Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
thesis_access.pdf (663.09 kB)

Chinese Narratives of "National Humiliation" and Japan's Role in the Construction of China's National Identity, 1915 to the early 2000s

Download (663.09 kB)
posted on 2021-11-14, 05:02 authored by Li, Boyang

The sense of national humiliation in China derives from a huge psychological gap between a glorious Empire and a peripheral nation-state which invaded by foreign imperialists in the 19th century and the early 20th century. This gap let Chinese people tend to define the period from 1840s to 1940s as the “Century of National Humiliation”. Although, Chinese people suffer a lot during this “Century”, direct experience and the meaning attached it are not the same. Apart from history itself, this thesis argues that narratives of national humiliation are significant in constructing China’s national identity. In this sense, it will focus on China’s humiliation narratives in different periods, and try to find out what kind of role Japan plays in the construction of China’s national identity. In the first place, this thesis will focus on the narratives of humiliation/victim in different periods of China since its popularization in 1915, and try to give a comprehensive picture of the origin and evolution of this narrative. More specifically, it will examine Chinese humiliation narratives in the following three main periods chronologically: the origins and evolution of “national humiliation” in the pre-1949 era, the absence of “national humiliation” from the 1950s to the 1980s, and the reinvention of “national humiliation” in the post-1989 era. It argues that the narratives of the national past help construct China’s identities in different periods with different meanings. In the second place, this thesis examines not only the discourse of humiliation per se, but also the role that Japan assumes in both victim narratives and the none-victim narratives, and will utilize a social “self/other” approach to analyze Japan’s role in the construction of Chinese national identity. Overall, looking back on Chinese humiliation narratives in three main periods, this thesis concludes that China's national humiliation discourse is an integral part of the shaping of national identity and Japan plays an important role in this process. It also finds out that there is no certain consistency in the interpretations of the national humiliation throughout the last 100 years in China. The national humiliation discourse had once disappeared in China during Mao’s era from 1950s to 1980s. However, whether humiliation discourse dominants Chinese civil society or not, the ruling governments always play an essential role in shaping the nation’s identity. Besides, Japan has been an indispensable “other” in China’s construction of national identity. The popularization and intensification of humiliation discourse in China have always associated with anti-Japanese sentiments. Therefore, in Chinese context, Japan always assumes the role as an “enemy” when the humiliation/victim narrative dominates the civil society.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

International Relations

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of International Relations

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

950502 Understanding Asia's Past

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations


Huang, Xiaoming