Save

From Positive to Negative Historical Statecraft: The Shifting Use of History in China’s Diplomacy

In: The Hague Journal of Diplomacy
Authors:
Nicholas Ross Smith University of Canterbury Christchurch New Zealand

Search for other papers by Nicholas Ross Smith in
Current site
Google Scholar
PubMed
Close
https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1959-0365
and
Tracey Fallon University of Nottingham Ningbo China Ningbo China

Search for other papers by Tracey Fallon in
Current site
Google Scholar
PubMed
Close
https://orcid.org/0000-0003-4591-364X
Open Access

Abstract

Typically, China has tried to use positive aspects of its history, such as its previous grandeur and its philosophical and cultural heritage, to guide its diplomatic strategic narratives – a kind of historical statecraft. However, this has largely failed to inspire international audiences. Analysis of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ regular press conferences over a twenty-year period reveals there is an observable seeping of more negative aspects of history into China’s diplomatic language during Xi Jinping’s second term. Negative history appears in China’s strategic narratives to highlight changes in the international order by reframing understandings of China and the nature of other major powers. Negative history of this type might afford Xi significant domestic legitimacy, as well as some international supporters, for its assertive articulations; at the same time, however, it reduces China’s ability to win over international audiences and positively disseminate its vision of international order.

1 Introduction

Typically, China has tried to use positive aspects of its history – such as its previous grandeur and its cultural heritage – to enrich its historical statecraft. Historical statecraft has emerged as an important component of China’s use of strategic narratives that articulate its international standing and its vision for a revised international order. However, the use of positive historical statecraft has largely failed to inspire international audiences, and under the leadership of Xi Jinping there is an observable seeping of more negative aspects of history into China’s global strategic narratives. This discursive instrumentalisation of negative history in official Chinese discourses is conceived as a strategic narrative and part of the Chinese state’s historical statecraft. By examining twenty years of press conferences of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (CMFA), this article finds that negative history (sometimes referred to as ‘dark history’) serves a two-fold purpose in China’s diplomatic language. Firstly, it is increasingly used to highlight that China is no longer as weak and vulnerable as it once was and that under the leadership of Xi and the Communist Party of China (CPC), a more positive and stronger future awaits. Secondly, negative or ‘dark’ histories of other countries are used instrumentally in rhetoric to delegitimise the referent and position China as a higher moral authority. It is argued that in the case of China, this serves to present alternative historical narratives about the pasts of other states while casting China’s past, present and future political positions in a favourable light. The deployment of negative historical statecraft is a process that bolsters the standing of the state domestically and shores up a vision of ‘who is China’ internationally. While negative history of this type might afford Xi significant domestic legitimacy for its assertive articulations as well as winning over some international supporters, at the same time it reduces China’s ability to positively disseminate its vision of international order.

To address how China is utilising negative historical narratives in its diplomacy, this article adopts the following structure. First, a brief examination of historical statecraft is undertaken and a conceptual framework which borrows from the theoretical insights of strategic narratives is offered, with history being situated as an important raw material for the deployment of strategic narratives. Second, China’s recent use of positive historical statecraft is examined. Third, the apparent seeping of more negative historical narratives into China’s diplomatic language under the leadership of Xi Jinping is considered. Fourth, a brief discussion of the article’s methodology is offered. Fifth, the evocation of history in CMFA ‘press conferences’ between 2003 and 2022 is examined with a clear identification of negative historical statecraft coming to the fore between 2018 and 2022. Last, a discussion of the permutations of China’s increasing use of negative history and the likely drivers of this is offered.

2 Historical Statecraft as Strategic Narratives

States have long used history to guide diplomacy and, ultimately, statecraft.1 At a rudimentary level, as Brands and Suri argue in the case of the United States, ‘historical knowledge, insights, lessons, analogies, and narratives permeates the ways in which the United States interacts with the world’.2 However, at a more ontological level, states often use historical narratives to frame specific foreign policy actions to particular audiences, whether domestic or foreign. In recent literature, this has been conceptualised as ‘historical statecraft’, that is,

the systematic application of representations of the past (real or imagined) in order to frame and legitimize foreign policy, naturalize a certain image or role of a country, and stabilize collective identities on national, regional and global levels (‘communalization’).3

There is a significant body of literature that concerns the role of history and memory in international politics.4 As Deacon contends, ‘international politics are consistently shaped by memories of the past; in particular, these memories frequently inform contemporary national identities which interact with foreign policymaking’.5 Much of the literature on the role of history and memory in diplomacy and statecraft typically examines areas where (predominantly) national histories are used to enhance cultural exchange, co-operation and promotion to foster understanding and attraction to further national interests. History appears in cultural diplomacy studies as a component of cultural exchanges and people-to-people engagement, and it is used symbolically in promoting cultural grandeur in part to shape external views. With a narrower analytical scope, heritage diplomacy considers how the material past and its conservation is a diplomatic resource used for advancing state interests, often with the involvement of non-state actors and international organisations.6 This literature, however, tends to focus on the ‘positively connoted shared culture’ which forms the focus of heritage exchange and co-operation between different states.7

Other approaches consider the darker past moments of rupture between communities that spilled over into violence. Dark heritage sites and memorials to human suffering can garner significant international attention and work as effective public diplomacy for advancing a progressive view of society and are also beneficial at the level of elite political relations.8 However, this can work both ways, as memory is a contested narrative and so domestic nationalist attempts to rectify more cosmopolitan narratives of dark history sites can even tarnish international reputations – such as in Poland, where the right-leaning PIS government has attempted to disengage and retell the narrative of Poland’s involvement in the Second World War in museums as being one of victimhood without complicity.9

In assessing how China is making discursive and symbolic use of history as a resource for statecraft and diplomacy,10 this article aims to contribute to the literature on the role of historical memory in international politics by positing that the instrumental use of history for diplomacy can be envisaged as a form of strategic narrative. As defined by Miskimmon, O’Loughlin and Roselle, strategic narratives are ‘a means for political actors to construct a shared meaning of the past, present and future of international politics to shape the behaviour of domestic and international actors’.11 History, in this context, is a ‘raw material of communication’ that is used by actors to help express a strategic narrative.12 Thus, history should not be thought of in objective terms but, rather, as something constructed by actors for specific strategic purposes. Within communities, representations of the past are used as a resource to produce emotionally embedded meanings through symbolic and mnemonical ‘past-reference’ points.13 Likewise, with strategic narratives, ‘history’ becomes a resource that can be deployed across international actors to symbolic effect. Indeed, the strategic deployment of top-down historical narratives evokes the Foucauldian notion of history as a ‘political device’ – something used by elites to ‘justify and reinforce existing power’.14 Therefore, the concept of strategic narratives allows analysis of how history is utilised internationally by a state with reference to the two-level game at the heart of diplomacy.15

While historical strategic narratives are typically carefully curated by political actors, they are polysemic and involve ‘multiple narrators and channels, and negotiated meaning’.16 In other words, the use of strategic narratives for diplomatic purposes is best thought of as a relational practice. As Qin argues, ‘once diplomacy is defined as a relational practice, MFAs [ministries of foreign affairs] are, practically, pivotal relators’ because their ‘action rests on the nature of relationships its own state has with the target state’.17 Thus, the communicative context means diplomatic actors pushing strategic narratives ‘should never be so self-centred – or naïve – to expect that receivers of those narratives will automatically agree with and accept projected narratives’.18 Viewing strategic narratives as a relational practice necessitates an ontological positioning that assumes ‘the object cannot exist without the observer; it does not exist separately from the act of observation; and the act of observation changes the relation of the observer and the object observed’.19 Therefore, central to the effective use of strategic narratives is that the actors involved (both the effector and the receptor) have ontological security, that is, ‘a sense of continuity and order in events’.20

Crucially, history and ontological security seeking are closely intertwined. Using the case of Russia, Kazharski argues that establishment-led civilisational discourses that coherently intertwine critical points of history are an attempt to provide ontological security as they aim to ‘construct unity across ideological, spatial, and societal cleavages’.21 Yet, as the Russian case demonstrates, seeking ontological security via historical reimagining – evidenced by its invasion of Ukraine, which has been partly justified as correcting historical mistakes – has significant domestic and international implications.22 Indeed, as Mälksoo argues, states that strongly govern historical memory risk doing ‘self-inflicted harm to the object of defence in the very effort to defend it’.23 Thus, a state’s use of historical statecraft can have profound domestic and international ramifications.

This article conceives of two basic types of historically infused strategic narratives: positive and negative history.24 What constitutes ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ arises from the presentation of information by the sender and their intended meaning on the one hand, and the mediation of the receiver’s cognition, affect and exposure on the other.25 Visual and discursive information about historical events, like the information in news and political campaigning, has the potential to contain narrative framing valences along the positive–negative scale. Positive histories are typically narratives that elicit some previous period of grandeur for a state or a time when the actions of the state display values consistent with the state’s identity, such as performing a good deed. This is something of pride or esteem in domestic and international spheres for the assumed body politic. The recent re-emergence of apparent ‘civilisational states’ – such as Russia – is a demonstration of positive history coming to the fore of strategic narratives as elites in these states are conjuring up the grandeur of their past to help justify radical foreign and domestic policies, such as Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.26 Conversely, negative histories are narratives that evoke a period of subjugation or trauma or even a time when a state’s actions do not concur with contemporary values. These can elicit unpleasant feelings, such as anger or shame, for the body politic. In some cases, such as in Germany, the perpetrator of the negative history feels a sense of shame and attempts to rectify their previous misdeeds.27 However, many negative histories are unresolved, so they remain raw in domestic discourses and are usually points of contention in international spheres. For example, the trauma of the Armenian genocide remains a significant component of Armenia’s national identity and its perceptions of Türkiye.28

The question of whom these strategic narratives are targeting is important for understanding their intended effects. Although this article is primarily concerned with assessing the use of (negative) historically infused strategic narratives for diplomacy, it should be acknowledged that they have always been important domestically. This is because domestic audiences are more crucial to regime stability and receive the greatest attention from the state.29 To this end, a domestic consensus around a national historical memory is an important component of a fruitful state–society relationship. When historical memory is domestically disputed, a state will face significant challenges with regard to legitimacy and the resources it can extract for policies, both domestic and foreign.30 Consequently, the domestic context of a state’s historical statecraft cannot be eschewed from any analysis, and given that international politics exists in a setting in which there is a ‘digital blurring of the foreign and the domestic’,31 the two-level game that states face is much more pervasive in the current era.32 Therefore, it is argued that historically infused strategic narratives dually target domestic and international audiences.

Furthermore, given the aforementioned polysemic nature of strategic narratives, interpretations of what is positive and what is negative can vary significantly among elites and publics, so these are not necessarily fixed categories. In some cases, what one state deems as positive might be deemed as negative (or neutral) in another state, and what one state deems as negative might be deemed as positive (or neutral) in another. Returning to the two cases of Russia and Armenia mentioned earlier, Russia’s intervention in Crimea, partly justified on the historical grounds of Crimea being a key part of Russian civilisation, may play well with domestic audiences in Russia but is unlikely to be positively received in Ukraine.33 At the same time, in the case of Armenia and the importance of the Armenian genocide as a negative history, this is not well received in Türkiye and creates a sense of defensiveness and denial there.34 Audiences, then, have differing interpretations depending on their role in and their relation to the historical event being represented. Consequently, while the selection of positive or negative representations of history for strategic narratives takes into account the audience, it concurrently rests on what produces the greater ontological security for the effector.

3 The Use of Positive History in China’s Diplomacy

History has long been thought of by leaders and policymakers in China as a fruitful resource to enrich its statecraft. Several methods of use and control of historical narratives are deployed including the ‘selective tradition’ and populism of most states as well as misdirection and even erasure. For example, official Chinese state versions of Tibetan history tell a story of China’s governance of the region since ancient times while contending historical narratives are all but erased, excepting debates external to China’s information environment.35 Likewise, historiography which proves inconvenient for discussing the non-peaceful expansionist nature of the Qing dynasty faces censure for contradicting the myth of an ever-harmonious and peaceful China.36 When it comes to strategic narratives, certain articulations of history can assist China’s international aspirations. Since the early 2000s, reaching back into China’s history has become a crucial aspect of how China communicates its international rise to its foreign audiences, weaving domestic historical narratives with international aims.37

Most of the historical narratives China has projected internationally in recent times are positive and evoke memories of China’s previous grandeur. The Beijing Olympics in 2008 and the World Expo in Shanghai in 2010 were two large international events where China attempted to showcase to the world its historical greatness.38 Prominent among the deployment of historical and cultural resources in foreign policy is the rehabilitation of the figure and selected concepts of Confucius, previously reviled by the CPC in the Mao era. For example, there is the notable promotion of the Mandarin language through Confucius Institutes created in partnerships with tertiary institutions around the globe.39 In addition, the CPC brought Confucian concepts to its contemporary foreign policy by weaving in a benevolent interpretation of Confucian values. Making use of the concept of harmony and selective Confucian concepts, the CPC leadership explains foreign policy slogans as grounded in China’s ‘traditional values’. Here this sense of traditional values is serving to articulate Beijing’s vision for international politics and is used as a tool for advancing its foreign policy goals.40

China has similarly attached such imagery to specific foreign policies, most notably with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The BRI – a massive infrastructure project aimed at facilitating increased trade between China and Eurasia – represents China’s foreign policy grand strategy under Xi.41 Front and centre in the language and imagery of the BRI are allusions to the Silk Road, an imagined time when China was the world’s largest (and supposedly benevolent) power and provided essential goods to the rest of the world while also being a source of inspiration and awe.42 One example is the use of Ming explorer Zheng He to mark the exploration for new ‘friendships’ along the Maritime Silk Road in the name of peaceful trade.43

Narratives of a positive history deployed by the People’s Republic of China dip into symbolic historical resources from both distant and recent periods to further its international ambitions. Socialist ties of the Maoist era are used to shore up international friendships through reminders of mutual assistance and long-standing socialist and postcolonial ties.44 But, tellingly, the ‘past-reference points’ are not restricted to those directly related to the CPC alone. China’s historical narratives make use of prior regimes to better position the contemporary Party-State in visions of international order and to reclaim past connections between China and other international actors. A notable example of this has been the reimaging of the Second World War as not a negative historical experience but, rather, a positive one. Even though Japan committed significant atrocities against China in the Second World War, most notably the Nanjing massacre, official narratives have shifted to emphasise ‘the victory of the Chinese people’ and China’s ‘national greatness’.45 ‘China’s Good War’ is precisely so as it ‘presents the country not only as powerful, but as just and moral’, serving in the contemporary era as a reminder both domestically and internationally of China’s positive role as one of the architects of the international order and thereby not to be considered a threat.46 Of course, the negative aspects of the Second World War remain important, as evident in the empirical data presented in section 5, but when it comes to efforts of statecraft, China, at least until recently, has sought to be more positive than negative.

Promoting a positive narrative of historical achievements and a civilisational pedigree serves not only to give a state international prestige but also to renew (or strengthen) relationships through reminders of past interactions. Prestige is of particular importance to China. The imperial powers in the 19th and 20th centuries, heavily influenced by the idea of ‘social Darwinism’, legitimised their colonisation over ‘non-nation’ or ‘non-civilised’ Others by highlighting their new subjects’ civilisational deficits.47 China, during the late Qing period, although not colonised, was subjected to the humiliation of being deemed inferior. In response, China’s elites started re-narrativising history, in the enlightenment mode of a linear history, to push against such conceptions of it as a non-nation and, thereby, equal and up to the ‘standards’ of a modern state.48 As China seeks to reposition itself globally as a contender for superpower status, this conscious use of history on the international stage is, as Mayer argues, designed to ‘remodel China’s identity and reconstruct global history … the return to a “primordial”, that is, original and natural, world order, but under modern conditions’.49

In addition to the use of history to signal ideas about China’s global role, past interactions are also used bilaterally in China’s efforts to build friendships with other states.50 One noticeable example of this has been China’s interaction with Italy during the COVID-19 pandemic. China’s specific ‘mask diplomacy’ efforts in Italy were accompanied by significant historical signals. The most notable was the referencing of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake recovery, with the Chinese Embassy in Rome stating, ‘maybe you have forgotten about it, but we will always remember. Now it’s our turn to help you.’51 Similar historical affinities were present in China’s interactions with other states too, such as Pakistan and Serbia.52

4 The Seeping of Negative History into China’s Diplomacy

The use of history within strategic narratives is not restricted to those with intended positive affect alone. Indeed, negative history is another powerful resource for strategic narratives. In representations of certain historical events, there is a ‘remembering and forgetting’ that has the potential to align actors but, importantly, can also distance and even rupture relationships. Unlike the historical statecraft studies which consider China’s deployment of intended ‘positive’ histories examined in the previous section, this article focuses instead on China’s use of negative histories in diplomacy and statecraft.

The key negative historical memory mobilised by political elites in China is undoubtedly the so-called century of humiliation. The general gist of this historical narrative (perpetuated in public education) is that from the First Opium War (1839-1842) up to the victory of the Chinese Communist forces in the Chinese Civil War (1945-1949), China experienced a humiliating subjugation – including unequal treaties, the annexation of lands, wars and crippling indemnities – at the hands of foreign imperial empires, most notably the British, Russian, French, German and Japanese empires. Contrasted with the glorious history of China as the world’s most advanced, prosperous and powerful state during the heyday of the Silk Road, the century of humiliation narrative is clearly a negative history that emphasises weakness and trauma.

As Gries demonstrates, ‘the weight of the past’ is central to the evolution of China’s nationalism and its perceptions of the outside world, especially the West.53 The importance of ‘apology diplomacy’ to Beijing in the 1990s and 2000s – particularly in relation to historical grievances with Japan – is an example of negative history bleeding into diplomacy. At the diplomatic level, and in a careful play with domestic nationalist anger that manifested into protests in 2005, the negative history of Japan’s wartime aggression was skilfully used as an obstacle to Japan’s ambitions for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.54 However, it is important not to extrapolate too much from China’s use of negative history in its diplomatic interactions with Japan as evidence of a broader use of negative history at this time. As Chang argues, when it comes to historical statecraft, ‘an exclusive focus on Sino-Japanese relations in studying China’s historical statecraft … risks missing the bigger picture’.55

Thus, although negative history has appeared in China’s diplomacy, as the literature on China’s historical statecraft observes, the global strategic narratives being pushed by China in recent times have typically emphasised positive history. Public evocations of the ‘century’ of national humiliation have been mostly for domestic audiences, symbolically used as a point of no return and progression towards a positive future in the ‘restored’ order of powerful nationhood.56 Its discursive effects are two-fold: of victimhood at the hands of imperialists, and of strength and endurance which constitutes the nation’s identity as morally superior and resilient.57 Since the late 1980s, patriotic education has aimed to inculcate a selective historical narrative into the collective memory, which is now deeply ingrained as part of the collective consciousness.58 Like other master narratives, the victimhood/aggressor frame of national humiliation is a powerful lens through which relations between China and the rest of the world are understood by the general public and, as Kaufman identifies, is a fundamental mental starting point in Chinese elite concepts of international relations.59 Furthermore, as Wang observes, given the two-level-game nature of diplomacy, such evocations have implications for the way China interacts internationally.60

The use of negative historical narratives internationally initially addressed the Chinese diaspora. For example, since the 2000s, the China News Service – the CPC’s overseas Chinese-language news agency – increasingly targeted the Chinese diaspora with negative history, often deploying the national humiliation trope as part of its reporting on cases of ‘China insult’. Importantly, as Yan and Li argue, the China News Service undertakes ‘extra-territorial propaganda operations that aim to forge patriotic solidarity among Chinese people overseas and use their political and diplomatic influence to the advantage of the ruling Party-State’.61 Thus, the humiliation trope suggests that since the Opium Wars the West has been antagonistic towards China and the Chinese diaspora, with recent attempts to insult China and Chinese people a continuation of foreign attempts to thwart China’s rise.

Under the leadership of Xi, history has become central to bolstering not only his legitimacy but also his vision for China.62 For instance, a key message of this conscious tailoring of history by the CPC is that ‘[t]hrough the learning of history, it is not difficult to find that without the leadership of the CPC, the country and the Chinese nation could not have made today’s achievements and could not have obtained today’s international status’.63 The call to strengthen ‘historical confidence’ (lishi zixin) is a subsidiary concept of the ‘Cultural Confidence’ of Xi’s ‘Four Confidences’ doctrine and frames history abstractly to emphasise the Party’s track record of achievements and bolster cultural pride.64 Consequently, there has been something of a repackaging of the century of humiliation in recent years.65 The common theme particularly in the Xi era is that China is experiencing a ‘great rejuvenation’ (weida fuxing) to the splendour and global power of times before the foreign imperial encroachments.66 Such narratives conjure up negative history but are used in a way that focuses attention on achievements framed in a linear progression moving towards a positive and powerful future.

Changes in the aims and operations of China’s public diplomacy are also a significant factor in the apparent ‘negative historical turn’ in China’s state external communications. During the Jiang and Hu eras, China’s public diplomacy strategy focused on creating a positive and attractive national image on the one hand, while on the other, messaging sought to eliminate misunderstandings of China and anti-China sentiments deriving from the West.67 Under Xi, however, the Chinese government has increasingly been taking the initiative to put across China’s position and provide alternative visions from the liberal world order to produce political legitimacy for the CPC within international perceptions. Xi continues to support China’s ambitions to increase its soft power but embellishes the ambition with the ‘confidences’ doctrine.68 Inherent within ‘cultural confidence’ is the long-held ambition for China to receive the respect it expects from the rest of the world at a civilisational level as well as for the Chinese Party-State and its particular form of governance. Cultural confidence in external communication goes beyond promoting culture as a factor of attraction and addresses issues head-on in following Xi’s own example of ‘engaging with counterparts on China’s embarrassing problems’.69

Furthermore, reform of China’s public diplomacy has resulted in more emphasis on state actors to provide consistent and arguably monolithic messaging around China’s image.70 Changes in the operations created a greater role for the CMFA as a visible representative of international engagement and as a key lynchpin in co-ordination. This greater grip on messaging from state-led actors deepens the contradiction between the aims of public diplomacy to attract and produce favourable national images and the appearance of propaganda from state actors less likely to meet with receptive audiences. However, this contradiction is one that the Party-State is content to continue to manage, as the main motivating factor is managing the domestic public opinion environment. As Edney pointed out in the Hu era, despite state actors being less persuasive, the domestic population remained the key target audience for public opinion management.71 Chang adds that ‘diplomacy has become a primary channel used by both the Party-State and aspiring individual officials to showcase their nationalist credentials and cast messages for domestic audiences who demand a more strident foreign policy’.72 Consequently, the seeping of negative history into China’s international political discourse is inexorably linked to nationalist sentiment at elite and popular levels.

Consequently, the remembering of a humiliating past has gradually seeped into the strategic narratives China uses to signal to the West (and domestic audiences) that China’s great rejuvenation will prevent a repeat of the past while giving it a powerful negotiating position. In a reworking of the century of humiliation trope, officials from the CMFA, including Foreign Minister Wang Yi, pushed back on external criticism by remarking that ‘China is not the China of 100 years ago’.73 This defensive retort aimed to deflect criticism of China by reminding outsiders that while China was once weak and subservient, that is not the case now. While still a reminder of China’s past suffering, such a narrative emphasis serves to highlight China’s change to assertive power. Furthermore, Wang’s response evokes the history of colonial exploitation, which reduces any moral authority of former imperial powers and delegitimises complaints while simultaneously reinforcing China’s own moral authority. This follows in the vein of tu quoque argumentation (often called ‘whataboutism’), which has become strongly present in China’s recent diplomatic language.

Given China’s significant economic successes and global influence, the negative history trope that necessitates a low position for the ‘great revival’ to ascend remains too useful a narrative in positioning the superiority of the Chinese political system for Beijing to abandon.74 The use of negative histories infusing strategic narratives of recent years is possibly a sign that policymakers in Beijing sense that China is now large enough that it no longer has to partake in the putative (Western-centric) rules and etiquette of diplomacy. Moreover, the growing defensiveness of China in its diplomatic signalling is symbiotic with the apparent failure of China’s positive historical narratives in winning over foreign audiences.

5 Methodology

This article uses discourse analysis as its overarching method, relying on a mixture of quantitative and qualitative data to drive the analysis of the CMFA’s use of history in its strategic narratives. Discourse analysis is associated with post-positivist or interpretivist epistemologies in that it follows ‘a logic of interpretation that acknowledges the improbability of cataloguing, calculating, and specifying “real causes”, concerning itself instead with considering the manifest political consequences of adopting one mode of representation over another’.75 There is an ‘inextricable discursive link between foreign policy and the constitution of state as an actor with an identity’.76 The strategic narratives of a state, therefore, represent the instrumental use of discourse to influence ‘the opinions and behaviours of others’.77

By carrying out quantitative and qualitative discourse analysis of the official announcements of the CMFA, this article expands the scope of analysis to examine China’s broader use of negative history in diplomatic language. While acknowledging that actors beyond the state are active in producing and contesting strategic narratives, this analysis focuses on the projections of the Chinese state as it seeks to trace the instrumental uses of history in the CMFA’s diplomatic language. Some might criticise the decision to focus on the CMFA and omit the strategic communications of Xi Jinping, particularly as the relevance and influence of the CMFA have been called into question.78 However, Mochtak and Turcsanyi argue that strategic narratives delivered by the CMFA are a ‘unique source of information on official positions taken by [the] Chinese government on different topics in international relations’.79 Furthermore, what narrative strategies emerge from China’s official communications are significant as ‘political language … is not simply an instrument for describing events, but is a part of events, strongly shaping their meaning and the political roles officials and mass publics see themselves as playing’.80 Narratives around negative histories not only are an attempt at persuasion and legitimisation in the eyes of the intended international audience but also serve to structure the roles, and thereby possible actions, for China.

In order to trace continuity and change in the use of strategic narratives that evoke negative histories, this article analyses twenty years of official English transcripts of the CMFA’s ‘regular press conferences’, from the first full year of Hu Jintao’s first term (2003) up to the last year of Xi Jinping’s second term (2022). Analysing English-language outputs instead of Chinese-language ones raises some validity concerns, but as Mochtak and Turcsanyi argue, because they are the English translations of the CMFA, they represent ‘highly authoritative official positions of the Chinese state on given issues in the way it wants them to be communicated to the world’ in the dominant global language, English.81 These CMFA events are fronted by a rotating roster of spokespeople, many of whom have, in recent years, gained celebrity (in China) and notoriety (outside China), especially Hua Chunying and former representative Zhao Lijian, for their direct and sometimes confrontable approach, dubbed ‘wolf warrior’ diplomacy.82 The content produced during these events is used for both domestic and international public diplomacy efforts via specific social media accounts (most notably on Weibo and Twitter).83 Therefore, these regular events offer insight into the middle ground between the two-level game inherent to public diplomacy and, consequently, provide an interesting snapshot of how China’s diplomatic language has evolved.

Mochtak and Turcsanyi’s ‘Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Press Conferences Corpus (CMFA PressCon)’ was used as the main data source for the quantitative and qualitative discourse analysis. This data set provides a corpus of all CMFA press conferences between 2002 and 2022.84 The data was adjusted to NVivo – a popular Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis Software – to undertake the analysis. The identification of broader related themes and specific narrow references to past events emerged from both a close reading of evocations of history and the use of the word tree tool, which can delineate relationships between the focal terminology and associated lexicon. This revealed not only frequency change but the particular ‘past-reference’ points being symbolically deployed. It should also be observed that these do not include indirect references to the past to indicate continuance and stability towards a particular position or issue, which is one of the most common uses of history found in political rhetoric in democratic governments.85 In the CMFA text, this appeared in statements such as ‘China never’, ‘China has always’ used to indicate consistency in adherence to international agreements, or long-term positions such as the principles of peaceful coexistence and the opposition to hegemony. However, this particular form is a persuading rhetoric and does not evoke moments of history symbolically and so was excluded from the results.

6 Analysing the Diplomatic Press Conferences of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Starting with a general examination of the uses of the word ‘history’ and its main stem words ‘historic’, ‘historical’ and ‘historically’, the data clearly shows that mentions of history have markedly increased since Xi Jinping took office in 2013, noticeably peaking in the last five years of the examined period, that is, 2018-2022, which coincides with Xi’s second term (see Fig. 1). There were 1269 mentions of history in CMFA press conferences between 2018 and 2022, with 2021 registering the single most for a year with 444, although part of this was likely due to an increase in total press conferences per year. The 2013-2017 period totalled 982 mentions of history, while Hu Jintao’s second term, 2008-2012, was the period with the fewest mentions of history, totalling only 169. However, Hu’s first term, 2003-2007, amassed 581 mentions of history, with 2005 accounting for 261, more than all single years except 2021 and 2022.

Figure 1
Figure 1

Mentions of history by the CMFA, 2003-2022

Citation: The Hague Journal of Diplomacy 19, 2 (2024) ; 10.1163/1871191x-bja10182

Source: Authors, created from the data of Mochtak and Turcsanyi, n.d.

A closer look at 2005 reveals how ‘history’ can be used for framing actions in positive terms of achievements and how a history of aggression can remain a contested area preventing better relations, but which can also be put to use in negotiations. The year 2005 saw grassroots anti-Japanese protests in China, first prompted by the Japanese Prime Minister’s visits to the contentious Yasukuni Shrine, which were condemned and then leveraged for diplomatic concessions by the Chinese state.86 Outside Japan, positive mentions of history often marked an aspirational moment in China’s relations with another country. For instance, spokesperson Kong Quan stated in early 2005 that ‘we hope in the new historical stage, China and Vietnam can continuously develop our bilateral friendship and expand mutually-beneficial co-operation on the basis of various consensus reached by the leaders of the two countries’. Similar statements were made with regard to China’s relations with India, Russia and the United States.

History was also often used to highlight a moment in the present when positive steps could be taken. The phrases ‘questions/issue left over from history’ and ‘historical leftovers’ was often used when talking about difficult external situations in which the CMFA expressed accompanying optimism about the future trajectory. For example, in 2003, CMFA spokesperson Kong Quan, when responding to issues arising in Sikkim, remarked that ‘the issue of Sikkim is an issue left over from history, and has been there for some time, which cannot be fully settled overnight … the Chinese Government attaches great importance to Prime Minister Vajpayee’s visit’. A similar phrase that was also often used by CMFA spokespeople was to say that other people or countries, particularly Japan, should follow the principle of ‘taking history as a mirror and looking into the future’. Consequently, even when contentious historical moments were recalled, it was mostly accompanied by a desire to work towards a positive future. Such evocations of history peaked in Hu’s first term and although a small revival occurred in Xi’s first term, by the conclusion of Xi’s second term they were scarcely used.

Positive associations with the term history continued in the 2018-2022 period. In 2018, mentions of the word ‘history’ typically acknowledge achievements such as China’s development trajectory or ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ as well as enduring aspects of a ‘friendly’ bilateral relationship between China and a partner. History was often evoked as evidence to lend moral authority or other legitimacy to China’s position, for instance in specific references to China being on the ‘right side of history’. Moreover, history features as evidence of the suitability, in the case of China, of particular policies, or the unsuitability of those taken by others, in the phrase ‘history has proven’. The 100th anniversary of the CPC in 2021 was also marked as a positive milestone achievement. The reference to ‘friendly history’, to denote a history of strong bilateral friendship with another country, was still occasionally used. One interesting uptick of a narrow use of positive history was the evocation of the Bandung Conference, which was mentioned twenty times in 2022. While Bandung is presented as a positive moment in history where China was part of a non-Western group of countries that asserted a more positive vision for international relations, Bandung was typically highlighted to shed light on negative developments in the contemporary setting. It should be noted that there are also a number of neutral uses, mainly in 2020 with aspects of pandemic-related immigration such as ‘travel history’.

Over the twenty years, Japan consistently attracted attention as the object of negative attachments to the word history and the recall of specific inglorious events. The use of ‘history of aggression’ and ‘comfort women’ was more frequent in the 2013-2017 period than in the 2018-2022 period. While not wholly negative in framing, it was mostly Japan who was urged to learn ‘lessons from history’, with more occurrences in the 2013-2017 period than any other. Like 2004 and 2005, the years 2014 and 2015 saw particularly frequent mentions of Japan’s historical misdeeds, largely as a product of China’s anger at Japan’s education authorities for introducing historical textbooks that downplayed the extent of Imperial Japan’s expansionism in Asia. For example, in 2014, CMFA spokesperson Qin Gang remarked:

Japan should honestly face up to and reflect upon its militarist history of aggression and make a clean break with militarism. We urge the Japanese side to adopt a correct attitude towards historical matters, stop provocative behaviors and win back the trust of its Asian neighbors.

Compared with Japan, there were significantly fewer evocations of negative history prior to Xi’s second term with regard to other countries.

Taken overall, however, the last five years of data undoubtedly illustrate a seeping of negative history into the CMFA’s diplomatic language and a broadening to other international actors. Unlike in previous eras in which Japan was singled out, spokespeople increasingly evoked negative histories in reference to the US, and to a lesser degree the UK, Australia, Canada and Germany. Commonly used as a reactive delegitimising strategy to external criticism over the Xinjiang labour camps and UN accusations of human rights abuses, the greater frequency of this use of negative history in 2021 and 2022 corresponds with the release of reports directed by journalists’ questions.

Broader historical themes such as ‘colonialism’, ‘imperialism’ and ‘empire’ were likewise deployed to frame the actions mainly of Japan, the US and the UK as outdated and situated in historical injustice and inequality. Peaking in 2021, phrases such as ‘legacy of colonialism’ and empire (most frequent is the metaphorical use as ‘empire of hackers’) are descriptors more commonly attached to the US. Colonialism proves a historical resource to be drawn upon to delegitimise criticism. The spokespeople turn to the violence of British and German colonialism in Africa to recall the former brutality and use of camps during their colonial rule. Frequently referenced was the UK’s lack of democratic reform in Hong Kong in periods of colonial rule to push back at criticism over Hong Kong politics, and likewise, Japanese ‘colonial rule’ evoked Korean forced labour. For example, in 2021 in response to a joint statement by the G7’s foreign ministers (plus the EU’s high representative) CMFA spokesperson Zhao Lijian remarked that:

During the 150-plus years of colonial rule by the UK, Hong Kong residents have always been suppressed by the British government, with no democracy or human rights to speak of. Why is it that the G7 members paid no attention to Hong Kong’s human rights and democracy back then?

Several of the uses are deployed to distinguish the character of China as distinctly different from that of the US. For instance, in strengthening bonds with other post-colonial states of Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) the spokesperson remarked that ‘both China and LAC countries endured sufferings of Western colonial plunder in history’.

Specific past events that recall the darker aspects of history are used as a tu quoque narrative strategy against the US and other Western powers (see Table 1). In this, the mistreatment of ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples is a key narrative strategy for deflecting criticism of China’s own treatment of ethnic minorities. Directed at the US is ‘westward expansion’ and the recollection of the devastation of the Native American population and its remaining effects (mentions: four in 2019, eleven in 2020, 66 in 2021 and 56 in 2022), as well as its history of slavery and child labour – including specific examples such as the Tulsa race massacre (eight times in 2021 and one time in 2022). For instance, CMFA spokesperson Hua Chunying commented on the death of a Chinese citizen in a mass shooting in the US in March 2021 by stating that ‘it’s been 58 years since Dr Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, however, George Floyd still “can’t breathe’’’. Furthermore, historical examples of US military interventionism are also used to indicate the US is a threat to global stability through the repeated fact that the US has not been at war in only sixteen years of its 250-year history (four times in both 2020 and 2021 and six times in 2022).

Table 1
Table 1

Instances of historical references in CMFA regular press conferences, 2003-2022

Citation: The Hague Journal of Diplomacy 19, 2 (2024) ; 10.1163/1871191x-bja10182

Source: Authors, created from the data of Mochtak and Turcsanyi, n.d.

Recalling these historical moments presents alternative representations of national character. In spokesperson responses, the label ‘dark history’ is used with respect to both the US and Japan for former state secret activities such as biochemical weapons development (the experimentation of Japan’s Unit 731 from the Sino-Japanese War is recalled nine times in 2021) and cyber security and intelligence gathering. As well as the ‘history of aggression’ and a memory of the comfort women abused during the war, reminders of Imperial Japan’s wartime exploitation and forced labour also appear. The national histories are described as stained with blood, for which the CMFA spokesperson calls on the US, Japan and other nations to show remorse and reflect. These representations serve as reminders of ‘inglorious’ moments in history but also to position China in a higher moral position – despite accusations around the education camps in Xinjiang. The characterisation of other nations’ history is significant as history holds power for the Chinese side. Harking back to the civilisational discourse, power is embedded in the characterisation of China being a continuous political entity with seniority, evident in the response in 2020 about the US, ‘renowned scholars worldwide note that it’s arrogant and preposterous for a country with a history of less than 250 years to believe that it can change a major country with a political civilisation of more than 4,000 years’. Longevity not only serves to push back at any attempts to school China but also reorders the international system by placing China in a senior position.

As China was cast on the ‘right side of history’, so too history was used to produce negative rhetorical sentiment and delegitimise other actors. Japan and the US primarily were on the ‘wrong side of history’. Then US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s rhetoric on China as well as ‘anti-China’ actors would be consigned to the ‘dustbin of history’. While not exclusively negative, it was mainly the US and Japan who were directed towards ‘lessons of history’ for redemptive purposes (this peaked with eleven cases in 2022).

More evidence of the increased use of negative history by the CMFA in recent times can also be found in the use of the phrase ‘Cold War mentality’ – sometimes called ‘mindset’ or ‘thinking’. This phrase has been in use in China since (at least) the 1990s and while it has become something of a slogan that is uttered anytime China needs to criticise perceived ‘hegemonism and power politics’, it is a narrative as it clearly evokes a historical period.87 However, between 2013 and 2017, these terms were only used sporadically by the CMFA. The use of these terms saw a noticeable uptick in 2018 and 2019 – usually as a short and sharp rebuke against the US – but by 2021 it had increased three-fold and continued to grow in 2022. The accusation that an actor was suffering from a Cold War mentality or mindset was typically directed at the US but also at Japan, Australia, the UK and, increasingly, anyone critical of China such as NATO, especially following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022. One instance of evoking negative history in 2021 recalled the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999 by NATO forces and the ‘debt of blood’. Similarly, the phrase ‘colonial mentality’ – used to evoke misdeeds committed by imperial powers (especially the British Empire) during the 19th and 20th centuries – was also increasingly used from 2020 onwards, albeit in far smaller numbers. Thus, Cold War mentality and colonial mentality were employed to contrast China’s focus on international development and co-operation with that of others, who were cast as ideologically blinkered and having an outdated zero-sum mindset.

Evocation of China’s own negative history of the period of national humiliation was more consistently evident throughout the twenty years than other forms of negative history mentioned above, although the last period still experienced the greatest frequency. Instead of using negative history to shape meanings around other powers as immoral, this is used to position China’s revival as a great power and to mark it passing a point of no return. Terms such as ‘unequal treaty’, ‘Qing dynasty’, ‘Eight-Power Allied Forces’ and ‘peace conference’ of Paris following the First World War are used to remind those former colonial states of their imperial aggressions and injustices towards China, even prompting one spokesperson to suggest that they ‘hope the US officials can learn Chinese History’. However, these mentions were few (eight instances in total) and their use was complemented by strong iterations that, despite the negative experiences of the past, present-day China is much stronger and can no longer be subjugated. This is evidenced by the more frequent use of catchphrases which stated that China is no longer the country it was ‘100’ or ‘120’ years ago. This phraseology re-emerged in 2020 (after being used in 2013) and was increasingly used in 2021 (three times) and 2022 (five times). An example of this is the comment by the CMFA spokesperson Hua Chunying:

Today’s China is by no means what it was 120 years ago. Gone are the days when the US and Western countries thought they could force China to yield, compromise and surrender through rumors, lies, slander, attack and containment. They may not have the ability to choke China and will eventually pay a heavy price for their foolishness and arrogance.

Such evocation of the century of humiliation is used instrumentally to assert China’s strength and acts to bolster China’s position towards international events as well as remaining relevant to the domestic audience for its nationalist sentiment and self-confidence. The emergence of national humiliation in negative history discourses in 2020 is concurrent with the discussion around ‘wolf warrior’ diplomacy. In response to a journalist’s question on ‘wolf warrior diplomacy’, the CMFA pointed out that ‘bullying’ tactics, such as those used in the past, could no longer work on China and ‘we fight back’ against accusations for China’s interests. To underscore this point, the CMFA made use of the historical legacy of Mao Zedong as an anti-hegemonic leader, especially his quote ‘we will not attack unless we are attacked, if we are attacked, we will certainly counterattack’.

7 Discussion

The analysis of twenty years of CMFA press conferences demonstrated not only that history is increasingly evoked by the CMFA, but also that it increasingly draws from negative history in the formulation of its strategic narratives. During Hu’s two terms and Xi’s first term, history was often used to commemorate a positive relationship or positive trend. Even when history was used in relation to geopolitical tensions, save for diplomatic interactions with Japan, it was typically employed in a way that tried to use history to point to a more positive future. However, in Xi’s second term, positive evocations of history as ‘leftovers’ to be put behind for improved relationships started to dwindle, and more negative evocations of history began to dominate. Indeed, allusions to more positive aspects of China’s history, which had traditionally been the backbone of its historical statecraft, were no longer as dominant in CMFA press conferences.

China’s increased use of negative historical statecraft also offers conceptual insights into practical examples of how negative history can be deployed in a state’s strategic narratives. Two main types of negative historical statecraft were observed: evocation of negative history that had affected China directly and evocation of negative history (unrelated to China) perpetrated by an adversarial power.

Regarding the first type, China’s evocation of its experience of dark history was typically undertaken as a way of legitimising the Chinese Party-State while also delegitimising the position of foreign Others. This negative discursive strategy, as Callahan observed when analysing China’s soft power, operates to produce positive meanings around China by juxtaposing the historical misdeeds of others perpetrated against China.88 As the data demonstrated, China’s reiterations of historical victimhood at the hands of Imperial Japan were consistently deployed by the CMFA throughout the twenty years, while evocations of Western imperialism (especially the century of humiliation) were used more recently. This is a trend that Chang also identified, arguing that ‘Japan’s role as the evil “other” in official Chinese discourse reduced and subsumed into a broader set of external forces threatening China’s rejuvenation’.89

Therefore, while history is a resource for the state in its historical statecraft, it also follows that negative histories can be instrumentalised and serve as elements of national imaginaries in a relative position to the rest of the world. One notable observation was the use of the slogan ‘China is not the China of 100 years ago’ (later altered to 120 years), which was deployed to make a historical comparison between the present day and the 1901 Boxer Protocol meetings – in that China could no longer be bullied as it was in the past. Indeed, the use of negative history was almost always done to ontologically challenge the present – to show the positive ways in which the CPC has bolstered and strengthened China and that China is now a great power that deserves respect. The shift away from victimhood to deploying the past as a tool for assertiveness follows Xi’s call for confidence in the socialist path and China’s culture and ‘to tell China’s story well’ in public diplomacy. The ‘China Story’ now makes use of negative history to assist the Party-State in achieving its international as well as domestic goals.

Regarding the second type, it became noticeable that it was not just cases of China’s negative history that were being used. The CMFA also increasingly evoked negative histories of other states, even when these histories had nothing to do with China. Rather, these were historical events or actions that Beijing deemed as being a source of shame for that country. Typically, when responding to criticism from abroad, the CFMA spokespeople selectively pointed to black marks in that country’s own history and then used that as a springboard to provide a rebuttal, acting not only as tu quoque and ad hominem lines of argumentation but also positioning China’s relative moral superiority. As Mayer observed, China’s use of the grandeur of history in the BRI was actively narrating an alternative history ‘to remodel China’s identity and reconstruct global history’.90 Thus, arguably, the re-remembering of the darker histories of other states not only delegitimises their positions but also presents an alternative way of understanding the history and thereby the national identities of Others too.

Similar to how China’s experience of negative history as a victim is used, the evocation of another country’s negative history as a coloniser or its historical abuses against minorities were deployed in order to paint China in a more positive light and to shift the focus of contemporary criticism of China to the previous wrongdoings of those countries. Thus, this is negative history that acts as a contrasting marker between a time in the past and the present, which serves to shape meanings around the speaker and, by extension, convey their perspective of Others. This can be a negative history that emphasises change and acts as a marker of ‘no return’, often to empowering effect. Conversely, it can be deployed to emphasise the inability to change, or the lack of change, from a point in the past, for example in calling attention to the rigidity of Others such as in the case of ‘Cold War mentality’. In this aspect, negative history is a resource for positioning change, instead of continuity, within strategic narratives as a dynamic force for progress. This differs from positive uses of history that emphasise continuity for strengthening alliances.

Portrayals of history by the CMFA were used, in part, to engender a collective sense of unity through shared experiences and socially reinforce emotions such as pride and shame. The ability to show and evoke emotion is both a persuading tool for public diplomacy and constitutive of the state itself contingent on other international actors.91 Ultimately, negative representations of history – such as tu quoque retorts – deployed in China’s public diplomacy channels go further than just delegitimising specific arguments and serve as a strategic narrative shaping meanings around China in relation to other international actors.

The gradual seeping of negative history into China’s diplomacy – something that appears to be quite pervasive in Xi’s second term – is a demonstration that China’s strategic narratives are irrevocably changing. Assessing why this has happened goes beyond the analytical scope of this article but, nevertheless, warrants some discussion here. Firstly, research from social psychology and political communication has shown that audiences react and remember more when news and information is negative rather than positive.92 Consequently, negative information has greater resonance with audiences. This follows even in political contexts when information is presented in positive and negative frames for in- and out-groups.93 These insights are pertinent for considering external relations and the efficacy of attempting to persuade members of the out-group when it comes to shaping views. Beyond the conceptual realm, and borrowing from the two-level game lens, this article finds two key changes (beyond the obvious personality change between Hu and Xi) as important drivers of China’s increasing use of negative history: rising nationalism at home and the increasing number of geopolitical tensions abroad.

Domestically, rising nationalism in China is a well-documented phenomenon. Given that diplomacy is significantly contingent on the domestic politics of a state, rising nationalism can have significant diplomatic repercussions. In China’s case, this nationalism is extremely defensive and sensitive, highlighting the trauma of China’s past humiliations but also its current state of strength. Thus, as these nationalist narratives grow and become more influential, they clash with the hitherto dominant narratives China has been pushing abroad, such as being peaceful, co-operative and aspirational. Therefore, the switch from emphasising more positive to more negative history observed in this article is likely a product, in part, of the more challenging domestic setting the CMFA has to traverse when pushing external strategic narratives.

Externally, China has found itself involved in an increasing number of geopolitical rifts in recent years compared with the 2000s and early 2010s. In Hu’s two terms, Japan was the main source of geopolitical tension and typically, when China used negative history, it did so to rebuke Japan. In Xi’s two terms, geopolitical tensions have also arisen with the US, the UK and Australia, and all three of these have experienced targeted uses of negative history by the CMFA. An initial read of this change might be that China has shelved emphasising its rise as peaceful and guided by the Confucian principle of a ‘harmonious world’ due to increasing geopolitical tensions. Indeed, China is observably more confident and assertive under Xi Jinping and it has not shied away from taking strong stances. However, negative history is often used to portray others as aggressive and irrational while positioning China as more peaceful and rational.

In conclusion, negative history has emerged as an important raw material for China to signal in its strategic narratives to the wider world that it can no longer be bullied and that it deserves respect. However, while this might play well in the non-Western world which has also suffered at the hands of Western imperialism, at the same time it potentially leaves an external perception in the West of China wanting revenge for previous wrongdoings. Furthermore, it potentially locks China into a domestic expectation that it will correct the wrongs of the past. Additionally, the shift from positive to negative history likely reduces the long-term aspirational appeal of China as it fails to help China make an ontological case for an alternative to the putative US-led international order. China’s main selling point for international leadership is no longer its historical greatness but rather that it is simply not as bad as the US and other Western countries. While this has had some success as evident in the support China has elicited in its efforts to help mediate the war in Ukraine, such strategic narratives limit the broader appeal of China. Ultimately, expansive and resilient international orders are not created by zero-sum strategic interests alone but also by significant positive-sum normative, cultural and historical factors.94 Furthermore, the embrace of negative history works to cast the US (and the broader West) as the enemy, reducing the ability of China to offer a truly global alternative. Thus, despite China’s efforts to emphasise 2021 as ‘a new historical starting point’ and to reiterate its commitment to promoting international peace, development and co-operation, the increased use of negative history under Xi means the legacies of the century of humiliation, among other historical symbols, will live on in China’s statecraft and guide (and constrain) its efforts to make the most of its international rise.

Bibliography

  • Allen, Ansgar and Roy Goddard. ‘The Domestication of Foucault: Government, Critique, War’. History of the Human Sciences 27 (5) (2014), 26-53. https://doi.org/10.1177/0952695114538990.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Avedian, Vahagn. ‘State Identity, Continuity, and Responsibility: The Ottoman Empire, the Republic of Turkey and the Armenian Genocide’. European Journal of International Law 23 (3) (2012), 797-820. https://doi.org/10.1093/ejil/chs056.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Aydin-Düzgit, Senem and Bahar Rumelili. ‘Discourse Analysis: Strengths and Shortcomings’. All Azimuth: A Journal of Foreign Policy and Peace 8 (2) (2019), 285-305.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Benabdallah, Lina. ‘Spanning Thousands of Miles and Years: Political Nostalgia and China’s Revival of the Silk Road’. International Studies Quarterly 65 (2) (2021), 294-305. https://doi.org/10.1093/isq/sqaa080.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Biersack, John and Shannon O’Lear. ‘The Geopolitics of Russia’s Annexation of Crimea: Narratives, Identity, Silences, and Energy’. Eurasian Geography and Economics 55 (3) (2014), 247-269. https://doi.org/10.1080/15387216.2014.985241.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bjola, Corneliu and Ilan Manor. ‘Revisiting Putnam’s Two-Level Game Theory in the Digital Age: Domestic Digital Diplomacy and the Iran Nuclear Deal’. Cambridge Review of International Affairs 31 (1) (2018), 3-32.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Boydstun, Amber E., Alison Ledgerwood and Jehan Sparks. ‘A Negativity Bias in Reframing Shapes Political Preferences Even in Partisan Contexts’. Social Psychological and Personality Science 10 (1) (2017), 53-61. https://doi.org/10.1177/1948550617733520.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Brands, Hal and Jeremi Suri. The Power of the Past (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2015).

  • Callahan, William A.History, Identity, and Security: Producing and Consuming Nationalism in China’. Critical Asian Studies 38 (2) (2006), 179-208.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Callahan, William A.Identity and Security in China: The Negative Soft Power of the China Dream’. Politics 35 (3-4) (2015), 216-229.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Campbell, David. Writing Security: United States Foreign Policy and the Politics of Identity (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Carrai, Maria Adele. ‘Chinese Political Nostalgia and Xi Jinping’s Dream of Great Rejuvenation’. International Journal of Asian Studies 18 (1) (2021), 7-25.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Chaban, Natalia, Alister Miskimmon and Ben O’Loughlin. ‘Understanding EU Crisis Diplomacy in the European Neighbourhood: Strategic Narratives and Perceptions of the EU in Ukraine, Israel and Palestine’. European Security 28 (3) (2019), 235-250.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Chan, Ying-kit. ‘Cultural Heritage on China’s 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road: The Case of Guangdong Province’. China Report 54 (2) (2018), 159-174. https://doi.org/10.1177/0009445518761078.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Chang, Vincent K. L.China’s New Historical Statecraft: Reviving the Second World War for National Rejuvenation’. International Affairs 98 (3) (2022), 1053-1069.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Clarke, David, Anna Cento Bull and Marianna Deganutti. ‘Soft Power and Dark Heritage: Multiple Potentialities’. International Journal of Cultural Policy 23 (6) (2017), 660-674.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Clarke, David and Paweł Duber. ‘Polish Cultural Diplomacy and Historical Memory: The Case of the Museum of the Second World War in Gdańsk’. International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society 33 (2020), 49-66.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Clarke, Michael. ‘The Belt and Road Initiative: China’s New Grand Strategy?’. Asia Policy 24 (2017), 71-79.

  • Cohen, Anthony P. Symbolic Construction of Community (London: Routledge, 1985).

  • Cohen, Paul A. Speaking to History: The Story of King Goujian in Twentieth-Century China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Crossley, Pamela Kyle. ‘Xi’s China Is Steamrolling Its Own History’. Foreign Policy, 29January2019. https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/01/29/xis-china-is-steamrolling-its-own-history/.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Deacon, Chris. ‘(Re) Producing the “History Problem”: Memory, Identity and the Japan–South Korea Trade Dispute’. The Pacific Review 35 (5) (2022), 789-820.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • d’Hooghe, Ingrid. ‘China’s Public Diplomacy Goes Political’. The Hague Journal of Diplomacy 16 (2-3) (2021), 299-322.

  • Doosje, Bertjan, Nyla R. Branscombe, Russell Spears and Antony S. R. Manstead. ‘Guilty by Association: When One’s Group Has a Negative History’. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 75 (4) (1998), 872.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Duara, Prasenjit. Rescuing History from the Nation (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1995).

  • Duara, Prasenjit. ‘The Discourse of Civilization and Pan-Asianism’. Journal of World History 12 (1) (2001), 99-130.

  • Edelman, Murray. ‘Language, Myths and Rhetoric’. Society 12 (5) (1975), 14-21. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02699914.

  • Edney, Kingsley. ‘Soft Power and the Chinese Propaganda System’. Journal of Contemporary China 21 (78) (2012), 899-914.

  • Fallon, Tracey. ‘Chinese Fever and Cool Heads: Confucius Institutes and China’s National Identities’. China Media Research 10 (1) (2014), 35-47.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Fallon, Tracey and Nicholas Ross Smith. ‘The Two-Level Game of China’s Public Diplomacy Efforts’. In Communicating China: Past, Present and Future, eds. Xiaoling Zhang and Corey Schultz (London: Routledge, 2022), 63-78.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Foot, Rosemary. ‘Remembering the Past to Secure the Present: Versailles Legacies in a Resurgent China’. International Affairs 95 (1) (2019), 143-160.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Giddens, Anthony. Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age (Cambridge: Polity, 1991).

  • Graham, Sarah Ellen. ‘Emotion and Public Diplomacy: Dispositions in International Communications, Dialogue, and Persuasion1’. International Studies Review 16 (4) (2014), 522-539. https://doi.org/10.1111/misr.12156.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gries, Peter Hays. China’s New Nationalism: Pride, Politics, and Diplomacy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004).

  • Hubbert, Jennifer. ‘Back to the Future: The Politics of Culture at the Shanghai Expo’. International Journal of Cultural Studies 20 (1) (2015), 48-64. https://doi.org/10.1177/1367877915597495.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Jakobson, Linda and Ryan Manuel. ‘How Are Foreign Policy Decisions Made in China?’. Asia & the Pacific Policy Studies 3 (1) (2016), 101-110. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1002/app5.121.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kaufman, Alison Adcock. ‘The “Century of Humiliation,” Then and Now: Chinese Perceptions of the International Order’. Pacific Focus 25 (1) (2010), 1-33.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kazharski, Aliaksei. ‘Civilizations as Ontological Security?’. Problems of Post-Communism 67 (1) (2020), 24-36. https://doi.org/10.1080/10758216.2019.1591925.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kirkwood, Steve. ‘History in the Service of Politics: Constructing Narratives of History during the European Refugee “Crisis”’. Political Psychology 40 (2) (2019), 297-313.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mälksoo, Maria. ‘Militant Memocracy in International Relations: Mnemonical Status Anxiety and Memory Laws in Eastern Europe’. Review of International Studies 47 (4) (2021), 489-507.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mayer, Maximilian. ‘China’s Historical Statecraft and the Return of History’. International Affairs 94 (6) (2018), 1217-1235.

  • McClelland, Andrew G.Heritage Diplomacy’. In International Encyclopedia of Human Geography, ed. Audrey Kobayashi (Oxford: Elsevier, 2020), 381-385. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-08-102295-5.10994-1.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Miskimmon, Alister, Ben O’Loughlin and Laura Roselle. Strategic Narratives: Communication Power and the New World Order (Abingdon: Routledge, 2013).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Miskimmon, Alister, Ben O’Loughlin and Laura Roselle. ‘Strategic Narrative: 21st Century Diplomatic Statecraft’. Revista Mexicana de Política Exterior 113 (2018), 1-19.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mitter, Rana. China’s Good War: How World War II Is Shaping a New Nationalism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2020).

  • Mochtak, Michal and Richard Q Turcsanyi. ‘Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Press Conferences Corpus (CMFA PressCon)’. Harvard Dataverse, n.d. https://doi.org/doi:10.7910/DVN/BAKGET.

  • Mochtak, Michal and Richard Q Turcsanyi. ‘Studying Chinese Foreign Policy Narratives: Introducing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Press Conferences Corpus’. Journal of Chinese Political Science 26 (4) (2021), 743-761. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11366-021-09762-3.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Nathan, Andrew J. and Boshu Zhang. ‘“A Shared Future for Mankind”: Rhetoric and Reality in Chinese Foreign Policy under Xi Jinping’. Journal of Contemporary China 31 (133) (2022), 57-71. https://doi.org/10.1080/10670564.2021.1926091.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pamment, James. ‘Strategic Narratives in US Public Diplomacy: A Critical Geopolitics’. Popular Communication 12 (1) (2014), 48-64.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Panossian, Razmik. ‘The Past as Nation: Three Dimensions of Armenian Identity’. Geopolitics 7 (2) (2002), 121-146.

  • Powers, John. History as Propaganda: Tibetan Exiles versus the People’s Republic of China (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

  • Prantl, Jochen and Evelyn Goh. ‘Rethinking Strategy and Statecraft for the Twenty-First Century of Complexity: A Case for Strategic Diplomacy’. International Affairs 98 (2) (2022), 443-469.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pu, Xiaoyu. Rebranding China: Contested Status Signaling in the Changing Global Order (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2019). https://doi.org/doi:10.1515/9781503607866.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Putin, Vladimir. ‘Address by the President of the Russian Federation’. President of Russia, 2022. http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/67828.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Putnam,