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    Greater China
     May 25, 2011


Hitler and the Chinese Internet generation
By Richard Komaiko

On Thursday, May 19, prominent Danish film director Lars von Trier publicly expressed sympathy for Adolph Hitler. The board of directors of Cannes, the world's pre-eminent film festival, promptly announced that Von Trier was no longer welcome at the festival. [1]

This was a brave decision, especially considering that Von Trier's latest film is considered a contender for the festival's top prize. Meanwhile, an ocean away, sympathy for Hitler is proliferating, but bravery is nowhere to be found. There is a growing trend in the Chinese blogosphere to vocalize praises and expressions of support for Hitler. If Chinese authorities fail to address this

 
problem, dangerous consequences may ensue.

The rumor
A rumor is spreading virally throughout the Middle Kingdom that asserts that Austrian-born Hitler was raised by a family of Chinese expats living in Vienna. According to the rumors, a family named Zhang found young Adolf - born on April 20, 1889, when he fell on hard times as a young man in Vienna.

They took him in, sheltered him, fed him and paid for his tuition. As a result of this assistance, Hitler held eternal gratitude and admiration for the Chinese people. The rumor also asserts that Hitler secretly supported China in World War II, and that his ultimate ambition was to conquer the world in order to share power with China, with everything west of Pakistan to be administered by the Fuhrer, and everything east of Pakistan the province of the Chinese people.

This rumor apparently resonates deeply with the Chinese Internet generation. On May 10, 2011, a user of Kaixin, the Chinese equivalent of Facebook, posted a version of the rumor on his wall. The post attracted an enormous following, with more than 170,000 views and 40,000 comments.

Of the people who left comments, 38.8% believe that Hitler was raised by Chinese, 7.1% believe that Hitler supported China in World War II, 4.6% regard Hitler as a hero, and 9.1% hope that China will have a leader similar to Hitler.

As the rumor spreads throughout the Chinese social web, admiration for Hitler is growing stronger and stronger. Blog posts with titles like "Why I like Hitler" [2] are popping up every day, and an increasingly greater share of young Chinese are choosing to express their nationalism by voicing support for Hitler.

The reality
To a cosmopolitan audience, it should go without saying that the rumors of Hitler's Chinese upbringing have no grounding in history or fact. Nonetheless, for the benefit of my Chinese comrades who do not see the obvious falsity, I would like to take a moment to dispel the rumors and explain the reality of Hitler's relationship with China.

Hitler was not raised by Chinese people. Hitler lived with his parents until roughly the age of 15, whereupon he moved to Vienna. His years alone in Vienna are detailed in Chapter II of his memoirs, Mein Kampf. [3] Nowhere in the chapter is there any mention of a Chinese family.

The word "China" doesn't even appear in the text, nor do the words "Chinese", "Zhang" or "Cheung". There is absolutely no indication that Hitler had any meaningful contact with Chinese people in his youth.

Hitler did not admire Chinese people. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Hitler regarded Chinese as an inferior race. Many Chinese bloggers are quick to point out that Hitler once said, "The Chinese people are not the same as the Huns and Tartars, who dressed in leather, they are a special race; they are a civilized race."

This quotation only stands for the proposition that Hitler considered the Chinese to be higher on the racial totem pole than Mongolians, but it says nothing about where they rank overall. In fact, Hitler believed that Aryans were the only "culture-creating race", while the Chinese and Japanese were merely "culture-bearing".

Hitler viewed the Chinese people as an inferior race, and actually blamed them for many of the world's problems. For more information, see The racial state: Germany, 1933-1945 by Michael Burleigh.

Hitler did not support China in World War II. China's principal support in World War II came from the United States. In 1941, the American Air Force created a special squadron called the Flying Tigers (fei hu) to fly covert missions over East Asia to defend the Republic of China against Japanese incursions.

As a descendent of someone who served with the Flying Tigers, I am deeply proud of the support that America provided to the Chinese people. China also received material support from Great Britain and the Soviet Union. China did not receive any support from the Nazi regime. There is an extensive historical literature on this topic. For further information, see Hitler's Foreign Policy 1933-1939: The Road to World War II by Gerhard L Weinberg.

Hitler did not endeavor to share power with China. There is not the slightest shred of historical evidence to suggest that Hitler entertained any such notion. On the contrary, Hitler delivered China into the hands of its arch-nemesis, Japan. And even then, Hitler only reluctantly accepted the notion of Asian sovereignty over East Asia.

The reason
How did the Chinese Internet generation come to acquire this sense of sympathy for Hitler, and why are they so readily prepared to believe rumors that are so obviously false?

In 2007, Chinese author Song Hongbing published a book called The Currency War. It was a hodge-podge of anti-Semitic conspiracies about how the Jews control the money supply and manipulate world events in order to grow their fortunes. When the global economy ground to a halt in 2008, The Currency War shot to the top of the Chinese best-seller list, and Chinese bookstores couldn't keep enough copies on the shelf. [4]

Aside from this incident, however, China is not often associated with anti-Semitism.

Indeed, according to several Beijing college students interviewed for this article, the word "Hitler" does not evoke images of anti-Semitism or genocide, but rather, strong leadership and nationalism. They say that they admire Hitler for his ability to unify his country and restore it to a position of respect in the international arena.

According to them, conditions in China today are similar to the conditions in Weimar Germany that brought Hitler to power: crippling inflation, wounded national pride and a perception of rivals around every corner. It may come as a surprise to many Westerners to learn that young Chinese actually feel stifled by a lack of economic opportunity.

Westerners often focus myopically on the growth rate of China's gross domestic product (GDP), which is roughly 9% per year. While this is an important indicator of prosperity, it must be considered in tandem with other important metrics, such as inflation and the increasing cost of residential real estate.

China's consumer price index rose 5% in the first quarter of 2011. This means that the effective real growth rate in GDP was only 4%. On top of that, the cost of real estate in many cities is growing at 20% per year. Considering these numbers, put yourself in the shoes of the average recent college graduate in a city like Shanghai.

You make a decent income, but you can't afford to make a down payment on a piece of real estate, so you rent for a few years. But because the price of real estate is growing many times faster as the overall economy, the longer you wait, the less you can afford to buy. And in Chinese culture, if you can't afford a home, you can't start a family, and so forth.

Appreciating this economic angst brings us one step closer to comprehending the admiration that the Chinese Internet generation feels for Hitler: they crave a strong leader to lift them out of their economic woes. But aren't there other strong leaders in history to choose from? Why not choose a leader whose reputation is unsullied by the stains of aggression? At this point, nobody really knows. While it's not clear why they have chosen Hitler as their rallying cry, what is certain is that this affinity for Hitler will have a detrimental impact on China's ambition of foreign relations.

The repercussions
The most immediate impact of the Hitler phenomenon will be felt in Japan. For decades, the Chinese government has demanded that Tokyo revise its high school history curriculum in order to reflect the full horrors that the Japanese military visited upon Nanjing during World War II.

This demand has been one of the largest and most persistent friction points in Sino-Japanese relations. If it turns out that China's own history curriculum lacks adequate coverage of the horrors that the German military inflicted upon European Jewry, the Chinese government will lose the moral high ground and appear completely disingenuous in its relations with Tokyo.

The Hitler phenomenon will also have a negative impact on China's relations with its continental neighbors. Countries like India and Vietnam are already concerned about Beijing's military buildup, which has seen double-digit increases for each of the past five years.

When they discover that the most popular personality among young Chinese is a man best known for expansionism, their sense of suspicion will flare, and they will invest a greater share of societal resources in preparing for confrontation. This response may have a paradoxical effect of further stoking the flames of Chinese nationalism and increasing tensions around the borders.

The most consequential effect of the Hitler phenomenon, however, will undoubtedly be felt on China's relationship with Washington. The Chinese foreign policy establishment expends considerable resources in Washington to promote the idea of "China's peaceful rise", a form of exceptionalism which holds that China's rise to power will be free of armed conflict.

Due to the overwhelming weight of historical authority against it, the peaceful rise theory has gained only limited traction inside the beltway. But when the engineers of America's foreign policy discover that young Chinese idolize the most famous aggressor in history, the peaceful rise theory will lose all credibility, and those who seek to paint China as a threat to American interests will be emboldened.

The resolution
Immediate action must be taken to educate Chinese youth on the truth about World War II and show them how critically history has judged the rule of Hitler.

As a first step, Kaixin should remove the inflammatory post and issue a public correction of facts. Just as Facebook ultimately realized that it had a public security duty to remove a page calling for the "third intifada", [5] so too Kaixin must realize that as one of the largest media outlets in China, it cannot tolerate expressions of support for proponents of aggression.

Second, the Chinese Ministry of Education should conduct a thorough review of the history curriculum taught in Chinese high schools in order to make sure that its treatment of World War II is in line with international academic standards.

Finally, relevant Jewish organizations, from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the United States Holocaust Museum, should engage with Chinese partners, such as the Shanghai Center for Jewish Studies and the Sino-Judaic Institute, to promote Holocaust education and awareness of modern genocide.

Spanish-American philosopher, essayist, poet and novelist George Santayana taught that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. The only thing more lamentable than repeating history because we failed to learn from our mistakes would be repeating history because others failed to learn from them.

Notes
1. Von Trier Expelled From Cannes Over Nazi Comments, New York Times, May 23, 2011.
2. Click here for the Chinese-language text.
3. Mein Kampf, Chapter II.
4. China, Anti-Semitic Conspiracy Theories and Wall Street, New York Times, Oct 2, 2008.
5. Facebook Removes Page That Demanded 'Third Intifada' Against Israel, Fox News, Mar 29, 2011.

Richard Komaiko is the author of Lawyer in Modern China.

(Copyright 2011 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)


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