China: Into “Woke” History, Just Not in China

“No thank you,” says Xi Jinping; report your neighbors for “historical nihilism” today

I’m working on a long piece considering whether the upheaval we are seeing today is, essentially, the climax of a recurring 500 year-long cycle of religious turbulence and reformation within Christianity in particular. So you can look forward to that in the hopefully not too distant future.

But in the meantime I thought I’d at least leave you with something from this week that I found amusing.

I’ve noted with interest how quickly China, sensing opportunity, has adapted its external propaganda apparatus to the themes of America’s New Faith, such as previously describing America’s alliance network as an “Axis of White Supremacy.” In another example from this week, Chinese state media put out an English-language piece titled “The original sin of U.S. colonialism,” which claims that “from massacring native Indians to enslaving African people, from racial discrimination making people ‘unable to breathe’ to military interference in other countries,” the “lies and coercion” of America’s founders are baked into the “genes” of the United States. “People should be alert to the fact that though the colonialism era has long gone, the aftermath of the colonial crimes such as racism, hegemonism and interventionism still haunts the world,” its author concludes with a glee that is nearly audible through the screen.

Many in the West today would seemingly find little to disagree with.

Meanwhile, however, China’s internet regulator posted this notice last Friday (April 9):

Which says, basically, that Chinese President Xi Jinping has ordered everyone to participate in the CCP’s “Party history education campaign” this year in order to vigorously combat “historical nihilism” and “clarify ambiguous understandings and one-sided understanding of some major historical issues.” This is necessary because “some [people with] ulterior motives” have “have been spreading historical nihilistic misrepresentations online, maliciously distorting, denigrating and negating the history of the Party, the state and the military, in an attempt to confuse people” and destroy national “self-confidence.”

“If someone wants to destroy a nation, the first thing they do is to destroy its history,” it notes gravely.

But not to fear! The purpose of the notice is to inform the public that a new hotline has been opened through which they can report anyone they see on the internet who is “illegally” “distorting history” or “denying the excellence of traditional Chinese culture.”

“No thanks,” says Xi Jinping, looking West, “we don’t want any of that around here.” Historical revisionists are only OK when they’re employed specifically by the Party.

Overall, this just serves to demonstrate the supreme importance the Chinese Communist Party puts on “discourse power,” or the ability to control narratives at home and, increasingly, abroad. Back in January, the Party’s Ideology Tsar, Wang Huning, held a meeting of China’s top propaganda officials to tell them to make “all-out efforts” to “take the initiative in the reform and innovation of external propaganda,” given the strategic opportunities presented to China in 2021. Not coincidentally, Wang’s 1989 book America Against America, which describes America’s allegedly crippling internal political contradictions, had just become an overnight bestseller following the January 6 Capitol Hill riot, with out-of-print copies trading for more than $2,500 on Chinese e-commerce platforms.

I suppose we’ll see in time how effective they can be – though I’d wager China is just riding the waves of the Upheaval along with everyone else (though likely to its advantage) as much as it is a driver of it.