« Europe-China Comparative Study Rethinking, Reflection, Repentance: Comparing “Coming to Terms with the Past” in Europe and China»

by Dr. Martin C.K. CHUNG | Draft 2013.12.16

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This paper compares Chinese and European attempts at “coming to terms with the past”. Three types of Chinese Vergangenheitsbewältigung (VgB) are identified in this study: 1) Chinese as perpetrators against others, including non-Han minorities; 2) Chinese as victims of their own, i.e. Chinese atrocities committed against fellow Chinese, and 3) Chinese as victims of foreign aggression. Through specific case studies in each category, attention is drawn to the particular ways through which suffering, guilt and responsibility were framed by Chinese intellectuals such as Wang Lixiong, Ba Jin, Tu Weiming and Jin Yong. The intellectual roots of their expressions are also traced in order to highlight the “Chinese” resources for coming to terms with the past as well as the extent of cultural “import” from Europe in this spontaneous undertaking.
Through this discourse analysis, one comes to the preliminary conclusion that when “Chinese as victims of fellow Chinese” is concerned, the European experience of VgB does serve as a source of inspiration for Chinese VgB, as manifest especially in the works of Ba Jin and Yu Jie. But when it comes to the other two categories of VgB, such cultural borrowing remains limited and the results diverge significantly. Indeed, the stark contrast of spirits (i.e. in comparison with Karl Jaspers, Günther Anders, Abraham Joshua Heschel, etc.) puts in doubt whether the Chinese attempts in question can measure up to the VgB standards set by their European counterparts. These findings will be further tested in a planned book project based on the framework of this study.