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two The Burden of National Humiliation Late Qing and Republican Years patriotic chinese in the late Qing and republican periods referred endlessly to the humiliations (guochi) their country experienced at the hands of foreign imperialism beginning with the Opium War. Indeed, in the republican era they even established days of national humiliation or shame (guochi ri) to mark the anniversaries of these painful episodes.1 Such days, along with the sensitivity to national humiliation they reflected, constituted a major form of collective remembering and became the implicit or explicit focus of a vast guochi literature. Given the persistence of this open wound— a sense of grievance that not only failed to abate but kept being revisited— it is scarcely surprising that the Goujian story should bulk large in the minds of Chinese throughout these years. the late qing: posing the problem The recurrent pain of national humiliation was one facet of the Chinese scene in the late Qing—and certainly it was the most important—that invited special interest in the Goujian story. But there was another aspect, less well known, that we should at least take note of. This was the widespread sense among Chinese intellectuals that the larger world into which their country had been thrust paralleled the Spring and Autumn (722–481 b.c.e.) and Warring States (403–221 b.c.e.) periods of China’s own history in strik3 6 ing ways.2 One reason for this perception was that from the late Spring and Autumn period until the Qin unification in 221 b.c.e., the Chinese culture area was not coterminous with anything that could properly be called a Chinese state but, rather, was divided up into a number of autonomous political units, much as has been the case with the European culture area in the modern era.3 Another reason was that, as in the Spring and Autumn period and, even more conspicuously, the Warring States period, there was no eªective restraint on the behavior of the individual political units.4 In the world of the late nineteenth century, as it appeared to Chinese observers, might was the ultimate arbiter in interstate relations, not right. The distinguished historian Lei Haizong’s observation on the late Zhou conflict between Wu and Yue is worth noting in this regard. Lei saw Fuchai and Goujian as symbolizing an important shift taking place in the Chinese world at the end of the Spring and Autumn period. Fuchai, justifying his actions with the chivalric values of an earlier day, treated Goujian generously , not killing him and repeatedly resisting Wu Zixu’s advice to obliterate the state of Yue; Goujian, in contrast, foreshadowing the harsher conduct that was to become commonplace in the succeeding Warring States period, availed himself of every conceivable stratagem to deceive his archenemy and, in his single-minded quest for revenge, was not satisfied until Fuchai was dead and the state of Wu had been completely destroyed.5 The parallel between the late Zhou and contemporary world situations would not, in and of itself, have prompted late Qing commentators to look to the Goujian story for guidance. The substance of the saga was all-important . A major theme of the story, as we saw in chapter 1, was Goujian’s fear that the memory of the humiliations he had suªered would fade with time. He therefore took a variety of measures to ensure that this would not happen and managed, through such steps, to overcome the threat of complacency , eventually destroying the state of Wu and becoming the dominant leader of the China of his day. Forgetfulness and indiªerence, however , were not problems amenable to permanent solution. During the late Qing and the early years of the republic, they reemerged in a major way, and commentators, in their desperate eªorts to awaken the Chinese public to this lamentable state of aªairs, looked again and again to the example of Goujian. An early instance of this was an article published in 1904 in the newly founded general magazine Eastern Miscellany (Dongfang zazhi), the central theme of which was China’s unresponsiveness to the repeated humiliations it had experienced at the hands of the foreign powers. The article, written t h e b u r d e n o f n a t i o n a l h u m i l i a t i o n 3 7 by a member of the journal...


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