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China: Grandfather or Grandchild?


In the first section of the article "The Shadow of Chinese History," writer Huo Shui gives an overview of Chinese dynastic history. We highlighted that section in a post titled “A Long and Glorious History.”

In the second section of the article Huo Shui uses the concepts of grandfather and grandchild to help us understand China’s desire for dominance. 

In Chinese culture, “grandfather” is a symbol of power and authority; “grandchild,” on the other hand, is a symbol of weakness. “Grandfather” gives orders. He is the commander in chief. “Grandchild” is the one who follows orders. While China’s long and magnificent history often serves as a stimulus to generations of Chinese who have a desire to relive the old dream—to return to the old days of glory of the Han and Tang dynasties—in reality, the past hundred years of China’s history have been full of pain and humiliation. This period of history reminds every Chinese person of what it is like to be the “grandchild.” However, having a strong nation and bringing honor to the ancestors should be the norm; the “grandfather” is what the Chinese should be. 

To be the “grandchild,” dictated to by other nations, is not normal and should only be temporary. Therefore, Chinese nationalism has been the over-arching spirit of every revolution. From the Sino-Japanese War to the Nationalist-Communist Civil War, the Communist Party has always used China’s restoration as a world power as their way to mobilize the masses for their cause. The “Revive China” slogan provides a good picture of how desperate and anxious China is to return to the old days of glory. With such a mentality, even the outcome of a soccer game, the launching of a missile or the competition to host the Olympic Games become a focal point for millions of Chinese. When success is achieved, the people shout for joy. When there is failure, the people mourn.

For this same reason, the Chinese envy the strength and riches of the United States on one hand, while on the other they view the U.S. as the primary obstacle keeping China from becoming strong. Therefore, many Chinese would love to see the U.S. decline. This explains why many Chinese were actually glad to see the September 11 attack on the U.S.

There is still quite a disparity between China and many developed Western nations in areas such as economic development, science and technology and social development. This continues to be a source of psychological imbalance for many Chinese. It drives Chinese people to reflect on their own history while they work diligently to try to catch up with the West. The Chinese desire is that China once again be a dominant nation. Chinese Communists advocate and market in party propaganda, nationalism—not Marxism or communism. This is a clever strategy they deploy by exploiting the desire of the Chinese people to be a dominant nation once again.

If China indeed is able to become an influential and powerful nation as a result of her economic development, then she needs to be not a “grandfather,” but a responsible, compassionate, righteous member of the world community. Unfortunately, what is still burning in the hearts of many Chinese is the spirit of nationalism. In many ways, this nationalism is similar to some extreme Islamic movements that destroy rationality and civility. If we Chinese do not see this clearly, then China will not be able to move beyond the shadow of her own history.

In other words, the Chinese Dream that current President Xi Jinping is promoting is for China to be a grandfather, not a grandchild. That’s an interesting perspective.

Image credit: Proud Grandpa, by Dominque Bergeron, via Flickr
Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is senior vice president of ChinaSource and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University... View Full Bio