chapter  3
The selectivity of symbolic signifiers
The root cause of the communication of negative Chinese images in modern times
WithSui Yan
Pages 16

"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 as delineated in its symbolic representations. The "Opium War," the "sick man of East Asia", the foot-binding of the Chinese women, those impressions branded in the innermost recesses have come down to us as symbolic signifiers to conceive of the modern China. In the Western system of discourse, "opium" was a term that gave significant portrayal about the image of the modern China. "The Opium War" has remained a tragic trauma in the hearts of all the Chinese people. However, as the signifier of a symbol that represented the image of modern China, today "the Opium War" has been accorded meanings which are fundamentally different from those that were first accorded to the war.