August 1, 2020

China's emergence as a great power has been accompanied by the official rhetoric of the China Dream of Great Rejuvenation (weida fuxing 伟大复兴). Although there are conflicting views among academics and political elites about the exact content of the China Dream, one of its features is the nostalgia for China's past and its five-thousand-year-old civilization. Xi Jinping's current rhetoric of a China Dream of Great Rejuvenation uses a reinvented history as an asset for the future, linking China's natural progress as a global power with a selective re-reading of its millennial history. While much existing literature already discusses China's Great Rejuvenation, this article looks more specifically at the role of historical memory and deconstructs the key interconnected components that support Xi's rhetoric, namely, the chosen trauma, glory, and amnesia. The conclusion offers some general remarks about the effect of this rhetoric on China's domestic and foreign policy and some of the risks that accompany it. This article contributes to the debates on the influence of memory in International Relations (IR), showing how constructed memories of history can significantly impact both national identity and foreign policy.


Maria Adele Carrai is a sinologist and political scientist with an interest in conceptual history and history of international law. She is a recipient of a three-year Marie Curie Fellowship at the Leuven Centre for Global Governance – KU Leuven, a Fellow at Harvard University Asia Center, and an Associate Research Scholar at the Weatherhead East Asian Institute of Columbia University. Her book Sovereignty in China, A Genealogy of a Concept Since 1840 (Cambridge University Press, 2019) looks at the way Chinese intellectuals, political figures, and diplomats appropriated and articulated the notion of sovereignty in their foreign policy within the new discourse of international law in the period between 1840 to the present. By tracing a genealogy of the notion of sovereignty in China from the earliest introduction of international law until the present, the book provides a historical perspective through which to better understand the path China is taking as a normative actor within the international global order.