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Society newlight on 30 Dec 2009 07:47 pm

Don’t mention the war

One of the unexpected consequences of the sorry story of Akmal Shaikh’s execution is ‘Opium War’ suddenly being mentioned again in the British media. Judging from the posted comments, some seem very surprised to hear that the Chinese still remember the Opium War, which after all happened 170 years ago.

Well the victims’ memories tend to be longer. For many Chinese the Opium War was the turning point of China’s recent history, when a weak and inward looking empire started to crumble, facing a new kind of foreign aggression coming over the sea. Twice under the threat of British warships, China was forced to open ports, sanction opium trade, accept the cession of Hong Kong, and pay a huge indemnity. Many years of humiliation followed.

A few days ago, when the British government went public to ask Chinese government to save Akmal Shaikh’s life, I was worried that his fate had already been sealed. Chinese authorities, even if they were prepared to show clemency, won’t be able to do so in public. Not mention that this was a case that has little sympathy from Chinese public opinions. I don’t know what efforts being made by the British government to save Akmal Shaikh’s life, but going public would certainly push China into an unchangeable position.

It is not that China wants to revenge for the humiliation of the Opium War, far from it. Many in China have a warm and friendly feeling towards Britain. The reaction to this incident on various Chinese websites has been a mixture of irritation (foreign power wants to dictate what China should do) and admiration (a government that would do anything to save its citizen). But once it became public, the authorities in China had only one choice, to stand firm and not give way. Any backing down or showing leniency under foreign demand would invoke the memories of a weak, timid, spineless government that was the court of Qing Dynasty in its dying days.

The Foreign Secretary David Miliband said in his blog that “We need to understand China (and the massive public support for the execution). They need to understand us.” He should have known that pressurizing China to accept western demands won’t work. There is a thin line between asking for clemency and lecturing about human rights. With the Opium War in mind, when dealing with China, turning understanding into demanding would only make things worse.

2 Responses to “Don’t mention the war”

  1. on 04 Jan 2010 at 14:20 1.桃花坞 » 沙克尔案:理解中国的立场 said …

    [...] 就沙克尔案为《南方都市报》写的评论。Akmal Shaikh,大陆媒体多以“阿克毛”称呼,其实要么叫全名“阿克马·沙克尔”,要么用他的姓“沙克尔”,新闻报道用名称呼是不太好的。在写了这篇之后,又看到不少评论,中文媒体的关注焦点自然是中英关系、或是中英冲突,有些甚至以“鸦片战争”来比喻。我觉得首先我们应该把沙克尔家人的努力与国家关系分开,其次英国政府没有理由也没有动机向中国“示威”,“鸦片战争”是用来提醒英国人的,中国人自己没有必要把什么都想成外国人要把我们如何如何,做大国需要有大国的自信心。 [...]

  2. on 08 Jan 2010 at 13:42 2.吕品专栏 » 沙克尔案:理解中国的立场 said …

    [...] 就沙克尔案为《南方都市报》写的评论。Akmal Shaikh,大陆媒体多以“阿克毛”称呼,其实要么叫全名“阿克马·沙克尔”,要么用他的姓“沙克尔”,新闻报道用名称呼是不太好的。在写了这篇之后,又看到不少评论,中文媒体的关注焦点自然是中英关系、或是中英冲突,有些甚至以“鸦片战争”来比喻。我觉得首先我们应该把沙克尔家人的努力与国家关系分开,其次英国政府没有理由也没有动机向中国“示威”,“鸦片战争”是用来提醒英国人的,中国人自己没有必要把什么都想成外国人要把我们如何如何,做大国需要有大国的自信心。 [...]

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