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Humiliation and Hegemony: How History Informs Chinese Attitudes and Behavior

December 1, 2023 @ 12:30 pm


This talk explores the two narratives that define the historical consciousness of the Chinese people and of the Chinese government today. The first is the ‘century of humiliation’ narrative, wherein China was brought low by foreign invasion and exploitation over the hundred years from the 1840s to the 1940s. The second is the perception that before that ‘century of humiliation,’ Imperial China was a natural and benevolent hegemon. This implies that for centuries there was something of a Chinese World Order and that the modern primacy of the West is an historical aberration. ‘Never Forget National Humiliation’ and ‘Rejuvenate the Great Chinese Nation’ are among Xi Jinping’s favorite mantras and their pursuit explains a lot about how the PRC behaves, and about popular attitudes in China toward the outside world. Simply put, one cannot understand contemporary China without understanding how China’s modern history–from 18th Century Hegemon to 20th Century Failed State–shapes how the Chinese think of their place in the world today and their expectations for China’s future rise. This event is also available virtually.