Our work is cut out for us: “In war, the first causality is truth.” We must think critically and defensively and not take anything attacking China at face value. Our task is to challenge the lies as we organize and work for peace.   

China, Total Information Warfare: Sinophobia

Part 1 of a 2-part series: Part 2: The U.S. War on China: Panda Huggers and Panda Sluggers“ Vol. 39 No.1, Winter 2021.

The U.S. is already at war against China. It is currently using the many tactics of a multi-domain hybrid war, and, despite the non-interventionist wishes of the American people who want peace, the U.S. is showing signals of escalating rapidly toward direct military confrontation.

While China demonstrates the possibility of multi-polarity, or the sharing of power, the U.S. is committed to unipolarity: its domination of world power at any cost. The current “conflict” is a conflict between unipolarity and multi-polarity, not freedom versus authoritarianism, or capitalism versus market socialism (“communism”).

Despite China’s assurances that it does not want war, hot or cold, that it seeks win-win cooperation and co-existence with all countries, and that it disdains hegemony, the U.S. is continually escalating, provoking, and threatening China, even as it dismantles off-ramps, channels of communication, and global institutions for cooperation and de-escalation.

Biden’s doctrine toward China will likely be a continuation of this noxious arc of history and planning. The think tank advising Biden on foreign policy, the Center for New American Security (CNAS), is a near-rhyming clone to the neocon Project for a New American Century (PNAC). CNAS has grandfathered in most of existing anti-China doctrine, and has mapped out, in obsessive detail, the next steps of a highly destructive and dangerous strategy of confrontation with China.  The key way it differs from PNAC is that it will “unite” other countries more skillfully against China, pivot away from Trump’s neo-mercantilism towards a more “globalist” approach, and likely implement some revised version of the Trans Pacific Partnership, the 12-nation economic bloc against China.

Total Information Warfare is a tactic that always precedes, justifies, and enables war. To instigate a shooting war, it is necessary to curtail any rational discussion and build consensus in a population. At this time, we are all being drenched with lies through media manipulation and propaganda to incite people to fear China (Sinophobia) and to hate China irrationally and unconditionally for the purpose of manufacturing consent for war. This is what military strategists call “the firehose of falsehoods.” The stories about so-called “Chinese human rights abuses,” “Chinese concentration camps,” “Chinese-made-and-released Covid,” assertions that “China has harmed us economically,” “China has stolen its way to the top,” “China is oppressing Hong Kong” [sources not in the print version of the WAMM newsletter were added online].[1] It has its roots in, and draws on pre-existing racism against Chinese going back to the 1700s. That’s why it’s important to look at the root of anti-Chinese sentiment in history.

ink wash, Southern Song Dynasty, by Che’n Jung (1200-1266)ink wash, Southern Song Dynasty, by Che’n Jung (1200-1266)

Culture Shock: The challenge to supremacy

The earliest European travelers were astonished to discover in China a country, in many ways, far more advanced than the West: a rich, diverse, multicultural civilization with sophisticated systems of governance and vibrant cities built with complex systems of planning and management. Above all, they marveled at a harmonious multi-religious, multi-ethnic society, free of sectarian strife, and an inclusive merit-based[2] system of political power that selected the most competent people to govern and rule, regardless of creed, color, background, or religion.[3] This contrasted with the Western system of hereditary aristocratic rule within a society torn apart regularly with religious strife.  These ideas of diversity, tolerance, inclusion, and earned—not inherited–privilege, would strongly influence the leaders of the Enlightenment, the European intellectuals of the late 17th and the 18th centuries who believed that humanity could be improved through the use of reason, science, and liberalism. Western philosophers such as Voltaire and Leibniz believed that the Chinese had “perfected moral science” and that Chinese statecraft was the model for the West to emulate, if it wanted to develop into an enlightened civilization.

These discoveries struck a hard blow at Christian and Western supremacy.  Western colonization was built on a foundational belief that the West was more advanced, more evolved—closer to God—than the “barbarous” countries it was invading, subjugating, exploiting, and destroying. It needed at least the pretense of being more “advanced” to justify its colonial “civilizing mission.”

German illustration. Part of the Forbidden City, seat of imperial Chinese families and officials from 1420 to 1912. European travelers were astonished to discover the sophistication of China’s civilization.German illustration. Part of the Forbidden City, seat of imperial Chinese families and officials from 1420 to 1912. European travelers were astonished to discover the sophistication of China’s civilization.

Reactionary thinkers like the German philosopher Herder, who had never visited China—lashed back rapidly by propagating a theory of the depravity of Chinese: that China was an “immoral land with no honor,” an “embalmed mummy” characterized by stagnation, in contrast with Western “dynamism.”

In addition, the Chinese system of meritocratic government was deeply troubling to a West built on stratified class privilege. A civilization without hereditary aristocrats was unfathomable and terrifying to the Western ruling class. The French political philosopher Montesquieu thus concocted the trope that China’s more egalitarian system had to be despotic”, despotic for him because it threatened the “liberties” (aristocratic privileges) of his class. The German philosopher Hegel chiseled this canard into the Western consciousness with an armchair theory of “Oriental Despotism,” whereby the Chinese had failed to evolve due to inherent characterological flaws in its people and its political culture. Other influential intellectuals postulated similar ideas. These allegations of “despotism”—despite being total distortions of Chinese governance ¾ have infused all Western discourses about China since.

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Enter the bandits

At the same time, “embalmed” Chinese “inferiority” notwithstanding, the West craved the exquisite consumer goods of China — tea, silk, porcelain — and this created huge trade imbalances. The Western response to balance the books was narco-trafficking: smuggling in industrial amounts of opium—at its peak, up to nine million pounds a year. When China objected and opposed this on sovereign and moral grounds and confiscated the drugs, war was declared. Reparations for drug seizures were forced, concessions extracted, and the country plundered, looted, and destroyed. In one show of force to the Chinese, in 1860, the Summer Palace of the Emperor was sacked and burned by Lord Elgin, the British high commissioner to China.

Earliest known photo of the ruins of one of the buildings on the grounds of Emperor’s Old Summer Palace, which was looted and burned by the English and the French in 1860. Worldhistory/photo.blogspotEarliest known photo of the ruins of one of the buildings on the grounds of Emperor’s Old Summer Palace, which was looted and burned by the English and the French in 1860. Worldhistory/photo.blogspot

This violence, banditry, and racism, justified by the belief in the subhuman nature of the Chinese, became normalized practice against the Chinese over two centuries, and great American fortunes—Perkins, Astor, Forbes, Cabot, Delano (Roosevelt) ¾ and Ivy league institutions at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia were built on this extraction and narco-trafficking. Hewing to the belief that the Chinese were less than human, drug barons pushed opium that addicted ten percent of the population, which had the effect of essentially incapacitating an entire nation while stealing its wealth.  Just as U.S. Southern wealth had been built on the decimation of black bodies through the slave trade, U.S. East Coast wealth was built on the destruction of Chinese bodies through the drug trade, in what historian John K. Fairbank described as “the most long-continued and systematic international crime of modern times.”

Opium ships off the coast of China, painting by 1824 by William John HugginsOpium ships off the coast of China, painting by 1824 by William John Huggins

Dehumanization, humiliation, assault, theft, rape, colonization, appropriation—these became the standard Western approach towards China and the Chinese; the Chinese people were “filthy yellow hordes,” an inferior, subhuman race, lacking agency, fit only to be colonized, exploited, enslaved, lynched, erased, and wherever possible, extinguished through race war.

It would continue.

The Yellow Peril and a Chinaman’s Chance

Inside U.S. territory itself, the mythology of the “yellow peril”—originally a German colonial war trope—became pervasive. Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York Tribune, argued that the Chinese were “uncivilized, unclean, and filthy beyond all conception, without any of the higher domestic or social relations; lustful and sensual in their dispositions; every female is a prostitute of the basest order.” Greeley, a progressive, was simply mouthing the platitudes of his day.

Much worse than rhetoric was the routine violence. Chinese immigrant labor was employed during the California gold rush and the building of the transcontinental railroad across the U.S. (1848 to 1869). What followed, prefiguring similar present-day fears, was the idea that the Chinese were stealing jobs, wealth, or threatening America. Thousands of Chinese were massacred, lynched, set on fire, expelled from their communities in the late 19th century.

Starting in 1871, violent mobs attacked Chinese immigrants. A mass lynching in the Los Angeles’s Chinatown that year was followed in 1880 by the Denver Yellow Peril pogrom.  On September 3rd, 1885, during the Wyoming Rock Springs massacre, Chinese workers were scalped, mutilated, castrated, dismembered; 50 were murdered, and 78 Chinese homes burned to the ground. This was followed days later by incidents in Washington Territory: the Issaquah Valley attack, the Coal Creek mines attack, and the Black Diamond expulsions. In November of that year, in Tacoma, 200 Chinese were rounded up at gunpoint and forced into boxcars, expelled on trains whose tracks they had built. After their expulsion, the entire Chinatown of Tacoma was razed and burned to the ground.

This string of expulsions and atrocities would continue in 1886: the Seattle Riot expelled 350 Chinese; in 1887, Oregon Hell’s Canyon massacre robbed, mutilated, and murdered 34 Chinese.

At least 150 such attacks against Chinese in U.S. states and territories were recorded.[4] “A Chinaman’s chance” became a common term: To be Chinese was to be subject to sudden death at any time at the whim of white people.

In response, the Chinese hid themselves inside ghettoes where they could. They fled pogroms, arson, and mass lynchings, and kept their heads down, “eating bitter” and trying to stay alive. Where they managed to settle down without being killed, they were subjected to cultural erasure, economic blockade, social isolation, a ban on owning property and businesses, and a proscription on marrying and having children ¾ in short, planned elimination.

U.S.-Chinese Foreign Relations and the Red Scare

In 1885, Chinese laborers were massacred in brutal and sadistic ways at Rock Springs, Wyoming. Harpers Weekly illustration.In 1885, Chinese laborers were massacred in brutal and sadistic ways at Rock Springs, Wyoming. Harpers Weekly illustration.

A minor respite in U.S.-China foreign relations occurred during WWII, when the U.S. allied itself with the Christian-led right-wing Chinese nationalist political party, the Kuomintang (KMT), against the Japanese; it gave a small glimmer of reprieve, as Chinese leaders tried to establish breathing space, and the Japanese took on the role of the “bad Asians.”

The alliance between the U.S. and China lasted until the Chinese communists liberated themselves in 1949 and wrested back their own country. “China has stood up”, Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong declared, igniting jubilation throughout the Third World and sending shockwaves of horror through the colonial West.  This arrant act of self-liberation and self-determination—along with the U.S.’s astonishment that the monstrous KMT fascists it had courted and funded had been trounced ¾ unleased a hysterical new wave of Sinophobia within the U.S. during the McCarthy era. High-ranking Congressional committees demanded “Who lost China?”— as if it had been theirs to lose. They purged the State Department of the moderate “China Hands,” who had been sympathetic or were knowledgeable about China and its political institutions. A paroxysm of anti-China and anti-Asian hatred would shiver and fester throughout the Cold War, burning, stoking, and consuming itself through two hot wars the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

However, during the ’70s, the U.S., battered from the Vietnam War, decided, for pragmatic reasons, to use China to counterbalance against the Soviet Union. Thus began a brief realist honeymoon.

This was not to last. After the fall of the Soviet Union, two decades later, two things became readily apparent: 1) there was no further political need to engage with China, since the primary reason (the threat of the Soviet Union) had gone away, and 2) it was clear, both from history and geography, that, due to its size, capacity, and dynamism, the U.S. would consider China a challenger to the United States itself. Thus the long, unabated, and persistent thread of anti-China hatred, reinvigorated with red-scare-yellow-peril-thinking, came back with a vengeance.  Despite continued engagement with China for business during the Clinton years, Sinophobia persisted as an underground current, marshalling tremendous force.

Our work is cut out for us: “In war, the first causality is truth.” We must think critically and defensively and not take anything attacking China at face value. Our task is to challenge the lies as we organize and work for peace.

Comic book from the 1950’s incites readers to “See Captain America (“Commie smasher”) defy the Communist hordes.”Comic book from the 1950’s incites readers to “See Captain America (“Commie smasher”) defy the Communist hordes.”

K.J. Noh is a journalist, political analyst, educator, and peace activist. A veteran of the Republic of Korea (the South Korean Army or ROK) Army and a member of Veterans For Peace in the U.S., he is special correspondent on Asia for KPFA’s Flashpoints, and does political analysis for Loud & Clear, Critical Hour, and other progressive news shows. He also writes for Dissident Voice, Counterpunch, Black Agenda Report, Popular Resistance, MROnline, and the Asia TimesFFI: peacepivot.org

Next installment in the China series by K.J. Noh: Who controls the levers of U.S. policy and power toward China: the business class (“Panda Huggers”) who want continued engagement with China, the ideologues (“Panda Sluggers”) who see China as a mortal and irreconcilable threat, and the comingling of the two?

1] [  https://blog.twitter.com/en_us/topics/company/2020/information-operations-june-2020.html; according to The Guardian, “the major themes of the tweets were that Hong Kong protesters were violent, and the U.S. was interfering with the protests; accusations about Guo; the Taiwan election, and praise of China’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic – which turned out to be true. Twitter coordinates with ASPI, a key source of anti-China propaganda.
[2] For example, the German Jesuit missionary Adam Schall was appointed to high bureaucratic office in the court of the Ching Dynasty.
[3] Du Halde, Jean-Baptiste (1741), Brookes, Richard (ed.), The General History of China, 3rd ed.vols. IIIIII, & IV, London: J. Watts. And Du Halde, Jean-Baptiste (1735), Description géographique, historique, chronologique, politique, et physique de l’Empire de la Chine et de la Tartarie Chinoise [A Geographical, Historical, Chronological, Political, and Physical Description of the Empire of China and of Chinese Tartary]vols. I, IIIII, & IV, Paris: P.-G. le Mercier.
[4] Pfaelzer, Jean (2007), Driven Out: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans, Random House.


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