Gideon Rachman: China’s Past Needs To Be Rewritten





Gideon Rachman is chief foreign-affairs commentator for the Financial Times and author of Zero-Sum Future: American Power in an Age of Anxiety.

How would a Chinese superpower treat the rest of the world? Anyone wanting to peer into the future, could start by looking back at the past – or, at least, at the official version of China’s past. The message is not reassuring. China’s schoolchildren are being taught a version of history that is strongly nationalist. The official narrative is that their country was once ruthlessly exploited by rapacious foreigners. Only a strong China can correct these historic wrongs.
 
This official story has a lot of truth in it. China in the 19th and 20th centuries was indeed the victim of foreign imperialism. The trouble is that China’s official history lacks the quality that Maoism was meant to stress: self-criticism. If you visit the exhibitions in the vast National Museum of China on Tiananmen Square you will see and read about the terrible things that foreigners have done to the Chinese. There is almost nothing about the even more terrible things that Chinese people did to each other – largely because most of these crimes were committed by the Communist party, which still runs the country.
 
These gaps matter. A more honest debate about the past will be an essential part of China’s journey to a more open political system. A view of Chinese history that moves beyond a narrative of victim-hood, might also make China’s rise to global power smoother...


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