Paul A. Cohen

in Speaking to History

Published by University of California Press

Published in print March 2008 | ISBN: 9780520255791
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520942394 | DOI:

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One of the most remarkable things about the Goujian story as it has operated in China from the late Qing dynasty to the present has been its versatility. It was linked to the humiliating experience of foreign imperialism; indeed, it seemed that this was one of China's premier nationalist narratives at the time. The emphasis in the Goujian story is, first, on the humiliation of defeat, and second, on the way in which Goujian responded to this humiliation. 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 Vietnam and Japan. The similarities between China and the United States are important, but there are also significant differences. The Masada story's importance for the Jews is very different in both functional and substantive terms from that of the Goujian story for the Chinese. The Goujian story, and the root metaphors it embodies, forms an undercurrent of meaning flowing beneath the surface of conventionally recounted history.

Keywords: China; Qing dynasty; Goujian; imperialism; humiliation; Masada story; history; East Asia; United States; Jews

Chapter.  5945 words. 

Subjects: Asian History

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