History in Three Keys by Paul A. Cohen Outline

Sarah Jones

HIST 297


History in Three Keys by Paul A. Cohen Outline


  1. “The dismantling of the mythologized past, in short, is seldom pain free: it entails a loss, often irreversible, not unlike that resulting from death, that can be severely disturbing and may, because of this, be stubbornly resisted.” (211)
    1. Events of the past can stick to a person so much that they might see it in a “mythological” way, which makes it more difficult for them to accept the truth (facts) about the event if it contradicts to their view of it.
  2. What people believe “exerts a powerful influence not only on how they feel and think but also on their behavior, such beliefs become agents that generate and condition historical action of the most undeniably ‘real’ sort.” (212)
    1. “The past is a malleable substance”
  3. Historians deal in complexity, nuance, ambiguity; mythologized deal in a one-dimensional view of the past (214)
  4. Mythologization found in poetry, drama, fiction, art, and film dealing with a historical event (216)
    1. The arts portraying the Boxers as “bandits” and other negative words, while other arts portray them in a positive light, saying they were “heros”
  5. Commemoration of the past
  6. Mythologization in newspapers, periodicals, and books (221)

Chapter 8

  1. “When the past is treated as myth, its meaning is governed to an overwhelming extent by the concerns of the present.” (239)
    1. Positive feelings towards the Boxers in China when anti-foreigner sentiment was rising again post-May Fourth Movement
    2. On the opposite side, the New Culture Movement saw a more negative view of the Boxers
  2. “National Humiliation Day” and “Anti-Imperialism Week” (241)
    1. Chen Duxiu comparing the Boxer Uprising to be as important as the 1911 revolution
  3. Chen Duxiu on the Boxers (243)
    1. 1918: Boxers were “barbaric” and “rampant anti-foreigner”
    2. 1924: shift to Boxers being “barbaric” in response to the “oppression and exploitation” of the foreigners
    3. “Thank God for the barbarous minority of Boxers, who have preserved a measure of honor for the history of the Chinese nation!” (244)
  4. Using the past to change the way people think in the present
  5. Anti-foreignism and anti-imperialism
    1. Chinese communists “recasting” the Boxers as “anti-imperialist patriots” in the 1920s (250)
    2. anti-Christian groups also viewed Boxers in a positive manner
  6. Foreigners delegitimizing Chinese nationalism by evoking the fears of “Boxerism” (251)
    1. Boxerism and Bolshevism
    2. “Mob action, barbarous, anti-foreign” associated with the Boxers (253)
  7. Chinese authorities also using “the Boxer symbol against their fellow citizens” (256)
    1. From a pamphlet: “I am not counseling you to rise up in blands like Boxers. . . Those are barbarous actions, which are no longer in vogue.” (256)
    2. Moderate Chinese intellectuals also distinguishing nationalists from Boxers (257)



Cohen, Paul A. History in Three Keys: The Boxers as Event, Experience, and Myth. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.

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