How could the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) not only survive but even thrive, regaining the support of many Chinese citizens after the Tiananmen Square crackdown of 1989? Why has popular sentiment turned toward anti-Western nationalism despite the anti-dictatorship democratic movements of the 1980s? And why has China been more assertive toward the United States and Japan in foreign policy but relatively conciliatory toward smaller countries in conflict?
Offering an explanation for these unexpected trends, Zheng Wang follows the Communist government's ideological reeducation of the public, which relentlessly portrays China as the victim of foreign imperialist bullying during "one hundred years of humiliation." 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.
Wang visits China's primary schools and memory sites and reads its history textbooks, arguing that China's rise should not be viewed through a single lens, such as economics or military growth, but from a more comprehensive perspective that takes national identity and domestic discourse into account. Since it is the prime raw material for constructing China's national identity, historical memory is the key to unlocking the inner mystery of the Chinese. From this vantage point, 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 institutionalization of this manipulated historical consciousness now directs political discourse and foreign policy, and Wang demonstrates its important role in China's rise.
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.