• Sat
  • Oct 18, 2014
  • Updated: 4:27pm
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 July, 2014, 1:12pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 July, 2014, 3:45am

Does Chinese blood really lack the DNA for aggression?

Frank Ching says however well-intentioned, Beijing's claim that there's no DNA for expansion in Chinese blood finds little support in history


Frank Ching opened The Wall Street Journal’s bureau in Beijing in 1979 when the U.S. and China established diplomatic relations. Before that, he was with The New York Times in New York for 10 years. After Beijing, he wrote the book Ancestors and later joined the Far Eastern Economic Review.

Expansion is not in the Chinese DNA", Premier Li Keqiang declared during his visit to Britain, apparently in an attempt to allay fears driven by China's territorial claims in the South China Sea, "nor can we accept the logic that a strong country is bound to become hegemonic."

He was echoing comments by Xi Jinping the previous month when the president asserted: "In Chinese blood, there is no DNA for aggression or hegemony." China has moved to the centre of the world stage but has yet to truly lead, partly because of apprehension about its intentions, despite deep-seated problems dogging the United States.

At a recent summit in Shanghai of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia, Xi called for an "Asia for Asians" approach, saying that Asian countries themselves could resolve security issues in the region.

Beijing has long dismissed the idea that a rising China was a threat to its neighbours, asserting that the country throughout its long history has never been expansionist.

Citing DNA as proof makes the assertion sound scientific, especially when China appears to be making progress in studying the DNA of historical figures, such as the warlord Cao Cao, who lived 1,800 years ago, and even Confucius.

However, a glance at a historical atlas will show that China's borders have changed greatly from the time of the first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, to today. How, one wonders, did China grow so big without being expansionist?

One explanation is that China grew by being conquered, especially by the Mongols and the Manchus, who subjugated the Han Chinese and also invaded and took over other territories. According to that narrative, the Han Chinese, who make up more than 90 per cent of the population today, inherited the enlarged empire after the alien dynasties fell.

However, that is inconsistent with another official narrative, which is that Mongols, Manchus and Han are and have always been Chinese. Thus, all had Chinese DNA.

Actually, long before Qin Shi Huang, Chinese rulers sought to control what they thought of as the whole world, which was called "all under heaven".

In his book Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power, the scholar Yan Xuetong of Tsinghua University wrote: "The emperors of China's feudal times called themselves Son of Heaven, which shows that they thought of themselves as rulers of the world … The contention … was … a contention for world leadership."

This is not to say that Chinese leaders today want to rule the world. But it does suggest that, from a historical standpoint, there is little evidence to support the notion that there is no DNA in Chinese blood for aggression or expansion.

Unless, of course, ongoing studies show that Chinese today have somehow inherited only the sagely genes of peace-loving philosophers like Confucius, while those of Cao Cao and other warlords have vanished from the land.

Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based writer and commentator. frank.ching@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @FrankChing1


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This article is now closed to comments

I know nothing about DNA based aggression, I believe human being is human being. To me this sounds like what a Japanese bureaucrat explained long ago, when asked why Japan restricted imports of U.S. beef: Japanese large intestine would be shorter than non-Japanese ones, so it would be hard for Japanese to digest foreign beef.

Historically, I would find it disputable if Mongols or Manchus should be considered Chinese or not. In Taiwan and in the mainland there are also differing opinions about that.

Likewise, I do not buy into the myth that China was one nation from the Qin dynasty. In my opinion, for long stretches of history China was rather a morphing patchwork, same as Germany before unifying during the 19th century.

While Chinese warlords and kingdoms fought formidable wars with each other, external acts of aggression seem comparatively rare (if one views Mongols as non-Chinese), the focus of emperors seemingly was rather to preserve the empire as one. Wars could have had an instantly destabilizing effect on the empire as a whole and were therefore best be avoided.

That is, what I think could be the underlying message from this DNA story.
Lack of aggression? Lack of blood, to be exact!
The Chinese invaded, occupied and colonized the northern half of today's Vietnam for a thousand years, from the Han to the Tang (and a brief period under the Ming).
Many roads and statues in Vietnam's cities commemorate rebels and generals who fought against or defeated the Chinese occupation, a public holiday largely commemorates independence from China (Battle of Bach Dang, 938), and Ho Chi Minh City features a Chinese and American War Crimes Museum, the first part of which relates this part of the country's history.
Not that many Chinese people have any knowledge of this. After the experiences of the 19th and 20th centuries, words like invasion, occupation and colonization are very dirty ones, and few dare associate them with the Chinese themselves, more and unconscious bias than a deliberate one. Psychologists call this cognitive dissonance.
Chinese government must mention that China has several ethnic groups. My Han Chinese friend told me that today China will punish everyone who cited about her/his ethnicity. Actually 90% Han Chinese is enslaved by 3% Hakka minority who founded China Communist Party, just like Jurchen/Manchu did. The funniest thing is Hakka created a legend that they are Han Chinese from Henan, but the truth is their language and culture (for example cooking dogmeat) are similar with Balhaean.
What? I thought Hakka were from the Yangtse River delta and the Hokkien were from Henan. Hokkien can themselves 河洛人-河南洛陽人。Hakka language is clearly more like Mandarin than more ancient Hokkien and Cantonese. Hakka may, I repeat may be overrepresented in the CCP but it's fanciful to think Hakka control China. This sounds like a kook version of an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory re-worked for China with Hakkas taking the place of Jews.
Why always and only look at history. We are here and now. Forget about the past and the whys.
Tibetans and Uighurs are everyday demonstrating (even when we don't hear about it) that they do not want to be part of China as it is today. The very fact that China does not let them be their own demonstrates its extremely agressive gene. No need for any other arguments or discussion.
In Chinese culture, territorial expansion as well as racism is recognized with equanimity and accepted calmly as being "part of things" and therefore elicit little emotions. That at least has the merit of honesty, albeit a cruel and cynical honesty. But few in the West would have the guts to justify such deternined behaviour.
Oh ! and Asia for Asians ! Shame on He in China who dares use that concept in the same breath as he berates the Japanese for precisely doing so, albeit in their own way.
Again this devastating frankness.
Very well said.
Is SCMP really a Falun Gong medium controlled by the CIA and MI6?
If it is, don't think SCMP will appoint an editor from the mainland.
Your knee-jerk derangement and innate hostility toward China missed out my carefully crafted sentence, which exposed HK airheads' blind worship of the shallow Democracy Cult, but not the true appreciation for the greatness of Western Civilization, which rivals ours.

I straddle between cultures. I probably have even more Western role models than Chinese ones, including Newton, Darwin, Adam Smith, James Clerk Maxwell, etc. of Great Britain, the #1 China tormentor. I don't hate the British, which is not self-hate HKers could admit about their contempt for the ONE COUNTRY in our country two systems. When a good English friend of low social bearing slips with the word "Chinaman" unwittingly during our conversations, I never, and I say never, take offense.

All destructive hate passions begin with pettiness. Is this how yours started?

Moreover, your bizarre accusation of racism is off the mark. There are a few foreign nationals and ethnicities -- even a Jew -- in my family, including my spouse, who is white. Can you say the same about yourself and for your ilk of China bashing, 坐井觀天 HKers?




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