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Conclusion Cross-Cultural Perspectives one of the most remarkable things about the Goujian story as it has operated in China from the late Qing to the present has been its versatility , its all-purpose character. When I first encountered the story, it was in connection with the humiliating experience of foreign imperialism; indeed, the more I read in materials from the late Qing and republican years, the clearer it seemed that this was one of China’s premier nationalist narratives at the time.1 It counseled hope when things were at their bleakest. It was an optimistic story that promised national success, so long as the Chinese people did not forget the humiliations of the past and worked tirelessly to build up the country so that it could exact revenge for the wrongs it had suªered. When I looked at some of the nationalist myth-stories that have been in- fluential in other societies, however, questions were raised in my mind about my initial supposition. One thing prompting these questions was the peculiarity of the Goujian story as a nationalist narrative. Compare, for example , Goujian’s humiliation after his early defeat with the Serbian defeat at the hands of the Turks in the Battle of Kosovo in 1389. This was a calamitous defeat for the Serbs, marking the fall of an impressive Serbian independent state and, after a second defeat at Kosovo, the inception of a fourhundred -year-long condition of vassalship under the Ottomans, an alien society with an alien religion. More than six centuries later, the memory of 2 2 8 this battle and the year in which it occurred remained so vivid among Serbs—it had been kept alive by the Serbian Orthodox Church—that it was possible for an ambitious Serbian political leader, Slobodan Milosevic, by making a cynical appeal to racial hatred, to exploit it to tragic eªect.2 Now turn the clock back two thousand five hundred years to Yue’s defeat at the hands of Wu. This was not a case of a Chinese state being vanquished by a non-Chinese one. In fact, a lot of scholars do not regard either Yue or Wu in the fifth century b.c.e. as being unambiguously “Chinese.”3 When all is said and done, the emphasis in the Goujian story is, first, on the humiliation of defeat, pure and simple, and second, on the way in which Goujian responded to this humiliation. In other words, what was at issue at the time was not national pride but personal honor, although of course later tellings of the story blurred this distinction completely. Another aspect of the Goujian story’s oddness as a nationalist narrative is that far from being an exclusively Chinese cultural resource, it has also been influential in other parts of East Asia, including countries that at one point or another have engaged in wars with China. Thus, Vietnam, with a long tradition of resistance against its much larger northern neighbor, identi fied itself historically with Yue; and when the Ming occupation was brought to an end in 1428, the great scholar-patriot Nguyen Trai marked the occasion in his Binh Ngo Dai Cao (A Great Proclamation on the Pacification of Wu) by equating China with Wu.4 The story was also alluded to in late Meiji Japan at times of national crisis, such as the Tripartite Intervention (1895) following the Sino-Japanese War of 1894 and again during the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905); both were instances in which Japan (like the state of Yue) faced much larger adversaries.5 Literary references to the Goujian story also made regular appearances in the writings of East Asians with classical Chinese training. Thus, in the 1870s, when the influential Meiji intellectual Fukuzawa Yukichi (1835–1901) wanted to criticize his compatriots who were so smitten with the West that they copied even its faults, he compared them to Dong Shi, the famously unattractive Yue woman who knitted her brows in imitation of Xi Shi and in the process only made herself uglier. Fukuzawa, significantly, did not have to explain the Dong Shi proverb to readers, who at the time could be counted on instinctively to know what he was referring to.6 The point, in brief, is that although the Goujian story was part of the Chinese cultural tradition, this tradition did not belong solely to China; intellectuals from elsewhere in East Asia were until quite recently also steeped...


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