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Is the “century of humiliation” a myth in modern Chinese historiography?

Posted: April 06, 2016

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The century of humiliation resulted from the break of Opium War. In June 1840, after negotiations breakdown with the Qing Dynasty over the trade of Opium in the Chinese territory, the military force of the British took control of Canton and entered the Central China. After two years, The British Government peace treaty resulted into vital concessions: widening of new trade ports, Hong Kong control and British subjects extraterritoriality in China. The subsequent events resulted into the “century of humiliation”.

The “century of humiliation” is still relevant in the present society because, its rippling effects are relevant in the modern history. This period characterized a long era of pre-eminent civilization where China found itself behind the superior technology of the western countries. During this period the country underwent serious economic imbalance after the loss in opium wars. The period was characterized by ceaseless wars, revolutions and occupations. This did not end until the Communist Party in China attained victory in 1949 (Notes 1).

The century of humiliation did not actually end in 1949, but it continued with the Chinese Communist party. The period continued, especially, after the British attacked the Chinese summer Palace leading to a huge loss of artifacts that were very vital for the Chinese government. The “humiliation” narrative was not a Chinese creation, but it was rather a British perception on how to degrade the People’s Republic of China. Today after almost a century and a half, the Communist Party still preserves the Summer Palace that reminds them of British destruction.

The “century of humiliation” is still relevant in the modern society. The economic state of the Chinese was reduced during this period. The effects of the war are still evident in the social-political system of government in the Chinese Republic. The rippling war effects on the Chinese are still evident in connection to its lagging economic state in comparison to the West. The Chinese believe that the war sabotaged their economic gains and their ability to equally participate in economic transformations.  The long century of humiliation created an economic trend that later resulted into poverty, unemployment and weak military. In the modern society, China is still faced with vast challenges such as increased unemployment, high population and poverty. 

Unfair trade led to a complete deterioration of the country’s economy.  The country has, therefore been pushed to strive as hard as possible to build its economic base and compete fairly in the world market. Some of the advanced technology trends that are currently set by the China are as a result of the need to compete fairly with some of the world developed countries.  The need for hard work to propel the country to its anticipated state has prompted drastic changes in the technological and economic trends (INTR 47).

The effects of war have transformed the Chinese belief on war. They believe that war is the core reason for economic dilapidation, political strife and poor governance. It is for this purpose that the country has stayed firm on its political agendas by not engaging into decisions that are considered bipartisan and likely to compromise on trade relations.  The Chinese champion for trade and how it can create opportunities for its citizens.  In conclusion, the “century of humiliation” in Chinese historiography is relevant in the modern society since it is considered the major drive for most political, social and economic beliefs.

Works cited

INTR 2012 China’s New Approaches to Asia Pacific Security

Notes. The Impact of the so-called "century of humiliation" on China's foreign policy

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