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Never Forget National Humiliation: Historical Memory in Chinese Politics and Foreign Relations (Contemporary Asia in the World) Hardcover – July 31, 2012

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Product Details

  • Series: Contemporary Asia in the World
  • Hardcover: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (July 31, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231148909
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231148900
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.9 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #417,056 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


A valuable, and often lively, account of a crucial aspect of modern China.

(Gideon Rachman Financial Times)

A future world where the Chinese are at peace with their own past seems a long way away. But that is the place, as this useful study of such a difficult area, where we need to get to.

(Kerry Brown Asian Review of Books)

This work is highly recommended for general readers as well as Asia scholars. It is a must for any serious library collection on Asia. Essential.


A must-read for anyone interested in post-Tiananmen Chinese nationalism.

(Robert Weatherley e-IR)

Wang gives us a critically important book that provides a solid blueprint for understanding contemporary China.

(Daniel Metraux Virginia Review of Asian Studies 1900-01-00)

A timely addition to the fast-expanding literature on Chinese nationalism.

(Xiangfeng Yang Pacific Affairs 1900-01-00)

a vivid and well-informed study of post-Mao nationalism and Chinese foreign policy...

(Edward Friedman China Quarterly 1900-01-00)

A timely and well-researched book, Never Forget National Humiliation qualifies as a landmark in the study of Chinese nationalism.



Zheng Wang's Never Forget National Humiliation presents a powerful, convincing, and timely discussion about one of the most important and sustaining factors shaping China's modern history and its tortuous course of integration into the international community. Based on extensive and solid research, his is a study with critical scholarly values and pivotal contemporary relevance. For those who want a deeper understanding of the Chinese conceptual realm still profoundly penetrated by the Chinese 'victim mentality' in the era of 'China's rise,' this is a book they cannot afford to ignore.

(Chen Jian, The Michael J. Zak Chair of History for U.S.--China Relations, Cornell University)

More About the Author

Dr. Zheng Wang (汪铮)is a Public Policy Scholar at the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He is an Associate Professor in the John C. Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University in New Jersey. He was Jennings Randolph Senior Fellow at United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and is a member of the National Committee on United States-China Relations (NCUSCR). In the 1990s, Zheng Wang served eight years as a research fellow and then as the Deputy Director of Research at one of China's think tanks on international peace and security issues.

(Excerpts from the Preface, Never Forget National Humiliation:)
I grew up in Kunming, the capital city of Yunnan Province in southwestern China. When I was a boy, China had ended its decades-long policy of being a closed society and had begun the process of reform and opening up. I remember the first time I saw Westerners. My friends and I were playing on the street when they passed by. We were so mesmerized by the presence of these strange new people that we could not help but follow them as they explored our city. Soon, we were joined by a large gathering of Chinese children and adults eventually blocking their path. For these Westerners, China was no doubt as much a mystery as they were to us. Certainly, none of us that day, Western or Chinese, could have anticipated what China would look like thirty years later.

Today, I am a professor teaching international relations at a university not far from New York City. In my university, there are more than ten professors just like me, raised in China and having received PhDs in the United States. There are even more students coming from China to attend school here. When my wife and I were buying birthday gifts for our young daughter, we found that most of the toys were labeled "Made in China." No longer separated from the rest of the world, China has become the world's factory. Never before in history have China, the United States, and the rest of the world become so closely linked together as they are today.


When compared to thirty years ago, however, there is one thing that has not fundamentally changed; for most Westerners, China is still a mystery. Being a professor of international relations, my students often ask me about China's future, but I cannot always answer their questions; there are too many variables, too many perspectives, and too much uncertainty.


From a broad perspective, what I try to do in this book is to help people to better understand the Chinese people, their inner world, their motivations, and their intentions.

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Everyone should read.... And pray...
A. Pereira
Highly recommended to the general interest audience who like to read about other countries' internal goings on.
mikey d.
Traditionally "historical memory" books fall somewhere between simple stereotyping, or dry Ph.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Waterman on August 24, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I really liked this book! I was very impressed with Wang's ability to slide between being academically honest and writing as a seasoned storyteller.

Wang shows that he can serve as a true interpreter of Chinese behavior on the international scene. This book forces the reader to ask themselves "what does China want?" and then illuminates the otherwise invisible world of growing up and living in the Chinese world. Traditionally "historical memory" books fall somewhere between simple stereotyping, or dry Ph.D. dissertations- Wang does just the opposite, demonstrating a nuanced and sophisticated understanding of the Chinese domestic and global history as explained through their national education system.

This is an excellent book for anyone that wants to understand more about what the Chinese want, and why they want it.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Kendrick on May 31, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Never Forget National Humiliation (NFNH) argues for the use of historical memory as an explanatory model of Chinese foreign policy and national interests. Zheng Wang "attempt[s] to systematically link the domestic politics surrounding history and memory in China to its international behavior" (8). NFNH gives us an often untold story of modern China: the role of the patriotic education campaign in transforming the destabilized milieu of the Tiananmen tragedy to fervent nationalism among the young and transforming the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from ideological to nationalist. As someone who grew up learning from Chinese textbooks and even participating in the patriotic education campaign, Wang is well-positioned with "insider cultural knowledge" (13) to investigate this subject.

NFNH answers two major questions:

1. "How have the Chinese Communist leaders used history and memory to reshape national identity so as to strengthen their legitimacy for ruling China after the end of the Cold War" (14)?
2. "How has this reconstruction of identity influence China's political transformation and international behavior" (14)?

But before answering these questions, Wang must justify his epistemological approach.


Wang recognizes the scepticism surrounding use of ideational factors to explain international relations, and whether they can even be systematically researched, as opposed to mere anecdotal evidence. He offers two analytical frameworks for research into historical memory as a former of group identity and influencer of perceptions, interpretations, and decision-making processes.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By John Deaux on December 11, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In Bill Maher's book "When you ride ALONE you ride with bin Laden," written shortly after 9/11, there is an imaginary war poster on page 22 that features Lance, the surfing swiftboat crewman from Apocalypse Now, blithely enjoying himself on a pair of waterskis while a pair of Vietnamese fishermen curse at him and the wake that will soon topple their boat. At the bottom of the poster: "They hate us because we don't even understand why they hate us." It was an injunction to consider the other side.

This book allows you to do that, and to understand that if any international competition comes down to a battle of political wills, the CCP has built a powerful polity based on a constructed history that encourages sacrifice and obedience so that "national rejuvenation" can be realized. Whether this is done for good or ill is a whole other matter, but suffice to say, this book will give the impression that China feels justified taking whatever steps are necessary to redress the anomaly of its weakness in the recent past and regain its predominance in Asia and the world.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By wsmrer on August 30, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
An Important Work

Wang Zheng's work is an academic piece in the best sense; he careful lays out the components that must be considered in passing judgments on a nation and its people and so it is slow going at times but never ponderous or uninteresting to the lay reader looking for some solid information about China today. China is in process, the giant has awakened and is moving but to where?

China today clearly can not be understood without turning to the evolutionary movement of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) from its revolutionary Maoist role of representative of Communism and Marxism to its current casting of its self as advancing Nationalism and the Rejuvenation of the Chinese people. Professor Wang gives 1991 as a turning point, when following the pro-democratic Tiananmen Square protest and its suppression of 1989, the CCP lost faith in communism as a selling point as it was collapsing in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. He sees the rise of the use of Historical Memory by the CCP and its emphasis on Never Forget Historical Humiliation as the party's device to maintain legitimacy. There is a lack of discussion as to the internal engineering of that transformation but a convincing treatment of the reality of its appeal to the nation and how it has been used over time with relentless media and educational support. The transition of China as Zhong Guo - Center Kingdom - to 100 years of semi-colonial occupation and humiliation to the rising Asian power of today is well embedded in the population and thematic for the CCP.

He raises at one point the interesting Confucian "Boat and Water" theory to describe the relationship between the state and the people: "Water can bear the boat, but it can also capsize it.
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