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The Nine Dragon Screen, Datong, Shanxi, China Photo: The Nine Dragon Screen, Datong, Shanxi, China (Photo by Wikimedia user Doron, licensed under the Creative Commons ShareAlike 3.0 Attribution).

China's Colonial Past Key to Understanding its Future

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

China's complicated attitude towards its past appear to be evolving. From a modern geostrategic viewpoint, however, the era of colonial China, above all others, plays a significant role in shaping Beijing's intentions and behaviors on the international stage.

BEIJING—The current wave of restoration of historical sites across China, such as the reconstruction of the 14th-century city walls at Datong, is sometimes seen as evidence of the country's changing attitude towards its past: The destructive tendencies of the Mao years have been replaced by a new curiosity and respect for the Middle Kingdom's long history.

This interpretation, however, fails to capture the full scope of modern China's complex relationship with its historical identity. While traditional Confucian values encourage reverence of "the Ancients," Communist Party propaganda has veered from exhorting its people to make a "great leap forward," to embarking on a "cultural revolution," to now writing a "glorious new chapter of Chinese civilization."


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