Editors’ introduction: toward a spiritual revival journal of East-West Thought

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Journal of East-West Thought publishes three articles by Liu Yazhou as its special edition. Liu Yazhou’s articles address China’s history, culture and national character written over a time span of a decade. We publish them as an anthology at a time when Sino-US relations are at a crossroads. In the United States the preparations for the general election are gaining momentum and in China the sentiments are high in reasserting itself as a world power after years of keeping a low profile. While no one denies that the United States remains the only superpower in the world, people should also recognize and respect the fact that China has emerged as a new power, strong in economic and political influence in the world. However, it looks as though China and the United States are still learning how to cohabit in the global village while keeping their differences in beliefs and values, because oftentimes one country will be demonized by the other, sometimes with ulterior motives. Public figures of both countries at one time or another are guilty of such practices. Editors of this special edition believe such practice is unwarranted and unnecessary, because it is based on suspicion which in turn gives rise to distrust, hostility and finally hatred.

Suspicion comes from ignorance and lack of transparency. Political scientists in both countries have been complaining about a total lack of transparency with regard to who are policy makers and what are top leaders of each country really thinking. This sentiment was widely shared at a recent conference at the Carter Center, Atlanta Georgia.1 It is precisely with this general concern in mind that we have decided to publish Liu Yazhou’s works.

Liu Yazhou is a three-star general in the Chinese military, the highest rank a career officer can attain in China. While he has risen through the ranks, from a foot solider to general, he is also a well-known, in fact one of the most well-known writers in the 1980s and 1990s. During those years he wrote profusely, in literary form, on China’s first peasant rebellion, mystery, the Civil War of China from 1947-1949, Taiwan, the Middle East, and international issues and had a huge following. As his responsibilities expanded in the military he had to give up creative writing. But his essays on Taiwan, and on domestic and world affairs, often unpublished, were still fervently sought, read and talked about. In our view Liu’s voice, though maybe lonely, reflects the mindset of his generation from ordinary people on the street to the highest leadership group, which necessarily includes their dreams and aspirations as well as their deep-seeded frustrations, shames and nightmares.

The three selected works by Liu Yazhou are On Spirit: “The 70th Anniversary of the Victory of the War of Resistance against Japan,” “Re-commemorating 1644: The 360th Anniversary of the Jiashen Year” and “National Shame: On China’s Defeat in the War of 1894.” They all take readers back to China’s recent dark past when the Han Chinese were completely defeated and subjugated, first by the nomadic Manchuria, and again in 1894 when the Qing Dynasty was defeated by Japan. With the onset of World War II Japan attacked and invaded China which had been plagued by bandits and warlords. China had no place on the world theater and the Chinese were looked down upon everywhere, even in their own country. Such national humiliation and shame haunted Chinese for generations. Sometimes it almost seems cruel for Liu Yazhou to paint with graphic details those sorry situations when the Chinese were cowardly, treacherous, indifferent and submissive. He, we suspect, was trying to make a point, that is without a spirit or strong mental will, regardless of one’s physical strength, one is unlikely to stand up to bully, humiliation, aggression and subjugation. LiuYazhou often refers to the Chinese writer Lu Xun, who is arguably regarded as someone who had the courage to be highly critical of the Chinese national character, including his own. Lu Xun was among that group of students who went to Japan to study after China’s defeat in the War of 1894. While studying as a medical student, it was widely believed, that one day he saw in class a film which showed that a Chinese was being killed by Japanese while a crowd of Chinese simply stood there watching, motionless and expressionless. He decided then and there to leave the medical field to become a writer because he believed what his fellow countrymen needed was not cures for physical ailments but a spiritual revival. Lu Xun then spent his whole life trying to wake up his fellow countrymen from their slumber of complacency and indifference and their blind insistence that China only needs to learn Western skills not their ideas.

Liu Yazhou, in his essays, attributes China’s defeats in previous wars to its culture, tradition, belief, or lack thereof, with sometimes scathing criticism, but he has also provided rationale for why Chinese reacted in a certain way against the historical background. Readers, especially western readers, will begin to understand the strong nationalist sentiments, complete with pride and joy, as expressed in the victory over Japan in World War II, the birth of the People’s Republic of China, China’s participation in the Korean conflict, China’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, China’s return to the United Nations, China’s speedy economic rise and more recently China’s hosting of the Olympic Games and the World Expo.

Though Liu Yazhou and his writings are well known in China very few of them are available in English2. Through his writings it is our hope that Western readers will get a different slice of China, provided this time by a member of the higher leadership echelon, which can serve as a beginning to disperse misconception, suspicion and most importantly, distrust.

Acknowledgements: The editors would like to thank translators Ray Wang, Stacy Mosher and Guodi Sun for their work, and Brenda Arnold, Cheryl Meaux and Robert Kapp for taking time to polish and proofread the translated texts.  


Born in October 1952, Liu Yazhou is currently the political commissar3 of China’s National Defense University, the premier military and defense research and teaching institute in China. He is a three star general of the Air Force, the highest rank a career military officer in China can attain. He has risen through the ranks, from a foot solider to general. His previous military positions include platoon leader, vice company leader, staff officer in the Office of China’s Central Military Commission, army division political commissar, the director of the political division of the Beijing Military Region’s Air Force, the political commissar of the Chengdu Military Region's Air Force, and the deputy political commissar of China’s Air Force

Liu Yazhou graduated with an English degree from Wuhan University. He has written novels and essays to both acclaim and controversy. He wrote profusely on China’s first peasant rebellion, mystery, the Civil War of China from 1947-1949, Taiwan, the Middle East, and international issues. In 1980s and 1990s he was one of the most well-known writers in China. Since the 1990s after he went to work at the Central Military Commission his writing took a turn from the literary subjects to political and strategic issues. Though none of the writings were officially published, they are circulating widely in the society through private printing and online. Three of these essays were translated into English. They are “The Voice of A Fifth Generation Leader: Lieutenant General Liu Yazhou on Sino-American Relations, “War Against Taiwan, A Strategic Evaluation by Lieutenant General Liu Yazhou and “The Dilemmas and Prospects of China’s Military Modernization and Air Power Strategy, the Views of Lieutenant General Liu Yazhou” The Chinese Law and Government, A Journal of Translations (M. E. Sharpe, Inc.) published those articles in 2007 and 2008 respectively.4

Liu has also traveled much internationally, including serving as a visiting professor at Stanford University in the 1980s. Liu is married with one son, and the Liu family lives in Beijing.


The 70th Anniversary of the Victory of the War of Resistance against Japan5

Liu Yazhou
The spirit of a nation finds its manifestation in the essence and quality of its culture, which fundamentally impacts the nation’s existence and development. In this sense the victory over the Japanese aggression is not only a military victory, but also a spiritual victory, a cultural victory. The core of the culture is spirit.

President Xi Jinping6, China’s new leader, pointed out: “In this new historical condition, the whole party and whole nation should display the spirit of fighting against the Japanese aggressors, enhance our spiritual ties of unity and perseverance to achieve the Chinese Dream7 of its great revitalization and to comfort the souls of our predecessors and revolutionary martyrs with new feats achieved in building the socialism with the Chinese characteristics.”


The Chinese civilization used to stand tall among all civilizations, with its peak in the pre Qin era8 (before 221 B.C.E.). It was a time when everyone enjoyed life – men were proud of their masculinity and women of their graceful beauty. It was a time when different schools of thoughts competed against each other in a healthy environment. All of a sudden, however, a villain by the name of Ying Zheng9 cut the umbilical cord of this civilization and deprived the Chinese men of their masculinity. The heritage from the Qin Dynasty, the worst of its kind, is that the powers that be become the ultimate judge for thinking. Emperor Wu Di10 of the Han Dynasty went even further. It was he who castrated one of the best Chinese thinkers.11This act of shame was a symbol of monumental proportions in Chinese history. Since then no great thinkers were ever born in China. The situations deteriorated even further during the Ming and Qing dynasties, when Scholar Gong Zizhe12 remarked: It’s so stiffening – nobody dares to speak out, just like thousands of horses in the field, all dead quiet. He went on to say that in present day China there were no talented officials in the court, no talented pickpockets on the street and not even talented bandits around.

Chinese lost their original spirit. For thousands of years they maintained but one posture spiritually and physically before power, be it royal or foreign, on their knees. During the War of Jiawu13 or the Sino-Japanese War of 1894 when the Japanese troops first attacked the front east of Liao River 50,000 Chinese troops were stationed there, more than the attacking Japanese. However, in 10 days the Chinese front disintegrated. The fortress in Port Arthur was nicknamed the Iron Fortress. It fell in one day, while during the Russo-Japanese War Russians held the fortress for a whole year. According to a Japanese coroner’s report, most Chinese casualties were hit by bullets from the back. Few received wounds from the front – a clear indication that most were killed while fleeing the battlefield. During the Rape of Nanking14 a dozen or so Japanese troops escorted over 10,000 Chinese captives to be executed. If one of the captives had revolted and others had followed they could have crushed those few captors by simply walking on them. However that person never emerged. After the war of 1894 even Korea, a former subject state to China, started to dream up a plan to divide up China. In 1896 the Korean leading journal, Independent News, wrote: “It is our hope that Korea can also defeat China and occupy the Northeastern part of China and Manchuria. China should pay retribution of 800 million silver dollars to Korea. Koreans should keep this goal of taking over the Northeast of China and Manchuria within a few decades.”

Whenever the Chinese nation was attacked and bullied by a foreign power a process of resurrection was triggered, which is another remarkable characteristic of the Chinese civilization. The rebirth process almost always started when the nation reached the bottom of complete devastation. The War of 1894 pushed China to the edge of a cliff. A man only learns what strength means when he is pushed to the limit. Likewise a nation’s way out becomes possible only when all the other venues are blocked. A magnificent rise starts after a most tragic fall. After the defeat by Japan a strange phenomenon occurred – scholars flocked to Japan in great numbers and began the journey of learning from Japan. Over two thousand years it had been Japan that studied China in almost every aspect. This process used to be referred to as “learning from the Tang Dynasty China” or the complete Sinolization, to use a modern parlance.

The architecture in Kyoto and Nara looks rich and solemn with grey as its main hue, characteristic of the Tang architectural style. Japanese studied China so much so that they thought they were part of China. It was said that in1870, during a Sino-Japanese talk, a Chinese delegate asked the Japanese delegation to refer to Chinese as “Zhong Hua中華” or “the Chinese people” – a request that the Japanese delegation flatly refused. If the Japanese went along, the logic goes, then they would be naturally relegated to the status of barbarians, because in the Chinese phrase if one is the opposite of Hua as in Hua Yi (the Chinese and barbarians) then the other party naturally becomes a barbarian! As a result the talk almost ended right on that note.

Fukuzawa Yukichi15, a war proponent against China, who wrote The War between Japan and China was One between Civilization and Barbarism, and Uemura Masahisa16 of the same time period, stated that “The war between Japan and China was one involving spirit. It’s a conflict between the new spirit and the old.” After the war of 1894 Japan began to view China differently. China was Japan’s teacher for two thousand years, but in the last hundred years or so their role was reversed. Even the modern Chinese language was heavily influenced by the Japanese. For instance common words or phrases such as 幹部(cadre) 、路線 (guideline) 、社會 (society)、民主 (democracy) are all borrowings from Japan. In fact 70 percent of such conceptual words or phrases in modern Chinese are from the Japanese. If we remove those words from modern Chinese we can hardly compose a modern Chinese text. However, in my view such a role change is much like the back feeding phenomenon from an offspring to its parents.

More importantly these Chinese students in Japan came into contact with Mr. Democracy and Mr. Science17 and became energized spiritually. The most noted representatives among them were Qiu Jin,18 Chen Tianhua19, Zhou Enlai20 and Lu Xun.21 It was said that the most significant transformation in modern Chinese history was made by the hands of two Chinese women. One was Qiu Jin and the other Ci Xi22, the Empress Dowager. On July 1907, before she was executed in Xuan Ting Pavilion, in the city of Shao Xing, Qiu Jin exclaimed: “There doesn’t seem to be a single brave man that I can see and there doesn’t seem to be anyone who cares about this beautiful country!” A year later the ruler of the country, Empress Dowager, also died. Chen Tianhua, another returned student from Japan, who wrote Radical Reflections , an article meant to bring his fellow countrymen back to a spiritual revival, drowned himself in the ocean so that, in his words, “…my fellow countryman won’t remain numb. I’m drowning myself in the Eastern China sea so that they will wake up.” Chen killed himself in the hope that his country didn’t die and in the hope that his country would prosper. The traces of Japanese samurai warriors can certainly be detected from such representatives of the Revolution of 1911.23.

Another individual worth noting is Lu Xun. Lu went to Japan to become a physician. He, however, chose a career as a writer without any hesitation in order to save his fellow countrymen’s souls rather than just their bodies. In my view he remained a physician, who wanted to find a cure for the ills in his home country. In this world there are people who leave footprints and there are others who study them. Lun Xun belonged to the latter category.

I believed all his writings can be summarized in a statement he made: “In present day China where can I find a fighter who has spiritual pursuits?” Lu Xun often raised three questions: 1) What is the ideal human nature? 2) What is the worst trait for the Chinese people? And 3) Why do such bad traits exist? All of them were spiritual questions. In Lu Xun’s view the biggest problem with the Chinese people was that their belief was not believing in anything! Mao Zedong24 admired Lun Xun, dubbing him “our Commander-in-Chief Lu.” Mao went on to say that we had two armies, one “gun carrying” and the other “pen carrying.” Zhu De was the Commander-in-Chief of the gun carrying army and Lu Xun was the Commander-in-Chief of the pen carrying army. Mao and Lun Xun were soulmates.

The May 4th Movement broke out in Beijing in 1919.25 Again the Japanese were the main cause. The movement was a critical reexamination of as well as a further research on Japan. The criticism was targeted at Japan’s ambition to take over China and the research was focused on the reflections on the Chinese nation by the Japanese so that a spiritual resurrection could happen in China. The reflective soul searching on the part of China to understand the devastation brought upon by Japan reached its peak. No other country in Asia went to such great length in its reflections on Japan, though Japan invaded so many countries there.

Roh Moo Hyun,26 the former Korean President stated: “For Korea it is a shame to have Japan as its neighbor.” Unfortunately Koreans simply stopped right there, because though Korea was much closer to Japan than was China there never occurred a flow of students in substantial numbers to study in Japan. The May 4th Movement remains the most influential and the largest war of ideology, almost like the renaissance. What we learned from this movement is that a nation could not hope to rise until its people were able to stand on their own feet, because people are the essence between heaven and earth. It needs to be pointed out that this movement not only constituted a spiritual enlightenment but also produced a contingent of future national leaders. Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping were leading the pack. The most significant outcome of this movement was the founding of the Chinese Communist Party. What we have learned from the May 4th Movement is that only when a great nation is capable of reflecting upon itself and only when a nation comes to realize its own responsibility can it become a great nation. One Japanese also shared this view when he stated: “If China disappeared all the hopes would be lost for the countries in the East. However, if China prospers other countries can hope to get help. So China’s problem is the big problem for the entire East.” 27

The War of 1894 occurred before the May 4th Movement and the War of Resistance against Japan occurred after the May 4th Movement. These two wars shared the same battlefield and the same opponents, but with totally different outcomes. Of all the wars against foreign aggressors the War of Resistance against Japan was one of the most devastating, and of all battles against the fascists in World War II China’s victory was won with the most sacrifices. The reason was that there was a fundamental change in the spirit of Chinese nationals. In the view of Ryōtarō Shiba28 , a Japanese writer, only the Japanese during the Meiji Period shared that same spirit, full of vitality and go.

No Japanese were like that before or after the Meiji Period. Till this day the glory of Meiji Period was still the talk of the day among the Japanese. In China, however, the Chinese who experienced the May 4th Movement became the most vibrant, most lively and most beautiful people since the Qin Dynasty (221 – 207 B.C.E).29 The May 4th Chinese and the Meiji Japanese, two groups of elites, came into contact in a big clash, which was the passion of the 20th century. Toward the end of the War of 1894 the Japanese lost that passion. However, it was not like that during World War II. One month before its surrender, in 1945, that passion was still burning. The Japanese troops took 18 towns in one single sweep in Jiangxi Province, because they were facing a great opponent.

In The Tanaka Jōsōbun or the Tanaka Memorial30 there were these words:” If we want to conquer the world we first need to conquer China. If we want to conquer China, we first need to conquer Manchuria and Mongolia.” These words showed how very ambitious this Tanaka was. Only someone belonging to the Meiji generation was capable of such expressions. No Chinese in the last thousand years or so came even close to making a similar statement, until the May 4th Movement generation. If one read articles by Mao Zedong during that period one would find that every single one was full of passion and enthusiasm. His calligraphy stood out even more in that it reminded viewers of towering waves of oceans and seas jumping off the paper.

For thousands of years the Chinese society was dominated by a small scale farmer’s economy, which determined that defense was its main military mode, symbolized to its fullest by building the Great Wall. Most Chinese heroes were defenders of the country. In the ancient China wars were seldom themes of artistic manifestation. Even during the Tang Dynasty, the peak of the Chinese civilization, wars or battles were depicted as very sad and depressing occasions, though glorious. But if one reads warring poetry written by Mao one can hardly find any hint of gloominess. For instance in his poem Long March he wrote: “Three army groups march on, each soldier’s face glowing,” though actually the Red Army at the time was undergoing the most difficult period of time in history.

The invading Japanese army into China during World War II was one of the most powerful and most ambitious since the Meiji Reform. Senior Japanese commanders in the Chinese theater such as Yasuji Okamura31, Seishirō Itagaki32 and Yoshijirō Umezu33, all in their fifties, were in the prime of their lives and they all participated in the Russo-Japanese War which helped establish Japan as a world power. In comparison Mao Zedong and his commanders belonged to a younger generation. For instance, when Peng Dehuai34 led the Ping Jiang Uprising he was only 30. Lin Biao35 was 24 when he was appointed Commander of an army group. During the Nan Chang Uprising,36 Liu Bocheng37 was only 35. In 1946 when Su Yu38 won seven victories in a row during his legendary Inner area of Jiang Su battle he was only 39.

However, it’s precisely these people who made history by throwing their young selves into the War of Resistance against Japan. Youth was very powerful and full of imagination. It was said that Lin Biao was invited to give a lecture at the Anti-Japanese Aggression University on Marxist theory. He said but one sentence: “In a capitalist society only very few people get rich. In a communist society everyone gets rich,” leaving audience in shock, pen and pencils in hand ready to take copious notes. Guang Hanqing, a playwright in the Yuan Dynasty, once wrote: “I’m a pea made of copper. No matter how much you cook me by frying, boiling or steaming, I remain hard.” Lin Biao must have known Guan’s writing, for he liked to chew on hard fried peas as if tasting how tough a particular battle was like. The victory over the Japanese troops in Pingxingguan Pass,39 led by Lin Biao, rewrote the history to repudiate the legend that the Japanese army was invincible.

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