China’s leaders often invoke the “century of humiliation” at the hands of foreigners as a means to promote national unity and garner public support for China’s return to great power status.
An historical metaphor for outside intervention is the vivid image of foreigners “dividing China up like a melon.” As Rudolf Wagner explains, however, this metaphor has a more complex history, which highlights a continuing reverse-engineering of history by China’s leaders for political gain.
Rudolf Wagner is Senior Professor in the Institute for Sinology at the University of Heidelberg, Germany and Center Associate at the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Harvard University. His research spans Sinology, history, philosopher, and literature, and he has published extensively on topics ranging from Laozi to Buddhism, Republican China, and contemporary fiction.
The “Harvard on China” podcast is hosted by James Evans at the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Harvard University.