The past is emphatically not another country in China. Regaining the heights of the long era of empire is implicit in Xi Jinping’s pursuit of the ‘China dream’ of national rejuvenation and strengthening. The National History Museum in Tiananmen Square in Beijing conveys a single message about the country’s recent past: that only the Communist Party has been able to let the world’s most populous country ‘stand up again’, as Mao Zedong put it in 1949. Just as, in the past, each imperial house painted a dark picture of its predecessor to justify the transfer of the Mandate of Heaven, so do today’s rulers of China manipulate history to suit their political purposes.
In this carefully choreographed narrative, the Communist Party’s role in the war with Japan, which lasted from 1937 to 1945, is magnified and the Long March of 1934–5, in which Communist militias fled Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist forces, is transformed from a desperate quest for survival into a heroic enterprise.