Representing the nation China as a country, a set of borders and a civilisation has been a symbolic framework of intellectual debates on society and culture since the late nineteenth century. Reflections on China’s international relations, comparisons between China and other parts of the globe and a concern over the fate of this ‘nation’ emerge from twentieth-century debates among reformists as well as revolutionaries. It was primarily the clash between the Qing empire and foreign powers during the Opium Wars that ushered in far-reaching transformations in the literati’s conceptions of politics, knowledge and the world (e.g. Furth, 2002; Karl, 2002). By the time of the Self-Strengthening Movement and the First Sino-Japanese War (18941895), the world view of the scholar-officials and the Qing court had shifted from the traditional concept of ‘all under heaven’ ( tianxia 天下) to a geography of countries and nations competing for survival and supremacy (Jin Guantao and Liu Qingfeng, 2006).