[NOTEBOOK]Spoiling a ‘peaceful rise’“I was a Sinophile, but now I have become a Sinophobe,” a Korean friend in Beijing grumbled. He said that he used to admire China dominated by his expectations for a socialist China that has started anew overcoming difficulties in history, and admiration for the breadth of Chinese culture. But he said that that curiosity and affinity have all vanished as of late. Furthermore, he now claims to have become a China-hater.
This idea is not this friend’s alone. Koreans living in China these days are also feeling tired of the Chinese people. The crucial trigger was China’s attempt to incorporate Goguryeo history as part of its own history.
The distortion of Goguryeo history asserted by the Chinese government and the press by turns is far-fetched indeed. Listening to the announcements of China’s state-run news agency and other Chinese news outlets controlled by its Communist Party, we feel more sorry than angry, wondering what on earth makes China act this way.
The main grounds for China’s interpreting Goguryeo history as its own is the fact that Goguryeo paid tribute to the Chinese dynasties on the mainland, and the relations of the two countries were those of king and subordinate in which the former confers the latter with a title.
But it is common sense in academic circles to view tribute as a kind of international trade relation and to interpret conferring a title and the name of an era in the context of the dynamics of the international community at that time. If foreign relations should be perceived through tribute and conferring a title, it is possible to interpret by extension that Japan, the Ryukyu archipelago, Vietnam, and Southeast Asian countries all belonged to Chinese territory and were subordinate states to China. Furthermore, Spain and other countries, which paid tribute to meet Chinese emperors during the Qing dynasty, can be said to have been subordinate states. The problem we often encounter is that most ordinary Chinese people have a strange self-conceit. They think, “Surrounding small countries were subject states which brought tribute to us in the past,” or, “Although we are poor now, we once ruled all the surrounding countries.”
This fallacy of popular historical perception seems to be entirely handed to the Chinese Communist Party’s history-recording task. The party is carrying out a job to regard as part of Chinese history not only Goguryeo history but those of all surrounding countries, including Vietnam, Mongolia, Tibet, India and Russia, and other minority ethnic groups in its territory, such as autonomous regions in Xinjiang, Guangxi and Zhuangzu.
Ironically, China has recently advocated a “peaceful rise” as its framework for overseas relations. It proclaimed that China would rise to be a peaceful force that is not considered a threat to surrounding or other countries in the world.
We did not literally believe this framework of foreign relations the Chinese government introduced early this year. But the Chinese government was showing a contradictory attitude and perception of history long before it declared its “peaceful rise.”
The Chinese have always looked two-faced to Koreans. One face is China as a big cultural power and the other is that of a greedy and insidious people. A negative perception of the Chinese is growing stronger than the sense of affinity toward China. Of course, the main cause is the issue of Goguryeo.
To keep perceptions of China held by 70 million South and North Korean neighbors from developing into antipathy, China should show a future-oriented attitude rather than old-fashioned Sinocentrism.
*The writer is the Beijing correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Yoo Kwang-jong
More in Columns
China’s thin skin
The Korean War from China’s view
Who’s laughing now?
Fighting Chinese patriotism
The curse of the presidency