Chinese President Xi Jinping is directing a vast ideological war across multiple theaters—politics, culture, ethics, economy, strategy, and foreign relations. Among its most intense flashpoints is historiography, particularly of China’s last empire, the Qing, which ruled from 1636 to 1912. Historians, whether foreign or domestic, who resist Xi’s determination to design a past that serves his ideology have been targeted repeatedly by state propaganda organs. A new editorial suggests that this attack on Qing specialists is escalating.
Xi has a powerful weapon at his disposal. In 2003, 10 years before his assumption of power, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) initiated an ambitious project dedicated to Qing history. It was granted headquarters in the Zhongguancun district of Beijing, next to China’s leading technology companies. Its budget—never definitively quantified but clearly stratospheric as far as historiographical enterprises go—supported a threefold mission:
The first of these has been to complete the traditional arc in which each imperial dynasty declared its legitimacy by writing the history of its predecessor. At its demise in 1912, the Qing was not succeeded by a new dynasty, though Republican-era loyalists drafted a history that the new government refused to publish. In our century, the CCP has decided to seize the mantle of legitimacy by rewriting and publishing the Qing imperial history, which is now nearing completion.