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Presentist or Cultural Memory: Chinese Nationalism as Constraint on Beijing's Foreign Policy Making


  • Ning Liao

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    • Ning Liao ( is a PhD candidate in the Graduate Program in International Studies at Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia, United States. His major concentration field in the doctoral program is comparative politics and his minor is international relations. His research interests include the domestic politics of Chinese foreign policy making and the international relations of East Asia. Ning Liao's papers have appeared in Asian Profile: An International Journal, American Journal of Chinese Studies, and Virginia Social Science Review.


According to conventional wisdom, the Chinese collective memory constructed within the enterprise of state-driven nationalism largely conforms to the presentist view of memory studies. The memory-based legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), however, is premised upon some basic assumptions embedded in the indigenous political culture. In the consumption of the collective memory of foreign aggression and invasion, the memory-encoded social norms have grounded the domestic expectations of the state's diplomatic behavior, which can both enable and constrain the deliberation and execution of Beijing's foreign policy. Due to China's fragile domestic politics and the resurgence of popular nationalism, collective memory manipulated by the authoritarian regime to enhance its legitimacy has become an endogenous variable of the CCP's diplomatic decision making and has led to China's paradoxical performance on the international stage. The rationality of the party-state on the foreign relations front has been bounded by the historical institution of collective memory.