How India and China are shaped by the idea of national humiliation

Source: Indian express

Relevance: China used its historic national humiliation for strengthening the country. However, India could not do that due to the prevalence of inequality.

Synopsis: China uses national humiliation to legitimise authoritarian rule. Whereas, India’s lack of egalitarianism(Equality) makes it harder for national humiliation to be owned equally.

How China used the idea of humiliation?
  • Firstly, Chinese nationalism is the centrality of the idea of humiliation.
    • From the First Opium Wars to the Nanjing massacre, it is an organising principle of historiography in China.
    • President Xi Jinping’s address at the Party centenary begins with a reminder and resolve that China will never be humiliated again.
  • Secondly, national humiliation is central to education policy.
    • For instance, public monuments remind people of sites of national humiliation.
  • Thirdly, the idea of humiliation has a legitimizing function.
    • The Communist Party makes a claim for its fitness to rule on its ability to position itself as the agent that overcomes China’s humiliation.
  • Fourth, the theme of humiliation became an organising frame for foreign policy.
How the concept of humiliation worked in Indian nationalism?
  • Firstly, In India’s post-colonial trauma, the psychological sense of humiliation is present.
    • After the Rowlatt Bills, Gandhi declared April 6, 1919, as National Humiliation Day, but that was almost a one-off event.
    • At an ideological level, the onset of colonialism was also welcomed by many constituencies.
    • For some Hindus, it was an opportunity to come out from under the yoke of the Mughal Empire.
    • For many Dalits, it was an opportunity for shaking up oppressive social structures.
  • Secondly, modern India’s ruling class and identity was created as much by collaboration with colonialism, as resistance to it.
    • India’s ruling structure comes out as being embedded in the colonial project.
    • Families from the Tagores to the Tatas, the Indian Army, the Indian civil service, the legal profession, and pretty much any part of the ruling establishment displayed more continuity than discontinuity.
    • Even post-Independence, the persistence of English and new elites reinforced this.
  • Thirdly, Indian political ideologies and cultural practice is less politically authoritarian and are far less egalitarian. So it is difficult for national humiliation to be owned equally.
    • The real source of India’s humiliation is still abiding and crushing poverty.
  • Fourth, the nature of traumas is different. India’s traumas turned out to be more self-inflicted.
    • The Chinese construction of humiliation was directly structured around military defeats.
    • No war defines Indian victimhood or trauma. But it is 1962 that is marked as a national humiliation.
    • However, its suffering and trauma cannot be deployed in the same way in which the Chinese deploy memories of WW II.
  • Fifth, as VS Naipaul wrote that due to humiliation by British rule, there will be ideas of country’s pride and historical self-analysis.
    • The presence of the Hindu-Muslim question in Indian politics meant that humiliation became a source of divisiveness.
    • Humiliation is more easily deployed against pre-British, Mughal and Sultanate rule, than as a unifying ideology.
  • Lastly, calling India a Vishwaguru and then adoption of new aggressive nationalism are signs of a repressed sense of humiliation that is unable to confront its true sources. It shows India’s powerlessness and its inability to give most of its citizens a dignified life.

The practical and moral necessity of playing down national humiliation may not be a bad thing but how countries deal with their own constructs of humiliation will determine their future.

Terms to know: 
  • Egalitarianism: Egalitarianism is a trend of thought in political philosophy. This thought believes that all people were created equal and should be treated equally in fundamental worth or moral status.


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