When Is China? (1): Patriotic Education and the Century of National Humiliation
Abstract and Keywords
Shows how China's pessoptimist identity politics frame historical memory to prime China's angry youth to explode into popular protests when they feel that China is being humiliated. It analyzes how the Central Propaganda Department of the Chinese Communist Party uses the grand narrative of the Century of National Humiliation to socialize Chinese people into patriots who must continuously struggle against hostile foreign forces. The Central Propaganda Department thus deliberately deploys the pedagogy of national humiliation as part of its patriotic education policy. This chapter examines Chinese‐language sources from official and popular culture to explain how patriotic education is a moral campaign that teaches people how and what to feel – humiliation, hatred, and revenge are common themes. Long after the Century of National Humiliation ended in 1949, the pessoptimist historical narrative still provides the template that encourages militant Chinese reactions to conflicts both in the present and in the future.
Mao's dictum, “Make the past serve the present, and make foreign things serve China,” aptly describes how modern history is an important security issue in the People's Republic of China (PRC). This chapter and Chapter 3 examine how history is used to answer the question “Who is China?” In other words, we need to see how both official propaganda and popular culture answer the admittedly awkward question “When is China?” In this chapter, we consider how the Central Propaganda Department of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) uses the grand narrative of the Century of National Humiliation to socialize Chinese people into patriots who must continuously struggle against hostile foreign forces. Chapter 3 discusses how Chinese nationalism is produced and consumed through patriotic activities on a special day: National Humiliation Day. Together these Centuries and Days of National Humiliation will show how historical narratives are employed to unite moral, patriotic, and civilized Chinese against corrupt, hostile, and barbaric foreigners. Chapters 2 and 3 thus examine how history comes alive as a political activity in China, on both a very grand and a very local scale, through a combination of party‐state policy and movements in popular culture.
Seeing how particular historical narratives answer the question “When is China?” is important because China's pessoptimist historiography of national pride and national humiliation does more than guide how people understand the past. Long after the Century of National Humiliation ended in 1949, the pessoptimist historical narrative still provides the template that encourages militant Chinese reactions to conflicts in the present and the future. This is especially true for China's controversial relationships with (p. 32 ) the United States, Japan, and Taiwan. The bombing of China's Belgrade embassy (1999) and the EP‐3 reconnaissance plane incident (2001) were explained in China as “new national humiliations”; the unclear status of Taiwan and international criticism of China's Tibet policy are seen as historical legacies of the Century of National Humiliation. In other words, China's campaign to be recognized as a great power has a reverse image: it wants to make sure that it is not humiliated (again) on the world stage.
This chapter thus elaborates on themes raised in Chapter 1 to show how China's pessoptimist structure of feeling frames historical memory, and primes China's angry youth to explode into popular protests when they feel that China is being bullied or humiliated.
Patriotic Education Policy Since 1989
While many saw the 1989 mass movement in Tiananmen Square as a possible solution to the problem of the brutality of the Chinese state, Deng Xiaoping felt that this “counter‐revolutionary rebellion” was best explained as a catastrophic failure of the CCP propaganda system. In a speech to top generals on June 9, 1989, Deng concluded that “during the last ten years our biggest mistake was made in the field of education, primarily in ideological and political education – not just of students but of the people in general.”1 In September 1989, he elaborated: “Our gravest failure has been in education. We did not provide enough education to young people, including students. For many who participated in the demonstrations and hunger strikes it will take years, not just a couple of months, of education to change their thinking.”2 Deng realized that loyalty to the party‐state was not natural; China's youth needed to be taught how to be patriotic. His dictum “Seize with both hands, with both hands holding tight” thus describes how China needs to develop both the material civilization of economic prosperity and the spiritual civilization of political loyalty.
Although it has faced challenges from a commercialization of the media, the impact of new information and communication technologies (including the Internet), and a globalization of ideas, China still has a formidable propaganda system. To regulate what people can and cannot know, and thus who they can and cannot be, the party‐state has been adept at utilizing the market and new technologies to “enhance and strengthen the propaganda apparatus.”3 Rather than being degraded by Deng's economic reforms, which have opened up Chinese society, “the Central Propaganda Department and the system it oversees has expanded and modernized to (p. 33 ) keep up with these changes.”4 While many hoped that Hu Jintao would bring political reform to China, his regime actually has tightened control over the discussion of key political topics through both negative censorship of dissenting views and a positive socialization of the Chinese public through education and propaganda.
As the CCP's propaganda system has exploited new technologies, the content of its messages still maintains the same fundamental goal: to present a singular correct view of “the real China” to both foreigners and Chinese citizens. While the country we now call “China” has a contingent history that includes different peoples and different territories at different times, the party‐state works hard to assert an essentialized primordial view of Chinese civilization, identity, and territory. In this way Beijing's “One China Policy” seems to apply beyond Cross‐Straits Relations; unification with Taiwan is part of the propaganda system's very careful promotion of a unified view of China and the world: One China, One Truth, One World, One Dream.
To accomplish this singular correct view of “the real China,” Jiang Zemin instructed propaganda workers to regulate the production and the distribution of information about the PRC by promoting “correct theories and unified thinking.”5 To guide political understanding and action, the propaganda system employs a set of official phrases [tifa] – such as “Never Forget National Humiliation, Rejuvenate China.” As Michael Schoenhals explains, “By proscribing some formulations and prescribing others, they set out to regulate what is being said and what is being written – and by extension what is being done.”6 While this language politics is common in China's domestic sphere, recently Beijing has been deploying it in a more sophisticated way for foreign audiences.7 “Peaceful rising‐heping jueqi” is another good example of a tifa “official phrase” that shapes Chinese understandings of domestic and foreign politics. It appeared in 2003, and has been popular in China's explanations of its global role since early 2004.8 The import of “peaceful rising” comes less from its deep meaning, than from the role it plays in official language games, which is reinforced through persistent and continuous repetition in the mass media. Indeed, Chinese texts do not argue that “peaceful rising” is more persuasive than “China threat” for understanding the rise of China; rather, peaceful rising is presented as an “indisputable fact,” while China threat is dismissed as a “malicious fallacy.”9
Any arguments that offer a more complex view of Chinese history, identity, and by extension China's current foreign policy are dismissed as “unobjective” examples of “Western bias.” As the deputy director of the 2 (p. 34 ) 008 Olympics’ opening ceremony informed us, critical understanding that deviates from the party‐state's view of “the real China” is unthinkable because “to know China” is “to love China, to desire China.”10 This unified understanding of China leads to a proliferation of pronouncements in the official media about what “the Chinese people think,” and what “the Chinese people feel.”
The Central Propaganda Department promotes this singular view of the real China through its control over the production and distribution of all types of media and information;11 while it cannot effectively control the content of the massive amount of information and culture now available in China, it is able to effectively control specific areas of political interest. One of the Central Propaganda Department's key areas of interest is education, where it maintains joint responsibility with the Ministry of Education for curricula and textbooks at all levels of the system.12
“History” is a particularly important security issue in China: the legitimacy of the CCP regime grows out of the history of its revolution against foreign imperialism and domestic corruption, rather than from democratic elections, effectiveness, or public opinion. But history can be subversive as well; it records the memories not just of regimes, but of the revolutionary history of mass movements as well. Much of the power of China's mass demonstrations in 1989 came from the fact that they presented an alternative to the official commemoration of a key revolutionary holiday – the seventieth anniversary of the May 4th movement of 1919.
Because of these legitimacy issues, the CCP is very attentive to history education.13 In the wake of the 1989 mass movement that had shocked the party‐state, President Jiang Zemin refocused political education to stress the importance of modern and contemporary Chinese history, which the Central Propaganda Department then targeted as a “meaningful security issue.”14 Hence, rather than China's new nationalism being an expression of popular feeling, we need to understand this nationalism in the context of the state's patriotic education policy that emerged in the 1990s, and which continues to guide education and propaganda today. This is not a new policy: patriotism and national humiliation also were closely linked in newspaper commentaries and history textbooks in the early twentieth century: History of National Humiliation is the title of numerous state‐approved textbooks from the 1920s and 1930s.15 Indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to say that when the idea of “modern history” took shape in China in the 1920s, it was guided by the history of national humiliation. Top historian Lü Simian, for example, published a popular history of modern China at the same time that he published a history of China's (p. 35 ) national humiliation.16 President Chiang Kai‐shek himself appealed to the history of national humiliation as part of the construction of citizenship and national identity in the Republic of China.17
With the communist victory in 1949, official history curriculum and patriotic education policy shifted to focus on the more positive Marxist themes of class struggle and revolutionary victory.18 According to the records of the National Library of China in Beijing, no national humiliation history textbooks were published between 1937 and 1990. Yet, national humiliation history education was suddenly revived in the late twentieth century as a response to the Tiananmen movement in 1989.
To the outside world, the Tiananmen Square movement was seen as a pro‐democracy movement, where for the first time in generations popular protest was not directed against foreign imperialism. Indeed, the focus of students’ ire was internal: official corruption and the lack of domestic political reform. Hence this presented a security crisis to the Chinese leadership; but not a crisis of traditional national security, so much as nontraditional security of the party‐state: the ideological security, regime security, and cultural security of the CCP.
The solution to this problem, China's leaders decided, was to shift the focus of youthful energies away from domestic issues to foreign problems. The CCP thus formulated a patriotic education policy, not so much to reeducate the youth (as in the past), as to redirect protest toward the foreigner as the primary enemy. The Central Propaganda Department's “Outline for Implementing Patriotic Education” (1994) states that the policy's objective is to boost the nation's spirit, enhance national cohesion, foster national pride, consolidate and develop a patriotic united front, and rally the masses’ patriotic passions to “build socialism with Chinese characteristics.” Not surprisingly, the study of history is an important part of this patriotic education policy, especially the study of China's modern history of being invaded by imperialists, and the study of China's national characteristics, especially as they are incompatible with democratic values that are defined as “Western” – and thus foreign.19 The Central Propaganda Department's “Outline” proposed a multimedia campaign of patriotic education activities that would take place not just in schools but in museums, film, television, popular magazines, newspapers, and on official holidays.
Patriotic education history textbooks thus go beyond the positive narrative of China's ancient civilization and modern revolutionary victories. Although it is not usually recognized outside China, national humiliation education has become an important part of the patriotic education curriculum: the encyclopedic Practical Dictionary of Patriotic Education includes a 3 (p. 36 ) 55‐page section recording China's national humiliations in detail.20 As the patriotic education policy was taking shape in the early 1990s, the national humiliation theme dramatically reappeared in China, perhaps as the result of a caustic remark from Deng Xiaoping. Responding to the Group of Seven's sanctions imposed on China after the June 4th massacre, Deng revived national humiliation themes when he quipped that the Group of Seven was basically the same bunch of imperialists that had invaded China in 1900 to put down the Boxer Uprising and divide up the country:
I am a Chinese, and I am familiar with the history of foreign aggression against China. When I heard that the seven Western countries, at their summit meeting, had decided to impose sanctions on China, my immediate association was to 1900, when the allied forces of the eight powers invaded China.
Deng thus concluded that in order to properly understand the world “Our people should study Chinese history; it will inspire us to develop the country.”21
Following Deng's lead, the first National Humiliation history textbook since 1937 was published in 1990 as part of a “history, patriotism, and socialism” book series. The aim was to promote the singular correct history that would persuade China's youth that the CCP's rule was legitimate. By recounting China's humiliating diplomatic and military defeats at the hands of European, Japanese, and American forces, The Indignation of National Humiliation follows many of the same themes and rhetorical style as textbooks from the early twentieth century. The author confirms that the timing of the book was very political: it was published in April 1990 on the eve of the 150th anniversary of The Opium War.22 Patriotic education thus served to redirect students’ emotions and energies away from commemorating the first anniversary of the Tiananmen movement, which started in April 1989.
Other national humiliation textbooks were more direct in linking national humiliation and the Tiananmen movement. In June 1990, for the first anniversary of the crackdown an education journal article, “How Can We Conduct National Humiliation Education?,” attacked the question head on:
How can we make national humiliation education the guiding line of patriotic education, in order to make students understand the crimes of the imperialist invasion of China, the suffering of the Chinese nation, and thus grasp class exploitation and oppression in today's world? How can we use the perspective of class struggle to clearly understand the general international political climate and the specific domestic political climate so as to build an ideological Great Wall to oppose the “peaceful evolution” policy of the reactionary international powers?23
(p. 37 ) The article answers this set of questions with a set of suggestions on how to integrate national humiliation education into Chinese, English, and French language instruction; chemistry, biology, and geography curricula; thematic extracurricular activities including political study groups, movie dates, poetry readings, and even public‐speaking contests. The aim was to instruct teachers about how to answer questions raised by students in the Tiananmen movement – specifically about the reasons for China's backwardness and political corruption – in the correct way. The answers, according to this article, are simple: China is backward because the West has obstructed its rise, and corruption in China comes from foreign capitalist ideology. Chinese critics are seen as counterrevolutionary liberal elites who wanted “total Westernization,” while foreign critics – especially from the United States – are simply the latest generation of reactionary hostile foreign imperialist invaders.
The preface by China's vice‐minister of education to a history textbook edited by the National Education Committee thus explains how patriotic education can protect the Chinese nation from threats, both foreign and domestic: “Today we are confronted with foreign and domestic enemies who are plotting to force ‘peaceful evolution’ on our country. We need to make the youth understand [the history of national humiliation].…I hope that patriotic education will end the turmoil and counter‐revolutionary tendencies among primary and secondary school students.”24
While this anxiety about the patriotism of China's youth initially was a knee‐jerk reaction to challenges faced by the party‐state after 1989 (which included the fall of fraternal communist parties in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe), this short‐term propaganda tactic eventually became Beijing's long‐term propaganda strategy. Throughout the 1990s, patriotic education policy continued to develop and become more institutionalized. While the PRC was embracing the world in the twenty‐first century through its foreign policy narratives of “peaceful rising” and “harmonious world,” the number of articles in education journals about the importance of national humiliation education was actually increasing. After scores of textbooks and hundreds of academic articles were published, in 2004 the PRC's main newsweekly Outlook [Liaowang] concluded that national humiliation was an under‐researched and under‐taught topic. China's “history of suffering” is an “invaluable heritage” because of the “tragedy” of “the lack of understanding among China's youth about national humiliation and national crises.” The author thus concluded that national humiliation education is still necessary so that “the youth would feel how their happiness today is the outcome of a time of difficulty. Only then would they work hard in trying to repay the motherland.”25
(p. 38 ) This view of China's modern history guides textbooks, university entrance exams, and core university courses.26 Patriotic education and national humiliation education thus have become an institutionalized part of China's propaganda system because, as Deng Xiaoping reasoned in 1989, the CCP couldn't take loyalty for granted. The Central Propaganda Department had to socialize China's youth and the general public into a particular form of identity that tells people what to remember – and what to forget.
National Humiliation History Textbooks
To understand how historical memory informs both domestic and international politics in China, we need to look at the textbooks and teaching materials produced by the patriotic education policy. Modern history (1840–1949) for China is not the story of the triumph of development and progress; it is a painful record of defeat and loss. Modern history textbooks thus tell us how at the hands of foreign invaders and corrupt Chinese regimes, sovereignty was lost, territory dismembered, and the Chinese people thus humiliated. As National Humiliation, Hatred and the Soul of China (2001) summarizes China's painful century: “in modern Chinese history since the Opium War, foreign powers have launched invasion after invasion, act after bloody act of coercive pillage, occupying Chinese sovereign territory, slaughtering the Chinese masses, looting China's wealth, and stealing China's cultural artefacts. All this stained China with blood and tears.”27
This tale is characteristically written as a chronological diplomatic history: indeed, the librarian at an American university chose to translate the title of The History of National Humiliation (1927) as “A History of China's Modern Foreign Relations.”28 This linear narrative records the various invasions, wars, massacres, occupations, lost territories, lootings, and unequal treaties that China suffered at the hands of imperialism. The table of contents of a slick illustrated history textbook, A Record of National Humiliation (1998), gives a good idea of the nature of national humiliation historiography:29
1. The beginning of national humiliation and the forfeit sovereignty: the First Opium War
2. The expedition of the next generation of pirates: the Second Opium War
3. A disgrace beyond redemption: Franco‐British forces burn the Garden of Perfect Brilliance
4. Nation conquered, country smashed: the Sino‐Japanese War [1894–5]
5. Ghosts of the Black River: the massacres of Hailanpao and the 64 Jiangdong villages [in Manchuria by the Russians]
6. Deep humiliation of the Boxer Uprising: eight‐power allied forces invade China
7. No national boundaries here: the Russo‐Japanese War 
8. A heavy “cross” to bear: the humiliation of the missionary courts
9. Dirge of the Songhua River: the events of September 18 [1931: Japanese invasion]
10. Reign of terror in Jinling: the Nanjing Massacre .
This table of contents, which chronologically lists horrible events suffered by China, shows the peculiarities of the historiography of national humiliation. Like other such texts, it is missing the key event of the nineteenth century: the Taiping Rebellion (1851–64), which has been called “the most destructive civil war in the history of the world (at least in terms of lives lost),” and was “the most serious threat to the survival of the last imperial dynasty in China.”30 Likewise, these history textbooks skate over the Republican Revolution of 1911 that ended over two millennia of imperial rule in China. Such pivotal events are not included in national humiliation histories because they do not fit in with the moral narrative of patriotic education: foreign imperialism aided and abetted by domestic corruption and treason.
This chronology of key historical events thus guides China's understanding of threats and solutions in particular ways. Starting at the turn of the twentieth century, the main enemy shifted from European imperialism to Japanese imperialism with the Sino‐Japanese War (1894–5). After a series of Japanese invasions of China, the final atrocity is the “Rape of Nanjing” where invading Japanese troops systematically massacred the civilian population of China's capital city in 1937–38. The Century of National Humiliation in these textbooks ends with the national salvation of China in 1949 when Mao and the CCP finally liberated the country and founded the PRC. This narrative is painstakingly reproduced in textbooks, museums, popular history books, virtual exhibits, feature films, as well as in the National Humiliation dictionaries, journals, atlases, pictorials, and commemorative stamps. Like other propaganda campaigns, it has its own set of specialized vocabulary, iconic images, and idioms.
Rhetoric of national humiliation
Although patriotic education is a multidisciplinary and multimedia project, Jiang Zemin instructed educators and students to pay particular attention to (p. 40 ) China's modern and contemporary history.31 The bulk of patriotic education policy's work is done through low‐cost history textbooks, which explain how “Chinese history records not only pride, but also humiliation and agony.”32 As we saw earlier, these textbooks are organized chronologically around a series of events starting with the Opium War, and ending with Liberation in 1949. They utilize long lists of atrocities to enumerate crimes against China: invasions, massacres, unequal treaties, war reparations, stolen cultural treasures, foreign occupations, and lost territories. These disjointed numbers and disparate events are joined together into the historical narrative of the Century of National Humiliation, not just through the common theme of loss, but through a common rhetorical style that employs pessoptimist distinctions. As we saw in Chapter 1, this binary positive/negative rhetoric reduces the complexities of political life to a simplistic zero‐sum distinction. Yet in practice such stark distinctions quickly break down into a dynamic of complementary opposites where pride is intimately tied with humiliation, and vice versa.
The patriotic education textbooks thus employ China's pessoptimist structure of feeling to join together pride and humiliation: Never Forget National Humiliation (1998) explains that when Chinese people “look back at history they see not just the Four Great Inventions, ancient culture, the early heyday, the Silk Road, but also see the Opium War, the Sino‐Japanese War [1894–5], and the Nanjing Massacre.” The goal, the author tells his “young friends,” is to rejuvenate the Chinese nation, which, under the leadership of the CCP must “rise again to be an awesome and gracious great power like in the past that will stand lofty and firm in the Eastern part of the World.”33
This version of modern Chinese history is not simply a historical record of the facts. It is a moral tale that records China's “fall and rise” rather than its “rise and fall.” Most of the textbooks begin by stating how China went from being the highest civilization to be the Sick Man of East Asia:
Our beautiful and fertile motherland has vast territory and a long history. Our industrious and courageous people utilized these invaluable resources to create the top civilization of the ancient world. However, for more than the last century the world has been in disarray. Japan leapt like a tiger and the West soared like an eagle, energetically advancing forward.
Although we were one of the earliest classical civilizations in the world, we did not eradicate the feudalist chronic disease…and we fell behind.34
(p. 41 ) The basic reason for China's backwardness in the nineteenth century, another book tells us, was not China's “feudal conservatism or the inherent stupidity of the Chinese people,” but simply because “China was barbarically invaded and pillaged by imperialism.…Capitalist imperialists turned China into semi‐colony, and enslaved and slaughtered the Chinese people.”35
Foreigners thus are written into Chinese history as a wholly negative force: invaders, capitalists, imperialists, barbarians, and devils, who are “pirates” when on the sea, and “bandits” when on land. According to humiliation history books, the actions of these “evil imperialists” and “foreign devils” come less from a rational pursuit of international trade or national interest, than from moral and psychological problems: foreigners are characteristically described as greedy, crazy, reckless, shameless, unreasonable, and inhumane; they acted “like beasts” because their “wild desires were insatiable.”36 Thus, the aim of foreigners in China is not international commerce, but smuggling and invasion; foreign governments do not engage in diplomacy with China, but utilize schemes, tricks, and sinister plans to exploit China. Hence, according to Never Forget National Humiliation (1998) and other textbooks, Western countries do not have a “China policy” to guide their international relations; rather we are told that “Western colonialist countries” pursue an “invade China policy.”37
Europe, America, Russia, and Japan certainly were engaged in a scramble for colonies in East Asia in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Yet, these textbooks criticize imperialism not out of solidarity with Vietnamese, Koreans, and Filipinos, but because the textbooks argue that France, Japan, and the United States conquered these territories in order to gain “bases from which to invade China.”38 The Century of National Humiliation discourse thus colonizes the French invasion of Vietnam, for example, as an event in China's modern national history. Rather than an empire that has itself invaded, occupied, and exploited Vietnam, Korea, and many other countries,39 China is presented as an innocent victim that has never invaded another country.
Patriotic education textbooks thus stress how immoral Western and Japanese imperialists did not simply attack China – but how they actually enjoyed slaughtering, raping, torching, and looting China. To arouse the righteous indignation of the Chinese people, Cheng Shiwei notes how the British “with a smile” torched the fabulous Garden of Perfect Brilliance imperial palace [Yuanming yuan].40 Liang Zhanjun records how Japanese soldiers laughed when killing Chinese people, while imperialists exploited China with a combination of smiles, laughs, and snickers. Hence the “Heavenly” society that foreigners enjoyed in China was built on the “Hellish” labor of the Chinese people.41
(p. 42 ) Civilized/barbaric
In this way, national humiliation textbooks appeal to concepts from China's pre‐modern international relations: the hierarchical moral order of the “Civilization/barbarism distinction” that we examined in Chapter 1. Indeed, China's use of “Civilization” to describe itself and “barbarian” to describe Westerners was so pervasive that the British insisted on including a provision forbidding China from calling them “Yi‐barbaric” in the Treaty of Tianjin (1858).42 While most countries now organize world history courses around comparative civilizations, in China's history textbooks, there is still much talk of barbarism: “in the eyes of powerful and wealthy Chinese empire, these blue‐eyed and big‐nosed foreigners were not seen as special people; they were called barbarians. They were barbarians because on the one hand their civilization was inferior to Chinese civilization,…and on the other, their cruel behavior was no different from barbarians.”43 History textbooks thus instruct China's youth on how to distinguish the positive inside from the negative outside, domestic patriots from evil foreign invaders, and thus civilized Chinese from barbaric Europeans, Japanese, and Americans.
Patriotic education textbooks also make stark moral distinctions within China between patriotic heroes and treacherous traitors to the Han race [Hanjian]. Indeed, the inscription on the Monument to People's Heroes in Tiananmen Square targets both foreign and domestic enemies in the Century of National Humiliation: “Eternal glory to the people's heroes who sacrificed themselves in the struggle against domestic and foreign enemies and for national independence and the people's freedom and happiness since 1840.”44 A book about historical traitors (which was co‐published with a book about patriotic heroes) explains:
In the history of the Chinese nation, there are many heroes like those who sacrificed their lives on the battlefield.…But, there is a tiny minority of people who are the scum of the nation,…who wouldn't hesitate to betray the country's and the nation's interests to become confederates of those who sell their soul for personal gain, and shamelessly bow [to foreigners] as slaves.45
The top hero in modern Chinese history is Lin Zexu, the honest government official who persuaded the Qing emperor to ban the Opium trade in 1839.46 (p. 43 ) The key traitor is Li Hongzhang, the Qing diplomat who signed away many Chinese territories (including Taiwan, Hong Kong's New Territories, Vietnam, and Korea) in unequal treaties that also burdened China with huge war reparations. While Lin Zexu was willing to use the military to defend China's sovereignty, we are told that Li Hongzhang's diplomatic compromises betrayed the nation for Li's own personal gain. As Liang summarizes, “these traitors lacked national spirit, they were a major factor that weakened us and strengthened our enemies” during the Century of National Humiliation.47
Like with Chinese civilization and foreign barbarism, the distinction among Han Chinese is clear: patriotic heroes sacrifice themselves for the nation, while traitors sell out the nation for their own personal gain. A Record of a Shameful Legacy (1990) underlines how the problem of Chinese traitors is not simply historical, but persists in the present: while China has experienced fantastic economic growth due to the selfless sacrifices of its contemporary heroes, the book warns that “there are also individuals who prostrate themselves to others, don't hesitate to sell their own soul to betray the nation's and the state's interests.…Their fate will be worse than that of the historical scum of the nation.”48
While these textbooks present the division between hero and traitor as self‐evident, these distinctions are actually very slippery. In the 1990s, some of the modern Chinese history's key historical figures, like Zeng Guofan, who previously were denounced as “traitors to the Han race” and “traitors to the country,” were reinterpreted to be “national heroes.” This revision of history was based less on new facts coming to light, and more on the rise of the new nationalist historiography promoted by the CCP's patriotic education campaign. Rather than presenting a more nuanced view of China's recent past, the goal is a clear “reversal of verdict.”49
Through both content that graphically lists the horrific crimes of imperialists in excruciating detail, and a rhetoric that starkly separates Chinese civilization from foreign barbarism, the lesson that these patriotic education textbooks teach is clear: foreigners – especially Westerners and Japanese – are barbaric imperialist invaders who only seek to exploit the Chinese people and steal Chinese treasures. Chinese people who admire them risk becoming traitors whose dastardly deeds will be criticized not just now, but for generations to come. These are not merely history lessons; the textbooks stress how China still cannot trust foreigners and their running dogs today.
Patriotic education is not new in China; it was popular in the early twentieth century as the country dealt with the transition from empire to nation‐state, and also in the transition to a socialist party‐state in the Maoist era. But in the Deng era, patriotic education took on a new form to stress (p. 44 ) nationalist themes over Marxist–Leninist themes. Still, the goal of this propaganda campaign is not loyalty to the nation, but loyalty to party‐state.
The Political Economy of National Humiliation
Since the textbooks highlight how Western countries – especially the United States – used an “Open Door” policy at the turn of the twentieth century to invade China not only politically, but economically, it would be easy to conclude that patriotic education is against China's current economic reform policy that has opened up China to the international market. But the long‐term aim of the national humiliation narrative is both political and economic, aiming to resolve both foreign challenges and domestic problems. To “cleanse national humiliation,” the Chinese government first needs to overcome imperialism by uniting the country and asserting national sovereignty under Beijing's leadership – as it did in 1949. Now the CCP needs to prove that it can develop China's social and economic system better than previous “stupidly corrupt” regimes that were “backward.”50
Some of the textbooks argue that backwardness of the Qing dynasty and Republican China was not simply the fault of a few “race traitors”; China was weak because of systemic problems. In other words, the struggle was not just between countries like China and Britain, but between political and economic systems: capitalist imperialism attacked the feudal system of the Qing dynasty. Here the textbooks employ Mao Zedong's version of Marxism51 to explain how imperialist expansion transformed China domestically:
The feudal economy was seriously challenged, transforming China day‐by‐day into a commercial market and source of raw materials for world capitalism, thus changing China step‐by‐step into a semi‐feudal and semi‐colonial society. After the Opium War, China's independence was completely destroyed…with the expansion of foreign control over its politics, economics and culture.52
China thus became a target of imperialist aggression because its “closed‐door” foreign policy made it weak and backward militarily, politically, economically, and culturally. In the early 1800s, we are told, Britain first conquered India before it targeted China as the most “politically corrupt and scientifically backward country in Asia.”53 The national humiliation textbooks thus repeat, again and again, that the lesson that the Chinese people must take to heart is that “a weak country will be bullied and humiliated, and the backward will be beaten.”54 As another national (p. 45 ) humiliation textbook concludes: “History indisputably tells us: the backward must be beaten. But history at the same time clearly tells us: if we yield to a stronger enemy's despotic power and don't dare to resist, then we will certainly be beaten.”55
Here China's narrative of national humiliation, which is highly critical of foreigners and traitors, becomes self‐critical. As Never Forget National Humiliation (1992) succinctly puts it: “When facing the challenge of the modern world in the nineteenth century, China fell behind.”56 As Modern Chinese History (2005) explains, “In the past century the basic question facing us is ‘Can the Chinese people modernize?’…If we can, our nation's future will be bright. If we can't, our nation will have no future.”57
IR theorist Qin Yaqing likewise highlights the link between development and identity:
In the last century China began to experience anxiety regarding its identity with respect to the international system, and China fell into the dilemma of its place in the process of achieving modernity. Chinese people were forced to consider the question ‘Who are we?’ In the past, China regarded those who had not been civilized by Chinese culture as barbarians; but now, it seems that Chinese themselves become barbarians.58
The backward/modern distinction, which works parallel to the civilization/barbarian distinction, thus continues to frame key issues for the Chinese leadership in the twenty‐first century.59
Patriotic education textbooks therefore stress that Chinese people need to recognize not only the fact that the CCP saved China in 1949, but also that “only reform and opening would allow China to develop” in the twenty‐first century.60 Although China has prospered with the economic reforms, Never Forget the Century of National Humiliation underlines how China's level of “development in economy, science and the people's livelihood is still far behind that of economically advanced countries.” It argues that this is not just an economic problem, but a problem of national security because China still faces threats like those in the Century of National Humiliation: “we may still face a grave situation where we could be beaten up because we are backward.”61 Chinese people thus need to beware of the ever‐present danger of hostile foreign powers.
Hence, while the dominant theme of the narrative of national humiliation that pits Chinese civilization against foreign barbarism can be xenophobic, this modernization sub‐theme seeks to engage with the world economy. Its goal is in line with China's stated policy: use the negative lessons of the corrupt and isolationist Qing dynasty to promote the PRC's (p. 46 ) economic reform project, and use the international system to develop China. Economic reform opens China up to the world; but the party‐state still is wary of political reform, foreign influence, and the risk of being “beaten up” in the future. The Chinese thus are instructed to guard the PRC's political, economic, and cultural sovereignty through the curious combination of national defense discourse and economic reform discourse presented in the national humiliation history textbooks. The textbooks reflect this somewhat contradictory policy by employing Marxist vocabulary in a new way. The goal of the propaganda system in the reform era is no longer a “world socialist revolution” that unites the workers of the world, but is safeguarding (and promoting) the Chinese nation: recall the popular slogan “Never Forget National Humiliation, Rejuvenate China.” Nationalism in China is not merely antiforeign; it also promotes modernization, just as the modernization of China helps to confirm the patriotic nationalist credentials of the party‐state. Deng's dictum to “seize with both hands” thus joins together China's open‐door development policy with its xenophobic propaganda policy in order to create a strong and wealthy nation. This politics/economics nexus promotes national strength and party legitimacy in particular ways to stress the politics of the party‐state, by the party‐state, and for the party‐state.
The Popularization of Patriotic Education
Many serious scholars in China and abroad dismiss these mass market textbooks as clumsy propaganda artifacts that have little influence on how people think and act. But the textbooks’ importance is confirmed by their celebrity endorsements: the first few pages of many of these books include laudatory inscriptions by top political and military leaders. Moreover, while some analysts dismiss these textbooks as shoddy history written by party hacks, key national humiliation history books have been endorsed by China's top historians and historical research institutes. Dai Yi, a prominent historian of modern China, wrote the preface for the first national humiliation history book, The Indignation of National Humiliation (1990), as well as for the Dictionary of National Humiliation: 1840–1949 (1992).62 The president of China's World War II History Association, who is a history professor at China's National Defense University, wrote the preface for Never Forget National Humiliation: Use History to Teach the People (2003).63 The director of the elite Modern History Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) co‐authored 100 Events of National Humiliation (p. 47 ) (2001).64 The Modern History Institute edited the Simple Dictionary of National Humiliation (1993), and CASS has published other national humiliation books as well.65
While political and academic endorsements are important, in the late 1990s and 2000s national humiliation publications have increasingly aimed for a wider non‐academic audience. Like with the commercialization of the mass media, there has been an expansion beyond the standard textbook format to a more “fresh and lively” style that engages a broader readership for patriotic education beyond the classroom.66 Perhaps the best example of this populist mode of national humiliation education is an exhibit called “Never Forget National Humiliation” that was independently organized and funded by an “ordinary peasant.”67 This exhibit of photographs, maps, and artifacts from Japan's World War II invasion of China started as the pet project of Ren Diaoyue, a peasant from a small town in central China. Ren's private collection travelled the country for eight years, gradually building up influence until it was invited to exhibit in major cities
As we saw with the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Olympics, film directors can effectively guide China's structure of feeling. Hence to see how China's national aesthetic shapes patriotic education at the turn of the twenty‐first century, we need to go to the movies. The Opium War opened in cinemas all over China in June 1997.68 This epic is usually described in terms of superlatives. It was China's most expensive film. It literally employed a cast of thousands, including 3,000 foreign extras and dozens of professional foreign actors. It was financed by numerous semiofficial and semiprivate sources, and was publicly endorsed by President Jiang Zemin and other political leaders. Its premier was marked by both a Hollywood‐style event at Beijing's Great Hall of the People, and by a somber academic conference. The result was a film that was successful among both the intellectual elite and the masses, wowing the critics and conquering the market: in its first few months The Opium War accounted for 37 percent of mainland China's total box office receipts, making it the highest‐grossing Chinese film.69
Its director, Xie Jin, was already well known for his “revolutionary films” that were part of the CCP's propaganda arsenal during the Maoist era. However, The Opium War was different. It had private funding, and was much more sophisticated, both technically and aesthetically. Compared with an earlier cinematic treatment of the same historical events, Lin Zexu (1959), The Opium War was seen by many as much more “balanced.” It was the first Chinese film to use foreign actors, and it presented them as more well‐rounded characters.70 Yet, the opposite interpretation can also be true: Xie's technical and aesthetic sophistication actually enables the film to much more persuasively convey the same messages as the patriotic education campaign: the Chinese people need a strong and modern party‐state to avoid national humiliation in the twenty‐first century.
Xie very quickly locates The Opium War in the now familiar pessoptimist structure of feeling. The film shows how China's struggle with Britain over opium relies on cultural distinctions to separate Chinese from foreigners, and sort out enemies from friends. It employs the same binary distinctions as the textbooks we analyzed earlier – foreign/domestic, civilized/barbaric, and hero/traitor – to make a patriotic sense of a war fought nearly two centuries ago. While textbooks simply use words and phrases to define a (p. 49 ) person as civilized or barbaric, The Opium War does it through images, dialogue, musical background, as well as running textual commentaries. For example, the film's protagonist, Lin Zexu, is introduced to the audience as a civilized scholar‐official who writes poetry for his teacher. The key antagonist, Denton the British opium smuggler, is introduced shooting a seagull for fun. When his daughter Mary protests, he assures her that “it's only a game” to underline how foreigners take pleasure in being cruel and wasteful. Throughout the film, foreigners are presented as barbaric against Chinese civilization: when reading a letter from the British, Lin complains that their calligraphy is ugly and that they misspell his name.71 Thus, when the hostilities begin the Chinese emperor can declare, “These foreigners are barbaric and ignorant. I tried peaceful means before resorting to force.”
The clearest example of the film's organizing principle of civilization/barbarian is conveyed in the scene where the Chinese envoy Qi Shan goes to the British camp to negotiate a truce over dinner. Viewing his rare steak with distaste, Qi Shan opines that “You are born bellicose because you like to eat bleeding food.” The British envoy responds: “I understand that the Chinese cuisine is unrivaled anywhere in the world. I can't say as much about your cannons. If you had applied just a little of your expertise in cooking to the manufacturing of cannon it would be we who today were begging for a truce.” Thus, the superior spiritual power of Chinese civilization is vanquished by the superior military power of Western capitalist imperialism; it is important to note that Xie still has foreigners recognizing the wealth of Chinese civilization.
The patriotic meaning of The Opium War is likewise built around the hero/traitor distinction. Lin is not just a civilized person, but a national hero. Through various scenes we are shown that Lin is a good, honest, and upright official who respects his elders, and is a filial son. But this upright official is not passive: to save China he actively fights against Chinese merchants who smuggle opium in cahoots with corrupt government officials. These two groups of Chinese people are not simply criminals; the film shows time and again that they are traitors who sell out the Chinese nation for their own personal profit.
Curiously, Lin Zexu is not the only hero in The Opium War. A sing‐song girl, Rong'er, also fights for China against both foreign barbarians and traitors to the Chinese race. Early in the film she is forced to prostitute herself to support a drug habit that was encouraged by a greedy merchant. But when she finds out that her john is Denton, Rong'er recoils in horror: “No, no. I don't sleep with foreigners.” She is only saved from this indignity when Lin Zexu's officials raid her club. Later in the film, Rong'er suffers the (p. 50 ) same fate again: after Qi Shan has sealed the deal with the British, he offers them Chinese food and Chinese women since “now you are our guests.” The film presents British soldiers as drunken lechers with insatiable appetites, who paw at defenseless Chinese women. Rong'er, however, is willing to sacrifice herself for the good of the Chinese nation by agreeing to have sex with the British envoy. But once in bed, she fights back, trying to stab him with secreted scissors. In this way, Rong'er is like “China” itself. Both greedy merchants and corrupt officials are willing to sacrifice her body to foreigners – but like the Chinese people in the patriotic education narrative, Rong'er fights back. As the Qing dynasty bows before British gunboat diplomacy, she successfully resists foreign men – only to be martyred by corrupt Chinese officials.
Through its epic story, The Opium War clearly distinguishes between a civilized and heroic inside and a corrupt and barbaric outside. It is true that the film is progressive when compared with Lin Zexu (1959), because outsiders are not presented as completely evil. But the sympathetic foreigners are typically daughters and priests, not “real men” with political and economic power; and these and other sympathetic foreigners are required to praise Chinese culture to reinforce the civilization/barbarism distinction. Hence, foreigners and foreign ideas are still presented in The Opium War as a key moral, economic, military, and political problem.
Like with national humiliation textbooks, the film reminds us that China's fall from grace is not wholly the result of foreign invasion – it also stems from the structural and ideological “backwardness” of the Qing state. While Lin Zexu focuses more on the Chinese people and their resistance to imperialism and feudalism, The Opium War tells us that the problem in 1839 is as much the weak Qing dynasty as it is the aggressive British Empire. Long scenes emotionally document bloody battles where the heroic Chinese army is brutally destroyed. Another extended scene solemnly records how the British ceremoniously took control of Hong Kong in 1840, complete with British troops singing their national anthem and raising the British flag over China's sovereign territory.
While The Opium War was still dominating Chinese cinemas, the official handover ceremony, where Jiang Zemin declared that “the occupation of Hong Kong was the epitome of the humiliation China suffered in modern history,”72 took place on July 1, 1997. The cinematic spectacle of British forces raising their flag over Hong Kong in 1840 thus formed a counterpart to the real time spectacle of the handover ceremony that focused on the lowering of the British flag and the raising of the Chinese flag. In case the film audience had forgotten, the film ends with white text on a black (p. 51 ) background: “July 1st, 1997 the Chinese government takes back sovereignty of Hong Kong, 157 years after the Opium War.” The lesson is clear: only a strong state can safeguard China's political, economic, and cultural sovereignty. Actually, the state itself was a major segment of the audience behind the blockbuster success of The Opium War – most of the tickets were sold as “group purchases” to organs of the party‐state.
The Opium War, therefore, is successful because it appeals to the structure of feeling of China's national aesthetic. It is full of facts, many of which are presented in running textual commentaries that explain the war's historical background with important dates and the official titles of Chinese and foreign historical figures. Although this documentary style delivers much important information to the audience, the film actually targets the frustration and indignation of the Chinese people who still suffer the legacies of the Century of National Humiliation. Indeed, the film shows how Lin Zexu doesn't just rationally plan his strategy for curing China's opium habit. Numerous scenes also show him yelling in anger at evil foreigners and corrupt Chinese merchants and officials. This would seem to go against Lin's role as an “upright official,” where he is kind and gentle to “victims” who deserve his care. But it graphically shows Lin as a tough guy who uses his righteous rage to stand up for the Chinese people, even though he knows that he is fighting a losing battle against political–economic forces that are beyond his control. Viewers also feel the geopolitical pain of Rong'er, who has to prostitute herself to evil foreigners because she cannot afford to marry her childhood sweetheart. The film ends with long shots of the Chinese emperor weeping in the face of the judgment of history: the camera then pans across official portraits of his more successful predecessors. The ultimate issue here is whether the emperor, and the state he embodies, is strong enough to defend itself – because, as the slogan tells us, the backward will be beaten. The camera finally settles on the stone lions that guard the imperial palace in Beijing: the red glow of the lion's eye shines through the rainy gloom, promising revenge against China's foreign and domestic enemies.
Films like The Opium War are successful because they show how modernization in China is both material and spiritual in ways made familiar in national humiliation history textbooks. Patriotic education promotes the material goals of China's economic development project; it also works to achieve spiritual and emotional goals by both guiding and responding to how the Chinese people feel. Patriotic education policy documents quote how Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin both stress the importance of “national self‐respect, national self‐esteem, and national pride.”73 Many (p. 52 ) patriotic education textbooks dutifully state that students should “Read these books and then be able to feel the proper sense of pride for the Chinese people. Read them and then be able to feel the mission and duty of the Chinese people.”74 But this pride is always intimately linked to humiliation: the writers of Never Forget National Humiliation (2002) feel that their “work as writers will be done” when readers “feel the unforgettable national humiliation and mass hatred, which makes the Chinese nation self‐sufficient and self‐reliant”75 in its quest for wealth and power.
Resisting National Humiliation Education
By many measures the patriotic education campaign has been fantastically successful. Yet, some in China are worried that it is shaping their country's “national character” in violent and xenophobic ways, which ultimately work against the rise of China as a responsible member of international society. Historian Yuan Weishi's article, “Modernization and History Textbooks,” is the most famous recent critique of patriotic education policy. It was published in China Youth Daily's weekly supplement “Freezing Point” in January 2006.76 Yuan wrote this article because he “was stunned to find that our youth are continuing to drink the wolf's milk” of harsh history textbooks, which he felt had inspired the violent chaos of the Cultural Revolution. Rather than building patriotism on a distinction between Chinese and foreign, Yuan argues that China would be strengthened if its history education developed “the national character of the Chinese people” in ways that stressed “rationality and tolerance.” Yuan's reasonable conclusion actually is in line with the party‐state's economic reform policy.
However, the Central Propaganda Department of the China Youth League, which owns the China Youth Daily, criticized Yuan and his article. It banned “Modernization and History Textbooks” because the article “seriously contradicted news propaganda discipline,” and thus “hurt the feelings of the Chinese nation.” The committee felt that this lack of propaganda discipline was endemic in “Freezing Point,” so it shut down the magazine and fired its editor. This blatant censorship of academic analysis became a cause célèbre in Greater China and the international community. Yet, if we read the Central Propaganda Committee's judgment closely, we can see that they were enraged not just by what Yuan wrote, but with how he wrote it. It declared that Yuan himself was “seriously distorting historical facts” in ways that “attempted to vindicate the criminal acts of the imperial powers’ invasion of China.” Indeed, in “Modernization and (p. 53 ) History Textbooks” Yuan plays with the rhetoric of national humiliation, often taking the pessoptimist distinctions examined earlier – inside/outside, civilized/barbaric, hero/traitor, modern/backward, and domestic/foreign – and reversing their logic. This probably is what most incensed the censors – and it also can show us how patriotic education works to promote a singular correct view of “the real China.”
While textbooks see China as civilized and foreigners as barbaric, Yuan points to the Boxer Uprising (1900) to argue the opposite: here these Chinese are barbaric, anti‐civilization, anti‐humanity, xenophobic, ignorant, and backward. Using the same phrase that is commonly employed to describe the barbarity of foreigners, Yuan writes that “The Boxers burned, killed, looted and deliberately destroyed modern civilization.” Likewise, Yuan uses the example of the Second Opium War (1858–60) that saw the burning of the Garden of Perfect Brilliance imperial palace to reverse the valence on patriotic hero/evil traitor. He points out that because they violated military discipline, the “irregular” Chinese forces that attacked European troops in 1858 cannot be called patriotic or heroic. Moreover, while diplomats like Li Hongzhang are prominent on lists of Chinese traitors, Yuan lists Li as an “astute official” who was patriotic and heroic.
While the history textbooks generate patriotism by “inflaming nationalistic passions” against foreigners, Yuan criticizes this strategy, saying that “Our thinking is still poisoned by…traditional Chinese culture's deeply ingrained idea that ‘Chinese and foreigners are different.’” He warns that we “should not underestimate the consequences of this mis‐education,” and draws a close parallel between the logic of the Boxers’ attack on Beijing's diplomatic quarter in 1900 and the Red Guards’ torching a British consulate during the Cultural Revolution. Hence, while patriotic education textbooks list the national humiliations of foreigners’ barbaric invasion of China, Yuan thinks that Chinese textbooks themselves are a “national humiliation.” Speaking of the barbarities of the Boxers, he concludes that “these are all facts that everybody knows, and it is a national humiliation that the Chinese people cannot forget. Yet our children's compulsory textbooks will not speak about it.”
Yuan is not the only critic of Beijing's ideological campaigns. In another newspaper article, “China Must Adopt a Great‐power Mentality, and Make Psychological Change Part of its Modernization,” CASS scholar Jin Xide also argues against patriotic education and national humiliation discourse.77 While Yuan is mainly concerned with how national humiliation education fans extremism in China's domestic politics, Jin is interested in patriotic education's impact on international relations. While historians (p. 54 ) like Yuan are interested in how the events of 1840–1949 are presented to Chinese students, Jin is interested in how the dynamic of “glory and humiliation” has shaped the PRC's relation to the world in the past half century. Rather than seeing glory and humiliation as opposites, Jin tells us that these positive and negative “extremes” are “interwoven, separated only by a fine line and can easily trade places.” This pessoptimist mentality has led Chinese to “conduct ourselves in the world either arrogantly or with an inferiority complex.”
China's unstable foreign policy over the past five decades, Jin tells us, has been fostered by a crisis mentality in education and the media, which exaggerates China's various problems into existential threats to the nation. Yet, Jin feels that in the twenty‐first century China is hardly in a crisis – it is stronger and more successful than at any time over the past few centuries. There are still problems with China's international environment, including many hostile “anti‐China” critics abroad. But Jin argues that the main challenge is less a “foreign threat” than the domestic identity politics of “how should we look upon ourselves? How should we approach the international community?” Being a great power is not merely an achievement of material success, for Jin tells us that it involves “a need for us to do some soul‐searching on the national psychology, national mentality, and strategic thinking in the context of our response to the outside world.” Modernization thus needs to target not just the national economy, but China's “national ideology.” The real question for Jin is “are we prepared psychologically” to be a great power?
Jin's solution to the problem of China's pessoptimism is to use the media to shift “public opinion and the national psychology” away from “parochial and xenophobic nationalism.” He argues that there should be more “good news” about international events: “Those who study and report international affairs must interpret a matter correctly and explain it fully without, however, steering public opinion in the direction of pessimism and xenophobia.” Still, Jin is not naïve; he doesn't expect the outside world – especially Europe, Japan, and the United States – to be fair to China. But a strong national consciousness will enable China to resist any “psychological offensive that the world may launch against us.” Jin thus concludes that “We should adopt a neither‐obsequious‐nor‐supercilious attitude toward international affairs. We should handle things calmly and keep our cool.”
These and other examples of resistance to patriotic education show how there is some space in China to critically comment on orthodox versions of Chinese identity. This broader view of politics that avoids categorizing things as either totally right or wholly wrong, is leading to what Richard (p. 55 ) Curt Kraus feels is an “increased toleration for rival points of view” in China's civil society.78 In this way, commentators can go beyond the Central Propaganda Department's structure of feeling, which sorts statements as either pro‐ or anti‐Chinese, to encourage people to think about different ways of being Chinese.
But new forms of patriotic education and critique also show how the party‐state's propaganda apparatus is adapting to the multimedia environment of the twenty‐first century. Commercialization of the media has not lead to a meaningful liberalization of discourse because the Central Propaganda Department still maintains ultimate control over mass communications and education. Indeed, even critics like Yuan and Jin follow the party‐state's ideology by arguing, on the one hand, that their views are the “correct” way to understand “the real China.” On the other, they both feel that propaganda is still important: it just needs to be redirected to promote more positive themes. Hence, we need to both recognize the limits of the Chinese party‐state, while not exaggerating the impact of criticisms of China's political system; against the overwhelming din of patriotic education, critics of national humiliation discourse are merely a whisper of dissent.
China's leaders and scholars often tell foreigners that the world should not be worried about the spread of xenophobic nationalism in the PRC. They state that the party‐state is actually against any divisive, narrow‐minded, or parochial nationalism, and that it works hard to promote a “rational nationalism” that is pragmatic. In Autumn 2006, for example, secondary schools in Shanghai started using new textbooks that downplayed ideology and national humiliation discourse, and had only one brief reference to Mao Zedong.79
This chapter has shown that while China's education and propaganda systems certainly do promote a positive image of China and the world that the Chinese people can be proud of, at the same time they also present a very negative view of China's relation with the world based on the history of national humiliation. The Central Propaganda Department has very deliberately developed the pedagogy of national humiliation as an important part of its patriotic education policy. This elaborate policy graphically shows how historical memory is a social phenomenon; as Deng Xiaoping concluded in 1989, China's youth need to be taught how to be patriots: (p. 56 ) they need to be taught to remember to “Never Forget National Humiliation.”
This chapter has examined Chinese‐language sources from official and popular culture – including textbooks, pop histories, exhibitions, and films – to show how patriotic education promotes a particular structure of feeling that draws thick moral distinctions between patriotic Chinese on the one hand, and evil foreigners and their Chinese race-traitors on the other. This harsh division of a civilized domestic sphere from a barbaric outside world helped the party‐state survive the regime security challenges it faced after 1989. While the patriotic education policy was initially formulated in the wake of the June 4th massacre, this mass campaign is continually adapting to China's new circumstances in a way that is both flexible (to promote new slogans like Hu Jintao's “harmonious society”), and institutionalized (to not only maintain the power of the Central Propaganda Department, but to spread it beyond traditional education to entertainment and new media products).
The CCP's Central Propaganda Department thus uses a multidisciplinary and multimedia campaign to tie patriotism to the party‐state, while critics want to use history education to produce rational citizens rather than rabid wolves. Crucially, all sides talk about China's national character, national psychology, and national mentality – they just have different answers to the question “Who is China?” On the other hand, the propaganda system's sharp distinction between patriotic Chinese and hostile foreigners can help explain how and why the country's indignant youth are so quickly and easily aroused to defend China against enemies both foreign and domestic.
While international security experts like Bates Gill confidently state that China has “abandon[ed its] long‐held and reactive ‘victimhood’ complex, and put the country's ‘century of shame’ to one side,”80 the reaction of vocal segments of the Chinese public in spring 2008 to international criticism of Beijing's crackdown in Tibet is instructive. The party‐state's official spokespeople and publications quickly labored to turn a domestic issue of interracial relations into an international issue of “the West” attacking China: Lies and Truth, the title of a book that was quickly published during the uprising, underlines the pessoptimism of such propaganda campaigns.81
Yet, Chinese reaction went far beyond official propaganda products produced and distributed by the party state. China's official anger was accompanied by a firestorm of anti‐Western feeling on the Internet, which repeated the themes and vocabulary of national humiliation education. YouTube videos, special Web sites, and e‐mailed essays all employed official (p. 57 ) historiography to defiantly proclaim “Tibet is ours!” The common theme was not simply political, but epistemological in the sense of promoting a single correct view of “the real China”: many of these texts instruct foreigners not only in how to correctly understand China, but also in the proper way to criticize China. If you transgress the bounds of respectful commentary, then watch out: “Hopefully the good intention can bring positive result when it's combined with insight. As to those who have other purposes, China has a unique program for them as well, but that's a different thing.”82 A popular YouTube video “Tibet WAS, IS, and ALWAYS WILL BE a part of China” was even more blunt in its harsh division between patriotic Chinese and hostile foreigners: “to all you bandwagon jumpers who know nothing about chinese [sic] history, and to all you bashers, let me give you some solid FACTS why Tibet was, is and always will be, a part of China, so you can f*** right off trying to separate our country.”83 Many of these postings and videos were gathered together on a Web site that highlights the negatively productive nature of the attacks: Anti‐CNN.com.
Spring 2008's popular reaction by Chinese netizens, which was both earnest and harsh, to what they saw as foreign provocation is far from unique. It followed the familiar institutional and rhetorical patterns that produced and guided popular Chinese opinion in earlier crises.84 But there have been new developments in recent years. While the NATO bombing of China's Belgrade embassy (1999) and the EP‐3 reconnaissance plane collision (2001) were clearly international issues, national humiliation discourse is increasingly deployed to deal with China's domestic problems. Like with the Tibet controversy in 2008, the party‐state and the indignant youth both employed national humiliation discourse to frame the controversy over the health and safety of Chinese exports that arose in summer 2007. In the face of this singular view of China's history, identity, and security that unites Chinese people against a hostile foreign enemy, it is not surprising that Shanghai authorities withdrew their new history textbooks in 2007.
The PRC's patriotic education policy is certainly not unique. It has parallels in many countries in Europe, Asia, and North America.85 Japan and Russia, for example, have been beefing up their curricula to instill a proper state‐centric pride in the youth over the past few years.86 In Europe many identities, both national and regional, are predicated on being “not American.” Debate over China's patriotic education also resonates with struggles in the United States. Understanding the Sino‐British conflict in the nineteenth century as the Opium War is very similar to the “war on drugs” that the United States has pursued over the past few decades.87 Indeed, the (p. 58 )
The difference between China and the United States here is that while the September 11 attacks are still a recent phenomenon in living memory, China's Century of National Humiliation ended in 1949 and now is largely known through official propaganda. China certainly suffered at the hands of European, American, and Japanese imperialism, but enough time has gone by to allow us to go beyond “the facts” to see how history and memory are being produced and consumed in the PRC. Crucially, both propagandists and their critics trust that education and propaganda can effectively socialize the Chinese public. Indeed, all follow Mao's double injunction to “Make the past serve the present, and foreign things serve China” in order to make the PRC a great power.
Chapter 3 answers the questions “Who is China?” and “When is China?” in a different way. While this chapter has looked at how the party‐state's propaganda policies have socialized the Chinese public, Chapter 3 examines how Chinese people produce and consume their national identity through popular practices like National Humiliation Day. Together these two chapters show the interplay of state policy and popular practices in China's identity and security politics. (p. 60 )
(1) Deng Xiaoping, “Address to the Officers at the Rank of General and Above in the Command of the Troops Enforcing Martial Law in Beijing, June 9, 1989,” http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/dengxp/vol3/text/c1990.html.
(2) Deng Xiaoping, “We Are Confident That We Can Handle China's Affairs Well (September 16, 1989),” http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/DengXP/Vol3/text/d1040.html.
(3) David Shambaugh, “China's Propaganda System: Institutions, Processes and Efficacy,” The China Journal 57 (January 2007): 25–58 on 27.
(4) Anne‐Marie Brady, Marketing Dictatorship: Propaganda and Thought Work in Contemporary China (New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2008), 30.
(5) Brady, Marketing Dictatorship, 50.
(6) Michael Schoenhals, Doing Things with Words in Chinese Politics: Five Studies (Berkeley, CA: Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, 1992), 3.
(7) See Bates Gill, Rising Star: China's New Security Diplomacy (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2007), 4–5.
(8) See Zheng Bijian, China's Peaceful Rise (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2005).
(9) See, for example, Ling Dequan, “‘Heping jueqi’ gangju muzhang” [Explaining “Peaceful Rise”], Liaowang 5 (February 2, 2004), 6.
(10) “Interview with Zhang Jigang, Deputy Director of the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony,” Liberation Daily, August 1, 2008, translated for China Digitial Times, August 6, 2008.
(11) See Brady, Marketing Dictatorship, 9–33.
(12) Shambaugh, “China's Propaganda System,” 30.
(13) See Jonathan Unger, ed., Using the Past to Serve the Present: Historiography and Politics in Contemporary China (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1993); Geremie R. Barmé, “A Year of Some Significance,” China Digital Times, April 20, 2006.
(14) “Jiang Zemin tongzhi zhixin Li Tieying, He Dongchang tongzhi, qiangdiao jinxing Zhongguo jinxiandaishi he guoqing jiaoyu” [General Secretary Jiang Zemin's Letter to Li Tieying and He Dongchang stresses to conduct education on Chinese modern and contemporary history and national conditions], Renmin ribao (March 9, 1991); “Zhongxiaoxue jiaqiang Zhongguo jindai, xiandaishi ji guoqing jiaoyu de zongti gangyao (chugao) de tongzhi” [General outline on strengthening Chinese modern and contemporary history and national conditions in primary and secondary education], National regulations and documents (August 29, 1991).
(15) See Hou Hongjian, “Guoxue, guochi, laoku sanda zhuyi biaolie” [Three Principles: National studies, National humiliation and Hard work], Jiaoyu zazhi 7:7 (p. 226 ) (1915): 21–4; Lü Simian, Guochi xiaoshi [A short history of national humiliation] (Shanghai: Zhonghua shuju, 1929); Jiang Gongsheng, Guochi shi [History of national humiliation] (Shanghai: Xinhua shuju, 1927); Cao Zengmei and Huang Xiaoxian, eds. Xinbian Guochi Xiaoshi [A short history of national humiliation: new edition] (Shanghai: Commercial Press, 1932). Also see Zhang Mianhong, “Minguo qianqi xuexiao guochi jiaoyu de xingqi yu fazhan [The appearance and development of national humiliation education in schools in the early Republican period],” Guangxi shehui kexue 12 (2006):192–4.
(16) Lü Simian, Baihua benguo shi: zixiu shiyong [A vernacular history of China, revised] (Shanghai: Shangwu, 1926); Lü, A Short History of National Humiliation.
(17) Chiang Kai‐shek, China's Fate (New York: Roy Publishers, 1947 [Chinese edn., 1943]).
(18) See, for example, Guangdong Provincial Culture And Education Office, Aiguo zhuyi jiaoyu cankao ziliao [Patriotic education reference materials] (Guangzhou: Huanan renmin chubanshe, 1951); Yu Teli et al., Lun aiguo zhuyi jiaoyu [On patriotic education] (Beijing: Qunzhong shudian, 1951).
(19) “Aiguo zhuyi jiaoyu shishi gangyao” [Outline for Implementing Patriotic Education], Renmin ribao (September 6, 1994), 3; Suisheng Zhao, A Nation‐State by Construction: Dynamics of Modern Chinese Nationalism (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004), 219.
(20) Wei Pizhi, Qu Qingrong, Xiang Wancheng, eds., Aiguo zhuyi jiaoyu shiyong dadian [Practical Dictionary of Patriotic Education] (Beijing: Dianzi kezhi daxue chubanshe, 1997), 581–938. This dictionary was republished in 2006.
(21) Deng Xiaoping, “We Are Working to Revitalize the Chinese Nation, April 7, 1990,” http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/dengxp/vol3/text/d1140.html.
(22) Liu Jisheng, Guochi fen [The Indignation of National Humiliation] (Ji'nan, Shandong: Ji'nan chubanshe, 1990), 284.
(23) Wu Zijiao, “Zeyang jinxing guochi jiaoyu? ” [How can we conduct national humiliation education?], Anhui jiaoyu 6 (June 1990), 22–3; on 22.
(24) He Dongchang, “Xu” [Preface], in Wuwang guochi [Never forget National Humiliation, edited by the National Education Committee, Elementary Education section (Tianjin: Xinlei chubanshe, 1991), 1.
(25) Wei Yunhong, “Qianghua guochi guonan yanjiu he jiaoyu” [Strengthen National Humiliation and National Crisis Research and Education], Liaowang 37 (September 13, 2004): 35.
(26) See Zheng Wang, “National Humiliation, History Education, and the Politics of Historical Memory: Patriotic Education Campaign in China,” International Studies Quarterly 52 (2008): 783–806, on 792.
(27) Hou Jiefu and Dang Dexin, eds., Guochi hen yu Zhonghua wei: Bainian lai Zhongguo renmin fanqinlue douzheng jishi [National humiliation, hatred and the soul of China: A Record of a century of China's people's struggle against invasion] (Shenyang: Liaoning Education Press, 2001), 1.
(28) See Jiang, History of National Humiliation. The title's translation is from the copy in the Hamilton Library at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
(29) Zhou Shan and Zhang Chunbo, eds., Guochi lü: Tushuo Zhonghua bainian [A Record of National Humiliation: Pictures and Stories of China's Century] (Lanzhou: Gansu qingnian chubanshe, 1998). For a similar organization of national humiliation history in the early twentieth century see Jiang, History of National Humiliation (1927), Lü, A Short History of National Humiliation (1929), and Cao and Huang, A Short History of National Humiliation (1932).
(30) Paul A. Cohen, History in Three Keys: The Boxers as Event, Experience and Myth (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 14.
(31) “Jiang Zemin's Letter to Li Tieying and He Dongchang.”
(32) An Zuozhang, “Xu” [Preface], in Guochi: Zhongguo renmin bu gai wangji [National Humiliation: Chinese People Should Never Forget], edited by Che Jixin (Ji'nan: Shangdong youyi shushe, 1992), 1.
(33) Cheng Shiwei et al., eds., Wuwang guochi [Never Forget National Humiliation] (Changchun: Jilin wenshi chubanshe, 1998), 4–5.
(34) Dou Benwei and Shen Xiaomei, Wuwang guochi [Never Forget National Humiliation] (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe, 2002), 1; also see Cheng, Never Forget National Humiliation, 1.
(35) Cheng, Never Forget National Humiliation, 2. Also see Liang Zhanjun, Jindai Zhonghua guochi lü [A Record of the National Humiliation of Modern China] (Beijing: Beijing chubanshe, 1994), 70; Dou and Shen, Never Forget National Humiliation, 1.
(36) Cheng, Never Forget National Humiliation, 5. Also see Liang, A Record of the National Humiliation.
(37) Cheng, Never Forget National Humiliation, 4.
(38) Cheng, Never Forget National Humiliation, 39–41, 47–9, 60–1.
(39) See Kirk W. Larsen, Tradition, Treaties, and Trade: Qing Imperialism and Choson Korea, 1850–1910 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press), 1–22; Peter C. Perdue, China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004).
(40) Cheng, Never Forget National Humiliation, 23.
(41) Liang, A Record of the National Humiliation, 74.
(42) See Lydia H. Liu, The Clash of Empires: The Invention of China in Modern World Making (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004), 31–69.
(43) Liang, A Record of the National Humiliation, 2; also see Cheng, Never Forget National Humiliation, 24.
(44) For a patriotic education book organized around this Monument see Lu Denglai, Renmin yingxiong jinian bei shihua [Stories of the Monument to People's Heroes] (Shanghai: Shanghai jiaoyu chubanshe, 1980).
(45) Feng Cai and Li Deyuan, eds., Yichilü: Maiguo qiurongzhe de xiachang [A Record of a Shameful Legacy: The Fate of Those Who Betray the Nation for Personal Gain] (Beijing: Junshi kexue chubanshe, 1990), 1.
(46) See Shi Yun, Zhongguo jindai aiguo yingxiong [China's Modern Patriotic Heroes] (Beijing: Beijing kexue zhishu chubanshe, 1995).
(47) Liang, A Record of the National Humiliation, 107–8.
(48) Feng and Li, A Record of a Shameful Legacy, 1.
(49) Baogang He and Yingjie Guo, Nationalism, National Identity and Democratization in China (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2000), 79–105; also see Geremie R. Barmé, “History for the Masses,” in Using the Past to Serve the Present: Historiography and Politics in Contemporary China, edited by Jonathan Unger (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1993), 260.
(50) Guo Qifu, ed., Wuwang guochi: Zaichuang huihaung [Never Forget National Humiliation: Recreating the Glory] (Wuhan: Wuhan daxue chubanshe, 1996), 126.
(51) Mao Zedong, “On New Democracy (January 1940),” http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-2/mswv2_26.htm.
(52) Cheng, Never Forget National Humiliation, 16, 17.
(53) Cheng, Never Forget National Humiliation, 2.
(54) Hou and Dang, National Humiliation, Hatred and the Soul of China, 1.
(55) Liang, A Record of the National Humiliation, 108.
(56) An, “Preface,” 1.
(57) Jiang Tingfu, Zhongguo jindai shi [Modern Chinese History] (Beijing: Tuanjie chubanshe, 2005), 2.
(58) Qin Yaqing, “Guoji guanxi lilun Zhongguo pai shengcheng de keneng he biran” [The Chinese School of International Relations Theory: Possibility and Necessity], Shijie jingji yu zhengzhi 3 (2006): 7–13, on 13; also see Jin, “China Must Adopt a Great‐Power Mentality.”
(59) For an analysis of the discourse of modernization and backwardness in China's national strategy see Elena Barabantseva, “Marginality and Nation: Overseas Chinese and Ethnic Minorities in China's National Project,” manuscript, 2008.
(60) An, “Preface,” 2.
(61) Zhao Rongchang and Wu Jialin, Wuwang bainian guochi, vol. II [Never Forget the Century of National Humiliation, vol. II] (Beijing: Zhongguo renmin daxue chubanshe, 1992), 358.
(62) Dai Yi, Xuyan [Preface], in Liu, The Indignation of National Humiliation, 1–3; Dai Yi, “Xuyan” [Preface], in Guochi shidian: 1840–1949 [Dictionary of National Humiliation: 1840–1949], edited by Zhuang Jianping (Chengdu: Chengdu chubanshe, 1992), 1–6.
(63) Huang Baozhang, “Xu” [Preface], in Wuwang guochi, Yi shi yu ren: Nongmin Ren Dianjue zifei chuangban Rijun QinHua xuixing zhan jishi [Never Forget National Humiliation, Use History to Teach the people: Peasant Ren Dianjue's Self‐financed and Organized Exhibit on the Crimes of the Japanese Invasion], edited by Liu Xinduan, Peng Xunhou, and Sun Huijun (Beijing: Zhongguo wenshi chubanshe, 2003), 1–4.
(64) Zhang Haipeng, Deng Hongzhou, and Zhao Yishun, Guochi Baitan [100 events of National Humiliation] (Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju, 2001).
(65) Chen Chengxiang, Jiang Yihao, and Jiang Jian, eds., Jianming Guochi Cidian [Simple Dictionary of National Humiliation] (Beijing: Changchun chubanshe, 1993).
(66) See Zheng Xunian, Wuwang guochi: Zhongguo jindai lishi duben [Never Forget National Humiliation: A Popular Reader of Modern Chinese History] (Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexueyuan chubanshe, 2000), 1; Zhang, 100 Talks on National Humiliation, 1–3; Jiang, Modern Chinese History.
(67) Liu et al., eds., Never Forget National Humiliation, Use History to Teach the People: Peasant Ren Dianjue's Self‐Financed and Organized Exhibit on the Crimes of the Japanese Invasion. For a discussion of the role of “private museums” see James Reilly, “China's History Activism and Sino‐Japanese Relations,” China: An International Journal 4:2 (2006): 189–216.
(68) Xie Jin, Dir., The Opium War (Chengdu: Sichuan Films, 1997).
(69) For a discussion of the film's logistics see Rebecca E. Karl, “The Burdens of History: Lin Zexu (1959) and The Opium War (1997),” in Whither China: Intellectual Politics in Contemporary China, edited by Xudong Zhang (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001), 229–62; on 231–2; Zhiwei Xiao, “Nationalism in Chinese Popular Culture: A Case Study of The Opium War,” in Exploring Nationalisms of China: Themes and Conflicts, edited by C. X. George Wei and Xiaoyuan Liu (Westport, CN: Greenwood Press, 2002), 41–54, on 47–8. For reports on the premier see “China: Xinhua Feature on 1898 Signing of Hong Kong Lease,” Beijing: Xinhua, 10 June 1997, FBIS‐CHI‐97‐161; Andrew Higgins, “China's Epic Exorcism: Britain is the Arch‐Villain of a Film to Purge the Imperial Legacy,” The Guardian, June 12, 1997.
(70) See Xiao, “Nationalism in Chinese Popular Culture.”
(71) Ironically, the film's English subtitles misspell Denton's name as “Danton.”
(72) Jiang Zemin, “Speech Commemorating Hong Kong's Return,” in Xianggang huigui diyitian [The First Day of the Return of Hong Kong], edited by Xinhua News Agency Hong Kong Office (Beijing: Xinhua, 1997), 2.
(73) “Outline for Implementing Patriotic Education,” 3.
(74) Liang, A Record of the National Humiliation, ii.
(75) Dou and Shen, Never Forget National Humiliation, 2.
(76) Yuan Weishi, “Xiandaihua yu lishi jiaokeshu” [Modernization and History Textbooks], Bingdian weekly supplement to Zhongguo qingnian bao (January 11, 2006). For the original Chinese and an English translation see http://www.zonaeuropa.com/20060126_1.htm.
(77) Jin Xide, “China Must Adopt a Great‐power Mentality, and Make Psychological Change Part of its Modernization,” Beijing huanqiu shibao (September 12, 2002), translated in FBIS CPP97801995499553.
(78) Richard Curt Kraus, The Party and the Arty in China: The New Politics of Culture (Boulder, CO: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004), 232.
(79) Joseph Kahn, “Where's Mao? Chinese Revise History Books,” New York Times, 1 September 2006.
(80) Gill, Rising Star, 7.
(81) Huangyan yu zhenxiang: toushi 3.14 Lasa baoli shijian [Lies and Truth: A Clear View of the March 14th Lhasa riot] (Beijing: Sanlian shudian, April 4, 2008); also see Fu Ying, “Western Media has ‘Demonised’ China,” Sunday Telegraph (London), April 13, 2008.
(82) “Understanding Another World: How to Criticize China,” Peace in Tibet Web site, May 8, 2008, http://www.peaceintibet.com; also see [Anonymized], “Truth in Tibet: The Truth I Can Tell You,” personal email correspondence, April 18, 2008.
(84) See Brady, Marketing Dictatorship, 125–74.
(85) See Laura Hein and Mark Selden, eds., Censoring History; Citizenship and Memory in Japan, Germany, and the United States (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 2000).
(86) See “Russia's Past: The Rewriting of History,” The Economist, 8 November 2007.
(87) David Campbell, Writing Security, rev. ed. (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1998), 170–90.