How did China become China? And where is it leading us? We talk as if it had always existed: eternal China with its 5,000 years of uninterrupted history. But the name ‘China’ was first used by sixteenth-century Europeans, and its Chinese equivalent, Zhongguo, only gained currency in the mid-1800s.
China Imagined is a thoughtful exploration of the idea of China, from the naming and mapping of its territory and peoples to the creation and rise of the modern nation-state. China’s early history describes a multilingual space, ruled by a homogeneous elite with its own minority culture—a far cry from Maoism’s national mass culture, or Xi Jinping’s state-controlled digital society today.
Gregory Lee traces this complex, diverse entity’s evolution since the Opium Wars into a China made in ‘our’ image. Today, it is a great power integral to the global system, whether it comes to climate change, security or inequality. Given this rapid convergence with the West, Xi’s China holds up a mirror to our own nations. Trump’s America, Putin’s Russia and post-Brexit Europe all betray echoes of ’the Chinese Dream’. If China is a product of Westernisation, is it now the West’s turn to become China?
Gregory B. Lee is Professor of Chinese and Transcultural Studies at the University of Lyon. He has previously taught at SOAS, Cambridge, Chicago and Hong Kong universities and also worked as a China analyst at the BBC, broadcasting on Chinese and Hong Kong affairs. He is a fellow of the Hong Kong Academy of the Humanities.