The Power of History: How A Victimization Narrative Shapes National Identity and Public Opinion in China

Research & Politics, Forthcoming

21st Century China Center Research Paper No. 2023-3

44 Pages Posted: 6 Jan 2023 Last revised: 8 Mar 2023

See all articles by Yiqing Xu

Yiqing Xu

Stanford University

Jiannan Zhao

UC San Diego - Political Science

Date Written: January 5, 2023

Abstract

We study the effect of a victimization narrative on national identity and public opinion in China experimentally. Previous research has suggested that governments can shape public opinion by guiding citizens' collective memories of historical events, but few studies have established a clear causal link. By conducting an online survey experiment among approximately 2,000 urban Chinese citizens, we examine the causal impact of historical narratives on political attitudes. We find that, compared to control conditions, a narrative focusing on China’s humiliating past in the late Qing significantly reinforces respondents' attachment to the victim side of the Chinese national identity, raises suspicion of the intention of foreign governments in international disputes, stimulates preference for more hawkish foreign policies, and strengthens support for China's current political system. These effects are particularly strong among respondents without a college degree.

Keywords: historical narrative, collective memory, victimization, national identity, public opinion, foreign policy

JEL Classification: P35

Suggested Citation

Xu, Yiqing and Zhao, Jiannan, The Power of History: How A Victimization Narrative Shapes National Identity and Public Opinion in China (January 5, 2023). Research & Politics, Forthcoming , 21st Century China Center Research Paper No. 2023-3, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4318295 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4318295

Yiqing Xu (Contact Author)

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

HOME PAGE: http://yiqingxu.org

Jiannan Zhao

UC San Diego - Political Science ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, CA 92093
United States

HOME PAGE: http://jiannanzhao.org

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