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Chinese "Victimhood" and its Relation to its Foreign Policies

Battle between Mongols & Chinese (1211). Jami' al-tawarikh, Rashid al-Din. © Bibliothèque Nationale de France / Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

There is no doubt that China is one of the oldest countries in the world. With a long history comes a long list of events that shape nations' mindset and characteristics, together with stereotypes and bias. The one term that strikes me the most, once heard in ordinary dialogue, is “Chinese victimhood”. There are a lot of stereotypes regarding Chinese people that foreigners might hear upon arriving in their home country after visiting China. However, “Chinese victimhood” is a term that I had never heard before.

It’s true that China has suffered centuries of invasions. For example, the Mongols, the Manchus (Qing), Europeans and Americans, and the Japanese. And truth be told, the Chinese nation has every right to feel angry and be proud of their own recent economic and technological advances in becoming a geopolitical great power (Bitzinger, 2016).

However, how do we understand the term itself? Is it a legitimate term that is common in the sphere of international relations? Do people in China use it on a daily basis? What are the characteristics of this term?

This essay will try to answer these questions using theoretical backgrounds based on scientific journals, and to understand the usage of this expression through journals of the international relations sphere.

Historical Background

Many analysts point out that China has been plagued by internal turmoil and that it experienced the most tumultuous century in any country's history (Wu, 2015). They also believe that the complexities, feelings and especially the internal struggles that China endured during its hardest century prolonged that narrative of victimhood and humiliation.

The century most analytics refer to are the years from 1839 to 1949. During these years, China endured two Opium wars (1839-1842, 1856-1860 respectively), the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895), the Nanjing Massacre (1937 December 13th) during the Second Sino-Japanese War, and this list does not even include all invasions from other Western countries (Facing History and Ourselves, n.d.).

This period also called The Century of Humiliation, as analysist of The Diplomat put it, is the Century that «is characterized by pandemics, famines, corruption, mass murder, and widespread drug addiction … the last years of this period were also some of its darkest, with the Japanese occupation of China during World War II. During the Japanese invasion and occupation, China experienced war crimes, a high death toll, and man-made natural disasters that killed and displaced millions» (Tischler, 2020).