A civilising mission with Chinese characteristics? Education, colonialism and Chinese state formation in comparative perspective

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Abstract

In Discovering History in China (1984), Paul Cohen criticised the penchant of American scholars for exaggerating Western imperialism’s ‘impact’ on China’s modern history. Standard narratives, attaching ‘fundamental explanatory importance to the special nature of Chinese society and culture’ (p. 189), portrayed a civilisation blasted out of its ‘traditional’ orbit by foreign cannon, commerce and culture, since the Opium War of 1840. More recent scholarship, by contrast, tended to identify internal factors – demographic, economic and political – as crucial to explaining China’s modern transformation. But Cohen noted the ‘irony of ironies’ that, as ‘outsiders’ were ‘moving toward an inside perspective’, Chinese ‘insiders’ continued to insist on ‘the crucial importance of outside factors’ (p. 195): As long as the experience of the Western intrusion remains fresh and resentment against it alive and warm, it will be difficult for Chinese to accept a scaled-down appraisal of imperialism’s role in the last century and a half of their history, and they may well view American efforts in this direction as ultimately self-serving.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationConstructing Modern Asian Citizenship
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Pages50-79
Number of pages30
ISBN (Electronic)9781135007270
ISBN (Print)9780415855785
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Sciences(all)

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