Premier Asia journalist Bill Hayton of BBC fame, has written books on China, the South China Sea, and Vietnam, as well as scores of articles on Asian topics. His most controversial book, “The Invention of China,” is a detailed look at how the concept of “China as a nation” was first conceived by westerners then accepted by pre-communist revolutionary Chinese, before finally being co-opted into the Communist Party of China’s official narrative in the 20th century.
Particular memories of the past have been cultivated and popularized in China to justify the claims and actions of the current leadership. All countries do this but in most other countries it is possible to critique and challenge those “invented” narratives. Under Xi Jinping, however, that would be, at the very least, a career-limiting move. The Communist Party needs a narrative that justifies its hold over Tibet and Xinjiang and its claims to Taiwan. It needs everyone to forget that, right until the 1940s, the Communist Party leadership claimed that all those territories contained separate nationalities with the right to self-determination. It needs a narrative of national unity that underpins ethnic homogenization and territorial integrity. Evidence that points in other directions is systematically excluded.Interview with Bill Hayton in The Diplomat
Hayton overturns the majority of common misconceptions regarding the history of China which has been force-fed to gullible students for several generations:
Chinese leaders like to claim that their nation boasts a 5,000-year history as a unified state, drawing an implicit (and sometimes explicit) contrast between this ancient heritage and “newer” upstart powers like the United States. In a compelling and provocative new book, the U.K.-based author Bill Hayton reveals the extent to which this claim is the product of a modern process of nation-building.
In “The Invention of China” (Yale University Press, 2020), Hayton argues that the modern notion of “China” dates to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when reformers and revolutionaries adapted foreign ideas in order to fortify China against the depredations of Western imperialism. Hayton shows how this nation-building project, projected backward onto the various empires and states that occupied the present-day territory of the People’s Republic, planted the seeds of many of the country’s most fraught problems, from Xinjiang to Taiwan to the South China Sea.Sebastian Stranglo
In the contentious video below, China propagandist Carl Zha ties himself into knots in trying to contradict Hayton’s well documented assertions. Hayton is forced to correct Zha’s misstatements time after time, yet Zha clearly learns nothing from the discussion. That is the true mark of a propagandist.
The most amusing thing about the video is the comments, which should be read only after watching the video first. Zha comes across as a man of limited intellectual resources, who should approach the world with a great deal more humility than he seems capable of.
Better yet, read the book “The Invention of China” by Bill Hayton in its entirety to obtain a far better history of “China” than Carl Zha with his short attention span was able to obtain over his lifetime.
The Invention of Russia
Mikhail Gorbachev’s attempt to reform the Soviet Union led to its disintegration in December 1991. The largest of its shattered pieces (15 new states in all) was Russia, which contained three-fourths of the former USSR’s territory and about half of its population. A state with the geographical boundaries of the new Russia had never existed before, and one of its major challenges, besides crafting a new economic and political system, was discovering a new national identity.
The Invention of Russia deals with this search. Its author, Arkady Ostrovsky, was born and educated in the USSR and left Russia in 1992 to pursue a PhD in English Literature at the University of Cambridge. During the present century of Vladimir Putin’s dominance in Ostrovsky’s birth land, he has been a foreign correspondent there for two British publications, the Financial Times and the Economist. Ostrovsky’s readable prose reflects his journalistic background, as well as his thorough knowledge of his native country.Source
Arkady Ostrovsky’s book “The Invention of Russia” focuses upon a narrower band of recent history, although it covers much of the time from Stalin up to Putin. Understanding the heartbreaking tragedy of modern Russia’s fateful trajectory is best done by understanding Russia’s history.
“The Invention of Russia” is an excellent look at how the political leaders of Russia collaborate with the media elites of the country to enslave the minds of the Russian people — only barely removed from the status of serfdom.
A more comprehensive recent history of Russia is “The Story of Russia” by Orlando Figes. In “The Story of Russia,” the entire history of the region and the populations which would eventually come to be known as “Russia” is clearly laid out in detail. It contradicts the official “Putin account” of Russian history on many levels.
But in order for Putin to sell the Russian public on an endless war to try to recreate a grand Russian empire, he was forced to invent a fanciful narrative out of the nether parts of his own digestive tract and using Russian state media to saturate the poor longsuffering minds of the Russian people in the hogwash.
Russia was never a great power, although in terms of land holdings it remains the largest country in terms of land mass. Thanks to modern mineral extraction methods, much of the land of Russia previously judged to be worthless, coincidentally provides access to valuable mineral and energy deposits. But turning potential into reality has never been a Russian strong point.
Conclusion: Both Russia and China are suffering economically from the misguided attempts of their leaders to turn the regional powers into global superpowers. Whether either or both nations will be able to survive the next twenty years is questionable. The leaders of those countries utilize a wide range of popular fantasies to bolster public delusions that allow them to cling to power.
For more than ten years running, we at Al Fin have been cautioning the leaders of China and Russia not to “jump the gun” in their attempts to exert global power. But did those leaders listen? No, they were not intelligent enough. And they have only gotten worse since. 😉
It is all invention, it is all a farce. But wars are started based upon much less.
Hope for the best. Prepare for the worst. It is never too late for a Dangerous Childhood © .