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Historical Revisionism Revises The Past In The Light Of The Present

By Juliette Cruz

Historical revisionism is an expression that is in constant danger of being hi-jacked. Small groups of people can used it to advance their own interests in a particular area of interest. For example, some academics might use the phrase as though it applies exclusively to American history, or to another ‘ism’ such as feminism.

Polemics is a word used to signify what might be expected at academic conferences where delegates have traveled far and wide to discuss or argue over issues. In some cases polemics can be muted because vested academic interests threaten any young upstart who comes up with what seems to be a denial of established paradigms.

Scientists use certain methods to test their hypotheses and historians use historiography. Established procedures of analyzing primary and secondary sources are used to arrive at conclusions. In some cases these may be the written records of colonial administrators but judgments of these might need to be revised if new documents come to light.

It is essential that historians keep revising the past in the light of the present. The process keeps history alive and relevant. Some people have difficulty in understanding why history is importance since there is no guarantee that it will repeat itself. However, if it is accepted that an understanding of the present can only be achieved in a context of understanding the past then the importance of history becomes obvious. The future cannot be adequately addressed without an understanding of the past and the present any more than a sailor can navigate without knowing from where he is starting.

The current debate about why China fell behind the West is important in the light of China’s re-emergence as a world super power in the twenty-first century. It has been proposed that the Imperial system was to blame since an Emperor had the absolute power which apparently enabled him to arbitrarily order the destruction of all the information that Admiral Zheng He brought back from his voyages of discovery. These far exceeded anything that European voyages achieved yet they were destroyed at a stroke.

Historians are presently revising these past events in the light of present circumstances. China is again assuming global power and decisions are being made that will have lasting consequences. Sovereignty may have passed from an Emperor’s court to a political party but studies of historical records could revel that it was the machinations of court bureaucrats and not the whimsical moods of a single person that really determined what happened in the fifteenth century.

Bureaucracy has been an important part of the way in which China has been governed since the fifteenth century. The Cultural Revolution may have been an attempt to break its back but its seems to have mended itself and become whole again. However, in the twenty-first century it must operate under the blazing lights of international television cameras and social networking sites that offer freedom of speech that is not easily quashed. For these reasons history may not repeat itself, or it may repeat itself but with Chinese characteristics.

Historical revisionism is ongoing. It will not cease whilst inquiring minds are alive. Old ideas will be revised constantly and events of the past will be interpreted differently in the light of present events. This is the life blood of intellectual sustainable development and the reason why history remains relevant.

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Article Citation
MLA Style Citation:
Cruz, Juliette "Historical Revisionism Revises The Past In The Light Of The Present." Historical Revisionism Revises The Past In The Light Of The Present. 18 Oct. 2012. 21 Jan 2018 <>.

APA Style Citation:
Cruz, J (2012, October 18). Historical Revisionism Revises The Past In The Light Of The Present. Retrieved January 21, 2018, from

Chicago Style Citation:
Cruz, Juliette "Historical Revisionism Revises The Past In The Light Of The Present"

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