The affective life of the Nanjing Massacre: Reactivating historical trauma in governing contemporary China

Kailing Xie


Under the current Xi administration, China has marked December 13 as the national public Memorial Day for the Nanjing Massacre’s victims. The reaffirmation of this historical trauma under Xi continues the official narrative of the rejuvenation of a humiliated Chinese nation promoted in patriotic education of the 1990s. Simultaneously, there have been widespread state-promoted campaigns of “positivity,” with frequent announcements that China has entered “a New Era.” This article traces the representations of the Nanjing Massacre in different “contact zones” to reveal how certain negative emotions associated with the trauma are deliberately activated to serve instrumental purposes in China’s contemporary governance. It shows the party-state’s time-tested strategy of encouraging the public to internalize positive feelings of living in a great new era through comparison with past misery. It also demonstrates the extension of the party-state’s disciplinary power in the affective realm to inspire unity and legitimize its rule.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/717688