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  • James Tam

Don't Learn From History 歷史的謊話

Don’t learn from history — it’s full of lies. Some say that’s to be expected, as history is written by the victors. But why must victors lie? Do they not realise that falsifying history will certainly backfire?

Chinese obsession with history stems not only from academic interests or a peculiar fascination with dead people, but a firm belief in the benefits of experience. The post of Official Historian, already established in the Xia Dynasty nearly four thousand years ago, continued in various forms until the end of Qing Dynasty in the beginning of the 20th century. Official Historians were officially extremely independent, therefore a high risk job. They followed the Emperors around, making notes which the Sons of Heaven were not allowed to read by ancestral decree and tradition (that changed after Tang Dynasty). A Historian’s record could impact the Emperor’s Posthumous Titles — marking His Majesty as a jerk or fool for posterity. Expectedly, some overzealous Historians got their heads removed. These murderous episodes were duly recorded by his successors.

Historians in ancient time were unimaginably stubborn. The renowned Sima Qian of Han Dynasty endured castration to finish The Records of the Grand Historian, an epic achievement still widely studied today, more than two millennia later. To minimise bias and decapitation, official history was usually compiled from archives and records long after a change of dynasty. By then, as China’s struggles were mostly internal, the boundary between victors and losers had been obscured by time. Recent history — itself an oxymoron — is unreliable anywhere, like autobiographies of politicians.

Colonial powers of more recent times faced a different problem when it comes to record keeping. They often had to dilute or whitewash the barbaric reality of overseas conquests, lest their reputation back home be tarnished. Thanks to long-distance voyages which made verification practically impossible, slave traders, genocidal psychopaths, and drug lords became patriotic and pious heroes who brought God and civilisation, perhaps even a sewer pipe or two, to benighted savages. The American Empire inherited this tradition, and developed the art of fact editing to daunting new heights. With its Hollywood DNA and a fully compliant Free Press, the modern Empire is attempting to prefab fictional frameworks for future historians through fake news, false events, and incessant demonisation of enemies and perceived rivals. Evidently, being an optimistic nation, America assumes itself to be the writer of tomorrow’s world history.

Sadly, a country with very little history doesn’t realise that historical lies will mislead and haunt their own children in the fullness of time, denying them valuable lessons from the past. A merchant who makes false accounts year after year will soon have no choice but to continue, until the delusive entries become too unwieldy to reconcile, until he loses sight of his business and the way forward. A society which learns from experience is more likely to gain insight and coherence, even a bit of wisdom. Unforced errors could be minimised if history provides honest guidance and warnings. Perhaps the future is “politically unaffordable” to the Empire’s elected leaders? After all, in a ballot-box democracy, “long-term visions” are limited to only a few short years.

An unparalleled talent of the Empire is demonisation of adversaries. To be fair, wartime demonisation of enemies is practised by everyone; but malicious propaganda during peacetime boggle the mind. Why such unprovoked and pointless belligerence, one wonders. Maybe the overwrought Empire imagines itself constantly at war with everyone who refuses to submit and obey? Maybe it’s a historical habit from the glorious old days? Most enemies and subjugation victims of colonial powers were aliens, “odd and inferior”. They made excellent caricature targets for victors high on superiority complex. But amusing jibes at the victims’ expense soon became a social cancer — racism. Insulting gestures (“just a joke” to victors who hate being derided or criticised by outsiders) are a venomous thorn on the path to reconciliation and integration. For no apparent purpose other than a bit of brutish fun, seeds of animosity and social tension are sown and resown, poisoning future generations.

Ironically, the Empire’s incessant demonising campaigns create a self-imposed handicap. Having artfully and endlessly portrayed rivals as “stupid, evil, backward, filthy, corrupt, brutal…” morons makes it impossible to wholeheartedly learn anything from them. The wider the Empire’s smearing arc, the tighter it binds itself with an undersized ideological straightjacket. Meanwhile, more open-minded rivals learn selectively from the Empire which sings freedom and openness. The world moves on. Funny isn’t it?

A grossly over-glorified self-image eventually collapses under the aggregated weight of historical lies, causing disillusionment and alienation, especially among those who can see and think. Standing deceptively tall on a spurious moral summit may seem cool for a selfie, but the reality gap will widen to an unbridgeable chasm, swallowing those who don’t care to learn from history.

不少近代史其實大話連篇。以史為鑒這句話好像有點過時。西方人解釋說這是由於歷史是 「勝利者」寫的,難免偏頗。為何勝利已經在握的人,反而作假呢?難道他們不知道假歷史對自己後代的不良影響嗎?


古代史官使命感頑強,現代人很難想象。太史公司馬遷為了要寫 「史記」,漢武帝要閹要割也照樣忍受,結果完成了人類史上最偉大的史書,歷兩千多年而不衰。「史記」 至今仍然是研究中國史的中外學者的必讀典籍,是個一般人不大留意的文化大奇跡。為了盡量減低當代情緒的影響,一般正史都會經過很長時期的冷靜發酵,才由後世皇朝編寫的。中國的鬥爭,大部分都是內戰,一經時間沖淡,誰勝誰敗變得意義不大,「勝利者」 扭曲歷史的動機相對比西方少很多。其實 「近代史」 這現代詞語本身就有些矛盾,近代的是非,算得上歷史嗎?所以全世界的 「近代史」,可靠程度大概相當土豪或過氣總統的自傳吧。

中華文明千百年來屢經災劫,飽經風浪,仍能基本凝聚,成為最有連貫性和重生力量的古文明,與中國人重視歷史多少有點兒關係。歷史,有如中華文化的遺傳因子,將炎黃子孫的基因延續著。反之,近世紀的殖民霸權在海外的野蠻行為,如實記錄的話,會嚇死虔誠的老鄉,失去支持。幸好山高皇帝遠,事實由我說了算,不少海盜煙商,屠城戰犯,便搖身一變成為開法蠻夷,教化土著,拯救靈魂的大英雄,名留 「灰史」。美帝國繼承了傳統,把 「編造事實」 的藝術推上更高層次。他們有好萊塢的編導演天分,加上完全受控的 「自由傳媒」 建立了龐大的話語力量,製造假新聞假事故,對國際對手大肆妖魔化,都屬家常便飯。他們為未來的史學家預造了大量真亦假時假亦真的材料,為自己的 「勝利者」 角度打下了基礎。看來樂觀的美國,早已肯定了自己是人類未來的歷史編輯了。

一個沒什麼歷史可言的國家,可能不會明白慣性篡改歷史的惡果,最終由自己的子孫來吃。一個常年做假賬的商人,做假賬的壓力只會越來越大,結果被積聚的矛盾埋葬,與現實脫節,迷失方向。不過現代民主帝國選出來的 「領導人」,視野最長不會超過短短幾年的競選週期。國家的未來與選票無關,可以不理,想理也理不來。



最諷刺的是,西方超級強大的妖魔化能力,最終的受害人也是自己。動不動把假想敵和不聽話的嘍囉塗得漆黑,手下的 「自由傳媒」,輿論打手,你一句我三句,受害人毫無反抗能力,只有眼巴巴淪為落後貪腐,專制橫蠻的蠢材。紐約時報話我們中國人陋習特別多,人民不團結,體系有問題,總之一無是處,今天華盛頓時間下班前不崩潰,大概也熬不過明天中午了。這是一種勝利嗎?要知道,世事無常,「蠢材」 也有翻身日,間中還有值得效法的好主意,可恨大佬們就算心裡明知,也不好意思學習,唯有加油扭曲,繼續唱衰。於是任何與帝國不一致的看法做法,都會被唱衰唱臭。慣矣慣矣!誰料被唱的人越多,大佬自我改變的空間便越窄,慢慢將自己逼進牛角尖。而假想敵們,因為沒有自扣枷鎖,反而可以輕鬆開放地選擇學習值得仿效的做法,逐漸改良。你說誰著數呢?

利用話語權軟實力自我美化得不像樣的人,站在虛擬的道德巔峰,大地在我腳下,不可以說不威風。可是虛構的完美,早晚會被大量沈積了的歷史謊話壓垮。現實裡的橫行霸道,與口中的仁義道德差異日大,無法辯解,結果令國民和海外信眾(尤其會思考,見過世面的精英)徹底失望。每一個帝國的衰亡,最致命的破壞力通常來自內部,外人不過導火線,甚至藉口而已。這方面,「愚昧落後」 的中國人似乎吸收了少許歷史教訓。

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