Thursday, August 14

5,000 Years of Chinese History

The vast area known today as China has indeed witnessed the development of human civilization for millennia. But so have India, Africa, Europe and the Near East. The implication that non-Chinese peoples lack a comparable degree of history is false. The Jews have a history of at least 5,000 years, as do the Egyptians and Indians. The recorded and archaeologically attested history of the Celts is of similar length to that of the Chinese; the early history of both peoples disintegrates into unattested mythology...

In making statements about China's "5,000 years", the term is being applied retrospectively. In this sense it actually denotes nothing more than a geographical area. Modern Iraq, Egypt and Pakistan can make even more impressive claims on this basis.

But despite these facts, Chinese people have been taught that they are the heirs to a more ancient civilization than are other peoples of the world. Most believe it. The message conveyed in Chinese schools and universities, and echoed by the media, is that China's history makes it special. This particular lesson has sunk in deeply. History has become an instrument of national self-assertion.

The unquestioning approach that is nurtured in the Chinese study of history allows many bizarre notions to slip into popular mindset, beside the notion that Chinese civilization's longevity somehow distinguishes it from other nations...

The teaching of history in modern China is, of course, intended to foster patriotism. It is this that allows China to lay claim to the achievements of Mongols and Manchus while attacking them as enemies or oppressors at the same time.

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