The importance of 'Othering' in China's national identity: Sino-Japanese relations as a stage of identity conflicts

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Recent studies have increasingly argued that the Chinese leadership uses Japan's imperialistic past as a tool for domestic and political bargaining. However, this argument fails to appreciate the embedded nature of negative memories within China. This article forwards an alternative argument by situating Japanese militaristic history within Chinese national identity. By examining a wide range of Chinese primary sources often underutilized by International Relations (IR) analysts, it moves beyond narrow, elite-centred explanations. The article argues that modern China's national identity has been characterized by an acute sense of 'victimhood' arising from its turbulent interactions with International Society, and that Japan plays an important role as an 'Other' which enhances China's self-image as a 'victim'. Furthermore, it claims that Japan's emergence as an 'Other' in China's national identity is a by-product of China's attempts to regain its social and moral legitimacy within a post-Cold War International Society increasingly dominated by the Western powers. By highlighting the deeply entrenched nature of Japanese imperialist history in China's national identity, the article also shows that history is more than just part of a 'toolkit' that can be rationally utilized by the political elite, and that states are moral agents that are deeply affected by history.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-47
Number of pages24
JournalPacific Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2007


  • 'Self-Other'
  • Chinese foreign policy
  • International Society
  • National identity
  • Sino-Japanese relations


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