Anti-Imperialism and Anti-Feudalism in Modern Chinese History
On January 11, 2006 the Freezing Point weekly magazine in China Youth Daily published an essay titled "Modernization and History School Textbooks" by Yuan Weishi (see translation at History Textbooks in China). Subsequently, the publication of Freezing Point was suspended and the two chief editors were replaced. The reason given was:
On January 11, China Youth Daily Freezing Point Weekly pubilshed Zhongshan University History Department professor Yuan Weishi's essay <<Modernization and History Textbooks>>. The essay attempted to vindicate the criminal acts by the imperialist powers in invading China; it seriously distorted historical facts; it seriously contradicted news propaganda discipline; it seriously damaged the national feelings of the Chinese people; it seriously damaged the image of China Youth Daily and it created bad social influence.
On March 1, 2006, Freezing Point resumed publication under new leadership. One of the pre-conditions for resumption was that an essay shall be published to criticize "Modern and History School Textbooks." The following is the translation of that March 1, 2006 essay.
(China Youth Daily, Freezing Point
Main Theme in Modern Chinese History Is Anti-Imperialism/Anti-Feudalism.
By Zhang Haipeng (张海鹏), researcher at the Modern History Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Knowing the main theme of modern Chinese history as well as all the important events that revolved around the main theme is not only an important subject for contemporary Chinese history and modernization research, but it is also related to the future path of development for China as well as the important theory and practice of education for our youth.
On January 11, Freezing Point weekly magazine in China Youth Daily published "Modernization and History School Textbooks" (referred to as "Modernization" hereafter). Its viewpoints negated the basic conclusions of the contemporary Chinese historical research obtained by Chinese scholars under the guidance of Marxism since the founding of the new China. It misled our youth in a serious way. As a researcher of contemporary Chinese history, I cannot help but be concerned.
The Major Tasks of Modern China
Between 1842-1860, after the two Opium Wars, with the Treaty of Nanjing and the Treaty of Beijing as the milestones, China was forced to sign a series of unequal treaties which were the basis of an unequal treaty system that strangled the development of China. It is this treaty system that forced China to gradually "sink" from an independent feudal society into a semi-colonial/semi-feudal society. The 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki and the Treaty of 1901 completed China's transformation into a semi-colonial/semi-feudal society.
During the 1920's and 1930's, the progressive scholars (especially those historians, economists and sociologists who were guided by Marxism and historical materialism) confirmed the semi-colonial/semi-feudal nature through the analysis of contemporary Chinese society, politics and economics. In a series of important works such as "The Chinese Revolution and the Chinese Communist Party" (1939) and "Discussion of the New Democratic Theory" (1940), Mao Zedong definitively summarized the semi-colonial/semi-feudal nature of contemporary Chinese society and thus developed the complete theory for the new democratic revolution. Under the guidance of this theory, the Chinese Communist Party led the people of the country to obtain victory for the new democracy. It can be said that in the recent 109 years of history in China, the Chinese revolutionary political parties have pushed forward the old democratic revolution as well as the new democratic revolution and these were the main themes for the development and progress of contemporary Chinese history. This revolution opposed the invasion of imperialism while seeking national independence; it opposed feudalistic totalitarianism while searching for democratic progress for the nation.
Opposing imperialism and feudalism are the basic themes of contemporary Chinese history. After completing the anti-imperialist and anti-feudal missions, the people took back control of their own country and then the modernization project could move forward more readily.
The "Modernization" article denied that anti-imperialism and anti-feudalism were the main themes of contemporary Chinese history. This was most obvious in the treatment of the Boxers opposing the invasion of the United Armies of the Eight Nations. The article said that the Boxers were guilty of anti-civilization and anti-humanity acts: "These criminal activities brought the nation and its people to a huge disaster" and it was a national shame that the Chinese people can never forget. It emphasized: "Between the Boxer episode itself and through the initial years of the republic, everybody regarded that organization as the Boxer bandits with reasonable evidence." The "Modernization" article appeared to have found a historical proof: "The Boxers burned, killed, robbed and looted and they destroyed the signs of modern civilization. Afterwards, the United Armies of the Eight Nations arrived. This chronology is a historical fact and cannot be revised." This is completely against the historical facts.
When the Boxers began to broadly promote the destruction of the railroads and telegraph poles, it was during the time when the foreign powers were pressuring the Manchurian government to suppress the Boxers under the threat of war. When the Boxers began actual large-scale actions, it was during the period of Manchurian suppression and the war against the United Armies of the Eight Nations. Scholars have gone through a large amount of citations to prove this point. According to the American scholar George Nye Steiger: "Prior to May 31, 1900, during the entire Boxer movement across the country, not a single foreigner died at the hands of the Boxers; only Mr. Berks was killed in Shandong." On the evening of May 31, 1900, the English, Russian, American, French, Japanese and Italian force of 356 soldiers arrived in Beijing from Tianjin. On June 3, another group of German and Austro-Hungarian soldiers arrived. According to the tally, there were 451 armed personnel in Beijing, of which two officers and 41 soldiers guarded the Xishiku catholic church, while 17 officers and 391 soldiers guarded the consulate compounds. The soldiers brought machine guns and cannons. At the meeting of foreign consuls about troop assignments, the German consul said: "These actions are the beginning of the partitioning of China." The entrance of the foreign soldiers into Beijing was regarded not only by the German consul as the beginning of the partitioning of China, but the Boxers regarded it that way as well. The Boxers began to kill missionaries, burn churches, destroy railroads and telegraph poles and some of them even looted only after the foreign soldiers entered Beijing. They attacked the catholic church and the consulate areas also afterwards. The entrance of the foreign soldiers into Beijing was the root cause of why everything became more complicated and chaotic. According to Steiger, between May 29 to June 4, 19000, the clash between the foreign railroad engineer Ossent and the Boxers in Xiong county (Hebei province) was the first armed clash between the Boxers and armed Europeans. The Europeans opened fire first. The Boxers had several hundred people out there at first, and then the crowd grew to ten thousand. They then attacked the foreigners, "who were chased ashore and their fates were unknown." From this, we can see the factual reasons why the Boxers were killing the missionaries, burning the churches and destroying the railroad.
The long-term reason for the emergence of the Boxers is related to the invasion of China by the western powers after the Opium Wars. After the Treaty of Shimonoseki, the western powers started a mad dash to partition China. It was also related to the illegal activities of the foreign missionaries in China during their missionary work. There is a great deal of historical proof that the Boxers were hostile to foreigners, foreign religion and foreign things because they were hostile to the idea that the imperialist were plotting to partition China. Prior to the foreign soldiers entering Beijing, the Boxers destroyed the railroads due to the need to fight against the Manchurian soldiers and to prevent the United Armies of the Eight Nations from reaching Beijing by train. The large-scale destruction of the railroads was a battle tactic. To call the Boxers being anti-humanity and anti-civilization and wanting to destroy modern civilization is the viewpoint of the western invaders.
Laying siege to the consulates and the Xishiku church was a major reason why the Boxers were criticized. What were the actual circumstances? According to the record, there were 30 French navy soldiers and 10 Italian navy soldiers inside the Xishiku church. The Boxers attacked the church on June 15. But the defenses at the church were strong and solid, so the Boxers were not able to enter. On June 12, the area around Dongjiaomin Lane was already taken over by western soldiers and the Chinese were not allow to enter. Any Boxer who attempted to approach was shot. According to the telegraph from the American consul: "We are only trying to protect ourselves until the reinforcements arrive. But the soldiers at the various consulates have already killed almost a hundred Boxers." The consuls thought that Seymour's united army would be arriving soon. So they were unafraid and they shot and killed nearly one hundred Boxers in three days. Is this not pouring oil on the fire of the Boxers' xenophobia? It is against international law to lay siege to consulates, but the consulates asked for it. According to the record of the Interior Ministry dated June 16: "All foreign consulates should be protected. Rong Lu should send the best troops from the armed guards to the DongJiaomin lane area and protect the consulates without fail." Obviously, the Manchurian government was clear in its instructions to protect the consulates.
It must be pointed out that at the end of May, the various nations had already stationed soldiers in their own consulates, and so these consulates had become foreign military posts inside Beijing. This is totally against international law. According to the international legal scholars in Europe at the time: "There must not be soldiers posted inside consulate buildings." This is commonsensical international law. After the Dagu incident, the war of invasion of China by the foreign nations had begun. The assault by the Manchurian soldiers and the Boxers against the consulates was actually an assault on the foreign military outposts. From the viewpoint of international law, this may not be totally unreasonable. To station soldiers in a foreign church is against international law.
The anti-imperial struggle of the Boxers has its unique historical situation. Before the eight nations sent out their armies, there was a lot of talk about partitioning China. When the United Armies of the Eight Nations encountered the strong resistance by the Boxers, the various imperialist nations debated and then replaced the talk of partitioning China with needing to save China. According to the article by the Englishman Hart (who had been the general tax administrator in China for 45 years) at the time: "If China were partitioned, the whole country would join together to resist those foreign rulers who participated in the partitioning." The Boxers served the historical function of preventing the foreign powers from partitioning China by force. The westerners saw that quickly and the Chinese also saw that quickly. The earliest person to see this point was a Chinese student in Japan. In the publication "The Wisdom Collection" published in Yokohama in 1901, an author wrote an article with an esteemed opinion of the Boxers: "The act of the Boxers represented the voice of the people of China and heralded the resistance of the foreigners" and "with these acts, they have lifted the spirits of our people." Sun Yat-sen gave praise to the historical contributions of the Boxers. In 1924, Sun Yat-sen spoke about the Three People's Principles in Guangzhou and said that the Boxers "had astonishing courage and their bloody battle let the foreigners know that nationalism exists in China and the Chinese people can never be destroyed."
The international proletariats also praised the Chinese Boxer movement. Russian revolutionary leader Lenin wrote in 1900: "Do the Chinese not hate those people who come to China to accumulate ill-gotten wealth, those who use their own civilizations to swindle, rob and oppress others, those who start wars against China (the 1856 war by England and France against China) in order to obtain the right to sell opium and destroy people and those who use their religious lies to cover up their policies to loot? The various European capitalist governments have implemented these looting policies against China. The German Workers Party paper "Progressive" published an editorial titled "Iron Fist" on June 19, 1900 and said: "If there is a 'sacred war,' then the war in China against the foreign exploiters who show up as masters is such a 'sacred war.'"
The Boxers, which was a loosely organized body that was based primarily on peasants, was ignorant and backwards. They had many flaws, and they were limited by virtue of their class and the era. But it must be pointed out that the overall xenophobic nature of the Boxers contained the ideas of national revolution within the historical limitations of the peasant class, and it is also the primitive model of how the Chinese people can resist the foreign imperialist invasion. It reflects the common characteristic of the initial stages of the Chinese people fighting imperialism and feudalism. The Boxers happened to be a typical but intensive representative. Therefore, the xenophobia of the Boxers should not be simply ignored or totally negated. It requires scientific class analysis and historical evaluation to provide a reasonable explanation.
The more than 160 years of contemporary Chinese history after the Opium War consists of the co-existence of invasion and anti-invasion, the co-existence of oppression and resistance and the co-existence of shame and glory. Shame, awakening, struggle, sacrifice, reform, progress, ... they went through the entire contemporary history of China.
To summarize the historical progress of the more than 160 years, it can be divided into the first 109 years and the last 56 years. During the first 109 years, the keys to history were that this was the history of the imperialists invading China and the Chinese people fighting back against the imperialist invaders, this was about China wanting to catch up to the pace of global capitalism and this was about wanting to develop capitalism in China over the opposition by feudal rulers and the imperialists. All the political, economic, military and cultural struggles revolved around these major historical themes without exception. After numerous social reforms by social progressives, after repeated revolutions by the new social classes and political parties and after persisting in the fight against imperialism and feudalism, a new China known as the People's Republic of China was born under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. In the last 56 years, the historical development took some twisted paths, but the historical key was basically about how the people took control of political power, explored national modernization and eventually obtained tremendous results, explored the building of a socialism with Chinese characteristics and then developed a socialist market economic system. During the last 56 years, there were certain mistakes, especially during the earlier period, but this was intimately related to the exploratory process. In other words, the first 109 years was the history of fighting for national independence. The last 56 years was the history of fighting for national modernization and wealth. This is a simple historical sequence. Most people understand it, especially the most recent 50 years, because the contemporaries were participants and witnesses to different degrees and experienced the hardship and joy of creating history.
The Fundamental Cause of the Second Opium War
There is only one cause in the Second Opium War, which was that the capitalist invaders were not happy that they had not yet gotten the maximum benefits.
After the signing of the series of unequal treaties such as the Treaty of Nanjing, the western powers obtained many special privileges in China, but they wanted even more. They wanted China to legalize the opium trade in China, they wanted to conduct business in all of China and they wanted to establish consulates in China. Australian Academy of Social Sciences academician professor Huang Yihuo has been studying the Second Opium War in recent years and his latest research proved that England started this war largely to force the Manchurian government to legalize the opium trade in order to protect England's largest economic interest in China -- the opium trade. Their basic issues were in obtaining full economic and political interests in China. If they cannot get their basic interests, a new war of invasion was going to happen sooner or later. The only issue was the timing and excuse for starting the war.
The "Modernization" article offered two reasons for the war. One is that "in order to let the English officials and merchants to enter freely into the city of Guangzhou" (that is the problem of letting foreigners enter the city). The other is the treaty amendment. These were artificial reasons. If one believes that this is the fundamental cause, then this goes against the historical truth.
The issue of foreigners entering the city is a very complicated problem.
The second clause of the Treaty of Nanjing: "From here on, the Emperor permits English citizens to reside with their family members in the five cities of Guangzhou, Fuzhou, Xiamen, Ningpo and Shanghai and to conduct commerce; the English king can send consuls and administrators to be posted in those five towns." Ordinarily, this meant that common English persons can live in the cities whereas the diplomatic officials can live in the towns. The Treaty of Nanjing translated the Chinese terms into "cities" and "towns." The English side believed that "cities and towns" meant inside the city and therefore the English diplomats and the common English people can all enter the city. The Chinese and English sides had a huge disagreement in the interpretation of the language in the treaty clauses. According to the European's international law, the two language versions of the Treaty of Nanjing (note: there did not exist a third version at the time) have equal legal validity. The treaty did not say which version was the standard and when there was a difference in interpretation, each side could hold on to its own views. Actually, both documents had been offered by the English side. This led to two different interpretations of the same law about entering the city. From the Chinese viewpoint, the English had no basis for asking for the full implementation of the treaty. Actually, Chinese officials had agreed to let the English enter the city under pressure from England. But Guangzhou society and its prominent citizens did not agree to let the English enter, and they were ready to start a war. Therefore, the Chinese officials delayed the time of entry on the grounds of "not having received popular approval." The atrocities committed by the English army during the Opium War and the various incidents in which the English people oppressed the Chinese by force after the Opium War were the fundamental reasons why the citizens of Guangzhou hated the foreigners. From the historical angle, the xenophobic emotions of the citizens of Guangzhou had a reasonable basis to be present, and the conditions were there for the citizens of Guangzhou to fight against the entry of the foreigners.
The demand to amend a treaty is the strategy by the western powers to extract more benefits from China. Early in 1853, England used the most favored nation clause to demand a treaty amendment in the aftermath of the Wangxia Treaty between China and the United States concerning the trade and seaway rights after 12 years. In May that year, the English government instructed its consul in China to demand an amendment of the Treaty of Nanjing as follows: China must open all its cities and ports to the English people and the English can travel all over China without restriction. When the consul received the instructions, the northern expeditionary forces of the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace had already reached Tianjin. The consul did not know whether the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace force or the Manchurian government would win and so he shelved the instructions temporarily. In July, the Americans offered the bait to the Manchurian government for expanded interests in China in return for help in suppressing the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace. The Manchurian government was suspicious of the American motives and did not agree. Actually, scholars who study the history of the imperialist invasion of China had earlier pointed out that there was no basis for the English to ask to amend the Treaty of Nanjing. The Treaty of Nanjing was a political treaty, and not a commercial treaty. There was no provision for amendment; and the amendment of a treaty cannot be included in the most favored nation treatment. English took advantage of the fact that the Chinese government did not have the European understanding of international relationships and they lied and cheated, and the Manchurian government was dragged along by the nose.
In 1854, England, the United States and France were actively working to amend the treaties. But for England, the moment was not yet ripe to use war to solve the problem of treaty amendment. The biggest reason was that England and France were allied against Russia in the Crimean war over how to partition and enslave Turkey. The English army was on the Crimean battlefield. Therefore, the English government directed that there should be no attempt to use force in those negotiations about treaty amendment. They only wanted China to accept the principle of treaty amendment and the actual negotiations did not have to take place immediately. In 1855, the United States appointed the missionary Barker as its China consul and their assignment for Barker consisted of three tasks: get the Chinese government to let the consul be posted in the capital, unlimited trade expansion and elimination of any personal restrictions. Barker knew that the Wangxia Treaty only permitted minor amendments after 12 years but he thought: "In order to get the maximum benefits of all the government, it is necessary not only to get the minor amendments but more drastic changes are inevitable" for which "strong tactics must be used." Before he came to China, he visited the foreign ministries in England and France and obtained a consensus. In August 1855, Barker hoped to go up north to Bohai bay and force the Beijing government to enter negotiations about the treaty amendment. "Isolated action without strong military pressure has no hope of forcing the China to make any significant concessions." Since the navy gunships of the various nations had not yet arrived, this northern trip was scrapped because the military support was absent. This is to say that using the means of war to force the Manchurian government to agree to treaty amendment was an established policy.
In March 1856, the Crimean war ended in the defeat of Russia. At that time, England, France and Russia all turned their eyes towards China and the various navy fleets headed towards China. The opponents in the Crimean war have now become partners in China. Since the invaders have already decided to use the means of war, they needed to find an high-sounding excuse.
At that time, the incident of the priest Auguste Chapdelaine occurred. This was an unexpected individual case, but it was a good excuse for France. But for England, it was not a very strong excuse. Soon, the Arrow incident occurred. It was not hard for the colonialists to find excuses to invade China. A French researcher in the early 20th century found this quote: "You should not have to worry about not finding a legal excuse to start a quarrel with China; if necessary, I can find an even better excuse than the taking of the 'Arrow.'"
From this, it can be seen that the Second Opium War was inevitable, and it would not have changed because of the attitude of the Chinese side. The fundamental cause for this war was that the western powers wanted to go beyond the privileges in the treaties in order to gain more benefits in China.
The Invaders Do Not Have Procedural Rights
As everybody knows, the nature of the invaders is in looting. When the "Modernization" article brought up the case of the priest Auguste Chapdelaine, it offered the critical concept known as the priority of procedural rights. The article said: when the Xilin officials executed the priest, "they violated the treaty obligation to send the arrested French person to the consulate" and "according to the legal doctrine of the priority of procedural rights, China was undoubtedly wrong." This not only denies the nature of the invaders, but it also muddled the facts.
The priority of procedural rights sounds impressive. It would seem that the English and French people from Europe are the most observant of the legal principle of the priority of procedural rights. Actually, these colonialist invaders who seemingly observed the legal principle of the priority of procedural rights had never observed the legal principle of the priority of procedural rights since coming to China.
In the case of Auguste Chapdelaine, he was preaching illegally and he did many bad things in his missionary area. The local officials did not send the criminal Chapdelaine back to the French consulate and they executed him. So they broke the law afterwards. According to the legal principle of priority of procedural rights, how come Chapdelaine and France were not wrong first?
Or take the case of the battle of Dagu as an example. When the French knew that the Manchurian government had set up defenses at Daguhou, they still let the English consul sail in a gunboat from Daguhou up the White River to Tianjin. The English consul Bruce wrote in his report to the English government: "We must give the Chinese government another lesson at Tianjin ... I must make the Manchurian emperor and his officials believe: once I bring up my demand, I will get it. If they don't accede to my demand, I am prepared to use force and threat to obtain it." Bruce said: "I am prepared to make battle and not go through Beitang." He insisted on going past Dagu up White River into Beijing. On the afternoon of June 25, 1859, the English and French allied forces (England alone had a dozen of battleships, cruisers and gunboats and 2,000 soldiers) suddenly attacked the Daguhou battery. The Daguhou defenders responded in determined fashion and the battle went on for a full day. More than a dozen English and French ships were sunk, 454 English soldiers and 14 French soldiers were killed and even the English fleet commander was seriously injured. The English and French had to retreat hastily. The English and French fleets opened fire first at the Daguhou battery, and the Daguhou defenders responded. This was proper and just. There was no doubt that the responsibility of the Dagu incident lied solely with the invaders. In a September 13, 1859 commentary, proletariat revolutionary leader Karl Marx, who had always been sympathetic with invaded countries, wrote: "Even if the Chinese should have let the peaceful English consul proceed to Beijing, the Chinese resistance against the armed English expeditionary force was undoubtedly also right. The action of the Chinese did not break the treaty; it only stopped the English invasion."
Actually, the Manchurian government had agreed to exchange treaties in Beijing and it had arranged for senior officials to receive the English and French consuls at Beitang with reception facilities along the way as well as places to stay in Beijing. From the viewpoint of safety, the Manchurian government designated the travel route for the consuls to enter Beijing, with the condition that they can bring attendants but no weapons. These arrangements were appropriate to the standards in international relationship. The international law written by the Europeans did not state that one can carry weapons to another national capital in order to exchange treaty documents. These arrangements were completely in line with the requirements of procedural rights. When the news about Dagu reached London, the English capitalist newspapers accused China of breaking the treaty and asked the English government to take "revenge" against China. The English "Daily Telegraph" even claimed: "Britain ought to attack the coastal areas of China and take over Beijing; the English people should be the masters of China." Karl Marx wrote about the Dagu incident at the time: "When has the French consul's right to be in England given the French consul the right to bring the French expeditionary force to forcibly intrude up the Thames river?" "Since the Treaty of Tianjin does not give the English and French the right to sail into the White River, it clearly showed that it was the English and not the Chinese who broke the treaty. Furthermore, the English had previously decided to provoke China at the pre-arranged time to exchange the treaty documents." "The White River clash did not occur by accident. On the contrary, Duke Elgin had planned on it beforehand." Those were the comments that Karl Marx wrote after studying the reports from China by the English consul and reporters.
It is possible to offer more examples about how the imperialists did not follow the legal principle of the priority of procedural rights in their process of invading China.
The Sino-American "Five port trade regulations: customs tax regulations" (since it was signed in Wangxia village in Macau, it was also known as the Wangxia treaty) is a trade agreement between the United States and China. Article 34 stipulated: "The treaty has been signed and both countries should abide by it; amendments should not be taken lightly; since the port conditions are different, the various trade and seaway clauses may require modification; after twelve years, the two nations shall send officials to fairly negotiate again. Since the treaty has been signed, the officials and citizens of both nations should abide by it. The various states in the United States should not send officials to dissent." This treaty very clearly stated that the Wangxia Treaty must not be "amended lightly" and that China and the United States should "abide by it." The various states of the United States must not send officials over to dissent. Under what circumstances can the treaty be "slightly modified" in twelve years? The stipulation is because the "conditions at the various ports may be different" (the "Modernization" article happened to have omitted these words) and that allows certain amendments on trade and seaway. Actually, this is referring to very minor amendments and the United States and the other countries all knew that. The Chinese side also knew that.
In May 1855, the United States, England and France notified the Guangdong/Guangxi governor Ye Mingchen that they wanted Beijing to amend the Wangxia Treaty. At the time, the Manchurian government directed: "The signed treaty contains the possibility of fair negotiation after twelve years. But the original concern was that the conditions were not identical and it may be necessary to adjust slightly. There is no chance for big changes." The Manchurian government had the reasonable and legally correct understanding. According to the legal principle of priority of procedural rights, England, France and the United States do not have the right to suggest large-scale amendments to the treaty; even if there are minor amendments, they should go through diplomatic channels to "fairly negotiate" with the Manchurian government. If the Manchurian government does not agree to amend the treaty, they can only wait. A treaty that was signed under threat of force is not binding. Marx cited the declaration by the Hong Kong lead prosecutor to London's Morningstar News: "No matter what the treaty is about, if the English government and its officials used force, it will have no effect. Therefore, the British empire does not have the right to enjoy the preferences and rights under this treaty." This is the priority of procedural rights.
But, as described before, which among England, France, United States and Russia followed this principle?
Historical Materialism Must Not Doubted
The study and interpretation of history is a very serious business. One must present the results of the research and interpretations to the broad masses of readers in common language, and one must have a very responsible attitude towards society and readers. The historical processes and facts are not up to anyone to explain as they please, for there is the attitude of historical materialism. At the same time, the historical process is filled with the movements of contradictions, and complicated events are the result of all kinds of specific events. When we analyze and study historical events, if we cannot understand the historical materials, if we cannot place things to a historical framework, if we cannot grasp the nature of the historical process and if we cannot present the historical phenomenon through class analysis and debate, we will not be able to find the threads in the chaotic historical phenomenon and grasp the basic laws of the historical processes. If we ignore historical facts and if we make arbitrary interpretation of historical facts and processes, that would be historical idealism.
There is a fashionable saying: all history is contemporary history. Or perhaps all history is the history of thinking, or everybody thinks that he is his own historian. If all history is written by contemporary thinkers, then the above sayings mean something. But I believe that when contemporary people study and write about history, they should be guided by materialism. They should use materialism to observe the historical phenomena, recognize the nature of the historical developments and indicate the direction of historical development. If the histories inside everybody's heart are written, then everybody will have their say and we lose the original face of history. If we use this kind of history to educate the youth, it will mislead the youth.
History is not a girl who can be dressed up at will. The "Modernization" article was incorrect for totally ignoring historical materialism. There were many incorrect viewpoints. Here are some examples.
"If it had been done according to the agreement by both sides, the new invasion by the French and English allied force which burned the Yuanmingyuan could have been avoided." This is obvious. When the foreign powers invaded China, when did they ever reach any "agreement" with China? The various unequal treaties and the treaty documents were either provided by the invaders or else enforced by the invaders. What ability did the Chinese negotiators have to dissent?
"If war did not occur, would it not be better for China?" Wang Jingwei was organizing a low-keyed entertainment place during the initial stages of the War of Resistance and he said something similar. The disgraced position of Wang Jingwei in history is difficult to revise now. We can only respond this way: If the Chinese people never resisted or fought against foreign invaders, China would have been a full colony. Would China be where it is today?
"Faced with the pressuring strong foes, the weaker Manchurian government should make the smart choice of rigorously implementing the existing treaties and avoid head-on clashes." When contemporary people look back in history, they can see that the capitalist foreign powers were stronger and the feudal China was weaker. But during the Opium War era, which Chinese person thought that China was the weaker side? Even if they saw that China was the weaker side, should the weaker side refuse to resist when foreign enemies invade? The Manchurian government was severely restricted within the system of unequal treaties and they were always strictly respecting the treaties. It was always the foreign invaders who did not observe and who were not satisfied with the special privileges in those treaties.
"After long-term, complicated and repeated negotiations and interactions, it is possible to gradually establish a 'just' order that is more suitable for the long-term interests of the majority of people and nations." This ambiguous sentence is pointless when placed in the context of late Manchurian era or modern China. If the nation is not independent, if the people have not seize political power and if there is no national strength, it is useless to count on the Manchurian government to negotiate and interact. Even today, the combined national power of China is relatively stronger and we can play "chess games" internationally to obtain an equal and mutually beneficial international order, but is it possible to establish a "just" international order that is suitable to the long-term benefits of the majority of nations?
"Under-developed countries and regions (colonies, semi-colonies) have only one path of changing their undeveloped conditions and passivity, and that is to learn from the western powers to go through full modernization and change their social lives." Modern Chinese history did not go through this path. Can the colonial and semi-colonial governments and regions achieve full modernization of social lives by imitating the western powers without changing their colonial and semi-colonial statuses? We have not been able to find such an example on this entire planet. Sun Yat-sen created the Chinese League in the hope of reviving China by learning from England, United States and France and establishing a republican system like in the United States and France but he did not get any support from the western European nations at the time. The political power went to Yuan Shikai, who received the support of the western powers. It took a lot of trials and tribulations before Sun Yat-sen understood this point: the western nations did not support China building a strong capitalist country like theirs. Therefore, Sun Yat-sen went back to rebuild the Chinese Nationalist Party and re-explained the Three People's Principles. He decided to ally with Russia and the Communists, he decided to lift up the peasants and the workers, he decided to pursue a non-capitalist path and he raised the banner of anti-imperialism.
After the May 4th movement, the Chinese people initiated wave after wave of anti-imperialism and anti-feudalism movements. They formed the Chinese Communist Party and they studied Marxist theory. They opposed the invasion by the imperialists and they armed themselves with weapons that belonged to the people, and that was how they achieved their results in China. China is able to develop rapidly towards a well-off society and the Chinese people can place themselves among the peoples of the world. The historical development of the western people gave the Chinese an inspiration. Through comparison, the Chinese people chose Marxism and they chose the socialist path. They resolutely opposed imperialism and feudalism. They rose above the state of colony/semi-colony. They achieved national independence and liberation of the people. We are now truly on the way to modernization.
The history narrated in the "Modernization" article was not based upon studying huge amounts of solid historical material. It was based upon personal preferences and then citing a few historical facts to make a historical commentary according to those personal wishes. This kind of historical commentary has no foundation of historical materials. It is just some personal thoughts. It is like water without a source and wood without ground. It seems impressive, but it has no foundation, it is unconvincing and it cannot withstand the examination of historical information. It is necessary to understand history in order to be constructive today. We should tell the Opium Wars to the next generation with true history in order to let them understand where the true path to modernization lies, so that we can be more firm in our march for the glorious revival of the Chinese nation.
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