The Center for Strategic Translation provides statesmen and scholars with the tools needed to interpret the Chinese party-state of today while training a new generation of China specialists with the skills needed to guide our relations with the China of tomorrow.

The Center meets this need through initiatives in translation and education. The Center locates, translates, and annotates documents of historic or strategic value that are currently only available in Chinese. Our introductory essays, glossaries, and commentaries are designed to make these materials accessible and understandable to statesmen and scholars with no special expertise in Chinese politics or the Chinese language.

Complementing the Center’s published translations are the Center’s training seminars. Starting in the summer of 2023 the Center will host a series of seminars to instruct young journalists, graduate students, and government analysts in the open-source analysis of Communist Party policy, introduce them to the distinctive lexicon and history of Party speak, and train them how to draw credible conclusions from conflicting or propagandistic documentary sources.
The Center is an initiative of the American Governance Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that studies and promotes the betterment of American public institutions and publishes the quarterly magazine Palladium. The Center is directed by Tanner Greer, a noted essayist, journalist, and researcher with expertise interpreting China in the context of American foreign policy.


Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Century of National Humiliation
Bǎinián Guóchǐ

In Chinese historiography, the decades between the conclusion of the First Opium War in 1842 and the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949 are described as a “century of national humiliation.” In these decades China lost a series of wars with European powers, ceded control of Macau, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Manchuria, the Amur River Basin, and Outer Mongolia to alien empires, was forced to grant extraterritorial rights to foreigners in China, lost sovereign control of its markets and currency, and was saddled with onerous indemnities. This period of external intervention culminated with the Japanese invasion of 1937, which lead to the death of some 20 million Chinese. The legacy of humiliation haunts Chinese intellectuals today and provides the Communist Party of China with one of its most emotionally powerful legitimizing narratives.

The term “national humiliation” [国耻] dates to the late 19th century and served as a common touchstone for the various nationalist movements that sought to “save the country” [救国] at the beginning of the 20th. The founders of the Communist Party of China began their careers as activists more interested in nationalist uplift than communist utopia. In the disciplined, militarized hierarchy of a Leninist party they saw a vehicle for rescuing their nation. “Only socialism can save China” [只有社会主义才能救中国] they declared, and to this day Party historians and officials argue that Republican era experiments with other political ideologies all failed to unite China or drive out imperialist influence.

This narrative erases the sacrifices made by millions of Chinese not associated with the Communist Party, as well as the success these sacrifices secured. It was under KMT rule that the Japanese were defeated, Western powers gave up their extraterritorial privileges in China, and China was given one of five seats on the UN Security Council. In Communist eyes these feats count for little, as they were all accomplished with the aid of imperialist powers. The early Communist leadership believed that only “cleaning out the house before inviting guests in” [打扫干净屋子再请客]—in other words, driving Westerners completely out of China before readmitting them on Chinese terms—could guarantee the founding of a NEW CHINA free from the taint of imperialist influence. The Communist version of eradicating  national humiliation thus began with the foundation of the People’s Republic of China and was confirmed by Chinese success against “American imperialism” in the Korean War.   

By instructing the children of China to chant “never forget national humiliation” (勿忘国耻) the Party legitimizes this founding moment. It also suggests to the Chinese people what nightmares might occur if Party rule falters. The century of humiliation is a narrative of victimhood. It presumes an innocent China thrust into a dangerous world, there victimized by rapacious foreigners eager to feed on any nation too weak to maintain its sovereignty. Foreign opposition to Chinese policy today is easily reframed as a continuation of this antique pattern.  Under this schema China is still a victim of undeserved hostility; without the guiding hand of a strong and united Party, these hostile forces will force national humiliation on the Chinese people once again.



Fitzgerald, John. Cadre Country: How China Became TheChinese Communist Party. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 2022; Garver, John. 2018. China’s Quest: The History of theForeign Relations of the People’s Republic of China. Oxford: Oxford UniversityPress; Schell, Orville and John Delury, Wealth and Power: China’sLong March to the Twenty-First Century. New York: Random House; Zheng Wang. 2012. Never Forget National Humiliation: Historical Memory in Chinese Politics and Foreign Relations. New York: ColumbiaUniversity Press.

Mentioned in
Back to Glossary