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The politics of Chinese history

Reporters on the Job: I went to visit what is left of the Chinese emperor’s Old Summer Palace last weekend as part of my research about Christie’s auction of looted Chinese relics (read the story here). While there, I was struck by the political use to which the Chinese authorities have put the ruins.

The story of the British and French sacking in 1860 is taught to every schoolchild here, and is reinforced by information panels in the Summer Palace museum.

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One panel explained that the palace’s “sufferings reflect the humiliation imposed on the Chinese nation by the imperialist powers since the Opium War.”

The subtext, of course, is that it took a Communist revolution to kick out the imperialists and salvage China’s pride.