The selectivity of symbolic signifiers. The root cause of the communication of negative Chinese images in modern times

Memories of the icons of the modern China

“The Opium War,” “unequal treaties,” “the forfeiting of sovereignty and the humiliation of the nation,” “the sick man of East Asia,” “the ignorant and the backward,” this long string of signifiers, in the form of linguistic symbols, triggers our remembrances about China in modern times (roughly from 1840, when the first Opium War broke out, to 1949, when the People’s Republic was founded) as delineated in its symbolic representations. Those common negative significations depict the history of China in modern times, a history in which humiliation and struggles interwove. There were a rich and diverse variety of symbolic signifiers that represented the national images of China in modern times. However, in the international context, the image of China in modern times has been primarily portrayed in a negative manner. A full range of negative signifiers were chosen and were taken to be the typical symbols that represented image of China during that historical period.

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