invasion from 1931–1945, during which time there were 35 million casualties in China, accounting for 1/3 of the world’s total casualties during WWII. China also faced 2/3 of the armed forces of Japan, making a major contribution to the allied victory in WWII. The 1945 victory was China’s first in a stretch of 105 years.”

Yinuo Li continues, “On a personal level, I also found something profound in the three generations of my own family: from my grandparents, who lived through war and poverty and a time when “death was an everyday thing” (my grandma had 14 siblings; only 3 lived to adulthood), to my parents, who lived through the famine in the 60s and the dark “cultural revolution” of the 70s, to me, sitting here now, with the best technology at my fingertips, writing a note like this to you all.”

It is through this lens that most of the Chinese in China and those spread around the globe have viewed the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the 2010 Shanghai World Fair, and the national celebration of 70th Anniversary of the end World War II and the humiliating defeat of their bitter enemy at the time-Japan.


We in the West owe the bravery of Yinuo Li’s grandparents and others of that generation a debt of gratitude. Imagine if they would have crumbled in defeat rather than resisting Japan’s aggression causing tens of millions of Chinese casualties, how WW II and history may have turned out.

Last week President Xi Jinping visited the United States partaking in the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the United Nations and a high stakes, scripted, state dinner with President Obama and other dignitaries at the White House. This will be another unfolding of China’s prolonged coming out party, shaking off the psychological national trauma of the century of humiliation. It is important to all Chinese citizens and expats that their leader be treated with the dignity and respect their nation has earned.


It is equally important that as Americans we take a broad, historically accurate and not myopic view of the world to grasp how others see events unfolding today.


As a reminder that not all see the world in the same way, I have a map of the world hanging in my home given to me by a Chinese government official in 1989 that shows China, not the U.S. in the center. A stark reminder that the people of the world do not necessarily view the world from from our perspective.

Tom Watkins is a regular contributor to and has had a lifelong interest in China sparked by a great fourth grade teacher. He has worked for over four decades to build economic, educational and cultural ties between the US and China. He is an advisor to the University of Michigan Confucius Institute, Michigan’s Economic Development Corporation, and Detroit Chinese Business Association. He can be emailed at:, or followed on twitter at:@tdwatkins88

Source: Humiliation No More

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