Forum: Nation: M. Matten: Fighting for the Nation? The Campaign against Historical Nihilism in Contemporary China

Marc Andre Matten, Contemporary Chinese History, FAU Erlangen-Nuremberg

Origins of National Historiography in Modern China

Since the late 19th century, historiography in modern China has been shaped by foreign models and theories, with patriotism/nationalism and Marxism having generated the largest impact so far.[1] When the legitimacy of the imperial rule of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) was questioned at the turn of the 19th and 20th century as a result of the growing presence of imperialism since the First Opium War (1839-40), scholar-literati such as Liang Qichao (梁启超, 1873-1929), Zhang Taiyan (章太炎, 1869-1936) and Kang Youwei (康有为, 1858-1927) unequivocally saw—despite their differences in political demands for either reform or revolution at the time—the hesitation and unwillingness of the imperial court to learn from the advanced nations as the primary reason why China was unfit to survive in a world characterized by imperialism and social Darwinism.

Liang—considered the first modern historian of China—propagated in his text The New Historiography (Xin shixue, 新史学, 1902) the need for progress to ensure national survival. China, the so-called ‘Sick Man of East Asia’, not only had to translate science and technology from the West, but more importantly, to foster patriotic consciousness in all levels of society, he argued. His text of 1902 is widely regarded as the start of modern historiography in China and became canonical for replacing empire with the nation-state (interestingly it has never been fully translated). The New Historiography criticized the more than two thousand year-long tradition of imperial historiography for four reasons: Chinese traditional historiography only knew the dynasty, but not the nation-state; it focused on individual persons in history, but not the history of the common people; it cared about ancient things, but not actual necessities; and it only knew facts, but no ideals that could guide the future destiny of the nation. Influenced by European and Japanese historians, Liang formulated a historiography based on the principles of causality, progress, and evolution.[2] For him, historiography had to show these principles and explain why some nations develop and progress, and why others do not.

Since then, national development has become a central concern in political discourse.[3] It was common ground for scholars, intellectuals, and revolutionaries at the time to decry the near demise of the country to generate patriotic feelings. Metaphorically speaking China was seen as a melon that faced the danger of being carved up by the imperialist nations of Great Britain, Russia, Japan, Germany, and the United States. During the 1900s numerous publications re-narrated the fate of other countries that had already disappeared from the world map, most prominently Poland, Transvaal, and the Philippines.[4] When Marxism arrived in China after the 1917 October Revolution, it continued to emphasize the significance of nationalism as the primary virtue in history writing. Li Dazhao (李大钊, 1889-1927), China’s first Marxist thinker, referred to the notions of class struggle and capitalism, transforming historical materialism into an ideology that helped to explain the growing imperialism in Europe and East Asia that increasingly put pressure on China and Korea, to explain how Taiwan had become a Japanese colony in 1895, and to comprehend the international community’s failure to deliver its promise to return the German concession in Qingdao to China in the aftermath of World War I.[5]

In the course of the 20th century, the perception of a continuous aggression of foreign imperialism as a national humiliation[6] gave rise to a distinct rhetoric in historiography that can be exemplified by Mao Zedong’s (毛泽东, 1893-1976) opening address at the First Plenary Session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference on 21 September 1949: “From now on our nation will belong to the community of the peace-loving and freedom-loving nations of the world and work courageously and industriously to foster its own civilization and well-being and at the same time to promote world peace and freedom. Ours will no longer be a nation subject to insult and humiliation. We have stood up.”[7]

In the 1950-60s the notion of the nation continued to dominate the historiography of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) whose founding on 1 October 1949 was seen as a national liberation from feudalism, colonialism, and imperialism. Even though historical materialism became the core ideology in historical science in the curriculum and research agenda at universities and national research organizations, the thinking in national terms remained prominent to the extent that world revolution, for instance, did not play a major role in the Marxist historiography of Chinese scholars. The success of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was first and foremost linked to national liberation, and this created a specific setting for the historical sciences where world history was conceived as the history of foreign countries rather than a history of the globe that included China.[8]

After the end of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) the start of the market reforms was accompanied by a gradual disappearance of communist ideology in society and academia, caused by the introduction of foreign technologies and knowledge. In historical research, the growing interaction with scholars outside China and the reduced political indoctrination of historians partially led to a decreasing dominance of the nation-state both as an analytical category and as an object of research. The attention to developments in Europe and the United States offered an alternative to both historical materialism and political historiography. Countless publications, including the newest works on post-colonialism, postmodern and post-structural theories, as well as discourse analysis, became available in Chinese translation. This resulted in innovative works on the social and cultural history written by scholars of the younger generation who often had graduated from universities outside of China. Their publications emphasize the significance of cultural transfer and interconnectivity in transnational history and call for greater attention to microhistory and social anthropology.[9]

The Fate of the Nation after the End of the Cold War

In the past two decades, such tendencies in Chinese academia are increasingly perceived as dangerous. After the Tiananmen protests of 1989 in which liberal intellectuals had played a central role the CCP rediscovered the significance of traditional culture, patriotism, and national identity as means to increase national cohesion and support for the political system. This resulted in a Patriotic Education Campaign in the 1990s that demanded more forcefully the protection of national sovereignty and territorial integrity, while reiterating claims to lost territories (Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, the South China Sea) and keeping the memories of national humiliation alive where the nation is imagined as a timeless and unchanging collective of different ethnicities (Zhonghua minzu, 中华民族), ranging from the Han majority to 55 ethnic minorities.[10] This has led to a renewed focus on the nation as a conceptual framework in historical analysis. The urgent need for national sovereignty in academia is currently defended most strongly by those historians who have been educated and socialized in the Mao era or shortly afterwards and who have had few or no research experience outside China. For instance, scholars at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences such as Bu Xianqun (卜宪群, born 1962), Yu Pei (于沛, born 1944) and Zhang Haipeng (张海鹏, born 1939) caution against the blind acceptance of the Western model of global history, because it would lead to the destruction of the Chinese nation. This is due to two reasons: first, the notion of the world in the sense of a single historical subject would render the nation-state obsolete. Second, the idea to understand global history as a way of coming to terms with one’s colonial and imperialist past cannot be applied to China because the country assumingly never had any colonies.[11] In addition, to assume that China’s modern identity is a result of transcultural hybridization or entanglement, as argued in postcolonial studies, is not less problematic because such view would implicitly have to acknowledge positive effects resulting from the colonial experience. The aforementioned historians, however, insist in their writings that China had always been a victim, and to remember national victimhood is regarded as essential for safeguarding national sovereignty in academia. As a result, they warn against justifying global history in China through postcolonial theory and insist on the need to develop a distinct Chinese model of global history.[12]

Especially since Xi Jinping (习近平, born 1953) took over power the reduced attention towards the nation in historical research is considered a danger to the political legitimacy of the CCP. Party leadership suspected researchers and teachers in universities to spread “Western values,” which resulted in a confidential internal document circulating among party cadres in the whole country in 2013. While recalling the global events of 1989 the Document No. 9, or more properly the “Communiqué on the Current State of the Ideological Sphere” (关于当前意识形态领域情况的通报) listed seven “destructive Western values”, among them freedom of the press, judicial independence, universal values (such as freedom and human rights), and constitutional democracy.[13] Document No. 9 exemplifies the resurfaced urgency among the party leadership to provide a convincing narrative of Chinese modern history that could not only redefine the complicated relationship between the history of the revolutionary and the reform era but also rescue the history of the 1949-1978 era to legitimize the current rule (despite the fact that this period witnessed extreme cases of political persecution such as during the Cultural Revolution). As a result of these efforts, academic research in today’s China is currently facing constraints where political pressure not only increases vigilance in censorship, but also makes self-censorship a more common occurrence, thereby effectively silencing deviating interpretations, especially among those historians who have not retired yet (this also has repercussions for diversity in Chinese academia: the urge to maintain national unity reduces the visibility of ethnic minority voices, except those focusing on local and regional histories).

Document No. 9 gives particular attention to the danger of “historical nihilism” that was seen as the major reason for the dissolution of the Soviet Union: “The goal of historical nihilism, in the guise of ‘reassessing history,’ is to distort Party history and the history of New China. This is mainly expressed in the following ways: Rejecting the revolution; claiming that the revolution led by the Chinese Communist Party resulted only in destruction; denying the historical inevitability in China’s choice of the Socialist road, calling it the wrong path, and the Party’s and new China’s history a ‘continuous series of mistakes’; rejecting the accepted conclusions on historical events and figures, disparaging our Revolutionary precursors, and vilifying the Party’s leaders. Recently, some people took advantage of Comrade Mao Zedong’s 120th birthday [in 2013] in order to deny the scientific and guiding value of Mao Zedong Thought. Some people try to cleave apart the period that preceded Reform and Opening from the period that followed, or even to set these two periods in opposition to one another. By rejecting CCP history and the history of New China, historical nihilism seeks to fundamentally undermine the CCP’s historical purpose, which is tantamount to denying the legitimacy of the CCP’s long-term political dominance.”[14]

As described by Blanchett, the “glorious history” of the CCP was re-emphasized after 2012.[15] The struggle against historical nihilism was one central facet in the emerging campaign. Numerous monographs and edited volumes related to that topic were published, culminating in a speech by Xi Jinping on 20 February 2021 in which he explained the significance of party history as announced in the “Circular concerning the Launch of Learning and Teaching of Party History in the whole Party” (关于在全党开展党史学习教育的通知). The CCP chairman emphasized that a correct and profound knowledge of party history (dangshi, 党史) was a prerequisite to understanding the history of the nation (guoshi, 国史), a demand that has to be seen in the context of the centennial anniversary of the founding of the CCP on 1 July 2021.[16]

Historical Nihilism Discourse in Chinese Academia and beyond

In the following, I investigate the intricate relationship between the history of the party and the history of the nation by exemplarily interpreting a 2018 book entitled A Powerful Ideological Weapon in the Struggle against the Tide of Historical Nihilism (同历史虚无主义思潮斗争的有力思想武器). Authored by the former personal secretary to Chen Yun (陈云, 1905-1995) and Hu Qiaomu (胡乔木, 1912-1992)[17] and later a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Zhu Jiamu (朱佳木, born 1946), it contains three chapters that present Xi Jinping’s insights into how to rid Chinese academia of the dangerous ideas from the West. Published by Social Sciences Literature Press as part of a planned 100 volume series called “Being vigilant in peacetime—Small Series of Socialism in the World” (Ju’an siwei—Shijie shehuizhuyi xiao congshu, 居安思危—世界社会主义小丛书), it begins with a preface by Li Shenming (李慎明, born 1949), the former vice-president of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (中国社会科学院)[18] and director of the Research Centre of Socialism in the World (世界社会主义研究中心), in which the motivation behind and agenda of the short booklet is outlined. Li admits that convincing a reader of the correct understanding of history is not an easy task, even if one is addressing experts in historical science. The preface, however, makes clear that this is not merely an academic question, but much more a question that relates to the well-being of the people. Pointing to the 2008 global financial crisis that supposedly shifted the distribution of global wealth fundamentally, the increasing exploitation caused by the capitalist mode of production, the growing unemployment, and company bankruptcies, so Li Shenming, makes one wonder whether this does not lead to the self-destruction of capitalism. In his view, it is imperative to gain a correct understanding of the past to prove and protect the superiority of socialism. Li reiterates statements of Xi Jinping who during a speech at the 17th Collective Study Session of the Political Bureau of the CCP Central Committee on 27 June 2013 had emphasized the need to study both the history of the party and the nation, because only if one knew the history one could love the party and the country (要认真学习党史、国史,知史爱党,知史爱国).[19] Limiting himself to the reiteration of ideological claims, Li Shenming shies away from clarifying his understanding of history: “history”, or lishi(历史), is taken as an empty signifier (“to know the past for a better future”, or “taking history as a mirror”) whose true meaning remains shrouded.

In a speech at the education session on the occasion of the admission of the newly elected members of the Central Committee on 5 January 2013, a few weeks after he had become the General Secretary of the CCP, Xi pointed out that historical nihilism equals the negation of Soviet history and the history of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). In addition, it was one of the decisive factors of the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991: the SU had failed because the correct ideological belief among party members had been lost.[20] In order to protect China from a similar development, Xi required party cadres to watch the six-part documentary “Twenty Years after the Downfall of the Soviet Party and the Decline of the Soviet Union” (Sulian wangdang wangguo ershi nianji, 苏联亡党亡国二十年祭) that detailed how a continuous infiltration of Western values had eroded the belief in Lenin and Stalin. For Xi, patriotism is the one virtue that can assure both the legitimacy of the CCP and the survival of the nation, and in this respect the dominance of historical materialism needs to be safeguarded (see also the article on Vietnam in this forum).

In the manifold critiques of Western theorists or Chinese historians who apply Western theories that have emerged in the course of the campaign one specific quote of Xi Jinping is often repeated, namely “To destroy the nation of a people, you must first destroy their history” (灭人之国,必先去其史). Taken from the posthumously printed sequel to the late imperial scholar Gong Zizhen’s (龚自珍, 1792-1841)[21] writings (published in 1868 under the title Dingyan xuji, 定庵续集) it interconnects the survival of China with the continuity of its history. The quote became part of the political discourse on history when Xi highlighted during his speech that the survival of China also implied the protection of party power, and this related first and foremost to the question of how to interpret the revolutionary period before the death of Mao Zedong: “The reason why I emphasize this problem is because it is a major political issue. If it is not handled well, it will have serious political consequences. As one ancient said: ‘To destroy a people, you must first destroy their history.’ Hostile forces at home and abroad often write essays on the history of the Chinese revolution or of New China, doing all in their power to smear and vilify that era. Their fundamental purpose is to confuse the hearts of the people. They aim to incite them into overthrowing both the Communist Party of China’s leadership and the socialist system of our country. Why did the Soviet Union disintegrate? Why did the Communist Party of the Soviet Union fall to pieces? An important reason is that in the ideological domain, competition is fierce! To completely repudiate the historical experience of the Soviet Union, to repudiate the history of the CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union, MM), to repudiate Lenin, to repudiate Stalin was to wreck chaos in Soviet ideology and engage in historical nihilism. It caused Party organizations at all levels to have barely any function whatsoever. It robbed the Party of its leadership of the military. In the end, the CPSU—as great a Party as it was—scattered like a flock of frightened beasts! The Soviet Union—as great a country as it was—shattered into a dozen pieces. This is a lesson from the past!”[22]

Politics is increasingly intervening in the field of historical knowledge production, where references to historical nihilism are believed to be equal to the Farewell to Revolution (gaobie geming, 告别革命), which again negates the achievements of the revolution before the year 1978. Historical research is no longer exclusively a search for historical truth, but a “truth” that conforms to the political necessity of ensuring the survival of the Chinese nation.

Xi’s speech was the prelude to the nation-wide campaign against historical nihilism that gained considerable momentum in 2015 with the publication of a special focus section in the journal Historical Research (Lishi yanjiu, 历史研究). As the leading journal on historical theory in the PRC, it set the guidelines by identifying nihilism as a Western strategy to question historical materialism and potentially create doubt on the legitimacy of the CCP rule. The section included contributions of four historians, Bu Xianqun, Yu Pei, Wu Li (武力, born 1956) (all researchers at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences), and Zheng Shiqu (郑师渠, born 1946) of Beijing Normal University. They unanimously identify postmodern theory as the major culprit for the emergence of historical nihilism and warn against the epistemological hegemony of the West. Resulting from the long-standing tendency to worship the West since the reform-and-opening policy in 1978 they identify it as an imminent threat intensified by the liberalization of popular culture, the emergence of a free discussion space in the digital media, and particularly the liberalization of the school-book market in the 2000s. Their attack on historical nihilism has to be understood as a turn against the liberalization in the humanities in the 1990s and early 2000s, justified by the reference to the question of national sovereignty: historical nihilism is understood as a conscious and concrete plot to defame and destroy socialism: according to Western scholarship history has neither telos nor meaning, it is a history where local and regional differences in politics, society, and culture are merely a result of geography and climate, thereby contradicting the fundamental principles of historical materialism. The focus section thus proposes to re-strengthen the historical role of the Communist Party, a task that has recently gained large significance with the publication of the Abbreviated History of the Chinese Communist Party (中国共产党简史).[23]

These developments show that the campaign is undoubtedly politically motivated, resulting in generous support for authors by publication subsidies and access to leading publishers.[24] For instance, the Chinese Fund for the Humanities and Social Sciences is increasingly investing in the translation of monographs and journals into English which are sold by Springer, Palgrave Macmillan, Brill, and Routledge.[25] While the original intentions of these publications were to add a Chinese perspective to the still dominant Eurocentrism in the humanities, they at the same time vie for shaping academic discourse outside of the People’s Republic of China. The voice of the party in publications such as Wu Huaiqi’s An Historical Sketch of Chinese Historiography (Springer, 2018) or the series Contemporary Studies on Modern Chinese History (Routledge, 2021) edited by Zeng Yeying (曾业英) is often easy to recognize[26], but in some cases also intentionally hidden or obscured by using academic jargon.[27] In his contribution “Modern Chinese history studies from 2009 to 2019” to the Routledge series, Zeng summarizes the dangers of Western theories and recommends a stronger focus on historical materialism instead.[28] These ambitions are accompanied by efforts to drive a wedge between Chinese and “Western” historians by formulating Chinese models of historiography where transnational approaches, microhistory, and gender history, among others, are rejected because they transgress the nation-state as the central unit of analysis. Instead, models that continue to include elements of Marxist theory (albeit without references to class struggle) are disseminated on a global scale to emphasize that Chinese history offers models of world order and identity that in some cases are presented as superior.[29] The shrinking spaces of academic freedom in China, the insistence on patriotism as a central virtue even in global history[30], and the assumed interrelatedness of party history and national history indicate that the nation as analytical category and as object of research has not yet reached its apogee.

[1] This essay has been made possible by a generous grant of the Volkswagen Foundation for the project “Writing History with China” (2021-28) for which I express my gratitude.
[2] Liang Qichao (梁启超), Xin shixue (The New Historiography, 新史学), in: Yinbingshi wenji dianjiao (饮冰室文集点校), vol. 3, 1628-1647, Kunming 2001. For an overview of Liang Qichao’s historiography see Peter Zarrow, Old Myth into New History. The Building Blocks of Liang Qichao’s “New History”, in: Historiography East and West 1 (2003), 2, pp. 204-241.
[3] Peter Zarrow, After Empire. The Conceptual Transformation of the Chinese State, 1885-1924, Stanford 2012.
[4] Rebecca Karl, Staging the world. Chinese nationalism at the turn of the twentieth century, Durham 2002.
[5] Erez Manela, The Wilsonian Moment. Self-determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism, Oxford 2007. The relation between Marxism and national historiography in China is shaped by the signification of the former, as argued by Dorothea Martin, The Making of a Sino-Marxist Worldview. Perceptions and Interpretations of World History in the People’s Republic of China, New York 1990. On the role of Li Dazhao in this context see Maurice Meisner, Li Ta-chao and the Origins of Chinese Marxism, Cambridge 1967.
[6] William A. Callahan, China. The Pessoptimist Nation, Oxford 2010; Suisheng Zhao, A Nation-State by Construction. Dynamics of Modern Chinese Nationalism, Stanford 2004; Gunter Schubert, Chinas Kampf um die Nation – Dimensionen nationalistischen Denkens in der VR China, Taiwan und Hongkong an der Jahrtausendwende, Hamburg 2002.
[7] Selected Works of Mao Tse-Tung, Peking, 1967, here: Vol. 5, p. 17. In his speech given on the occasion of the centennial anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party the General Secretary Xi Jinping used a similar nationalist and partly xenophobic rhetoric.
[8] Dominic Sachsenmaier, Global Perspectives on Global History Theories and Approaches in a Connected World, Cambridge 2011, here: 184-191; Xin Fan, World History and National Identity in China. The Twentieth Century, Cambridge 2021.
[9] Examples thereof are works by historians who have either studied abroad or have research experiences in the United States and West Europe, such as Bao Maohong (包茂宏) with his global environmental history trying to overcome both nationalism and anthropocentrism; Sun Jiang (孙江) and Yang Nianqun (杨念群) with their proposal of New Social History focusing on discourse analysis, history from below, postcolonial approaches and new cultural history; and Li Xuetao (李雪涛) with his emphasis on knowledge transfers in global history. On the complex relationship between national and world history in modern Chinese scholarship see Fan, World History.
[10] Zhao, A Nation-State by Construction; Schubert, Chinas Kampf um die Nation; Zheng Wang, Never Forget National Humiliation. Historical Memory in Chinese Politics and Foreign Relations, New York 2014. On the emergence of the nation concept in modern China see Marc Andre Matten‚ China is the China of the Chinese. The Concept of Nation and its Impact on Political Thinking in Modern China, in: Oriens Extremus 51 (2012), pp. 63-106.
[11] The expansion of the Chinese Empire before 1840 is until today largely seen as an extension of Chinese civilization (the so-called Sinocentrism), and not as an act of colonizing the periphery. In the 1990s several scholars such as Mark Elliot and Peter Perdue started to question the notion of Sinicization that had long guided the historiography of imperial China by pointing to a distinct Manchu identity. Among Chinese historians such as Li Zhiting the idea that the Qing Dynasty had been a universal empire practicing imperialism at its periphery (esp. Tibet and Xinjiang) was seen as a strategy of the “West” to divide the Chinese nation and was thus rejected. For a short overview on the New Qing History debate see Mario Cams, Recent Additions to the New Qing History Debate, in: Contemporary Chinese Thought 47 (2016), 1, pp. 1-4.
[12] Yu Pei (于沛), Global History and National Historical Memory in Global History (Quanqiu shi. Minzu lishi jiyi zhong de quanqiu shi, 全球史. 民族历史记忆中的全球史), in: Shixue lilun yanjiu 1 (2006), pp. 18-30; Zhang Xupeng (张旭鹏), Global History and the National Narrative. How is a Global History with Chinese Characteristics possible? (Quanqiushi yu minzu xushi. Zhongguo tese de quanqiushi heyi keneng, 全球史与民族叙事. 中国特色全球史何以可能), in: Lishi Yanjiu 1 (2020), pp. 155-173.
[13] The document was leaked to the U.S.-based, Chinese language journal Mirror (Mingjing) for which the journalist Gao Yu (高瑜, born 1944) was convicted of leaking state secrets. See <> (30.08.2021).
[14] ChinaFile, <> (02.05.2021).
[15] Jude D. Blanchett, China’s New Red Guards—The Return of Radicalism and the Rebirth of Mao Zedong, Oxford, 2019.
[16] Xi Jinping, Speech at the General Assembly to Mobilize for Teaching and Learning the Party history (Zai dangshi xuexi jiaoyu dongyuan dahui shang de jianghua, 在党史学习教育动员大会上的讲话), in: Qiushi 7 (2021), <> (01.04.2021).
[17] Chen Yun was, alongside Deng Xiaoping (邓小平, 1904-1997), one of the major architects of the Reform and Opening up policy after the Cultural Revolution. Hu Qiaomu, a sociologist and Marxist philosopher, was the first president of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
[18] The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences is the leading national institution and think tank in the People’s Republic of China for the study in the fields of humanities and social sciences. It was founded in May 1977 after the end of the Cultural Revolution under the instruction of Deng Xiaoping. For an overview on its foundation see Margaret Sleeboom-Faulkner, Regulating Intellectual Life in China. The Case of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, in: The China Quarterly 189 (2007), pp. 83-99.
[19] Jiamu Zhu (朱佳木), Tong lishi xuwuzhuyi sichao douzheng de youli sixiang wuqi (同历史虚无主义思潮斗争的有力思想武器, A powerful Ideological Weapon in the Struggle against the Tide of Historical Nihilism), Beijing 2018, p. 4. This is a quote of Xi Jinping, People’s Daily (Renmin Ribao, 人民日报), 03 March 2013.
[20] Zhu, Tong lishi xuwuzhuyi sichao douzheng, p. 6. In 2017, Ji Zhengju (季正聚), the deputy director of the Central Translation Office, argued that historical nihilism contributed to the rejection of the achievements of the Soviet era by the ruling elite. The ensuing general demoralization among the population in the 1980s then caused the collapse of the SU, Ji argued. For the English translation of his text “Lessons from the Collapse of Soviet Communism seen in the Light of Historical Nihilism” (19 December 2017) see < >(30.08.2021). The Chinese original “Viewing the lesson of the downfall of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from the dangers of historical nihilism” (Cong lishi xuwu zhuyi de weihai kan Su-gong kuatai de jiaoxun, 从历史虚无主义的危害看苏共垮台的教训) can be found here: Research Institute for Documents on Party History of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, <> (09.09.2020).
[21] Gong Zizhen was a philosopher and writer who had a large impact on the reinterpretation of the Confucian canon in the late imperial era. Preferring the new-text over the old-text classics he developed the idea that a state could experience three different stages in development, namely the age of order (zhishi, 治世), the age of decline (shuaishi, 衰世), and the age of chaos (luanshi, 亂世), with China being in the second stage according to his observation. This model later shaped the historical thinking of reform-minded scholars such as Liang Qichao and Kang Youwei. On the old-text/new-text debate see Axel Schneider, Wahrheit und Geschichte. Zwei chinesische Historiker auf der Suche nach einer modernen Identität für China, Wiesbaden 1997, 60-67.
[22] Translation taken from Tanner Greer, Xi Jinping in Translation. China’s Guiding Ideology, in: Palladium, <> (29.03.2021).
[23] Willy Wo-Lap Lam, Xi Jinping Stresses His Historical Preeminence in Preparation for the CCP Centenary <> (17.06.2021).
[24] Such as Shanghai People’s Press (Shanghai renmin chubanshe), the History of Chinese Communist Party Publishing House (Zhonggong dangshi chubanshe), or the Social Sciences Academic Press (Shehui kexue wenxian chubanshe).
[25] These are, among others, Key Concepts in Chinese Thought and Culture (Palgrave); Chinese Literature and Culture in the World (Palgrave); China Perspectives (Routledge); China Academic Library (Springer), and in the case of Brill the Journal of Chinese Humanities. One caveat: not all of these publications include propagandistic rhetoric, yet in some instances the agency of the party-state is not obvious. Given the intended readership (historians and philosophers with no or only little sinological expertise), one might wonder whether the (sometimes) hidden information on party intervention, censorship, and sponsorship of translation and publication is intentional or not. In order to be able to situate and contextualize these publications a detailed understanding of agency and structure in Chinese historical sciences, its members and institutions is necessary, which is part of the project Writing History with China (2021-28) at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg (funded by the Volkswagen Foundation), see <>(06.07.2021). This essay has been made possible by a generous grant of the Foundation for which I express my gratitude.
[26] Wu Huaiqi, An Historical Sketch of Chinese Historiography, Berlin 2018; Zeng Ye-ying, Contemporary Studies on Modern Chinese History¬, London 2021.
[27] Outside academia the CCP invests in Confucius Institutes and local media as instruments of soft power. In most cases however, the effects thereof are more than limited, as shows Jennifer Hubbert by pointing to the continuously deteriorating image of China and the Party. Jennifer Hubbert, China in the World. An Anthropology of Confucius Institutes, Soft Power, and Globalization, Honolulu 2019.
[28] Zeng Yeying, Modern Chinese history studies from 2009 to 2019, in: Zeng Yeying (eds.), Contemporary Studies on Modern Chinese History III, London 2021, pp. 254-335. The translation was sponsored by the Chinese Fund for the Humanities and Social Sciences, the translators were Li Wenzhong (Zhejiang Gongshan University), Wu Jinshan (Henan Normal University) and Li Bing (Henan Polytechnic University).
[29] Such as the writings of Zhao Tingyang. See idem, Alles unter dem Himmel. Vergangenheit und Zukunft der Weltordnung, Frankfurt 2020.
[30] Yu Pei (于沛), Upholding the National Spirit in Chinese Research of World History (Hongyang Zhongguo shijjieshi yanjiu de minzu jingshen, 弘扬中国世界史研究的民族精神), in: Shijieshi 5 (2004), pp. 4-11.

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