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Boxer Rebellion cartoon

The board outside Professor Nylan’s office showcases her sense of humor

Nationalism did not begin in the twentieth century. At least in the case of China the roots of nationalism extend back as far as the Song Dynasty (960-1279). Last week I was able to discuss these nationalist roots with Chinese History Professor Michael Nylan in her office at UC Berkeley.

She was cautious in her assessment of the situation stating merely that, “There was something pretty much like nationalism in Southern Song (1127-1279).” This was as a result of the Song Dynasty being invaded by a northern people known as the Jurchen Jin. She pointed me to the article by Rolf Trauzettel, who on page 206 of Crisis and Prosperity in Sung China, explained how nationalism started. He said that, “It is probably fair to say that among the majority of (Song) Chinese hatred for the (Jin) overshadowed all internal social tensions, at least during the period of extreme crisis.”

Dwinelle Hall

Dwinelle Hall with Sather tower reflected in the window

She felt Trauzettal’s assessment was generally accurate, as hate would not be an unusual feeling to have towards invading force that had robbed, pillaged and raped parts of northern China. Although she also admitted that this topic is a “big debate right now” among scholars, in part because it is hard to use modern terms on peoples and cultures of different time periods.

However I still felt that colonialism played a factor in nationalism in China, even though it may have started centuries earlier. Professor Nylan agreed mentioning that “China has felt pretty beleaguered since 1840,” and that this then influenced national psyche both inside and outside colonial enclaves.

Like Professor Dittmer two months ago, Professor Nylan was also quick to emphasize that “China is the only country in Asia to be semi-colonized.” This would be important as it created a complex web with various spheres of influence making it unclear who was in charge of certain regions or matters, and she cautioned that each colony really must be looked at individually.

As I left her office I couldn’t help smirking at the cartoon she had placed to the left of her door which included a cartoon of Chinese protesters wearing boxers, an obvious play on words for the famous Boxer Rebellion which played such a significant role in China’s colonial history, but that is a topic for another blog.

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