Cultural Nationalism in Contemporary China

By Yingjie Guo | Go to book overview

3

REWRITING NATIONAL HISTORY

The ‘Zeng Guofan phenomenon’

The escalation of state nationalism has afforded cultural nationalism a desirable climate and has thus enabled it to flourish as never before since 1949. Leading the cultural nationalist endeavour to transform the Party-state’s ‘socialist identity’ and to reconstruct a Chinese cultural identity are nationalist historians, New Confucians, advocates of traditional Chinese characters and cultural linguists, and postcolonialists. It is these four groups of cultural nationalists that the following four chapters will concentrate on. This chapter starts with the cultural nationalists’ search for ‘roots’ in historiography and examines, through a case study of the debate on Zeng Guofan, the ways in which history is rewritten to create an alternative Chinese identity.

Zeng Guofan (1811-72) has been one of the most controversial figures in modern Chinese history. He has been variously judged a ‘saint’ as well as a ‘lackey of the Manchus’, a ‘cold-blooded killer’, and a ‘traitor’ to his country. Since the mid-1980s, interest in Zeng in China has escalated into a virtual frenzy. Between January 1981 and March 1997, publications on Zeng have included Zeng Wenzheng gong quanji (The Complete Writings of Zeng Guofan), Zeng Guofan jiashu (The Letters of Zeng Guofan), two biographies, a script for a 50 episode television series entitled Zeng Guofan, a play with the same title, 433 articles, and half a dozen booklength studies. 1 The debate broke out of the ivory tower of academia with the publication in 1993 of Tang Haoming’s popular three-volume historical novel Zeng Guofan, which caused a sensation throughout the country as well as in the Chinese Diaspora in Asia. It was printed 19 times between October 1993 and May 1996, and over a million copies were sold in the first two years alone. In the year 2000, Shilin, one of the most reputable publishers of historical documents and writings, published an even more ambitious Zeng Guofan chenggong xue daquan (An Encyclopaedia of Zeng Guofan’s Success). And there is still no sign of a slackening of interest. Such is the obsession with Zeng in China that it warrants the label ‘the Zeng Guofan phenomenon’.

What is the fuss over Zeng Guofan all about? One explanation is that it

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Cultural Nationalism in Contemporary China
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents ix
  • Tables x
  • Preface xi
  • 1 - Rethinking Nation and Nationalism 9
  • 2 - Renationalizing the State 24
  • 3 - Rewriting National History 49
  • 4 - Reconstructing a Confucian Nation 72
  • 5 - Repossessing the Mother Tongue 91
  • 6 - Reclaiming the 'Othered' China 109
  • Conclusion 133
  • Notes 144
  • Bibliography 172
  • Index 189
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