In the tradition of imperial China and communism, Chinese publications see history as a morality tale. In the case of Korean history to the late decades of the nineteenth century there are essentially three actors: virtuous China, evil Japan, and variable Korea. There are three critical periods which receive the bulk of attention: the 7th century, the late 16th century trailing into the 17th century change of dynasty in China, and the last decades of the 19th century. The narrative advances the notion of competing visions of regional order, contrasting Chinese and Japanese frameworks and examining Korean policies in light of the choices made between these options.
Official Chinese narratives couch today’s opportunities in historical context. A battle rages between socialism and capitalism, offering China a unique prospect to tip the balance. This is not only a present-day challenge; it is a struggle over consciousness of history—a campaign against “historical nihilism” that disagrees with orthodoxy in support of communist party legitimacy and the rectitude of Chinese civilization. A speech given by Xi Jinping in July 2010 at the Central Party School and only recently made available leaves no doubt about the tight censorship imposed on publications about history. South Korea’s history is especially sensitive as the poster-child for the benevolence of the imperial Chinese regional order, the battleground for the key war fought by China to maintain its surroundings against capitalist encroachment, and a chief testing grounds for the rejuvenation of China against U.S. hegemonism and Western civilization. Premodern history is an inseparable part of this agenda.