Never Forget National Humiliation: Historical Memory in Chinese Politics and Foreign Relations

Never Forget National Humiliation: Historical Memory in Chinese Politics and Foreign Relations

by Zheng Wang
     
 

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The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has not only survived but thrived in the post-Cold War era, regaining the support of Chinese citizens after the Tiananmen Square crackdown of 1989. Popular sentiment has turned toward anti-Western nationalism despite the internally-driven, anti-dictatorship democratic movements of the 1980s, and China has shown more assertion

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Overview

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has not only survived but thrived in the post-Cold War era, regaining the support of Chinese citizens after the Tiananmen Square crackdown of 1989. Popular sentiment has turned toward anti-Western nationalism despite the internally-driven, anti-dictatorship democratic movements of the 1980s, and China has shown more assertion toward the United States and Japan in matters of foreign policy, while, at the same time, acting relatively conciliatory toward smaller countries in conflict.

Offering an explanation for these unusual events, Zheng Wang follows the communist government's ideological reeducation of the public through the exploitation of China's humiliating modern history. Beginning in the early 1990s, a national "Patriotic Education Campaign" relentlessly portrayed China as the victim of foreign imperialist interference. From the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries, the narrative goes, outside forces have attacked, bullied, and torn China apart, subjecting the once-great nation to "one hundred years of humiliation." Wang tracks the CCP's use of history education to glorify the party, reestablish its legitimacy, consolidate national identity, and justify one-party rule in the post-Tiananmen and post-Cold War era. The result has been the institutionalization of a manipulated historical memory and consciousness now directing political discourse and foreign policy. Wang demonstrates the role historical memory has played in China's rise: its manipulation by political elites, its resonance in the popular imagination, and its ability to constrain and shape China's international relations. By concentrating on the telling and teaching of history in today's China, Wang illuminates the thinking of the young patriots who will lead this rising power in the twenty-first century. He positions historical memory as one of the biggest factors shaping the exercise of Chinese power and the key to understanding Chinese nationalism and intention.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
As Wang (an associate professor at Seton Hall University’s John C. Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations) persuasively argues, historical memory, particularly of the “century of humiliation” stretching from the First Opium War (1839–1842) through the Anti-Japanese War ending in 1945, is “the key to understanding Chinese politics and foreign relations,” particularly its current relations with the United States and Japan. While offering the general reader enough history background to keep up, Wang focuses on how the Chinese Communist Party has used historical memory “as a tool to regain legitimacy and to mobilize the population.” In this context, Wang assays, for example, the “patriotic education campaign” following the Tiananmen Square protests, and the handling of two internal events in 2008—the Summer Olympics and the Sichuan earthquake. The book is most accessible when decoding the political uses of historical memory, which may be commemorative or repressive, as reflected in preserved and constructed monuments, changing anthems, and revised history textbooks. Wang is not always easy reading; the framework for his research rests in the application of Johan Galtung’s “Chosenness-Myths-Trauma (CMT) complex”; his review of the scholarly literature concerning historical memory is exhaustive. However, he is a patient, informed guide, sensitive to the historical abysses of Western readers. (Aug.)
Financial Times
a valuable and, often lively, account of a crucial aspect of modern China.

— Gideon Rachman

Asian Review of Books
A future world where the Chinese are at peace with their own past seems a long wayaway. But that is the place, as this useful study of such a difficult area, where we need toget to.

— Kerry Brown

Stein Tonnesson
Why are young Chinese so patriotic and anti-Western? Because of historical memory, says Zheng Wang. His book reads like a revelation. It is at once an insider's account and a masterful scholarly analysis of how history is taught in China and how this shapes its foreign policy outlook.
Choice
This work is highly recommended for general readers as well as Asia scholars. It is a must for any serious library collection on Asia. Essential.

China Quarterly - Edward Friedman
a vivid and well-informed study of post-Mao nationalism and Chinese foreign policy...

H-Diplo
A timely and well-researched book, Never Forget National Humiliation qualifies as a landmark in the study of Chinese nationalism.

Chen Jian

Zheng Wang's Never Forget National Humiliation presents a powerful, convincing, and timely discussion about one of the most important and sustaining factors shaping China's modern history and its tortuous course of integration into the international community. Based on extensive and solid research, his is a study with critical scholarly values and pivotal contemporary relevance. For those who want a deeper understanding of the Chinese conceptual realm still profoundly penetrated by the Chinese 'victim mentality' in the era of 'China's rise,' this is a book they cannot afford to ignore.

Financial Times - Gideon Rachman
A valuable, and often lively, account of a crucial aspect of modern China.

Asian Review of Books - Kerry Brown
A future world where the Chinese are at peace with their own past seems a long way away. But that is the place, as this useful study of such a difficult area, where we need to get to.

Stein Tønnesson

Why are young Chinese so patriotic and anti-Western? Because of historical memory, says Zheng Wang. His book reads like a revelation. It is at once an insider's account and a masterful scholarly analysis of how history is taught in China and how this shapes its foreign policy outlook.

e-IR - Robert Weatherley
A must-read for anyone interested in post-Tiananmen Chinese nationalism.

Virginia Review of Asian Studies - Daniel Metraux
Wang gives us a critically important book that provides a solid blueprint for understanding contemporary China.

Pacific Affairs - Xiangfeng Yang
A timely addition to the fast-expanding literature on Chinese nationalism.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780231148900
Publisher:
Columbia University Press
Publication date:
07/31/2012
Series:
Contemporary Asia in the World Series
Pages:
312
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Stein Tønnesson
Why are young Chinese so patriotic and anti-Western? Because of historical memory, says Zheng Wang. His book reads like a revelation. It is at once an insider's account and a masterful scholarly analysis of how history is taught in China and how this shapes its foreign policy outlook.

Chen Jian
Zheng Wang's Never Forget National Humiliation presents a powerful, convincing, and timely discussion about one of the most important and sustaining factors shaping China's modern history and its tortuous course of integration into the international community. Based on extensive and solid research, his is a study with critical scholarly values and pivotal contemporary relevance. For those who want a deeper understanding of the Chinese conceptual realm still profoundly penetrated by the Chinese 'victim mentality' in the era of 'China's rise,' this is a book they cannot afford to ignore.

Jeffrey Wasserstrom
Even though a great deal has been published on Chinese nationalism in recent years, Zheng Wang's careful treatment of this important subject has a great deal to offer. And to his credit, the author makes the most of the fact that, unlike many authors of scholarly works on related themes, he grew up being exposed to and has childhood memories of the patriotic myths that he takes pains to dissect.

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Meet the Author

Zheng Wang is an associate professor in the John C. Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University in New Jersey. He is a Jennings Randolph Senior Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and a member of the National Committee on United States-China Relations (NCUSCR).

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