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A Short Summary of the Modern China-West History

After reading a post calling people to remember the Chinese massacre of 1871 (condemning the atrocities committed by Western powers in China), I felt compelled to say something.

First of all, I’d like to point out a few simple facts:

(1) Had the West and China had not come into contact at all, none of this would have happened;

(2) but the contact did happen and was in fact inevitable;

(3) Today, few Chinese wish that the contact had never happened, despite the many unfortunate occurrences as a result of the contact.

With those facts as the backdrop, let me try to provide the shortest possible summary of modern China-West history:

About 300 years ago, the West came knocking on China’s door. Of Course, there had been many encounters in the past, but this was the beginning of modern China-West contact, in which the West was empowered by science and the first industrial revolution, while China was weakened by superstition and self-centeredness.

Most Westerners wanted to do business (i.e., make themselves rich by trading), but many went as genuine missionaries (i.e., make others rich by bringing a gift). Of course, some had mixed motives, but bear with me on the simplicity because I’m trying to make it very short.

Soon, the West found that the trade was not going their way. Very bad trade deficit, to be specific. The West was buying more and more Chinese goods, especially tea, but China was buying very little from the West (blame Chinese culture, the Chinese government, or both).

The West tried to “steal” the Chinese “tea technology”, leading to some degree of success in reducing the trade deficit, but not really.

But soon, the West discovered their champion product: opium.

Stupid rich Chinese got addicted to opium. Then, not-so-rich Chinese got addicted to opium. Then even the poor…

A few Chinese who had not become addicts realized the danger of the “epidemic” and were able to persuade the government to take drastic measures: closing the border and confiscating imported opium.

The West was enraged, “barbarians!” — Opium wars started (circa 1840 and 1860).

China was defeated and humiliated.

China demonized foreigners.

The demonization culminated in the Boxer Riots (circa 1900). Rioters couldn’t and didn’t want to, distinguish the invaders, the merchants, and the missionaries, all mixed among foreigners. The riots against “foreign devils” became one of the most devilish massacres of foreigners in human history. Missionaries were killed disproportionately simply because they were the most available foreigners to be killed.

West-educated Chinese elites tried to save China with something similar to Japan’s Meiji reform but failed.

Nationalism took over (circa 1920), interluded with the Japanese invasion, but ended up with a communist victory in 1949 (ironically helped by World War II).

In 1949, Mao proclaimed, “Chinese have stood up!” and closed the door to the West.

No more “foreign devils.”

Led by Mao, the Chinese did epically horrific things, among them The Great Leap Forward (1958–1961), which ended up killing tens of millions in famine, and The Great Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), which killed humanity in China.

Mao dies (1976).

Deng said to the Chinese: This didn’t work. We need to get rich instead and to do this, we need to open the door and learn from the West who did it.

The West, especially the US, was elated, with mixed motivations, sincerity, naivety, and greed.

The “Welcome China” party started in the 1980s but really warmed up in the 1990s and entered a feverish stage in early 2000 with China joining WTO.

The “globalization party” continues, honoring China as a VIP.

During the “party”, China discovered their own “opium” to the West: cheap manufacture, plus a real drug (fentanyl so far) that literally does an “opium revenge” over.

Waking up with a bad drug hangover one morning, America realized something was wrong and started to complain (circa 2017).

Adding to the drama, China exports a pandemic (apparently by accident and mistake). This is 2020.

Americans cry out: Chinese devils!

The history rhymes, except it is with some inverse symmetry.

This is the current state of affairs.

PS: I have little power to play a meaningful role as a peacemaker, but I’m seeing history in the making. Underneath the maddening mass sentiments and movements, there are always positive lessons of humanity to be learned, and many have indeed learned them. Some even made admirable sacrifices (remember the Western missionaries who loved the Chinese but were killed in China), but many are simply making honest and humble efforts, acknowledging their feebleness but doing what they need to do.