A language under attack (6)

Thanks. I don’t hate Germany, or the German language, nor China or the Chinese language. Or any language.

I understand your reaction, and would like you to hear me out on this. I made a comparison which I think is very much valid: If your country organizes mass oppression on the scale of what the Chinese regime is doing now, a Hitlerian scale, it will, unfortunately and unavoidably, make a deep stain on its reputation which it will take a very long time to remove.

The Nazis did this to Rilke’s German, and the current Chinese regime is doing this to Lu Xun’s Chinese. There are other examples, of course (don’t expect a Saami person to love Swedish literature), but the Nazi comparison is apt.

As you know, the Chinese regime is carrying out a massive genocidal campaign to destroy indigenous identities, including by prohibiting native languages, and imposing Chinese at the point of a gun.

In this sense we are back to the Nazi 1930s-1940s as in my own family’s private experience in Nazi occupied Norway where kids where forced to learn German, and hated the occupiers, and their language, every after. Which I now compared to Chinese colony of Xinjiang and what it is doing to me emotionally.

There are many similarities: The racism, the ultranationalism, and the militarist revanchism of the current regime in China: the massive cruelties with the the forced assimilation under the threat of being sent to the mega-scale concentration camps, the destruction of families with huge numbers of children sent to orphanages where they are robbed of their native language, and so on.

Also, compare the acquiescence of the majority that seems to accept and enable the racist propaganda against the targeted minorities.

Again, don’t get me wrong: Every time I lecture on the current crisis, I make a point of mentioning those herioc Han Chinese who refuse to stand for their regime’s abominations.

I mention brave officials like former culture minister Wang Meng, now silenced, but who spoke up early on, against the racist propaganda for collective punishment of entire peoples. And individual Han Chinese in Xinjiang who protested these policies, like Zhang Haitao, now in prison for 20 years, alongside the hundreds of thousands, even millions, of indigenous people behind barbed wire. And not least the forty-seven brave Han Chinese in exile, who issued a written protest as soon as the current mass atrocities had become known, and called for UN action:


Please join me in recognizing these brave people who dared to take a stand, against the mass cruelties now unfolding, whether Han Chinese or those from the targeted peoples, Kazakh, Uyghurs, and so on, and others, whether in Turkey or Indonesia.

I take my hat off to them all, and hope that the action of Han Chinese can begin to restore some appreciation for Chinese language and culture which should still be worth studying, for the reasons you mention, just as for Germany, where reminders about Rilke are appropriate (Germany cannot be reduced to Naziism) — just as we are to be reminded that Chinese also belongs to Lu Xun, not just to the current Newspeak propaganda ministers falling over each other in trying to be the most cruel on the most midboggling scale.

I spent a lifetime studying Chinese, like you. And it cannot be undone, alas. But instead it gives us a special responsibility to speak up now.

And lastly, with 21st century China sinking deeper every day into the moral darkness of genocide, we must recognize it is no wonder if the numbers of students signing up to study Chinese are falling. I won’t blame those choosing to study some language or literature not associated with concentration camps, like Chinese is now. The world is a big place with many interesting cultures.


Magnus <magnus.fiskesjo@cornell.edu>

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