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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Philippines Bloodbath: Madmen and Their Stories

Be careful what stories you tell, because after a time, they will start to tell you. The dominant narratives in our individual lives, and in our societies tend to be self-perpetuating. They become deeply ingrained in the psyche of the person or the collective. They thus operate largely unconsciously. They become beliefs.

As Simon Buckland reminded me of ( recently when we were talking about getting rejected as writers, there was a certain woman in the UK who plastered her walls full of rejection slips. Obviously she was using the slips as a motivation, as rejection can be disheartening. In such a situation there is the danger that the story of rejection becomes the informing narrative of one’s life. Apparently, she never did get published.

If you examine your dreams, you will note that there are recurring stories that run through them. Many of these narratives are to do with restrictive beliefs which in turn stem from the pain and hurt which we have suffered in our lives, and (as I believe) in past lives. There are also dominant narratives which run through humanity in general, which stem from genetic memory, or the carryover from latent consciousness fields which have developed through the passing of history.

Here are some of the most common narrative themes that appear in cultures and nations throughout the world (each has a positive expression too, but I will not go into that here).

The plots





Save me.

They are coming to get us. It is not safe. We are doomed. The end is nigh.
The foreigners are evil, dirty, racist. You can’t trust them. Kill the outsiders.
There isn’t enough to go round. We are going to starve.
Oh woe is us! Look what they have done to us! We’ve been robbed! Why do we always get picked on! We are the downtrodden.
You are mine. I’ve got you. You will never be free.  Colonisation.
It’s all their fault.
You’ve got to pay! Kill the infidels! You have got to suffer, just like you made us suffer.
The world is a terrible place. All is lost. There’s no way out. There is nothing we can do.
Help! You are my savior. I can’t do it on my own.
I’m/we’re bad. We’ve got to do penance, suffer for our sins. We are wicked. Let’s beat ourselves.
We are the master race. We are chosen by God. We are morally/culturally/socially/intellectually superior.

Because these themes run through the human psyche, policymakers in any given society have to be careful not to play on them too much. These stories can also be reinforced through the media, social networks, and through education.

When children sing the national anthem, they are learning a story. If the story says “We are young and free”, such as with the Australian national anthem, it is relatively harmless. If the lyrics implore the people to build a great wall against the enemy (as the Chinese national anthem does), the dangers are obvious. Here’s an English translation of the Chinese anthem.

March of the Volunteers

Arise, ye who refuse to be slaves!
With our flesh and blood, let us build our new Great Wall!
The Chinese nation faces its greatest danger.
From each one the urgent call for action comes forth.
Arise! Arise! Arise!
Millions with but one heart,
Braving the enemy's fire.
March on!
Braving the enemy's fire.
March on! March on! On!

Arise, ye who refuse to be slaves;
With our very flesh and blood
Let us build our new Great Wall!
The peoples of China are in the most critical time,
Everybody must roar his defiance.
Arise! Arise! Arise!
Millions of hearts with one mind,
Brave the enemy's gunfire,
March on!
Brave the enemy's gunfire,
March on!
March on!
March on, on!

The story is about uniting in the face of evil outsiders who are threatening to destroy us. It tells of a world which is quite literally full of “danger”.

The story of being bullied, abused and humiliated runs right through the central narrative of Chinese history. Historically this is factual, as China has often been invaded and colonised, most recently by the western powers in the 19th century. When violence broke out in Tibet and the far-western province of Xinjiang in the last couple of years, one of the first things the government did was to claim that “hostile anti-China” forces from abroad were involved. This is a clear and systematic policy of the Chinese authorities when faced with internal dissent: to blame outsiders.

There is nothing wrong with telling the story of persecution and tragedy, but when the idea of being victimised becomes the central motif of a cultural narrative, the victim story becomes a worldview.

As with individual people, it is when buttons get pushed that the neurotic belief structures of cultures surface. Just this week there was a tragic incident in Manilla, the Philippines, when a busload of Hong Kong tourists was high jacked by a furious ex police officer, Rolando Mendoza, incensed that he had been laid off on corruption charges. Tragically, the Philippines special task force in charge of dealing with the situation, bungled the operation in utterly incompetent fashion. Eight of the Hong Kong tourists were killed in the ensuing carnage. 

No doubt Ronaldo Mendoza had his won "story" to tell . But that is not what I want to write about here.

Understandably, people in Hong Kong and China were deeply saddened and furious at the incident. This is only to be expected given the great tragedy of events. But what I’d like to discuss here is the way that the cultural narrative of “China” created unnecessary hostility amongst some segments of Hong Kong and Chinese society. This was seen most clearly on internet sites, and in some of the slogans carried by protesters outside the Philippines embassy in Hong Kong. At least two Philippine maids in HK have been fired over the incident. Tomorrow (Sunday, protestors are going to march through Hong Kong, beginning and ending at places where thousands of Philippino maids gather each Sunday (their day off). This does seem like a deliberate provocation. Other locations could have been chosen. Tomorrow will be a real test of Hong Kong’s maturity.

After the event, I was interested to check out the mainland Chinese reaction, so I went to one English language site, the China Daily newspaper’s discussion forum. The internet is the perfect way to ascertain the cultural narratives of peoples, as we are far more likely to speak our deepest, darkest thoughts as an anonymous poster on a web site, than we would in person. The net gives voice to the shadow.

Sure enough a prolonged “thread” on the topic sprang up immediately on the forum, reaching 12 pages in just a few days. And before you read any further, be warned that some of the quotes from the site are rather foul-mouthed. I suspect some posters probably now need to have their "F" and "C" keys replaced, such has been the physical assault upon them. 

Secondly, it should be acknowledged that the internet is a haven for disaffected and socially inept individuals, and permits a free voice for sociopaths to vent their hatred out onto the world. In this sense, the following should not be seen as typical of Chinese reactions to recent events. These are extreme views, but ones which reflect deeper social narratives. There are many Hong Kong and Chinese people who have responded responsibly, and these have included Hong Kong's CEO, Donald Zhang, and even Jackie Chan who proclaimed "Hong Kongers do not hate."

The original post on the forum began with a Chinese netizen expressing outrage and grief, and demanding to know why Chinese people round the world are always persecuted wherever they go (victim: why do we always get picked on?).  Several other posters joined in. Then there was an allegation that the Philippine government had not bothered to help the Hong Kongers because they thought that Chinese lives were not worth saving. This was quickly followed by allegations of a conspiracy by the Philippine government to target Chinese people. Racist epithets were thrown in. Philippinos are primitive, the country is “stone age”. Other posters said the Philippines should be bombed immediately.

Then a foreigner (an expat westerner living in China) joined in and said that there was no evidence that the attack was specifically targeted against Chinese people. The poster was told to “fuck off, and get out of China” (xenophobia). Other western posters joined in and expressed some sympathy for the tragedy, but agreed that there was no evidence of a conspiracy against China. Some pointed out that the Philippines is a violent and sometimes unsafe country, and that other recent massacres in the Philippines have featured far higher death tolls, including one in 2009 when 47 Philippinos were killed. These attempts to contextlise the tragedy were received with further abuse. Here’s a few I have taken from the site. “Hanjian” means “Chinese traitor.

  • (responding to a query about Chinese ethnicity) They are 1000 times more Chinese than your prostitute HanJian wife!
    Where is she? How many gweilos' (white foreigners’) lives is she going to make complete today? You are judging who is real Chinese or not according to the criteria of your prostitute HanJian wife and you are completely wrong!
    A non-HanJian woman would have smother your monkey life out long ago!
    Go to hell with your HanJian wife as soon as possible!

  • (responding to those saying the attack wasn’t targeting Chinese in particular) Those of you who deny this, you're just as racist as these wicked racist Filipinos!

  • I have learned more about the gweilos (white foreigners) since I seriously came to this forum less than two months ago.  In real life, they are almost always all smiles and friendly. But one of them might be the Sneaky Snakey or maybe the German Monkey, etc.  I am trying to figure out who they are.

  • Chinese lives are not that important to these Stone Age people (Philippinos).

  • Eight now confirmed dead. Why? Why?  These people are always targetting at us Chinese?? This is not the first time. There have been many other cases of Chinese being kidnapped or taken hostage and killed even when ransoms are paid !! Why? Why hate the Chinese so much. What bad things have the Chinese done to these poeple?  Not just the Philippines but also Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam & other KKK (Klu Klux Klan) countries, Chinese are treated with so much hatred. Why?

  • (to a non-Chinese poster with a Chinese wife) Your Chinese wife is a Hanjian prostitute. Her cunt smells like a can of rotting fish.

  • (responding to a estern poster citing the dangers of Manila) You are politically correct wanker.

  • Go back to Thailand and fuck more 7 year olds, you White Anglo pervert.

  • Look at what these disgusting barbarian foreigners are doing to our Chinese people. We must rid our country of them!

Most of the non-Chinese posters were actually quite measured in their responses, although some responded by calling the Chinese posters “racist” themselves, and one gave as good as he got.

Remember, this is China’s official English language newspaper and web site, and it is moderated by a team employed by the Chinese government. This means that that these kinds of projections at foreigners are implicitly tolerated by the government. The problems on the site goes back many years, and it has long been dominated by hyper-nationalists and self proclaimed “Chinese patriots”. Many foreigners in China suspect that many of these aggressive Chinese posters are actually part of the China Daily forum moderating team itself.

However, it has to be pointed out that some of the posts by Chinese people were later deleted, resulting in some Chinese posters screaming that the moderating team had been infiltrated by “filthy foreigners”. For example:

  • Oh oh, my posts are restricted by racist laowai (foreign) moderators again!

It is easy enough to see how the dominant narrative is that of the victim. We are being suppressed. The world is against us. The outsiders are evil! They are coming to get us. We must purify ourselves and eliminate them!

Here is the key point. Take away the dirty language and insults, and what you have is basically a paraphrase of the Chinese national anthem and its dominant narrative. The Chinese posters are simply regurgitating the contents of their history books, their media, their “story.”

The story of the oppressed victim has been perpetrated by the authorities in China as an attempt to unify a vast and diverse nation via the lowest common denominator: anger and fear of the outsider. The dangers are obvious, and the half-crazed writings on the internet reveal just how deeply this has possessed the psyches of some people in China. There is now a boiling couldren of hate and blame sitting just below the surface, at least in some of the population. The story of the victim is so powerful that the posters are completely incapable of introspection, of seeing that they have become the (verbal0 abusers. The irony is best embodied by the poster screaming that white people are evil and that Chinese women who marry foreigners are prostitutes and traitors – while accusing them of being racist.

Fortunately this victim story is not the only narrative that runs through Chinese culture and history. Another story is that of “the harmonious society”, which has also been used, more responsibly, as an attempt to unify the nation. The harmonious society is an old Confucian concept, where society exists in unity with Heaven and nature. Each class of the social system sits within a very hierarchic social structure, accepting its place in the scheme of things. The collective takes precedence over the wants of the individual. We can only hope this is the story that eventfully prevails.

Unfortunately, human beings love the victim story. We like it because it is an easy cop out. As victims we can simply blame and hate the other. Being a victim permits us to forgo the requirement of emotional and moral self-discipline. The victims’ society is a brick-throwers paradise.  The Chinese “patriots” on the internet are not the only ones guilty of succumbing to its primitive, animalistic call. All over the world, in countless countries and amongst innumerable ethnic groups,  we see similar stories told over and over again.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not denying hurt, suffering and injustice. The anger reaction is wired into our physiology. But when injustice and tragedy strike, it is what we do with our anger that determines whether our futures will be heaven-like, or hell-like.

Injustices do occur, and they occur often. But in the end, if there is going to be anything like a harmonious society within and beyond China, we all have to assume the necessary discipline of spiritual maturity. We have to grow up. There is a price to pay for “civilisation”. We have to reclaim the angry child within us, and teach it to a new story. We have to grow up.

The internet would be a good place to start. If we can be disciplined in what we write as an anonymous web surfer (because every bit of blame and hate is destructive), then we will surely have the moral decency to do likewise in our everyday lives.


  1. A good example of our potential of being 'projectionists' and attracting that which is being focussed upon into our lives, especially when fueled by an emotional charge.

    Thank you for a thought provoking and insighful article, Marcus

  2. Great article, Marcus. One's saddened, but hardly surprised by the Chinese reaction to the Manila incident - after all, the Americans react analogously whenever the smallest terrorist incident threatens American lives (though their dominant narrative is more about specialness than victimhood.)

    Perhaps very large and powerful countries, especially when they operate as colonists or hegemons, have more pervasive narratives, which are more systematically drilled into their citizens. You don't tend to see such a disproportionate and hysterical reaction in Britain or France - for instance, when a British aid doctor was killed by the Taliban recently in Afghanistan.

    It's as dangerous for countries as it is for individuals to project their unresolved issues onto outsiders - as you say, there's huge turmoil bubbling just beneath the surface of China's "harmonious society", as indeed there is in the USA.

  3. Wonderful and insightful post. These narratives you describe have been told and retold throughout American history - always, an external enemy (communists, bin laden, muslims, extremists of every shape and color, etc)It was particularly pervasive during the Bush years, and is gearing up again - this time against anyone who is a different color, religion, or political persuasion.

    the wverification on this one fits: icklab