May 28 1900. Googling this date gives me the result of a total solar eclipse. It is safe for me to deduce that according to Western perspectives, a solar eclipse would have been the biggest event or the most interesting event that happened on that day 120 years ago. But, a few of us will remember that this day was a day of shame for the Chinese. I only learned about this day on its anniversary this week. The day the foreigners in Beijing’s International Legation Quarter, abhorred by the arrival of hungry and angry peasants who flooded the city, fleeing famine and drought in the rural areas, asked for support from the Allied forces comprising the might the world could muster from the British Empire, the United States of America, the French, the German Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Italy and Japan. 400 troops arrived at the legations on the 31st to keep out the new arrivals. The Chinese were not welcomed in their own city. Their arrival signaled the disdain and displeasure of the foreigners. That raised the ire of the peasants, many of whom were boxers of the Boxer Rebellion. The conflict escalated into a siege of the legations which lasted 55 days. Spain, Holland and Belgium later joined in the pillage, looting and rape of the city of Beijing. 40 years earlier, during the 2nd Opium War, the British and French troops pillaged Beijing’s magnificent Old Summer Palace before burning it down. “We call ourselves civilised and them barbarians,” wrote the author, Victor Hugo. “Here is what Civilisation has done to Barbarity.” Over 1.5 million Chinese antique relics were stolen from the palace and hundreds of courtiers, eunuchs and maids were burned to death. During the period from 1854 to 1864, the Manchu government was not only preoccupied with attacks by Western forces, they were also fighting a rebellion led by Hong Xiuquan who believed he was the Chinese Son of God. When the Chinese lost the 1st Opium War (1839-1842) to British forces, they not only ceded Hong Kong to the British but they also allowed many liberties to be enjoyed by the Westerners in China. The freedom to preach their religion saw the influx of Christian missionaries into the country – I do not know the reason why but many Hakka people converted to Christianity. The Hakka, also known as kejia were considered guests who fled from the North in the early 4th century. Did they readily convert to Christianity to further differentiate themselves from the locals (bendi ren)? The Taiping Rebellion was led by the Chinese Son of God who believed Jesus had urged him to “fight for Heaven”. Taiping leadership was mainly of Hakka origin. The God Worshipping Society won key bloody battles against the Manchu imperial forces and held Nanjing for 11 years after much bloodshed. Ultimately, Hong was betrayed by the West, their common belief in the same God did not extend to the same political objectives. The rebellion ended after Hong’s death in 1864. It was estimated between 20 to 70 million lives were lost during this bloody civil war. It is no wonder modern-day China is still wary of religion and religious fanatics. From this backdrop of devastation, deaths and shame, China was to suffer even more humiliation when the Qing dynasty was forced to sign the Xinchou Treaty or the unequal and ugly Sino treaty to pay vast sums of “compensation” in silver and gold, and cede exclusive living quarters to the victorious Western forces which sent an army of over 20,000 soldiers to “save” China from the boxers and Imperial troops deployed by the Manchu government. The locals had a 20:1 advantage in numbers and a belief that bullets could not kill them. May this piece of history remind modern-day China that it is not the superior troop numbers that will determine the winner in a war but it is the use of superior lethal weapons and well planned military strategies that will point to the ultimate victor. Wikipedia will tell us the boxers rebelled because they were upset by the proselytising Christian missionaries who abused their “extraterritorial rights” and avoided paying local taxes. If only the facts were as mundane, there would have been no animosity, contempt and eventual violence and uprising towards Western occupation. It is no wonder that the Chinese today, having experienced the economic revival and technological progress in recent years, demonstrate a strong nationalistic pride. I am not a Chinese citizen and have never lived there like a local. Some will remind me I should not have any pro-Chinese sentiments.
“What has China ever done for you?”
“Did the Communists pay for your education? Why support them?”
“Do not forget the Cultural Revolution! They killed many innocent scholars and artists. They even killed their own parents.”
“What about the Uighur camps and the plight of the Muslims? They number well over a million, in concentration camps!”
“The Christians can’t even practise their religion. They have to pray underground!”
“Tibet! Free Tibet!”
They may say what they want, but history will show that in any revolution, many people will die and mistakes will be made. The cultural revolution was one major bloody blunder. The plunder of valuable artefacts and burning of art and books is unforgivable. Yet, to forgive we must, in order to go forward. We must look to the positives that China has achieved and there are so many to admire in the past 30 years. In that time, I have managed to carve out a simple livelihood from my small business whilst the communist brains in the politburo have helped over 800 million people out of poverty and deliver a space-age technology to their economy. I know the blood that flows in my body is 100% Chinese. My father hailed from Zhejiang and my mother’s roots are from Ningbo. Please do not blame me for being proud of my ancestry. It is not only now that I have a firm inclination to defend my race. I still go around by my Chinese name and I have never dyed my hair blond or brown! I have a strong affinity with Zhejiang. Pa was born in Shaoxing, a place made famous by its rice wine. Ma’s childhood was spent in Ningbo, where the game of Mahjong was invented. Fishermen decided the Mahjong tiles would not get blown away on windy days. Smart people! Wu Changshuo, prominent calligrapher and artist, and Lu Xun, arguably the greatest Chinese writer of the 20th century were also born in Shaoxing. I wish I could pass this quote of his to the urghhling Trump. 墨写的谎说，绝掩不住血写的事实。“Lies written in ink cannot cover facts written in blood.” There is also the martyr Qiu Jin whose roots also came from Shaoxing also. Her story is one I must one day delve deep into – a writer and a rebel leader against the Qing who was beheaded after a failed uprising against the Manchu government. In the interest of fairness to Ningbo, let me include Chiang Kai-Shek and Yo-Yo Ma whose roots are also from Ningbo. Other famous names from Zhejiang that I want to add are Su Dongpo, the scholar whose fatty pork has usurped his scholarly fame and Jack Ma of Alibaba fame, both from Hangzhou.
I have this inclination to use the megaphone to trumpet these famous and successful Zhejiang identities only because The Mrs frequently brags to me why she is a proud Hakka. “Do you know Deng Xiaoping was a Hakka?” Such luminaries as Lee Kuan Yew, Sun Yat Sen and Kuala Lumpur’s Yap Ah Loy were also Hakka. Maybe next time she broaches the subject, I will remind her of the Hakka involvement in the Taiping Rebellion. Maybe not. I was hoping the 6th century sage, Laozi, who was credited with writing the Tao Te Ching, also hailed from Zhejiang. But, no. He was from Henan. In the movie The Red Cliff, l learned a quote from Cao Cao but later discovered it was by Laozi. ‘Huo xi, Fu zhi suo Yi; Fu xi, Huo zhi suo Fu’ When we are miserable, know that happiness is to be found just around the corner. When we are happy, be aware that misery lurks nearby. The Mrs imparted this gem of a philosophy to me. In good times, know that the bad is not far away. In bad times, the good will surely come soon! On further reflection, it could be for this reason that we rarely celebrate with great enthusiasm whenever we experience great success! We know full well the tall poppy syndrome still thrives in Australia. When you stand too proud and tall, you’d be chopped down from under you soon enough. Like the beautiful green leaves and stunning lilac flowers of the wisteria, they won’t last forever and must surely fall. But, for The Mrs and I, we still find great beauty in them, as they lay withered on the ground.