World / Reporter's Journal

Chinese, African Americans have tribulations in common

By Chen Weihua (China Daily USA) Updated: 2016-08-15 10:44

It would be hard for people to understand the reaction or overreaction of African Americans if they haven't studied the history of slavery and racial discrimination in the United States. Likewise, it would be impossible to correctly interpret the action, reaction and overreaction of Chinese if they haven't studied the history known as the "century of humiliation".

Just in the past few years, African Americans have taken to the streets in droves across US cities following the fatal shootings or other brutality against black people by police officers.

The shooting to death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in late 2012, for example, gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement. The movement gained momentum across the nation following the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City, both in 2014, all by police officers.

Marches organized by the movement also were quite noticeable during the recent 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on July 25-28.

Chinese, African Americans have tribulations in common

Many African Americans lived as slaves in the 18th and much of the 19th century until slavery was abolished in the 1860s by President Abraham Lincoln. However, African Americans still suffered from serious discrimination and unequal rights until the passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, which legally bans racial discrimination and segregation.

The situation today is entirely different from the 18th century or even the 1960s. African Americans have taken important positions in the government, Congress, the Supreme Court and the US military. Barack Obama has become the first African American president in the US.

But it cannot mask the fact that African Americans still face discrimination, as evidenced by the low income and poor education in their communities and the much higher incarceration rate than the nation's average.

Clearly, to many African Americans, the struggle for equality and against racial discrimination is far from over. That explains why they tend to overreact if certain words and actions remind them of the bitter history of slavery and the continuing racial discrimination.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture, set to open on Sept 24 in the National Mall in Washington, is likely to help people better understand that mentality.

For Chinese, the "century of humiliation" started in the First Opium War (1840-1842) and lasted until 1949 when the People's Republic of China was founded.

After defeating China in the First Opium War, the British forced the Treaty of Nanking on China. Under the unequal treaty, China ceded the island of Hong Kong to Britain and opened treaty ports. A subsequent unequal treaty granted British extraterritoriality, meaning British were immune from the punishment of Chinese laws.

Such unequal treaties were later imposed on China by other Western powers such as France and Germany.

The Second Opium War (1856-1860) allowed the British to force more opium trade on China and opened more treaty ports. The looting and burning in 1860 of the Old Summer Palace, known to Chinese as Yuanming Yuan, by the British and French troops have left indelible marks on the Chinese collective memory.

Same with the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895). China, which was defeated, was forced to sign the unequal Treaty of Shimonoseki in which China ceded Taiwan and part of the Liaoning peninsula to Japan. China was also forced to pay a huge war indemnity that was several times Japan's GDP at the time.

While China was among the victors of World War I, the German concessions on China's Shandong peninsula were transferred to Japan as a result of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, instead of returning to China.

There has been no doubt that when Chairman Mao Zedong declared in 1949 in the Tian'anmen Rostrum that the Chinese people have stood up, it resonated so strongly with every Chinese who remembered the bullying by Western powers, or the "century of humiliation".

Unlike the US, whose history in the last 150 years has been seizing land and expanding territory, for China, it has been a bitter memory of ceding territory and bullying by Western powers.

That explains why Chinese took to the streets in massive numbers to protest against the US following the EP-3 spy plane collision in April 2001 and the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in May 1999, and that is also why Chinese took to the streets when the Japanese government in 2012 nationalized the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, territory the Chinese believe belongs to China.

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