In another brilliant Bright Hong Kong session professor Rana Mitter connected China’s recent history to its actual emergence as a world power -not only economically- but also politically and morally.
Prof. Mitter connected two remarkable events in recent history and near future to the changing narrative of China’s actual positioning in global and regional geopolitics.
The first one is related to the ¨Victory Parade¨ that took place in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, on September 3, 2015, in Beijing.
At this impressive event, there was the appearance of a group of veterans of war, from both: the communist and nationalist armies, and also from the USA. According to Prof. Mitter, this is the biggest demonstration of the importance of events that happened more than 70 years ago. ¨We should understand that the World War in Asia cost China more than 14 million of its soldiers and civilians. Not just that: nearly 100 million Chinese became refugees in their own country during those years.¨
According to Prof. Mitter the most important output of those painful events is the current government's willingness to build its own narrative asserting the Chinese vision of the future in the face of the decline of the moral leadership of the United States. ¨This is the first occasion where the narrative of World War II -you might say China’s good war- has really been integrated into the national story of China¨, Prof. Mitter said.
The positive moral Chinese narrative is based on its history of resistance by nationalist and communist forces against the Japan occupation. Of geopolitical importance is the 1943 Cairo Conference, where Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek 蔣中正 and his wife Soong Mei- ling 宋美齡 (Life magazine called her the ¨most powerful woman in the world.¨) was the only non-Western leader present, and where detailed decisions on the map of post-war Asia were taken. The Cairo Conference serves today as the basic legitimation of China’s right on the disputed islands in the North and South China Sea.
¨China -Prof. Mitter said- beliefs very strongly on its own territorial sovereignty and this is partly due to its own history. Between the XIX and XX Centuries western powers but also the Japanese invaded Chinese territory and that is meant that they are exceptionally keen to make sure that no repetition of that kind of events happens again. Certainly, that filters very much their views and policies for the early 20th-century ¨.
By now stressing its leading role in World War II and its central geopolitical place in the East and South Asia region, China shows, nationally and internationally, how serious it is in aspiring to become a world leader and how its history defines its present steps into a new era.
The second meaningful event will be taking place the coming 13th of December where president Xi Jinping will be speaking at the 80th commemoration of the Nanking Massacre.
Besides the horrors of the Nanjing Massacre and the terror bombing of Chongqing, Prof. Mitter also emphasized the heroic and determined resistance. Factories, universities, schools, newspapers, and refugees moved to the interior to build up ¨Free China¨ in conditions of extreme austerity. The dismantling of industrial plants in the Shanghai area before the Japanese advance and their evacuation nearly 1,500km up the Yangtze to Chongqing was a triumph of human endeavor. For four years before the US entered the war, with very little international assistance, Chinese armies stood alone against the might of the Japanese empire. Later, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought about the internationalization of the conflict, Japanese troops defeated colonial armies in Singapore, Malaya, Hong Kong, the Dutch East Indies, and the Philippines. Yet Chinese resistance did not collapse and the Chinese theatre of war played an important role by tying down large numbers of Japanese troops. In Chiang Kai-shek's Free China and in the areas controlled by the communist party, people had to endure bombing, terrible food shortages and low standards of living, yet they rallied to the national cause.
Prof. Rana Mitter´s Profile
Professor Mitter is Director of the University of Oxford China Centre. He is also a professor of the History and Politics of Modern China at the Department of Politics and International Relations of the same institution.
Prof. Mitter is the author of several books, including ¨Modern China: A Very Short Introduction¨ (2008, new ed. 2016), and the award-winning ¨A Bitter Revolution: China’s Struggle with the Modern World.¨
His most recent book ¨China’s War with Japan, 1937-45: The Struggle for Survival¨ (US title: ¨Forgotten Ally¨) was named as a 2013 Book of the Year in the Financial Times and The Economist. It was also named a 2014 CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title and won the 2014 RUSI/Duke of Westminster’s Medal for Military Literature.
Germán Muñoz, Founder & Director Bright Hong Kong; Amb. Carmen Cano, Head of the European Union in Hong Kong & Macau; Christopher Drake, Chairman of the University of Oxford China Advisory Group; Damián Martínez Tagüeña, Consul General of Mexico; Paul Tang Kwok-wai 鄧國威, Secretary for the Civil Service July 2012-July 2015; Andrew So Kwok-wing 蘇國榮, former Commissioner for Administrative Complaints, the ombudsman of Hong Kong; Pola Antebi, International Director of Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art at Christie’s; Kathleen Ferrier, Honorary Professor Human Rights at the Asian University for Women, Gender and Politics at HKBU. Ambassador at the Mekong Club; Daniël de Blocq Van Scheltinga, China & Asia Pacific Strategy Advisor and Investment Banker; Rev. Tjeerd de Boer, Faculty Member at Lutheran Theological Seminary; Sanjukta Mukherjee, Head of Thought Leadership at PwC Hong Kong and mainland China; Renu Bhatia, FinnTech Specialist & Economic Justice for Women Advocate; Deborah Biber, CEO Pacific Basin Economic Council (PBEC); Alicia García-Herrero, Chief Economist for Asia Pacific at NATIXIS; Adrián Valenzuela, Co-CEO and Founding Partner at MCM Partners; and Peter Guy, Senior writer at the South China Morning Post.