Encountering the world: China and its other(s) in historical narratives, 1949-89

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This article critically examines historical discourses in modern China and their complex relations with the outside world, most notably the West. It delineates three noticeable changes in the twentieth century and concentrates on the period 1949-1989. Chinese experimentation with modern historiography began shortly after Western powers defeated China in the late nineteenth century. These defeats forced Chinese scholars to forsake the traditional sinocentric conception of the world and accept a new worldview characterized by a West-China dichotomy. After 1917, however, the triumph of Bolshevism in Russia offered another alternative to Chinese searching for modernization. As a result, China's cultural relationship with the larger world changed from a dichotomous to a triangular relationship. During China's Republican period (1912-1949), liberal historians constructed a historical narrative modeled on the modern West and regarded Marxist historical theory as an alien Other. After the foundation of the People's Republic of China in 1949, however, when Marxist historiography gained orthodox status, the West was turned into the alien Other. After the Cultural Revolution and especially in the so-called "culture fever" of the 1980s, a younger generation of historians unsatisfied with the dogmatic application of Marxist theory in historical study turned again to the West for inspiration. In renewing their interest in Western historiography, these historians used the Western Other to challenge the official Marxist historiography authorized by the government. In doing so, they formed a counterdiscourse in historical narrative that (together with the emerging sociocultural history) reshaped historical practice in the People's Republic of China.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)327-358
Number of pages32
JournalJournal of World History
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2003

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History


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