向“百年国耻”说再见 (Saying Goodbye to National Humiliation)


Saying Goodbye to National Humiliation

梁文道著 Text by Leung Man-tao

傅君恺译 Translation by Carl Gene Fordham



The road China has been going down over the past decade is really quite strange, especially since the relative liberalisation of the media. Yes, obviously, we can see China has a lot of problems and difficulties, but it’s not until you turn your head around that you suddenly realise China has become a superpower that is admired, even envied. And yes, it’s clear that we are a developing country that has been the bully’s victim for a century, yet over the past couple of years we have seen in the international media people becoming more and more fascinated with our country. Evidently just a few years ago we were still a country that was demonised by others, but now we gaze in wonder as Chinese becomes a popular subject in schools around the world.


So now what we need to learn is not only how to take to the stage and play the role of a great nation, but also, as the story becomes more intense and the plot twists and turns, do some soul-searching and change our way of thinking. By this I don’t just mean watching a couple of TV dramas to learn a bit about the achievements of the ancient dynasties or watch the rise and fall of the great foreign powers. Nor I am talking about educating the masses to be more civilized so when they go abroad they don’t turn into noisy, spitting tourists.

说到反省一个国家的心态,鲁迅数十年前写下的“阿Q”直到今天依然是最有力的象征。阿Q 的故事比《伊索寓言》中的酸葡萄更可怕的地方,在于那只吃不到葡萄的狐狸只不过是说那葡萄是酸的,但可没说甜是不好的酸才妙。然而阿Q 却翻转了正常的价值,打不过人就转而夸赞自己是世上“第一个能够自轻自贱的人”。狐狸顶多是贬损自己得不到的东西,而阿Q 则干脆把自己的可怜可悲转换成神圣光荣。

When I talk of re-examining a nation’s mentality, the most compelling example I can give that is still applicable today is that which Lu Xun wrote about many decades ago in The True Story of Ah Q. What makes his story more frightening than Aesop’s fable The Fox and the Grapes is that the fox who was unable to reach the grapes only said that they were too sour. What he didn’t claim was that the sweet grapes were bad, and that the sour grapes were best. But this is essentially what Ah Q did as he turned normal ways of thinking about morality upside down. Though he came out of a fight as a loser, he claimed to be the first person in the world capable of self-deprecation. At least the fox only disparaged that which he could not get. Ah Q, on the other hand, tried to make out that his self-pity and self-lament were something sacred and honourable.

阿Q 的故事说的除了是鲁迅眼中的国人通病之外,还很符合当时国际形势下中国人的自处之道。清末以来,中国人被现代殖民帝国打得透不过气,传统文化系统被西潮摧折得瓦崩砖碎。这都是事实,也是很多人看得清楚讲得明白的。可是与此同时,却有另一些人反过来把自己的积弱说成是一种美德。最可笑的莫过于当年英国大哲学家罗素那套“中国人热爱和平”论的流行。要知道罗素固然是位严谨的逻辑学家,但他对中国的观察则来自皮毛的阅读与走马观花的旅行,根本不值一哂。偏偏很多知识分子引之为知音的肺腑之言,觉得我们中国人就是高尚,热爱和平,发明了火药也不搞火箭炸弹。这,难道不是阿Q 吗?

Not only does the story of Ah Q speak to the common failings of the Chinese in the eyes of Lu Xun, but it also fell in line with the position of the Chinese people considering the state the world was in at the time. Since the final years of the Qing dynasty the Chinese people had been stifled, having been thrashed by the colonial powers, and trends in Western ways of thinking had left Chinese traditional culture obliterated. These are all facts, and many people understand them well. Yet there are still those who try to make out that their long-standing weaknesses are in fact virtues. The funniest thing would have to be the coming into vogue of the theory suggested by the renowned British philosopher Bertrand Russell that the Chinese are a peace-loving people. Of course Russell is a rigorous logician, but his observations about China are laughable considering they’re merely based on some superficial reading and a cursory tour of the country. Unfortunately many intellectuals think of these observations like sincere words from a trusted friend, reaching the conclusion that the Chinese must be noble, peace-loving people, since they invented gunpowder but didn’t use it to make weapons. But isn’t this just another manifestation of the Ah Q mentality?

20 世纪的德国思想家舍勒(Max Scheler)继尼采之后,深入挖掘了人类的“怨恨”(ressentiment)心理,他的说法可以帮助我们进一步理解现代中国的阿Q 心态。依照舍勒,怨恨是一种对他人不满的情绪反应,这种情绪是种潜藏心中隐忍未发的怒意,毒蛇般地折磨和扭曲了一个人的正常心智与价值观。所以要隐忍不发,是因为有这种情绪的人根本没有发泄报复的能力。这种怨恨的由来有二,一是受到他人的侮辱,二是嫉妒他人拥有的东西,觉得那东西本该为己所有。可是他人的地位比自己高,实力比自己强;我不只没法抢夺他拥有的一切,没法改变我和他的差距,甚至连对之发作都不敢。这时就会出现“价值位移”(value shifts)的现象了,意思是颠倒价值常规,把自己得不到的说成是不好的,将自己的低下处境说成是高等的。就像阿Q 和人打了一架之后却以自己的卑贱无能为美,又像中国给列强欺凌之后表扬自己热爱和平。

Following the work of Nietzsche, the 20th Century German Thinker Max Scheler underwent an in-depth exmination into the concept of “ressentiment”, and his interpretation can help us better understand the Ah Q mentality as it exists in modern China. According to Scheler, ressentiment is an emotional reaction that arises from discontentment towards others, a kind of anger that is hidden within the psyche that flares up like a viper, poisoning a person’s intelligence and value system. It is endured but not expressed because those who exhibit this emotion are unable to vent their grievances or retaliate. There are two underlying causes of ressentiment, the first one being humiliation, the second one being envy of what others have, with a belief that the object of desire should have been the original possession of the self. When others enjoy a higher, more powerful position than the self, not only does the self have no way of taking possession of everything the other person has, but is not even able to narrow the gap between the two parties, leaving the self daring not show any anger at all. This is a siutation in which the phenomenon of “value shifts” comes into play, in which value systems are subverted, and the self calls that which cannot be attained as evil, claiming the high ground despite being in an inferior position. This is just like when Ah Q claimed moral superiority after losing a fight – and similar to when China praised itself as a peace-loving nation after being bullied by the Great Powers.


Scheler believed that ressentiment could not only manifest itself in an individual’s psyche, but could also be a collective mood of a particular social group if two conditions are fulfilled. First, the group where the self belongs must be comparable with the group that is the target of resentment. Second, the social status of the group being resented must be within the reach of the self, or be a status that the self feels deserving of. If we consider this in the context of China we can see that this is truly a land which breeds resentment. First of all, we Chinese feel we have been the victim of a hundred years of national humiliation, that the world was unwilling to treat us as equals. We thought at the time, how can it be that we have no way of resisting, that we have no choice but to feel resentment. We said to ourselves, “never forget how our country was humiliated”, and day by day, little by little, mulled over a bitterness which seemed impossible to drive away. At the same time, we think back to the golden age of the Han and Tang dynasties, and the impressive military accomplishments of the first three emperors of the Qing, and conclude that the world’s very first throne must have been a Chinese one. If you take all of this into account, and add long periods of indoctrination, you can see how a kind of resentment which is capable of distorting people’s values and views of the world has been able to grow and thrive.


There are a myriad of ways in which ressentiment can be expressed. Apart from perverted self-affirmations such as passing spitting in public off as a display of the easygoing nature of the Chinese people, it can also be expressed in the losing of one’s temper at the slightest provocation, such as claiming discrimination against Chinese when international tourist sites put up signs in Chinese warning that spitting is prohibited. Even more alarming though is the impulsiveness of self-criticism. In the past couple of years, there have been some myths circulating online which are extremely denegrating to the Chinese people. Many have been shown to have been fabricated by Chinese people themselves. Why would anyone go to the painstaking lengths of making up sensationalised anti-Chinese stories to stir everyone up? This is nothing but an example of self-abuse, the cause of which is ressentiment in China, and it seems to be the only way the Chinese can assert their authority.


A negative manifestation of this abnormal psychological state is the blind affirmation of the self. Consider, for example, the finding of pleasure in breaking bizarre world records, such as claiming we have the world’s longest noodle, or the wall with the largest number of “Chinese longevity characters” written on it. Many individuals, organisations and even local governments are more than happy to make up these records with the aim of adding yet another “World No. 1” in the massive Guiness World Records, which presumably could only be read by magnifying glass.


Another example can be found in small towns putting up billboards with slogans like “Let our Town go Global, Tell the World about us”, as if failing to do so would mean the poor village would no longer exist. How many small towns are there in the United States? How can it be that they don’t have such great aspirations? One does not even see such slogans in international cities like Kyoto and Vienna, because other people never believe they are the subject of disdain like we do.


No one would be unfamiliar with the examples I gave above. Yet the collective resentment that informs them may never be completely resolved. In the past couple of years, China has achieved global recognition as a great rising nation, or even superpower. Yet a sense of inferiority and self-pity continues to pervade Chinese society, with a distorting and perverting mentality of resentment. How can we become a truly great nation if we cannot kill the poisonous snake that hisses under the shadow of our hundred-year-old humiliation?

来源:梁文道《常识》,广西师范大学出版社,2009年。原题为“大国背后的毒蛇”,刊于《快周刊》2005 年08 月。

Source: Leung Man-tao’s book Common Sense, published in 2009 by Guangxi Normal University Press. The article originally appeared in Express Weekly, August 2005, under the title “The poisonous snake behind the great nation”.

1 Comment to "向“百年国耻”说再见 (Saying Goodbye to National Humiliation)"

  1. 01/02/2015 - 8:10 pm | Permalink

    The humiliation cuts deep. It is not going to be dispelled in a few short years, decades? And an individual, especially an intellectual may heal much faster than a nation. Though impressive, the short span of success is far from enough to overcome the sense of insecurity and the lingering sense of injustice, past and present. It will come in time, the healing is not done yet. A discussion like this will shorten the process, but it cannot be rushed. Maturity is needed. Btw, love your work. 🙂

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