Fom positive to negative history: The shifting use of history in China’s diplomacy.

Image of Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing


The use of historical statecraft is back en vogue in international politics, especially with the putative civilisational states that have re-emerged, such as China. However, while China has tried to use positive aspects of its history – such as its previous grandeur and its philosophical and cultural heritage – to guide its diplomacy, this has largely failed to inspire international audiences. Under the leadership of Xi Jinping, there is an observable seeping of more negative aspects of history into China’s diplomatic language, with a particular emphasis on the century of humiliation. Negative history is used to highlight that China is no longer as weak and vulnerable as it once was and that under the leadership of Xi and the Communist Party of China (CPC) that a more positive and stronger future awaits. Negative history of this type might afford Xi significant domestic legitimacy, but it also shrinks the parameters of policymaking which reduces China’s potential to win over international audiences.

About the speaker
Nicholas Ross Smith is an adjunct fellow at the University of Canterbury’s National Centre for Research on Europe. Prior to this, he spent three and a half years as an Associate Professor of International Studies at the University of Nottingham’s campus in Ningbo, China. His main research areas include geopolitics in Eastern Europe, EU foreign policy, Russian foreign policy, democratisation and geoeconomics in an emerging multipolar world. He has published two books, numerous journal articles, book chapters, and essays on these topics (and others).

Date: Tuesday 26 April
Time: 4:30-5:30
Venue: KK203, Kirk Building 
Kelburn Campus